Margin Notes: Sheep and Goats – why baaa-ther?

sg2“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. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left.” (Matthew 25:32-33, ESV)

One issue which has made its appearance of late in Calvinistic circles, is one raised by a friend of mine in a discussion a while back. The basic assertion (as he expressed it) was “I was ALWAYS a sheep, and never a GOAT.”

So I’d like to take some time to unpack that idea, and see what exegetical evidence (if any) there might be for either making or denying such a claim.

Lemme warn ya – its a little long.

Read on.

Again, the argument basically states that those whom God has elected unto salvation as per Eph. 1:3-6 and other passages, are in fact actually or fundamentally or in some capacity IN THE CREATURE, different than the non-Elect. And that this difference can be expressed in terms of the difference between sheep and goats, based upon extrapolations of three passages of Scripture:

a. Matt. 25:31-46; b. John 10:1-18: And to a lesser extent c. Rev. 13:5-8 (Which I will not treat here)

I’ll confess that the very idea was a surprising one to me. I had never thought of the issue in those terms before, but it is intriguing. The simple fact that Scripture unequivocally teaches that God sovereignly elects individuals unto salvation, and did so before creation is not in question here. That, in my mind is beyond any true debate. Such a sovereign election is clearly taught throughout God’s Word.

The issue here is fundamentally different. Here, the view is not only that election is designation ( I would state categorically ONLY designation given the Biblical data) – but somehow makes the elect themselves in some capacity different than the non-elect. Goats and sheep are ontologically different. They have different natures. So what we are being asked to consider in this question is whether or not those God has elected unto salvation have in fact a different nature than other human beings – PRIOR to their actual regeneration and conversion.

I did not at the time understand where this topic came from. And, in going back to investigate the issue, I discovered that I could not find assertions or a teaching in this regard in Church history. That is not to say it is not there somewhere, but I could not find it apart from its cropping up rather lately in the 20th century. At least not developed as fully as my friend had asserted it.

In any event, because this seems to be such an important consideration for some, (given the results a Google search on the topic will give you) it seems prudent to go back and examine the Scriptures to see if such a concept as this sheep/goat – elect/non-elect distinction is a valid one, and if so, what are we to do with it?

We begin then with the text already cited above, Matt. 25:31-46. We need to make a series of observations regarding the passage itself.

I. Matt. 25 is an eschatological passage having especially to do with God’s final judgment of mankind. We start with this text for as best as I can tell – this is the ONLY place in all of the NT Scripture the goats/sheep dichotomy is ever used. Be that as it may, there are a number of significant features to notice in the section relating to the sheep and goats.

a. It seems clear that the passage is using a SIMILIE or an ANALOGY here, and NOT making a theological statement regarding the NATURE of the ones being deal with. This is apparent in verse 32 where Jesus states: “he will separate people from one another as a shepherd separates the “sheep” from the “goats”. “AS A”, is the qualifying phrase.

The caution we need is not to extend the simile so far as to designate people as sheep or goats ourselves, but simply to see that He will perform a separating act when He judges at last. The text DOES NOT say Jesus is separating SHEEP from GOATS, but is performing a separation of some sort – IN THE SAME WAY a shepherd would separate sheep from goats.

We cannot make an analogy take on a wooden and literal interpretation it was never meant to have. This is obvious in many places in Scripture. For example – That Jesus is the “door” (John 10:9) is not meant to communicate He has a knob, is made out of wood, is hung on hinges and can be opened at will. This is to take the words in ways they were never meant to be understood.

So here. He will separate one group from the other AS A, like a Shepherd does.

Contextually, this sheep/goats analogy is the 3rd analogy or metaphor in this chapter. The 1st analogy being that the Kingdom is like 10 virgins with lamps and oil (1-13). The 2nd is the parable of the 10 talents – where what we’ve been given is likened to coins (14-30). But to over-literalized any of these is to fail to get the message in each one.

