Category Archives: Chapter 25

Summary Matthew Chapter 25

The chapter is basically a series of parables: the faithful slave who is ready for the master’s return vs the slave who’s not paying attention. The Ten Virgins with their oil lamps, some of whom may or may not have extra oil. The big one is the Parable of the Talents, meant to promote an active ethos of spiritual capitalism. There are two important points to note about this series of parables. First, all of them deal with the theme of being ready when the master or lord returns. That is to say, they are all about the expected coming of the son of man; in Matthew, that is explicitly Jesus. These stories are meant to allay concern that the expected coming of the son of man, of the lord, as Paul said, had not happened yet. We’ve discussed this before, and more than once, so there is probably no point in going through it again. What we need to takeaway from this is Matthew very insistent that this event will happen, and it may happen soon, or it may happen a bit later. Either way, it is incumbent on us as followers of Jesus to be sure that we are ready when it does happen. A bit later in the narrative Matthew will tell us what happens to those who are caught unawares, but that will be dealt with in time.

The second point about these parables is that they are all unique to Matthew. I was not aware of that as I went through the commentary; in particular, I thought that the Parable of the Talents was certainly to be found in Luke. According to my Harmony of the Gospels, this is not true. Of course, none of them are in Mark, either, but that’s to be expected. Ergo, all of these are M material, stories that are unique to Matthew. That they are not in Mark should not surprise us, especially since these are dealing with the expected coming of the lord/son of man. That theme barely surfaces in Mark; he tells us it will happen, but not often and not very specifically. What is more significant, I believe, is that they are not in Luke. The theme of what has become known as the Second Coming (a great poem by WB Yeats, btw) is wholly absent from John. Does Luke’s omission of these parables indicate a diminished emphasis on the Parousia? Perhaps, or perhaps not. We will examine that more fully when we get to Luke.

Also missing from all the other gospels is the “least of my siblings” story. This is one of the most Christian of Christian ideas in my mind, to be ranked with the Beatitudes as fundamental Christian tenets. Yet, the Beatitudes are only in half the gospels, and the least of my brothers in only one. How is that possible? What does this tell us? The implication, it seems, is that there were many different sets of beliefs among the various communities, each with its own particular emphasis, perhaps. I think that Matthew and Luke having so much in common indicates not a common source, but that Luke had actually read Matthew, and John felt the need to put the finishing touches on the theology by fully elevating Jesus into an equality with God the Father. This touches on Q, of course, and I am still of the opinion that Q never existed. That being the case, the fruition of all these basic Christian ideas in Matthew indicate that there was a fluorescence of teachings attributed to Jesus that Matthew was the first to record. This, in turn, implies that many of these very Christian teachings–the Beatitudes, the Least of my Siblings–did not originate with Jesus, but were developed later. Perhaps James is responsible for some of them, or perhaps James only provided the themes, the actual stories then being created by people like Matthew. We are so used to the idea of the evangelists recording, but the idea of them creating makes us very uncomfortable. This is, however, a very real possibility–even a probability, I might add–and it must be faced and it must be considered.

The major lessons, or the most consequential theological points, or whatever they should be called, all arose in the very last verses of the chapter. Many of these points are also novel with Matthew, with one salient exception. Matthew repeats Mark’s prophecy about the coming of the son of man. And “repeats” is particularly noteworthy here because Matthew said much the same thing back in Chapter 24, where it correlated most closely to the context of the corresponding passage in Mark; this time, however, he goes a little further. The son of man will come in his glory, again with the angels, and will sit upon his throne. In this way, Matthew’s description more closely approaches the conception expressed by Paul, wherein it’s the lord (or Lord; upper vs. lower case L makes a big difference) who is coming. Of course the word Paul uses is Greek, but it would be really interesting to note whether it sits upon something in Hebrew. Is it a translation for Adonai? This was a word often used in Judaism as a surrogate for “God”, the replacement due to the Judaic aversion to using the name of God. If this is what Paul has in mind when he said the “lord” will come, that really puts a very different reading on this.

Beyond all that, however, we should note that, in all cases, it is never sad that the lord or the son of man will “return”; that word is never used in this context by Paul, Mark, or Matthew. It is always said that he will “come”, generally using the most generic, most vanilla verb possible for this. This should be noted. Of course, with Paul, Jesus was only the Lord after the resurrection; as such, he never came in the first place since his incarnation presence didn’t constitute the coming of the Lord. Jesus, at birth and right through his death on the cross, was a man. Only after being raised did he become the Lord. That Mark says that the son of man will come–not return–truly must make us consider that Jesus was not the son of man in the eyes of the early communities of Jesus. This distinction does not hold in or for Matthew. Nowhere in Matthew does Jesus unequivocally say “I am the son of man”, but the aggregation of the small clues, or hints makes this seem like the only way to understand Matthew’s conception of Jesus. This, in turn, suggests that the matter had not been entirely settled when Matthew wrote. He danced around the issue to the extent he does because he didn’t want to alienate that group of followers who saw Jesus and the son of man as separate individuals. But not even Matthew says that “the son of man will return”.

As for the status of the son of man, Matthew has made Jesus divine, but he does not make Jesus the equal of God the Father. In the passage under discussion, the son of man will come in his glory and sit upon his throne, but the kingdom was prepared by the father, said as if this is someone other than the son of man. The latter has become a king, but the king is not the equal of the father. After all, it was the latter who prepared the kingdom, from the foundations of the cosmos. On one hand, Matthew can seem very cagey, telling us things, but never quite committing himself to a particular point of view or factual reality. In such circumstances, one feels that he has chosen his words so very carefully, weighing each one out in its meaning and implications. Then there are times when he almost seems sloppy in his thinking, unable to put two and two together to tease out the implications of what he is saying. This is one of these latter instances. Does he not see that he’s making Jesus the lesser deity? Does he see this and not care? Does he see this and agree with it? I suspect Mark was deliberately straddling the fence; he had his two different traditions and really wasn’t about to get in the middle and craft a consistent theology.

As for Matthew, my suspicion is that he saw that he was making Jesus the lesser deity, but that he was OK with that because that fit his own world-view. Now, this comes dangerously close to begging the question: why did Matthew make Jesus the lesser? Because he was a pagan and this was normal. How do we know Matthew was a pagan? Because he made Jesus the lesser deity. At least, this would be circular if it were the only potential clue that we had, but it’s not. As such, I believe we are justified to infer that Matthew saw the distinction and agreed with it. And really, by doing this, he was really only following Mark’s lead. Mark saw Jesus as adopted at baptism. This is the Adoptionist heresy. Matthew saw Jesus as divine from birth, but not the equal of God. This is Arianism. Both were later to be judged heretical, but only after the writing of John’s gospel, which made the equation of the two. And while both were later considered heresies, note how Jesus is moving up in the scale: from purely human at birth, adopted by God, to divine from birth, a literal son of God much as Herakles was the son of Zeus (minus the actual physical contact present in the Greek myth). The process will continue until it concludes with John’s “in the beginning was the Logos…” (I refuse to translate that as “Word”, no matter what St Jerome thought. And even in Latin, “verbum” is much too limiting. The semantic field of “verbum” is much closer to “word” than it is to “logos”.)

The conclusion we need to draw, I believe, is that Matthew and his contemporaries were, more or less, Arians. But this is true only because the full Truth had not yet been revealed. That is, potentially at least, an explanation that could meet criteria of orthodoxy. Or maybe not.

In one notable passage, Matthew does actually make a definitive statement. This comes in the “least of my brothers” story. Those who did do for the least of the king’s (Jesus’) brothers will enter the kingdom that has been prepared for them, from the foundations of the world. Those who don’t will be consigned to the eternal fire created for the devil and his angels. There you are: specific behaviour will yield specific results. And your reward, or punishment, will be eternal. That is very clear. Also, and I totally missed this in the commentary, we are definitively told that the kingdom is something that “will come”. It has not arrived, and it won’t arrive until the End Times. This rather forces us to ask if this is entirely consistent with Jesus beginning his ministry by preaching that “the kingdom is nigh”. The two interpretations are not really mutually exclusive in any logical sense; Jesus could be teaching that the End Times are nigh, and these will soon be followed by the coming of the kingdom. Logically, this works. But does it feel right? Do we get the sense back in the early part of Mark that Jesus is preaching about the End Times? One could interpret in this way, but that’s my point: it requires an interpretation because that is not exactly what the words feel like. That isn’t entirely their natural meaning, because it requires that the kingdom be understood in a very specific way. For the coming of the one “like a son of man” in Daniel is not a foretelling of End Times, or the kingdom of God.

There are some additional implications to this, of course. That the kingdom has been prepared from the beginning of the universe implies that God foresaw that there would be people, that some of them would be righteous, and that these righteous would inherit the kingdom. That’s all fine and good. But then God also made the eternal fire for the devil and his angels. We are not told, however, that this was made from the beginning of the universe, and the normal sense of this is that it was not. Which means God didn’t foresee the fall of the angels, and he didn’t foresee that some of his human creation would not be righteous enough to inherit the kingdom. So God, apparently, is not omniscient. This works well as a story with the inherent drama of a rebellion and a War in Heaven, the angelic host led by Michael defeating the horde of Lucifer/Satan. It doesn’t work very well as theology, especially once we start to introduce the idea of absolutes into the definition of God. The problem is that the Hebrew God and the Greek concept of the ultimate god as The One, perfect in every way, don’t really mix all that well. The fact is, the Hebrew God was, and at heart always remained, a tribal god, one of many, powerful, but not omnipotent or omniscient. The Greeks, however, determined that God/The One had to be Perfect, which meant all the omnis and a few more things, too. When the later theologians tried to reconcile the two, they found the task impossible unless certain situations and biblical passages were overlooked or conveniently forgotten. This would be one of those. But, for our purposes, none of this really matters. What does matter is that we get the definitive association of behaviour in this world and reward or punishment when the son of man finally does come. For the first time.

One last bit on the Final Days. Since Mark was written shortly after the Destruction, there could easily have been the sense that the Destruction had begun the End Times, and that the time until the coming of the son of man was not long. That would explain the “some standing here shall not taste death” until the son of man arrives. Now, this becomes rather more problematic by the time of Matthew, when the Jewish War was half-a-generation removed. Does this explain the inclusion of the parables of watchfulness we find in this chapter? And why they are included in this chapter, which follows hard on the heels of Matthew’s telling of Mark 13? And why Matthew repeats the prophecy of the coming of the son of man, after he’s already told us that he would come in the clouds back in Chapter 24? Of course, these questions cannot be answered, but I have my suspicions that the answers are affirmative. Which leads to a final question: Is this how Matthew was trying soften the implications of Mark’s prophecy?

