Parable of the Ten Virgins

Parable of the Ten Virgins

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The Parable of the Ten Virgins, also known as the parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins, is one of the well known parables of Jesus
Parables of Jesus
The parables of Jesus can be found in all the Canonical gospels as well as in some of the non-canonical gospels but are located mainly within the three synoptic gospels. They represent a key part of the teachings of Jesus, forming approximately one third of his recorded teachings...

. It appears in only one of the Canonical gospels of the New Testament
New Testament
The New Testament is the second major division of the Christian biblical canon, the first such division being the much longer Old Testament....

. According to the Gospel of Matthew
Gospel of Matthew
The Gospel According to Matthew is one of the four canonical gospels, one of the three synoptic gospels, and the first book of the New Testament. It tells of the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth...

 25:1-13 the five virgins who are prepared for the bridegroom's arrival are rewarded, while the five who are not prepared are excluded from his marriage feast. The parable has a clear eschatological
Christian eschatology
Christian eschatology is a major branch of study within Christian theology. Eschatology, from two Greek words meaning last and study , is the study of the end of things, whether the end of an individual life, the end of the age, or the end of the world...

 theme: be prepared for the Day of Judgment.

It was one of the most popular parables in the Middle Ages
Middle Ages
The Middle Ages is a periodization of European history from the 5th century to the 15th century. The Middle Ages follows the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 and precedes the Early Modern Era. It is the middle period of a three-period division of Western history: Classic, Medieval and Modern...

, with enormous influence on Gothic art
Gothic art
Gothic art was a Medieval art movement that developed in France out of Romanesque art in the mid-12th century, led by the concurrent development of Gothic architecture. It spread to all of Western Europe, but took over art more completely north of the Alps, never quite effacing more classical...

, sculpture
Sculpture is three-dimensional artwork created by shaping or combining hard materials—typically stone such as marble—or metal, glass, or wood. Softer materials can also be used, such as clay, textiles, plastics, polymers and softer metals...

 and the architecture of German and French cathedrals.


In the Parable of the Ten Virgins, Jesus tells a story about a party of virgins (perhaps bridesmaids or torchbearers for a procession) given the honor of attending a wedding
A wedding is the ceremony in which two people are united in marriage or a similar institution. Wedding traditions and customs vary greatly between cultures, ethnic groups, religions, countries, and social classes...

. Each of the ten virgins is carrying a lamp (or torch
A torch is a fire source, usually a rod-shaped piece of wood with a rag soaked in pitch and/or some other flammable material wrapped around one end. Torches were often supported in sconces by brackets high up on walls, to throw light over corridors in stone structures such as castles or crypts...

) as they await the coming of the bridegroom, which they expect at some time during the night. Five of the virgins are wise and have brought sufficient oil for their lamps. Five are foolish and have not.

The bridegroom is delayed until late into the night; when he arrives the foolish virgins ask the wise ones for oil, but they refuse, saying that there will certainly not (Greek ou mē) be enough for that. While the foolish virgins are away trying to get more oil, the bridegroom arrives. The wise virgins are there to welcome him and the foolish ones arrive too late and are excluded:


The parable is one of a sequence of responses to a question in Matthew
Gospel of Matthew
The Gospel According to Matthew is one of the four canonical gospels, one of the three synoptic gospels, and the first book of the New Testament. It tells of the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth...

Other parables in this sequence include the parable of the budding fig tree
Parable of the budding fig tree
The Parable of the Budding Fig Tree is a parable told by Jesus in the New Testament, found in Matthew , Mark , and Luke . This parable, about the Kingdom of God, involves a fig tree, as does the equally brief parable of the barren fig tree, with which it should not be confused.-Narrative:According...

 (Matthew 24:32–35) and the parable of the Faithful Servant
Parable of the Faithful Servant
The Parable of the Faithful Servant is a parable of Jesus found in three out of the four Canonical gospels in the New Testament...

 (Matthew 24:42–51). The parable of the Ten Virgins reinforces the call for readiness in the face of the uncertain time of this second "coming." It has been described as a "watching parable." Like the parable of the Lost Coin
Parable of the Lost Coin
The Parable of the Lost Coin is one of the parables of Jesus. It appears in only one of the Canonical gospels of the New Testament. According to Luke , a woman searches for a lost coin...

, it is a parable about women which immediately follows, and makes the same point as, a preceding parable about men.

In this parable, Christ is the bridegroom, echoing the Old Testament
Old Testament
The Old Testament, of which Christians hold different views, is a Christian term for the religious writings of ancient Israel held sacred and inspired by Christians which overlaps with the 24-book canon of the Masoretic Text of Judaism...

 image of God as the bridegroom in Jeremiah
Book of Jeremiah
The Book of Jeremiah is the second of the Latter Prophets in the Hebrew Bible, following the book of Isaiah and preceding Ezekiel and the Book of the Twelve....

 2:2 and similar passages. The awaited event is the Second Coming of Christ. R. T. France
R. T. France
Richard Thomas France is a New Testament scholar and Anglican cleric. He was Principal of Wycliffe Hall Oxford from 1989 to 1995. He has also worked for the London School of Theology.-Biography:...

 writes that the parable is "a warning addressed specifically to those inside the professing church who are not to assume that their future is unconditionally assured."
The parable does not criticise the virgins for sleeping, since both groups do that, but for being unprepared. It is not clear exactly what form this lack of preparation takes: the foolish virgins may have taken insufficient oil or, if they light their lamps or torches for the first time when the bridegroom arrives (having slept through the previous hours of darkness), they may have brought no oil at all (it is also unclear as to whether the foolish virgins succeed in purchasing any oil that night: most shops would not have been open).

The parable is not written in praise of virginity, and indeed Louis of Granada
Louis of Granada
Louis of Granada was a Dominican theologian, writer, and preacher.- Biography :He was born of poor parents at Granada. At the age of nineteen he was received into the Dominican Order in the convent of Santa Cruz, Granada. His philosophical studies once over, he was chosen by his superiors to...

, in his The Sinner's Guide of 1555, writes "No one makes intercession with the Bridegroom for the five foolish virgins who, after despising the pleasures of the flesh and stifling in their hearts the fire of concupiscence, nay, after observing the great counsel of virginity, neglected the precept of humility and became inflated with pride on account of their virginity."

Spencer W. Kimball
Spencer W. Kimball
Spencer Woolley Kimball was the twelfth president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from 1973 until his death in 1985.-Ancestry:...

 discussed the difference between the wise and the foolish virgins and why they could not share the oil: "This was not selfishness or unkindness. The kind of oil that is needed to illuminate the way and light up the darkness is not shareable. How can one share obedience to the principle of tithing; a mind at peace from righteous living; an accumulation of knowledge? How can one share faith or testimony? How can one share attitudes or chastity.... Each must obtain that kind of oil for himself.... In the parable, oil can be purchased at the market. In our lives the oil of preparedness is accumulated drop by drop in righteous living. Fasting, family prayer... control of bodily appetites, preaching the gospel, studying the scriptures-each act of dedication and obedience is a drop added to our store. Deeds of kindness, payment of offerings and tithes, chaste thoughts and actions, marriage in the covenant for eternity-these, too, contribute importantly to the oil with which we can at midnight refuel our exhausted lamps."


While "a considerable number of exegetes in fact suppose that the parable of 'The Wise and Foolish Virgins' ultimately goes back to Jesus," some Bible commentators, because of its eschatological
Christian eschatology
Christian eschatology is a major branch of study within Christian theology. Eschatology, from two Greek words meaning last and study , is the study of the end of things, whether the end of an individual life, the end of the age, or the end of the world...

 nature, doubt that Jesus ever told this parable and that, instead, it is a parable created by the very early church. A large majority of fellows on the Jesus Seminar
Jesus Seminar
The Jesus Seminar is a group of about 150 critical scholars and laymen founded in 1985 by Robert Funk under the auspices of the Westar Institute....

