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Ten virgins (δεκα παρθενοις). No special point in the number ten. The scene is apparently centered round the house of the bride to which the bridegroom is coming for the wedding festivities. But Plummer places the scene near the house of the bridegroom who has gone to bring the bride home. It is not pertinent to the point of the parable to settle it.
Lamps (λαμπαδας). Probably torches with a wooden staff and a dish on top in which was placed a piece of rope or cloth dipped in oil or pitch. But sometimes λαμπας has the meaning of oil lamp (λυχνος) as in Acts 20:8. That may be the meaning here (Rutherford, New Phrynichus).
Took no oil with them (ουκ ελαβον μεθ' εαυτων ελαιον). Probably none at all, not realizing their lack of oil till they lit the torches on the arrival of the bridegroom and his party.
In their vessels (εν τοις αγγειοις). Here alone in the N.T., through αγγη in Matthew 13:48. Extra supply in these receptacles besides the oil in the dish on top of the staff.
They all slumbered and slept (ενυσταξαν πασα κα εκαθευδον). They dropped off to sleep, nodded (ingressive aorist) and then went on sleeping (imperfect, linear action), a vivid picture drawn by the difference in the two tenses. Many a preacher has seen this happen while he is preaching.
There is a cry (κραυγη γεγονεν). A cry has come. Dramatic use of the present perfect (second perfect active) indicative, not the perfect for the aorist. It is not εστιν, but γεγονεν which emphasizes the sudden outcry which has rent the air. The very memory of it is preserved by this tense with all the bustle and confusion, the rushing to the oil-venders.
Come ye forth to meet him (εξερχεσθε εις απαντησιν). Or, Go out for meeting him, dependent on whether the cry comes from outside the house or inside the house where they were sleeping because of the delay. It was a ceremonial salutation neatly expressed by the Greek phrase.
Trimmed (εκοσμησαν). Put in order, made ready. The wicks were trimmed, the lights being out while they slept, fresh oil put in the dish, and lit again. A marriage ceremony in India is described by Ward (View of the Hindoos) in Trench's Parables: "After waiting two or three hours, at length near midnight it was announced, as in the very words of Scripture, 'Behold the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him.'"
Are going out (σβεννυντα). Present middle indicative of linear action, not punctiliar or aoristic. When the five foolish virgins lit their lamps, they discovered the lack of oil. The sputtering, flickering, smoking wicks were a sad revelation. "And perhaps we are to understand that there is something in the coincidence of the lamps going out just as the Bridegroom arrived. Mere outward religion is found to have no illuminating power" (Plummer).
Peradventure there will not be enough for us and you (μηποτε ου μη αρκεσε ημιν κα υμιν). There is an elliptical construction here that is not easy of explanation. Some MSS. Aleph A L Z have ουκ instead of ου μη. But even so μη ποτε has to be explained either by supplying an imperative like γινεσθω or by a verb of fearing like φοβουμεθα (this most likely). Either ουκ or ου μη would be proper with the futuristic subjunctive αρκεσε (Moulton, Prolegomena, p. 192; Robertson, Grammar, pp. 1161,1174). "We are afraid that there is no possibility of there being enough for us both." This is a denial of oil by the wise virgins because there was not enough for both. "It was necessary to show that the foolish virgins could not have the consequences of their folly averted at the last moment" (Plummer). It is a courteous reply, but it is decisive. The compound Greek negatives are very expressive, μηποτε--ου μη.
And while they went away (απερχομενων δε αυτων). Present middle participle, genitive absolute, while they were going away, descriptive linear action. Picture of their inevitable folly.
Was shut (εκλεισθη). Effective aorist passive indicative, shut to stay shut.
Afterward (υστερον). And find the door shut in their faces.
Lord, Lord, open to us (Κυριε, Κυριε, ανοιξον ημιν). They appeal to the bridegroom who is now master whether he is at the bride's house or his own.
I know you not (ουκ οιδα υμας). Hence there was no reason for special or unusual favours to be granted them. They must abide the consequences of their own negligence.
Watch therefore (γρηγορειτε ουν). This is the refrain with all the parables. Lack of foresight is inexcusable. Ignorance of the time of the second coming is not an excuse for neglect, but a reason for readiness. Every preacher goes up against this trait in human nature, putting off till another time what should be done today.
Going into another country (αποδημων). About to go away from one's people (δημος), on the point of going abroad. This word in ancient use in this sense. There is an ellipse here that has to be supplied,
It is as when or
The kingdom of heaven is as when . This Parable of the Talents is quite similar to the Parable of the Pounds in Luke 19:11-28, but they are not variations of the same story. Some scholars credit Jesus with very little versatility.
His goods (τα υπαρχοντα αυτου). His belongings, neuter participle used as a substantive.
To one (ω μεν, ω δε, ω δε). Demonstrative ος, not the relative. Neat Greek idiom.
According to his several ability (κατα την ιδιαν δυναμιν). According to his own ability. Each had all that he was capable of handling. The use that one makes of his opportunities is the measure of his capacity for more. One talent represented a considerable amount of money at that time when a δεναριυς was a day's wage. See on Matthew 18:24 for the value of a talent.
Straightway (ευθεως). Beginning of verse 16, not the end of verse Matthew 25:15. The business temper of this slave is shown by his promptness.
With them (εν αυτοις). Instrumental use of εν. He worked (ηργασατο), did business, traded with them. "The virgins wait, the servants work" (Vincent).
Made (εποιησεν). But Westcott and Hort read εκερδησεν, gained, as in verse Matthew 25:17. Κερδος means interest. This gain was a hundred per cent.
Maketh a reckoning (συναιρε λογον). As in Matthew 18:23. Deissmann (Light from the Ancient East, p. 117) gives two papyri quotations with this very business idiom and one Nubian ostracon with it. The ancient Greek writers do not show it.
The joy of thy lord (την χαριν του κυριου σου). The word χαρα or joy may refer to the feast on the master's return. So in verse Matthew 25:23.
That had received the one talent (ο το ταλεντον ειληφως). Note the perfect active participle to emphasize the fact that he still had it. In verse Matthew 25:20 we have ο--λαβων (aorist active participle).
I knew thee (εγνων σε). Second aorist active indicative. Experimental knowledge (γινωσκω) and proleptical use of σε.
A hard man (σκληρος). Harsh, stern, rough man, worse than αυστηρος in Luke 19:21, grasping and ungenerous.
Where thou didst not scatter (οθεν ου διεσκορπισας). But this scattering was the chaff from which wheat was winnowed, not the scattering of seed.
Thou wicked and slothful servant (πονηρε δουλε κα οκνηρε). From πονος (work, annoyance, disturbance, evil) and οκνεω (to be slow, "poky," slothful). Westcott and Hort make a question out of this reply to the end of verse Matthew 25:26. It is sarcasm.
Thou oughtest therefore (εδσ σε ουν). His very words of excuse convict him. It was a necessity (εδε) that he did not see.
The bankers (τοις τραπεζειταις). The benchers, money-changers, brokers, who exchanged money for a fee and who paid interest on money. Word common in late Greek.
I should have received back (εγω εκομισαμην αν). Conclusion of a condition of the second class (determined as unfulfilled). The condition is not expressed, but it is implied. "If you had done that."
With interest (συν τοκω). Not with "usury" in the sense of extortion or oppression. Usury only means "use" in itself. The word is from τικτω, to bring forth. Compound interest at six per cent doubles the principal every twenty years. It is amazing how rapidly that piles up if one carries it on for centuries and millenniums. "In the early Roman Empire legal interest was eight per cent, but in usurious transactions it was lent at twelve, twenty-four, and even forty-eight" (Vincent). Such practices exist today in our cities. The Mosaic law did not allow interest in dealings between Hebrews, but only with strangers (Deuteronomy 23:19; Deuteronomy 23:20; Psalms 15:5).
The unprofitable (τον αχρειον). Useless (α privative and χρειος, useful) and so unprofitable, injurious. Doing nothing is doing harm.
All the nations (panta ta ethn). Not just Gentiles, but Jews also. Christians and non-Christians. This program for the general judgment has been challenged by some scholars who regard it as a composition by the evangelist to exalt Christ. But why should not Christ say this if he is the Son of Man and the Son of God and realized it? A "reduced" Christ has trouble with all the Gospels, not merely with the Fourth Gospel, and no less with Q and Mark than with Matthew and Luke. This is a majestic picture with which to close the series of parables about readiness for the second coming. Here is the program when he does come. "I am aware that doubt is thrown on this passage by some critics. But the doubt is most wanton. Where is the second brain that could have invented anything so original and so sublime as vv. Matthew 25:35-40; Matthew 25:42-45?" (Sanday, Life of Christ in Recent Research, p. 128).
As the shepherd separates (ωσπερ ο ποιμην αφοριζε). A common figure in Palestine. The sheep are usually white and the goats black. There are kids (εριφων, εριφια) which have grazed together. The goats devastate a field of all herbage. "Indeed they have extirpated many species of trees which once covered the hills" (Tristram, Natural History of the Bible, pp. 89f.). The shepherd stands at the gate and taps the sheep to go to the right and the goats to the left.
From the foundation of the world (απο καταβολης κοσμου). The eternal purpose of the Father for his elect in all the nations. The Son of Man in verse Matthew 25:31 is the King here seated on the throne in judgment.
Clothed me (περιεβαλετε με). Second aorist middle indicative, cast something around me.
Visited me (επεσκεψασθε με). Looked after, came to see. Our "visit" is from Latin viso, video. Cf. our English "go to see."
Ye did it unto me (εμο εποιησατε). Dative of personal interest. Christ identifies himself with the needy and the suffering. This conduct is proof of possession of love for Christ and likeness to him.
No meat (ουκ εδωκατε μο φαγειν). You did not give me anything to eat. The repetition of the negative ου in Matthew 25:42 and Matthew 25:43 is like the falling of clods on the coffin or the tomb. It is curious the surprise here shown both by the sheep and the goats. Some sheep will think that they are goats and some goats will think that they are sheep.
Eternal punishment (κολασιν αιωνιον). The word κολασιν comes from κολαζω, to mutilate or prune. Hence those who cling to the larger hope use this phrase to mean age-long pruning that ultimately leads to salvation of the goats, as disciplinary rather than penal. There is such a distinction as Aristotle pointed out between μωρια (vengeance) and κολασις. But the same adjective αιωνιος is used with κολασιν and ζωην. If by etymology we limit the scope of κολασιν, we may likewise have only age-long ζωην. There is not the slightest indication in the words of Jesus here that the punishment is not coeval with the life. We can leave all this to the King himself who is the Judge. The difficulty to one's mind about conditional chastisement is to think how a life of sin in hell can be changed into a life of love and obedience. The word αιωνιος (from αιων, age, αεςυμ, αε) means either without beginning or without end or both. It comes as near to the idea of eternal as the Greek can put it in one word. It is a difficult idea to put into language. Sometimes we have "ages of ages" (αιωνες των αιωνων).
The Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament. Copyright © Broadman Press 1932,33, Renewal 1960. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman Press (Southern Baptist Sunday School Board)
Robertson, A.T. "Commentary on Matthew 25". "Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11