 

Postscript: Double Predestination

I have to walk some things back that I said about Double Predestination in the commentary. As stated above, the implication of the fires for the devil seem to be more about the Hebrew God not being omniscient than about an actual formulation of Double Predestination. As such, some of the statements I made in the commentary are probably insupportable. In particular, this passage does not imply Double Predestination. God did create the kingdom ab origine. But the fire came later. This implies that God was surprised at the rebellion of the devil, not that he foresaw it and created the future rebels anyway.

 

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Matthew Chapter 25:31-46

So far in the chapter, we’ve had the parable of the Ten Maidens and the Parable of the Talents. Jesus is still talking, but he shifts gears and goes into more or less a straight narrative about the coming of the son of man. I don’t think a lot of intermediate commentary will be necessary.

31 Οταν δὲ ἔλθῃ ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἐν τῇ δόξῃ αὐτοῦ καὶ πάντες οἱ ἄγγελοι μετ’ αὐτοῦ, τότε καθίσει ἐπὶ θρόνου δόξης αὐτοῦ:

32 καὶ συναχθήσονται ἔμπροσθεν αὐτοῦ πάντα τὰ ἔθνη, καὶ ἀφορίσει αὐτοὺς ἀπ’ἀλλήλων, ὥσπερ ὁ ποιμὴν ἀφορίζει τὰ πρόβατα ἀπὸ τῶν ἐρίφων,

33 καὶ στήσει τὰ μὲν πρόβατα ἐκ δεξιῶν αὐτοῦ τὰ δὲ ἐρίφια ἐξ εὐωνύμων.

“And when the son of man comes in his glory and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon the throne of his glory. (32) And then will be gathered before him all the peoples, and he will separate them one from another, just as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. (33) And the sheep will stand on his right and the goats on the left.

The son of man comes in his glory, and sits on the throne of his glory. This is not the reflected glory of God, but that belonged to the son of man alone. This is a marked departure from the verbiage in Mark, in which the son of man would come in great glory. Yes, it’s great, but it’s not his and his alone. Rather, he’s likely to be partaking in the glory of the father. In fact, that is how I would think that Mark should be understood, which would be of a piece with the son of man not being divine in his own right. As such, Matthew here takes us further along the track to a divine Jesus. There is also the mention of his throne, he being the son of man. That I find to be less decisive. After all, Jesus says that the disciples will have thrones to judge the twelve tribes. A throne can be given. Or taken. But then, I suppose the same can be said about glory.

31 Cum autem venerit Filius hominis in gloria sua, et omnes angeli cum eo, tunc sedebit super thronum gloriae suae.

32 Et congregabuntur ante eum omnes gentes; et separabit eos ab invicem, sicut pastor segregat oves ab haedis,

33 et statuet oves quidem a dextris suis, haedos autem a sinistris.

34 τότε ἐρεῖ ὁ βασιλεὺς τοῖς ἐκ δεξιῶν αὐτοῦ, Δεῦτε, οἱ εὐλογημένοι τοῦ πατρός μου, κληρονομήσατε τὴν ἡτοιμασμένην ὑμῖν βασιλείαν ἀπὸ καταβολῆς κόσμου:

35 ἐπείνασα γὰρ καὶ ἐδώκατέ μοι φαγεῖν, ἐδίψησα καὶ ἐποτίσατέ με, ξένος ἤμην καὶ συνηγάγετέ με,

36 γυμνὸς καὶπεριεβάλετέ με, ἠσθένησα καὶ ἐπεσκέψασθέ με, ἐν φυλακῇ ἤμην καὶ ἤλθατε πρός με.

“Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Follow, ones blessed of my father. You will inherit the kingdom having been prepared for your from the foundation of the cosmos. (35) For I hungered and you gave me to eat, I thirsted and you gave me to drink, a stranger and you led me together, naked, you clothed me, sick and you visited me, in prison and you came to me. 

The first thing to note is that the king is not the father. Now, the idea that a son should succeed to the kingdom of his father is hardly unusual; quite the opposite, in fact. But it shows, once again, a gradation in the relative powers of the two. The kingdom is of the father, not the son, regardless of who happens to be sitting on the throne at a particular moment. For example, it’s never referred to as “Solomon’s Kingdom”, but as that of David. The latter founded it, the former inherited it. Just so is the implication here. This is another indication of the gradation of the deity; Jesus is in some way inferior to the father. This is a holdover from Mark, and it’s also part of the original Jewish conception of the messiah: in Jewish tradition, the messiah was human. So we’re on the road to the apotheosis of Jesus, but the record still contains traces of the earlier attitudes.

Second, we have ordination from the foundation of the cosmos/universe; the word is also frequently translated as “world”. This is no more inaccurate than universe. In Greek, “kosmos” means “order”, or “organized”. So the kingdom has been set aside for those on the right from the time that the foundation of the current order was laid; this current order is opposed to the chaos that had come before. In some ways, this idea is more Greek than Hebrew; however, I don’t want to push this too hard because I don’t read Hebrew, so I can’t really say what the story of Genesis tells us. But this idea of creating an order from chaos is very Greek; while this idea is arguably implicit in Genesis, it’s very explicit in Greek myth.

Finally, just a couple of vocabulary notes. These are mostly fun facts to know & tell rather than anything really important for understanding the text. The word for naked is “gymnos”. You will recognize this as the root of “gym/gymnasium”. This is because the Greeks exercised naked. So, you went to the “place you get naked” to do your exercise. Second, the word that usually gets translated as “visited”, in “I was sick, and you visited me” is derived from the same root whence we get “bishop”. The idea is one of oversight, and not so much the sense of visiting the sick from compassion. Again, hardly a game-changer, but this is another one of those places where a particular translation has become standard, even if it isn’t really all that exact. But, it gets the point across. 

34 Tunc dicet Rex his, qui a dextris eius erunt: “Venite, benedicti Patris mei; possidete paratum vobis regnum a constitutione mundi.

35 Esurivi enim, et dedistis mihi manducare; sitivi, et dedistis mihi bibere; hospes eram, et collegistis me;

36 nudus, et operuistis me; infirmus, et visitastis me; in carcere eram, et venistis ad me”.

37 τότε ἀποκριθήσονται αὐτῷ οἱ δίκαιοι λέγοντες, Κύριε, πότε σε εἴδομεν πεινῶντα καὶ ἐθρέψαμεν, ἢ διψῶντα καὶ ἐποτίσαμεν;

38 πότε δέ σε εἴδομεν ξένον καὶ συνηγάγομεν, ἢ γυμνὸν καὶ περιεβάλομεν;

39 πότε δέ σε εἴδομεν ἀσθενοῦντα ἢ ἐν φυλακῇ καὶ ἤλθομεν πρός σε;

40 καὶ ἀποκριθεὶς ὁ βασιλεὺς ἐρεῖ αὐτοῖς, Ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, ἐφ’ ὅσον ἐποιήσατε ἑνὶ τούτων τῶν ἀδελφῶν μου τῶν ἐλαχίστων, ἐμοὶ ἐποιήσατε.

“Then the just will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungering and feed you, or thirsting and giving you drink? (38) When did we see you sick, or in prison, and come to you?’ (40) And answering the king will say to then, ‘Amen I say to you, upon whenever one of the least of my brothers you did (it) for me’.

Along with the Beatitudes and Paul’s description of love, this story is justifiably one of the most beautiful and meaningful stories in the NT. It also, I believe, demonstrates an attitude markedly different from what had come before. This attitude is not exactly novel; it builds upon the Jewish tradition of social responsibility for the lesser of society, and maybe borrows a bit from the Stoic idea of universal siblinghood. (Thought perhaps I’d coined that term, but it’s in Google.) Now that I’ve had a chance to think about it, perhaps it’s not the thought or the idea that’s so novel, but it’s the level of emphasis this attitude receives with the NT. It’s been very interesting to note how vague the NT writers are with ideas like salvation, the soul, and eternal life. Of course the big one here is whether–and in what way–Jesus was divine.

In the same way, thinking about the Hebrew Scriptures, the message of social justice is not the one that comes to mind first and foremost. I mean, there’s not much about social justice when Moses is parting the Red Sea, or Joshua is bringing down the walls of Jericho, or Daniel is in the lion’s den. But this is the problem with only really being familiar with the highlights of HS. One misses the message of Ezra and some of the others (which I cannot name off the top of my head). The point is that the innovation of Jesus and his followers was the emphasis put on social justice, and I think the emphasis point on social justice towards individuals. I really hate getting all general here, but there is a sense in which Judaism is more about the collective than the individual; they are the Chosen People, but Jesus talks about chosen individuals. Honestly, though, I don’t think this was a big part of Jesus’ message; rather, I would suggest that it’s something that came about later, as the number of pagans grew in the various communities. There had to be a de-emphasis on the collective idea of a chosen people in favour of a creed that embraces individuals regardless of national or religious origin since this was the direction the proto-church was heading. Paul led the way, with there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave or free, etc. Here, I think we’re seeing the full assimilation of that attitude into the “mainstream” of the Christian communities. At least one of them, that of Matthew, anyway.

One implication of this, of course, is that this was not necessarily part of Jesus’ original message. That thought is probably disconcerting to a lot of Christians; and it should be. In support of this, it needs to be pointed out that this “for the least of my brothers” is not in Mark; nor is it in Luke. This latter means that it cannot have been part of Q, even if this unicorn of a document had ever actually existed. So it comes down to Matthew, and Matthew alone. Of course it’s possible that Matthew had a source that traced to Jesus on this while bypassing Mark. There is nothing remarkable about this, because that’s the definition of Q, except that Q managed to survive to reach Luke before disappearing without a trace. Really, it comes down to deciding whether this source of M material is a more likely explanation than the possibility that Matthew invented material on his own. That it bypassed Mark isn’t too hard to get around; in fact, the existence of separate threads of tradition, mutually unknown to each other in the early days, is more likely than not, IMO.

But the fact remains that this is the sort of idea that probably makes more sense in the post-diaspora world than it does in the days of Jesus. After all, Jesus did not spend a lot of time worrying about non-Jews. Of course, evaluating this perspective depends on the degree to which you see this as directed to non-Jews. There is no reason it has to be, but I believe it makes more sense in that context. As the horizons of the new movement expanded to include more non-Jews, eventually becoming a movement of mostly non-Jews, breaking down the connection to Israel while building up the connection to preferred behaviours–peacemakers, the meek–emphasizing the least of my siblings–makes an increasing amount of sense. The message becomes more tailored to an unspecific audience, people who act a certain way, rather than people united only by common descent.

37 Tunc respondebunt ei iusti dicentes: “Domine, quando te vidimus esurientem et pavimus, aut sitientem et dedimus tibi potum?

