Here you must observe that the passage is a parable; and that the
parable is concerning nations, not individual men, as our Lord
Himself tells us at the very onset (verse 32):
And before Him shall be
gathered all nations, and He shall separate them one from another,
as a shepherd divideth his sheep from his goats.
Goats Dear As Sheep
You must also remember, if you intend to found any conclusion on
the parable, or to infer from words spoken of nations conclusions
which touch the lot and fate of individual men, that the Judge is
here set forth in the tender and familiar form of a Shepherd: that
to the Eastern shepherd his goats are well-nigh, if not quite, as
dear as his sheep; and that the left hand of a Judge or Ruler is
the next best place to his right hand. Nay, more, you must
mark--and this is a point which does not appear in our Authorized
Version--that our Lord speaks in a certain gentle and kindly, even
in a pitiful and caressing tone, of those who are ranged on the
left hand of the Judge. The words he uses for them is not "goats."
In verse 32, he speaks of the Shepherd as dividing his sheep, not
from His goats, but from his "kids"; and in verse 33, he takes a
still tenderer tone, and speaks of the Shepherd-Judge as setting
His sheep on His right hand, but His "kidlings" - diminutive of
kids, and, like all such diminutives, an expression of affection -
on His left.
These considerations, these hints of mercy and compassion, may well
make us careful as to the conclusions we deduce from this great
passage. And even when the veil of parable falls aside, and when we
seem to get clear and distrinct statements, at least on the fate of
nations, if not on that of their individual units, we have still to
remember that the Judge is depicted as rendering to everyone the
due reward of his deeds, and of all his deeds. It is implied that
if anyone has so much as given a cup of cold water to the least of
Christ's brethren, he, though himself not a brother, shall in no
wise lose His reward.
This Age & That Which Is To Come
And, finally, we have to examine the terms in which these future
rewards are expressed. To those who stand on His left hand, the
Judge is represented as saying, "depart from me, ye cursed
[self-cursed], into the aeonial fire." Now I have no wish to abate
the impressive sadness, the awful severity of these words. "The
wrath of the Lamb" of God must be very terrible. And to hear Him
whose gracious lips have always hitherto said,"Come unto me" say
"depart from Me" will be an experience so sad, a surprise so
terrible, as that I can well believe every man who hears that
rebuff from His meek and gracious lips will wish that he had never
been born; yes, and wish he had never been born even though he
understands that he is banished from the presence of Christ only
for an age, only that the age-long fire may consume his sins and
burn out his unrighteousness. But to say that those who have
rejected Christ in this present age are to be doomed to an
everlasting banishment from His mercy is to contradict Christ
himself, who expressly tells us that all manner of blasphemy
against the Son of Man may be forgiven both in this age and in that
which is to come. And, moreover, it is to import a new meaning into
the meaning "aeonial", which, as we have seen, means "age-long,"
and to import it quite unnecessarily, since if we take our Lord as
meaning that a rejection of Him in this age will be punished by
banishment from Him in the age to come, we find a very good and
sufficient sense in His words; whereas if we take Him as meaning
that to reject Him in this brief life is to be excluded from His
love forever, we not only strike a note utterly discordant with the
tender and pitiful tone He speaks throughout the parable, but we
also introduce that vast, unreasonable, unjust disproportion
between our deeds here and their results hereafter from which
reason and conscience alike revolt.
And what are we to say to the closing words [verse 46] of the
parable? "These shall go away into aeonial punishment, but the
righteous into life eternal." Well, we may say this, take the
phrase "aeonial life" to mean here, as elsewhere, life in Christ,
the spiritual life distinctive of the Christian aeons, and "aeonial
punishment" to mean here, as elsewhere, the discipline, the
punishment distinctive of the Christian aeons, the punishment which
those inflict on themselves who adjudge themselves unworthy of that
life, and the words make a very good and reasonable sense, a sense
so reasonable that we need to search for no other. And mark, in
this case at least, we cannot put a darker sense into the words of
Christ except by trifling with them, and implying that we know what
He meant better than He did Himself.
For the word rendered "punishment" [kolasis] is a very peculiar
In its primary use, when it is applied to natural processes, it
means "pruning," i.e., pruning bushes and trees in order that they
may bring forth more fruit. When it is used figuratively, when it
is applied to moral processes, it means corrective discipline,
discipline by which character is pruned and made more fruitful in
good works. The Greek has two words for "punishment", kolasis, the
word used by our Lord and timoria, a word also used in the New
Testament [Hebrews 10:29]: and the distinctive meanings of these
two words are defined by Aristotle himself. [RHET.I.,10,17]
The one word, that used by Christ, denotes, He says, that kind of
punishment which is intended for improvement of the offender; while
the other denotes that kind of punishment which is intended for the
vindication of law and justice. And even the advocates of endless
torment admit that the word selected by Christ means, according to
the Greek meaning, remedial discipline, punishment designed to
reform and improve men, to prune away their defects and sins.
