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Bible Commentaries

The Expositor's Greek Testament

Matthew 25




These parables (especially the first and third) are appropriately introduced by Mt. at this place, whether actually uttered in immediate connection with the Olivet discourse, or during the Passion week, or otherwise. In his reproduction of the book of Logia, Wendt gives the group of parables inculcating constant preparedness for the Parusia , including the Waiting Servants (Luke 12:35-38 ); the Thief (Matthew 24:43-44 ; Luke 12:39-40 ); the Upper Servant (Matthew 24:45-51 ; Luke 12:42 ; Luke 12:48 ), and the Ten Virgins (Matthew 25:1-12 ; Luke 13:25 ), a somewhat earlier place (L. J., i., pp. 118 122).

Verse 1

Matthew 25:1 . τότε , then, connecting what follows in the evangelist’s mind with the time referred to in the previous parable, i.e. , with the Parusia . δέκα παρθένοις : ten virgins, not as the usual number as to that no information is available but as one coming readily to the mind of a Jew, as we might in a similar case say a dozen. αἵτινες , such as; αἳ might have been used, but the tendency in N. T. and late Greek is to prefer ὅστις to ὅς . τὰς λαμπάδας α ., their torches consisting of a wooden staff held in the hand, with a dish at the top, in which was a piece of cloth or rope dipped in oil or pitch ( vide Lightfoot, Hor. Heb. ). Rutherford ( New Phrynicus , p. 131) says that λαμπάδας is here used in the sense of oil lamps, and that in the common dialect λαμπάς became equivalent to λύχνος . εἰς ὑπ ( ἀπ -) άντησιν : vide at Matthew 8:34 . τοῦ νυμφίου : the bridegroom, who is conceived of as coming with his party to the house of the bride, where the marriage feast is to take place, contrary to the usual though possibly not the invariable custom (Judges 14:10 ). The parable at this point seems to be adapted to the spiritual situation the Son of Man coming again. Resch thinks καὶ τῆς νύμφης a true part of the original parable, without which it cannot be understood ( Aussercanonische Paralleltexte zu Mt. und Mk. , p. 300).

Verses 1-13

Matthew 25:1-13 . Parable of the Ten Virgins , in Mt. only.

Verse 2

Matthew 25:2 . πέντε μωραὶ , πέντε φρόνιμοι : equal numbers of both, not intended to represent the proportion in the spiritual sphere; foolish, wise, not bad and good, but imprudent and prudent, thoughtless and thoughtful. Even the “foolish” might be very attractive, lovable girls; perhaps might have been the favourites at the feast: for wisdom is apt to be cold; foolish first named in best MSS., and properly, for they play the chief rôle in the story, and are first characterised in the sequel.

Verse 3

Matthew 25:3 . ἔλαιον : the statement about the foolish, indicating the nature or proof of their folly, is that they took their lamps but did not take oil. None? or only not a supply sufficient for an emergency possible delay? Goebel ( Die Parabeln Jesu ) decides for the former view. His idea of the whole situation is this: the virgins meet at the bride’s house, there wait the announcement of the bridegroom’s approach, then for the first time proceed to light their lamps, whereupon the foolish find that there is nothing in the dish except a dry wick, which goes out shortly after being lighted. In favour of this view he adduces the consideration that the other alternative makes the wise too wise, providing for a rare occurrence. Perhaps, but on the other hand Goebel’s view makes the foolish too foolish, and also irrelevantly foolish, for in the case supposed they would have been at fault even if the bridegroom had not tarried. But the very point of the parable is to illustrate the effect of delay . On the various ways of conceiving the situation, vide The Parabolic Teaching of Christ .

Verse 4

Matthew 25:4 . ἐν τοῖς ἀγγείοις : the wise took oil in the vessels , i.e. , in vessels, with an extra supply, distinct from the cups at the top of the torches containing oil.

Verse 5

Matthew 25:5 . χρονίζοντος τ . ν .: no reason given for delay, a possibility in natural life, the point on which the spiritual lesson, “be ready,” hinges. ἐνύσταζαν , they nodded, aorist, because a transient state; ἐκάθευδον , and remained for some time in slumber, imperfect, because the state continuous. Carr (Camb. N. T.) cites Plato, Apol. Socr. , as illustrating the discriminating use of the two verbs in reference to the two stages of sleep. πᾶσαι , all , sleep in the circumstances perfectly natural and, everything being ready, perfectly harmless.

Verse 6

Matthew 25:6 . ἰδοὺνυμφίος : at length at midnight a cry is raised by some one not asleep lo! the bridegroom ; laconic, rousing, heard by all sleepers. ἐξέρχεσθε εἰς ἀπάντησιν , go forth to meeting: no words that can be dispensed with here either. Go forth whence? from the bride’s house (Goebel); from some inn, or private dwelling on the way, whither they have turned in on finding that the bridegroom tarried (Bleek, Meyer, Weiss). On this point Goebel’s view it to be preferred.

Verse 7

Matthew 25:7 . ἐκόσμησαν , trimmed, or proceeded to trim, for which the imperfect would have been more suitable. In the case of the five foolish it was an action attempted rather than performed, begun rather than completed.

Verse 8

Matthew 25:8 . σβέννυνται , are going out, as in R.V [135]

[135] Revised Version.

Verse 9

Matthew 25:9 . μήποτε , lest, implying, and giving a reason for, an unexpressed declinature. Kypke renders, perhaps, fortasse , citing examples from classics, also Loesner, giving examples from Philo. Elsner suggests that ὁρᾶτε or βλέπετε is understood before μήποτε . Schott, putting a comma after ὑμῖν , and omitting δὲ after πορεύεσθε , translates thus: lest perchance there be not enough for us and you, go rather to them that sell, etc. (“ne forte oleum neque nobis neque vobis sufficiat, abite potius,” etc.). πορεύεσθε , etc.: this seems a cold, ungenerous suggestion on the part of the wise, and apparently untrue to what was likely to occur among girls at such a time. Could the oil really be got at such a time of night? and, supposing it could, would going not throw them out of the festivities? Augustine says: “non consulentium sed irridentium est ista responsio” (Serm. xc., iii., 8). More humanely, in the modern spirit, Koetsveld suggests that the marriage procession to music and song was very slow, and that there was a fair chance of overtaking it after the purchase ( De Gelijk. , p. 220). Let us hope so; but I fear we must fall back on the fact that “sudden emergencies bring into play a certain element of selfishness,” and take the advice of the wise as simply a refusal to be burdened with their neighbours’ affairs

Verse 10

Matthew 25:10 . ἀπερχομένων , etc. The foolish took the advice and went to buy, and in so doing acted in character ; foolish in that as in not having a good supply of oil. They should have gone on without oil , the great matter being to be in time. By reckoning this as a point in their folly we bring the foolish virgins into analogy with the foolish builder in chap. Matthew 7:26 . Vide notes there, and also The Parabolic Teaching of Christ , p. 505 f. Of course, on this view the oil has no significance in the spiritual sphere. It plays a great part in the history of interpretation. For Chrys. and Euthy., the lamp = virginity, and the oil = pity, and the moral is: continence without charity worthless; a good lesson. “Nothing,” says the former, “is blinder than virginity without pity; thus the people are used to call the merciless dark ( σκοτεινούς ),” Hom. lxxviii. ἐκλείσθηθύρα , the door was shut, because all the guests were supposed to be within; no hint given by the wise virgins that more were coming. This improbable in the natural sphere.

Verse 11

Matthew 25:11 . κύριε , κύριε , etc., master, master, open to us; a last, urgent, desperate appeal, knocking having preceded (Luke 13:25 ) without result. The fear that they are not going to be admitted has seized their hearts.

Verse 12

Matthew 25:12 . οὐκ οἶδα ὑμᾶς , I do not know you; in the natural sphere not a judicial penalty for arriving too late, but an inference from the late arrival that those without cannot belong to the bridal party. The solemn tone, however ( ἀμὴν λ . ὑ .), shows that the spiritual here invades the natural. Pricaeus refers to Luke 11:7 as helping to understand the temper of the speech from within = do not trouble me, the door is shut.

Verse 13

Matthew 25:13 . he moral, γρηγορεῖτε , watch; not directed against sleep (Matthew 25:5 ) but against lack of forethought. The reference of the parable to the Parusia , according to Weiss (Meyer), is imposed upon it by the evangelist.

Verse 14

Matthew 25:14 . ὥσπερ : suggests a comparison between the parabolic history and the course of things in the kingdom, but the apodosis carrying out the comparison is omitted. γὰρ implies that the point of comparison is in the view of the evangelist the same as in the preceding parable. ἀποδημῶν , about to go abroad. ἐκάλεσε , etc., called his own servants and delivered to them his means; not an unnatural or unusual proceeding introduced against probability for the sake of the moral lesson; rather the best thing he could do with his money in his absence, dividing it among carefully selected slaves, and leaving them to do their best with it. Investments could not then be made as now ( vide Koetsveld, p. 254).

Verses 14-30

Matthew 25:14-30 . Parable of the Talents ( cf. Luke 19:11-28 ), according to Weiss (Mt.-Ev., 535) and Wendt (L. J., i., 145) not a Parusia -parable originally, but spoken at some other time, and inculcating, like the parable of the unjust steward, skill and fidelity in the use of earthly goods.

Verse 15

Matthew 25:15 . πέντε , δύο , ἕν : the number of talents given in each case corresponded to the master’s judgment of the capacity ( δύναμιν ) of each man. All were supposed to be trustworthy and more or less capable. Even one talent represented a considerable sum, especially for that period when a denarius was a day’s wage. καὶ ἀπεδήμησεν , and then he went away. So ends the account of the master’s action. εὐθέως should be connected with πορευθεὶς , whereby it gains significance as indicating the temper of the servant. He lost no time in setting about plans for trading, with the talents entrusted to him (so Fritzsche, Weiss, Schanz, and Holtz., H. C.).

Verse 16

Matthew 25:16 . εἰργάσατο ἐν αὐτοῖς , traded in or with them, used in classics also in this sense but without any preposition before the dative of the material. ἄλλα πέντε , other five, which speaks to a considerable period in the ordinary course of trade.

Verse 17

Matthew 25:17 . ὡσαύτως , in like manner; that absolutely the same proportion between capital and gain should be maintained in the two cases was not likely but possible, and the supposition is convenient for the application.

Verse 18

Matthew 25:18 . ὤρυξεν γῆν , dug up the earth, and hid the silver of his master. Not dishonest the master had not misjudged as to that but indolent, unenterprising, timid. What he did was often done for safety. The master might have done it himself, but he wanted increase as well as safety. In Lk.’s parable the same type of man buries his pound in a napkin . A talent was too large to be put up that way.

Verse 19

Matthew 25:19 . πολὺν χρόνον : the master returns after a long time , an important expression in a parable relating to the Parusia , as implying long delay. συναίρει λόγον , maketh a reckoning, as in Matthew 18:23 .

Verses 19-23

Matthew 25:19-23 .

Verse 20

Matthew 25:20 . he first servant gives his report: bringing five and five, he presents them to his master, and says: ἴδε , as if inviting him to satisfy himself by counting.

Verse 21

Matthew 25:21 . εὖ , well done! excellent! = εὖγε in classics, which is the approved reading in Luke 19:17 . Meyer takes it as an adverb, qualifying πιστός , but standing in so emphatic a position at the head of the sentence and so far from the word it is supposed to qualify it inevitably has the force of an interjection ἀγαθὲ καὶ πιστέ , devoted and faithful: two prime virtues in the circumstances. On the sense of ἀγαθός , vide Matthew 20:15 . ἐπὶ π . σε καταστήσω , I will set thee over many things. The master means to make extensive use of the talents and energy of one who had shown himself so enthusiastic and trustworthy in a limited sphere. εἴσελθε ε . τ . χαρὰν τ . κ . σ . This clause seems to be epexegetical of the previous one, or to express the same idea under a different form. χαρά has often been taken as referring to a feast given on the occasion of the master’s return (so De Wette, Trench, etc.). Others (Reuss, Meyer, Weiss, Speaker’s Com. ) take it more generally as denoting the master’s state of joy. Thus viewed, the word takes us into the spiritual sphere, the joy of the Lord having nothing in common with the affairs of the bank (Reuss, Hist. Ev. ). Weiss thinks this second description of the reward proceeds from the evangelist interpreting the parable allegorically of Messiah’s return. But we escape this inference if we take the phrase “the joy of thy lord” as = the joy of lordship ( herilis gaudii , Grotius, and Elsner after him). The faithful slave is to be rewarded by admission to fellowship in possession, partnership. Cf. μέτοχοι τοῦ χριστοῦ in Hebrews 3:14 = sharers (“fellows”) with Christ, not merely “partakers of Christ”.

