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Romans 12:20. Heap burning coals....In the smelting process hot coals are used to soften the metal underneath so that it could be shaped and molded. This is the interpretation that I have been trying to track down. Thus, it would be a kindness to the person to soften his mind to hear the Kingdom message of truth. Every other interpretation that I have read has the tinge of revenge to it, which is not in harmony with what Jesus taught.

I would be very happy to hear what you have to say about this.

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  • You mean Romans 12:20. I edited. – user33515 Jan 19 '18 at 20:41
  • There are actually several answers to this question here. I hadn't noticed before I posted my answer. I edited my answer here and reposted there. Your question here will probably be closed as a duplicate. – user33515 Jan 19 '18 at 21:04
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Paul is quoting Proverbs 25:21-22 here:

If thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink;

For so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head, and the Lord shall reward thee with good.

I think the intent is to shame, rather than soften - but perhaps the shame leads to softening. I agree that the theme is not revenge. It really is repentance. A contemporary Orthodox commentator, Dmitry Royster, explains the passage:

"in so doing," that is, if one acts in accordance with this principle, he "will heap coals of fire upon his enemy's head," a proverbial expression: in this context, it means "put to shame," or "make one painfully conscious of his guilt." It is found also in Psalm 139/140:101, where it denotes God's own retribution on those, Saul and his followers, who were persecuting David in order to kill him, even though he had dealt in a godly way with Saul.2

The Psalm reads:

7O God the Lord, the strength of my salvation, Thou hast covered my head in the day of battle.

8Grant not, O Lord, the desires of the wicked: Further not his wicked device; Lest they exalt themselves.

9As for the head of those that compass me about, Let the mischief of their own lips cover them.

10Let burning coals fall upon them: Let them be cast into the fire; Into deep pits, that they rise not up again.

Archbishop Dmitry continues:

The hope implied by the expression in our present verse is that the enemy's realization of his wrongdoing might lead him to repentance. For it is unthinkable that the man who feeds him and gives him to drink would do these acts of kindness for the purpose of revenge, that is, to see his enemy in spiritual, mental, or physical torment.3


1. Psalm 139 in the Septuagint (from which Paul quotes), Psalm 140 in the Masoretic Text
2. St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans: A Pastoral Commentary (St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 2008), p.328
3. Ibid.

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  • Instead of not inflicting punishment and doing nothing, do good to another [Rom.12:14,21]), as the Scriptures say in Prov.25:21-22.20. Regarding "the burning coals, suggestions have been given as to coals of kindness, of conviction, of the pain of shame and remorse [Moo]; and of God's judgment [Schreiner]. So, in my view, our acts of kindness, could produce in another: conviction, shame and remorse, and perhaps the feeling of God's coming judgment. Our kindness should not be done to produce such feelings or convictions in another, but done out of a pure motive. – Ed Dudek Feb 11 '18 at 22:43

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