The Evangelical Universalist Forum

The Wheat And The Tares


I’m exploring “Christian/Evangelical Universalism”. I must say that I like what I’ve read so far, but I’m not yet fully persuaded. That’s why I joined this forum: to have a place to ask questions and to seek answers. I intend no disrespect to anyone nor do I wish to argue. I only seek answers.

What about the parable of the wheat and the tares? Jesus doesn’t say that the tares are thrown into the fire but later repent and become wheat. How would a Christian universalist answer that?


Welcome to the group, Sacredfly. :slight_smile:

Ask away – no one here will mind in the least.

The wheat and the tares was one of my first questions too. Some interpret this as a parable applying to an individual; ie: we all have a mixture of things in our field and the tares have got to go. Tares are darnel (hope I spelled that right), which is a rye-like weed that frequently harbors the fungus whose poison causes the oft fatal ergotism (aka: St. Anthony’s Fire), a painful condition that induces spasms and other convulsive symptoms as well as dry gangrene (side effect of vaso-constriction). In short, a miserable way to die. Unfortunately the darnel looks almost exactly like wheat, slurps up the nutrients in the soil, reduces crop yields, and it is difficult to root out. Since wheat is broadcast, you can’t just wade in there and pull up weeds without trampling the wheat plants too – even if you can tell them apart, which you really can’t until the harvest. Then they have to be hand separated. It was a means of warfare. Hence, “An enemy has done this.” The tares are poison and the wheat is not only useless, but harmful if it is mixed with darnel.

Now, the seeds in Jesus’ parable of the soils are the word of the kingdom, and the devil, the “father of lies.” So in large part, I think this analysis can be applied. However later as Jesus is explaining the parable, He says the angels (reapers) will gather out “all the snares AND those doing lawlessness.” I don’t think there’s any way to identify “those doing lawlessness” with anything other than personal beings, most probably at least including (although possibly not limited to) human beings.

I find it interesting that in this case the offenders are thrown into a furnace whereas in other parables they are cast into the darkness outside. In either case there’s weeping and gnashing of teeth. We assume, by reading hell into the text, that the teeth-gnashing is a result of intense physical pain. I have no question it’s the result of torment, but I don’t think it necessary to assume physical pain. It could as easily point to frustration, anger, hatred – all strong and tormenting emotions that could cause this reaction. In fact, in a situation of physical torture I’d expect something more on the lines of screaming in anguish. It seems natural to associate fire with physical pain – but outer darkness? Not as much.

In scripture fire is typically associated with purification rather than punishment. Even the sacrifice made by fire is literally called an “ascending sacrifice” referring to the smoke rising to heaven once the flesh has been burned away. The sacrifice has been purified by the removal of the flesh. Not that a person’s physical body is evil, but symbolically the Israelites were made “holy” (separate from others) by the removal of the flesh in circumcision. The flesh does symbolize this world’s system. In the case of the three Hebrew “children,” Shadrach, Meshech, and Abed-Nego were only set free by the fire. Their bonds burned away. Very telling symbolism there. Fire is often referred to in the purification of metals as well. I say all this to point out that our seeing the fire as literal flames is a typical (clueless) western reaction to a text written to a people accustomed to thinking in metaphorical, symbolic, poetic terms. I’m not pointing any fingers anywhere else but at myself. The idea of fire awaiting the lost tormented me for many decades, too.

Second, this parable doesn’t say anything about the “ones who do lawlessness” being tormented forever (or even “to the age”). So this parable taken alone would seem to me to point more to annihilation than eternal conscious torment (ect). However I don’t see any necessity for annihilation either. The fire purifies. It burns away wickedness. The fire may even point to our God, who is a consuming fire. His presence which is life and peace and joy to His own is terror and horror and pain to the wicked – but only until their sinfulness has been purged away.

Others will have further insights, but as I couldn’t sleep . . . :wink:

Oh by the way, in case you didn’t see it (as I didn’t when I first came here), there’s a list of options at the bottom of the window (the window you get when you click “reply” or “edit”), and if you check the “notify me . . .” box, you’ll get an e-mail every time someone replies to that topic. It makes it a lot easier to keep track.

