separate the sheep from the goats; divide the sheep from the goats

to sort a group into the good and the bad, the qualified and the unqualified, the skilled and the unskilled, etc., often by using a test or competition
—Now that the auditions have been completed, it’s time for the judges to make their decisions and separate the sheep from the goats.

Many of the Jewish people were expecting that when the Christ (or “Anointed One”) came, he would become king of their country and free them from the rule of the Romans. But Jesus taught that he, as the Christ, would not show his true power as king until he came a second time, saying,

When the Son of Man comes in his glory and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be assembled before him, and he will separate people one from another like a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats [divideth his sheep from the goats]. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the king will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by 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 something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” (Matthew 25:31-36)

A phrase with a similar meaning to separate the sheep from the goats is separate the wheat from the chaff, with “chaff” being the worthless husks and stalks that are gathered with the wheat grains when they are harvested. In Biblical times, the wheat was separated from the chaff (“winnowed”) using a “winnowing fork,” or “winnowing fan.” John the Baptist referred to this process when he described the coming judgment of Christ, separating the righteous from the unrighteous:

His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clean out his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the storehouse, but the chaff he will burn up with inextinguishable fire (Matthew 3:12)

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