Matthew and Luke include the phrase in their reports of John the Baptist’s announcement concerning the baptism that Jesus will bring. Mark and John do not report it. What did John the Baptist mean?

Some believe the phrase “with fire”  works like an adjective. In this view, Jesus will baptize with the “fiery Holy Spirit,” an image that preview the arrival of the Spirit at Pentecost.  Another view sees in John;s distinction a baptism of grace (the Holy Spirit) and a baptism of Judgment (fire). Note that Matthew’s surrounding verse,  10 and 12, speak of fire in terms of judgment. All that Jesus did and said divides humanity between those two baptisms.  Life cannot remain the same–there is no middle ground. With Jesus , one either accepts the word of reconciliation or continues in rebellion and finally into judgment. The conjunction and in verse 11 (“and with fire”) does not join two elements of one baptism, but notes the two different types of baptism that Jesus brings.

Matthew 3:11- With water I baptize those who repent of their sins; but someone else is coming far greater than I am, so great that I am not worthy to carry his shoes! He shall baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. (KAB)

Matthew 3:11- I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire: (KJVHB)


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