Keep Your Bible Open: Sheep vs Goat Division

So, this is a major coincidence, on Monday, the gospel reading I am going to discuss caught my ear on the radio and I decided to write about it.  Before I could get my act together, in the book I am reading Bart Ehrman commented on the very same story.  Wow!  What are the odds?  God must be guiding my atheism!  So, you know this is going to be profound.

The gospel reading for Monday has Jesus talking about the final judgment.

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory,
and all the angels with him,
he will sit upon his glorious throne,
and all the nations will be assembled before him.
And he will separate them one from another,
as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.
He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.”

Now, call me shallow, but as I heard this, the thought that sprang to mind was “What’s so bad about goats?”  I could understand if he was going to separate the sheep from the wolves or sheep from the rats, but goats?

In a burst of what can only be considered a fresh breath of honesty, the priest who was reading this also noticed that there is nothing wrong with goats, but that the sheep, being born followers are what god is looking for.  In that case, I will go on in my goat like ways, thank you very much.

But beyond there really is a conundrum here, what does god really want?  If someone bought a farm that had both sheep and goats and the new owner slaughtered all the goats and burned them up, people would think they were crazy.  Goats give fine milk which makes great cheeses and I understand they are pretty tasty.  They don’t need much tending and will eat anything.  For the most part choosing between sheep and goats is purely personal preference.  Is Jesus saying that he and god are that capricious?  I like you better, so you are in.  You, not so much, eternal torment.  Gee, thank you Jesus.

Now, on the other hand, as Dr. Ehrman points out, there are in fact pretty specific criteria here.  But most Christians just don’t see it this way.  Pretty clearly in this teaching Jesus is saying, “if you did the right thing by the least among us, you are on the heaven train.”  Didn’t do the right thing and sorry, it’s the downbound train for you.  No belief test, no secret handshake, nothing.  Straight up actions.

Now Christians will pull out a number of other verses (which some how even though they say the opposite are claimed not to be contradictions) which say that, indeed, you DO have to learn the secret handshake and what you believe is just as (or in many churches way more) important than your actions.  I find the addition of “faith” as a criteria to be very troubling and frankly it makes god look bad.

What kind of justice looks at two people, who are doing exactly the same thing, feeding the poor for example, and condemns one and praises the other based on their philosophy.  OK, I suppose sometimes we see celebrities as being more about themselves than the charity they are supporting.  But would we really praise one person for doing good because of the golden rule and condemn another because they believe food is basic human right?  Either way, the hungry get fed.  Goats give milk, sheep give milk, are they really that different?

Seems to me that if god is going to reward people for their good works, and they are as self evident as the ones listed here, then he is pretty much irrelevant.  We can come to moral behavior through all kinds of ethical systems.   And since a truly ethical person would never do something purely for the external reward (because then you would be just like the celebrity above) the promise of the reward is irrelevant as well.

If, on the other hand it really is being good AND knowing the secret handshake, who would even WANT to be part of that?  God then becomes the celebrity with his priorities out of order.  “How dare you not worship me exactly the way I demand to be worshipped?”  I don’t care how good your milk is, goat, into the burn pit with you!  I would think even the sheep wouldn’t want to hang out with this guy, because you just never know when he might just change his mind.

On this same subject, Richard Carrier, says that a difference of one letter in the Greeks leads to two different translations of Luke 2:14.

The King James Version reads: “ Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

The New Revised Standard Version (reflecting that more ancient versions read this way) says: “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”[c]

Which leaves us with the same question.  Does Jesus save everyone or just the people that god already likes?  Maybe god is like a popular middle schooler, handing out favors to the people in his clique.

Kind of odd behavior for the supposed creator of the whole universe.


One thought on “Keep Your Bible Open: Sheep vs Goat Division

  1. Agellius says:

    You don’t seem to be taking sufficient cognizance of the context of the parable of the Sheep and the Goats.

    First, Jesus is denouncing the Scribes and Pharisees for their hypocrisy. Then he laments the coming destruction of the Jerusalem Temple. Then his *disciples* come up to him and starting asking him questions, *privately*. Thus, this was not a public announcment spelling out the requirements for salvation in a comprehensive manner. It was a private discourse to his followers.

    After lamenting the coming destruction of the Temple, and giving the signs of the end times, etc., he warns the disciples to “be ready, for you know not the day or the hour” when he will return to judge the world. When he does come, he says, he had better find them — the disciples — ready. And by “ready” he means going about God’s business in good faith, not being negligent or abusive towards one another; and being “ready” in this sense at all times, since, again, you don’t know the day or the hour.

    Then he gives a couple of parables (the Virgins and the Talents) explaining what it means to be ready.

    Then he discusses what will happen when he returns to judge the world, and thence arises the parable of the sheep and goats.

    Now bear in mind that he is discussing all this with his *disciples*. So he is assuming that his audience already has faith in him and the desire to follow him. These things are a given.

    But these things also are not enough. Even among his disciples — in fact especially among his disciples, since they know better — you must do good to your fellow man in order to expect any kind of a reward when he returns.

    He makes abundantly clear elsewhere that faith in him and obedience to God’s will are necessary to salvation. It’s those who have faith in him that receive healing and praise for their faith. He states specifically that God sent his only begotten Son that those who believe in him might have eternal life (Jn. 3:16). He’s saying now that believing in him is not enough if you don’t also care for the poor, widows and orphans, the imprisoned, the naked, the hungry, etc.


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