[Matthew 3:11-12] I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but after me is coming He who is mightier than I, of whom I am not worthy to carry the sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire, 12 whose winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will clear His threshing floor and will gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” (BLB)

[Matthew 3:11-12] I baptize you with water for repentance, but the one who comes after me is more powerful than I am, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing shovel is in his hand, and he will clean out his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the storehouse, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” (LEB)

John the Baptist portrays Jesus, the one who is mightier than he is, as carrying a winnowing fork ready to clear the threshing floor to gather the wheat into His barn, and burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.

  • What is the picture of burning up the chaff in Matthew 3:12 meant to convey?

2 Answers 2


An Exhaustive Analysis of Matthew 3:12:

[Matthew 3:12] His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” (NASB)

[Matthew 3:12] His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will thoroughly cleanse his threshing floor. He will gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn up with unquenchable fire." (WEB)

[Matthew 3:12] His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” (NKJV)

[Matthew 3:12] His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clean out his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the storehouse, but the chaff he will burn up with inextinguishable fire.” (NET)

I. Burn up the chaff

Before we examine this verse in great detail, let us simply see what a face-value reading of this passage tells us. John the Baptist begins by presenting Jesus with a winnowing fork in His hand, ready to thoroughly sweep across His threshing floor and separate the wheat from the chaff. A winnowing fork is a tool which looks like a pitchfork that is used to winnow grain from the chaff by lifting up the harvested wheat into the air (see image 1), and a threshing floor is a flat, circular surface where a farmer threshes the grain harvest (see image 2). And chaff is the dry husk or outer casing of a grain seed (such as rice, wheat, or barley) that is separated from the seed itself in the process of winnowing or threshing.

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The wheat is, of course, gathered and put into the storehouse, while the chaff, which is at this point worthless and unusable, is gathered and burnt up with unquenchable fire; a fire that cannot be extinguished. Now, chaff is a highly flammable substance that is easily burnt and reduced to ashes. John's listeners, who were people familiar with the agricultural pictures he was evoking, would have known this; it is unimaginable that any of them would have ever thought that the chaff would remain intact and burn for all time (which is precisely what adherents of ECT believe will be true of the wicked cast into hell), rather, they would have envisioned the chaff being fully consumed and eradicated, which is exactly what would happen to chaff that is being burnt by a fire that isn't doused; the fire continues to burn the chaff until nothing remains. If John wanted to communicate eternal conscious torment, this would have been the absolute worst way to do it. So, a face-value reading supports conditionalism and works against ECT. However, I know some will object on two grounds. The first objection is that it is possible for something to burn without it being consumed, that is, burnt up, such as the burning bush on Mount Horeb (see Exodus 3:1-3). The bush was on fire, but it was not burnt up. The second objection is that the fire that burns the chaff is called "unquenchable fire", which means it never goes out. Therefore, since the fire never goes out, the chaff must remain intact forever, otherwise, the fire would go out without the fuel necessary to sustain it. However, neither of these objections can be sustained.

For the first objection, I agree that it is possible for something to burn but not be consumed; obviously, God would be capable of sustaining something that is on fire and keeping it intact to continue burning for all eternity if He so wanted. However, that is neither here nor there. The question is, what would the image of chaff being burned by fire conjure in the minds of John's listeners? Would you imagine that the chaff burns eternally while remaining whole, or that it is eventually completely devoured by the fire, chaff being the flimsy, combustible substance that it is? The answer is unambiguous. There is another reason why this objection fails. It's because of the word behind the phrase "burn up" in Matthew 3:12, which is κατακαίω (Strong's G2618), pronounced katakaió. This word does not simply mean "to burn". κατακαίω comes from the words κατά (katá), which means "down", καίω (kaió), which is the word that means "to set on fire", "to kindle", or "to burn" (it can mean "to consume" or "burn up", but it doesn't have to). Hence, the word κατακαίω literally means "to burn down". LSJ, Thayer's, and Strong's Concordance all say that this word means "to burn completely", "to consume wholly, to burn down to the ground", "to consume by fire, to burn up". This word does simply not refer to being burned by fire without any reference to what the fire accomplishes; it refers to being totally consumed by fire and burned up. Perhaps the best example of this is Exodus 3:1-3 in the Septuagint (LXX), which is the earliest extant Greek translation of the original Hebrew scriptures, written sometime between the 3rd and 1st centuries BC, and the "Bible" Jesus and His disciples were familiar with.

