The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Matthew 25

When I tell friends that I am a universalists, almost without fail they bring up Matthew 25. Honestly I’m tried of scripture games and don’t like to argue around in circles anymore (it gets old). But I was wondering how you all normally respond when asked?

assuming you mean the goats and sheep bit:
well, it’s not a clear cut “Christians on one side, Non-Christians on the other” equation.

on one side you have people who think they’re religiously acceptable (ahem Christians) and on the other you have people who have done great stuff but truly have no idea they’ve been working for Christ.

this is rather subversive to the exclusivist ideology of many Christians. point that out, and you may shut them up.

it does however go deeper. the goats are goats because they have failed to act charitably to Christ. if the sheep suddenly start acting uncharitably to the goats (who are now vulnerable and poor and destitute), then the sheep become no better than the goats. moreover if God was to permanently cast out the goats, He would be contradicting a number of verses about restorative justice…and would Himself be treating the goats the way He doesn’t want destitute, vulnerable people to be treated…forgive your enemies, Jesus says, so you maybe be like your Father in Heaven…so for me that says God would not be judging them permanently. if any term of permanence is used in this verse (i can’t recall off the top of my head), it will be translated from a vague word that doesn’t necessarily ever mean forever, but rather “of or appropriate to the age, or age-enduring”.
God loves those He chastises, and so if the goats get punished, it is not permanently.

this passage is actually quite subversive to the notion of eternal punishment for those who are not-Christian versus those who are…and also very subversive to exclusivist views.

@Jason Pratt in particular has posted about this section a lot, but i thought i would have a bash. did i do ok? :sunglasses:

It depends on the person I’m speaking with and how much time I have. If the person seems obstinant I’ll ask them if they’ve every gone by a homeless person and not helped them. And then I’d say, “Hmm, well that puts you and me on the goat side of judgment. How do you feel about that?”

Usually though I point out that this passage has nothing to do with salvation, but about Jesus judging the nations, those who are part of his flock flock concerning their social maturity, seeing and meeting the needs of those around us. In the greek text the shepherd is seperating the kids (eriphos, baby goats) from the flock (probaton) for chastizment (kolasis). The issue that Jesus is highlighting is social maturity.

If applied to Israel, Jesus is warning of the judgment of God to come to Israel because they have failed to see and meet the needs of the nations around them. And judgment did come with the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 a.d.

If applied to all nations, then Jesus is warning of how the nations care for the poor, sick, disinfranchized of society. If they do poorly with that then judgment is coming their way.

If applied to individuals, the Jesus is warning us of God’s intervention in our lives to mature us, to teach us to love people, especially the sick, the poor, the thirsty, the prisoners.

In the metaphor of the separation of the kids from the flock, kids are separated out from the flock for special training and discipline so that they can function healthily within the flock. Goats by nature are very independant, and without training they always wonder off on their own and do not listen to the shepherd. Sheep are timid and naturally stay close to one another and the shepherd . Goats are much more independant and need training to function as part of the flock, and they are trained, disciplined, chastized when they are young. On a farm there are few if any animals more obstinant, agravating, even mean than a mature billy goat that has never been trained. In the parable of the lost probaton (“sheep”) it was actually likely a goat, not a sheep that was lost. Attached is a picture from the Roman Catacombs of a fresco that pictures the good shepherd carrying a goat on his sholders. You can tell it’s a goat by its horns.

I usually go with this: look, they are talking about the end of the aion at the beginning of the Mt. Olivet discourse. It is clear, this means the destruction of the temple. In this context, aionios is best translated to mean “of the age.” That happened in 70 AD. At least in the first instance, that is the basic framework for interpreting the passage in its context.

I couldn’t believe I hadn’t posted my notes in my Exegetical Compilation Project yet!

Now rectified. :slight_smile:

I generally agree with Sherman’s and CL’s replies, though. :slight_smile:

Non-universalistic preterists wouldn’t regard a preterist interpretation of Matt 25 to necessarily mean hopeful punishment, Dan.

Here’s my take on the parable – lots of help from thoughts that got started by reading what Jason has to say, but this is mine and you shouldn’t blame him if I happen to be wrong about something. (Disclaimer: I’m usually wrong about SOMETHING, and if I don’t think I am wrong, that just goes to show you I have a lot to learn!)

It starts here: … -the-kids/ There are three posts in all.

Yes, I think you’re right Jason. I’m not a universalist, but I am convinced of preterism…even though I leave room for extensions of this original reading. I found your full post on the baby goats interesting. Still, to shift to a primarily preterist discourse, and to see these other questions as extensions of them, does change the entire discussion in a way that I consider helpful. The center of gravity should certainly not be claims like, “think the right thing or get tortured forever” and “if you’re on the right team, you get pie in the sky when you die.” I think those sorts of claims are monstrous and unbiblical, and there are a variety of alternative readings that are more credible than it, as a matter of close reading, and as a matter of basic morality.

Agreed, but preterism isn’t in the least necessary to reject gnosticism (ironically endemic though that heresy is even among those who truly care about orthodoxy). Even universalism isn’t necessary to reject the notion of salvation or damnation by proper doctrine: C. S. Lewis, for example, agreed that the sheep/goat judgment itself was a refutation of the idea that doctrine saves or damns. Nor was his agreement predicated on his belief (sort of) in post-mortem salvation.

Having said that, I hadn’t considered before whether preterism would incline someone to reject gnostic salvation/damnation ideas. While I wouldn’t logically consider that weight in favor of preterism (since if anything it would follow as a consequence, or trend that way), I would at least regard it as a good result/trend of preterism (even though I don’t agree with full preterism). :slight_smile:

I was just thinking on another aspect of the passage the separation of the kids from the flock.
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. … 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

  1. The word translated “nations” is “ethnos”, but it usually as translated as “Gentiles”. So is Jesus drawing a comparison between Jew and Gentile? And is He talking about groups/nations of people or individuals?

  2. The word translated as “peoples” is “autos” which actually means “them”. This does nothing to clarify the previous question. Jew/Gentile, nations/individuals?

  3. “the least of these my brothers”, hmm, Jesus is a Jew speaking to Jews, warning of the destruction of Jerusalem, so could Jesus be referencing his Jewish brothers who were once again to be scattered to the nations?

If “ethnos” was meant to draw a contrast between Jew and Gentile nations, and Jesus is speaking of the Jews as “the least of these my brothers”, and considering the Jews are spread throughout the Gentile nations, then what Jesus is warning of is how Gentile nations/individuals treat the Jews among them. The concept of the Jews being the “least of these” is certainly a scriptural concept. And this to me is an echo of the promise that God gave Abraham that those who bless him would be blessed and those who curse him would be cursed, from the Hebrew scriptures (OT).

Of course, Jesus could be specifically referencing the church, His followers, and how the nations treat His followers. This is then picked up in the Gentile scriptures (NT) in statements that affirm that God will trouble the troublers, encouraging the persecuted church to stand strong.

Then again, in “the least of these” Jesus could be referencing the poor, the sick, the slaves and prisoners. If He is referencing these, then this is a warning to nations and individuals in how they take care of “the least of these”.

Sadly, by focusing on “eternal punishment” and misinterpreting this passage to be about who gets into heaven and who doesn’t, the power of this passage to call anyone to repentance is nullified! Believers say, “No worries for me; I’m saved by grace through faith.” Unbelievers say, “No worries for me, I don’t care or understand what this passage says. And I certainly don’t care what a bunch of hypocritical Christians think!”

I believe that Jesus left if open to interpretation so as to speak to us concerning various aspects of our lives. We need to be careful of how we treat “the least of these” - especially our brothers Jews and Christians, and especially how we treat the disinfranchized in our communities/nations.

That’s an interesting thought, Sherman, because the list of ailments is kind-of stereotypical to what Israel in exile suffers.

But “the least of these” even then would still be the ones suffering in punishment for their sins, which God in the OT promises to heal someday and reconcile them to Himself.

Yes! Amen! :wink:


Yep, the more I think on it the more it seems to fit one of the primary themes of scripture, the blessing of God on the children of Isreal, even when they are judged and dispersed among the nations.

Hmm, I don’t see the parallel between “least of these” and “kids/baby goats”. To equate “least of these” and “kids” seems convoluted to me and confuses the point of the passage. The point of the passage is that those who mistreat “the least of these” will suffer negatively in judgment. And “kids” is equated with the ones doing the mistreating, not the mistreated “least of these”. The metaphor of the separation of the “kids” from the “flock”, I think, highlights the act of separating what belongs to Him for the purpose of chastizement, and brings focus to the selfish immaturity of the ones neglecting to meet the needs of “the least of these” (whoever they are - Jews, Christians, or the disinfranchized).

Seeing this passage as speaking to/from multiple perspectives can be challenging to grasp, to get ahold of; and yet the more I study Jesus’ SOP, the more it seems to fit His style. Parables/stories can simultaneously speak to a wide variety of subjects.

The kids are literally the least of the flock of Jesus right there on the scene; and they’re surprised to discover they weren’t serving Christ/God (like the rebel Jews); and they’re about to be punished with the kinds of things that they weren’t interested in the other “least of these” being saved from.

The kids aren’t the same group as the people they weren’t interested in helping, but they’re the same kind of group. Synoptic parables (and some other of Jesus’ sayings) are big on unexpected ironies and reversals, and this would be practically the crowning example. If the “least of these” whom the mature flock and baby goats are being judged for helping or not, are rebel Jews previously punished (or include those), the connections with the kids would be forged even stronger by the story logic.

… and these will depart into lasting correction, but the righteous into lasting life." (Matt.25:46)

When “αιωνιος” and “κολασις” are correctly translated, the “problem” evaporates.

This phrase “aionian kolasis” is very important to infernalists because it is the ONLY place in scripture that links a word that can be translated as “eternal” with a word that means “punishment”. Without this one passage, infernalists must rely upon passages that are spoken in hyperbole and the apocalyptic literature of Revelation, neither of which are meant to be taken literally. You are correct that understanding that aionian does not mean “endless or forever” and that kolasis means punishment of a chastening nature, completely undermines the infernalist’s use of this passage to affirm ECT. But I find few infernalists are willing to research what aionian and kolasis really mean. I find it much more effective to highlight the meaning of the whole passage, literary context. I especially like to highlight that it is the kids being separted from the flock, and point out that it is the self-centered who are going to be punished, those who do not even see the needs of others, much less are moved with compassion to meet them.

In their need to affirm aionian kolasis as meaning ECT, infernalists completely ignore the message of this passage. And if this passage was warning of ECT then it makes “salvation” (not going to ECT) based upon works, how one treats others. Of course, infernalists dismiss this by affirming that salvaiton is by grace. So they point to this passage to affirm ECT for others based on works but point to other passages to affirm salvation for themselves. I like to hold them to this passage and ask if they’ve ever walked past a homeless person and did not seek to help them. I then ask how it feels to be on the goat side of this passage on judment?

As I’ve continued to ponder this passage it’s becoming increasing ludicrious to me for “aionian kolasis” to be mistraslated as “endless punishment”, the depth and breadth of the literary context absolutely precludes such a shallow and specific interpretation. Before interpreting that short phrase, one must understand the context. And the more I study Matthew 25:31-46, the deeper and broader it seems to get.

  1. “Ethnos”, translated nations or people in this passage is most often translated as Gentiles in the KJV. Jesus gathers the “nations” before him. So, is He judging individuals or groups? And if it is groups, are the groups divided by race, creed, culture, political party, social party, etc.? Or does Jesus use this very broad term to not be specific but to set up the passage so as to communicate a broad general principle?

