Matthew 3:12 NLT He is ready to separate the chaff from the wheat with his winnowing fork. Then he will clean up the threshing area, gathering the wheat into his barn but burning the chaff with never-ending fire.”
Luke 3:17 NLT He is ready to separate the chaff from the wheat with his winnowing fork. Then he will clean up the threshing area, gathering the wheat into his barn but burning the chaff with never-ending fire."
In the KJV ‘never ending’ is translated as ‘unquenchable’.
Luke 3:17 Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and will gather the wheat into his garner; but the chaff he will burn with fire unquenchable.
In the NLT the same Greek word is translated as ‘unquenchable’ in Mark 9:43.
Mark 9:43 NLT If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It’s better to enter eternal life with only one hand than to go into the unquenchable fires of hell with two hands.
The chaff represents the wicked who are to be destroyed.
In the day of judgment the wicked will be separated from the just and completely destroyed.
There is a subtle difference between ‘never-ending’ and ‘unquenchable’. The former means that the fire will burn forever, whereas the latter is understood to mean that the fire cannot be put out until it has made an end of consuming the chaff.
Logically a fire cannot burn forever because it needs fuel.
When the fuel is exhausted the fire will go out.
We have an example in the Old Testament of a fire which would not be quenched.
2 Chronicles 34:25 NLT For my people have abandoned me and offered sacrifices to pagan gods, and I am very angry with them for everything they have done. My anger will be poured out on this place, and it will not be quenched.’
Jeremiah 7:20 NLT So this is what the Sovereign Lord says: “I will pour out my terrible fury on this place. Its people, animals, trees, and crops will be consumed by the unquenchable fire of my anger.
Jeremiah 17:27 NLT But if you do not listen to me and refuse to keep the Sabbath holy, and if on the Sabbath day you bring loads of merchandise through the gates of Jerusalem just as on other days, then I will set fire to these gates. The fire will spread to the palaces, and no one will be able to put out the roaring flames.
This prophecy concerns Jerusalem which has been burned with fire by both the Babylonians and the Romans.
The fire is clearly not still burning.
It is reasonable to conclude that in Matthew 3:12, Luke 3:17 and Mark 9:43 ‘never-ending’ or ‘unquenchable’ means that the fire will not be quenched until it has consumed that which is being burnt.
In Mark 9:43 ‘hell’ is not the mythical place of eternal torment. It is the translation of the word ‘gehenna’ which is the valley of hinnom to the south of Jerusalem where the refuse was burned.
‘Burning the chaff with never ending fire’ is figurative language describing the total annihilation of the wicked following judgment.
Isaiah 11:4 NLT He will give justice to the poor and make fair decisions for the exploited. The earth will shake at the force of his word, and one breath from his mouth will destroy the wicked.
I hope you have found this helpful.