The ten virgins

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. It appears in only one of the Canonical gospels of the New Testament. According to the Gospel of Matthew 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 theme: be prepared for the Day of Judgment.[1]

It was one of the most popular parables in the Middle Ages, with enormous influence on Gothic art, sculpture 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[2] or torchbearers for a procession,[3] given the honor of attending a wedding. Each of the ten virgins is carrying a lamp or torch[3] 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)[4] be enough for all of them if they do 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. Jesus relates the parable:

"Then the Kingdom of Heaven will be like ten virgins, who took their lamps, and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. Those who were foolish, when they took their lamps, took no oil with them, but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. Now while the bridegroom delayed, they all slumbered and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, "Behold! The bridegroom is coming! Come out to meet him!" Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, "Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out." But the wise answered, saying, "What if there isn't enough for us and you? You go rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves." While they went away to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins also came, saying, "Lord, Lord, open to us." But he answered, "Most certainly I tell you, I don't know you." Watch therefore, for you don't know the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming."

— Matthew 25:1-13, World English Bible


The parable is one of a sequence of responses to a question in Matthew 24:3:

And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?

— Matthew 24:3, King James Version

Other parables in this sequence include the parable of the budding fig tree (Matthew 24:32–35) and the parable of the Faithful Servant (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."[2] It has been described as a "watching parable."[5] Like the parable of the Lost Coin, it is a parable about women which immediately follows, and makes the same point as, a preceding parable about men.[6]

In this parable, Christ is the bridegroom,[2][5] echoing the Old Testament image of God as the bridegroom in Jeremiah 2:2 and similar passages.[2] The awaited event is the Second Coming of Christ.[2][5] R. T. France 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."[2]

The parable does not criticise the virgins for sleeping, since both groups do that,[3] 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[4] (it is also unclear as to whether the foolish virgins succeed in purchasing any oil that night:[7] most shops would not have been open[8][9]).

The parable is not written in praise of virginity,[5] and indeed Louis of Granada, 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."[10]

Giving a Mormon interpretation, Spencer W. Kimball 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."[11][12]

In addition to the afore-mentioned reasons, we may look to other possible reasons the Master would teach this parable. How could a wise virgin share his experiences as an Elder's Quorum president? Or a Relief Society Prsident share the learned experiences of her leadership? How could a Bishop, or Stake President, give immediately, another person the rewards of the hard work, faith and experiences of performing their duties. Foolish Virgins are ones who unwisely decline a responsibility for serving, when an offer is extended by a person of higher authority. Were the wise virgins selfish? No. It's impossible to be selfish when one cannot be allowed to lend the hard work performed, or the rewards earned, without actually serving and actually performing the required duties. From the Master's teachings we can see that upon the uwise virgin's return, the door could not be opened as Jesus would know, that as the unwise went off to achieve some measure of success, no lessons could have been learned because the time was eternally passed, therefore the door could not be reopened. A companion Scripture for further study would be: Alma.34:32. "For behold, this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors." After the resurrection, it is eternally too late to "go and obtain" what is needed at the final judgment, and therefore the oil, spoken of by Jesus, could not be shared.


While "a considerable number of exegetes in fact suppose that the parable of 'The Wise and Foolish Virgins' ultimately goes back to Jesus,"[13] some Bible commentators, because of its eschatological 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, for example, designated the parable as merely similar to something Jesus might have said or simply inauthentic ("gray" or "black").[14] The work of the Jesus Seminar has been criticized, however.[15][16] Other scholars believe that this parable has only been lightly edited, and is an excellent example of Jesus' skill in telling parables.[17] The parable occurs in all ancient New Testament manuscripts, with only slight variations in some words.[18]

Liturgical use

In the Catholic Church, the parable is the Gospel reading for the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time in Cycle A. The parable is the Gospel reading for the 27th Sunday after Trinity in the traditional Lutheran lectionary. In the Revised Common Lectionary, the parable is read in Proper 27 (32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time).

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. In the 19th century, the artists of the Nazarene movement also took up this theme.


Numerous sculptures of the wise and foolish virgins appear on French cathedrals, including:

Depictions of the virgins are equally common on German cathedrals, including:

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's novel World Without End, set in the Late Middle Ages.


Several religious musical compositions have been inspired by the parable. Its message was formed into a Chorale, Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, by Philipp Nicolai, which Johann Sebastian Bach used for his cantata 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, 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 (1887–1974), written in 1920.

A reference is made to the parable in the 2002 Johnny Cash song "The Man Comes Around," which draws heavily on the Bible.

On the 1974 album by Genesis - The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, a reference to the parable is made in the song The Carpet Crawlers: "and the wise and foolish virgins giggle with their bodies glowing bright."

American composer Emily Freeman-Brown has also composed an oratorio based on the parable.


From early Christian times, the story of the ten virgins has been told as a mystery play. St. Methodius wrote the Banquet of the Ten Virgins,[19] a mystery play in Greek. Sponsus, 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.

See also