[Exodus 3:1-3] καὶ Μωϋσῆς ἦν ποιμαίνων τὰ πρόβατα Ιοθορ τοῦ γαμβροῦ αὐτοῦ τοῦ ἱερέως Μαδιαμ καὶ ἤγαγεν τὰ πρόβατα ὑπὸ τὴν ἔρημον Καὶ ἦλθεν εἰς τὸ ὄρος Χωρηβ. 2 ὤφθη δὲ αὐτῷ ἄγγελος κυρίου ἐν φλογὶ πυρὸς ἐκ τοῦ βάτου, καὶ ὁρᾷ ὅτι ὁ βάτος καίεται [kaió] πυρί, ὁ δὲ βάτος οὐ κατεκαίετο [katakaió]. 3 εἶπεν δὲ Μωϋσῆς Παρελθὼν ὄψομαι τὸ ὅραμα τὸ μέγα τοῦτο, τί ὅτι οὐ κατακαίεται [katakaió] ὁ βάτος. (LXX)

[Exodus 3:1-3] And Moyses was tending the sheep of Iothor, his father-in-law, the priest of Madian, and he led the sheep beyond the wilderness and came to the mountain, Choreb. 2 Now an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a fire of flame out of the bush, and he saw that the bush was burning with fire, but the bush was not burning up. 3 Then Moyses said, “When I pass by, I will look at this great sight, why it is that the bush is not burning up.” (NETS)

Notice how the LXX translates the spectacle that Moses saw of the bush "burning" (the word used there is καίω, which as we saw before refers merely to something burning or being on fire), but not "burning up", that is, not being utterly consumed by the fire but preserved; the word used there is κατακαίω, the very same word used in Matthew 3:12. So you see, the thing that didn't happen to the burning bush in Exodus 3:1-3 is the thing that will happen to the chaff in the unquenchable fire, namely, it will not be preserved but will be completely burned up, which is the exact opposite of what ECT proponents believe about the chaff in Matthew 3:12 ... the chaff will not remain intact whatsoever to burn for all eternity, but will be fully destroyed by an inextinguishable flame.1

II. Unquenchable fire

Now for the second objection that "unquenchable fire" refers to a fire that never goes out. The word translated "unquenchable" is ἄσβεστος (Strong's G762), and it does not mean "cannot ever die out", but "cannot be put out or extinguished". The difference between the two is that "die out" is intransitive (meaning it has no direct object), while "put out" is transitive (meaning it does have a direct object). The term "unquenchable fire" designates a fire that cannot be extinguished by anyone, not a fire that never goes out for eternity. The image of fire that cannot be quenched does not begin with John the Baptist and is a motif found throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. Let us examine the Old Testament background for the phrase "unquenchable fire".

[Isaiah 1:31] The strong will be like tinder, and his work like a spark. They will both burn together, and no one will quench them.” (WEB)

In Isaiah 1:31, the strong and his work are said to "burn together", and "no one will quench them". Is Isaiah talking about them burning for eternity, or about their total destruction? He explicitly says that no one will quench them as they burn together. It sounds at first glance that they will burn forever, doesn't it? Let's take a look at the context that leads up to verse 31. Verses 1-4 of Isaiah 1 talk about how Israel has rebelled against God and forsaken Him, and how they are a people "loaded with iniquity". What has happened as a result? V.7-9 tells us that their country is desolate, their cities burned with fire, and devoured and overthrown by strangers. Israel has been all but totally eradicated. If it were not for the mercy of God, they would have been like Sodom and Gomorrah, that is, completely decimated. What has God suggested to Israel to help them get out of this situation? V.16-19 records God telling them to wash themselves and put away evil; to seek justice and learn to live rightly. He has promised them that if they do that, their sins, though red as scarlet, will be as "white as snow", and that if they are obedient to Him, they will "eat the good of the land". Of course, what happens if they don't obey God and rebel against Him? They shall be "devoured by the sword", i.e. slain. So, Israel has two choices: put away evil and seek good, and God will show mercy and forgiveness and restore them, or refuse to do so and rebel, and God will make them be devoured by the sword. And in v.24, Yahweh declares that He will get relief from His adversaries and avenge Himself on them. All this leads up to v.28-31.

