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Of Fire and Salt, Offence and Sacrifice: The Capernaum House Discourse

By R. Magnusson Davis
Draw nigh to God and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands ye sinners, and purge your hearts ye wavering-minded. Suffer afflictions: sorrow ye, and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. Cast down yourselves before the Lord, and he shall lift you up. James 4:8-10, Tyndale's 1534 New Testament

Salted with Fire, Seasoned with Salt: Mark 9:49-50 William Tyndales translation of Mark 9:49-50 reads as follows:
Every man therefore shall be salted with fire, and every sacrifice shall be 50 seasoned with salt. Salt is good. But if the salt be unsavoury, what shall you salt therewith? See that you have salt in yourselves; and have peace among yourselves, 1 one with another.
49(a) (b)

Tyndale added a brief note to explain what fire and salt represent:
Fire is tribulation, and salt is Gods word.

Thus at 49(a) fire means tribulation, or afflictions, difficulties, and sufferings of the flesh. By flesh we may understand both the physical body and the soulish will and affections. The believer must endure troubles of various kinds sickness, poverty, persecutions as sin and the flesh are mortified. The flesh cannot be left in ease. We must all endure tribulation because we are all sinners, and our sin deep-rooted within. The Psalmist said that it was good that he had been afflicted, because before he was afflicted he went astray, but through affliction he learned the precepts of God (Psalm 119:67,71). The sacrifices that must be seasoned with the salt of Gods word are all that we offer to him by way of obedience and submission, including meek acceptance of affliction as well as our own efforts to mortify sin. Our own efforts involve giving up the things that lead to offence, and turning from what the flesh desires to what God requires. These I call sacrifices or offerings of mortification. But they must be seasoned with salt through being informed by the word. If we make offerings from our own imaginations, or not in accordance with the word but with the wisdom of men, or which are otherwise lacking the savour of faith and truth, they may not be acceptable to the Lord. Therefore, every sacrifice must be seasoned with salt. Salt that is unsavoury the salt of false teaching, imaginations, or traditions cannot season anything properly. Two things that motivate us to make sacrifices of mortification are the love we have for God and his law, which is poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, and our fear of fire the fire of tribulation by which God scourges remaining sin and purges the flesh. And Gods word, rightly understood, not only convicts of sin, it also gives encouragement and comfort in the midst of affliction and of failure.

Extracted from Daniell, David, Tyndales New Testament, Yale University Press (New Haven and London 1995), a modern-spelling version of Tyndales 1534 New Testament. New Testament quotations are from this version unless otherwise indicated. Words, punctuation, or grammar may be minimally updated for claritys sake, and verse numbers added.

The fire and salt verses follow Jesus earlier teaching about the plucking out or cutting off of eyes and limbs that cause us to offend; these are, of course, metaphors of the actions we must take to avoid the judgment of God against sin:
Wherefore if thy hand offend thee, cut it off. It is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands, go into hell, into fire that never shall be quenched, where their worm dieth not, and the fire never goeth out (Mark 9:43,44).

As for v.50 See that you have salt in yourselves; and have peace among yourselves, one with another I understand Jesus to be saying that as we learn and exercise ourselves in Gods word (have salt in ourselves), and as sin and the flesh are mortified, we should partake of the blessed fruit of peace among ourselves. Other Expositions What have other commentators made of the fire and salt verses? They vary greatly. Before reviewing some, I give fuller scriptural context below, with the more familiar King James Version alongside. Note, shall in some verses may take the senses must or can. And note the interesting departure from Tyndale at v.50 in the KJV, where it refers to salt that itself needs seasoning; both translations make a point: Tyndale, 1534: Mark 9:41-50
And whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink for my names sake, because ye belong to Christ, verily I say unto you, he shall not lose his reward. And whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in me, it were better for him, that a millstone were hanged about his neck, 43 and that he were cast into the sea; wherefore if thy hand offend thee, cut him off. It is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands, go into hell, into fire that never shall 44 be quenched, where their worm dieth not, and 45 the fire never goeth out. Likewise, if thy foot offend thee, cut him off. For it is better for thee to go halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into hell, into fire that never shall be 46 quenched: where their worm dieth not, and the 47 fire never goeth out. Even so if thine eye offend thee, pluck him out. It is better for thee to go into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire: 48 where their worm dieth not, and the fire never goeth out. Every man therefore shall be salted with fire: and every sacrifice shall be seasoned with salt. 50 Salt is good. But if the salt be unsavoury: what shall you salt therewith? See that you have salt in yourselves: and have peace among yourselves, one with another.
49 42 41

For whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in my name, because ye belong to Christ, verily I say unto you, he shall not lose his reward. And whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he 43 were cast into the sea. And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: 44 where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not 45 quenched. And if thy foot offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into hell, into the fire 46 that never shall be quenched: where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. 47 And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out: it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast 48 into hell fire: where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. For every one shall be salted with fire, and 50 every sacrifice shall be salted with salt. Salt is good: but if the salt have lost his saltness, wherewith will you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and have peace one with another.
49 42 41

Differences of interpretation flow from, among other things, different understandings of what fire and salt mean, what sacrifices are intended, what offend means, and, also, how to understand the verses in light of Jesus preceding discourse. The commentary of Albert Barnes, a controversial Presbyterian, discusses some of the widely divergent interpretations of v.49. Despite reasoning that seems tortuous to me, he makes the link to the salting of offerings under Mosaic ceremonial law, which is certainly relevant and worthy of further exploration. He notes the importance of self-denial and subduing the lusts. However, he does not relate salt to Gods word:
Every one shall be salted with fire. Perhaps no passage in the New Testament has given more perplexity to commentators than this; and it may be impossible now to fix its precise meaning. The common meaning affixed to it has been, that as salt preserves from putrefaction, so fire, applied to the wicked in hell, shall have the property of preserving them in existence, or they shall be preserved amidst the sprinkling of fire, to be continually in their sufferings, a sacrifice to the justice of God. But this meaning is not quite satisfactory. Another opinion has been, that as salt is sprinkled on the victim preparatory to its being devoted to God (see Lev 2:13), so should the apostles, by trials, calamities, etc., represented here by fire, be prepared as a sacrifice and offering to God. Probably the passage has not reference at all to future punishment; and the difficulty th of interpreting it has arisen from supposing it connected with the 48 verse, or given as a reason for what is said in that verse, rather than considering it as designed to illustrate the general design of the passage. The main scope of the passage was not to discourse of future punishment. That is brought in incidentally. The chief object of st the passage was, (1 ) to teach them that other men, not with them, might be true nd Christians vers. 38,39. (2 ) That they should be disposed to look favourably upon the rd slightest evidence that they might be, ver. 41. (3 ) That they ought to avoid giving th offence to such feeble and obscure Christians, ver. 42. (4 ) That everything calculated to give offence, or to dishonour religion, should be removed, ver. 43. And th (5 ) that everything which would endanger their salvation should be sacrificed; that they should deny themselves and practice all self-denials, in order to obtain eternal life. In this way they would be preserved to eternal life. The word fire here, therefore, denotes self-denials, sacrifices, trials, in keeping ourselves from the gratification of the flesh. As if he had said: Look at the sacrifice on the altar. It is an offering to God, about to be presented to him. It is sprinkled with salt, emblematic of purity, of preservation, and of fitting it, therefore, for a sacrifice. So you are devoted to God. You are sacrifices, victims, offerings, to him in his service. To make you acceptable offerings, everything must be done to preserve you from sin, to purify you, and to make you fit offerings. Self-denials, subduing the lusts, enduring trials, removing offences, are the proper preservatives in the service of God. Doing this, you will be acceptable offerings, and be saved; without this, you will be unfit for his eternal 2 service, and will be lost. (All emphasis original.)

Unlike most commentators, Barnes understands offend thee in v.42 in the limited modern sense of giving affront, that is, causing wounded feelings. Then, to make sense of the whole, he links the fire and salt verses back to much earlier verses concerning the casting out of demons, and conjectures that Jesus is referring to the possible Christian identity of

Barnes, Albert. Barnes Notes on the New Testament, 8 ed. (Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, MI, 1975), p. 165.


persons not of their group. From there he arrives at an understanding of the meaning of fire having to do with the mortification of the flesh. The Geneva Bible commentary on v.49, in the 1599 edition that I have, is somewhat obscure, but refers to Gods word as the salt that seasons:
9:49 We must be seasoned and powdered by God, both that we may be acceptable sacrifices to him: and also that we being knit together may season one another. salted with fire: and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt: that is, shall be consecrated to God, being seasoned with the incorruptible word.

This commentary calls the word incorruptible. I hope it is not splitting hairs to suggest that the context calls for uncorrupted, which is quite a different thing. Salt can lose its saltness; that is, it is corruptible. The next verse says so (But if the salt be unsavoury). And everywhere we turn in the New Testament, we are warned of men who can and do corrupt Gods word. See for example 2 Corinthians 2:17. In the MacArthur Study Bible we see some of Tyndales understanding:
9:49 The meaning of this difficult verse seems to be that believers are purified through suffering and persecution. The link between salt and fire seems to lie in the OT sacrifices, which were accompanied by salt (Lev 2:13). 9:50 Salt is good. Salt was an essential item in first-century Palestine. In a hot climate, without refrigeration, salt was the practical means of preserving food. Have salt in yourselves. The work of the Word (Col 3:16) and the Spirit (Gal. 5:22,23) produce godly character, enabling a person to act as a preservative in society.