  2. “The least of these my brothers”, who are they?! If judgment is based on how nations or individuals treat this group of people, it is important that we know who they are. Of course, 1) Jesus could be referencing the poor and disenfranchized of society, people who need food, clothing, water, a job, medical care, etc. because that is who He mentions as specific examples in this passage. If this was recorded in Luke who wrote with a them of Jesus identifying with the disenfranchized, this would make tremendous sense. However, 2) in the greater literary context of Matthew writing to the Jews, and in Matthew 24 Jesus is warning of the destruction of Jerusalem; He could thus be highlighting the Jew/Gentile contrast inherent to the Jew in the word “ethnos” and thus intending “the least of these by 'brothers”’ for nations and individuals to bless and not curse the Jews that are scattered among them. And 3) in Matthew 24 Jesus warns the disciples that they will be persecuted for His name’s sake. And earlier in Matthew Jesus says that his family are those who follow God and do His will. So “the least of these my brothers” cold be refering to Christians, warning of their persecution. From another perspective though, Jesus is speaking “TO” the disciples, so if this was meant to be a warning for them He could be referencing the importance of taking care of the poor and needy among His followers.

Like I said, the more I contemplate the meaning of this passage, the deeper and broader it gets. I’ve come to think that Jesus purposefully spoke in such enigmatic, unfathonable, perplexing ways so that He could simultaneously inspire people with differing but similar messages. And every message is true, though not the “Truth”.

This passage could certainly inspire some to focus their lives on ministering to the poor and needy of their communities, as individuals. It could inspire some to social activism, working in their local and regional governments so as to help the poor and needy. We certainly need much help in the judicial system of America that seems to only take non-violent people and turn them into hardened crimials because of radical penalization of every little offense of the law, and the focus on retribution instead of remediation and restoration.

This passage could and has inspired some to a focused ministering to the Jews personally and social activism to see them blessed, as in Zionism. And let us not forget those who have been inspired to be advocates for and support our brothers and sisters in Christ who are being persecuted around the world, like the ministry “Voice of the Martyrs”.

There is no telling how many various specific messages that God could inspire by the Spirit using this enigmatic passage! The purpose of this passage is to inspire people, especially believers, to action in meeting the needs of “the least of these my brothers”, whoever the Spirit inspires you to specifically reach.

The more I contemplate the depths of this passage, the more it seems to me that aionian kolasis is purposefully used because it is an enigmatic phrase, a non-specific, broad general term meant to warn of a broad array of potential chastizement/punishment by God our Father/Shepherd if we (individuals or groups) do not meet the needs of “the least of these” (whoever God inspires us personally to love). To take aionian kolasis and to insist on it meaning “endless punishment” is to take this passage and castrate it of its power for life, to call anyone to repentance, to inspire anyone with a specific ministry. It only empowers people to judge and condemn “others”. Instead of believers being inspired with a ministry, they ignore the passage saying to themselves “No worries for me, I’m saved, but boy you’d better watch out.” And unbelievers don’t care what it says.

IMO it has nothing to do with ECT, but is about the judgement of who is the elect. As Paidon correctly spoke about ‘correction’, The goats, who have not been judged worthy yet, head to the purging fires of ‘gehenna’ for judgement and correction. :mrgreen:

Glad to see how the people of this forum are open minded, recently I challenged with one of my ECT friends,
and you cannot imagine how these people are strongly insisting on their belief :angry:
and telling me I’m a false Prophet :angry:

I’m telling him to open his eyes but you should see how he is closing his ears when I’m speaking :laughing:
sometimes I think they are not the True Believers of Jesus Christ, but it is not their fault, devil deceived them.
what a BIG DEVIL :laughing:

I was looking for comments on Matt 25:1-13. That is also a disturbing parable. The commentaries I have read interpret this variously to show that Jesus, the bridegroom, is coming for his bride (the virgins), but the time is secret, so the bride is warned to be ready, or her loving husband will disown her and lock her out in darkness forever! Can you imagine a bridegroom giving this sort of ultimatum to his bride?

Nicely crafted story, lorenwhoy.

My answers are Yes and Yes.