38 Quando autem te vidimus hospitem et collegimus, aut nudum et cooperuimus?

39 Quando autem te vidimus infirmum aut in carcere et venimus ad te?”.

40 Et respondens Rex dicet illis: “Amen dico vobis: Quamdiu fecistis uni de his fratribus meis minimis, mihi fecistis”.

41 Τότε ἐρεῖ καὶ τοῖς ἐξ εὐωνύμων, Πορεύεσθε ἀπ’ ἐμοῦ [οἱ] κατηραμένοι εἰς τὸ πῦρ τὸ αἰώνιον τὸ ἡτοιμασμένον τῷ διαβόλῳκαὶ τοῖς ἀγγέλοις αὐτοῦ:

42 ἐπείνασα γὰρ καὶ οὐκ ἐδώκατέ μοι φαγεῖν, ἐδίψησα καὶ οὐκ ἐποτίσατέ με,

43 ξένος ἤμην καὶ οὐ συνηγάγετέ με, γυμνὸς καὶ οὐ περιεβάλετέ με, ἀσθενὴς καὶ ἐν φυλακῇ καὶ οὐκ ἐπεσκέψασθέ με.

44 τότε ἀποκριθήσονται καὶ αὐτοὶ λέγοντες, Κύριε, πότε σε εἴδομεν πεινῶντα ἢ διψῶντα ἢ ξένον ἢ γυμνὸν ἢ ἀσθενῆ ἢ ἐν φυλακῇ καὶ οὐ διηκονήσαμέν σοι;

45 τότε ἀποκριθήσεται αὐτοῖς λέγων, Ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, ἐφ’ ὅσον οὐκ ἐποιήσατε ἑνὶ τούτων τῶν ἐλαχίστων, οὐδὲ ἐμοὶ ἐποιήσατε.

46 καὶ ἀπελεύσονται οὗτοι εἰς κόλασιν αἰώνιον, οἱ δὲ δίκαιοι εἰς ζωὴν αἰώνιον.

“And then to those on the left, ‘Go away from me, those having been accursed, to the eternal fire that has been prepared for the devil and his angels. (42) For I hungered, and you did not give me to eat, I thirsted and you did not give me to drink. (43) I was a stranger among you and you did not gather me in, naked and you did not clothe me, sick or in prison and you did not come to look in upon me’. (44) Then they will answer saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungering or thirsting or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison and we did not minister to you?’ (45) Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Amen I say to you, upon so much you did not do for one of the least, you did not do for me’. And they will be destroyed in the eternal punishment, but the just (will go) to life eternal.”  

Well, if the kingdom has been prepared for the just since the foundation of the universe, then it stands to reason that the fire has been as well. Or has it? This was prepared, supposedly, for the devil and his angels, but that rebellion did not take place until…when?

This is what happens when stories grow. They start to lost internal consistency. This is exactly what happens when people lie to cover up either a high crime or a misdemeanor: if the lie can be a one-and-done, then it’s easy enough. Yes, I took out the garbage. But in the case of a complex situation, the lie often has to be elaborated. Then what happens is that the liar has to create other lies to explain the first, and then additional ones to bridge the gaps, until he or she creates a flat contradiction. This is the stuff of detective fiction. And, after all, what is a lie but a piece of fiction, or a story. The first story, “let there be light” is simple enough. But where in there is the rebellion of Lucifer? If Lucifer = Satan, then he existed prior to creation, because he was there to tempt Adam & Eve. But when? Before the creation, or just before the creation of the world? But–never mind. The point is that, if God created the kingdom for the just, that was because God realized that this kingdom would be necessary, because there would be people, and some of them would be just, and so they would need to be rewarded. So, if God understood that, surely God also knew that there would be unjust, and would have known that some of the angels would rebel, which means that both the kingdom and the eternal fire were created from before the beginning. Since God created these creatures knowing that they would warrant damnation, we have a perfect case for Double Predestination: creatures created knowing that they would be damned. It took until the time of Calvin for his interpretation to be widely accepted.

But that’s all very fine and theological. The important part of this, the lesson that needs to be learned here is that we have a very explicit statement of the reward and punishment theme that is so very central to Christian belief. Is it the central tenet? Or would that be the Resurrection? Probably the latter, because the reward and punishment depends to some degree on the Resurrection having occurred, since this was the event that ended death, and made life eternal both possible and real. You may recall from the essay on Josephus, that this idea of reward and punishment was not exactly Jewish; rather, Josephus–who, recall, was Jewish–credited this belief to the Greeks, that they were the ones who conceived this idea. This makes sense since the idea of an immortal soul is Greek rather than Jewish. 

Given this, it is sorely tempting to seize on this as an “aha!” moment. As in, “I told that Matthew was a pagan, and Aha!, it is he who makes the most explicit case for the binary choice of reward and punishment. This would be to overstate the case. The truth of the matter is that, as I write this, I’m not at all certain that neither Paul nor Mark said something just as definitive. This is the sort of thing that requires a bunch of textual comparison, to see when ideas appear and how they develop over time. This may be no more than a terminus ante quem, the stake in the ground showing that the idea of reward and punishment has been established at this point, and that the reading of anything written after this has to be done with the reward/punishment motif as a datum, a given, something that has to be read into whatever else Luke or John or the later writers of epistles will say. In and of itself, that is important. Such markers are necessary if we’re really going to analyze this text in the way it needs to be done: as a progression, rather than as a number of different writers all explaining the same set of ideas, a set that was fixed before any of them started to write. One hopes that, by now, we all realize that we simply cannot read the NT like that. It was not, or it did not start as a set of fixed ideas, but ideas that were in flux, and that only became settled as time progressed, said progression continuing to occur for several centuries–or more–after the last bit of the NT was written.