However the Zondervan NIV Bible Commentary departs and says that, though fire has been interpreted as representing the trials and persecutions suffered by the disciples, it may be something else entirely:
a symbol of the covenant relationship that the children of Israel had with God. For every disciple of Jesus, the salt of the covenant is the Divine Fire, the Holy Spirit (cf. 3 Mt 3:11). Every follower of Christ, in other words, will receive the Holy Spirit.

V.49(b), regarding sacrifices that must be seasoned with salt, is missing from the NIV and from modern bible versions that have forsaken the Received Text. However, the Zondervan NIV Commentary says about the meaning of salt at v.50:
In this verse salt must be understood in a domestic setting and not in a religious or ritual one as at v.49. Salt played an important role in the ancient world. It was necessary to life, and was also used as a preservative to keep food from spoiling. But salt could lose its saltiness. Jesus was warning his disciples not to lose that characteristic in them that brought life to the world and prevented its decay, that is, not to lose their spirit of devotion and self sacrifice (cf. v.49) to Jesus Christ and the 4 Gospel.

This Zondervan teaching disturbs. It looks not to God by his word, but to self by ones own spirit. The disciples personal characteristics of devotion and self-sacrifice were the salt that brought life to the world (!) and acted as preservatives in society to prevent decay.

Kenneth L. Barker and John R. Kohlenberger III, Consulting Editors, Zondervan NIV Bible Commentary, Volume 2: New Testament (Hereafter Z-NIV Commentary), (Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1994), p. 173. 4 Z-NIV Commentary, p. 173.

Salt is Gods Word Tyndale's simple explanation that salt is Gods word makes sense considering all the scriptures say about his word: it convicts of sin; it saves; Gods word is spirit and life; it is a lamp to our feet; it is truth, righteousness, and wisdom. That which brings righteousness, truth, and wisdom has potential to act as a preservative in a society of human beings who tend by nature to corruption through sin that is, if they will accept it. More to the point, however, it salts and seasons the believer who has accepted it.
It is instructive to see how Tyndale used the salt metaphor in his writing. A sampling of his sayings shows how we may understand and apply it. (The following quotations are minimally updated as to obsolete language and grammar, for claritys sake):
The blessings promised to Abraham, for all nations, are in Christ; and out of his blood

we must fetch them, and his word is the bread, salt, and water of our souls.

Salt is the true understanding of the law, of faith, and of the intent of all works

We ought to put salt to all our offerings; that is, we ought to minister knowledge in all 7 our works and to do nothing whereof we could not give a reason out of God's words. Then he adds that "salt is good; but, if the salt be unsavoury," or has lost its power, "what can be seasoned therewith?" Verily, nothing. Now, by salt is understood the 8 doctrine And what if the doctrine be not true salt? Verily, then, it is to be trodden under foot.

Tyndale also applies the metaphor to the men who are to bring the salt of Gods word to the world; they are salt also, in that by preaching and teaching they season everything:
"If salt has lost his saltness, it is good for nothing but to be trodden under foot of men." That is, if the preacher, who for his doctrine is called salt, has lost the nature of salt that is to say, his sharpness in rebuking all unrighteousness, all natural reason, natural wit and understanding, and all trust and confidence in whatsoever it be except the blood of Christ he is condemned by God and refused by all who cleave to 10 the truth.

But salt is not a preservative only. No, it is also a corrosive, and it frets and smarts and stirs up persecution from those who hate truth and would suppress it. Jesus said, after all, that he did not come to bring peace, but a sword. Tyndale wrote the following regarding false prophets in the Church who were, in his day, persecuting, burning, and imprisoning preachers of the Lords truth:

Tyndale, William, An Answer to Sir Thomas Mores Dialogue (Parker Society edition, ed. Henry Walter, 1850) (hereafter Answer), p.110. 6 Tyndale, William, Exposition of Matthew v,vi,vii. (hereafter Expn of Matthew) from Expositions and Notes on Sundry Portions of The Holy Scriptures Together With The Practice of Prelates (hereafter Sundry) (Parker Society, Ed. Henry Walter, 1849; Wipf and Stock Publishers edition of 2004), p. 33. 7 Tyndale, William, Prologue to Numbers (hereafter Nu. Prologue). Extracted from Daniell, David, Tyndales Old Testament (Hereafter Tyndales Old Testament) Yale University Press (New Haven and London 1995), a modern-spelling version, p. 193. 8 Expn of Matthew, p. 102. 9 Expn of Matthew, p. 33. 10 Expn of Matthew, p. 33. Here Tyndale is expounding Matthew 5:13.

