January 13th, 2008

An Analysis of the Ten Virgins

photo credit: Stuti Sakhalkar

The story of the Ten Virgins is one saturated with meaning. Each time I read it, I am able to peel off another layer of symbolism or application. This story has specific and important meaning to our day, and for that reason has been discussed often by our leaders.

First, it is important to note that the ten virgins were all “members of the Church”. Having all received invitations to the marriage celebration, they each fully expected that they would be allowed into the wedding. Each presented herself at the door, readily waiting for the bridegroom so that they might enter in with Him.

Spencer W. Kimball spoke to this effect when he said:

I believe that the Ten Virgins represent the people of the Church of Jesus Christ and not the rank and file of the world. (Spencer W. Kimball, Faith Precedes the Miracle, p. 253)

We read early on in the story that half of the virgins were wise, and half were foolish. Their wisdom (or lack thereof) was in relation to their preparedness. Each had been previously instructed (we may assume) or inherently knew what would be needed for the night’s festivities: oil.

It must be observed that the virgins without oil were never regarded as evil, but as foolish. Bruce R. McConkie made this distinction when he wrote:

Not good and bad, not righteous and wicked, but wise and foolish. That is, all of them have accepted the invitation to meet the Bridegroom; all are members of the Church … but only five are valiant therein. (Bruce R. McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 1:685)

The foolish virgins knew that they did not have oil with them. Yet we read in Matthew 25:7 that all the virgins trimmed their lamps once they had been notified of the bridegroom’s arrival. Commenting on this oddity, Elder Robbins notes:

They all thought they were ready. Outwardly, they all appeared prepared. (Lynn G. Robbins, Oil in Our Lamps)

Indeed, the foolish virgins believed that they were entitled to enter in with the bridegroom. Having received an invitation and made the effort to await His arrival, they thought all was well.

But when the bridegroom tarried and did not come until midnight, the foolish virgins realized that despite all their outward demonstrations of piety, they had failed to prepare sufficiently and thus could not make the final journey.

Speaking later to these foolish virgins, the bridegroom said: “I know you not”. Their failure to heed earlier warnings and prepare for a later eventuality showed that these virgins had not internalized the principles they outwardly professed to acknowledge and obey.

The fact that the five foolish virgins knocked, expecting to enter the marriage supper, indicates one of two things: (1) they thought they could prepare themselves after the Bridegroom came, or (2) knowing that they at first had not been prepared to enter, they were hoping for mercy. Either way, the door was shut. (Lynn G. Robbins, Oil in Our Lamps)

As this is parable, we find abundant modern application. For example, President Kimball has said:

Hundreds of thousands of us today are in this position. Confidence has been dulled and patience worn thin. It is so hard to wait and be prepared always. But we cannot allow ourselves to slumber. The Lord has given us this parable as a special warning. (Spencer W. Kimball, Faith Precedes the Miracle, p. 253)

Much like any admonition to prepare for the Savior’s coming, this parable has both spiritual and temporal implications. For its spiritual application, President Kimball explains why the oil could not be shared:

The foolish asked the others to share their oil, but spiritual preparedness cannot be shared in an instant. . . . 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. . . . In our lives the oil of preparedness is accumulated drop by drop in righteous living.” (Spencer W. Kimball, Faith Precedes the Miracle, p. 255 )

In a temporal sense, we may observe in the parable the fact that the oil was a physical object of needed acquisition. This necessitated the purchase or barter to obtain the oil in preparation for the bridegroom’s arrival. Likewise, we have been commanded time and time again to store a year’s supply of food, water, clothing, and fuel to withstand and survive the great perils that will precede the bridegroom’s literal arrival.

We cannot say, when we arise to trim our lamps, that we were not warned. We cannot say that we had insufficient time, nor funds, nor opportunity. We have all been warned of the bridegroom’s arrival, and have been sufficiently and repeatedly instructed as to what type of oil we must store in preparation for the event(s).

It is up to each of us to determine whether we will be wise or foolish; whether we will outwardly display our belief and obedience while inwardly and privately failing to comply; whether we will be able to enter into the Lord’s rest, or whether He will shut the door and say “I know you not”.

15 Responses to “An Analysis of the Ten Virgins”

  1. Jared
    January 13, 2008 at 5:59 pm #

    I enjoyed the read. I think of this parable often and hope that what I am doing now will allow me access then.

  2. Curtis
    January 13, 2008 at 7:28 pm #

    In the San Diego North Stake Conference today, Elder Hales spoke long and hard about emergency preparation.

    However, the ten virgins parable is a huge condemnation of church members in another, and in my mind, more important regard. In the D&C section 45 we read:

    56 And at that day, when I shall come in my glory, shall the parable be fulfilled which I spake concerning the ten virgins.
    57 For they that are wise and have received the truth, and have taken the Holy Spirit for their guide, and have not been deceived—verily I say unto you, they shall not be hewn down and cast into the fire, but shall abide the day.

    There is a great tendency in the Church to deny the Holy Ghost and reject the spirit of prophecy. Following the light of Christ back into his presence is the only way we are going to get there. This is why half of the virgins will not make it.

  3. