The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Mt. 25:46

Mat.25:31-46 is the well known passage of judgment where all of humanity, all peoples are gathered before God and He separates the sheep from the goats. And Mathew 25:46 which states, “And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” is often used, or more correctly, “misused” as a proof-text affirming the concept of Hell.

Advocates of the traditional concept of Hell (traditionalists) interpret this passage to be God separating those who are part of His flock from those who are not, separating His children from those who are not His children, separating believers from unbelievers. Traditionalists point to this passage with tremendous passion and unrelenting resolve as “proof” that Hell awaits those who are not saved. However there are several significant problems with this traditional interpretation of this passage.

The first point the traditional interpretation ignores is the fact that both sheep and goats were valuable parts of the shepherd’s flock. Both sheep and goats were clean animals, not unclean. Goats provided the shepherd with milk, meat, and skins. And a billy-goat could be especially helpful in protecting the flock from a wolf. Sheep provided the shepherd with wool and meat. Both were valuable to the shepherd, and they were separated so that the sheep could be sheared, not so that the goats could be destroyed.

Next notice that the traditional doctrine disregards what this passage actually says is the foundation for judgment. Traditionalists misinterpret this passage to say that judgment is based on whether one is saved or not. However, the judgment actually spoken of in this passage is about how we live our lives, whether or not we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, or even visit those in jail. This judgment is based on works, not on faith.

And let me ask, who among us has not failed in this regard? Based on the stated criteria in this passage, who among us would not find himself on the “goat side”! Who among us can claim that we have devoted our lives to the service of those less fortunate than we? In reality, there are but a few, very few, Mother Teresa’s or Albert Schweitzer’s, even among us Christians. I for one often fail in this regard, often consuming upon myself what I could use to bless others. I have walked by the homeless, sometimes without a thought to their care; and I have never been to visit anyone in prison, even a couple of friends that spent some time there. And if we are honest with ourselves, it is likely that we all fail in this regard regularly. Does this mean that all are going to Hell except those who give their lives completely in the service of the poor? This would make salvation completely based on works and not on grace – “IF” one accepts the traditional interpretation.

In order to understand Mathew 25:46 we should also take into consideration that it is in the context of other statements of judgment. In the parable of the faithful and unfaithful servant, the unfaithful servant was consigned to a place with the hypocrites, a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth (Mat. 24:45-51) In the parable of the ten virgins (Mat. 25:1-13), the five foolish virgins were refused entrance to the wedding feast. And in the parable of the talents (Mat. 25:14-30), the unfaithful servant was consigned to “outer darkness”, a place of “weeping and gnashing of teeth”.

The parable of the absentee master is a special warning for those in leadership, those who have responsibility over others. The unfaithful servant who used his position of authority as a means of gratifying his selfish desires was condemned to a place with the hypocrites, a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth, which was a common phrase used to allude to Gehenna, warned of specifically and repeatedly elsewhere in Matthew.

The parable of the ten virgins speaks of the necessity of always being ready for the coming of the bride-groom. Five of the virgins were not ready and thus were not admitted to the wedding feast. May I ask you who of us is always ready? Who of us never has a bad day? Who of us never runs low on oil? Not me; in fact, I don’t know of anyone who is constantly ready, constantly filled with the Holy Spirit! Is this passage saying that any of us who have a bad day, a day when we are not walking in the grace and power of the Lord, that we might miss out on heaven if the Lord comes when we are having a bad day? If one “assumes” that this passage is speaking of getting into heaven, then such would be a natural conclusion. But is this the message of the parable of the five wise and five foolish virgins?

And what about the parable of the talents! It speaks of faithfully using whatever we have been given. Who among us has been absolutely faithful to use all of the talents, all of the money, all of the spiritual gifts, all of one’s time faithfully in the service of God our master? Not me; in fact, the Lord has already shown me just how much of my life I have wasted due to selfishness (laziness) and fear, especially the fear of rejection and fear of failure. Reality is none of us are faithful servants; all of us have wasted much of what we have been given by God! And those who have not been faithful will be cast into “outer darkness” where there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Mat. 25:30)! Does this parable mean that salvation is based on our faithfulness and those of us who have been unfaithful (all of us) will go to Hell?

When we look at these warnings in context, who of us shall escape outer darkness? Who of us will not weep and gnash our teeth? Who of us shall not face eternal judgment and be on the negative side of things? None of us! Of course, traditionalists argue that these passages do not apply to us because Jesus died for us and we have been forgiven of all of our sins. And yet, these passages do not make judgment based on one’s faith or even upon the atonement of Christ. Rather, in these passages judgment is based solely upon how we actually live, our faithfulness and our good works. At least, that is what these passages actually say! And it is hypocritical to interpret these passages to apply to others, but not to ourselves.

So how are they to be correctly interpreted and applied to our lives? As they stand, at face value, they only promise “outer darkness”, “weeping and gnashing of teeth”, and “eternal punishment” for us all, for all have sinned; none of us are completely faithful; we have all miss countless opportunities to do good for those who are less fortunate!
To interpret these passages correctly there are several things we should note. First note that these warnings were spoken to the disciples, followers of Christ, those who already considered themselves to be children of God. These passages are not warnings to unbelievers, but to believers! Their purpose is not to call unbelievers to faith in God, but they were meant to call those with faith in God to repentance, to be careful to live wisely and compassionately.

We also should recognize that they warn of the universality of judgment! We shall ALL face judgment, all nations, all peoples, not just unbelievers! We shall hall face judgment and give an account for our lives – whether we have faith in Christ or not, whether we have been born of the Spirit or not! In fact, if any thing, these passages are targeted at believers. They are a warning to us disciples of Christ. “To whom much is given, much is expected.”

It is also important to note that the phrase “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (25:30) was a reference to the Jewish concept of Gehenna. Gehenna, a transliteration of Ga ben Hinnom, the valley of the sons of Hinnom, a valley just outside Israel’s dung gate that was used as a trash dump with a continuous fire and seemingly endless supply of maggots (worm dies not). The city refuse and the corpses of the poor and criminals were consumed there either by fire or by decay (maggots).

The most significant thing to note about Gehenna is that it was used by Jewish Rabbis as a theological metaphor of Remedial Judgment and Punishment in the afterlife. Rabbis during the time of Christ taught that those who were not righteous enough to go straight to Ga Eden (Paradise) were consigned to Gehenna as a means of purification and after some time (up to 11 months) most people ascended to Ga Eden, though it was argued that the most wicked of people might either be annihilated there or continue indefinitely there. Thus Gehenna for the average person, for most all consigned there was understood at an assumption level to be a place of remedial punishment, a season of encountering the fire of truth that would burn the dross from one’s soul. A person’s suffering in Gehenna, though terrible, was understood to be neither endless nor meaningless, but fully accomplished the purification and healing of those consigned there.

Another very important piece of information that helps us in understanding the promise and warning of Mt.25.46 is the meaning of the word “kolasis”. Kolasis, in Classical Greek specifically meant Remedial Punishment, punishment with a purpose of bringing about a positive change in the one being punished. Another word, timoria, spoke of Vindictive Punishment, punishment meant as an outlet for vengeance. In Mt.25.46 Jesus warns of kolasis not timoria, remedial punishment not vengeful punishment!

And of course, an informed interpretation of Mt.25.46 would not be complete without at least a brief review of the meaning of aionios which is often translated as “eternal”, an adjective that describes both kolasis (remedial punishment) and zoe (life). In brief, aionios in scripture is used to speak of that which is spiritual as opposed to that which is physical, that which transcends time (eternal) as opposed to that which is bound by time (temporal). It was used to reference the power and authority of Caesar, the Roman Empire. It was used in the LXX to translate the Hebraic concept of Olam Haba, the realm beyond, that which is beyond the horizon, out of sight and beyond understanding, the age of the Messiah! It is the adjectival form of aion which means age, season, or eon. In short, it simply refers to that which is beyond, of the eternal realm of God that transcends time. It is a word that references source and quality. Eternal Life is life that is from God and of the realm of God, life that transcends time, is both now and not yet. Eternal Remedial Punishment is punishment that is from God, of the realm of God, punishment that transcends time, is both now and not yet. Aionios is not meant to convey something as being endless or not endless; rather, it is meant to convey a quality of life or punishment that transcends time, that effects its purpose in this life as well as in the life to come.

Let us review what I have pointed out concerning the literary context and actual wording of Mt.25.46.

  1. The intended audience was the disciples, not unbelievers.
  2. The judgment mentioned was universal, all peoples, not just unbelievers.
  3. Sheep and goats are both valuable parts of the shepherd’s flock.
  4. The basis of the judgment is works, how we actually live our lives, not whether or not we believe or have been “saved” or “born again.
  5. Kolasis means Remedial Punishment, punishment meant to bring about positive change in the one being punished.
  6. Aionian is a word used to reference that which is from God, that which belongs to time-transcending the realm of God.
  7. In the immediate literary context, Jesus uses phrases that refer to Gehenna, which also spoke of Remedial Punishment.

When I take into consideration these points about the context and actual wording of Mat.25:31-46, it is evident to me that the traditional interpretation is severely lacking. This passage is a warning of judgment for all humanity, not just unbelievers. It is a judgment based on how we actually live, not on just whether or not we have faith in Christ. And of course, the punishment warned is Remedial in nature, not vindictive; it is punishment meant to bring about a positive change in the ones being punished! It is God’s perfect remedial punishment that will bring about God’s intended purposes in all who are subjected to it.