True preaching is a salting that stirs up persecution, and an office that no man is meet for save he who is seasoned himself before with poverty in spirit, softness, meekness, patience, mercifulness, pureness of heart, and hunger for righteousness, and an expectation of persecution also; and has all his hope, comfort, and solace, in the 11 blessing only, and in no worldly thing. The office of an apostle and true preacher is to salt, not only the corrupt manners and living of earthly people, but also the rotten heart within, and all that springs out of it: their natural reason, their will, their understanding and wisdom; yea, and [false] faith and belief, and all that people have imagined outside of God's word concerning righteousness, justifying, satisfaction and serving of God. And the nature of salt is to bite, fret, and make smart. And the sick patients of the world are marvellous impatient, such that, though with great pain they suffer their gross sins to be rebuked after a fashion, as in a distant parable; yet to have their [false] righteousness, their holiness, and serving of God and his saints, rejected, disproved, and condemned for damnable and devilish, that can they not abide: insomuch that you must leave your salting or else be prepared to suffer [persecution] again and stop salting, or else to be sent the same way as your fellows who have gone before [burning at the stake, etc], and 12 the way your Master went.

With respect to seasoning with salt our sacrifices, or offerings, to God, Tyndale writes:
We must therefore bring the salt of the knowledge of God's word with all our 13 sacrifices, or else we can make no sweet savour for God thereof.

Tyndale discusses vows as sacrifices or offerings. Vows were common in his day. He considered acceptable those vows of fasting that were intended to mortify fleshly appetites (or tame the members, or flesh, as he would say). Vows that were intended to enable us to serve, or to be a good example to our neighbour, he also accepted, as being rightly informed by the Lords command to love. But the Roman Church often called for vows that Tyndale would call unsavoury: vows of silence or seclusion, and also vows of chastity or the giving up of worldly goods that were made for the wrong reasons. These therefore were not salted with true knowledge or purpose:
Thus it appears that if I vow whatsoever it be for any other purpose than to tame my flesh and to be an example of virtue and edifying to my neighbour, my sacrifice is 14 unsavoury and clean without salt... If you would vow of your goods to God, you must put salt to this sacrifice; that is, you 15 must minister knowledge in this deed, as Peter teaches 2 Pet 1. If you would vow pilgrimage, you must put salt thereto in like manner, if it is going to be accepted. If you vow to go and visit the poor or to hear God's word or whatsoever edifies your soul to love and good work after knowledge, or whatsoever God commands, it is well done and a sacrifice that savours well. [But then] you will perhaps say that you will go to this or that place because God has chosen one place more than another and will hear your petition more in one place than another. As for your prayer, it must be according to God's word; you may not desire God to take vengeance on him whom God's word teaches you to pity and to pray for. And as for

11 12

Expn of Matthew, p. 32. Expn of Matthew, p. 31. 13 Tyndales Old Testament, Nu. Prologue, p. 194. 14 Tyndales Old Testament, Nu. Prologue, p. 195. 15 Tyndales Old Testament, Nu. Prologue, p. 196.

the other thought, that God will hear you more in one place than in another, I suppose it sal infatuatum, salt unsavoury; for if it were true wisdom, how could we explain the death of Stephen, Acts 7, who died for that article [of the faith] that God dwells not in 16 temples made with hands? The purpose of your vow must be salted also with the wisdom of God. You may not vow in order to be justified thereby, or to make satisfaction for your sins, or to win heaven or a higher place. For then you do wrong to the blood of Christ, and your vow would be plain idolatry and abominable in the sight of God. Your vow must be only to the furtherance of the commandments of God, which are, as I have said, nothing but 17 the taming of [the flesh] and the service of your neighbour

Fire is Tribulation As to the fire of tribulation that purges our flesh of the lusts of sin, and thereby purifies us, Tyndale wrote (again, the following quotations have been minimally updated):
And God our father and schoolmaster feeds us and teaches us according to the capacity of our stomachs, and makes us to grow and wax perfect, and refines us, and 18 tries us as gold, in the fire of temptations [trials] and tribulations.

Tyndale explains that God puts us through the fire because unholy flesh requires it, in order to be purged of sin. He gives Joseph as an example. He was a man who suffered severe, unjust persecution, and whose example should encourage and comfort us when we are called to endure similar things:
See what God promised Joseph in his dreams. Those promises accompanied him always, and went down with him even into the deep dungeon, and brought him up again, and never forsook him, till all that was promised was fulfilled. These are examples written for our learning (as Paul says), to teach us to trust in God in the strong fire of tribulation and purgatory of our flesh. And those who submit themselves to follow God should note and mark such things; for their learning and comfort is the 19 fruit of the scripture, and the reason why it was written.