The proof of that is the idea of Double Predestination. It’s pretty much here, if you have any feel for, or sense of how theological or philosophical argumentation and interpretation operate. The logic of this passage is pretty much inescapable, no less so for not being completely explicit. But a millennium and a half would elapse before Calvin made it stick. There were trial runs before Calvin, but The Church was, prior to that, always able to squelch them. Even now, I have a sense that this idea of Double Predestination is not exactly the central theme of any denomination descended from Calvinism. It doesn’t suit us, it undermines free will, it is remarkably similar to the pagan idea of ineluctable fate. Is that another clue that Matthew was a pagan, someone who had grown up with this idea in his mind, a buried assumption? Perhaps. But in the realm of argument for and against Predestination, Romans looms large. No real conversation on this topic can be held until we have considered Romans in detail and in its entirety. 

41 Tunc dicet et his, qui a sinistris erunt: “Discedite a me, maledicti, in ignem aeternum, qui praeparatus est Diabolo et angelis eius.

42 Esurivi enim, et non dedistis mihi manducare; sitivi, et non dedistis mihi potum;

43 hospes eram, et non collegistis me; nudus, et non operuistis me; infirmus et in carcere, et non visitastis me”.

44 Tunc respondebunt et ipsi dicentes: “Domine, quando te vidimus esurientem aut sitientem aut hospitem aut nudum aut infirmum vel in carcere et non ministravimus tibi?”.

45 Tunc respondebit illis dicens: “Amen dico vobis: Quamdiu non fecistis uni de minimis his, nec mihi fecistis”.

46 Et ibunt hi in supplicium aeternum, iusti autem in vitam aeternam ”.

 

 

Matthew Chapter 25:14-30

Here we have the famous Parable of the Talents. This was not in Mark, but it is in Luke, but I’m not sure it was supposedly in Q. The section before and this next section are still actually the continuation of Chapter 24. Jesus is talking about the coming judgement. There are aspects to the composition (no doubt the “masterful” composition) that are interesting about this, but they are best left to the summary. Once again the message is fairly plain, and the text is very known. I expect a minimum of comment on this.

14 Ὥσπερ γὰρ ἄνθρωπος ἀποδημῶν ἐκάλεσεν τοὺς ἰδίους δούλους καὶ παρέδωκεν αὐτοῖς τὰ ὑπάρχοντα αὐτοῦ,

15 καὶ ᾧ μὲν ἔδωκεν πέντε τάλαντα, ᾧ δὲ δύο, ᾧ δὲ ἕν, ἑκάστῳ κατὰ τὴν ἰδίαν δύναμιν, καὶ ἀπεδήμησεν. εὐθέως

16 πορευθεὶς ὁ τὰ πέντε τάλαντα λαβὼν ἠργάσατο ἐν αὐτοῖς καὶ ἐκέρδησεν ἄλλα πέντε:

17 ὡσαύτως ὁ τὰ δύο ἐκέρδησεν ἄλλα δύο.

18 ὁ δὲ τὸ ἓν λαβὼν ἀπελθὼν ὤρυξεν γῆν καὶ ἔκρυψεν τὸ ἀργύριον τοῦ κυρίου αὐτοῦ.

“For {the kingdom} even as a man journeying away from home called his private slaves and gave to them the goods of him. (15) And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, each according to his particular ability, and he went away. In the meantime, (16) the one with five talents, going out, working among them (putting them to work), and he earned five more. (17) And in the same way the he {with two} earned two more. But he with one, taking it (and) going away he dug the earth and hid the silver of his lord.

To me, the most striking aspect of this is the capitalistic sensibility displayed. The verb used of the first is that he put the talents “to work”. If that’s not capitalism, I don’t know what is, or what it is. Very enterprising slaves, these.

A word on ancient slavery. By no means do I want to soft-peddle it. Slavery is slavery, but the application of it can be very different. A certain number were given virtual death sentences by sending them to work in mines. OTOH, a certain number of slaves were very much part of the grand scheme of the master’s house. So the notion that these slaves should be so diligent about the master’s property need not be surprising. After all, the master entrusted a lot of money to his slaves.

Finally, there is the theological import. Perhaps we usually hear Luke’s version of this, for two reasons. I am used to hearing that the distribution was 10/5/1. And I am not used to hearing the line about “each according to his abilities”. That radically changes the whole sense of the story. Revelation: I pulled out my trusty Harmony of the Bible and was presented with a mild shock. Unless I’m totally misusing that volume–which is far from impossible–there is no corresponding version of this story in Luke; rather this is a “Matthew only” story. So the “to each per his/her own abilities” is integral to the story, which effectively reinforces the idea of the kingdom being a reward, while punishment is earned  & deserved.

14 Sicut enim homo peregre proficiscens vocavit servos suos et tradidit illis bona sua.

15 Et uni dedit quinque talenta, alii autem duo, alii vero unum, unicuique secundum propriam virtutem, et profectus est. Statim

16 abiit, qui quinque talenta acceperat, et operatus est in eis et lucratus est alia quinque;

17 similiter qui duo acceperat, lucratus est alia duo.

19 μετὰ δὲ πολὺν χρόνον ἔρχεται ὁ κύριος τῶν δούλων ἐκείνων καὶ συναίρει λόγον μετ’ αὐτῶν.