In the 1st the main point is “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” (25:13) In the 2nd the summary concept is located in vs. 29 – “For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” And in the 3rd – 25:45 informs us “Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” All three combining to give us a full-orbed picture of the stewardship of grace to be accounted for.

b. As you work through the passage is also seems clear enough the basic distinction being made is that between believers and non-believers. Those who lived out grace in their lives, and those who did not. What is cited here is taking place at the judgment seat of Christ and not to be used as a means of making distinctions prior to that point. At least no other passage alludes to such a distinction among ourselves. Mankind is bifurcated and judged on being believers or unbelievers, not on whether or not they are sheep or goats.

c. It is clear in both verses 37 & 44 that those being dealt with were unaware either of this status, nor of how it is their having lived out their belief or unbelief was seen and revealed. Their status as “goats” or “sheep” is never the issue. Their lives are. Have they lived as those graced in salvation or not? It is not their ontological condition that is being treated here at all.

d. The text says absolutely nothing about what any once were, or what they became or anything of the sort. There is no Biblical teaching to this effect anywhere else in Scripture. That the dead are made alive? And, a host of other term we’ll examine later. But someone conceiving of themselves as “sheep” over and against others to be thought of as “goats”? – Such a thought does not make its appearance.

On this level, the current passage functions identically to the parable of the net on Matt. 13 – 47 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. 48When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad. 49So it will be at the close of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous 50and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

If we take the interpretive grid of those arguing for this “I was never a goat, only a sheep” paradigm, then we would should also argue for “I was never a bad fish, always a good one.” But such thinking is not encouraged in Scripture anywhere.

The issue in this passage at least is that Christ will make a final separation between those who are His and those who are not. And this will be evidenced by how they lived their lives, manifesting grace, or no. We cannot import much more into it than that. The text simply won’t support extending the metaphor out so far as to make the kinds of judgments some make in saying they were never goats but only sheep.

e. As cited above, the chief problem with all of this is that this idea is not borne out any place else in the Word.

What happens when we do extend such metaphors too far? We’ll have lots of trouble with other passages. Let me give two examples.

If “goats” is taken as a normative Scriptural representation for the non-elect: Then we struggle with how it is the Passover “lamb” could be taken from either the sheep OR the goats (Exodus 12:5). Or, on the Day of Atonement, it was two GOATS which served as the blood sacrifice and the scapegoat (Lev. 16). Are the goats supposed to represent the non-elect again? Certainly not.

If we press Matt. 25 beyond its main and simple point that there will be a final separation and judgment, and build an entire doctrine upon who were sheep? who were goats? and can one become the other – in my estimation is to build such a doctrine on thin air. That is not the idea being taught in the passage, and the erection of such a doctrine based upon it fails at the start.

The real question we must ask is – were we once unbelievers? Were we once under the wrath of God? Were we once as Eph. 2 describes us before we were converted as:

1.(vs. 1) “You were dead in the trespasses and sins 2in which you once walked,

2. following the course of this world,

3. following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—3among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind,

4. and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

As with Romans 9, the nature of the elect is noted here as not being any different than the nature of the non-elect prior to regeneration. The denial of any such difference is one of Paul’s points here.

5. 11Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands—

6. 12remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, 

7. alienated from the commonwealth of Israel

8. and strangers to the covenants of promise, (Note covenants – PLURAL, Old & New)

9. having no hope

10. and without God the world.

12. you who once were far off

What makes the change? 18For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

I just don’t know how many more terms Paul could have applied to make the point. But let us take Jesus’ words to heart on this as well: John 3:18 – “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”

This is the condemnation we need delivered from by Christ’s sovereign, saving work. It does not mean we were not elect – we were! Praise God! If He didn’t eternally elect men to salvation – none would be saved. But election is DESIGNATION – it does not signal any ontological difference (i.e. like the ontological difference between sheep and goats) – as though we were constitutionally different in some way prior to the Spirits’ sovereign work in regenerating us.

This is completely proven by the fact that WE ALL FELL IN ADAM – because we all share a common nature. Once regenerated I will agree there is a true difference between the believing and unbelieving.

No question there. But until then, the difference is in the mind and purposes of God, and not in any way the persons themselves.

II. An appeal to John 10 in this issue fails on two heads.

1. The chief problem with citing this passage in this discussion is evident – there is no mention of “goats” in this passage at all.

In this text, the only difference mentioned is between sheep who hear His voice and sheep who do not. To import goats into this text is to put something there which is not in the text at all. I have heard some argue that goats are implied – but am at a total loss as to see how, apart from inserting the already problematic thought from Matt. 25. There is no mention of “goats” ANYWHERE in John – let alone in this regard.

