I learned a bit about winnowing today. After grain has been threshed, with the husks (or chaff) loosened from the kernels, it’s necessary to separate them. Farmers did this anciently by throwing piles of the mixture into the air. Wind would blow away the lighter-weight chaff, while the heavier kernels of grain would fall to the earth. This was done using a winnowing fan or fork.

The Greek word ptuon (πτύον) refers to the tool used for winnowing. It can be translated “fork” (as in pitchfork), “fan,” or “shovel.” The fan doesn’t look anything like the fans I’m used to. It’s more like a basket. Here’s a 19th century depiction of a farmer using a winnowing fan:

The Winnower,” by Jean-François Millet

John the Baptist warned his listeners to repent, telling them that someone powerful would soon come:

Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.

Matthew 3:12, Luke 3:17

An ominous way to interpret that metaphor is to think of each grain of wheat or chaff as representing a person. Will we be grounded enough to remain in place, or will we be blown away in the wind? Alma follows this line of reasoning as he warns his son Helaman, “if ye transgress the commandments of God…ye shall be delivered up unto Satan, that he may sift you as chaff before the wind” (Alma 37:15). And Mormon later laments that his people are:

…led about by Satan, even as chaff is driven before the wind, or as a vessel is tossed about upon the waves, without sail or anchor, or without anything wherewith to steer her; and even as she is, so are they.

Mormon 5:16, 18

So one way to interpret John’s warning is: Don’t be chaff. Repent, ground yourself by becoming aligned with God, and you won’t be blown away when the winnowing happens.

But as I thought about John’s admonition to repent today, I thought of the metaphor in a different way. There’s a lot of chaff in my life, lots of things that are kind of worthless but which somehow manage to persist and cling to me. I thought, if I can somehow loosen those habits and desires and lessen their grip on me, then maybe they will fly away when the Savior brings His fan. Maybe instead of the chaff representing me, it can represent my sins, and when I’m tossed in the fan, only the real me will remain; the superfluous bits will simply vanish in the wind, if I’m willing to let them go.

Today, I will let go. I will allow the chaff in my life to blow away as I am winnowed and refined in the capable hands of my Savior.

4 thoughts on “Chaff

Add yours

  1. Thanks Paul. I had never thought about it like this before. It’s great to see it from a different perspective. Whether it’s us who need to have “spiritual substance” or our choice of activities, we need to look to the Lord to live. Beautiful thoughts to start the day


  2. I didn’t know the word winnow or chaff, but as used in this message then looking at my life I am grateful to now look at all the chaff I carry and do not let go which is debilitating and painful. May I toss the chaff in the wind, cling more tightly to my beloved covenants and allow my Savior and Redeemer to bring forth the chosen son I am and truly want to be.
    Thank you Paul


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a website or blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: