Matthew 25:31-46

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 one.

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]

Corrective Punishment

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 fruit.

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 pruning.

New Thayers Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament defines "kolasis" as "CORRECTION, punishment, penalty"

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. has some excellent resources. 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 chastisement.

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