Tyndale explains how and why God visits his elect and beloved children with the fire of tribulation:
God often takes his strength even from his very elect, when they either trust in their own strength or are negligent to call to him for strength. And he does this to teach them, and to make them feel that in the fire of tribulation for his word's sake nothing can endure and abide except his word and that strength only which he has promised. 20 For which strength he will have us to pray to him night and day with all constancy.

But when the fire has done its work, tribulation should cease, though none are so perfect that they may ever be completely free in this life:
The assurance that we are sons, beloved and heirs with Christ and have God's spirit in us, is the consent of our hearts to the law of God. Which law is all perfection and the mark where at all we ought to shoot. And he who hits that mark, so that he fulfills
16 17

Tyndales Old Testament, Nu. Prologue, p. 197. Tyndales Old Testament, Nu. Prologue, p. 198. 18 Tyndales Old Testament, Prologue to Jonas, p. 631. 19 Tyndales Old Testament, A Prologue Showing the Use of the Scripture, p. 10. 20 Tyndale, William, The Obedience of a Christian Man (hereafter Obedience), (Penguin Books, 2000), p. 15.

that law with all his heart, soul and might and with full love and desire without any obstruction or resistance, is pure gold and needs not to be put any more in the fire: he is straight and righthe is full fashioned like Christ and can have no more added to him. Nevertheless, there is none so perfect in this life who does not find obstruction and resistance by the reason of original sin or birth poison that remains in him So then, whatever cross God puts on your back, bear it patiently, whether it be poverty, sickness or persecution or whatsoever it be, and take it for the right purgatory, and 21 think that God has nailed you fast to it to purge you thereby.

All of which brings to mind Jesus call to take up the cross, so graphic a symbol of suffering, and follow him:
And he called the people unto him, with his disciples also, and said unto them: Whosoever will follow me, let him forsake himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life, shall lose it. But whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel's, the same shall save it (Mark 8:34,35).

The Psalmist said:

The Lord hath chastened and corrected me, but he hath not given me over to death (Psalm 118:18, Matthew Bible).

Whosoever Shall Offend One of These Little Ones If we accept Tyndales exposition of the fire and salt verses, the task still remains to understand them in the fuller context of the Capernaum house discourse (see text p.2).
First, can we relate these verses in a meaningful way to Jesus earlier warnings about people who offend one of these little ones? This verse in Mark echoes Jesus words in two other gospels, in Matthew 18 and Luke 17. The repetition shows that it is important. However, the three gospels differ, and the word offend is problematic. Luke puts the entire teaching quite briefly:
Then said he to the disciples, it cannot be avoided, but that offences will come. 2 Nevertheless woe be to him through whom they come. It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were cast into the sea, than that 3 he should offend one of these little ones. Take heed to yourselves. If thy brother 4 trespass against thee, rebuke him: and if he repent, forgive him. And though he sin against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee saying: it repenteth me; forgive him (Luke 17:1-4).

In Luke, the natural reading is that it would be better to be drowned in the sea with a millstone tied about your neck than to hurt or offend against one of the little ones. A little one, as both Matthew and Mark explain, is someone who believes in Jesus; a child of faith. To hurt such a one would be to trespass against him or her, as is said at v.3 in the Luke passage. Such trespasses must come; they cannot be avoided. And the nature of them must be serious, judging by the woe pronounced on the offender could Jesus be speaking here merely of insult or wounded pride? But then Luke has Jesus saying, Take heed to yourselves. Who is Jesus speaking to here? To his very own disciples. Mark and Matthew in their Gospels tell us that Jesus was in a house in Capernaum with his disciples when he spoke these words, with some


Obedience, pp.153-154.

children present also. Commentators have speculated that the home was Peters, and that the children were his. In any event, the circle of people present was not great, and most certainly comprised Jesus followers together with friendly or related persons. Take heed to yourselves, he said. What about? Offences from others within their group? Themselves offending against a little one? Both? Jesus is certainly touching on the question of insider offences22 because, as Luke relates it, he goes on to say that if it is a brother who trespasses against us, we should rebuke him. Further, we should forgive them even seven times a day, if they repent.23 So then, just what might it mean to offend one of the little ones? Skandalizo: To Offend The old English verb offend ranks up with obey and rejoice in difficulty of resolution. It occurs in constructions that are obsolete, and it can be ambiguous because it had so many different meanings. The technical term for a word that has many meanings is polysemous; that is, having many semes, or senses. Both biblical Greek and early 16th century English are characterized by the use of polysemous words, the meanings of which cannot always be ascertained with confidence from the context. My analysis of Tyndales writings indicates that he used offend in quite different senses, all confirmed as formerly extant by the online Longer Oxford English Dictionary. These include: (1) hurt, harm, injure; (2) wrong, trespass against; (3) disturb, make angry; (4) cause or occasion to offend; (5) in passive construction: be hurt in the faith, fall away; and also the remaining modern sense, (6) cause wounded pride or feelings. (This should not be taken as a complete list.) The Greek verb most often translated offend by Tyndale is skandalizo, as is the case at Mark 9:42. Tyndale also translated this verb hurt, fall, and hurt in the faith.24 He seems to have understood both the Greek skandalizo and the English offend to share the same variety of semes. Therefore, one must be cautious to ascertain the correct meaning where Tyndale put offend. He might have meant it in any one or more of the above six senses, context permitting. And since offend and hurt were once synonyms, Tyndale might have used them interchangeably to translate skandalizo.