Verse 23

Matthew 25:23 . raise and recompense awarded to the second servant in identical terms: reward the same in recognition of equal devotion and fidelity with unequal ability a just law of the Kingdom of God, the second law bearing on “Work and Wages” there. For the first, vide on Matthew 20:1-16 . Euthymius remarks ἴσητιμὴ διότι καὶ ἴσησπουδή .

Verse 24

Matthew 25:24 . εἰληφώς , the perfect participle, instead of λαβὼν in Matthew 25:20 , because the one fact as to him is that he is the man who has received a talent of which he has made no use . (So Weiss in Meyer.) ἔγνων σε ὅτι , for ἔγνων ὅτι συ , by attraction. σκληρὸς , “hard”: grasping, ungenerous, taking all to himself, offering no inducements to his servants, as explained in the proverbial expressions following: θερίζων , etc., reaping where you do not sow, and gathering where ( ὅθεν instead of ὅπου , a word signifying de loco , instead of a word signifying in loco ; vide Kypke for other examples) you did not scatter with the fan = appropriating everything produced on his land by the labour of his servants, without giving them any share no inducement to work for such a curmudgeon of a master: all toil, no pay. Compare this with the real character as revealed in: “Enter thou into the joy of lordship”.

Verses 24-30

Matthew 25:24-30 .

Verse 25

Matthew 25:25 . φοβηθεὶς , etc., fearing: loss of the talent by trade; he thought the one thing to make sure of in the case of such a master, was that what he had got might be safe . ἐν τῇ γῇ : the primitive bank of security. Vide Matthew 13:44 . ἴδε ἔχεις τὸ σόν , see you have what belongs to you; no idea that the master was entitled not only to the talent, but to what it might earn.

Verse 26

Matthew 25:26 πονηρὲ ( vide on Matthew 6:23 ), wicked” is too general a meaning: mean-spirited or grudging would suit the connection better. πονηρὸς is the fitting reply to σκληρὸς , and the opposite of ἀγαθὸς . You call me hard, I call you a churl: with no heart for your work, unlike your fellow-servant who put his whole heart into his work. ὀκνηρέ , slothful; a poor creature altogether: suspicious, timid, heartless, spiritless, idle. ᾔδεις , etc.: a question, neither making an admission nor expressing surprise or anger, but leading up to a charge of inconsistency = If that was your idea of me, why then, etc.

Verse 27

Matthew 25:27 . ἔδει , etc., you ought in that case to have cast my silver to the money-changers, or bankers. That could have been done without trouble or risk, and with profit to the master. ἐγὼ , apparently intended to be emphatic, suggesting a distribution of offices between servant and master = yours to put it into the bank, mine to take it out. So Field ( Otium Nor. ), who, following a hint of Chrys., translates: “And I should have gone ( ἐλθὼν ) to the bank and received back mine own (or demanded it) with interest”. σὺν τόκῳ , literally, with offspring: a figurative name for interest on money.

Verse 28

Matthew 25:28 . ἄρατε , etc., take the one talent from the man who made no use of it; and give it to the man who will make most use of it.

Verse 29

Matthew 25:29 . eneral principle on which the direction rests pointing to a law of life, hard but inexorable.

Verse 30

Matthew 25:30 . ἀχρεῖον , useless. Palairet renders injuriosum ; Kypke, improbum . Being useless, he was both injurious and unjust. The useless man does wrong all round, and there is no place for him either in this world or in the Kingdom of God. His place is in the outer darkness.

Difference of opinion prevails as to whether this parable refers to the use of material goods for the Kingdom of God, or to the use of spiritual gifts. It is not, perhaps, possible to decide in ignorance of the historical occasion of the parable, nor is it necessary, as the same law applies.