Blessings, Cindy

I don’t think Jesus’ purpose here is to teach UR, (or ECT or annihilation for that matter), but that doesn’t mean that UR is not still true.
If I tell my children that if they behave in a certain way, they will be in big trouble, they should not read into this more than I intend. At that moment, I may not be telling them of my great love for them, but it would be wrong for them to conclude that I do not love them, or that the trouble will be never ending or absolutely hopeless. They would hopefully know me well enough from other things I have said and done to interpret my words correctly.

Welcome Sacredfly! I’m glad you’ve joined us and I look forward to discussing things with you. I commend you for being like the Bereans – graceful, open-minded, and diligent to study to find what is true! Welcome!

I find the parable of the wheat and tares to be a terrible warning of judgment for all the children of God, especially me! Note that in Jesus’ explanation of the parable he says that

36 Then having let away the multitudes, Jesus came to the house, and his disciples came near to him, saying, Explain to us the simile of the darnel of the field.' 37 And he answering said to them,He who is sowing the good seed is the Son of Man,
38 and the field is the world, and the good seed, these are the sons of the reign, and the darnel are the sons of the evil one,
39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil, and the harvest is a full end of the age, and the reapers are messengers.
40 As, then, the darnel is gathered up, and is burned with fire, so shall it be in the full end of this age, 41 the Son of Man shall send forth his messengers, and they shall gather up out of his kingdom all the stumbling-blocks, and those doing the unlawlessness, 42 and shall cast them to the furnace of the fire; there shall be the weeping and the gnashing of the teeth. 43**Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun **in the reign of their Father. He who is having ears to hear – let him hear.

Note that it is the “Kingdom of God” that is being purified. Also note that in the Greek text, vs. 41, can be, should be I think, translated as “they shall gather up out of his kingdom evertything that is offensive and all works of iniquity”. In this verse it is not people that are being cast into the fire, but things in the kingdom of God, in us, that are offensive, wicked! Yes there shall be plenty of weeping and gnashing of teeth when we see in the perfect light of God’s holiness how wicked we, His children are. But the goal of this judgment is so that “the righteous shall shine forth as the sun”. I take the warning of this verse to speak to me, calling me to repent and to be watchful of what I allow now sowed into my heart!

Also, the “traditional” way of interpreting (misinterpreting) this passage, as God separating the saved from the unsaved, actually nullifies the power of this passage to call anyone to repentance! Believers say, “Well, I have nothing to worry about because I’m saved.” And unbelievers don’t care what this passage says.

I believe this passage is a call for us believers to watch what we allow sowed in our hearts and minds, to embrace the judgment of God now in our lives and repent of evil, and to look forward to the day when God fully delivers us from the evil (darnel, tares) that consume us today like the plague!

Also note that the phrases in vs. 38 “children of the kingdom” and “children of evil” , I think, are metaphorically speaking of the fruit of good and evil that grows in us through good/evil beliefs and good/evil attitudes. All of us have within us good and evil beliefs and attitudes, and thus have actions that are both good and evil.

This passage reminds me of when Isaiah encountered the fire of the Lord that burnt the hell out of him in Isa. 6, purifying him so that he might become a spokesmen for God and “shine forth as the sun”! Shoot, Isaiah still “shines” today because of having encountered the fire of God!

Which doesn’t fit Arminianism.

Whereas on the other hand, the other traditional (Calvinistic) interpretation puts all responsibility on Satan, leaving God surprised that it happens. Which doesn’t fit Calv notions of God’s sovereignty at all; and those actually in the kingdom shouldn’t be hopelessly lost if Calvinism is true (although Arminians would interpret that as meaning someone actually in the kingdom can hopelessly lose their salvation. But not for anything they did, only for what they couldn’t help being, which goes back to Calv theology again.)

When I see a weird mix of details like that, I tend to expect from experience the parable is more about warning people who think they’re servants of God that they had better watch out, and less about teaching some us vs. them scenario.

And on one harmonization theory, Jesus had switched over to this parable after Pharisees had been willing to violate their own principles to declare that the concept of God saving someone whose latter state is worse than his former, is of the devil. That’s the poison being analogically condemned here, with threats of punishment.

But the disciples weren’t getting it yet, either, or they wouldn’t have had to have the parable explained to them: an explanation that turns out to have serious problems for any theory of hopeless damnation, even though on the surface it appears to be evidence for it. But whatever the parable was warning about, its obscurity to the apostles meant they were actually on the side of the darnels! But that was hardly a hopeless condition for the apostles.

