Wednesday, January 31, 2024

They shall be burnt with fire (various, burning)

So, because Steve Wells was not quite satisfied with my last post because he felt I didn't fully address the issue of What the Bible says about burning people to death (and I didn't, because I felt the burning in Isaiah chapter 33 was figurative language), I'm going to take a sidebar here and talk about that subject. I have already talked about capital punishment in Exodus and the nature of Hell in John, but I'm sure I'll need to revisit those topics.

Let's start with Genesis 38, and Judah's intent to burn his daughter-in-law to death. This is indeed cruel, and it is in fact unwarranted; this is not God's will, but Judah reacting in anger to a situation that he came to realize he was implicated in the matter. In Joshua 7, where we read about the killing of Achan, yes, he and his family were burned up, but note they were stoned to death first; this is not burning someone to death. 2Samuel 23 is David talking about certain "sons of belial" who are not explicitly identified; it seems reasonable that David is simply saying that evil people will see judgment, perhaps he's even talking about the fires of Hell, although the idea seems iffy.

With all that aside, the two verses from Leviticus are definitely capital offenses that are to be dealt with by burning the offenders. I don't think there's any getting around it, but it's possibly worth noting that both of these offenses are easy to avoid (and a woman who is a prostitute who isn't the daughter of a priest has committed adultery, and would also be put to death, I assume). For some reason, these particular acts--both of a sexual nature--are considered serious enough by God to warrant this punishment, and I don't know why. So what can be said about it? Well, some commentaries point out that the passage in Joshua about Achan suggests that these offenses are trated by first killing the offenders (probably by stoning) and then burning the bodies afterwards. Of course being stoned to death isn't painless either, but it's likely much less painful than being burned.

Okay, so God burned some people to death himself? Let's see those verses. In Leviticus 10, while it says God sent fire to burn Nadab and Abihu to death, if you look at the immediate context, their bodies had to be carried away afterwards, showing that there bodies were not consumed by the fire. This very likely was some sort of supernatural fire, and tradition has it that their bodies were actually unharmed; their death may have not been painful. While I of course can't say that with complete certainty, it is a possibility, and so it may also be the case in these other verses. (Remember Moses and the burning bush that wasn't consumed? It seems there is something that is a manifestation of God that looks like fire, but technically isn't fire.) The Numbers 16 and 1Kings 1 passages do say the men were consumed, so perhaps that's definitely real fire. The Deuteronomy 32 passage definitely sounds like figurative language, especially since it says "burned with hunger". Psalm 21, like much of the Psalms, is being poetic, not necessarily prophetic. Isaiah chapters 24, 33, and 47 are likely symbolic of destruction rather than literal fire, and also the Ezekiel 15 and Jeremiah 49 passages.

Now as I said above, I already addressed the subject of hell, and in that post, I believe I did find that Hell is a place full of fire. However, I also discussed two possibilities with respect to Hell: (1) it is possible that Jesus's death on the cross meant that Hell is no longer a place where people go, because Jesus paid the price for the sin of the world; and (2) it is possible that the burning in Hell is only temporary, and souls are consumed by the fires of Hell. However, I don't think it can be denied that there is an experience of burning on the part of (at least some of) the souls that are in Hell.

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