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Who are the sheep and the goats in Matt 25?

Jesus’ ‘parable’ of the sheep and the goats in Matt 25.31–46 is very well known and widely misinterpreted. (It is not actually a parable, since it is not introduced with the typical ‘The kingdom is like…’ and it is not making use of a story from another context, such as farming and economics, to draw out a principle.) It forms one part of the extended teaching about ‘the end’ distinctive to Matthew (compared with Mark and Luke). It is most commonly interpreted as an injunction to help the poor; most Christians (in the West at least) read this more or less as the sheep being Christians, the goats being non-Christians, and ‘the least of these my brothers [and sisters] being the poor in general.

I thought this too, until I had to read this in the context of the all-age part of our main service about 20 years ago. It is quite a long reading, so I was worried that the children and young people would get bored. But then it occurred to me: in the gospels, no-one ever tells Jesus that he is getting a bit boring. (What is it we do to Bible reading which makes it boring?!)

So I decided on Saturday night to learn it and recite it by heart. (I can still recite it word for word many years later.) The effect was electric, and particularly memorable for those sitting on my left…and it made me change my mind about the meaning of the parable, which is a good argument for learning Scripture.

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Jesus was not born in a stable (honest!)

I am sorry to spoil your preparations for Christmas before the Christmas lights have even gone up—though perhaps it is better to do this now than the week before Christmas, when everything has been carefully prepared. But Jesus wasn’t born in a stable, and, curiously, the New Testament hardly even hints that this might have […]

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Did John see Revelation as a vision?

Most ordinary readers of Revelation assume that John had some sort of vision, and that what we have is a more-or-less straightforward description of what he saw as if he was describing a picture. But there are several reasons for qualifying this kind of understanding. The first relates the nature of visions and spiritual auditory […]

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Will the world end on 23rd September?

The latest prediction of the end of the world, based on an ‘interpretation’ of Revelation 12, is that it will all happen at the end of the week on Saturday 23rd September. The simplest way to check whether this is correct would be to check back here on Sunday 24th September; if you can read […]

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Did Paul have a pastoral strategy?

The apostle Paul is not generally viewed as a pastor. Teaching, fearless advocate for the faith, traveller, apologist, pioneering church planter, yes—but pastor? As we read Paul’s letters, in some part because of our cultural distance, it is easy not to sense that we are encountering Paul the pastor. But the latest Grove Biblical booklet […]

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Should we read the Bible literally?

Last week it was reported that Dr Hugh Houghton of the University of Birmingham had translated a long-lost fourth-century Latin commentary on the gospels by African-born Italian bishop Fortunatianus of Aquileia, which Jerome had described as ‘a gem’, but which was thought to have been lost, either having perished or having been destroyed. But it turns […]

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Why Pope Francis is wrong about begging

Jon Kuhrt writes: This week I was at a church in Kings Cross, central London, talking with the minister when a man came to the door asking for help.  He explained that he was not from London but his wife had just been discharged from UCH (a London hospital) following an emergency operation.  He said they […]

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