The Literal and Metaphorical Use of Fire in the Bible

CRI-Blog-Hanegraaff, Hank-Fire MetaphorI begin today’s broadcast with just a word about metaphors. A good example is fire. You know fire can be very, very real, or it can be used, as it is many times in the Bible, in a metaphorical sense. When the Bible speaks of God’s throne as flaming with fire (Dan. 7:9), we intuitively recognize that an implied comparison is in view.

When we read of the lamps of fire before God’s throne, we apprehend that there is more going on than mere physical fire, because John actually tells us that what he is describing when he says the lamps of fire are the seven Spirits of God (Rev. 4:5).

Consider James; he described the human tongue as being set on fire by hell. Remember when he said, “The tongue is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body”? He goes on to say “it corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell” (James 3:6 NIV). Now, James obviously does not intend for us to think that the tongue, which in itself is a metaphor for human language, is a literal fire that literally sets on fire the course of one’s life. Nor are human tongues or languages literally set on fire by hell. James is using the language of fire as a metaphor for the destructive power of words and, in the same way, uses the language of fire as a metaphor for the destructive nature of hell.

The Bible over and over again uses the metaphor of fire in different ways to describe jealousy (Deut. 29:20; Ps. 79:5), sexual lust (1 Cor. 7:9), unbridled passion (Rom. 1:27), and the like.

I think it is safe to say that figurative language is the principle means by which God communicates spiritual realities to His children. Why do I mention this at the beginning of the broadcast? Simply to reinforce in your mind that when you read the Bible literally, it means you take what the Bible says in the sense in which it is intended. Golden bowls full of incense. What are they? They are the prayers of the saints (Rev. 5:8).

—Hank Hanegraaff

“The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell” (James 3:6 NIV).

For further related study, please access the following:

What Does it Mean to Interpret the Bible Literally? (Hank Hanegraaff)

When Literal Interpretations Don’t Hold Water (John Makujina)

This blog adapted from the March 15, 2017, Bible Answer Man broadcast.

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