Acts 1:4 – Jesus eating salt with his disciples

[Edited] Were Jesus and his apostles eating together, gathered together, or just plain staying together? The original Greek says sunalizô, in the form sunalizomenos (sunalizô, eat together, or gather together). The BDAB lexicon provides three possible options as to the meaning of sunalizô:

1) eat (salt) together, share a meal with; or
2) to bring together, assemble, come together, or
3) “spend the night with,” “stay with.”

The BDAG says the problem with the first possible meaning is that it doesn’t really fit the context; furthermore, it is not used anywhere else. The problem of the second meaning is with the singular number and the present tense. The third possible meaning is based on a spelling variation of συναλιζομενος (sunalizomenos) present in some miniscules. Below, the TNIV, NLT and Douay-Rheims translations render sunalizô as eating together. The NASB rendering of sunalizô is the second option of “gathered together”; and the NRSV, ESV and HCSB render sunalizô as the third option–“staying with them.” Most commonly, translations lean toward the NRSV or ESV rendering of “stay together” because these are most commonly used elsewhere in the New Testament.

The TNIV and NLT may have correctly rendered the this meaning of sunalizô as “eating with them.” Arie W. Zwiep argues for the first option of the TNIV and NLT: “A more plausible meaning of the verb is ‘eating salt together with’…hence: ‘eating together.’ Concerning the second option, Zwiep says: “The present tense may be taken to denote an uninterrupted period of Jesus’ presence among his disciples. The problem with this interpretation is that it is difficult to imagine how this meaning would apply to only one person (Jesus being the subject of the sentence).”

I don’t know if there’s any theological implications about this but “eating salt” may have a much deeper meaning than what’s being suggested on the surface. The word sun-al-izô might actually be a composition of two words “together” (sun) and “salt” (als). Jesus uses salt as an example in speaking with his disciples:

Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.(Mark 9:50, ESV).

It may be that the word sunalizô may have the connotation of a union of being at peace with one another, or “being salted together.” Jesus also told his disciples to stay together and wait for the Promise of the Father, which is the Holy Spirit. And after they received Holy Spirit, they were in the “unity of the Spirit” (Eph. 4:3). Therefore, being salted together is to be in unity and at peace with one another.
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On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. TNIV

Once when he was eating with them, he commanded them, “Do not leave Jerusalem until the Father sends you the gift he promised, as I told you before. (NLT)

And eating together with them, he commanded them, that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but should wait for the promise of the Father, which you have heard (saith he) by my mouth. (Douay-Rheims)

While at table with them, he had told them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for what the Father had promised… (NJB)

While He was together with them, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for the Father’s promise. “This,” [He said, “is what] you heard from Me; (HCSB)

While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. ‘This’, he said, ‘is what you have heard from me; (NRSV)

Gathering them together, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised, “Which,” He said, “you heard of from Me; (NASB)

And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; (ESV)

Arie W. Zwiep, The Ascension of the Messiah in Lukan Christology (Brill, 1997).

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Author: Kevin S.

A follower of Jesus, a husband and a father. Hobbies include biking, keeping fish if they don't die on me, blogging when I can, theologizing and ministry, and pondering about world affairs.

5 thoughts on “Acts 1:4 – Jesus eating salt with his disciples”

  1. I have a book in which I recently read about this very issue.

    If only I could remember which one!

    If I find it I will post on it.

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  2. Kevin, this is good stuff. I’ll have to go with the TNIV’s rendering because of Luke emphasis on sharing meals together in both Luke-Acts.

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  3. In the Middle Eastern language into which I was helping to translate the Bible there is an idiom “bread-salt” referring to general provisions. When used as “cut bread-salt” or “eat bread-salt” it refers not so much to eating together, probably the original meaning, as to being together in friendship. I suspect that this Greek word has a similar range of meaning.

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  4. Thanks Peter for sharing that. From what little I’ve read about it, there seems to be a possible meaning that is deeper and it’s along the lines as what you’ve just said. That’s the problem with idioms–its meaning changes as the language changes over time. This idiom may have lost its meaning. I wonder if we will ever uncover or rediscover its true intended meaning?

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