I was studying today Matthew 5:22(KJV).

But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.

I understand that Dante's Divine Comedy had a substantial influence on our idea of what Hell is, and though I wonder if many any longer believe it to be the place of flames described by Dante, it's still the idea that (I suspect, if we're all honest), most Christians have pop into their heads before they start talking about it.

Therefore, asserting my personal belief that Hell isn't a place of flames, what are the Biblical beliefs or support for the Lord's use of "fire" in this verse?

As you consider this, note that my point of view is that the Lord is proposing (whether literally or figuratively) greater dangers for greater errors of judgement.

  • Angry without a cause -> danger of judgement (a "crime" against an individual. Most likely judgment by your brother, family, friends, neighbors etc.)

  • Name calling without a cause -> danger of the council (a "crime" against society: slander)

  • Calling someone disobedient/sinful without a cause (Prov 12:15, Ex 20:16, etc.) -> danger of hell fire. (a "crime" against God, bearing false witness, final judgment)

I understand the "hell" part, but what is the Biblical basis for using the descriptor/adjective "fire?" What idea was the Lord trying to convey?

  • I think for a complete understanding of the term you might have to look at non-canonical apocalyptic writings of the time. While not Scriptural, they can give an impression of the worldviews of that time. – bradimus Sep 29 '17 at 18:35
  • @bradimus, I have no objection whatsoever to doing so, but restricted the question to avoid the "too broad" and "point of view" close votes. However, I believe adding historical insight wouldn't jeapordize the question's containment. – JBH Sep 29 '17 at 18:40
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    This sounds like a Truth question to me and could probably use some denominational scoping. "What idea was the Lord trying to convey?" is going to depend on how that denomination views Hell. – 4castle Sep 29 '17 at 21:18

There is a view known as annihilationism which regards the final penalty as complete extinction of being. In this view the "fire," if literal, devours the impenitent, thus bringing about their everlasting destruction, or if symbolic stands for that annihilation itself.

A good reference along these lines is the book by Edward William Fudge, The Fire That Consumes: A Biblical and Historical Study of the Doctrine of Final Punishment published by iUniverse.com, Inc.: Lincoln, NE (2001) in which he states on page 428:

"Eternal fire" is certainly not a temporary punishment which holds any promise of restoration, but it fits very well the idea of everlasting extinction such as befell the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, as Genesis describes, the rest of the Old Testament reminds, Jesus warns and Jude plainly says. The phrase argues against restorationism but not against conditionalism.

"Unquenchable fire" is usually taken to mean perpetual pain, and it might mean that - if we had no Old Testament prophets to explain the language. There it clearly signifies a divine judgment which cannot be stopped or slowed down until its destruction is complete.

As mentioned in one of the suggestions, perhaps it would be more profitable to elicit a response from those who hold this view.

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The use of fire is the closest to explaining God's punishment in a way that the common people would understand at that time. If we take a longer look at not only Jesus teachings at the time, and the ability to receive those teachings; what we will find is that those assertions, not an offence to God, but are still objectionable, will be disdained by others. While at the same time offenses against God, have eternal repercussions; offenses against man are only temporary wounds.

As anyone who has ever suffered a burn, will tell you that is the worst pain of all. Not only is it unbearable in its intensity, it is progressively increasing up to the point of being completely consuming.

The best example of the finality of fire is evident in cremation. All that is left is ashes, which is a form of dust, to which God decreed that our physical bodies would eventually return. Cremation is only an abbreviated form of natural decomposition.

The people of his time would have witnessed fire in both its controlled and uncontrolled forms. By using fire to relay the finality of God's judgment could not have been better related to anything Material, nor could its severity be better relayed.

Hope this helps.

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