Romans 12:20



The Greek conjunction alla ("but") "serves to introduce a sentence with keenness and emphasis" (Analytical Greek Lexicon, p. 15). The word translated "feed" is psomizo which appears only two times in the NT writings (I Cor. 13:3 being the other instance). It comes from the root word psomion meaning "sop" (see: John 13:26, 27, 30), and signifies "to dole out in portions." "Literally it is 'morsel him' as morsels are fed to a babe" (Lenski, p. 781).

The Greek word anthrax, translated "burning coals," appears only this one time in the NT, and it is from this word that we get our English word "anthrax" (which signifies a fiery boil or ulcer; an infectious, usually fatal disease of cattle, sheep, etc., which can be transmitted to man; it is characterized by malignant, burning pustules).

The Greek word soreuo appears only twice in the NT (here and II Tim. 3:6). It signifies a heaping up into a pile. "To overwhelm with a heaping together of anything" (Thayer, p. 612).


Proverbs 25:21-22 Matthew 5:44


"It is clear that the 'coals of fire' which are to be heaped on the head are meant to melt and soften the heart, and cause it to glow with love. There may be also included the burning pangs of shame felt by a man whose evil is answered by good. But these are secondary and auxiliary to the true end of kindling the fire of love in his alienated heart" (Maclaren, p. 302-303).

"An alternative view is that the proverb refers to an Egyptian ritual in which a man gave public evidence of his penitence by carrying a pan of burning charcoal on his head" (Bruce, p. 230).

"Vengeance may break his spirit; but kindness will break his heart" ... and "move him to burning shame" (Barclay, p. 184).

"Understand as included under the words meat and drink, all acts of kindness. 'Heaping coals of fire' seems to be a sort of a proverbial saying, signifying something intolerable, which cannot be borne without producing strong effects" (Calvin, p. 475).

"The writer once heard of a woman involved in bitter quarrels with her husband. Seeking counsel, she was asked, 'Have you tried heaping coals of fire on his head?' She replied, "No, but I tried a skillet of hot grease!' She, like many others, failed to realize that Paul here used a figure of speech, a style of rhetoric often found in the sacred scriptures. As Richard Batey noted: 'The original meaning of this figure of speech has been lost, but Paul suggests that the enemy will burn with shame for his abuse of one who loves him'" (Coffman, p. 442-43).

"Coals of fire are doubtless emblematical of pain. Burning coals heaped on a man's head would be expressive of intense agony. But the pain will result from shame, remorse of conscience, a conviction of the evil of his conduct, and an apprehension of divine displeasure that may lead to repentance" (Barnes, p. 289).

"....will make him burn with pangs of guilt and remorse" (Layman's, p. 1412).

"'Coals of fire' is a metaphor for keen anguish. Compare the Arabic phrases: 'coals in the heart,' and 'fire in the liver'" (Shedd, p. 374).

"His conscience will give him keen pain. His evil acts will torture and distress his soul. They will burn in him like fire. The end may be his repentance" (Lard, p. 395).

"'Burning coals' are best understood as the burning pangs of shame and contrition" (Expos. Comm., p. 135).

"In Bible times an oriental needed to keep his hearth fire going all the time in order to insure fire for cooking and warmth. If it went out, he had to go to a neighbor for some live coals of fire. These he would carry on his head in a container, oriental fashion, back to his home. The person who would give him some live coals would be meeting his desperate need and showing him an outstanding kindness. If he would heap the container with coals, the man would be sure of getting some home still burning. The one injured would be returning kindness for injury" (Wuest, p. 220).

"The metaphor is supposed to be taken from the melting of metals, by covering the ore with burning coals. Thus understood, the meaning will be: In so doing, thou wilt mollify thine enemy, and bring him to a good temper" (MacKnight, p. 440-41).

So artists melt the sullen ore of lead,
By heaping coals of fire upon its head.
In the kind warmth the metal learns to glow,
And pure from dross the silver runs below.
---(Clarke, p. 142)

"The meaning of 'heaping burning coals on his head' is hardly open to doubt. It must refer to the burning pain of shame and remorse which the man feels whose hostility is repaid by love" (Expos. Greek, p. 694).

"Do not withhold from any man the offices of mercy and kindness; you have been God's enemy, and yet God fed, clothed, and preserved you alive: do to your enemy as God has done to you" (Clarke, p. 142).

Home Page Romans 12:9-21 Files