The Evangelical Universalist Forum

The sheep and goats in comparison to the lost sheep

First off, I’m new here, though not new to Universal Reconcilation. I’ve been a proponent of the Victorious Gospel for over a year now, and have read copiously on the subject (though I am just now starting to dig into MacDonals and Talbott’s work) and am always pondering and considering the various facets of our faith.

One thing that had been bugging me slightly is the parable of the lost sheep. Jesus is eating with sinners and, when confronted by the Pharisees, he proceeds to tell several parables, starting with this one. It makes a nice little case that God will, indeed, not stop until he has rescued every sinner.

However, I can see a couple objections to the Universalist stance on this parable and I’ve been wondering how best to make the argument that it does, indeed, refer to God saving all in His time.

  1. (what an Arminian might say) The sheep only refer to Christians. The unsaved are referred to as “goats” when Christ is talking about dividing the nations, and therefore are not represented in the parable of the Lost Sheep.

My response to #1 would be that, in context, the Lost Sheep parable is talking about all people, as Jesus told it while in the midst of sinners, and would clearly be referencing all of them. The sheep and goats illustration is in a different context, and so, while the unsaved are referred to as “goats” in one passage, they are called “sheep” in another without any kind of contradiction due to the beforementioned context of who he was speaking to and in what situation.

  1. (Calvinist objection) This is similar to the first one, but in the Calvinist viewpoint that the sheep are the elect, who God will indeed seek out and save, while leaving everyone else out in the cold (heat?). They would, most likely, also point to the illustration of sheep and goats to further drive home the point of God’s desire to save only the elect.

This one I don’t have as good of a response to, except to point out the myriad of scriptures which point to God’s desire to save all (which Calvinists generally write of as only referring to a group of select people anyways).

I’m curious to get any input on this issue from you all and I look forward to spending time here. From what I’ve seen so far, this place seems to be a great place for conversation.

Welcome to the forum! I hope you find it encouraging and helpful as you examine our faith.

I think your response to 1 is fine for 2 too. Jason (one of our guest authors) recently did a epic (3.5h!) debate with a Calvinist, and I believe this came up, although I can’t recall what he said exactly about the Lost Sheep :blush:

Anyway, I think the minimum the lost sheep parable does is to demonstrate God’s amazing persistence in seeking those who are lost. I don’t think the sheep are the same as those in the other parable, but even if they are, that doesn’t mean God won’t persist in saving all the little goats too.

Thanks for the welcome. I belong to a few other Universalist groups, some on facebook, but they don’t tend to go into the depth of the discussions I’ve been finding here.

I needed a little pick-me-up after debating with a Reformed pastor on his blog where he basically called me a wolf in sheep’s clothing, that I was a heretic and that the Christ I worshiped was an idol…in other words, he called me unsaved and condemned me to hell. Even with my assurance in Christ, it’s never a good feeling to be so thoroughly verbally trashed like that.

Welcome NR!
sorry to hear you were thrashed by the reformed guy! typical yuk! I used to be a calvinist and heresy hunter. I think I did it because I had secret fears that I was wrong, so I wanted to refute everyone else to build up my own beliefs. Calvinists can change, but it is really hard. best thing would be to get them started doubting their own election, that worked for me. nothing more miserable than a calvinist heading for hell, I would know, been there done that!

Glad to hear there are other groups out there, but chuffed you like the discussions here :sunglasses:

Sadly many of us here can empathise with you experience :frowning: A few months ago, just after I left the church I’d been at for over 10 years, the minister preached a sermon (the day before sending out my farewell to the church) which implicitly condemned me as a false teacher :unamused: (I’ve never taught a sermon in my life, or even held any teaching position. Moreover I had been upfront with them as I was going along, but I was still called divisive). More recently I was told by a relative (thankfully not my best friend, & cousin, Luke!) that Paul would hand me over to the devil, if he was here :open_mouth: he hasn’t spoken to me since :frowning:

Anyway, apart from being a place for robust & open discussion, we also try to make this forum a place to encourage those who have, or are being, rejected by the church.

Its so easy to see why the world hates christians, once you’re not on the inside. I used to think there was some satanic drive that caused all the “persecution” of christians. I’m mainly talking about in America where its not real persecution but the making fun of, the disgust for etc. Now I see that many christians just come off as jerks, especially the outspoken ones.

Hello and welcome Nil!

As you mention, context is very important. The lost sheep takes place in context of the pharisees complaining against Jesus for eating with sinners. Jesus’ answer is designed to show them how God loves even the most lost and despised of societies sinners and that he has come specifically to seek and save these Lost.

Also note the word translated “sheep” is “probaton” – a general word referring to small herding livestock, and includes goats as well as sheep.

The Calvinist response is that only the elect are of God’s flock, and He persistently seeks them.

The Arminian says that God’s flock are the ones who hear and obey Jesus. (Jn 10:27)

The sheep (flock) and the goats parable is about how some who think they are serving God are going to find out they really have not been doing so and be sent into punishment, and others who did not know they were serving God are going to find out that they really were and are going to be rewarded. It’s about how loving your neighbor is doing service to God.