[Isaiah 1:28-31] But the destruction of transgressors and sinners shall be together, and those who forsake Yahweh shall be consumed. 29 For they shall be ashamed of the oaks which you have desired, and you shall be confounded for the gardens that you have chosen. 30 For you shall be as an oak whose leaf fades, and as a garden that has no water. 31 The strong will be like tinder, and his work like a spark. They will both burn together, and no one will quench them.” (WEB)

Sadly, there will always be people who disregard God and choose to rebel against Him. Of course, God will not allow them to continue on forever. V.28 tells us that sinners and transgressors shall be destroyed together and that those who forsake Yahweh will be consumed. V.30 tells us that they will be like an oak with fading leaves, and a waterless garden; an oak whose leaves are fading away is a dying oak, and a garden without any water will wither away and perish. And v.31 ends by telling us that "the strong will be like tinder", their "work like a spark", and that they will "burn together", and "no one will quench them". The context of verse 31 is clearly about the destruction of the ungodly, not of their eternal torment.2 It is said that they will be "devoured by the sword", experience "destruction", and "be consumed", be like an "oak whose leaf fades", and a "garden that has no water". Not only that, but the ungodly is compared to tinder, and his work to a spark. Tinder is a highly flammable material that burns up easily ... it does not burn forever. Tinder is eventually incinerated by fire, that is, if the flame is not put out. Fortunately, God declares that the fire that burns the strong, who is tinder, and his work, which is a spark, will not be put out by anyone. What follows from this? Certainly not that the strong and his work will endure and burn for eternity, but rather that the fire, which is not snuffed out by anyone, continues to burn him and his work until they are completely consumed and nothing remains. In fact, that is precisely what Job 20:26 says.

[Job 20:26] Complete darkness is held in reserve for his treasures, And unfanned fire will devour him; It will consume the survivor in his tent.

Fire, when left by itself, continues to do what fire does and devours until nothing is left. That's what happens when a fire cannot be quenched; it rages on and eradicates what is in its path until all that is combustible has been consumed and fully depleted. That which it burns is not somehow immortalized so it can burn for all eternity. That's absurd. Let's take a look at three more passages.

[Jeremiah 7:20] Therefore the Lord Yahweh says: “Behold, my anger and my wrath will be poured out on this place, on man, on animal, on the trees of the field, and on the fruit of the ground; and it will burn and will not be quenched.

In Jeremiah 7:20, Yahweh promises to Judah that His wrath will be poured out on it ... "on man, on animal, on the trees of the field, and on the fruit of the ground." His wrath will blaze and will by no means be extinguished. What does this look like? Like the unending, fiery torment of those who have done detestable things, or like their extinction and decimation? Let's look down several verses later.

[Jeremiah 7:32-34] “Therefore behold, the days are coming,” says the Lord, “when it will no more be called Tophet, or the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter; for they will bury in Tophet until there is no room. 33 The corpses of this people will be food for the birds of the heaven and for the beasts of the earth. And no one will frighten them away. 34 Then I will cause to cease from the cities of Judah and from the streets of Jerusalem the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride. For the land shall be desolate.

Enough said. Let us now consider Ezekiel 20:46-48 and Amos 5:4-6.

[Ezekiel 20:46-48] “Son of man, set your face toward the south; preach against the south and prophesy against the forest land, the South, 47 and say to the forest of the South, ‘Hear the word of the Lord! Thus says the Lord God: “Behold, I will kindle a fire in you, and it shall devour every green tree and every dry tree in you; the blazing flame shall not be quenched, and all faces from the south to the north shall be scorched by it. 48 All flesh shall see that I, the Lord, have kindled it; it shall not be quenched.”’”

[Amos 5:4-6] For thus says the Lord to the house of Israel: “Seek Me and live; 5 But do not seek Bethel, Nor enter Gilgal, Nor pass over to Beersheba; For Gilgal shall surely go into captivity, And Bethel shall come to nothing. 6 Seek the Lord and live, Lest He break out like fire in the house of Joseph, And devour it, With no one to quench it in Bethel

In Ezekiel 20:46-48, God emphatically says twice that the conflagration He kindles in the forest of the South will not be quenched. Now, what does this mean? That the fire will never die out and continue to burn the forest for eternity? Just the opposite. The fire will devour every tree, fresh and dry, and every surface from the south to the north will be totally scorched by it; the unquenchable fire that God ignites fully consumes and exterminates the forest of the South. And if you go to where that forest was today, you will not see a fire still burning. And in Amos 5:4-6, the house of Israel is presented with two options: seek Yahweh and live, or don't seek Him and have Him break out like an all-consuming fire that won't be quenched by anyone. There are many more instances where the fire of God's wrath is said to be unable to be quenched (2 Ki. 22:16-17, 2 Ch. 34:25, Isa. 34:8-10; 66:24, Jer. 4:4; 17:27; 21:12), in addition to the ones we have considered (Isa. 1:31; Jer. 7:20; Eze. 20:47-48; Amos 5:6). In none of them are the wicked preserved alive to be endlessly tormented by the fire (again, just the opposite).