The traditional interpretation that the separation of the sheep and goats is speaking of the separation of believers and unbelievers with believers going to Heaven and unbelievers going to Hell completely disregards the context and actual wording of the passage. Mat.25:31-46 is not warning of a separation of believer and unbeliever, but of those who live in service to others verses those who do not. It is not a warning of unending torture for anyone, but one of God’s fatherly perfect punishment that leads a person to a change of heart and life. By mistranslating this passage, the traditional interpretation completely nullifies the power of this passage to call believers to righteous living and unbelievers to faith in Christ.

By misinterpreting this passage to speak of the separation of believers and unbelievers and speaking of Heaven and Hell, believers can say “this passage does not apply to me because I’m a believer and thus I need not fear ‘eternal punishment’, thus nullifying the power of this passage to call us to be careful of how we treat others. Whereas the correct interpretation of this passage calls us as believers to be careful to do good to others, especially those less fortunate than we. The truth is, one day we all (believer and unbeliever alike) shall face the judgment and give an account for how we have lived, how we have treated others, and what we have done with what God has given us. If we have done good, we will be rewarded; and if we have done bad, there will be plenty of weeping (repentance) and gnashing of teeth (remorse)! Scripture does not say in vain that God shall dry every tear, for we all have plenty of repenting to do.

Mistranslating this passage to speak of Hell also confuses the issue of salvation. In this passage the reward of life blessed by God is based on how we live our lives, and it says nothing of grace or faith. Many believers point to this passage as “proof” that one getting into heaven is based to a greater or lesser degree on how we live, whether or not we do good. For them salvation is not based solely upon grace, but is based to a greater or lesser degree upon how we live, whether or not we believe and do right. And yet scripture affirms that salvation is by grace, not by our works. Of course, through faith we receive the benefits of this grace; but faith does not generate the grace. Grace precedes and is the foundation of faith. Grace is not predicated upon faith.

Mistranslating this passage to warn of Hell for the non-believer also hinders the work of evangelism. If a believer points out this passage to an unbeliever as a warning of them going to Hell, the unbeliever simply need point out that the believer is no better than he is. In fact, many unbelievers give their lives in support of social causes, serving humanity. Does this mean that they have more hope of life with God than the believer does who is caught up in materialism? Of course not, but the unbeliever can point to the hypocrisy of the traditional interpretation and thus fail to grasp the Good News that salvation is based on grace, not on works.

Whether one believes in Hell or not, whether one believes that Jesus ultimately saves everyone and reconciles all creation to Himself or fails to save most of humanity, this passage warns of Remedial Punishment (kolasis) for believer and unbeliever alike (pas ethnos, all peoples); it does not warn of vindictive “torture” for anyone. It does not warn of or affirm the concept of “Hell”! Instead, it simply and yet powerfully affirms that we shall all face the judgment of God and give an account for how we have lived, especially how we treat others less fortunate than we. Those who have served others shall be rewarded and those who have not served others face aionion punishment – remedial punishment from God in this life and the life to come! “Do not be fooled, what a man sows, so shall he reap!”


Good piece. Great questions. I like the idea that ‘sheep’ and ‘goats’ are both part of a shepherd’s flock and that goats provide benefit and profit to shepherds. Nice. And I’m down with the remedial aspect of kolasis as well. Cool.

But I’m having a bit of a problem with some of your reasoning and wonder if you could make a better case. For example:

FIRST, you stress that fact that we all often fail at our vocation to care for the poor, etc., and thus ask, “So how are they [the parables of the sheep/goats, talents, virgins, etc.] to be correctly interpreted and applied to our lives? As they stand, at face value, they only promise ‘outer darkness’, ‘weeping and gnashing of teeth’, and ‘eternal punishment’ for us all.”

But this seems obviously false, Sherman. These stories do not only promise outer darkness and weeping for us all. In each parable there are clearly faithful who do rightly and escape judgment, just as clearly as there are faithless who are judged. SOME do in fact invest their talents wisely (and to greater and lesser degrees!). SOME virgins do in fact keep their lamps trimmed, and SOME do in fact care for the poor and imprisoned and are rewarded (i.e., the sheep!). You have to incorporate this within your view, but you’ve no room for it whatsoever. You pretend there are ZERO faithful and wise and that every last one of us, believers or not, are goats who fail to care for the needy, unwise virgins who sleep, and fearful/suspicious investors who bury our talents in the ground, something that simply isn’t the case.

