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The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins (25:1–13)

Bibliography

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214–15. Batey, R. A. New Testament Nuptial Imagery. Leiden: Brill, 1971. Blinzler, J.
“Bereitschaft für das Kommen des Herrn.” BLit 37 (1963–64) 89–100. Bornkamm, G.
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Kaiser, 1968. 1:46–55. Burkitt, F. C. “The Parable of the Ten Virgins: Mt 25.1–13.” JTS
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(1971) 20–32. Derrett, J. D. M. “La parabola delle vergini stolte.” In Studies in the
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Conditions in a [vol. 33B, p. 726] Palestinian Village. 2 vols Helsingfors:
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87. Kretzer, A. “Das mt Basileiaverständnis in Ausblick auf Parusie und Gericht nach
den eschatologischen Gleichnissen Mt 25.” In Die Herrschaft der Himmel und die
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Wise and Foolish Virgins (Matthew 25:1–13).” In Once More Astonished: The Parables
of Jesus. New York: Crossroad, 1981. 146–66. Lövestam, E. “The Parable of the Ten
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Auslegung von Mt 25,1–13.” BibLeb 11 (1970) 247–59. Meinertz, M. “Die Tragweite
des Gleichnisses von den zehn Jungfrauen.” In Synoptische Studien. FS A.
Wikenhauser. Munich: Kösel, 1954. 94–106. Neuhäusler, E. Anspruch und Antwort
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l’autre rive.” CHR 26 (1979) 323–32. Schenk, W. “Auferweckung der Toten oder
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(1978) 278–99. Schwarz, G. “Zum Vokabular von Matthäus XXV. 1–12.” NTS 27 (1981)
270–76. Sherriff, J. M. “Matthew 25:1–13: A Summary of Matthean Eschatology?”
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1980. 301–5. Staats, R. “Die törichten Jungfrauen von Matthäus 25 in gnostischer
und antignostischer Literatur.” In Christentum und Gnosis. Berlin: Töpelmann, 1969.
98–115. Strobel, A. “Das Gleichnis von den zehn Jungfraugen (Mt 25, 1–13).” In
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1977. 271–81.

Translation

1“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like the story ofa the ten virgins who
took their torches and went out to meetb the bridegroom.c 2 And five of them were
foolish and five wise. 3 For the foolish ones, although they took their torches, did not
take oil with them.d 4 But the wise ones took oil in flasks together with their torches. 5
And when the bridegroom delayed his coming,e they all became drowsy and fell
asleep. 6 But in the middle of the night there was a cry: ‘Look, the bridegroom! Come
outf to meetg [him]h!’ 7 Then all those virgins arose, and they trimmed the wicksi of
their torches. 8 And the foolish ones said to the wise: ‘Give us some of your oil,
because our torches are going out.’ 9 But the wise answered, saying: ‘There would by
no meansj be enough for both us and you. Go instead to the shopsk and buy morel
for yourselves.’ 10 But when they had gone to buy more oil,m the bridegroom came,
and the ones who were ready went in with him into the wedding banquet, and the
door was shut. 11 And later the other virgins also came and said: ‘Lord, lord, open the
doorn for us.’ 12 But he answered and said: ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ 13
Watch, therefore, because you do not know the day or the hour.”o

Notes

a “The story of” added to translation.

bὑπάντησιν, “meeting.” Many MSS (D L W Θ ƒ13 TR) have ἀπάντησιν (same meaning),
perhaps through the influence of v. 6.

[vol. 33B, p. 727]

cSome MSS (D TheodGreek ƒ1 lat sy) add καὶ τῆς νύμφης, “and the bride,” perhaps
because copyists had in mind the bridegroom bringing the bride to his home for the
wedding (see TCGNT, 62). See Burkitt for a defense of the longer reading.

dD and a few other witnesses add ἐν τοῖς ἀγγείοις αὐτῶν, “in their flasks,” perhaps by
the influence of v. 4.
e “His coming” added to translation.

fA few MSS (TheodGreek ƒ1) read ἐγείρεσθε, “rise up,” probably a change prompted
by the end of v. 5.

gἀπάντησιν, “meeting.” Z TheodGreek have the synonym ὑπάντησιν (cf v. 1); C has
συνάντησιν αὐτῷ, “meeting with him.”

hSome important MSS (ℵ B Z) omit the pronoun αὐτοῦ, “him” (C has the dative αὐτῷ).
Favoring the inclusion of αὐτοῦ are A D L W ƒ1,13 TR;.

i ἐκόσμησαν, “they put in order.” “The wicks of” added to translation.

jThe very strong ου᾿ μή, “by no means,” is contained in B C D K W Δ ƒ1. Other MSS (ℵ
A L Z [TheodGreek] ƒ13) have the simple and softer negative οὐκ, “not.”

k τοὺς πωλοῦντας, lit “the sellers.”

l “More” added to translation.

m “More oil” added to translation.

n “The door” added to translation.

oMany MSS (C3 ƒ13 TR vgmss) add ἐν ᾕ ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἔρχεται, “in which the is
coming,” an obvious conforming of the text to 24:44. See TCGNT, 63.

Form/Structure/Setting

A. In this second consecutive parable of the apocalyptic discourse (cf τότε,


“then”) Matthew continues to address the importance of readiness for the coming of
the bridegroom. The coming of the bridegroom and the wedding banquet have
messianic associations (cf 22:1–14), which make the parable particularly effective. This
is the final pericope that stresses the need for constant preparedness, particularly
because the time of the return of the remains unknown and may involve a longer-
than-expected delay.
B. Although there are stories in Mark and Luke centering on the necessity of
“watching” (Mark 13:33–37; Luke 12:35–38) with motifs related to the present
pericope (Mark: sleeping; Luke: burning torches and a wedding banquet) and a
further passage in Luke 13:25–28 with other motifs common to our passage (shut
door; the cry “Lord, open to us”; and the response οὐκ οἶδα ὑμᾶς, “I do not know
you”), Matthew appears to be dependent on his own special source for the parable.
For a full literary analysis, see A. Puig i Tàrrech.
C. The parable begins with a typical introductory formula and ends with an
admonition that applies the parable to the readers (v. 13). The following outline may
be suggested: (1) the virgins’ going out to meet the bridegroom (vv 1–5), with
subdivisions (a) introduction (vv 1–2), (b) taking/not taking oil (vv 3–4), and (c) the
bridegroom’s delay (v. 5); (2) the coming of the bridegroom (vv 6–7); (3) the difficulty
of the foolish virgins (vv 8–9); (4) the entrance into the wedding banquet (v. 10); (5)
the return of the foolish virgins (vv 11–12); and (6) final admonition (v. 13). The
character of the passage is such that syntactic parallelism is limited to the contrasting
statements in vv 2 and 3–4. Did2 16:1 probably alludes to this passage or its
underlying tradition: “Be watchful [γρηγορεῖτε] for your life. Let not your lamps [οἱ
λύχνοι] be quenched [μὴ σβεσθήτωσαν], and let not your loins be ungirded, but be
ready [γίνεσθε ἕτοιμοι], for you do not know the hour [ου᾿ γὰρ οἴδατε τὴν ὥραν] in
which your Lord comes.”

[vol. 33B, p. 728]

D. While the main point of the parable has to do with the importance of
preparedness, various specific elements carry obvious allegorical significance (see
Lambrecht). Thus the bridegroom is Christ, his coming is the delayed parousia, the
wise and foolish virgins are faithful and unfaithful disciples, and the final scene
symbolizes the eschatological judgment. On the other hand, one almost certainly
goes too far in concluding that torches symbolize good works and that this provides
the “interpretive key” to the parable, as Donfried argues. J. M. Ford’s hypothesis that
the parable is directed against the hypocrisy of the Jewish teachers is possible only
by an excessive allegorizing approach that regards the marriage feast as the symbol
of the completion of Torah study with the torches as symbolic of Torah. On the issue
of allegorical elements in the parables, see Hagner, Matthew 1–13, 364–65.