As we've seen, the imagery of fire not being quenched is found throughout the Hebrew Bible, and such imagery is what John the Baptist is utilizing by the phrase "unquenchable fire". As seen in the foregoing, such imagery conveys, not the perpetual and unending burning of the wicked, but their destruction and total elimination, as the fire that burns them continues to do so without interruption until what it burns against has been expended and utterly destroyed. When John says that the chaff will be burned up by unquenchable fire, he is saying that the fire that burns the chaff will not be able to be stopped or put to an end by anyone and will thus keep on burning without disturbance until the chaff has been incinerated. You see, when a fire starts burning, there are only two ways it will stop burning; either someone extinguishes it, that is, puts it out, or it dies out on its own. When does it die on its own? When all its fuel has been exhausted and fully consumed by the blaze. According to John the Baptist, the first option is an impossibility, hence, all that is left is for the fire to expend its fuel by utterly burning it up. Essentially, he is saying that if anyone tries to put out the fire and prevent it from burning up the chaff, they will fail, and consequently, the fire will fully consume the chaff; the wicked and corrupt are thoroughly powerless against the insurmountable and inexorable fire of God's wrath, and accordingly, it burns them up completely.

III. Chaff

As with the image of unquenchable fire, the concept of the wicked being like chaff does not originate with John the Baptist. He is making use of a concept already very familiar to his listeners. Let us now examine the theme of chaff (which is the dry, outer layer of grain seeds separated from the seed in the process of winnowing or threshing) and stubble (which are the stalks of grain plants that are left after they have been harvested) that is found throughout the Hebrew Scriptures (chaff and stubble are used synonymously in the Tanakh). There are three words for chaff/stubble in Hebrew, which are מוֹץ (mots), קַשׁ (qash), and חֲשַׁשׁ (chashash). The wicked are compared to chaff numerous times in the Hebrew Bible. They are like chaff that is driven away in the wind (Job 21:18; Psa. 1:4; 35:5; 83:13; Isa. 40:24; 41:2; Jer. 13:24; Hos. 13:3), or like stubble that is devoured by a flame (Exo. 15:7; Isa. 5:24; 33:11; 47:14; Joel 2:5; Obd. 18; Nah. 1:10; Mal. 4:1). Whenever the picture of evil people being like chaff that is burned up by fire appears, it is invariably with reference to them being utterly destroyed.

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[Exodus 15:7-10] In the greatness of your excellency, you overthrow those who rise up against you. You send out your wrath. It consumes them as stubble [קַשׁ]. 8 With the blast of your nostrils, the waters were piled up. The floods stood upright as a heap. The deeps were congealed in the heart of the sea. 9 The enemy said, ‘I will pursue. I will overtake. I will divide the plunder. My desire shall be satisfied on them. I will draw my sword, my hand shall destroy them.’ 10 You blew with your wind. The sea covered them. They sank like lead in the mighty waters.

This was the song Moses and the children of Israel sang to Yahweh God after He delivered them from the hands of the Egyptians. They compare God's act of flooding and drowning the Egyptian army such that not a single one of them survived (see Exodus 14:26-31) to the stubble that is consumed by fire.

[Isaiah 5:22-25] Woe to those who are mighty to drink wine, and champions at mixing strong drink; 23 who acquit the guilty for a bribe, but deny justice for the innocent! 24 Therefore as the tongue of fire devours the stubble [קַשׁ], and as the dry grass [חֲשַׁשׁ] sinks down in the flame, so their root shall be as rottenness, and their blossom shall go up as dust; because they have rejected the law of Yahweh of Armies, and despised the word of the Holy One of Israel. 25 Therefore Yahweh’s anger burns against his people, and he has stretched out his hand against them, and has struck them. The mountains tremble, and their dead bodies are as refuse in the midst of the streets. For all this, his anger is not turned away, but his hand is still stretched out.

As the stubble and dry grass is devoured by a blazing flame, so the root of those who detest God shall be rotten, and their blossom reduced to dust. What does this look like? Like God stretching out His arm to strike them and have their corpses lie out in the middle of the streets.

