Matthew Chapter 25:1-13

We have reached the antepenultimate chapter of the gospel. The term is used most frequently to describe the sequence of syllables in a word, starting with the last, the ultimate. This is preceded by the penultimate, the last but one; this is preceded by the antepenultimate, or last but two. For example, in French, the accent of a word often falls on the ultimate syllable; in Spanish, on the penultimate. Latin is the same (mostly), so long as the penultimate syllable has a long vowel; otherwise, the accent migrates back to the antepenultimate. Of course these words are a bit, oh, pretentious, but I find them very useful.

This first section is the parable of the Ten Virgins. As such, there may not be much comment required in the body of the parable; indeed, there may not be much to say about the whole thing. This section is actually a continuation of Chapter 24, following the wicked slave being cast out to a place where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth. Jesus is still speaking.

Τότε ὁμοιωθήσεται ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν δέκα παρθένοις, αἵτινες λαβοῦσαι τὰς λαμπάδας ἑαυτῶν ἐξῆλθον εἰς ὑπάντησιν τοῦ νυμφίου.

πέντε δὲ ἐξ αὐτῶν ἦσαν μωραὶ καὶ πέντε φρόνιμοι.

αἱ γὰρ μωραὶ λαβοῦσαι τὰς λαμπάδας αὐτῶν οὐκ ἔλαβον μεθ’ ἑαυτῶν ἔλαιον:

αἱ δὲ φρόνιμοι ἔλαβον ἔλαιον ἐν τοῖς ἀγγείοις μετὰ τῶν λαμπάδων ἑαυτῶν.

“Then the kingdom of the heavens is likened to ten virgins, who taking their lamps go out to meet the bridegroom. (2) Five of them were foolish and five were thoughtful. (3) For the foolish ones brought their lamps but did not take with them oil. (4) But the thoughtful ones tool oil in their vessels with their lamps.

This pretty much speaks for itself. There is no deep, hidden meaning. Recall that it comes on the heels of the precautionary tale to be like the faithful servant and to be watchful. So we have the ready-made comparison between the foolish and the thoughtful. Honestly, the most remarkable thing about this is that they were virgins. However, that is really a bit of an over-translation. It catches our eye because it has some titillating connotations in English. Were we to render this as “ten maidens”, it wouldn’t quite give us the same pause, despite the fact that they have the same implication. After all, one’s “maiden name” is the name one had before getting married; that is, when one is a virgin. I just wonder how differently Christian theology would have developed had that line in Isaiah been translated as “and the young girl shall give birth…”

My suspicion is that this term is used to signify that these were genuinely the lower tier of slaves. They were simply young girls, perhaps what we now call tweens, girls who have not quite hit puberty. It would be before that because puberty is when girls usually got married. The point being, this task of going out to meet the bridegroom was given to them as a very straightforward task, one that a junior member of the household staff could be expected to carry out. The other point is that, even at this young age, we already have a division taking place: already some have the perspicacity and the foresight to plan ahead, to be prepared, just in case. The others…not so much.

1 Tunc simile erit regnum cae lorum decem virginibus, quae accipientes lampades suas exierunt obviam sponso.

2 Quinque autem ex eis erant fatuae, et quinque prudentes.

3 Fatuae enim, acceptis lampadibus suis, non sumpserunt oleum secum;

4 prudentes vero acceperunt oleum in vasis cum lampadibus suis.

χρονίζοντος δὲ τοῦ νυμφίου ἐνύσταξαν πᾶσαι καὶ ἐκάθευδον.

μέσης δὲ νυκτὸς κραυγὴ γέγονεν, Ἰδοὺ ὁ νυμφίος, ἐξέρχεσθε εἰς ἀπάντησιν [αὐτοῦ].

“The bridegroom having been delayed, it became night and all fell asleep. (6) In the middle of the night the cry went up, ‘There is the bridegroom, let us go to him all [of his {slaves, understood}] 

One quick note: the first word, rendered as “delayed” was also used in the story of the faithful & wicked slave. This is not a terribly common word, so its repetition in such quick succession would very effectively tie the two stories together. Of course, “falling asleep” is the metaphor for the times in which Matthew was writing; no doubt the idea of the coming of the son of man had lost some of its fervor over the past few years, and may have been less than zealous among pagans from the start. So it became necessary to come up with allegorical warnings like these two stories like the two presented here to create a sense of urgency among the faithful.

5 Moram autem faciente sponso, dormitaverunt omnes et dormierunt.

6 Media autem nocte clamor factus est: “Ecce sponsus! Exite obviam ei”.

τότε ἠγέρθησαν πᾶσαι αἱ παρθένοι ἐκεῖναι καὶ ἐκόσμησαν τὰς λαμπάδας ἑαυτῶν.

αἱ δὲ μωραὶ ταῖς φρονίμοις εἶπαν, Δότε ἡμῖν ἐκ τοῦ ἐλαίου ὑμῶν, ὅτι αἱ λαμπάδες ἡμῶν σβέννυνται.

9 ἀπεκρίθησαν δὲ αἱ φρόνιμοι λέγουσαι, Μήποτε οὐ μὴ ἀρκέσῃ ἡμῖν καὶ ὑμῖν: πορεύεσθε μᾶλλον πρὸς τοὺς πωλοῦντας καὶ ἀγοράσατε ἑαυταῖς.

“Then all the maidens rose and made ready their lamps. (8) The foolish ones said to the thoughtful ones, ‘Give us from your oil, that our lamps are going out’. (9) Answering the thoughtful ones said, ‘Never will there suffice for us and you. Better you go to the sellers and buy your own’.

I always wondered how many lamp-oil emporia were open at midnight in First Century Galilee. Maybe that’s when they did most of their trade, at night, when people realized they were running low.

Aside from that rather trivial notion, there is a level of apparent selfishness here that has also always bothered me. Now I get that it’s an analogy, or a parable, or whatever, that’s meant to convey a lesson, but the “I got mine, you get yours” aspect is there and it’s pretty sharp.

7 Tunc surrexerunt omnes virgines illae et ornaverunt lampades suas.

8 Fatuae autem sapientibus dixerunt: “Date nobis de oleo vestro, quia lampades nostrae exstinguuntur”.

9 Responderunt prudentes dicentes: “Ne forte non sufficiat nobis et vobis, ite potius ad vendentes et emite vobis”.

10 ἀπερχομένων δὲ αὐτῶν ἀγοράσαι ἦλθεν ὁ νυμφίος, καὶ αἱ ἕτοιμοι εἰσῆλθον μετ’ αὐτοῦ εἰς τοὺς γάμους, καὶ ἐκλείσθη ἡ θύρα.

11 ὕστερον δὲ ἔρχονται καὶ αἱ λοιπαὶ παρθένοι λέγουσαι, Κύριε κύριε, ἄνοιξον ἡμῖν.

12 ὁ δὲ ἀποκριθεὶς εἶπεν, Ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, οὐκ οἶδα ὑμᾶς.

13 Γρηγορεῖτε οὖν, ὅτι οὐκ οἴδατε τὴν ἡμέραν οὐδὲ τὴν ὥραν.

“They having gone out to purchase the bridegroom arrived, and those ready went out with him to the marriage, and the door was closed. (11) Later the rest of the maidens came and said, ‘Lord, lord, open for us.’ (12) He, answering, said ‘Amen I say to you, I do not know you’. So be watchful, since you do not know the day nor the hour”.

Again, this doesn’t need a whole lot of exposition. It’s all pretty straightforward. It’s a parable to illustrate the need to be prepared, to keep yourself prepared because it could be any day, or any moment. Back in Grade 4 or 5, one of the nuns told us that, when we die individually, since our souls are eternal, we are no longer bound by time. As such, the day we die we join in the overall Judgement Day, the time of final judgement foretold in Revelations. So, while I’m sure that these early Christians meant “day of the lord” in its very literal sense, it could also be taken as a metaphor for our own individual death. At this point in the history of the church I don’t think that was how it was intended, but it’s an example of how Christianity works very well on a symbolic level as well.

10 Dum autem irent emere, venit sponsus, et quae paratae erant, intraverunt cum eo ad nuptias; et clausa est ianua.

11 Novissime autem veniunt et reliquae virgines dicentes: “Domine, domine, aperi nobis”.

12 At ille respondens ait: “Amen dico vobis: Nescio vos”.

13 Vigilate itaque, quia nescitis diem neque horam.

About James, brother of Jesus

I have a BA from the University of Toronto in Greek and Roman History. For this, I had to learn classical Greek and Latin. In seminar-style classes, we discussed both the meaning of the text and the language. U of T has a great Classics Dept. One of the professors I took a Senior Seminar with is now at Harvard. I started reading the New Testament as a way to brush up on my Greek, and the process grew into this. I plan to comment on as much of the NT as possible, starting with some of Paul's letters. After that, I'll start in on the Gospels, starting with Mark.

Posted on August 15, 2016, in Chapter 25, gospel commentary, gospels, Matthew's Gospel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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