Btw, usually Tom ought to be the one to have first shot at answering a question posed to him in Tom’s “Questions” category. :wink: But he’s often busy elsewhere, so we’ve kind of gotten into a habit of trying for him. We mean no disrespect to Tom at all.

Yep, only the highest respect for Tom, a man of grace and wisdom!

:laughing: Oh yes, it IS in Tom’s category. :blush: I always just look at the active topics. But yes – he did say he was going to be busy with other things for a while, as I recall.


Here is an interesting observation on the weeping-and-gnashing-of-teeth issue: In the original (or as close as we can get to it) Greek text, the first word in the phrase is βρυγμός (brygmos) which Strong defines as “a gnashing of teeth,” but oddly the second word, ὀδούς (odous) means “a tooth”. So essentially what we have is, “weeping and gnashing of teeth tooth,” an obvious redundancy. And here is the rub: there is a second definition of brygmos: “snarling, growling: in the sense of biting.” In Jerusalem’s city-dump at Gehenna, a place the Jews would find utterly repulsive (rightly), dogs would roam around looking to eat what food there was to be had, and as they would fight over the pickings, they would snarl and gnash their teeth at one another. So the weeping would be caused by a person being thrown into the dump, a place of the worst dishonor, and the other part would be the “snarling, growling tooth” of the ravenous dogs.

I would give credit where credit is due to this line of thought, but I can’t remember its origin.


I think this is key to insights on this passage. As I understand it this passage answers to the eschatological expectations Jesus forewarned of on Israel’s coming horizon as per the Roman-Jewish wars of Ad66-70.

Those who clung to the self righteousness of OC existence as opposed to heeding Jesus’ covenant renewal cry of “love thy neighbour” [the true expression of loving God [b]Mt 25:40] would duly perish Lk 13:3-5; Jn 8:21, 24] in Israel’s old covenant demise… becoming a cursed byword “gehenna” – none other than Israel’s the lake of fire. Such a fiery end was ONLY pertinent to THIS LIFE, not beyond. It was this gruesome coming end that Paul sought to “save some of themRom 10:1; 11:14].


You touched on the idea here, and I would agree, that the fire spoken of is metaphorical. It is so easy to get in the habit of listening to the subtle but rigid traditional interpretations of these texts kicking around in our brains (could this be one role of the accuser?) Much of our thoughts about the world are informed by such tradition, but lest we make the mistake of taking the Bible to be always literal, we should not forget that Jesus’ second language was metaphor! In the case of this parable, it bears noting that it is a parable, and not a literal description.

I love your insight into the meanings of the Jewish sacrifice as compared to our own sacrifice and purification. You are right on target there. Thanks for that.

I am glad you couldn’t sleep. God is good - all the time!


Thanks, Thomas :slight_smile:

I cannot believe some people are 100% wheat destined for heaven, while others are 100% weed destined to burn. It’s neither just nor realistic.

It’s perfectly possible to walk both North and East simultaneously. (The result will be a journey North-East.) The Northerly part of this walk will be 100% North, the Easterly part 100% East. There is nothing Northish about East, or Eastish about North. They are mutually exclusive spacial dimensions.

In the same way, it’s perfectly possible for me to be 100% good and 100% evil simultaneously (because good and evil are mutually exclusive moral dimensions, just as North and East are mutually exclusive spacial dimensions.) The resultant addition of heaven and earth, light and dark, sheep and goat, wheat and weed, good and evil is what we call… human.

If you prefer, plot “good” on the x-axis and “evil” on the y-axis. Every human thought, word and deed lies somewhere on this plane. In Christ’s unique case, every thought, word and deed lay perfectly on the x-axis.

Our job as Christians is to move ever closer to the x-axis.

The above analyses have merit. Darnel seeds can never develop into wheat. It is biologically impossible. Consequently, if seeds represent persons, there is no possibility of repentance among persons developing from darnel seeds. Because that can’t be correct, maybe the seeds of wheat and darnel represent something else.

I think a possible answer lies in Matthew 13:19 from a different but related parable.

When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. . . .

This verse seems to establish that it is the person’s heart that receives the seeds. Thus, seeds represent the good and the bad in each person. And it would be the bad in us that is burned up, not the entirety of us–a conclusion quite compatible with Universalism.