The fact is – outside of Matt. 25, the only other references to goats in the entire New Testament is Luke 15:29 in the parable of the Prodigal Son. There, the older brother was angry he never got so much as a “goat” to have a party with his friends with. Additionally we have 5 references in Hebrews – but without exception are all in connection with Levitical sacrifices and thus have no bearing on the topic at all.

2. More importantly, the point of the passage isn’t about sheep as opposed to goats – but speaks instead to the problem of false shepherds versus the True Shepherd.

In the final analysis, to argue about whether one was once a goat and is now a sheep- is in the end one which cannot be sustained from Scripture on either side – and has (in my humble opinion) not the slightest relevance unless one is trying to make some theological point from a construct. It certainly cannot be made textually and exegetically.

When we were in unbelief – we were “condemned already”. Whether someone was a sheep or a goat is both unprovable and irrelevant – we were lost, and condemned – even though the elect were also marked out to be heirs of salvation. We were all the things listed in Ephesians 2 where we are told we were “by nature children of wrath even as the rest of mankind”. We were once unbelievers.

The three main concepts being taught in this portion of John are by virtue of manipulating a single basic metaphor.

a. (1-6) FALSE Shepherds vs the TRUE Shepherd. Anyone who tries to take or own the sheep except their rightful Shepherd are thieves and robbers.

b. (7-10) CHRIST as the exclusive WAY or GATE. John 14:6 (ESV) 6Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

c. (11-18) Christ the GOOD SHEPHERD vs the HIRELINGS. His giving of His life because He is NOT a hireling, the sheep BELONG to Him.

To sum up the problem with the John 10 passage then: There are NO goats in the passage. Anywhere. None. Its like trying to argue for infant baptism from 1 Cor. 7:14. Nice thought, but whatever may be going on there, one thing is certain, baptism isn’t mentioned in that passage at all. And goats are not mentioned in John 10.

One other argument advanced for assuming goats are somehow implied is that in verses 3-5 & 14-16 it is “the sheep” who know His voice. But as D. A. Carson notes – The metaphor works from the picture of the “common pen”. Secondly, we are still left with the fact there is no mention of goats – there are some sheep not hearing Him as opposed to goats not hearing Him. Thirdly, we also know that we do not all “hear” Him – right away. We do not all follow Christ there very first time we hear His voice in the Gospel.

Yes, in time, the elect do all eventually follow: Galatians 1:11-17 (ESV) 11For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. 12For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. 13For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. 14And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. 15But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, 16was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; 17nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.

Scripturally, I cannot find any place where the elect and the non-elect are spoken of in terms of having some fundamental or ontological difference OTHER than, God’s designation.

As Calvinists, we get shot at enough regarding the stuff that IS Biblical – without wanting to invite bullets over things which aren’t. This one needs to go by the wayside.

Whether you believe you were always a “sheep” or once a “goat” seems to me both irrelevant and impossible to prove by Scripture. You can make a logical argument, but not an exegetical one.

The question which must be asked is: Do you know yourself a sinner, standing under the just judgment of God, and have you fled to Christ Jesus for mercy – depending upon His sacrifice at Calvary for your salvation? Is He YOUR sin-bearer?

6 thoughts on “Margin Notes: Sheep and Goats – why baaa-ther?

  1. Reid,

    While I do have some trouble with your title “Why Baaa-ther”, (insert smilely face here), as ususaly you make some good points. Since we come from somewhat different backgrounds and know different men, I found your take on what this guy said as interesting. Had I heard a calvinistic pastor friend of mine say this, I would assume he merely meant that he was referring to the fact of his election from eternity where God did designate a difference between mankind. God choose him “to be” a sheep while he left another “to remain” a goat.

    If he meant it in the sense that he has always been different than the non-elect, then I would have a problem with that just as you wrote about. It almost sounds like the Arminian argument that God chose those that chose themselves or looked ahead to see who would choose him and chose on that basis. Clearly that has no biblical warrent.

    The Bible does on several occasions refer to believers as sheep and I think for a good reason. Sheep are stupid, defenseless, creatures that exist for no other reason than to be used by their owners. Probably no creature better describes us. Certainly I would think that we are referred to as sheep since we are to be conformed to the image of the Lamb of God who also was slain from the foundation of the earth.