20 καὶ προσελθὼν ὁ τὰ πέντε τάλαντα λαβὼν προσήνεγκεν ἄλλα πέντε τάλαντα λέγων, Κύριε, πέντε τάλαντά μοι παρέδωκας: ἴδε ἄλλα πέντε τάλαντα ἐκέρδησα.

21 ἔφη αὐτῷ ὁ κύριος αὐτοῦ, Εὖ, δοῦλε ἀγαθὲ καὶ πιστέ, ἐπὶ ὀλίγα ἦς πιστός, ἐπὶ πολλῶν σε καταστήσω: εἴσελθε εἰς τὴν χαρὰν τοῦ κυρίου σου.

22 προσελθὼν [δὲ] καὶ ὁ τὰ δύο τάλαντα εἶπεν, Κύριε, δύο τάλαντά μοι παρέδωκας: ἴδε ἄλλα δύο τάλαντα ἐκέρδησα.

23ἔφη αὐτῷ ὁ κύριος αὐτοῦ, Εὖ, δοῦλε ἀγαθὲ καὶ πιστέ, ἐπὶ ὀλίγα ἦς πιστός, ἐπὶ πολλῶν σε καταστήσω: εἴσελθε εἰς τὴν χαρὰν τοῦ κυρίου σου.

“After much time the master of those slaves came {back} and took up speech with them. (20) And coming forward the one receiving five talents brought forth the other five talents saying, ‘Lord, you handed over five talents to me. Behold another five talents that I have earned’. (21) And his master said to him, ‘Well {done}, good slave and faithful. Upon a little {you were} faithful, upon much I will place you. Therefore come into the delight of your lord’. (22)  And also coming forward he {given} the two said, ‘Lord, two talents you have given me. Behold the other two talents I have earned’. (23) He said to him [the slave], ‘Well done good and faithful servant, upon little faithful, upon much I will stand you. Therefore come into the delight of your lord’.

Just a few minor matters. I had been translating “kyrios” as “master”. That works, but “lord” is better. Not that it’s any more accurate, but because it has the double implication of an earthly AND a heavenly lord. The Jews often referred to God as “lord” (Adonnai, IIRC?) in order to circumvent the need to use the word “God” or YHWH.

Second, the expression<<δοῦλε ἀγαθὲ καὶ πιστέ >> is in the vocative case. This is reserved for direct address, when speaking directly to someone. As such, it does not get a lot of use in historical, or expository writing; it’s much more common in poetry (O Nightingale) or prayer (O Zeus), or even drama. In works such as the NT, where there is no direct dialogue. Pater Noster, and its Greek equivalent are technically in the vocative, but for the word “father” in both languages the vocative and the nominative case have the same ending. Words ending in -us (Latin) or -os (Greek) generally have a distinctive ending for the vocative.

“Come into the delight of your lord” is rather an interesting phrase, and concept. The KJV and others give this as “enter into the joy of your lord”, and that may have a more natural sense in English. The NIV provides “come share in the joy”, which sort of gets the message across, but is dead wrong as far as the Greek goes. Regardless, the implication is pretty straightforward, that the servants are to be rewarded. More, the proper inference is that they will be rewarded eternally, in the joy of the kingdom.

18 Qui autem unum acceperat, abiens fodit in terra et abscondit pecuniam domini sui.

19 Post multum vero temporis venit dominus servorum illorum et ponit rationem cum eis.

20 Et accedens, qui quinque talenta acceperat, obtulit alia quinque talenta dicens: “Domine, quinque talenta tradidisti mihi; ecce alia quinque superlucratus sum”.

21 Ait illi dominus eius: “Euge, serve bone et fidelis. Super pauca fuisti fidelis; supra multa te constituam: intra in gaudium domini tui”.

22 Accessit autem et qui duo talenta acceperat, et ait: “Domine, duo talenta tradidisti mihi; ecce alia duo lucratus sum”.

23 Ait illi dominus eius: “Euge, serve bone et fidelis. Super pauca fuisti fidelis; supra multa te constituam: intra in gaudium domini tui”.

24 προσελθὼν δὲ καὶ ὁ τὸ ἓν τάλαντον εἰληφὼς εἶπεν, Κύριε, ἔγνων σε ὅτι σκληρὸς εἶ ἄνθρωπος, θερίζων ὅπου οὐκ ἔσπειρας καὶ συνάγων ὅθεν οὐ διεσκόρπισας:

25 καὶ φοβηθεὶς ἀπελθὼν ἔκρυψα τὸ τάλαντόν σου ἐν τῇ γῇ: ἴδε ἔχεις τὸ σόν.

26 ἀποκριθεὶς δὲ ὁ κύριος αὐτοῦ εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Πονηρὲ δοῦλε καὶ ὀκνηρέ, ᾔδεις ὅτι θερίζω ὅπου οὐκ ἔσπειρα καὶ συνάγω ὅθεν οὐ διεσκόρπισα;

27 ἔδει σε οὖν βαλεῖν τὰ ἀργύριά μου τοῖς τραπεζίταις, καὶ ἐλθὼν ἐγὼ ἐκομισάμην ἂν τὸ ἐμὸν σὺν τόκῳ.

28 ἄρατε οὖν ἀπ’ αὐτοῦ τὸ τάλαντον καὶ δότε τῷ ἔχοντι τὰ δέκα τάλαντα:  

29 τῷ γὰρ ἔχοντι παντὶ δοθήσεται καὶ περισσευθήσεται: τοῦ δὲ μὴ ἔχοντος καὶ ὃ ἔχει ἀρθήσεται ἀπ’ αὐτοῦ.