, for example, designated the parable as merely similar to something Jesus might have said or simply inauthentic ("gray" or "black"). The work of the Jesus Seminar has been criticized, however. Other scholars believe that this parable has only been lightly edited, and is an excellent example of Jesus' skill in telling parables. The parable occurs in all ancient New Testament manuscripts, with only slight variations in some words.

Liturgical use

The parable is the gospel reading for the 27th Sunday after Trinity
Trinity Sunday
Trinity Sunday is the first Sunday after Pentecost in the Western Christian liturgical calendar, and the Sunday of Pentecost in Eastern Christianity...

 in the traditional Lutheran lectionary. In the Revised Common Lectionary
Revised Common Lectionary
The Revised Common Lectionary is a lectionary of readings or pericopes from the Bible for use in Christian worship, making provision for the liturgical year with its pattern of observances of festivals and seasons. Its first version was known as the Common Lectionary, assembled in 1983. It was...

, the parable is read in Proper
Proper may refer to:* Proper , the part of a Christian liturgy that is specific to the date within the Liturgical Year* Proper frame, such system of reference in which object is stationary , sometimes also called a co-moving frame...

 27 (32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Ordinary Time
Ordinary Time is a season of the Christian liturgical calendar, in particular the calendar of the Roman rite and related liturgical rites. The English name is intended to translate the Latin term Tempus per annum...


In the Armenian Orthodox Church the parable is the main theme of Holy Monday. A special Church service enacting the parable of the ten virgins is celebrated on Tuesday evening of the Holy Week.

In the arts

This parable has been a popular subject for painting, sculpture, music, and drama.


The parable has been depicted in several paintings, including altarpieces in Northern Europe. A recent example, from 1954, is by Tove Jansson
Tove Jansson
Tove Marika Jansson was a Swedish-Finnish novelist, painter, illustrator and comic strip author. She is best known as the author of the Moomin books.- Biography :...

. In the 19th century, the artists of the Nazarene movement
Nazarene movement
The name Nazarene was adopted by a group of early 19th century German Romantic painters who aimed to revive honesty and spirituality in Christian art...

 also took up this theme.


Numerous sculptures of the wise and foolish virgins appear on French cathedrals, including:
  • Amiens Cathedral
    Amiens Cathedral
    The Cathedral of Our Lady of Amiens , or simply Amiens Cathedral, is a Roman Catholic cathedral and seat of the Bishop of Amiens...

  • Auxerre Cathedral
  • Laon Cathedral
  • Notre Dame de Paris
    Notre Dame de Paris
    Notre Dame de Paris , also known as Notre Dame Cathedral, is a Gothic, Roman Catholic cathedral on the eastern half of the Île de la Cité in the fourth arrondissement of Paris, France. It is the cathedral of the Catholic Archdiocese of Paris: that is, it is the church that contains the cathedra of...

  • Cathedral of Notre-Dame, Reims
  • Strasbourg Cathedral
    Strasbourg Cathedral
    Strasbourg Cathedral or the Cathedral of Our Lady of Strasbourg is a Roman Catholic cathedral in Strasbourg, France. Although considerable parts of it are still in Romanesque architecture, it is widely consideredSusan Bernstein: , The Johns Hopkins University Press to be among the finest...

Depictions of the virgins are equally common on German cathedrals, including:
  • Erfurt Cathedral
    Erfurt Cathedral
    The Catholic Erfurt Cathedral is a 1200 year old church located on Cathedral Hill of Erfurt, in Thuringia, Germany. It is of a International Gothic style, and is also known as St Mary's Cathedral, and is located, uniquely, on a hillside.- History :...

  • Magdeburg Cathedral
    Cathedral of Magdeburg
    The Protestant Cathedral of Magdeburg , officially called the Cathedral of Saints Catherine and Maurice , is the oldest Gothic cathedral in Germany. It is the proto-cathedral of the former Prince-Archbishopric of Magdeburg. Today it's the principal church of the Evangelical Church in Central Germany...

