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Don Stewart :: Is Hell Fire Literal?

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Don Stewart
The Bible speaks of hell fire.

And the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever (Revelation 20:10).

Are we to understand the fire as being literal?

Speaks Of God's Wrath

Fire in Scripture is symbolic of the wrath of God. Moses wrote.

For the LORD your God is a devouring fire, a jealous God. (Deuteronomy 4:24).

The prophet Nahum said.

Who can stand before His indignation? Who can endure the heat of His anger? His wrath is poured out like fire, and by Him the rocks are broken in pieces (Nahum 1:6).

Malachi proclaimed.

But who can endure the day of His coming? Who can stand when He appears? For He will be like a refiner's fire or a launderer's soap (Malachi 3:2).

Jeremiah said.

Circumcise yourselves to the LORD, remove the of your hearts, O people of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, or else My wrath will go forth like fire, and burn with no one to quench it, because of the evil of your doings (Jeremiah 4:4).

Two Problems With Literal Fire

There are two main problems with understanding the fires of hell to be literal.

1. Whom Hell Was Originally Prepared For

2. Fire In The Midst Of Darkness

Prepared For Spirit-Creatures

The Bible says that hell was prepared for the devil and his angels. The wicked will hear the following words from God.

Then He will also say to those on the left, 'Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41).

The Devil and his angels are spirit-beings, creatures without bodies. How can something like fire have any effect on them? You cannot burn something that has no material existence. The fire, therefore, is seemingly symbolic of something else.

Fires In Darkness

The second problem with understanding the fires in a literal manner is that hell is spoken of as a place of outer darkness. How can you have darkness when there is fire? It seems that either the fire, or the darkness, or perhaps both of them, are not to be understood literally.

Summary

Scripture speaks of the fires of hell but there is a question as to whether this is to be understood literally. Hell was originally prepared for the Devil and his angels who are spirit-beings. They have no material substance. It is difficult to see how literal fire would have any affect on them. In addition, hell is spoken of as a place of darkness. It is hard to reconcile darkness with fire. These two facts seem incompatible with a literal fire. Whether or not the fires in hell are literal, the Bible does speak of hell as a terrible place of suffering.
CONTENT DISCLAIMER:

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.