That serious offences will come from within is clearly taught by Jesus in Lukes Gospel: Yea and ye shall be betrayed by your fathers and mothers, and by your brethren and kinsmen, and lovers, and some of you shall they put to death. And hated shall ye be by all men for my names sake (Luke 21:16,17). Matthew also speaks of it: And because iniquity shall have the upper hand, the love of many shall abate (Matthew 24:12). John also tells of those who will kill the disciples thinking they do God service (John 16:1-4). If these persons who offend be genuine or false professing brethren is a question I cannot answer. 23 Luke 17:4 is difficult for me to reconcile with the concept of offences that would make it better for a person to be drowned in the sea than bear the punishment of them. Perhaps this is because I do not comprehend the gravity of seemingly lesser offences. God knows. 24 The KJV translates skandalizo only by offend. Strong, whose definitions seem sometimes more descriptive (following the KJV) than prescriptive, gives only a narrow sense: To entrap, ie trip up (fig. stumble or entice to sin, apostasy, or displeasure). Thayer does not add to this. Tyndale, who was learned in ancient Greek and had considerable experience translating it, apparently understood it more broadly. I have not consulted other Greek resources.


That Tyndale sometimes understood offend in the sense hurt, harm or, perhaps, trespass against, can be seen in these passages from his extra-scriptural writing:
Now will God receive no sacrifice (that is to wit, neither forgive, nor fulfil any of his promises), except we be first reconciled unto our brethren, whether we have offended 25 or be offended. And to be merciful is lovingly to forgive them that offended thee, as soon as they 26 knowledge their misdoing and ask thee mercy.

In fact, Tyndale used hurt twice at 1 Corinthians 8:13, to translate skandalizo:

Wherefore if meat hurt[s] my brother, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, because I will not hurt my brother.

Of course the hurting in view here was, as the context makes clear, harm done to a fellow believer by occasioning him to offend, in particular by acting against conscience. But as for the proper sense of offend at Mark 9:42, a significant clue is that in his 1526 translation, Tyndale used the word hurt:
And whosoever shall hurt one of these little ones that believe in me, it were [would be] better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck and that he were cast into the sea. (Tyndale, 1526. From Hendricksons facsimile edition.)

Thus Tyndale understood skandalizo to mean here hurt, harm, injure. Hurt has not changed its meaning in any significant way. The sense is, therefore, that whoever harmed one of his little ones would be better off being drowned than staying such a course. To harm a little one could of course include causing him to sin or offend or fall away in the faith, but the context, where Jesus has just been speaking of offering comfort, seems to call for the sense of hurting by maltreatment. In the parallel accounts at Matthew 18:6 and Luke 17:2 concerning the Capernaum house discourse, Tyndale translated skandalizo by offend in 1526, which indicates that he was using offend and hurt interchangeably in this context.

Whoever Hurts One of These Little Ones Why did Tyndale change hurt to offend in 1534, when he revised Mark 9:42? I would speculate that he simply wanted to be consistent. He had used offend in Matthew and Luke, and wanted to use the same word in Mark; after all, the original authors had used the same word in these passages.
Some might say the new word signified a new understanding. However this would be to suggest that Tyndale had first understood the same teaching in different ways in the three Gospels, which is most unlikely. He must have understood the same teaching the same way; namely, that skandalizo referred in this context to hurting a believer. Using hurt, consider the verses in Mark again, in fuller context:

Whosoever is not against you, is on your part [side]. And whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink for my name's sake, because ye belong to Christ, verily I say 42 unto you, he shall not lose his reward. And whosoever shall hurt one of these little


25 26

Expn of Matthew, p. 48. Expn of Matthew, p. 23.


ones that believe in me, it were [would be] better for him, that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were cast into the sea.

Simply put, whoever comforts or cares for one of Jesus little ones will be rewarded, but whoever hurts him (or her) will suffer punishment. This flows logically and naturally. But others have interpreted it differently:
The NIV1973: I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name 42 because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward. And if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck.