Comment

1–2 The introductory formula, ὁμοιωθήσεται ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν, “the


kingdom of heaven shall be like,” is similar to that of 13:24; 18:23; 22:2 but employs
the future tense because of its eschatological orientation (cf 7:24, 26). The kingdom
of heaven is likened not to the virgins but to the story of what happens to them:
when the sudden arrival of the occurs, some are ready and some are not. The
παρθένοι, “virgins” (used elsewhere in Matthew only in 1:23), here understood in the
general sense of unmarried maidens attending the bride, coming out in the night
with their torches to meet the bridegroom probably reflects actual historical practice
(pace Bornkamm; see Jeremias, Parables of Jesus, 171–174, who also refers to similar
practices in modern Palestine; cf Argyle, and the detailed discussion in Granqvist)
rather than being a story with artificial details concocted for the purpose of teaching.
All the same, it is difficult to know precisely where the bridesmaids were (ie, at the
home of the bride, or her family, or that of the bridegroom?). This point of
information, however, is hardly crucial to the interpretation of the parable. The only
other occurrence of νυμφίος, “bridegroom,” in Matthew, outside of this passage, is in
9:15, which is important for its identification of Jesus as the “bridegroom” (cf John
3:29). The careful reader cannot miss the allusion to Jesus here (cf esp the application
in v. 13). For ὑπάντησιν, “meeting,” cf 8:34, also in reference to Jesus. The mention in
v. 2 of the μωραί, “foolish” (elsewhere in Matthew: 5:22; 7:26; 23:17), virgins first
indicates that they will become the focus of attention as the parable proceeds. For
φρόνιμοι, “wise,” in reference to disciples, see also 7:24 (opposite “foolish” in a
judgment context and thus parallel to our passage); 10:16; 24:45.
3–4 The wise virgins took extra oil (ἐν τοῖς ἀγγείοις, “in the flasks”) for their
λαμπάδας, “lamps” (ie, torches [so Jeremias]; only here in the Synoptics; cf John 18:3),
having considered the eventuality of a delay of the bridegroom and in determination
not to be caught unprepared. The foolish, on the other hand, again mentioned first,
did not have the foresight to be prepared in the event of a delay of the bridegroom.
The parable should not be allegorized to the extent that an equivalent to the oil is
pursued (contra Garland, who follows Donfried in understanding the oil as referring
to good works). The focus of the parable is the simple matter of preparedness versus
unpreparedness and the tragic character of the latter.

[vol. 33B, p. 729]