Archbishop Trench, [Synonyms of the New Testament, pp. 23, 24], for
example, after adverting to the well known distinction between the
two words, confesses that while the latter is used to indicate "the
vindictive character of punishment, the former indicates punishment
as it has reference to the correction and bettering of the
offender." And I do not know where we shall find a sadder instance
of the way in which good men suffer their theories and traditions
to warp their judgment than may be found in the fact that, after
thus defining the original and proper sense of the word used by
Christ, this good and learned man proceeds to say that it would,
however, be "a very serious error" to take the word in its proper
sense here. We, on the contrary, maintain that it would be
something worse than an error to take it in any but its usual and
proper sense and, therefore, we conclude that our Lord meant
precisely what He said; viz., that the wicked should go away from
his bar to be pruned, go away into an age-long discipline by which
they should be castigated for their sins, yea, and saved from their
sins by the corrective discipline of His loving wrath. For that
would not be a corrective discipline which
left man unimproved forever; that would be a strange sort of
"pruning", which was not at least designed to produce
Greek has a word and an expression that means "eternal", but
aion is not one of them. Aion is an age
(singular). The punishment in St. Matthew 25, comes from the
word kolasis which means to prune and is used in a
disciplinary sense and not a penal one. 5???a would be used in a
penal (vengeance) sense, not kolasis which means correction and is
rooted in kolazo leading to the same result: purging and
New Thayers Greek-English Lexicon of the
New Testament defines "kolasis" as "CORRECTION, punishment,
The Latin Vulgate translated aion as "aeternus" from which we get
the English words eternal and eternity. The KJV translators,
instead of going back to the Greek, went to the Latin Vulgate and
translated "aeternus". Translating that as "eternal" is based on
Latin theology (Roman Catholicism). It was absolutely essential to
Augustinian theology with its blightening emphasis on the doctrine
of predestinarianism to mistranslate the Greek adjective aion, and
put on it a meaning which the Greek will not for a moment allow in
its respective applications to salvation and judgment.
The Greek word for
"everlasting" is aiodios.
Remember, "eternal" means without beginning or end. Only God is
eternal. Everlasting means without end. Aion means age, but
a?d???? (plural) means "everlasting"
or perpetual. The other way of saying "everlasting" is e?? t??? a???a? t?? a?????. One is an adjective
that means "everlasting", the other is a noun.
Scripture talks about everlasting life, but when it's talking about
"aionian" life, that's not it. This passage is talking about
age-lasting life and age-lasting punishment (chastisement).
Sheep & Goats
Numbers 18:17 "But the firstling of a cow, or the firstling of a
sheep, or the firstling of a goat, thou shalt not redeem; they are
holy: thou shalt sprinkle their blood upon the altar, and shalt
burn their fat for an offering made by fire, for a sweet savour
unto the LORD."
Goats are clean animals. If you look in the OT, consistently it
makes statements such as the one in Exodus 12:5: "Your lamb shall
be without blemish, a male of the first year: ye shall take it out
from the sheep, or from the goats:"
The lamb for the sacrifice could come from sheep or goats. Goats
are clean. If goats are a clean animal that doesn't need redeeming
throughout Scripture, why would He suddenly change His mind that
they are unclean in this one instance?
I know of few serious Biblical scholars that recommend Strong's for
serious study. Strong's is better than nothing, though. Dana and
Mantey's "A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament" is a good
work. Moulton and Milligan's "The Vocabulary of the Greek New
Testament" is good. "The Analytical Greek Lexicon" is good. William
D. Ramey's series is excellent. Griesbach, Tischendorf, and any of
a number of serious Greek students that have no pre-conceived
agenda to push are good.
Accurate translations are available, although some are pricey.
Rotherham's is quite nicely translated, but not quite as readable.
Young's is good. Weymouth's is good. Green's is nicely written, but
translates along the KJV instead of the Greek.
www.inthebeginning.org has some excellent resources. www.concordant.info has an excellent freeware program that
concordantly translates the NT, without pre-conceived bias.
Comparing the papyrii, Aristotle, Plato, Hericlitus and others are
also good ways to get a grasp on the language itself.
Even in the original language, there are minor differences between
serious scholars, but why add to the confusion with mis-translating
words and making them say something that the Greek will not at all
accept? a?????? cannot by any sane reason (other than
general concensus based on Catholicism) be translated as
"eternal". Unless the Holy Spirit made a mistake when the
writers were told what to write, this passage is not referring to
eternal life or everlasting life. We know it's not referring to
eternal life; only God is eternal.
Jesus Christ draws distinction between sheep and goats. Sheep and
goats are both clean animals. The sheep are righteous and the goats
aren't, but they are both groups of believers. Those on the right
hand go to age-lasting reward, those on the left to age-lasting