Bible Question:

What is the meaning of Matthew 3:11-12? Who is doing the winnowing?

Bible Answer:

Who is doing the winnowing in Matthew 3:11-12 is the question we seek to answer. Here is Matthew 3:11-12,

As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 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. Matthew 3:11-12 (NASB)

The key to understanding this passage is to understand who is speaking in verse 11. Who is “me”? The answer is provided by the context. It is important to remember that the context in which a verse or passage is written usually helps answer the question. The context are what comes before and after the verse or verses of interest.

One Method f Winnowing

Identity Of The Speaker Is Found In The Context

Therefore, we must ask who is speaking in the verse before Matthew 3:11? The answer is found in Matthew 3:1-2. John the Baptist is speaking in verse 1.

Now  in those days John the Baptist came,  preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” For this is the one referred to by Isaiah the prophet when he said,

Verses 4-6 describe the garments that John the Baptist wore, the food he ate  and that John was baptizing people. In verse 7 we are told that John the Baptist saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to be baptized.

But when he saw many of the  Pharisees and  Sadducees coming for baptism . . . Matthew 3:7a (NASB)

The last part of verse 7 through verse 10 records the statement that John made to the religious leaders. Verse 11 continues recording the words of John the Baptist. He said, “As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance . . .” Since John the Baptist was the one baptizing in the preceding verses, John is the one speaking in verses 11-12.

Identity Of The One Who Will Winnow

In verse 11-12 John describes the One who will come after him.  Notice the description of the One who is coming after John.  First, the “He” who is coming after John is Jesus Christ. Verse 13 reveals the person who came after John. He is Jesus Christ.

The second characteristic is that the person is mightier than John. The third characteristic is that John is inferior. Both statements were true of Jesus Christ. Therefore, Jesus is the One who will baptize with the Holy Spirit. He is the one who holds the winnowing fork and will clear the threshing floor, gather the wheat and burn the chaff.

. . . will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 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. Matthew 3:11-12 (NASB)

Men Using The Winnowing Fork

Meaning Of The Passage

The Greek word that is translated as winnowing fork is python. The word is more properly translated as a winnowing-fork than a winnowing-fan. Verse 12 teaches us that Jesus will come as one with a winnowing fork. The winnowing fork separates the wheat from the chaff. Figuratively, He will gather the wheat, or Christians, into the barn; but the non-Christians will be burned up in hell.

When God came to earth as a human in the person of Christ, He came to die on a cross so that those who believe in Him can be forgiven their sins. He came to save but those who reject Him are like chaff. By their rejection they have sentenced themselves to hell. He only separates the wheat from the chaff.


What is the meaning of Matthew 3:11-12? Christ has come to give eternal life to those who believe in Him. Those who have chosen to reject His offer of forgiveness will be separated on judgment day and sent to hell, a place of unquenchable fire. What decision have you made about Christ? We encourage you to visit Searching For God and discover how to become a Christian. Or, visit Are You A Christian? to make sure that you are a Christian.

Suggested Links:

Searching For God
Are You A Christian?
John the Baptist - Matthew 3:1-12