Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary - Alford
Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom.Chap. 25:1-13.] Parable of the Virgins. Peculiar to Matthew.
1. τότε] at the period spoken of at the end of the last chapter, viz. the coming of the Lord to His personal reign—not His final coming to judgment.
δέκα παρθ.] The subject of this parable is not, as of the last, the distinction between the faithful and unfaithful servants; no outward distinction here exists—all are virgins—all companions of the bride—all furnished with brightly-burning lamps—all, up to a certain time, fully ready to meet the Bridegroom—the difference consists in some having made a provision for feeding the lamps in case of delay, and the others none—and the moral of the parable is the blessedness of endurance unto the end. ‘In eo vertitur summa parabolæ, quod non satis est ad officium semel accinctos fuisse et paratos, nisi ad finem usque duremus.’ Calvin.
There is no question here of apostasy, or unfaithfulness—but of the want of provision to keep the light bright against the coming of the bridegroom however delayed.
Ten was a favourite number with the Jews—ten men formed a congregation in a synagogue. In a passage from Rabbi Salomo, cited by Wetstein, he mentions ten lamps or torches as the usual number in marriage processions: see also Luke 19:13.
εἰς ὑπ. τ. ν.] It would appear that these virgins had left their own homes, and were waiting somewhere for the bridegroom to come,—probably at the house of the bride; for the object of the marriage procession was to fetch the bride to the bridegroom’s house. Meyer however supposes that in this case the wedding was to be held in the bride’s house, on account of the thing signified—the coming of the Lord to his Church;—but it is better to take the ordinary custom, and interpret accordingly, where we can. In both the wedding parables (see ch. 22.) the bride does not appear—for she, being the Church, is in fact the aggregate of the guests in the one case, and of the companions in the other. We may perhaps say that she is here, in the strict interpretation, the Jewish Church, and these ten virgins Gentile congregations accompanying her. The reading καὶ τῆς νύμφης is probably an interpolation, such as are of frequent occurrence in and its cognates.
This ἐξῆλθον is not their final going out in ver. 6, for only half of them did so,—but their leaving their own homes: cf. λαβοῦσαι—ἔλαβον, &c. vv. 3, 4. The interpretation is—these are souls come out from the world into the Church, and there waiting for the coming of the Lord—not hypocrites, but faithful souls, bearing their lamps (τ. λ. ἑαυτῶν, cf. 1Thessalonians 4:4)—the inner spiritual life fed with the oil of God’s Spirit (see Zechariah 4:2-12: Acts 10:38: Hebrews 1:9). All views of this parable which represent the foolish virgins as having only a dead faith, only the lamp without the light, the body without the spirit, &c., are quite beside the purpose;—the lamps (see ver. 8) were all burning at first, and for a certain time.
Whether the equal partition of wise and foolish have any deep meaning we cannot say; it may be so.
3, 4.] These were not torches, nor wicks fastened on staves, as some have supposed, but properly lamps: and the oil vessels (which is most important to the parable) were separate from the lamps. The lamps being the hearts lit with the flame of heavenly love and patience, supplied with the oil of the Spirit,—now comes in the difference between the wise and foolish:—the one made no provision for the supply of this—the others did. How so? The wise ones gave all diligence to make their calling and election sure (2Peter 1:10 and 5-8), making their bodies, souls, and spirits (their vessels, 2Corinthians 4:7) a means of supplying spiritual food for the light within, by seeking, in the appointed means of grace, more and more of God’s Holy Spirit. The others did not this—but trusting that the light, once burning, would ever burn, made no provision for the strengthening of the inner man by watchfulness and prayer.
5-7. χρονίζ.] compare ch. 24:48. But the thought of the foolish virgins is very different from that of the wicked servant: his—‘there will be plenty of time, my Lord tarrieth;’—theirs, ‘surely He will soon be here, there is no need of a store of oil.’ This may serve to shew how altogether diverse is the ground of the two parables.
ἐν. πᾶσ. κ. ἐκ.] I believe no more is meant here than that all, being weak by nature, gave way to drowsiness: as indeed the wakefulness of the holiest Christian, compared with what it should be, is a sort of slumber:—but, the while, how much difference was there between them!
ἐνύστ.] dormitabant: we have Aristoph. Vesp. 12, ὕπνος νυστακτής and Plato, Rep. p. 405 c, speaks of a νυστάζων δικαστής. Wordsw., after Hilary, understands this verse of sleep in death. But, not to mention that this will not fit the machinery of the parable (see below on ver. 8), it would assume (πᾶσαι) that none of the faithful would be living on earth when the Lord comes.
γέγονεν, not, was, but to be rendered present, graphically setting the reality before us: there ariseth a cry.
πᾶσαι] All now seem alike—all wanted their lamps trimmed—but for the neglectful, there is not wherewith! It is not enough to have burnt, but to be burning, when He comes. Raise the wick as they will, what avails it if the oil is spent?
ἐκόσμησαν] “by pouring on fresh oil, and removing the fungi about the wick: for the latter purpose a sharp-pointed wire was attached to the lamp, which is still seen in the bronze lamps found in sepulchres. Virgil’s Moretum, ‘Et producit acu stupas humore carentes.’ ” Webst. and Wilk.
8, 9.] σβ., are going out,—not as E. V., and even recently Bp. Wordsw. to support his interpretation of ver. 5,—‘are gone out:’ and there is deep truth in this: the lamps of the foolish virgins are not extinguished altogether.
πορεύεσθε] This is not said in mockery, as some (Luther, Calv.) suppose: but in earnest.
οἱ πωλοῦντες are the ordinary dispensers of the means of grace—ultimately of course God Himself, who alone can give his Spirit. The counsel was good, and well followed—but the time was past. (Observe that those who sell are a particular class of persons—no mean argument for a set and appointed ministry—and moreover for a paid ministry. If they sell, they receive for the thing sold: cf. our Lord’s saying, Luke 10:7. This selling bears no analogy with the crime of Simon Magus in Acts 8: cf. our Lord’s other saying, Matthew 10:8.)
10-12.] We are not told that they could not buy—that the shops were shut—but simply that it was too late—for that time. For it is not the final coming of the Lord to judgment, when the day of grace will be past, that is spoken of,—except in so far as it is hinted at in the background, and in the individual application of the parable (virtually, not actually) coincides, to each man, with the day of his death. This feast is the marriage supper of Revelation 19:7-9 (see also ib. 21:2); after which these improvident ones gone to buy their oil shall be judged in common with the rest of the dead, ibid. 20:12, 13.
Observe here, οὐκ οἶδα ὑμ. is very different, as the whole circumstances are different, from οὐδέποτε ἔγνων ὑμ. in ch. 7:23, where the ἀποχωρεῖτε ἀπʼ ἐμοῦ binds it to the πορεύεσθε ἀπʼ ἐμοῦ in our ver. 41, and to the time of the final judgment, spoken of in that parable. (See the note at the end of the chapter.)
14-30.] Parable of the talents. Peculiar to Matthew. The similar parable contained in Luke 19:11-27 is altogether distinct, and uttered on a different occasion: see notes there.
14. ὥσπ. γ.] The ellipsis is rightly supplied in the E. V., For the Kingdom of Heaven is as a man, &c. We have this parable and the preceding one alluded to in very few words by Mark, 13:34-36. In it we have the active side of the Christian life, and its danger, set before us, as in the last the contemplative side. There, the foolish virgins failed from thinking their part too easy—here the wicked servant fails from thinking his too hard. The parable is still concerned with Christians (τοὺς ἰδίους δούλους), and not the world at large.
We must remember the relation of master and slave, in order to understand his delivering to them his property, and punishing them for not fructifying with it.
15.] In Luke each receives the same, but the profit made by each is different: see notes there. Here, in fact, they did each receive the same, for they received according to their ability—their character and powers. There is no Pelagianism in this, for each man’s powers are themselves the gift of God.
16-18.] The increase gained by each of the two faithful servants was the full amount of their talents:—of each will be required as much as has been given.
“εἰργάσατο is the technical term, common in the classics, and especially in Demosthenes: see Reiske’s index. ἐν is instrumental.” Meyer.
ἐποίησεν is not a Latinism (conficere pecuniam), but answers to ποιεῖν καρπόν ch. 3:10.
The third servant here is not to be confounded with the wicked servant in ch. 24:48. This one is not actively an ill-doer, but a hider of the money entrusted to him—one who brings no profit: see on ver. 24.