[Isaiah 33:10-14] “Now I will arise,” says Yahweh; “Now I will lift myself up. Now I will be exalted. 11 You will conceive chaff [חֲשַׁשׁ]. You will give birth to stubble [קַשׁ]. Your breath is a fire that will devour you. 12 The peoples will be like the burning of lime, like thorns that are cut down and burned in the fire. 13 Hear, you who are far off, what I have done; and, you who are near, acknowledge my might.” 14 The sinners in Zion are afraid. Trembling has seized the godless ones. Who among us can live with the devouring fire? Who among us can live with everlasting burning?

Here God has declared that it is His time to be exalted. The wicked and corrupt are utterly terrified, for they "conceive chaff" and "give birth to stubble" ... their breath devours them like a fire, as they are like thorns cut down and burned in a flame ... they are burned down to ashes as limestone is burned down to quicklime. They well know that they are incapable of dwelling among the consuming fire and everlasting flames of God ... they know their end is near. Perhaps the most detailed passage we can look at is Malachi 4:1-3.

[Malachi 4:1-3] “For behold, the day is coming, burning like a furnace; and all the arrogant and every evildoer will be chaff [קַשׁ]; and the day that is coming will set them ablaze,” says the Lord of armies, “so that it will leave them neither root nor branches. 2 But for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings; and you will go forth and frolic like calves from the stall. 3 And you will crush the wicked underfoot, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day that I am preparing,” says the Lord of armies. (NASB)

[Malachi 4:1-3] “For, behold, the day comes, it burns as a furnace; and all the proud, and all who work wickedness, will be stubble [קַשׁ]; and the day that comes will burn them up,” says Yahweh of Armies, “that it shall leave them neither root nor branch. 2 But to you who fear my name shall the sun of righteousness arise with healing in its wings. You will go out, and leap like calves of the stall. 3 You shall tread down the wicked; for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I make,” says Yahweh of Armies. (WEB)

Here, God describes a particular day that's like a burning furnace when all the proud and arrogant and every evildoer and wicked person will be like chaff that is burned up, and they will be left with "neither root nor branch", that is, they will be completely and utterly consumed such that nothing will be left of them. When that happens, the righteous will trample upon the wicked, for they will have been reduced to ashes. I'm honestly not sure how much more explicit than this you can get. If you check the rest of the occurrences where the wicked are described as chaff/stubble being consumed by fire, you will see the same thing, namely, that they are utterly destroyed (Isa. 47:14; Joel 2:5; Obd. 18; Nah. 1:10; cf. Isaiah 1:31). The point is that the motif of evildoers being like chaff burned up by fire is found throughout the Bible, and it is what John the Baptist was employing in Matthew 3:12. His listeners would have been familiar with it, and would have thought of the complete destruction of God's enemies, not of their being preserved alive in everlasting misery.

IV. Conclusion

The conception of the wicked being like chaff that is burned up by an unquenchable flame invokes in one's mind the total eradication of ungodly people. A simple, face-value reading already lends tremendous support to the case of conditionalism, as chaff is the farthest thing from a substance that is capable of surviving in fire for all eternity, as it is highly flammable and easily burnt up and reduced to ashes (hence the motif of the wicked being like chaff that is consumed by fire found throughout the Bible); it is completely unthinkable that John the Baptist's listeners would have thought that the chaff is burned for all eternity without ever being consumed, which is the exact opposite of what happens to chaff in a blazing fire!

John's use of the phrase "unquenchable fire" only serves to underscore this fact, as unquenchable fire is not a fire that lasts for eternity, but a fire that is incapable of being put out by anyone and thus burns uninterrupted, fully devouring evildoers. The fact that John uses the Greek word κατακαίω (katakaió), which does not simply mean "to burn", but "to burn up completely" or "consume wholly", guarantees, along with the expression "unquenchable fire" (which makes it absolutely clear that if anyone tries to put out the fire and stop it from burning up the chaff, they will fail in doing so, and the fire will rage on until the chaff has been fully destroyed), that the chaff will be completely incinerated and reduced to ashes.

Finally, the image of the wicked being like chaff that is burned up is not one that starts with John and is found in numerous places in the Hebrew Scriptures, and every single time that image appears, it signifies the death and destruction of the iniquitous, and never once denotes their endless suffering. Every aspect of what John says works completely against ECT and is in favour of conditionalism. Matthew 3:12 is straightforward and unequivocal; the wicked and corrupt will be completely consumed and reduced to ashes, just as chaff burned up by an inextinguishable blaze is.