SECOND, by arguing that these warning were spoken only to disciples, to “those already children of God,” you limit the scope of its application to believers: “…these passages are not warnings to unbelievers but to believers.” Fine. But then you immediately argue that they (“these passages”) “warn of the universality of judgment” to all irrespective of belief status–we “ALL face judgment, all nations, all peoples…whether we have faith in Christ or not.” One could argue that you’re being less than consistent in how you handle the passages, for if they’re spoken exclusively to believers and describe the consequences of faithlessness for those believers, it’s difficult to argue as you do that they also pertain directly to unbelievers. And if they pertain equally to all universally on the basis of how we actually live (care for the poor, the hungry, and the imprisoned, etc.) irrespective of belief status, then why the concern to argue that they’re addressed exclusively to believers and not to unbelievers? Looks like you undermine your own case.

It’s a case I like and appreciate by the way. I’m just wondering how you might argue it more consistently.

LASTLY, you seem not to believe in “hell” at all (perhaps because you equate “hell” exclusively with the traditional belief in it as irrevocable conscious torment). But on the other hand you believe we all—every one of us, believers and unbelievers alike—will experience some form of postmortem judgment (one that includes weeping and gnashing of teeth in outer darkness) that purges us from the faithlessness and selfishness we pursued instead of caring for the poor. But you want also to insist that we’re not saved by works but only by faith. That leaves me a bit confused as to the relationship between grace/faith and works in your scheme. In other words, it looks like you end up with salvation by works; people (believers and unbelievers alike) don’t do the right works (care for the poor, hungry, imprisoned) so they’re judged in an afterlife (though not in “hell”) of weeping and gnashing of teeth in outer darkness…until what? Until they have faith in Christ? That can’t be it because you’ve already said that “believers” end up in the same judgment as unbelievers and for the same reasons—failure to ‘do’ the right things. So how ARE people in postmortem judgment (believers and unbelievers) redeemed from judgment and brought into the bliss of God’s presence in your view? I’m left to conclude that this happens for us only when we successfully do the works that our failing to do got us in judgment to begin with: care for the poor and hungry. But how is THAT to be accomplished in the afterlife?


There’s been a lot of commentary on this parable (is it properly a parable??–well it concludes a run of definite parables anyway :wink: ) on the forum already, including from me.

I thought I would add something I discovered since the last time I went around on this topic, though: goats for ancient (and modern) Near Middle Eastern shepherds are notorious for needing to be kicked into gear when the shepherd arrives at the pen in the morning to whistle the herd out to pasture. Once on the trail they behave much better than the sheep!–but they often don’t want to get going at first, whereas the sheep usually have no problem getting going at the start of the shepherd’s day.

When I read that (from a cultural context commentator who isn’t a universalist and wasn’t at that time commenting on the judgment of the sheep and the goats but rather on some Johannine material), I couldn’t help but grin–thinking about the judgment of course, and the start of the Day of the Shepherd. :smiley:

Actually, in Mark 9.49, immediately following a stern warning concerning the fire of Gehenna, Jesus notes that “everyone will be tested with fire. Salt is good for seasoning. But if it loses its flavor, how do you make it salty again? You must have the qualities of salt among yourselves and live in peace with each other.” To put it plainly, I believe that Judgment is an Eternal Reality that works to change us, to work in us righteousness, in this life and life to come. When we face the fire of Truth, it (for lack of better wording) “burns the hell out of us”! The first step to repentance is admitting the truth about ourselves. We shall all face the judgment.

The purpose of these parables is to inspire believers to right living by recognizing that there are serious ramifications for wrong attitudes and actions - in this life and the life to come. When we face the Truth, there is no shortage of weeping (repentance) and gnashing of teeth (remorse).

The purpose of these passages is to warn of us wrong attitudes and actions, and to affirm write attitude and actions. They are not meant to focus our attention on what might happen in the future, but meant to empower us to live right today - under the light of Truth. Let’s look at them.

The parable of the Faithful and Unfaithful Servant - Mt.24:45-51 highlights that right attitudes and right actions concerning leadership leads to great rewards from God, but wrong attitudes and wrong actions in leadership leads to terrible remedial punishments from God with a particular emphasis on ultimately coming to have a reputation as a hypocrite. For an example of this, look at the TV ministers who used their position of leadership for selfish gain, though they’ve repented they’re still regarded as hypocrites.

The parable of the 5 wise and 5 foolish virgins - Mt. 25:1-13 illustates the importance of always being ready for whatever opportunities God brings our way, being always watchful for Him to show up. If we are wise and watchful, when opportunities come our way we’ll be ready to take advantage of them and will reap the rewards - a party. If we are foolish and not watchful, not prepared, then opportunities will pass us by and we’ll miss out on the party, the good that God would do in and through us.