19-23. μετὰ πολὺν χρόνον] Here again, as well as in the χρονίζ. of ver. 5 and ch. 24:48, we have an intimation that the interval would be no short one.
This proceeding is not, strictly speaking, the last judgment, but still the same as that in the former parable; the beginning of judgment at the house of God—the judgment of the millennial advent. This, to the servants of Christ (τοὺς ἰδίους δούλους, ver. 14), is their final judgment—but not that of the rest of the world. We may observe that this great account differs from the coming of the bridegroom, inasmuch as this is altogether concerned with a course of action past—that with a present state of preparation. This holds, in the individual application, of the account after the resurrection: that, at the utmost (and not in the direct sense of the parable even so much), of being ready for his summons at death.
20.] The faithful servant does not take the praise to himself—μοι παρέδωκας is his confession—and ἐπʼ αὐτοῖς the enabling cause of his gain;—‘without Me, ye can do nothing,’ John 15:5. This is plainer in Luke (19:16), ἡ μνᾶ σου δέκα προσηργάσατο μνᾶς. See 1Corinthians 15:10;—and on the joy and alacrity of these faithful servants in the day of reckoning, 1Thessalonians 2:19: 2Corinthians 1:14: Philippians 4:1.
21.] In Luke ═ ὅτι ἐν ἐλαχίστῳ πιστὸς ἐγένου, ἴσθι ἐξουσίαν ἔχων ἐπάνω δέκα πόλεων—where see note. (I cannot imagine with Meyer that εὖ is to be taken with ἐπὶ ὀλίγα ἦς π., or that it will not bear the sense of ‘Well done!’ Although εὖγε is the more usual word, we have (see Passow) in later Greek such expressions as μαλʼ εὖ, which is as near as possible to that meaning.)
The χαρά here is not a feast, as sometimes interpreted, but that joy spoken of Hebrews 12:2, and Isaiah 53:11—that joy of the Lord arising from the completion of his work and labour of love, of which the first Sabbatical rest of the Creator was typical—Genesis 1:31; Genesis 2:2,—and of which his faithful ones shall in the end partake: see Hebrews 4:3-11: Revelation 3:21.
Notice the identity of the praise and portion of him who had been faithful in less, with those of the first. The words are, as has been well observed, “not, ‘good and successful servant,’ but ‘good and faithful servant:’ ” and faithfulness does not depend on amount.
24, 25.] This sets forth the excuse which men are perpetually making of human infirmity and inability to keep God’s commands, when they never apply to that grace which may enable them to do so—an excuse, as here, self-convicting and false at heart.
θερίζ. ὅπ. οὐκ ἔσπ.] The connexion of thought in this our Lord’s last parable, with His first (ch. 13:3-9), is remarkable. He looks for fruit where He has sown—this is truth: but not beyond the power of the soil by Him enabled—this is man’s lie, to encourage himself in idleness.
φοβ.] see Genesis 3:10. But that pretended fear, and this insolent speech, are inconsistent, and betray the falsehood of his answer.
ἔχεις τὸ σόν] This is also false—it was not τὸ σόν—for there was his lord’s time,—and his own labour, which was his lord’s—to be accounted for.
26, 27.] Luke prefixes ἐκ τοῦ στόματός σου κρινῶ σε,—viz. ‘because, knowing the relation between us, that of absolute power on my part over thee,—if thou hadst really thought me such an hard master, ἔδει σε κ.τ.λ., in order to avoid utter ruin. But this was not thy real thought—thou wert πονηρὸς κ. ὀκνηρός.’
The ᾔδεις, &c. is not concessive, but hypothetical;—God is not really such a Master.
τοῖς τραπ.] in Luke (19:23) ἐπὶ τράπεζαν.
τραπεζίτης is interpreted κολλυβιστής (see ch. 21:12) by Hesychius. There was a saying very current among the early Fathers, γίνεσθε δόκιμοι τραπεζῖται, which some of them seem to attribute to the Lord, some to one of the Apostles. It is supposed by some to be taken from this place, and it is just possible it may have been: but it more likely was traditional, or from some apocryphal gospel. Suicer, Thes., under the word, discusses the question, and inclines to think that it was a way of expressing the general moral of the two parables in Matt. and Luke.
But, in the interpretation, who are these τραπεζῖται? The explanation (Olsh., and adopted by Trench, Parables, p. 247) of their being those stronger characters who may lead the more timid to the useful employment of gifts which they have not energy to use, is objectionable, (1) as not answering to the character addressed—he was not timid, but false and slothful;—and (2) nor to the facts of the case: for it is impossible to employ the grace given to one through another’s means, without working one’s self.
I rather take it to mean, ‘If thou hadst really been afraid, &c., slothful as thou art, thou mightest at least, without trouble to thyself, have provided that I should have not been defrauded of the interest of my money—but now thou art both slothful and wicked, in having done me this injustice.’ Observe there would have been no praise due to the servant—but τὸ ἐμόν would not have lost its τόκος. The machinery of religious and charitable societies in our day is very much in the place of the τραπεζῖται. Let the subscribers to them take heed that they be not in the degraded case of this servant, even if his excuse had been genuine.
28-31.] This command is answered in Luke 19:25, by a remonstrance from those addressed, which the Master overrules by stating the great law of his Kingdom. In ch. 13:12 we have explained this as applied to the system of teaching by parables. Here it is predicated of the whole Christian life. It is the case even in nature: a limb used is strengthened; disused, becomes weak. The transference of the talent is not a matter of justice between man and man, but is done in illustration of this law, and in virtue of that sovereign power by which God does what He will with his own: see Romans 11:29, and note there.
In τὸ σκ. τὸ ἐξ. there is again an allusion to the marriage supper of the Lamb, from which the useless servant being excluded, gnashes his teeth with remorse without: see ch. 22:13.
31-46.] The final judgment of all nations. Peculiar to Matthew. In the two former parables we have seen the difference between, and judgment of, Christians—in their inward readiness for their Lord, and their outward diligence in profiting by his gifts. And both these had reference to that first resurrection and millennial Kingdom, the reality of which is proved by the passages of Scripture cited in the notes above, and during which all Christians shall be judged. We now come to the great and universal judgment at the end of this period, also prophesied of distinctly in order in Revelation 20:11-15—in which all the dead, small and great, shall stand before God. This last great judgment answers to the judgment on Jerusalem, after the Christians had escaped from it: to the gathering of the eagles (ministers of vengeance) to the carcase. Notice the precision of the words in ver. 31, ὅταν δὲ ἔλθῃ—the ὅταν setting forth the indefiniteness of the time—the δέ the distinction from the two parables foregoing; and τότε, to mark a precise time when all this shall take place—a day of judgment.
This description is not a parable, though there are in it parabolic passages, e.g. ὥσπερ ὁ ποιμ. κ.τ.λ.: and for that very reason, that which is illustrated by those likenesses is not itself parabolic. It will heighten our estimation of the wonderful sublimity of this description, when we recollect that it was spoken by the Lord only three days before His sufferings.
ἐν τῇ δόξ. αὐτ.] This expression, repeated again at the end of the verse, is quite distinct from μετὰ δυνάμ. κ. δόξ. πολλῆς ch. 24:30: see Revelation 20:11. This His glory is that also of all his saints, with whom He shall be accompanied: see Jude, ver. 14. In this his coming they are with the angels, and as the angels: see Revelation 19:14 (compare ver. 8): Zechariah 14:5.
32.] The expression πάντα τὰ ἔθνη implies all the nations of the world, as distinguished from the ἐκλεκτοί already gathered to Him, just as the Gentiles were by that name distinguished from his chosen people the Jews. Among these are “the other sheep which He has, not of this fold,” John 10:16.
δεῦτε κ.τ.λ.] Whatever of good these persons had done, was all from Him from whom cometh every good gift—and the fruit of his Spirit. And this Spirit is only purchased for man by the work of the Son, in whom the Father is well pleased: and to whom all judgment is committed. And thus they are the blessed of the Father, and those for whom this kingdom is prepared. It is not to the purpose to say that those εὐλογημ.… must be the elect of God in the stricter sense (οἱ ἐκλεκτοί)—and that, because the Kingdom has been prepared for them from the foundation of the world. For evidently this would, in the divine omniscience, be true of every single man who shall come to salvation, whether belonging to those who shall be found worthy to share the first resurrection or not. The Scripture assures us of two resurrections: the first, of the dead in Christ, to meet Him and reign with Him, and hold (1Corinthians 6:2) judgment over the world; the second, of all the dead, to be judged according to their works. And to what purpose would be a judgment, if all were to be condemned? And if any escape condemnation, to them might the words of this verse be used: so that this objection to the interpretation does not apply.
