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The phrase baptism by fire or baptism of fire, known in English since 1822, is a translation of the French phrase baptême du feu and is a reference to a soldier's first experience under fire in battle.
It originates from Matthew 3:11. Of this expression, J. H. Thayer commented: "to overwhelm with fire (those who do not repent), i.e., to subject them to the terrible penalties of hell" (1958, 94). W. E. Vine noted regarding the "fire" of this passage: "of the fire of Divine judgment upon the rejectors of Christ, Matt. 3:11 (where a distinction is to be made between the baptism of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and the fire of Divine retribution)" (1991, 308). Arndt and Gingrich speak of the "fire of divine Judgment Mt. 3:11; Lk. 3:16" (1967, 737). Finally, as J. W. McGarvey observed, the phrase "baptize you ... in fire" cannot refer to Pentecost, because there was no "baptism of fire" on that day. Parted "tongues," which were merely "like as of fire ... sat upon" each of the apostles. Those brothers were not "overwhelmed with fire" on that occasion (1875, 38). (As quoted on http://www.christiancourier.com/articles/235-what-is-the-baptism-of-fire.)
In the King James version of the Holy Bible, in Matthew 3:11 John the Baptist states, "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:" This verse follows additional words of John the Baptist to the Pharisees and Sadducees who came to watch John perform baptisms. John tells the Pharisees and the Sadducees that their heritage is not what saves them – that they are worthless to God without their repentance, and that they would be destroyed if they did not "...Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance...". The metaphor John provides describes that the portions of the house of Israel that do not repent would be burned away - leaving only the penitent and useful (or fruitful) portion of the House of Israel for God.
As the house of Israel will be purged of it's impurities and portions "which bringeth not forth good fruit", each person may repent and "Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance", and be purged of their own lingering qualities, character, worldly possessions, etc. that are useless to God – leaving only the righteous, repentant, pure portions to remain.
John 1:33 states that Jesus Christ would hold the keys (or power and authority) to baptize people with the Holy Ghost, and denotes (in conjunction with Matthew 3:11) that although John the Baptist did hold authority to baptize men "unto repentance", he did not hold the same authority and power that Jesus Christ would be understood to hold. See also the greater Priesthood referred to as the Melchizedek priesthood (Latter Day Saints) and the lesser Priesthood referred to as the Aaronic priesthood (Latter Day Saints).
The phrase "baptism of fire" or "baptism by fire" appears several times in Latter-day Saint canonized scripture: Doctrine and Covenants 20:41, Doctrine and Covenants 33:11, Doctrine and Covenants 39:6, and 2 Nephi 31 for example.
While much of the Christian world may place emphasis on the stubble being destroyed – much like it's focus on the symbol of the cross being the death and the destruction of the body of Jesus, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints differs in that it places emphasis on the resurrected Christ, and the wheat that remains after the chaff is burned away. See 2 Nephi 31:17-21.
*(The "LDS Theology section is an LDS church member's explanation and testimony, and requires confirmation from an authorized LDS church official before being validated by the LDS church as official church doctrine.) - Joseph W. Delli Gatti, author
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