The parable of the talents - Mt.25:14-30 illustrates the awesome rewards that God has for us when we are faithful to use our gifts and talents as an act of gratitude for His goodness. But it also strongly warns of how fear rooted in wrong views of God and laziness which is rooted in selfishness leads to us loosing all that we have. And one day those who are unfaithful will realize just how much of their lives they have waisted. In the light of this truth, their will be plenty of weeping (repentance) and gnashing of teeth (remorse).

And of course, the parable of the sheep and goats - Mt.25:31-46 highlights the importance of taking care of those less fortunate than we. If we give our lives in service of others, God will reward such wonderfully. If though we live selfishly, not serving others, then one day (possibly in this life and certainly in judgment to come) we’ll realize just how selfish we’ve been and will repent in ashes as everything we’ve given our lives in selfish pursuit of is burnt up, revealed to us and everyone to be worthless!

Judgement is an eternal reality, something that is powerful in delivering us from evil. I’ve encountered the judgment of God a few times and it always burns the hell out of me. It has always resulted in terrible weeping (repentance) and gnashing of teeth (frustrated remorse - “how could I be so stupid!”). One time as I was reading the parable of the talents and came to the judgment of the foolish man, the Lord said to me “That’s the way you are.” And the truth of the statement burnt the hell out of me. I cried for two weeks. My family was concerned that I’d lost my marbles. But I came out the other side a much better person, not nearly as bound in fear, and not nearly as lazy and selfish.

I see the judgment of God not as something evil, but as something good though it is terrible. It is fire that purifies - but it is still FIRE!

Recognizing that these passages are addressed to the disciples and not to unbelievers does a couple of things. 1) it helps us interpret and apply it correctly to our lives as believers as warnings for us. And 2) it effectively counters the common Traditional Misinterpretation of this passage as being the separation of believers and unbelievers.

Recognizing that Jesus says all peoples shall be gathered before God in judgment is simply being faithful to the text. That’s what it says. Jesus is speaking of God’s judgment of all humanity as a warning to believers. And in the greater context of the other parables of judgment, we as believers are even subject to greater judgment for we’ve been given more. When the Lord spoke to me saying that I was like the 1 talent man, He actually said, “That’s what you’re like, EXCEPT I’ve given you ten talents.” We as believers are much more responsible before God to be watchful, be faithful, be servants, be gracious leaders, etc.! Why, because we’ve been so blessed! We should have no fear because we know the love of God. We should not be selfish; rather, we should be loving. We should love others because we have recieved a revelation of God’s love for us. We should be the most forgiving, loving, caring, gentle, gracious, faithful, hard-working, diligent, etc. people in the world! Why, because we’ve recieved the revelation of the Lamb and it has burnt the hell out of us!

I believe that salvation is by grace for us all; that ultimately God reconciles all of humanity, all of creation to Himself. This reconciliation comes through the revelation of the Lamb, the Atonement of Christ! This revelation effects our salvation and our purification. Judgment is something we shall all face, but this judgement is positive in purpose effecting our purification. As believers, we’re privaledged to participate in the kingdom of God now and embrace the judgment of God now, effecting positive changes in us now. And though we realize how terrible judgment is, how devestating it is, we also realize how liberating it is. It’s open heart surgery!

Concerning Hell, I do not believe that God will torture anyone or anything forever. Punishment that comes from God is remedial in nature, not vindictive, and fully accomplishes God’s purpose of our reconciliation. It’s the punishment that a loving father inflicts upon his children. No punishment at the time seems good, but it ultimately is good. I understand punishment in the afterlife as being remedial like in the concept of Purgatory, not Hell.

Concerning works, yes we all, believer and unbeliever alike, shall give an account for everything we do in life. However, the purpose of this reaconning is our good, working in us righteousness. It flows from the love of God for us and will accomplish in us His will. The first step of repentance is admitting the truth concerning our evil attitudes and actions. As long as we persist in self-deception, we are bound in evil, wicked, twisted attitudes. But the fire of truth will set us free.

Judgment doesn’t get us into heaven; it changes us so that we can enjoy heaven! In fact, judgment is part of heaven for it flows from God.

Goats also were valued livestock because they were able to defend themselves from predators and eat and be satisfied in the wilderness where little exists.

According to the Law, they are considered equal as a holy sacrifice during the passover.

According to the Psalms goats possess the high places of earth and use stone as their refuge.

According to the Proverbs, goats provide milk of nourishment, and lambs provide wool for warmth. Interestingly, a goat is also equivalent to the price of a field; that is, one goat equals one field in value.

According to Isaiah, goats are creatures that wander the desert.

According to Jeremiah, goats lead the sheep, like sheepdogs would guide the sheep.

So, if someone wants to add up all the symbolism, you know right away who Jesus was talking about and who the goats were.

That was pretty awesome Craig. :smiley:

(Good comment, too, Sherman!)

