In our translation, you will see ‘quotation marks’ around certain words to show that they’re highly likely to be figurative, at least, in our opinion.
These ‘quote’ marks do not appear in any original manuscript. They are purely our subjective opinions added to help readers grasp what we think may be the correct understanding. Have we always added them into the right places? Probably not, but it’s an honest attempt at doing so.
Another reason for adding them is to stop people from take verses out of context.
Most of the quotation marks that we’ve added are applied to words that everybody would agree are figurative. For example, when Jesus likened himself to a conerstone stone of a building, he did not mean that he was a literal stone (Matthew 21:42). When Paul said that members of the congregation were like a body, he did not mean that some people were literally hands or feet, and so on (1 Corinthians 12:12-28).
However, some verses contain words that may, or may not, be figurative. It’s often up to the reader to decide. We try to go by this rule: if an ancient reader would have viewed the words as ambiguous, we ought to convey that original ambiguity in the modern text.
For example, when 2 Thessalonians 1:8 says:
“...when he’ll execute punishment, with flaming fire, upon all those who don’t know God and upon those who aren’t obeying the good news...”
Is that ‘fire’ a literal burning flame, or a figurative reference to the zealous application of all kinds of punishments?
Well, on the one hand:
- Sodom and Gomorrah was destroyed with literal fire (Genesis 19:28).
- Later, EliJah repeatedly called on fire from heaven to execute servants of evil King AhaziAh (2 Kings 1:10-12).
So we know that God is not averse to executing wicked people with burning flames when appropriate.
On the other hand:
- Hebrews 12:29 says, “Indeed, our God is a consuming fire!”. Unless you believe that God is literal fire, you would have to accept that it’s a figurative reference to God’s power and zeal.
- 1 Peter 4:12 says, “You shouldn’t think that it’s strange that there’s a fire blazing among you and testing you”. Obviously, there wasn’t a real fire here, it’s just figurative language for the trials they were experiencing.
- In 2 Corinthians 11:29, Paul says, “For who is weak who doesn’t make me ‘weak?’ And who stumbles into a trap who doesn’t set me on fire?”. Again, Paul wasn’t literally bursting into flames.
There are many other figurative references to fire in the Old Testament. Psalm 26:2 says, “O Lord… test me and put me on trial… Set my heart and kidneys on fire!”
So the Bible writers use fire both literally and figuratively. It’s up to us to figure out which is which. So then, is the ‘flaming fire’ in 2 Thessalonians 1:8 literal or figurative? Well, 2 Peter 3:7 says:
“...what’s in store for the skies and the lands today is the fire of the Judgment Day, when those godless men will be undone.”
If Judgment Day is literal fire, that would imply an equal punishment (being burned alive) for everyone. A man as evil as Hitler would get the same punishment as a petty thief. That violates the principle set down by God Himself in Exodus 21:24:
“eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot”
In other words, the punishment must fit the crime.
So, based on the principle that God is just, and that the Bible does not contradict itself, some feel that the ‘flaming fire’ in 2 Thessalonians 1:8 is a figurative term for all the divine, zealous judgment to be meted out on Judgment Day. Perhaps some of that will include some literal fire, if appropriate.
However, because it is controversial, and an original reader back in the 1st century may have taken it both ways, we should maintain that ambiguity in the translated text. For this reason, we don’t put the quotes around it.
Our Bible uses older manuscripts than most Bibles do. Check us out!