Hi all, I’ve posted this question elsewhere and received an interesting response, which I shall mention below, but basically the question is for those who believer in salvation and/or justification (beyond initial justification) by faith alone. The question is: How do you interpret Matt 25:31-46?
 “When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne.
 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats,
 and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left.
 Then the King will say to those at his right hand,
Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world;  for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,  I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.'  Then the righteous will answer him,Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink?
 And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee?
 And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?’
 And the King will answer them,
Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.'  Then he will say to those at his left hand,Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels;
 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’
 Then they also will answer,
Lord, when did we see thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to thee?'  Then he will answer them,Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.’
 And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (RSV)
The response I received was essentially this:
- the “sheep” in the parable are believers in Christ, since “sheep” is used as a metaphor for a follower or believer elsewhere in the Bible, primarily in John’s Gospel (see John 10:1-16);
- the “goats” are unbelievers;
- this is a descriptive not prescriptive account, that is, it doesn’t tell use about how the sheep are saved, only that they are, whereas the goats are not; and
- the sheep are saved by their faith or belief in Christ: the works are just an outcome of their grace-filled life, whereas unbelievers cannot perform such good works or they are not recognised by Christ.
My basic response to this is:
- in Matthew’s Gospel, “sheep” is not used as a metaphor for believer or follower, and it is not good biblical exegesis to import terms from another Gospel (especially one which isn’t a Synoptic Gospel) into Matthew to frame what is going on here;
- this point is especially pertinent when considering that John’s Gospel was written at least 15-20 years after Matthew’s and so would not have been available to the Matthean community, which means their interpretation or understanding of this parable could not have been framed within the context of John’s use of the term “sheep”;
- if it is a prescriptive account rather than a descriptive account, Jesus’ mention of works (which dominate the parable: there are nineteen mentions of “work” activities and not once is faith or belief mentioned) is irrelevant and confusing, but it takes up most of the parable;
- following on from this, if Jesus just wanted to tell us in a parable form that believers are saved but non-believers are not, he could have done it in a clearer way: most of the time, the content of Jesus’ parables is meaningful to his message, but in this case, it would not seem so;
- both the sheep and goats call Jesus “Lord”, which suggests faith, yet neither recognised him in their service, so it is difficult to square this completely with a fully aware follower of Christ;
- this parable seems to echo what came earlier in Matthew, namely Matt 7:21: “Not every one who says to me, `Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (RSV) Again, there is an emphasis on works here, just as in the parable, and the use of the word “Lord” to refer to Christ; and finally,
- one the face of it, I think it is fair to say that a straightforward reading of the text suggests works contribute to salvation.
What do you think?