I agree with so much of what you say, Sherman, but I’m not seeing where my main points were addressed. It’s not the case that there are NO sheep who care for the poor, NO faithful who employ their gifts wisely, and NO virgins who keep their lamps trimmed, and that all believers fail so utterly in their vocation as to be assured that upon their deaths NONE of them shall avoid the judgment prescribed to their counterparts. I’m in favor of UR, I just don’t think it needs these exaggerated claims to succeed.

I don’t dispute the general usefulness of goats as livestock either. I’ve eaten LOTS of goat.


It is not the ‘usefulness’ of livestock, it is what in particular did the goat represent in Jesus’s parable’s concerning the goats. :slight_smile:

The sheep and goats both sound so clueless that I wonder if His Church is even present - this may have more to do with rewards for advancing His kingdom. As Tom mentioned - faith doesn’t seem to be a factor, but a reward for giving a cup of water to His to any of His church will not be lost.

As a preterist, I have to consider the strictly Jewish audience He was addressing as He neared the end of the Mt. Olivet discourse. Many of those sitting there would be hindering Christianity over the next 40 years. Could that not be the prime warning to that generation? Is someone who is not against us a sheep or a goat?

Anyway, it’s one of those passages that, if taken out of context, makes a mess of things…

Do you have a ref for that, Jason?

I don’t have sheep to compare with, but my goats are quite active first thing in the morning–and will start yelling for me if I’m at all late. My understanding is that goats tend to be more lively, more curious, and more independent-minded than sheep–so I’m not sure why they’d behave better on the trail… but like I said, I don’t have actual experience with both … or any herding experience for that matter. But from what I know, I can’t help thinking the descriptions ought to be reversed. :sunglasses:


I’m not trying to dispute the claim that ‘sheep’ and ‘goats’ may reference different qualities within the wider group of all human beings—believers and unbelievers alike, or perhaps within believers alone (which seemed to be Sherman’s point at least part of the time). I can get with all that. It’s not germane to my objections.

One of my objections was to Sherman’s claim that the passages’ warning of outer darkness and judgment (i.e., the destiny of ‘goats’) describe the inevitable fate of "all of us,” i.e., his claim that there really ARE NO SHEEP, NO faithful investors of talent, and NO virgins who stay awake. All of us, believers and unbelievers alike, are goats, unfaithful investors of talent, and sleeping virgins who will ALL fail to be ready and waiting at Christ’s return. It’s outer darkness for all human beings regardless of belief states (i.e., regardless of faith), hence based on works. Thus my question to Sherman: If believers without exception ALL go to outer darkness based on works, then what effect DOES simple trust and faith in Christ have for those in outer darkness? I’m not disputing any such effect; I’m trying to figure out what the effect would be in Sherman’s view, for on his view it seems to me that ONLY those who DO RIGHT WORKS (care for the poor and hungry) may enter heaven. So in Sherman’s view, how do those in outer darkness do these necessary works? If they don’t HAVE to do these works, then how does Sherman secure the universal condemnation of “all believers” (and their consignment to outer darkness) for failing to do them?

And I totally agree that divine judgment is a remedial and present reality. I disagree with Sherman that NO concern for the future is in view here.


This is the very sort of insightful post which serves us well here. THANKS Sherman.

And love the evolution of thoughts here.

But in the natural reading of the text, that is the words of Christ, are we not drawn to, and intended to be thus drawn, goats as something negative?? And sheep as something positive and desirable?

I hate this perspective because, for me, this has always meant goats as able to think on their own and fend for themselves (! ie the great american ethic of individuality and self reliance!) while the sheep were being praised/commended for being, well, docile. That is, for being SHEEP! Sheep don’t consider, and ponder; they react and follow. They’re SHEEP!!
Uhhh – how is the blind urge to simply FOLLOW in any way informative to how WE are to live with Christ??

Can’t we all just face it? The vision of ourselves as sheep, most often doesn’t work for us – does it?

I agree with Sherman in that the notion of Goats as the “bad guys” falls flat on it’s face when we consider that goats were, in the sacrificial system, seemingly on a par with sheep! That is a huge blow to the traditional interpretations of this parable it seems.

Startling too is the striking emphasis on works in this parable as well.
But maybe we dismiss “works” too readily – we Christians.
If, as we hold the OT to command, the law is fulfilled by LOVE, is there any OTHER way to measure love BUT by works??

This is deliciously awkward for Christians. Who end up protesting that its the MOTIVE for their loving acts which distinguish themselves from those others whose actions are approved, but are motivated by something else… This can get confusing I know!!!

PLEASE tell me some of you have read the book “GOOD GOATS; HEALING OUR IMAGE OF GOD”!! by Dennis Linn (and several other Linns)
Perhaps I (or someone?!) needs to do a book review on this book???