In other words, whoever comforts or cares for one of the little ones will be rewarded, but whoever causes him or her to sin will be punished. This does not flow quite so naturally. (This point was not lost on the NIV revisers, who actually began a new paragraph at v.42 in order to make sense of the text. See p.12.) Todays English Version sees it a little differently again:
The TEV1971: Anyone who gives you a drink of water because you belong to 42 Christ will certainly receive his reward. If anyone should cause one of these little ones to turn away from his faith in me, it would be better for that man to have a large millstone tied around his neck and be thrown into the sea.

However, it is my submission that Tyndale understood skandalizo in Mark 9:42, and in the parallel verses in Matthew and Luke, to mean harm, hurt not cause to sin, though that is one way to hurt a believer, nor cause to turn away from his faith in Jesus.

Wherefore if Thy Hand Offend Thee The difficulty of understanding skandalizo in Mark 9 does not end at v.42. Skandalizo is repeated 3 times immediately thereafter, and each time Tyndale again put offend in the same transitive construction. V.43 reads, Wherefore if thy hand offend thee, cut him off, and so on regarding the cutting off of offending feet and the plucking out of offending eyes in the following verses. Here, Tyndale certainly understood skandalizo to mean cause to offend. He wrote regarding the cutting off metaphors:
This is not meant of the outward members. For then we must cut off nose, ears, hand and foot; yea, we must procure to destroy the seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and feeling, and [thus would] every man kill himself. But it is a phrase or speech of the Hebrew tongue, and [means that we should] cut off occasions [of sin]: dancing, kissing, riotous eating and drinking, and the lust of the heart, and filthy imaginations, 27 that move a man to concupiscence.

In Matthew 5, Jesus is teaching about adultery. However in Mark 9, and also in Matthew 18 and Luke 17, he is, if I am correct, teaching about maltreating a believer. He is warning his own disciples to be careful that they do not harm one of his little ones. If we find our hand or foot raised against in offence, or even that we are regarding another with an eye that is evil in envy or dislike, or with thoughts of betrayal or harm we must destroy the offending member.


Expn of Matthew, pp. 50-51.


Therefore, it appears that in Mark 9 Tyndale was using skandalizo in two senses: (1) to hurt at Mark 9:42, and (2) to cause to offend in the cutting off verses.28 Other translators have, however, understood skandalizo one way only throughout the Capernaum house discourse. But interestingly, to understand it the same way throughout actually destroys semantic continuity, forcing a division in the text such as in the NIV1973:
Whoever is not against us is for us I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward. Causing to sin And if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be 43 better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck. If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. (NIV 1973)
42 41

Even with this attempt to organize the text, note how v.43 does not flow entirely naturally from v. 42. But compare Tyndale, and see how he begins v.43:
And whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in me, it were better for him, that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were cast into the 43 sea; wherefore if thy hand offend thee, cut it off. It is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands, go into hell, into fire that never shall be quenched

Tyndale joins the whole together with a conjunction at v.43: wherefore, or therefore. This translates the Greek kai, which the NIV passed over, evidently understanding it to have a different sense, or no significant sense. In any case, therefore connects the verses such that it seems to me inescapable that what Jesus is saying here is, Whoever hurts a believer will suffer for it; therefore if you find yourself acting against a little one, do whatever it takes to end the offence. If you find your hand raised against a believer, cut it off! Tyndales construction supports my understanding. It also makes sense of Jesus warning to his disciples in the Luke passage: Take heed to yourselves. It makes sense of Jesus words at Matthew 18:10: See that ye despise not one of these little ones; his thrust in the teaching is to warn us to beware of how we regard or treat believers. All things considered, the resolution of Mark 9:41-50 proposed for the New Matthew Bible is as follows, restoring Tyndale's 1526 translation in part:

And whoever gives you a cup of water to drink for my name's sake, because you 42 29 belong to Christ, truly I say to you, he will not lose his reward. But whoever hurts one of these little ones that believe in me, it would be better for him if a millstone were

One might ask if Tyndale was not tempting confusion by using the same word in the same th construction within the same passage to mean different things. However 16 century readers spoke quite a different English. It is difficult to say if or how problems of ambiguity may have affected Tyndales readers. It has been estimated that Early Modern English speakers worked with less than 4,500 words, which explains why one word took so many senses. Now our vocabulary has expanded to more than 65,000, allowing much greater precision of expression. 29 But translates kai where Tyndale had and. He used and adversatively much more than we at present would do. Therefore it is often necessary to transpose and with but.



hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea. Therefore if your hand causes you to offend, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed than, having two 44 hands, to go into hell into fire that never shall be quenched, where their worm dies 45 not and the fire never goes out. Likewise, if your foot causes you to offend, cut it off. For it is better for you to go crippled into life than, having two feet, to be cast into hell 46 into fire that never shall be quenched, where their worm dies not and the fire never 47 goes out. So also if your eye causes you to offend, pluck it out. It is better for you to go into the kingdom of God with one eye than, having two eyes, to be cast into hell 48 fire, where their worm dies not and the fire never goes out. Everyone therefore must be salted with fire. And every sacrifice must be seasoned 50 with salt. Salt is good. But if the salt is unsavoury, what can you salt with it? See that you have salt in yourselves. And have peace among yourselves, one with another.


