Fire is powerful, and can be both creative and destructive. Fire can give light and warmth, and is essential in processes such as cooking, or making iron and steel; however, it can also burn and kill. In his novel Lord of the Flies, William Golding uses fire as a vivid image of the way humankind can both create and destroy.

However, in religion, fire is most often seen as a symbol of the power of God, and it is in this way that it features in the Bible, in both the Old Testament and the New Testament.

Fire in the Old Testament


Moses and the burning bushOne of the first and most memorable instances of fire in the Bible is when Moses encountered God in the form of fire within a bush which did not burn up, the burning bush. Later, when Moses led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, God guided them through the wilderness by a column of cloud by day and of fire by night.


Throughout the Old Testament, animals were often used as a sacrifice for an offering to God. If fire was sent from heaven to burn the sacrifice, this was seen as a sign of God's acceptance of the gift. For example, when Moses dedicated the Tabernacle (a tent used as a place of worship), God is said to have sent down fire and consumed the offering. The prophet Elijah showed the power of God over pagan idols by drenching the offering and the altar with water, and then calling upon God to light the fire. God responded and ‘the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench' (1 Kings 18:38).

Judgement and purification

The anger of God, however, is also described as being like fire:

‘The earth trembled and quaked, and the foundations of the mountains shook; they trembled because he was angry. Smoke rose from his nostrils; consuming fire came from his mouth, burning coals blazed out of it' (Psalms 18:8).

In addition, the Old Testament prophet Malachi describes God as a fire which, while burning also purifies, ‘But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner's fire' (Malachi 3:2).

Fire in the New Testament

Judgement and hell

In the New Testament, it is the purifying quality of fire which is emphasised, particularly the vision of fire in the Book of Revelation. This foresees the end of the world, when fire from heaven will come down to burn the earth. It also describes the fires of hell into which the devil will be cast.

The Holy Spirit

For many Christians, fire in the New Testament is particularly significant as it is associated with the coming of the Holy Spirit. This is the manifestation of the power of God upon earth after the crucifixion, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. The writer of the book of Acts, Luke, describes how the followers of Jesus were:

‘all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit' (Acts 2:1-4).

This event, also referred to as ‘Whitsun' or ‘Pentecost', is widely regarded as the birth of the Christian church. See Big ideas: Trinity, Holy Spirit.

Related topics

Big ideas: Trinity, Holy Spirit; Temple, tabernacle

Other cultural references

Golding's Lord of the Flies

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