    It seems to me that this would be one reason why the passage in Matt. 25 uses sheep and goats as a way of describing the elect and non-elect, the saved and lost. A goat is a generally seen as a stubborn animal, not nearly as passive as a sheep. (I know that rams butt also, but I think we would agree on my point) So I agree with you that the judgment is made based on the fact that one group looks like The Lamb, while the other group’s lives look like rebels. While the Bible teaches that justification comes by being in Christ alone, all the references to the Judgment in the NT make works as the deciding factor and we understand this to mean that one group will live for the glory of God while the other won’t. Those that live rightly are the ones who have been place in Christ by conversion, they don’t live rightly so that they will be placed into Christ.

    I am sure I have used these ideas in my preaching but always in describing the difference in the elect and non-elect that God has made in us, never as if this difference existed before we were converted. As long as we understand that we were no more deserving of salvation than the non-elect but that as Christians we should look like sheep and not goats, then I have no problem with these references.

    Does this make sense to you? I certainly agree with everything you said but I am shamelessly trying to justify my use of this “motif” of sheep and goats in my teaching. If I have missed something, you can set me straight Thursday.

    In Christ,

  2. Hi, Nathan,

    Your comments are interesting in a couple of places. I don’t want to pick on you, but a couple of your statements slightly raised my eyebrows once or twice.

    First, is the common teaching that compares Christians to sheep in their nature. It is widely used and just sort of taken for granted that the comparisons are valid because, as you say, “The Bible does on several occasions refer to believers as sheep.” It is easy, then, to take that a step further and start comparing ourselves to sheep as far as our natures go. But if I might, I think that nothing you said here about the nature of sheep cannot also be said about the nature of goats. Goats, too, “…are stupid, defenseless, creatures that exist for no other reason than to be used by their owners.” By nature, they are both animals.

    Second, your comment that, “Certainly I would think that we are referred to as sheep since we are to be conformed to the image of the Lamb of God who also was slain from the foundation of the earth.” seems to me to be again stretching the analogy too far. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m not aware of anywhere in the scriptures that we are called to emulate or be like sheep. We are called to emulate, follow, and be like Christ Jesus. This is very different, I think, than what you are saying. I’m not trying to be insulting or facetious, but I think you’ll get my point if I say that God didn’t incarnate Himself in the form of a sheep, slain or otherwise. If He did, I think you might have a point. But, He became “flesh”, the 2nd Adam, the God-Man. For that reason, I think your conclusion, “It seems to me that this would be one reason why the passage in Matt. 25 uses sheep and goats as a way of describing the elect and non-elect, the saved and lost.” is a bit askew … it might follow from your premise (“that we’re called sheep b/c Jesus is the Lamb of God and we’re to be conformed to His image”), but I think the premise is faulty.

    Third, you say, “So I agree with you that the judgment is made based on the fact that one group looks like The Lamb, while the other group’s lives look like rebels.” What Reid said is, “The issue in this passage at least is that Christ will make a final separation between those who are His and those who are not. And this will be evidenced by how they lived their lives, manifesting grace, or no. We cannot import much more into it than that.” It seems you’ve imported much more into it than that. 🙂 For me, those are 2 drastically different statements and conclusions.

    Fourth, you wrote, “I am sure I have used these ideas in my preaching but always in describing the difference in the elect and non-elect that God has made in us, never as if this difference existed before we were converted.” Again, if I’ve missed it please correct me, but I’m not familiar with passages that describe our differences between pre-conversion & conversion to be that of the nature/behavior of goats vs. sheep. There are lots of other descriptors: from enemies of God to friends, brothers, children; transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the Kingdom of Light; from dead to alive; from lost to found; blind to seeing, etc. But I’m ransacking my grey matter for a comparison of goat to sheep….

    Finally, you say, “…as Christians we should look like sheep and not goats,” My thoughts on this comment are similar to my second remark, but I would add these questions here: Do you also use in your preaching the idea that we should look like wheat & not tares? If so, how do we tell the difference? If not, why not?

    Thanks for the dialogue.

    In Him,

  3. Scott,

    Thanks for your comments. One problem we usually find is that trying to discuss theological terms and concepts over the internet never is satisfying since it is so hard to convey what we are really trying to say. It seems this is part of our problem here, but maybe I am mistaken.

    Let me say again, that I agree with everything Reid said and you too as far as that goes, at least in a doctrinal sense. My point is baically that one can use the sheep/goat motif as an illustration simply because Jesus did. Yes, we can easily go too far in such things as many have when trying to make every object in a parable to have some meaning. So at least understand that my point is merely whether we can use this to illustrate biblical truth, not as a means to develope truth.