35.] συνηγάγετε, sc. εἰς οἶκον, or εἰς ὑμᾶς,—a meaning confined to the LXX and N.T.—received me with hospitality—took me in; the idea is, ‘numbered me among your own circle.’
37-40.] The answer of these δίκαιοι appears to me to shew plainly (as Olshausen and Stier interpret it) that they are not to be understood as being the covenanted servants of Christ. Such an answer it would be impossible for them to make, who had done all distinctly with reference to Christ, and for his sake, and with his declaration of ch. 10:40-42 before them. Such a supposition would remove all reality, as indeed it has generally done, from our Lord’s description. See the remarkable difference in the answer of the faithful servants, vv. 20, 22. The saints are already in his glory—judging the world with Him (1Corinthians 6:2)—accounted as parts of, representatives of, Himself (ver. 40)—in this judgment they are not the judged (John 5:24: 1Corinthians 11:31). But these who are the judged, know not that all their deeds of love have been done to and for Christ—they are overwhelmed with the sight of the grace which has been working in and for them, and the glory which is now their blessed portion. And notice, that it is not the works, as such, but the love which prompted them—that love which was their faith,—which felt its way, though in darkness, to Him who is Love,—which is commended.
τῶν ἀδελφ.] Not necessarily the saints with Him in glory—though primarily those—but also any of the great family of man. Many of those here judged may never have had opportunity of doing these things to the saints of Christ properly so called.
In this is fulfilled the covenant of God to Abraham, ἐνευλογηθήσονται ἐν τῷ σπέρματί σου πάντα τὰ ἔθνη τῆς γῆς. Genesis 22:18.
41-43.] It is very important to observe the distinction between the blessing, ver. 34, and the curse here. ‘Blessed—of my Father:’—but not ‘cursed of my Father,’ because all man’s salvation is of God—all his condemnation from himself. ‘The Kingdom, prepared for you;’ but ‘the fire, which has been prepared for the devil and his angels’ (notice τὸ πῦρ τὸ αἰών. τὸ ἡτοιμ … greater definiteness could not be given: that particular fire, that eternal fire, created for a special purpose)—not, for you: because there is election to life—but there is no reprobation to death:—a book of Life—but no book of Death; no hell for man—because the blood of Jesus hath purchased life for all: but they who will serve the devil, must share with him in the end.
The repetition of all these particulars shews how exact even for every individual the judgment will be. Stier excellently remarks, that the curse shews the termination of the High Priesthood of Christ, in which office He only intercedes and blesses. Henceforth He is King and Lord—his enemies being now for ever put under his feet.
44, 45.] See note on ver. 37.
The sublimity of this description surpasses all imagination—Christ, as the Son of Man, the Shepherd, the King, the Judge—as the centre and end of all human love, bringing out and rewarding his latent grace in those who have lived in love—everlastingly punishing those who have quenched it in an unloving and selfish life—and in the accomplishment of his mediatorial office, causing, even from out of the iniquities of a rebellious world, his sovereign mercy to rejoice against judgment.
46.] See John 5:28, John 5:29; and as taking up the prophetic history at this point, Revelation 21:1-8. Observe, the same epithet is used for κόλασις and ζωή—which are here contraries—for the ζωή here spoken of is not bare existence, which would have annihilation for its opposite; but blessedness and reward, to which punishment and misery are antagonist terms.
I thought it proper to state in the 3rd edition, that I did not feel by any means that full confidence which I once did, in the exegesis, quoad prophetical interpretation, given of the three portions of this chap. 25. But I had no other system to substitute: and some of the points here dwelt on seemed to me as weighty as ever. I very much questioned whether the thorough study of Scripture prophecy would not make me more and more distrustful of all human systematizing, and less willing to hazard strong assertion on any portion of the subject.
At the same time, the coincidence of these portions with the process of the great last things in Rev_20 and 21 is never to be overlooked, and should be our guide to their explanation, however distrustful we may be of its certainty. Those who set this coincidence aside, and interpret each portion by itself, without connexion with the rest, are clearly wrong.