The virgins are also depicted on cathedrals in Switzerland and other countries.

The ubiquity of such sculptures has inspired fictional descriptions, such as the carvings on the doors of Kingsbridge cathedral in Ken Follett
Ken Follett
Ken Follett is a Welsh author of thrillers and historical novels. He has sold more than 100 million copies of his works. Four of his books have reached the number 1 ranking on the New York Times best-seller list: The Key to Rebecca, Lie Down with Lions, Triple, and World Without End.-Early...

's novel World Without End, set in the Late Middle Ages
Late Middle Ages
The Late Middle Ages was the period of European history generally comprising the 14th to the 16th century . The Late Middle Ages followed the High Middle Ages and preceded the onset of the early modern era ....



Several religious musical compositions have been inspired by the parable. Its message was formed into a Chorale
A chorale was originally a hymn sung by a Christian congregation. In certain modern usage, this term may also include classical settings of such hymns and works of a similar character....

, Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme
Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme (chorale)
Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme is a Lutheran chorale written by Philipp Nicolai, first published in 1599 together with Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern. Although popular today as a hymn in both the original German and one of many English translations, it is best known for its use in the cantata...

, by Philipp Nicolai
Philipp Nicolai
Philipp Nicolai was a German Lutheran pastor, poet, and composer, author of two famous hymns: Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme and Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern...

, which Johann Sebastian Bach
Johann Sebastian Bach
Johann Sebastian Bach was a German composer, organist, harpsichordist, violist, and violinist whose sacred and secular works for choir, orchestra, and solo instruments drew together the strands of the Baroque period and brought it to its ultimate maturity...

 used for his cantata
A cantata is a vocal composition with an instrumental accompaniment, typically in several movements, often involving a choir....

 Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, BWV 140. The parable forms the theme for several hymns, including the 19th century hymn "Behold the Bridegroom Cometh" by George Frederick Root
George Frederick Root
George Frederick Root was an American songwriter, who found particular fame during the American Civil War.-Biography:...

, which begins:

Our lamps are trimmed and burning,

Our robes are white and clean;

We’ve tarried for the Bridegroom,

Oh, may we enter in?

Keep your lamp trimmed and burning is a gospel-blues song based on the parable. It has been recorded by such artists as Blind Willie Johnson, Rev. Pearly Brown, and Rev. Gary Davis (aka Blind Gary Davis).

Non-religious music has also used the parable as a theme, such as the ballet "The wise and the foolish virgins" by Swedish composer Kurt Atterberg
Kurt Atterberg
Kurt Magnus Atterberg was a Swedish composer. He is best known for his symphonies, operas and ballets. Atterberg once said that: "The Russians, Brahms, Reger were my ideals." His music combines their influences with Swedish folk tunes.-Biography:Atterberg was born in Gothenburg as the son of the...

 (1887–1974), written in 1920.


From early Christian times, the story of the ten virgins has been told as a mystery play
Mystery play
Mystery plays and miracle plays are among the earliest formally developed plays in medieval Europe. Medieval mystery plays focused on the representation of Bible stories in churches as tableaux with accompanying antiphonal song...

. St. Methodius
Saints Cyril and Methodius
Saints Cyril and Methodius were two Byzantine Greek brothers born in Thessaloniki in the 9th century. They became missionaries of Christianity among the Slavic peoples of Bulgaria, Great Moravia and Pannonia. Through their work they influenced the cultural development of all Slavs, for which they...

 wrote the Banquet of the Ten Virgins, a mystery play in Greek. Sponsus
Sponsus or The Bridegroom is a medieval Latin and Occitan dramatic treatment of Jesus' parable of the ten virgins. A liturgical play designed for Easter Vigil, it was composed probably in Gascony or western Languedoc in the mid-eleventh century...

, a mid-11th-century play, was performed in both Latin and Occitan. The German play Ludus de decem virginibus was first performed on 4 May 1321. There was also a Dutch play of the late Middle Ages.