Again, thanks Sherman


I can’t but help thinking that while Jesus was speaking in this passage that His disciples wouldn’t make a noted reference to the scapegoat mentioned in Leviticus 16 in connection with the Day of Atonement (precidence for the Day of the Lord, perhaps?). Actually there were two goats, one was slaughtered as a sin offering and the other was allowed to run into the wilderness, thus remaining alive. The word for scapegoat used here is ‘Azazel’ (see source info after comments below), which means ‘strong mountian’ (there is actually a mountian called Mount Azazel in the desert of Judea). (Side note: There is some discussion as to whether the term ‘Azazel’ might have been mistranslated to ‘scapegoat’ when it ought to beong to a class of ‘se’irim’, or goat-like spirits or jinn, which is probably how association with demons came into play, but we won’t get into that).

According to Talmudic tradition, the two goats were placed on the right hand and the left hand (coincidence?) of the high priest while he placed his hand in a box to draw out lots, one inscribed for Yahweh, and the other for Azazel. Then he gave a blessing to the sin offering for Yahweh saying “Blessed be the name of His glorious kingdom for ever and ever.” But for the Azazel, he offered this saying, “O Lord, I have acted iniquitously, trespassed, sinned before Thee: I, my household, and the sons of Aaron Thy holy ones. O Lord, forgive the iniquities, transgressions, and sins that I, my household, and Aaron’s children, Thy holy people, committed before Thee, as is written in the law of Moses, Thy servant, 'for on this day He will forgive you, to cleanse you from all your sins before the Lord; ye shall be clean.”

What is interesting about this is that the scapegoat represents the collective sins of the people. The goat was led out into the wilderness with the scarlet thread to a precipice of the mountian. The thread was divided into two parts, one tied to a rock and the other to the goat’s horns. Then the goat was pushed off the cliff and allowed to jumble down the mountian, breaking it;s limbs end over end. According to Talmud, the scarlet thread is in reference to Isaiah 1:18 and during the forty years that Simon the Just was high priest, the thread on the goat turned white, symbolizing that the sins of the people had been forgiven. That was observed up until the destruction of the Second Temple, when the thread no longer changed color. Obviously this has connotations with Christ, both as the sin offering goat, and the scapegoat carrying the sins of the people. (And perhaps this is the answer in this threadto my question as to why Christ was sacrificed outside the city rather than on the mercy seat. Christ’s duel purpose as the division of a righteous sacrifice acceptable to God, as that goat as the sin offering, and a bearer of sins whose blood cleanses white, as that goat as the scapegoat in the wilderness.)

I mention the sins of the people, as a nation, in regards to the scapegoat carrying their sins because Jesus mentioned that the Son of Man would separate the nations as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. According to Nachmanides, the scapegoat was regarded as the personification of wickness in contrast to the righteous government of God. Perhaps, then, the goats represent all that is wrong and wicked with nations involved at His coming, while the sheep represent all that is right with those same nations. The goats, then, are the part of those nations that need to be rid of wickedness (in that they did not do to the least of their brethren) while the sheep are the part of those same nations that did right under the rule of God (that did do to the least of their brethren).

No nation is righteous before God, so I would think that there would be far and few sheep nations, if any at all. The prime example being Israel, whom God repeatedly states that He favored Israel not because they were righteous,which they most certainly weren’t, but that He would make His Name great through them. So every nation has a bit of sheep and a bit of goat in them. All that is right (sheep portion) in the nation remained intact (I Cor 3:13-15). The fires of His Righteousness will purge all the wickedness away, leaving that which is good to enjoy the kingdom. Thus the need for the leaves of the tree of life for the healing of the nations thus purged.

Source for “Azazel”: Wiki - Azazel

TotalVictory: I agree with Sherman in that the notion of Goats as the “bad guys” falls flat on it’s face…

Tom: The problem is this, Bob, that the goats are judged for not caring for the poor and needy and the sheep are rewarded for caring for them, and ultimately for Christ. That’s just the text. If you don’t want to CALL these goats who fail to care for Christ “bad guys,” that’s fine with me. But given the text, the sheep and the goats are not on equal footing in every respect–the sheep are rewarded and the goats are judged. The question is, do the ‘sheep’ constitute an empty set? Are there ANY sheep in the world at all? Sherman wants to argue that there are none, that the parable itself is designed to tell us that there are none, that we all (believers and unbelievers alike) are goats who are bound for outer darkness because we all universally fail to care for the needy. So we all, universally, go to outer darkness.

I think we’re all frail human beings who need grace and forgiveness, yes. But that doesn’t make us all ‘goats’. There are SOME sheep in the world. And I’m not concerned with labeling one group the ‘good guys’ and the other ‘bad guys’ as if goodness is intrinsic to one group and not to other. In the end, goats fail to do the good required and sheep do it. I’m not attempting to fit this into any larger hermeneutical scheme at this point either (Are the poor/needy just Jews? Or is this the judgment of Israel for failing in its calling? What?). I’m just saying there’s nothing in the text to indicate (and it’s extreme to argue) that there are no sheep in the world and that all believers and unbelievers are goats who fail to do rightly and thus shall all equally share outer darkness.


