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Matthew 3:10-12

Context
3:10 Even now the ax is laid at 1  the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

3:11 “I baptize you with water, for repentance, but the one coming after me is more powerful than I am – I am not worthy 2  to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 3  3:12 His winnowing fork 4  is in his hand, and he will clean out his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the storehouse, 5  but the chaff he will burn up with inextinguishable fire.” 6 

1 sn Laid at the root. That is, placed and aimed, ready to begin cutting.

2 tn Grk “of whom I am not worthy.”

sn The humility of John is evident in the statement I am not worthy. This was considered one of the least worthy tasks of a slave, and John did not consider himself worthy to do even that for the one to come, despite the fact he himself was a prophet.

3 sn With the Holy Spirit and fire. There are differing interpretations for this phrase regarding the number of baptisms and their nature. (1) Some see one baptism here, and this can be divided further into two options. (a) The baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire could refer to the cleansing, purifying work of the Spirit in the individual believer through salvation and sanctification, or (b) it could refer to two different results of Christ’s ministry: Some accept Christ and are baptized with the Holy Spirit, but some reject him and receive judgment. (2) Other interpreters see two baptisms here: The baptism of the Holy Spirit refers to the salvation Jesus brings at his first advent, in which believers receive the Holy Spirit, and the baptism of fire refers to the judgment Jesus will bring upon the world at his second coming. One must take into account both the image of fire and whether individual or corporate baptism is in view. A decision is not easy on either issue. The image of fire is used to refer to both eternal judgment (e.g., Matt 25:41) and the power of the Lord’s presence to purge and cleanse his people (e.g., Isa 4:4-5). The pouring out of the Spirit at Pentecost, a fulfillment of this prophecy no matter which interpretation is taken, had both individual and corporate dimensions. It is possible that since Holy Spirit and fire are governed by a single preposition in Greek, the one-baptism view may be more likely, but this is not certain. Simply put, there is no consensus view in scholarship at this time on the best interpretation of this passage.

4 sn A winnowing fork was a pitchfork-like tool used to toss threshed grain in the air so that the wind blew away the chaff, leaving the grain to fall to the ground. The note of purging is highlighted by the use of imagery involving sifting though threshed grain for the useful kernels.

5 tn Or “granary,” “barn” (referring to a building used to store a farm’s produce rather than a building to house livestock).

6 sn The image of fire that cannot be extinguished is from the OT: Job 20:26; Isa 34:8-10; 66:24.



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