Wow, way back in 2006, Suzanne looked at this verse. She wisely writes:
It has been my feeling for a long time that we should not worry about understanding the more difficult parts of the Bible until after we have obeyed the parts that are crystal clear. Since I have personally not yet accomplished this, I have never been in a position to say, “Lord, I will follow your word when I can understand it”, but rather, “Help me to follow that which I understand.” Coals of Fire
I found out on Saturday that I was the preacher on Sunday so I chose this passage, especially verse 21. But I did linger on the burning coals business. It’s an enigma. Suzanne linked to a wonderful collection of interpretations of this verse. I’ve heard most of them and none has convinced me. The leadership of the Bible college meets on Sunday nights to pray and discuss the sermon of the morning. Apparently some of them had been debating my sermon during the day.
In Afrikaans there is a marked difference between the 1953 and 1983 versions:
1953: As jou vyand dan honger het, gee hom iets om te eet; as hy dors het, gee hom iets om te drink, want sodoende sal jy op sy hoof vurige kole ophoop.
1983: As jou vyand honger is, gee hom iets om te eet; as hy dors is, gee hom iets om te drink; want deur dit te doen, maak jy hom vuurrooi van skaamte.
In 1983, the burning coals turned into “red with shame.” (Source)
In cases where the interpretation is ambiguous it’s best in my opinion for translators to choose the option they think is best and then footnote alternate readings. I’m not sure if the 1983 has a footnote.
In Chichewa, the traditional version has been heaping burning coals. I mentioned the Nyungwe word for neighbor, nyakupala moto literally “the one who scrapes some fire” i.e. from your fire to make their own. And Pastor Manasse mentioned that there is an old tradition of carrying coals in a clay pot on your head when you go out to work in the fields.
Origen said only God knows who wrote Hebrews. And possibly God only knows what this verse means.
My question is, “Can you take the phrase out without changing the meaning of the passage?” What I mean is, If as I understand it the passage can mean any of three contradictory things how crucial is the phrase to interpretation of the passage as a whole?
- Your enemy will be punished.
- Your enemy will be blessed.
- Your enemy will be ashamed.
It seems that most modern translations choose option three.
What do you think?
There’s a fine comment section on Suzanne’s post that you might want to browse before commenting here: Coals of Fire