30 καὶ τὸν ἀχρεῖον δοῦλον ἐκβάλετε εἰς τὸ σκότος τὸ ἐξώτερον: ἐκεῖ ἔσται ὁ κλαυθμὸς καὶ ὁ βρυγμὸς τῶν ὀδόντων.

Coming forward, also he having received one talent said,  ‘Lord, I know that you are a hard man, reaping where  you do not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter. (25) And I being afraid went out and hid your talent in the ground. Look, you have what is yours’. (26) Answering the lord said to him, ‘Wicked slave and slothful, you knew that I reap where I do not sow, and gather where I do not reap. (27) So you ought have thrown my money to the exchangers (money changers), and coming I carried off what was mine plus growth (i.e., usury = interest; lit =  birth). (28) Take from him the talent and give it to the one having ten talents. (29) For to him has all been given and he has reproduced abundance. From him not having and what he has will be taken. (30) And the useless slave throw him into the darkness outside. There will be the wailing and gnashing of teeth’.”

What was I saying about capitalism? There is something extremely harsh about all of this. Yes, it’s metaphorical, and yes, it’s meant to instill a bit of fear, but this sounds so much like the modern business world that it’s a bit scary. The slave with one talent did nothing wrong; he did not squander the money, nor lose it, nor do anything disreputable with the money. He kept it safe. No more, but no less. But this was not enough for the greedy lord. He wanted return, and not only a return, but a doubling of his money. That is a pretty harsh demand, and a very high expectation. And it’s not simply that the slothful slave is not rewarded; he’s actively punished. This feels like Jack Welch’s “Up or Out” system of review during his tenure at GE. An employee was either worthy of advancement (up), or he was fired (out). And they were pretty much always a ‘he’. Now, this was only for higher-level executives, but still, talk about a cutthroat atmosphere! So here it wasn’t that the slothful slave was able to work out his tenure doing his job; rather, he was fired. Think about this, and then think about the message of the Prodigal Son. Could they be more diametrically opposed? There the son did squander the money and engage in riotous living. 

But the truly grinding part of this is the message: he who has nothing/little, even that will be taken away. Wow. At least the contrapositive of this is not added: that to him who has, even more will be given. Of course, that is exactly what happened. The one with the most got more. And it’s not like the second didn’t provide an equal return; he did. Both earned a gain of 100%. And it’s arguable that the second had to work harder, because the more you have in principle to start with, usually you can earn a higher return. So I would have given it to the one who started with two. Regardless, the message here is that the rich get richer, even if it’s not stated explicitly. Of course, the “gains” being discussed are meant to be spiritual, but that is not what is said. I don’t honestly know if this happened, but I can certainly imagine the good Puritans using this story to justify a lot of sharp business practices, to justify chasing after money and serving Mammon rather than God. I know there was a long-lived debate about whether it was acceptable to lend money at interest, the Church being generally opposed. The solution was for Jews to act as money lenders, then bankers. Neither side was terribly concerned about the prospects for eternity of the other, so it was not considered sinful. IIRC, the Rothschilds originally made their money as bankers.

Yes, again I understand that there is a didactic point being made here: make use of your talents. (BTW: the word in Greek transliterates to ‘talenta’.) If you do not, you will be punished. Presumably the “return” you are to make is to bring others into the community? That is not completely clear, but it seems a reasonable inference. Regardless, the real and true purpose of this story is to light a fire under believers, to get them to appreciate the need to get up and hustle for your salvation, that you cannot be complacent or just nurture what you have. Rather, you have to be active in seeking your salvation. So I think the existence of this story indicates a situation in which the literal coming of the kingdom was seeming a bit less likely, leading to a “why bother” sort of mentality. Hence the reference to Noah.

So I think it’s safe to infer that, with this gospel, we are at a point when the Parousia seems a little less imminent, the kingdom perhaps seems a little less nigh. I don’t think we’ve quite turned the corner into John, when the idea of the Second Coming has truly receded, but the first steps along that path have been taken. Indeed, perhaps we’ve taken the second and third sets of steps on that path. It is interesting to not that the concept of a “Parousia” (which should be ‘parousia’) has been coined, leading to it being referred to as a noun unto itself. It is the parousia now, even if the word is never used by Luke, and only shows up in some of the epistles. That Matthew labels it as a something, I believe, tells us that he saw it as necessary, or at least important, to establish–or re-emphasize, perhaps–this as an idea, to remind the community of the faithful that it was going to happen. the next step on this process, I believe, will be to equate one’s personal death with Judgement Day. That will not happen within the context of the NT.

24 Accedens autem et qui unum talentum acceperat, ait: “Domine, novi te quia homo durus es: metis, ubi non seminasti, et congregas, ubi non sparsisti;

25 et timens abii et abscondi talentum tuum in terra. Ecce habes, quod tuum est”.

26 Respondens autem dominus eius dixit ei: “Serve male et piger! Sciebas quia meto, ubi non seminavi, et congrego, ubi non sparsi?

27 Oportuit ergo te mittere pecuniam meam nummulariis, et veniens ego recepissem, quod meum est cum usura.

28 Tollite itaque ab eo talentum et date ei, qui habet decem talenta:

29 omni enim habenti dabitur, et abundabit; ei autem, qui non habet, et quod habet, auferetur ab eo.

30 Et inutilem servum eicite in tenebras exteriores: illic erit fletus et stridor dentium”.

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.