1 There is another detail in this verse that lends tremendous support to conditionalism. It's the fact that John uses the word διακαθαρίζω (diakatharizō), translated as "clear" or "thoroughly cleanse". It, like κατακαίω, is a compound verb with the perfective voice, which signifies that the action has a definite end. This means that the action of clearing out the chaff from the threshing floor is thorough and absolute; Jesus wholly cleanses the threshing floor. And how does He do that? Not simply by throwing the chaff away, but as John tells us, by burning it up with unquenchable fire. If the chaff on the threshing floor remained for eternity, Jesus would not have thoroughly cleaned it out. Quite the opposite, actually. Hence, by pairing the compound verbs διακαθαρίζω and κατακαίω, John explicitly denotes that the chaff is utterly rid of from the threshing floor via Jesus' unquenchable fire fully consuming the chaff.

2 Note also that the word translated as "burn" in Isaiah 1:31 in the Septuagint (LXX) is κατακαίω (katakaió), which likewise lends support to the idea that the wicked and his work are completely burned up in v.31, in addition to the rest of the context.

  • 4
    I'm leaving this up. But, the system flagged this as excessively long. It has 4,566 words, five times as long as most newspaper columns. The answers here need to be shorter. I recommend finding a blog to put out your creative content like this, when you feel so inspired. But here, put more of a Reader's Digest version. We want visitors to get to the meat quickly, that being your conclusion and how you got there.
    – Jesse
    Commented Jun 8, 2022 at 18:52
  • @Jesseיִשַׁי Thanks for leaving it up. I'll try to make my answers shorter. Unfortunately, there are drawbacks to that. One of my habits is laying out a concept or argument as detailed as possible such that anyone who objects cannot object to a strawman. Essentially, the more explicit someone lays out an argument, the harder it is for someone who is actually taking the person seriously to strawman them. Their only option is to tackle the argument head-on. Less space to write means less space to make my case explicit, which means a greater likelihood that someone is strawman me.
    – Rajesh
    Commented Jun 8, 2022 at 18:57
  • 6
    Sometimes perfection includes brevity. It seems like you've been arguing with people who never want to quit. Debating with the professionals—lawyers and judges—won't allow a disagreement to last more than a few minutes because they do conclusions first, with evidence, testimony, and rules, then expect the other guy to guess what the reasons would be. You've been debating people who want to win arguments rather than reach understanding. You don't have to do that here.
    – Jesse
    Commented Jun 8, 2022 at 19:08
  • 4
    "You've been debating people who want to win arguments rather than reach understanding." That is true. I've been doing it since I was a teen just starting to learn the truth about the Bible (contrary to what my JW friends and family tell me). As I said before, this is due somewhat to paranoia. Although, let me say that wanting to win arguments isn't necessarily a bad thing. It only becomes a bad thing when your desire to win the argument comes at the expense of your ability to remain unbiased (insofar as you can) and admit that you might just be wrong.
    – Rajesh
    Commented Jun 8, 2022 at 19:14
  • 1
    Good presentation, and great use of καίω vs. κατακαίω. +1 Commented Jun 15, 2022 at 2:46

I posit the separation of the wheat from the chaff which is then destroyed in an unquenchable fire isn't a separation of good worthy people (the wheat) from the unworthy (chaff), but an unquenchable fire that will burn away the chaff (imperfection, sin) from the kernel of wheat (the soul of the individual).

Separation and destruction of the chaff (sin, imperfection) is the purifying, saving work of the Holy Spirit coming upon the individual that receives this Baptism of fire.

We know from references elsewhere this process of purification is not completed in this lifetime (at least for some or most) which indicate there may be further work toward completion of this purifying process after the death of the body.

I was raised in an Evangelical community and so was I taught to reject the concept of purgatory. However, this as I lay it out here seems to suggest there may indeed be such a process following the death of the body that continues to purge the soul toward perfection.

  • "fire that will burn away the chaff from the kernel of wheat" — Consider this verse using abductive reasoning: what would the people listening have understood John to mean? As explained in Rajesh's answer, the grain and the chaff must be separated before the chaff is burned. John's audience would have been very familiar with the process, and they would never have thought that anyone could burn their crops in a way that would destroy the chaff and leave the grain alone. Similarly, John would not have used your analogy, because he would have known that his audience wouldn't understand it. Commented Jun 29, 2023 at 20:02
  • Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics and thank you for your contribution. When you get a chance, please take the tour to understand how the site works and how it is different than others. I also recommend going through the Help Center's sections on both asking and answering questions.
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    Commented Jun 29, 2023 at 20:24

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