However, Matthew 13:38 then seems incongruous.

. . . and as for the good seed, these are the sons of the kingdom; and the tares are the sons of the evil one;

Here the seeds are said to be equivalent to persons, even though Arminianism would then lead one to doubt the clear connotation of this verse that repentance among those represented by darnel is impossible.

Nobody said this would be easy!

Of course, that’s “IF” you take “sons of the kingdom” to speak of people, individuals, rather than metaphorically, or could we say antropomorphically, speaking of that which is the natural product of evil in one’s heart. The “children” of wrong beliefs and wrong attitudes are wrong actions. The “sons of the kingdom” are the good and lasting things we do with our lives. It’s a parable, and parables by their very literary nature are meant to be interpreted metaphorically. Judgment, I believe, will burn the Hell out of us all, purifying us for and by the presence of the Truth; wood, hay, and stuble will be burnt up and even the gold and silver will be purified!

Yes, that’s possible. The only other time the term *sons of the kingdom *is used in the Bible, though, it refers to people (Matthew 8:12).

This is true. However though Jesus refers to the Pharisees’ “father” as the devil, almost in the same breath, He refers to the devil as the father of lies. Therefore, one could say his offspring are lies. Metaphors and symbolism aren’t always used the same way in scripture. Take yeast; Jesus uses it at least on one occasion as a symbol for the growth of the Kingdom of God (IMO) where the woman hides the yeast in a lump of dough and it permeates the whole in time.

Episcopalian priest, theologian and all-round genius Robert Farrar Capon has a great take on this parable. For Capon, Jesus’ primary lesson here is one of theodicy - nothing less than a scriptural ‘answer’ to the so-called Problem of Evil. Says he:

“The parable’s main point, in short, is not eschatological redress of wrongs, but present forbearance of them.”

Pulling up the weeds - eradicating evil - simply isn’t an option because, as Allan has pointed out, the evil is inextricably intertwined with the good in all of us.

Capon again: “The only result of a truly dedicated campaign to get rid of evil will be the abolition of literally everybody.”

And so God’s response to evil is to forgive it, to let it be, at least for this present age. Capon is very good on the way the original Greek rendering of the text would have resonated with the early Greek speaking Christians in a way it does not for us. For the Greek word used at the beginning of Matthew 13:30 and translated in English as ‘let’ in the phrase “let both grow together until the harvest”, aphete, is the same word translated as ‘forgive’ in the Lord’s Prayer in the line “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”.

Capon does go on to admit an eschatological dimension to the parable, but he wisely points out the context in which this must occur. His argument here is highly germane to the wider UR argument:

“Take, for example, the question of whether we are in a position to discuss the meaning or even the possibility of ultimate human rejection of the reconciliation. To be sure, Scripture says clearly enough that the sovereign, healing power of Jesus can and will be refused by some. I have no problem with that. What I do object to, however, are the hell-enthusiasts who act as if God’s whole New Testament method of dealing with evil will, in the last day, simply go back to some Old Testament “square one” - as if Jesus hadn’t done a blessed or merciful thing in between, and as if we could, therefore, skip all the paradoxes of mercy when we talk about the Last Day and simply concentrate on plain old gun-barrel justice.”

In other words, all eschatological judgement will take place against the backdrop of Christ’s reconciling sacrifice. His incarnation, death and resurrection will be a massive ‘game changer’ in ways we may not yet fully appreciate.

All the best


That’s really a profound understanding of that passage. Thanks for sharing it Johnny. And we can certainly see in history that any person or group who set themselves about the task of eradicating evil ended up only causing more evil, destroying the good and the bad. I find it’s much better to light a candle than to curse the darkness! And little gets under my skin more than “heresy hunters” or “defenders of the truth”. Let’s focus on seeking the kingdom of God and His righteousness and let God worry about others. I’m reminded of what Rabbi Gamaliel told Saul - to let the Christians alone. If what they taught was of man it would not last, but if what they taught was of God, Saul would find himself actually fighting against God. That’s good stuff Johnny, thanks again for sharing. We’ll also let God separate out, judge the good and the evil in His time and way, which is far beyond us.

Wow, Great post, Johnny! And I also greatly appreciate your exposition on it, Sherman:

Thanks so much, both of you. I never saw it in quite that way, and it really helps to open this passage up to me! Seriously – Thanks!