    Let me try to clarify a couple of problems you had with what I said. I realize and even said earlier that in a sense sheep and goats were alike to some extent, but I know shepherds and it seems rather obvious why sheep is a term used for Christians. I have never tried to develope a system to describe the lost by studying goats, but at the same time, the Lord himself for whatever reason refers to them as goats and to the saints as sheep. He didn’t say he will separate sheep from sheep. We might discuss why he made this division as he did, but he did. He also did this when he spoke of the wheat and the tares. There is a clear difference between wheat and weeds; things that look like wheat but have no fruit at the harvest.

    So my point is that if Christ refers to the lost as goats then we can. Now it is possible to make too much of this and I will use this forum as an opportunity to think on this for sure.

    The other thing I might clarify is where you said that what I said about the judgment and what Reid said about the judgment were two entirely different statements and conclusions. I have reread that and I cannot see a difference so I might ask for you to explain how I differend from Reid on that point.

    The look at the Judgment in Matt. 25 is a good example. No mention is made of justification specifically, but I think the term sheep and goats is a veiled reference to the fact that the sheep’s nature has been changed at the point in which they were justified. But the Judgment is always seen as separating those who lived for Christ from those who did not. Because God’s grace always effects a change in us so that how we live will be the evidence that we are in Christ. If you took the word “basis” for more than I meant it, then I am sorry I wasn’t more clear.

    Finally you said that my statement, “as Christians we should look like sheep more than goats” goes beyond how Christ meant it, (my words, not yours). If I am taking to much liberty here then I hope the Lord will show me, but since Christ used these terms in the context of some living humbly for the Lord while others lived for themselves, then it seems to be a valid use as long as you don’t go too far.

    I hope all this means that we are merely speaking about minor uses of illustrations and not anything of too much importance, but please feel free to address it further. I am all ears.


  4. OK – I’ll say it. You got my goat! This is all too much fun! I love it. Obviously, for the most part, Nathan, Scott and I agree. Where I would still disagree a bit with you Nathan (since Scott covered the rest) is that in Matt. 25 Jesus I don’t see Jesus actually referring to the believers as sheep and the unbelievers as goats, but simply saying “like” a shepherd separates these two (sheep and goats) Christ will separate believers and unbelievers – NOT sheep from goats. We just don’t have enough other Scripture to apply it quite that fully. Case in point. There are 201 uses in 183 verses Where “sheep” is mentioned in any way.

    First, we need to take away citations referring to literal sheep As animals we’re left with 65 references.

    Of these 65 references, we can break down the subject matter of each of them. In the process we can make some observations about how it is we as preachers and teachers have utilized the sheep references, and whether or not they fall in line with how the Bible has used those references.

    Like my friend Nathan, I’ve been one who has often applied the “sheep” label as indicative of the NATURE of Christ’s people. In examining these texts, I wonder if we should be so free to place emphasis upon the “dumbness” of sheep, since it really finds no precedent in the way Scripture refers to them. The references which clearly appeal to the NATURE of sheep as indicative of God’s people are very few and not perhaps as we might imagine. Nevertheless, let’s survey the references.

    The main categories of references as much as I’ve been able to discern from the context of each, fall into the following groups:

    A: OWNERSHIP – These are places where the reference to “sheep” is merely as a token of those who God owns, and takes responsibility for in terms of their care. In other words, the issue is not the nature of the sheep, but the nature of their relationship to God as their owner and Shepherd. I will include those references in this category to those passages which also speak directly of Christ in this capacity.

    B: WANDERING – These are references to the Sheep themselves, but in the context of WANDERING. While these verses address wandering, they say precious little about the motives for such wandering.

    C: LEADERSHIP – There are an entire set of references, especially plentiful in Ezekiel, where the subject matter is the contrast between Leadership among God’s people (pictured as Shepherds) and God’s people as the neglected or abused flock of God.

    D: ENEMIES – These are a limited number of references to Israel’s enemies as sheep being judged by God. This is especially interesting in the context of our conversation, in that one would expect these “sheep” to be unambiguously referred to as “goats”. They are not. They too bear the moniker of sheep – since all that is being said about them is – that “like sheep” something happens to them. Shades of Matthew 28 but in the opposite direction.

