Jesus’ Parable of The Sheep & The Kids

I think there’s more to the parable of The Sheep and the Goats than an illustration of Judgment Day. Jesus really seems to be focusing on our treatment of others, and His reason is startling. Jesus is so intimately connected to humanity, that:

as you [cared for] one of the least of these my siblings, you did it to me

Matthew 25:40

as you did not [care for] one of the least of these, you did not do it to me

Matthew 25:45

I’m guessing that even if we had perfect empathy for others, we still wouldn’t be as connected as He is!

Additionally He:

  1. incarnated into our earthly experience.
  2. spent His earthly life being an exemplar of empathy and caring for the hungry, thirsty, stranger, naked, sick and imprisoned, and urged (commanded) His followers to do likewise.
  3. gave His life to redeem the whole world (1John 2:2).
  4. mercifully continues to sustain and care for everything (Matt 5:44-48).

After all the above, is He really going to leave some of us eternally hungry, thirsty, strangers, naked, sick, and imprisoned in hell?? Will He cease to have empathy and compassion?

I think this context should make us wonder why kolasis aionios (Matt 25:46) is often translated “eternal punishment”? Especially given translating aionios as “eternal” is an interpretive leap compared to “eon-ian” (“pertaining to the aion/aeon/eon/age to come”), which is a more literal translation. Here are three more reasons.

First, Jesus’ role in the parable is that of the shepherd, an analogy that He often used positively:

I am the living God, The Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for his flock [not just the sheep].

John 10:11, Aramaic Bible in Plain English

The Lord is my Shepherd

Psalm 23, HCSB

Kid-goat-standing-on-sheep
Kid standing on a mature sheep (source)

Second, the Greek word eriphos/eriphion, which gets translated in the parable as “goats”, is translated as “young goat” in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. This is the only other occurrence in the NT but as there are about 100 occurrences in other ancient texts, most Greek dictionaries say the word means “young goats” or “kids”. Even the conservative Pulpit Commentary acknowledges that, “The goats (eriphion or kids) [in this parable are] on the left.” Because of this, I think Jesus is deliberately contrasting mature sheep with kids who need a lot of maturing.

Third, it’s likely that “maturing” is associated with the Greek word kolasis, which gets translated “punishment” in the NIV. It only appears in one other place in the NT (1John 4:18) but it appears in a few hundred other ancient texts, so according to Perseus (online dictionary used by Logos―most widely used Bible software in the world) it means “checking the growth”.

Barclay, a theologian and author of popular NT commentaries, came to a very similar conclusion:

The word was originally a gardening word, and its original meaning was pruning trees. In Greek there are two words for punishment… kolasis is for the sake of the one who suffers it [i.e. correction to mature someone]; timoria is for the sake of the one who inflicts it [i.e. retribution]

William Barclay, The Apostles’ Creed

Some definitions include “maiming, cutting off”, probably as the correction can be severe (e.g. a surgeon may need to remove a gangrenous or cancerous limb to save someone’s life). Reminds me of Paul’s description of God cutting the Jews off for awhile, before grafting them back on again once the Gentiles had come in.

So in summary, I think it is fair to interpret Matthew 25:46 as:

And these [the immature] shall go into [God’s severe] eonian correction [until they are mature], but the just [the mature] into [God’s blessed] eonian life.

Updated 22/12/2015:

A friend made a helpful observation, “The other thing I like about this passage is that the kids are not creatures who don’t belong in the herd―they are the young of the herd. The word translated “sheep” can be a general word for small herded livestock―usually sheep and goats.”1

So maybe it should be called “The Parable of the Mature and Immature Goats”!


1. For the rest of the conversation see https://www.facebook.com/SoniaLJohnson/posts/10153734598621328
My friend Cindy also did a more thorough unpacking of this parable:
The Sheep and The Kids
What To Do With The Kids
Eternal Punishment & Eternal Life

Everyone Being Reconciled To Everyone Else One Day – The Bible’s Overall Story Part 3

Every day we see and experience broken relationships. Sometimes they are so broken that parties end up killing each other. For example, just this morning I was reminded that in Australia alone each week two women are murdered by their partners―this week one was a pregnant mother.

In today’s post I want to look at one of the reasons why I believe eventually all broken relationships will be healed in the New Creation. We find this promise in the “The Christ Poem”1:

Colossians 1:15-20
“The Christ Poem” (Colossians 1:15-20, using HCSB, NLT, ESV, MOUNCE & N.T. Wright2)

I love how this passage shows the preeminence (the utmost importance) and centrality of Jesus in everything―past, present and future. And it does this using wonderfully interwoven parallels:
– Jesus is over everything (a) because everything (b & c) was created by Him.
– Jesus is before everything (d) because everything (e) is held together by Him.
– Jesus is preeminent in everything (f) because He is:

  • the beginning (or origin) of Creation
  • the head (or origin) of the Church
  • the firstborn from the dead (the beginning or origin of the New Creation)
  • the “telos” (purpose and destiny) of everything―everything (c) is created to Him, and everything (g) will be reconciled to Him.

(I think these dot points also show the Bible’s overall story)

Now as far as I can see, the scope of all of these “everything”s3 is identical and includes absolutely everything created4. In case there was any doubt, Paul twice reinforces the “everything” (b & h) with the “in heaven and on earth” phrase5, and makes sure we understand that the phrase includes everything visible and invisible, even thrones, dominions, rulers or authorities.

However, what does “reconcile everything to Him” mean? Thankfully, I think Paul explains it in the same sentence. It is “making peace”, and Jesus achieved6 this through His self-sacrifice, “His blood shed on the cross”. I think Paul gives examples of what this looks like, both before and after the poem:

He has rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son He loves. We have redemption, the forgiveness of sins, in Him.Colossians 1:13-14
Once you were alienated and hostile in your minds because of your evil actions. But now He has reconciled you by His physical body through His death, to present you holy, faultless, and blameless before HimColossians 1:21-22

Paul uses it similarly in Romans 5:10 (HCSB), explaining that amazingly the reconciliation was inaugurated (begun) while we still hated God:

For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, then how much more, having been reconciled, will we be saved by His life!

Not only is the relationship to God reconciled but relationships to everyone else:

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups [Jews and non-Jews] one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility… His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.Ephesians 2:14-18 (NIV)

And this isn’t just a future hope or dream, it’s something God invites us to be involved with now:

Everything is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: That is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed the message of reconciliation to us.2 Corinthians 5:18-19 (HCSB)

I find it immensely encouraging to know that each self-sacrificial peacemaking, small or big, takes us one step closer to seeing every relationship restored and reconciled―indeed reformed to what God always intended!7

I hope this brief overview will inspire you to at least look into this more. The best exposition of Colossians 1:15-20 I’ve ever read is in Robin Parry’s book8―you can read the pages here. It strongly influenced this post, however I also found Diane Castro’s blog post9 helpful, as well as Talbott’s discussion10.


1. Colossians 1:15-20
2. N.T. Wright, “Poetry and Theology in Colossians 1:15-20,” in idem, The Climax of the Covenant: Christ and the Law in Pauline Theology (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1991) 99–119. Found on page 42 of The Evangelical Universalist.
3. Each time it’s the Greek word “pas”.
4. While not talking about creation, the extent of the image and fullness of God is similarly absolute, as Jesus is fully God.
5. Also used by Paul in Ephesians 1:10 and by Jesus in Matthew 28:18.
6. And achieves. I think it’s a “now and not yet” scenario. He has won but it’s not yet fully actualised.
7. I want to make it clear that sadly there are limits to how much some relationships can be healed in this age. For example, I’m NOT advocating women staying in, or returning to, domestic violence―violence is the opposite of the peace that God intended, and will achieve for all relationships in the age to come. If you are facing domestic violence please seek help via HumanServices.gov.au or WomensHealth.gov. For those interested in present and future reconciliation more generallly, I recommend reading Miroslav Volf’s profound material e.g. The Final Reconciliation: Reflections on a Social Dimension of the Eschatological Transition.
8. MacDonald, Gregory. The Evangelical Universalist, 2nd ed. (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2012), 41-53.
9. Reconciliation: The Heart of God’s Grand Plan for Creation.
10. Talbott, Thomas. The Inescapable Love of God (1999, revised 2015), p63.

What are the current views of Hell??

While I’m itching to get into more detail about why and how I think we should reform our view of Hell, I think we first need to establish what the current views of Hell are. This is hard to do accurately because not many people talk about Hell, and of those that do, it seems that quite a few are required to promote a particular view (e.g. there are some seminaries, ministry positions, and denomination memberships that require it). However, a broad definition could be, “The fate of those who aren’t saved in this life.”