Verse 31

Matthew 25:31 . ὅταν δὲ , the description following recalls Matthew 24:30 , to which the ὅταν seems to refer.

Verses 31-46

Matthew 25:31-46 . The Judgment programme . Much diversity of opinion has prevailed in reference to this remarkable passage; as to the subjects of the judgment, and the authenticity of this judgment programme as a professed logion of Jesus. Are the judged all mankind, Christian and non-Christian, or Christians only, or non-Christian peoples, including unbelieving Jews, or the Jewish people excluded? Even as early as Origen it was felt that there was room for doubt on such points. He says ( Comm. in Ev. M. ): “Utrum segregabuntur gentes omnes ab omnibus qui in omnibus generationibus fuerint, an illae tantum quao in consummatione fuerint derelictae, aut illae tantum quae crediderunt in Deum per Christum, et ipsae utrum omnes, an non omnes, non satis est manifestum. Tamen quibusdam videtur de differentiâ eorum, quae crediderunt haec esse dicta.” Recent opinion inclines to the view that the programme refers to heathen people only, and sets forth the principle on which they shall be judged. As to the authenticity of the logion critics hold widely discrepant views. Some regard it as a composition of the evangelists. So Pfleiderer, e.g. , who sees in it simply the literary expression of a genial humane way of regarding the heathen on the part of the evangelist, an unknown Christian author of the second century, who had charity enough to accept Christlike love on the part of the heathen as an equivalent for Christian faith ( Urchristenthum , p. 532). Holtzmann, H. C., also sees in it a second-hand composition, based on 4 Esdras 7:33 35, Apoc. Bar. 83:12. Weiss, on the other hand, recognises as basis an authentic logion of Jesus, setting forth love as the test of true discipleship, which has been worked over by the evangelist and altered into a judgment programme for heathendom . Wendt ( L. J. , p. 186) thinks that the logion in its original form was such a programme. This seems to be the most probable opinion.

Verse 32

Matthew 25:32 . πάντα τὰ ἔθνη naturally suggests the heathen peoples as distinct from Jews, though the latter may be included, notwithstanding the fact that in one respect their judgment day had already come (Matthew 24:15-22 ). ἀφοριεῖ : first a process of separation as in the interpretation of the parable of the tares (Matthew 13:40 ). τά πρόβατα ἀπὸ τῶν ἐρίφων , the sheep from the young goats. Sheep and goats, though feeding together under the care of the same shepherd, seem of their own accord to separate into two companies. Tristram and Furrer bear witness to this.

Verse 33

Matthew 25:33 . καὶ στήσει , etc., the bare placing of the parties already judges, the good on the right, the evil on the left; sheep, emblems of the former; goats, of the latter. Why? No profit from goats, much from sheep; from their wool, milk, lambs, says Chrys., Hom. lxxix. Lust and evil odour secure for the goat its unenviable emblematic significance, say others: “id animal et libidinosum et olidum” (Grotius). Lange suggests stubbornness as the sinister quality. More important is the point made by Weiss that the very fact that a separation is necessary implies that all were one flock, i.e. , that the judged in the view of Jesus are all professing Christians, disciples true or false.

Verses 34-40

Matthew 25:34-40 . οἱ εὐλογημένοι τοῦ πατρός μου , my Father’s blessed ones, the participle being in effect a substantive. κληρονομήσατε , etc.: this clause Weiss regards as a proof that the parable originally referred to disciples, as for them only could the kingdom be said to be prepared from the foundation of the world. Wendt, holding the original reference to have been to the heathen, brackets the words from οἱ εὐλογ . to κόσμου as of doubtful authenticity.

Verse 35

Matthew 25:35 . ἐπείνασα , ἐδίψησα , ξένος ἤμην : hungry, thirsty, a stranger. The claims created by these situations are universally recognised though often neglected; to respond to them is a duty of “common humanity”. συνηγάγετέ με , ye received me (into your house) ( cf. Judges 19:18 , οὐκ ἔστιν ἀνὴρ συνάγων με εἰς οἰκίαν ) Meyer, Weiss, and others, with stricter adherence to the literal meaning of the word, render: ye gathered me into the bosom of your family; Fritzsche: ye admitted me to your table (“simul convivio adhibuistis”).

