This semester I will be teaching an undergraduate course on the Acts of the Apostles. Since most of my research interests in the past have been in the realm of Gospels, Paul, and apocalyptic, the Acts of the Apostles kind of got placed on the back burner. I can imagine this is the same for many NT folks, unless they did their dissertation on Acts. This has given me the opportunity to get acquainted with much of the theological literature associated with Luke’s second volume. Since my previous studies had already given me an appreciation for history, geography, and the imperial cult, I found my inquiry into the massive Acts to be delightful thus far.
More to the point, Acts begins by both recapping the end of Luke’s Gospel and telling about the transition period between Jesus’ ministry and that belonging to his disciples. In Acts 1:4a, most modern translations state that, “Gathering them together, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem.” The participle synalizomenos (συναλιζόμενος) is, under closer examination, able to be rendered in two different ways. Here are the options:
- The verb is synalizo (συν + αλιζw), meaning “with + gather” i.e., gather together. There are no other occurrences of this word in either the NT or the LXX.
- The verb is synalizo (συν + αλς), meaning “with + salt” i.e., eat salt with. This would also be the only occurrence of this verb in the NT and LXX. However, I think that the rendering “sharing salt with” was the likely intended meaning of the verb.
Acts 1:1-8 depicts the commission for Jesus’ apostles before he ascends into heaven. During this time, he teaches them about the kingdom of God for forty days (1:3). He also prepares them for reception of the Spirit (1:5). Furthermore, he sets them on their missionary journey which begins from Jerusalem and consummates in Rome (1:8). These themes (kingdom, Spirit, and inclusion of the Gentiles) are eschatologically themed in Jewish messianism. This echos the Last Supper as recorded by Luke in which Jesus “covenants” to his disciples, over a meal, in which they will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel (Luke 22:28-30). Since Luke has in this passage linked table fellowship with eschatological themes, it opens the possibility that synalizo, used in conjunction with the same themes, also deals with table fellowship (i.e., “sharing salt”).
Furthermore, “salt” is often associated with the covenant and the loyalty required by it within the Hebrew Bible. Leviticus 2:13 informs the Israelites that their grain offerings are to be seasoned with salt “so that they salt of the covenant of your God will not be lacking.” This suggests a close linking of “salt” with the covenant commitment. This can also be observed in Num. 18:19 where the phrase “covenant of salt” appears in proximity to descriptions regarding “perpetual statutes” (haq-olam). The Chronicler also employs this language to describe the covenant made with David to rule over Israel forever, calling this a “covenant of salt” (2 Chron. 13:5). Ezra 4:14 records a letter expressing fidelity of Artaxerxes, illustrating this commitment with the phrase “we are in the service of the palace” (literally: we eat the salt of the palace). Luke uses the noun salt (ἅλας) twice in Luke 14:34 to describe the heightened level of faithfulness with which Jesus requires of his disciples.
In sum, I think it is likely that Luke, in Acts 1:4, intended to convey that Jesus “shared salt” with his disciples, which meant that he shared table fellowship with them as they discussed issues regarding loyalty and commitment to the covenant (such as the kingdom, the Spirit, and the evangelistic mission).