The five wise virgins, the five foolish ones, and the lamps and the oil
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There are many different views on the meaning of the parable of the virgins, and what the wise and foolish virgins symbolised. Some writers have claimed that they “represent the church”, whatever that might mean, while some have noted that it would be unwise to suggest that. Others have claimed that those virgins “denote the purity of the Christian doctrine and character” – and so on. There are many kinds of claims and interpretations in regard to the meaning of the parable of Matthew 25:1–13.
Here is an English translation of the passage in question:
Matthew 25:1 Then the kingdom of Heaven shall be likened to ten virgins [a] who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2 And five of them were wise, and five foolish. 3 Those who were foolish took their lamps and took no oil with them, 4 but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. 5 But while the bridegroom was delayed, they all nodded and fell asleep. 6 And at midnight there was a cry: Behold, the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet him! 7 Then all those virgins arose and prepared their lamps. 8 And the foolish said to the wise, Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out. 9 But the wise answered, saying, No, lest there should not be enough for us and you; but go rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves. 10 And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding feast; and the door was shut. 11 Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us! 12 But he answered and said, Truly, I say to you, I do not know you. 13 Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man comes. [b] (VW06, note signs added)
a Verse 1: What here is translated as “virgin”, is in the Greek text of the New Testament parthenos. In old Greek, that word could refer to both males and females. – Here, one must keep in mind that things mentioned in parables are often symbolic, and that all details do not always have exact counterparts in real life.
b Verse 13: The words “in which the Son of man comes” in the last part of this verse, are not found in all Greek manuscripts.
Please note that Jesus spoke those words to and regarding those who were listening to him, there and then, in the first century. This applies also to the preceding chapter, Matthew 24. The articles nga020.htm (points 2 and 3) and nga040.htm can be helpful reading, in that context.
Again, there were ten virgins in that parable. Five of them were foolish, and five wise. Matthew 25:3 states that the foolish virgins took no oil with them. Did that mean that they had oil in their lamps but nothing in the vessels, verses 3–4? Or, was it so that they had no oil in the lamps, either? This is not clear, but let us note that even empty lamps can be lit, because one can light the lamp’s wick, but if there is no oil in the lamp, the wick burns up and the fire goes out.
It is likely that just as in certain other bible-passages, even here the oil (olive oil) is a symbol for the Holy Spirit.
The Bridegroom of that parable obviously pictured Jesus. Also: When the saints received the Holy Spirit, they became (on the spiritual level) betrothed to Jesus. After this, a wedding feast was coming – the one that is mentioned for instance in Revelation 19:7–9.
Again, it is likely that the oil of that parable symbolised the Spirit of God. – In that connection, let us consider something the apostle Paul wrote to the saints in Ephesus, regarding how God had given them the Holy Spirit as a “pledge” or “guarantee”. Even this had to do with their betrothal to Jesus.
Ephesians 1:10 […] In Him 11 also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, 12 to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory. 13 In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, 14 who is given as a pledge [c] of our inheritance, [d] with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory. (NASB95, highlighting and note signs added)
Ephesians 1:11 Furthermore, because we are united with Christ, we have received an inheritance from God […] 14 The Spirit is God’s guarantee that he will give us the inheritance he promised and that he has purchased us to be his own people. […] (NLT04, highlighting added)
c Verse 14 – pledge, or guarantee as some translations have it: It is said that in old customs, a woman was at betrothal given something valuable as a “pledge”, as a token of her betrothal, as a guarantee and witness of her right to receive, in due time, the full possession of what she had been promised. – When God in the first century betrothed people to his son Jesus, he gave them the Holy Spirit as such a pledge.
d Verses 11 and 14 mention an inheritance for those people. Galatians 3:16 with its context shows that the promise and inheritance in question belonged to one specific Offspring of Abraham (Jesus). The saints were betrothed to Jesus. Through their union with him, they came to share his inheritance.
As was noted earlier, it appears that the Holy Spirit was the “oil” of the parable of Matthew 25:1–12, the oil which the five wise virgins had. They could go out and meet the bridegroom.
And again, when God in New Testament times betrothed people to his son Jesus, he gave them his Spirit as a “pledge”. Later they were, just as the wise virgins of the parable, taken to the wedding feast (“the marriage supper of the Lamb”, Revelation 19).
A note: The parable of Matthew 25:1–13 speaks about “buying oil”. It is clear that there is no way to “buy” God’s Spirit. So, it might be that the “buying” in that parable refers to the process which the saints then went through: Repentance from wrongdoing, turning to God, and being baptised, after which God gave them the Holy Spirit.
Again, it appears that the five wise virgins of that parable served as a symbol for the Holy Spirit which the saints received when God betrothed them to his son Jesus.
This leads to the question, whom did the five foolish virgins symbolise? Some have suggested that they perhaps represented people who had “lost” the Holy Spirit. Could it be so? Or, could it instead be that the five foolish virgins symbolised people who in one way or another rejected Jesus and the New Covenant, and thus also the Holy Spirit so that they never received it?
Matthew 25:3 The five who were foolish took no oil for their lamps (NLT96, highlighting added)
It appears that those words mean that the five foolish virgins never acquired the needed oil, in the first place. Because of this, they could not use their lamps for going out into the night when the time came, in order to meet the bridegroom.
A note: The Holy Spirit is lasting and does not “burn out”.
When one considers all the details, what crystallises is this: The foolish virgins probably symbolised people who rejected Jesus and the New Covenant.
In the first century: As things went, most Jews rejected Jesus and the New Covenant and through that also the Holy Spirit.
See even Matthew 22:1–14 which records another wedding-related parable. Jesus spoke it as a warning to some Jews (perhaps the chief priests and Pharisees who are mentioned in the context, Matthew 21:45–22:1).
See also the “recommended reading” section, below.
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Recommended reading here at the Bible Pages, on related as well as other matters
An explanation of the short names for the bible-translations that are quoted or mentioned at this site. → nsa090.htm
Easy keys to deeper understanding of the Scriptures. → nga020.htm
What happened to the saints? Why is there no record of their doings, after the middle of the first century? → nga040.htm
Are parousia and rapture biblical concepts? → nga050.htm
What does the Bible say about Heaven? Were the saints to go there? What about others? What does it look like, in Heaven? → nba040.htm
On the “new creation” of 2 Corinthians 5:17. → nba050.htm
John 15, “I am the vine, you are the branches”. The parable of the vinedresser, the vine, the branches and the fruit. → naa110.htm
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