What does it mean, "You will heap burning coals on his head" in Romans 12:20?

The passage says: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head." The idea of "burning coals on his head" doesn't seem to fit with the idea of showing kindness to an enemy, so what does it mean?

Romans 12:20

NKJV - 20 Therefore "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.

Clarify Share Report Asked February 04 2017 Tot Tito Dulay Lim

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Mini Tim Maas Retired Quality Assurance Specialist with the U.S. Army
The thought that Paul was expressing in this verse was not new. He was quoting from Solomon's words in Proverbs 25:21-22, and saying that, by a Christian being kind to an enemy, the enemy would (or should) rightly experience such embarrassment and shame for his unjust hatred or maltreatment of the Christian, that it would cause the enemy to figuratively feel as if he had had burning coals piled on his head (that is, the "hot flush" that people often feel when they are caught doing something that they themselves know (or come to realize) is wrong). 

What the Christian's enemy would be feeling in that case would not be unjust, or something that the Christian himself would have caused or been responsible for in a malicious way, but a sense of reproach that the enemy's own God-given conscience was inflicting upon him, and that would have been meant to make the enemy realize the wrongfulness of his actions toward the Christian, and to bring the enemy to repentance.

February 04 2017 0 responses Vote Up Share Report

Mini m f
In ancient times heated coals would be needed for cooking and as a source of heat and light. On very cold nights it could be the difference between life and death. If you had to carry hot coals you would not carry them by hand as the heat would rush onto the hand and arm. For this reason, people carried them safely on the head in a pottery urn. More to the point, a good person gives coals to their neighbour who is lacking to carry home, be they in physical or spiritual need.

May 28 2017 0 responses Vote Up Share Report

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