I realize that this interpretation is not without its problems, but no interpretation is, as the variety of commentaries shows, and it is difficult to escape given Tyndales use of hurt in 1526 together with wherefore at v.43.

Conclusion Everyone must be salted with fire; great are the troubles of the righteous (Psalm 34:19). So we accept affliction, offering submission in a spirit of sacrifice.
Offences against us are part of the fire, for God uses sin to purge sin, as well as to judge the sinner and for his other mysterious purposes. There is nothing quite like the sin of contempt or dishonour from our fellow man to bring us low and, as Tyndale would say, to meek us, and thus to slay our own sins of contempt and self-glorification. So we follow, bearing our cross, in the footsteps of our Lord: he who was without sin, but who suffered for us and who leads us in the way. In his solitary journey to Golgotha he looked beyond the shame to the glory set before him. But for most of us, surely our cross is light in comparison to that which our master bore. And through experience we come to realize that, by bearing this cross, we escape the snare of human praise, which builds rather than mortifies the flesh; such great and strange mercy there is in the cross! Everyone must be salted with fire. So then, is tribulation a necessary part of the very cup of salvation? Tyndale thought so. His 1534 New Testament contains several notes to the effect that tribulation is a mark of salvation. And in the Matthew Bible there is an interesting marginal note to Psalm 116:13; David has been lamenting great troubles and heaviness, and says I will receive the cup of salvation and call upon the name of the Lord. Here, John Rogers comments:
The cup of salvation do many expound to be affliction, vexation, and tribulation.

Afflicted, vexed, and troubled, we are thrown utterly upon God and can only call on him for strength, for provision, for comfort, for counsel, for healing, for deliverance; yea, for all things, blessed be God forever, who is faithful to keep his saints, even in the fire, and who shows his awesome power and his faithfulness to his little ones in the fire. Amen. Thus we learn to accept tribulation at the hand of our God, salted by a true understanding of what it means to take up the cross and die to sin. We also take heed to ourselves, understanding our native weakness, and alert to the risk that we ourselves may offend. We cut off our hand if we have been led, by whatsoever poison it may be, and howsoever it may be, to raise it against a little one who believes in Jesus.


Grave offences occurred during the dark seasons of persecutions and inquisitions when, by order of Pharisee or bishop, king or Church council, or by threats or bribery, people were induced to betray the saints (and others), even family members, and hand them over to be tortured, imprisoned, and brutally killed in the name of God or of his lamb. These are no doubt the sort of offences of which Jesus warned in John 16:1-4. There He was speaking immediately to His apostles, but such persecutions have been seen down the ages in the cloud of martyrs, other of the Lords faithful witnesses, who surround the throne and cry for vengeance of their blood. Woe be to all who have ever been involved in such offences; it would have been better for them to have had a millstone hung around their necks and been cast into the sea. However, are not lesser offences also a concern, even where the beast may not be raging so fiercely? We may be tempted to turn away from a little one who is afflicted, be it in a fire of sickness, poverty, lesser persecution, or his or her own struggles with sin, whatever it may be. We offer not a cup of cold water, but our backs and our disdain; perhaps even judging that God is not with him or her. But so they judged our Lord upon the cross. We forget that the Lord came for sinners, not for the righteous. We forget that great tribulation may be the sign not only of a great sinner, but also of a great saint; Tyndale taught that the greater our stomach for it, the greater may be the troubles put upon us by the Lord (see p.7). Consider Job. Therefore let us not despise each other. Let not our love grow cold. May God grant us the grace to pray for those who judge, persecute, or despise us. May we ever turn to Gods word, and put salt to our sacrifices, and have salt among ourselves. May the Lord grant to us the blessed fruit of peace among us. May we know what it is to comfort each another in the fire, and to love in true holiness of spirit for our Lord has told us that to love is to keep the law.
Ruth Magnusson Davis, 2012, New Matthew Bible Project:

From our brother James, now sleeping with the Lord these past 2,000 years, a word of exhortation and comfort to my beloved brothers and sisters in the Lord:
Be patient therefore brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience thereupon, until it receive the early and the latter rain. Be ye also patient therefore, and settle your hearts. For the coming of the Lord draweth nigh. Grudge not one against another, brethren, lest ye be damned. Behold the judge standeth before the door. Take (my brethren) the prophets for an example of suffering adversity and of long patience, they who spoke in the name of the Lord. Behold, we count happy those who endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have known what end the Lord made. For the Lord is very pitiful and merciful. James 5:7-11