5 Although the idea of the bridegroom’s delay is introduced as a particularly


important element in the parable (cf 24:48; 25:19; see Sherriff), it is far from unknown
in rabbinic and current accounts of the Near Eastern wedding (see Jeremias, Parables
of Jesus, 172, who suggests the delay resulted from negotiations concerning financial
arrangements). When the bridegroom was delayed and as the hours of the night
wore on, the virgins ἐνύσταξαν, “began to nod off” (in the Gospels only here), and
πᾶσαι, “all,” of them ἐκάθευδον, “fell asleep” (cf 8:24; 9:24; 13:25; and esp 26:40–46).
The reference to sleep here and rising in v. 7 are literal, not metaphors for death and
resurrection (contra Schenk). No fault is attached to the wise for falling asleep
(elsewhere “sleep” stands in obvious tension with “watching”; cf 26:38–41; Mark
13:36; 1 Thess 5:6, but note v. 10). Their preparedness lies in their having brought
sufficient oil for their lamps. The delay of the bridegroom, like the delay of the
master in 24:48, is directly linked to uncertainty concerning the time of the return of
the (cf v. 13; 24:48, 50; 25:19; see Bornkamm).
6–7 μέσης δὲ νυκτός, “in the middle of the night,” means that several hours
have passed, apparently enough time for the oil in the lamps to have become rather
low. Suddenly the κραυγή, “cry” (only here in Matthew), comes that the bridegroom
has arrived and that the wedding attendants should come out to “meet” him (there is
no discernible difference in meaning between ὑπάντησιν, “meeting,” of v. 1 and
ἀπάντησιν here; for the latter, cf Acts 28:15; 1 Thess 4:17). The virgins arise and “trim”
(ἐκόσμησαν) their torches, ie, clean and oil them so that they will burn brightly.
8–9 The foolish virgins see that their oil is practically gone and that their
torches σβέννυνται, “are going out” (elsewhere in Matthew only in 12:20), rather than
burning brightly to hail the arrival of the bridegroom. Their torches apparently
consisted of oil lamps tied atop poles. The image of the lamps of the wicked going
out (where the same verb is used) is found in Prov 13:9 and Job 18:5 and may lie
behind the imagery of the parable at this point. The wise virgins do not comply with
the request of the foolish virgins to share their oil (ie, from their reserve flasks) with
them. They instead direct them to go and buy some more for themselves. Buying oil
late in the night likely would not have been difficult in a little village in full
celebration of a wedding. That they eventually succeeded in buying more oil is
suggested by v. 11. v. 9 teaches not an example of Christian ethics (or violation
thereof) but the importance of single-mindedness in being prepared with burning
torches for the meeting of the bridegroom and the subsequent entry into the
wedding banquet.
10 At the coming of the bridegroom (ie, the parousia of the), it is αἱ ἕτοιμοι,
“the ready” (for the word in this sense, see 24:44), who go in with him into the
wedding (ie, messianic) banquet. The γάμους, “wedding banquet,” has been used with
the same messianic associations in 22:1–14 (the same reality is described with
different language in 8:11; see there for OT background). The symbolism of the shut
door points to the time when it is too late to alter the division between the saved
and the lost (cf Isa 22:22; Luke 13:25; Rev 3:7; see Jeremias, TDNT 3:178). This point
emerges clearly in the following two verses.
11–12 The foolish virgins, now identified as αἱ λοιπαί, “the others” (in contrast
to αἱ ἕτοιμοι, “the ready,” in v. 10), return, presumably with a new supply of oil, only to
find a locked door. Their cry, κύριε, κύριε, “sir, sir,” becomes in application the empty
“Lord, Lord” of 7:21–22. After the coming of the Messiah, it [vol. 33B, p. 730] is too
late for the knocking to which the door will open (cf 7:7–8). Instead they hear the
dreadful words ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, οὐκ οἶδα ὑμᾶς, “Truly I tell you, I do not know you” (cf
7:23 and Comment above, together with the obviously related Luke 13:25). The
foolish virgins, by being unprepared for the coming of the bridegroom with its
unanticipated delay, are shut out from enjoying the wedding banquet, and no appeal
can change that reality.
13 The final exhortation, introduced with the strong οὖν, “therefore,” indicates
the main point to be drawn from the parable. One must γρηγορεῖτε, “watch.” The
point here is not the avoidance of literal sleep (creating an unnecessary tension with
the preceding verses—the wise virgins did sleep) but spiritual wakefulness (see
Lövestam), that is, keeping oneself in a state of constant readiness for the coming of
the Messiah (cf 24:42–43). This vigilance is required because the time of the parousia,
the day, the hour, cannot be known in advance (cf 24:36, 42, 44, 50).

Explanation
This parable makes yet once again, and in a most sobering way, the point that
preparedness for the unexpected time of the coming of the Messiah is of the utmost
importance. That is, how one lives in the lengthening interim period between the first
and second appearances of the Messiah must be consistent with one’s claim to be a
disciple. What matters is that one not be embarrassed by an “inopportune” coming
of the Messiah. The difference between the foolish and the wise is that the latter do
all within their power to be ready for the parousia. They will join in the eschatological
reward of the messianic banquet while the foolish will find themselves excluded and
without recourse. The bottom line of the eschatological discourse is the importance
of preparedness, which looms larger and larger toward the end of the discourse.