You can’t really compare the parables since they are told to teach different things.


Hello and welcome Nil,

I’m glad you joined and look forward to your input. I too, as many, most other URs, have experienced the left foot of fellowship because of coming to have faith that Jesus really is the savior of all humanity, in deed not in title only. It’s very sad that in most Christian fellowships, “loving God and loving people” is NOT Enough!

Concerning the parables, like Sonia said, they are spoken in two different literary and social contexts, and though they both speak of the shepherd’s flock, they communicate two very different messages.

Jesus was a goat, see the Day of Atonement ritual with the two goats.

In Revelation when it says He will rule the nations(goyim in Hebrew, aka heathen) with a rod of iron, the word rule is shepherd, the same as when Jesus tells Peter to tend His flock

Sherman I lol’d at your comment the left foot of fellowship

Welcome Nil from Barcelona!

Hello Sonia,

I liked your paragraph:

especially your point about “others who did not know they were serving God are going to find that they really were…”

My brother stopped believing in God some 20 odd years ago. I told him the other day that it does not matter, that that will not stop God believing in him and loving him. Now I am very happy to read that it goes even further, that my brother who is greatly loved by many people and vice versa, and his wife (also a non believer), equally loved and loving, will both discover that, as well as being the good people they are in serving and loving others, they have all along been serving God and they will be reconciled with God.

Can our belief that God loves everyone be the answer to the fairly frequent question as to why there are so many non-Christians, and non-believers who are such good and loving and serving people. I now believe this is so, since learning about UR, supported by our local priest here (recently selected as a moderator on this forum!) Andrew Tweedy, and joining the Forum in July.

Michael W

It’s even more closely connected to the climax of Psalm 23, the Shepherd’s Psalm. :slight_smile: (The scene is practically an unexpected enactment of that psalm, applied to the kings of the earth.)


To be fair, there is at least one occurrence of the lost sheep parable (in the Matt 18 narrative) where Jesus overtly distinguishes the probatons from those who would cause them to stumble; so the Calv case for that parable only applying to the “elect” is not totally groundless–even though I think it’s much weaker, especially in local context, than they think it is. :wink:

(To give the most immediately pertinent example: those little ones who believe in Jesus are being contrasted to the apostles themselves at that moment!!!–and not only Judas, but key ones like Peter and John–which rather voids any Calv notion of election. This is completely aside from any other narrative and thematic contexts of that incident, which I discuss pretty thoroughly in that debate Alex mentioned. See here for relevant links.)

Beyond what Sonia and others have said about the sheep and the goats, I also argue from narrative and thematic contexts that that parable (which is also addressed as a warning to the disciples themselves) is a typical Synoptic riddle intended to test the mercy of Christians with an unexpected reversal: the goats are baby goats, literally the least of Christ’s flock by the explicit terms of the parable, who are going to be punished for refusing to try to save the least of Christ’s flock being punished by Christ, by being punished in those same ways themselves. The challenge, then, is whether we will interpret the parable the way the mature sheep would (with saving evangelical hope for the baby goats), or the way the baby goats would (with hopelessness for people being punished by the judgment of Christ).

I also discuss this in a lot of detail, in that debate. :slight_smile:

(There are some posts I’ve made here on the forum, too, on this topic, although I’m too busy at work this morning to look them up. Sorry. This comment itself took me an hour to do, in between other things. :wink: )

Welcome Nil:

Rather than repeat much of what’s been discussed earlier, here is the link to read some very insightful comments on the sheep/goats discussion…

[Mt. 25:46)

I’m certain you will enjoy most of it. (ignore the distractions that enter in about half way through… :unamused: )


I was thinking in regards to this, that the Calv thing doesn’t really work in the context of the parable. As I understand it, the parable is Jesus explaining to the self-righteous “good” religious folk that God cares about the sinners too – enough to go out seeking them and carry them home on his own shoulders, celebrating whenever one is found.


Well, I do use the parable of the lost sheep when referring to Christ saving all. I am not blind to the fact that Christ was talking about the lost sheep of the house of Israel [ie] Gods covenant people at the time who he was sent to gather Matt 15:24. Christ came to gather those of his sheep who were spiritually starved by the religious blind guides, he also came to save the rebellious religious guides/sheep as well. Most of the religious guides never repented at Christ’s coming kingdom message and all those outside of practicing Judaism [ie] sinners, Were not all saved at the time of Christ’s coming. So for Christ’s parables of saving/ gathering all 100 of his sheep into
the fold / kingdom to be of value then all his once then sheep must be gathered in at a future time [ie] found, like any good Shepard would achieve. If this is the case which Christ seems to be strongly hinting at, then why cant God save the whole world, when Gods word clearly says so. Such people are limiting Gods ability Matt 19: 25-26 and denying his word.[ie] The lamb of God who take away the sin of the world, so he could become saviour of the whole world. John 1:29 + 1 John 4:14, John 4:24.