One of the most common descriptions of hell in the Bible involves fire. However, the question often arises as to whether the fire description is literal or figurative.
In favor of the literal position, the fire image is consistent and repetitive. There is no image that is used more frequently. The only image that is used nearly as frequently is darkness. In addition, if an interpreter comes from a background requiring a strictly literal interpretation of the Bible, such as the fundamentalist or evangelical traditions, then he or she is more likely to interpret any image as literal rather than figurative. Therefore, the interpreter will most likely view the flame image as literal.
The figurative interpretation has several good arguments. First, the images of darkness and flame are inconsistent. Flame produces light, and therefore, hell cannot be both dark and fiery at the same time. Second, the Bible describes hell as the lake of fire prepared for the devil and his angels. Presumably, the devil and his angels are spiritual beings. Therefore, a physical fire would not affect them. They would not receive any sort of punishment from a physical fire. Finally, it is entirely within the realm of the literal interpretation of the Bible used by evangelicals and fundamentalists for some language to be figurative. The literal interpretation requires that the figurative language be interpreted literally in respect to what the figurative language means. Therefore, a metaphorical view of fire as judgment, and darkness as separation from God is within the realm of possibility for the literal interpretation of scripture.