Hi Tom, I’m sorry but I don’t understand your objection/point. Do you disagree with the belief that we shall all face the judgment, that we shall all give an account for how we’ve actually lived, what we’ve done in life, that the good that we’ve done shall be rewarded extravagantly and the evil we’ve done results in punishment as needed to bring us to repentance? Or do you disagree with the belief that none of us, no matter how good we are, do not have many things we need to repent of and be remorseful for?

I believe that the God’s judgment flows out of His love for us. We need to face the truth concerning our lives, face the truth of just how sinful, rebellious, and selfish we’ve been in order to recieve the forgiveness for those sins. God’s judgment is an eternal reality, something that we shall all face, if not in this life, the life to come! And just like salvation is for all, so is judgment. But this judgment is not a judgment of exclusion and rejection, but one of inclusion and acceptance and love. It is the judgment of a loving father - painful but redemptive! The more we embrace God’s judgment, the more we embrace His salvation, and the more the love and life of God fills us.

On one hand, the traditional doctrine consigns unbelievers to endless torture regardless of the atonement. And on the other hand the traditional doctrine gives believers a “free-pass” teaching that though we might face judgment it’s just to say that we made it because of our faith! I believe both of these statements are wrong.

Rather, I believe that we are all saved by grace as revealed in the atonement, and that we shall all face the perfect remedial judgment of the Lord that takes into account everything we’ve been given or have suffered in this life with the purpose of working in us all the character of our Father. When we receive the revelation of the atonement, as we encounter the fiery passionate love of God, it burns the hell out of us!

Hi Tom.

It seems I’ve not made my point clear. I believe that the point of these passages is to encourage everyone, particularly believers, to live right, to live recognizing that we shall be judged, that there are negative ramifications for sin and selfishness in this life and the life to come. The remedial judgment of God is a present reality as well as a future dread/hope. If we’ve done good, then judgment is a hope for God is faithful to reward us for doing so. “Do not grow weary in doing good, for in due season we’ll reap if we faint not!” On the other hand, judgment is a dread if we sin (whether believer or not). “Do not be fooled, what a man sows so shall he reap.”

My point in noting that all of us sin was simply to help counter the traditional interpretation that the phrases “outer darkness”, “weeping and gnashing of teeth”, etc. are meant to convey the traditional concept of Hell, and to point out that these passages are not about whether or not we have faith, but how we actually live. “IF” one takes these passages literally and traditionally, then we all deserve endless torture. However, this passage is not talking about going to Heaven or Hell, rather it is a warning/promise of eternal judgment (God’s perfect, time-transcending, remedial judgment that will accomplish His will in our lives).

Maybe in my original post I overdid the point that we’re all sinners and “IF” one took those passages literally then we’d all be in a world of hurt – on the goat side of the judgment. I do find though that believers really struggle with the concept that judgement is based on how we actually live, not just based on whether or not we have faith in Christ. In fact, to whom much is given, much is expected. If we’re a ten talent person, but we only use one talent and bury the rest, then we’re not being faithful with what we’ve been given. And receiving faith in Christ is a privaledge, ten talents all to itself; and we’ll be held to a higher standard because of such. God desires us to walk in more grace, love, humility, and self-sacrifice than those who do not have faith in Him.


Thanks for the clarification. It looks to me like you’re just arguing straight-up purgatory, right?


btw, thanks Craig for the extra info on goats.

Concerning parables I tend to look for one main point, one main message; and other minor points are more subject to interpretation. The primary message of the parable on the separation of the goats and sheep is that we will face the judgment of God for how we’ve treated others less fortunate than we. Expanding upon that basic concept though, I think the separation of the sheep and goats was likely during time for sheering the sheep, highlighting the fact that when we do good for those less fortunate than we - it warms the heart of God like sheep’s wool makes warm clothing. And those who do not do good for others need a good kick to get them started in the right direction. If the goats speak something different to you, please share.


I wasn’t arguing in support of or against the concept of Purgatory, though I do believe that Purgatory (Gehenna) is a scriptural concept.

Not really. Read it carefully. The primary message is how they treated Christ - unknowingly. Both the sheep and the goats share the same ignorance. I think the church is the third party in all this - we can’t and wouldn’t appeal to ignorance. The cat’s out of the bag.

“Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing.” That’s a prayer for the both the sheep and the goats. Again, it’s not how they treated each other, it’s how they treated Christ.

Let’s not pretend that we know who the sheep and goats are.