Silver refining and the Bible


I don’t know if anyone has the time to read and respond to this
email, but it would really help me. I’m a writer considering an
article for a Christian magazine. There’s a story that circulates by
email and I’d like to get your opinion on whether it is true. It’s
based on Malachi 3:3 which says: “He will sit as a refiner and
purifier of silver.” The story reads that a woman was interested in
how silver is refined so she visits a silversmith. He tells her
several things, including that he knows when the silver is finished
refining because when he pulls it from the fire, he can see his
reflection in it.

( Do you know if this
is true? Is anyone interested in discussing this me for attribution?

Thanks so much!

Virginia Watson

There are many references to silver and refining and dross in the
bible. Feel free to email me offline if you would like. :slight_smile:

wireywoman AT hotmail DOT com

Hello Virginia,

That is essentially correct. The medieval (well a little later, in
the 1500s) German refiners knew when their metal was ready “wenn es
plickt” i.e. when it winks, or shines. The processes are marvellously
described in Georgius Agricola’s "De Re Metallica. The translation of
this by the way is by Herbert Hoover who was a mining engineer.

Hans Durstling
Moncton, Canada


A wonderful question, and although most metal smiths would not
classify as ‘refiners’ I can only draw a parallel to the look of
silver when heated to melting temperature in a crucible. The silver
will become ‘watery’ a few moments before liquefying and turn into
shiny molten ball looking much like mercury (for example).

Although; “If the silver was left a moment too long in the flames,
it would be destroyed” is a more curious question, which I do not
know how to answer. I’m assuming that this silversmith was not
annealing, casting, fusing, soldering etc. because the story says “a
piece of silver”, “refining silver”, “the flames were hottest as to
burn away all the impurities”.

I am not familiar with ancient refining techniques but I can’t see
the silver being destroyed, I’m wondering if the ‘kiln’ produced such
heat that at some point in the process the silver would re-absorb
impurities i.e. carbon from the fuel etc. and therefore become
difficult to work into ingots / forms. The refining process would
also need to be started over again, with new metal added.

Great email!

Taylor in Toronto

Virginia, the story at the website to which you referred is a nice
one, but in my opinion, Malachi 3:3 is not a good “source” for that
particular interpretation. As for the reality of how silver is
refined, I’ll leave that to those who have actually done refining.

As for the text itself, the New Jerusalem Bible translates Malachi
3:2b-3 as follows: (referring to the coming of the Day of the Lord)
“Who can stand firm when he appears? He is like a refiner’s fire,
like fuller’s soap; he will take his seat, refining and purifying; he
will purify the Levites and cleanse them like gold and silver, and so
they shall be fit to bring offerings to the Lord.” The image is to
burning out dross and impurities, not to God seeing God’s image in
the molten silver.

The Hebrew verb, tsaraph, “to refine, test, purify,” used here
twice, appears otherwise in various forms (including participles) in

Judges 7:4, 17:4
Isaiah 1:25, 40:19, 41:7, 46:6, 48:10 
Jeremiah 6:29, 9:6, 10:9,14, 51:17
Psalms 17:3, 26:2, 66:10, 105:19
Proverbs 25:4
Daniel 11:35
Nehemiah 3:8, 32
Zechariah 13:9

I mention these only to note the various contexts in which the verb
is used. I suspect it is also used in the Apocrypha, but I don’t
have that concordance at hand.

Probably more than you wanted to know…

Judy Bjorkman