Religions have different views about what this fate is and the quantity of those who will experience it. However, for the sake of this discussion, I’m going to focus on the religion, Christianity, that I’ve got some knowledge1 of and experience with. Even within Christianity, there are at least 5 common views of the fate of those who aren’t saved in this life:

  1. Probably everlasting conscious torment2 or punishment3. It’s hard to know what label to give this view, some suggest “Traditionalism” but all views have a long tradition. I’ll use “Hellism” – not because other views don’t have a view of Hell but because none of the others have Hell as the final fate of anyone.
  2. Probably cease to exist4. Known as Annihilationism, Conditionalism, or Conditional Immortality.
  3. Probably all will be saved eventually5. Known as Universalism, Universal Reconciliation, or Universal Restoration.
  4. Probably all go “straight to heaven”6. Sometimes known as Ultra-Universalism.
  5. Too hard to predict7. Sometimes known as Soteriology Agnosticism.

As you’ve probably noticed, I’ve said “predict” and “probably”. This is because epistemologists explain that knowledge of anything is difficult, and I assume future events are particularly so. Anyway, here’s my very rough estimate8 of how many Christians hold each view:Chart

One of the reasons I think view 5 is common is because it seems to be the unofficial Catholic position9, although I’ve also met plenty of Protestants who hold it, at least for specific individuals (i.e. if you ask someone if they think person X is in Hell, many will say they don’t know).

In my first blog post (“Ecclesia semper reformanda” – the church is always to be reformed), I was mainly thinking about those who hold view 1 but on further reflection, I think it applies to all the views, including my own.

Do you think my estimate of the distribution of views is reasonable?


1. Unfortunately the opportunity to study this topic at a tertiary level hasn’t occurred yet but I have privately studied the topic for about 7 years, and have been a Christian for about 30 years.
2. Based on passages like Revelation 14:9-11.
3. Some believe the punishment is being inflicted by God, others believe people are tormenting themselves and getting the natural consequences of their sinful behaviour. See Theology In The Raw for more details.
4. Some believe God simply stops sustaining mortals, some believe God actively destroys people, and some believe people slowly destroy themselves until there’s nothing left. See Rethinking Hell for more details.
5. Some believe it will only be a little while, some believe it will a fair while, and some believe it will be many ages. There are also different views on where the unsaved reside and what happens to them before they are saved. See Universalism and The Bible for more details.
6. Some believe as each and every person comes face-to-face with God they will repent, believe, have faith in Christ, etc. (like Saul/Paul did at Damascus) and go to heaven. See Tentmaker for more details. Some believe they are already good enough to go to heaven.
7. e.g. some believe the Bible reveals multiple possible endings. See God’s Final Victory for more details. 
8. I couldn’t find a recent, comprehensive study but the following influenced my estimates:
George Sarris’ blog
George Sarris’ survey
Barna 2003 study
Baylor Religion Survey, Wave 2, 2007
“Rethinking Hell” Facebook group
“Evangelical Universalism Invitation and Debate” Facebook group

9. I’m not a Catholic but I get the impression from the current Popes and the previous one, that they hope and pray for view 3 e.g. Pope Francis seems even closer to UR than previous 2 Popes!. Although it seems their official position is still view 1 – see What about the Catholic Church?

“Ecclesia semper reformanda” – the church is always to be reformed

One of the things I appreciated growing up in the Reformed tradition, was Reformation Day1. Among other things, this celebrated the ideal that we should always be reforming the church, or at least be willing to consider our beliefs and practices, in light of Scripture.

I believe the Reformers made many important reforms. However, I think that they should have reformed their soteriology2 and eschatology3 further, back past Augustine4, to Gregory of Nyssa5 and Origen6. One of the reasons is because I believe these earlier Church Fathers’ interpretation is more in line with the Apostle Paul.

God willing, over the next few weeks I’ll be able to unpack this…


1. Reformation Day: Celebrated each year on the 31st of October.
2. Soteriology: The study of the doctrine of salvation.
3. Eschatology: The study of the doctrine of the end times and the ultimate destiny of humanity.
4. Augustine (354–430).
5. Gregory of Nyssa (330-395) “The father of [the early Church] fathers”.
6. Origen (184–254).