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Fire and brimstone (or, alternately, brimstone and fire, translated from the Hebrew גפרית ואש) are signs of God's wrath in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament), the New Testament, and the Qur'an. In the Bible, they often appear in reference to the fate of the unfaithful. "Brimstone," possibly the ancient name for sulfur, evokes the acrid odor of volcanic activity. The term is also used, sometimes pejoratively, to describe a style of Christian preaching that uses vivid descriptions of judgment and eternal damnation to encourage repentance.
The King James translation of the Bible often renders passages about fiery torments with the phrase "fire and brimstone". In Genesis 19, God destroys Sodom and Gomorrah via a rain of fire and brimstone, and in Deuteronomy 29, the Israelites are threatened with the same punishment should they abandon their covenant with God. Elsewhere, divine judgments involving fire and sulphur are prophesied against Assyria (Isaiah 30), Edom (Isaiah 34), Gog (Ezekiel 38), and all the wicked (Psalm 11).
As an interesting side note, the breath of God, in Isaiah 30:33, is compared to Brimstone: "...The Breath of Jehovah, like a stream of Brimstone, doth kindle it."
Fire and brimstone frequently appear as agents of divine wrath throughout the Book of Revelation culminating in chapters 19–21, wherein the devil and the ungodly are cast into a lake of fire and brimstone as an eternal punishment:
":And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that wrought miracles before him, with which he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast, and them that worshipped his image. These both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone. (Revelation 19:20, KJV)"
":And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever. (Revelation 20:10, KJV)"
":But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death. (Revelation 21:8, KJV)"
The specific mentions to brimstone are, of course, translational; later translations (i.e. NIV) refer instead to sulfur. Also, there is disagreement over the interpretation. A common view is that they are supposed to show how sinfulness and rejection of God's love can result in serious problems. Others suggest that they represent an active inflicting of punishment by God.
27.54 YUSUFALI: (We also sent) Lut (as a messenger): behold, He said to his people, "Do ye do what is shameful though ye see (its iniquity)? PICKTHAL: And Lot! when he said unto his folk: Will ye commit abomination knowingly? SHAKIR: And (We sent) Lut, when he said to his people: What! do you commit indecency while you see?
27.58 YUSUFALI: And We rained down on them a shower (of brimstone): and evil was the shower on those who were admonished (but heeded not)! PICKTHAL: And We rained a rain upon them. Dreadful is the rain of those who have been warned. SHAKIR: And We rained on them a rain, and evil was the rain of those who had been warned.
According to this brimstone was rained down as an elimination upon the people to whom the messenger named Lut (biblical Lot) was sent.
Brimstone was not only associated with the wrath of God or judgment but it was also used as a purifying agent. The Greek Orthodox would burn brimstone to ward off evil and disease. Some might state that this is why God's breath is compared with Brimstone and why brimstone is often used in carrying out divine judgment. That is, the brimstone is not used merely for cruelty; but is used to purify and cleanse the land from evil and the decay of sin.
The Puritan preacher Thomas Vincent (an eyewitness of the Great Fire of London) authored a book called "Fire and Brimstone in Hell", first published in 1670. In it he quotes from Psalm 11:6 "Upon the wicked he shall rain snares, fire and brimstone, and a horrible tempest, this shall be the portion of their cup."
Preachers such as Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield were referred to as "fire and brimstone preachers" during the Great Awakening of the 1730s and 1740s. Edwards' "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" remains among the best-known sermons from this period. Reports of one occasion when Edwards preached it said that many of the audience burst out weeping, and others cried out in anguish or even fainted.
Today, preaching in more conservative branches of Christianity, such as many, Nazarene, Pentecostal, Restoration Movement and Church of Christ churches, may be described as "fire and brimstone" in style. In contrast, such styles would be out of place in quietist traditions, such as the Society of Friends (or Quakers). The term "fire and brimstone" is more often used in current language to stereotype fervent preachers (though such few preachers would label themselves that way).