    E:WICKED – There are a few which use the sheep metaphor simply as wicked people who are to be judged and they will in some way be treated like sheep in this regard.

    F: PERSECUTED / CHRIST’S – Lastly there are a series of references to sheep in terms of their enduring persecution or trial, especially as it relates to there relationship to Christ as their Shepherd. We could also include these under A, but broke them out since they carry some nuances of their own.

    When all is said and done, each of us can then compare for ourselves if we have used the Sheep metaphors in keeping with the way Scripture uses them, or if perhaps our tendency has been to run with one interjected aspect of how we think about sheep period, as more of the informing concept. If you want to take a look, I’ll send you all the references and then you tell me. Personally, I think I’ve erred in overplaying the “sheep are dumb” type of applications. That is NOT the way Scripture represents God’s People in general – nor does it seem to be (with one or two possible exceptions) what God was communicating to us through the use of this particular word picture.

    What complicates issues, is that we things like this: “I will rescue my flock; they shall no longer be a prey. And I will judge between sheep and sheep.” (Ezekiel 34:22, ESV) Judging between sheep and sheep doesn’t even enter the usual paradigm. Neither do passages where Israel’s enemies are said to be slaughtered like “sheep” (“And the remnant of Jacob shall be among the nations, in the midst of many peoples, like a lion among the beasts of the forest, like a young lion among the flocks of sheep, which, when it goes through, treads down and tears in pieces, and there is none to deliver.” (Micah 5:8, ESV) or “Like sheep they are appointed for Sheol; death shall be their shepherd, and the upright shall rule over them in the morning. Their form shall be consumed in Sheol, with no place to dwell.” (Psalm 49:14, ESV). If we follow the reasoning we are trying to get out of Matt. 25 – then these passages explode it altogether.

    Unless (as I originally argued) we take Jesus’ words merely as indicative of a separation, and not force it beyond that – we’ll have to figure out how to factor Israel’s enemies and the wicked INTO our sheepfold.

  5. Reid,
    I am a little “sheepish” about adding more to this discussion and need to get back to preparing to feed my “flock” tonight, but here goes. (OK, enough with the puns).

    As you say, we all agree over doctrine, all this seems to be a matter of how far to take some biblical illustrations. I don’t detect any doctrinal problems in any of this. So I see this as merely trying to better discern our use of the scripture which is always profitable.

    Since I agree with pretty much everything you said, I am trying to be careful not to end up arguing for something I don’t believe myself! I fully understand that the sheep/goat motif is not used in scripture other than Matt. 25 for the most part and even the references to saints as sheep is not used consistantly as you well said. I am merely saying that if it is used even once, it seems to give us some license to use this also as an illustration, though, not to develop doctrines.

    Now the question is whether Christ is actually referring to saints as sheep and the lost as goats. You say that he does not but I would have to differ on this point. He sets the sheep on the right and says to them that they are the ones who inherit the kingdom based on their works (I am sure you understand how I mean that). Likewise the goats are on the left and clearly do not show a godly nature. So at least let’s admit that in at least this one illustation the sheep have good natures and the goats do not.

    I will admit that one can go too far in equating the saints to dumb sheep, but on the other hand I think the Bible quite often refers to the fact that mankind in general and even saints have no wisdom of their own and are totally dependant on the revelation of God to know anything worth knowing. The “sheep” at least realize this. That is as far as I would take that.

    One more point of interest was the reference to Ezek. Of course the Lord is speaking of dividing his people so in that sense the whole context is about separating between sheep and sheep because they are all Jews although clearly there is a spiritual side to this. But in 34:17 he addresses the flock and says he will judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and male goats. Interesting.

  6. Nathan – as you say, we are really agreed on the important parts. But we may have to agree to disagree on the idea of the sheep metaphor indicating a superior nature over the goats. If for one thing, we only go back to the Day of Atonement again – it was two GOATS typifying Christ there, not sheep. On the Passover, they could take a one year “lamb” from either the sheep or the goats (Ex. 12:5). It would seem to me if the concern was to demonstrate the superior nature of one over the other, the idea would be consistent throughout Scripture. It clearly isn’t.

    So – to beat a dead horse (as opposed to a dead sheep or goat) I will stick with the intent of Matt. 25 being mainly that of simply saying there will be a separation, and that ultimately that separation is due to those who manifested grace and those who did not.


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