Verse 36

Matthew 25:36 . γυμνὸς , ἠσθένησα , ἐν φυλακῇ : deeper degrees of misery demanding higher degrees of charity; naked = ill clad, relief more costly than in case of hunger or thirsty sick, calling for sympathy prompting to visits of succour or consolation; in prison, a situation at once discreditable and repulsive, demanding the highest measure of love in one who visits the prisoner, the temptation being strong to be ashamed of one viewed as a criminal, and to shrink from his cell, too often dark and loathsome. ἐπεσκέψασθέ με , this verb is often used in the O. T. and N. T. in the sense of gracious visitation on the part of God (for פָּקַד in Sept [136] ) ( vide Luke 1:78 , and the noun ἐπισκοπή in Luke 19:44 ).

[136] Septuagint.

Verse 37

Matthew 25:37 . κύριε : not necessarily spoken by disciples supposed to know or believe in Jesus (Weiss). The title fits the judicial dignity of the person addressed by whomsoever used. In disclaiming the praise accorded, those who call the Judge κύριος virtually deny personal acquaintance with Him.

Verse 40

Matthew 25:40 ἐφʼ ὅσον , n so far as = καθʼ ὅσον (Hebrews 7:20 ), used of time in Matthew 9:15 . ἑνὶἐλαχίστων , the Judge’s brethren spoken of as a body apart, not subjects , but rather instruments , of judgment. This makes for the non-Christian position of the judged. The brethren are the Christian poor and needy and suffering, in the first place, but ultimately and inferentially any suffering people anywhere. Christian sufferers represent Christ, and human sufferers represent Christians. τῶν ἐλαχίστων seems to be in apposition with ἀδελφῶν , suggesting the idea that the brethren of the Son of Man are the insignificant of mankind, those likely to be overlooked, despised, neglected ( cf. Matthew 10:42 , Matthew 18:5 ).

Verses 41-46

Matthew 25:41-46 . κατηραμένοι , cursed, not the cursed ( οἱ wanting), and without τοῦ πατρός μου . God has no cursed ones. εἰς τὸ πῦρ , etc., the eternal fire is represented as prepared not for the condemned men, but for the devil and his angels. Wendt brackets the clause κατηραμένοιἀγγέλοις αὐτοῦ to suggest that as Jesus spoke it the passage ran: go away from me, for I was hungry, etc.

Verses 42-43

Matthew 25:42-43 , imply negative all the statements contained in Matthew 25:35-36 .

Verse 44

Matthew 25:44 repeats in summary form the reply of the δίκαιοι , utatis mutandis , rapidly enumerating the states of need, and disclaiming, with reference to all, neglect of service, οὐ διηκονήσαμέν σοι ; Matthew 25:45 repeats Matthew 25:40 with the omission of τῶν ἀδελφῶν μου and the addition of οὐκ before ἐποιήσατε .

Verse 46

Matthew 25:46 . κόλασιν , here and in 1 John 4:18 ( ὁ φόβος κόλασιν ἔχει ), from κολάζω = mutilation or pruning, hence suggestive of corrective rather than of vindictive punishment as its tropical meaning. The use of this term in this place is one of the exegetical grounds rested on by those who advocate the “larger hope”. Another is the strict meaning of αἰώνιος : agelong, not everlasting. From the combination results the phrase: agelong, pruning, or discipline, leaving room for the hope of ultimate salvation. But the doctrine of the future states must ultimately rest on deeper considerations than those supplied by verbal interpretation. Weiss (Mt.-Evang.) and Wendt ( L. J. ) regard Matthew 25:46 as an interpolation by the evangelist.

The doctrine of this passage is that love is the essence of true religion and the ultimate test of character for all men Christian or non-Christian. All who truly love are implicit Christians. For such everywhere the kingdom is prepared. They are its true citizens and God is their Father. In calling those who love the Father’s blessed ones Jesus made an important contribution to the doctrine of the Fatherhood, defining by discriminating use the title “Father”.

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Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Matthew 25". The Expositor's Greek Testament. 1897-1910.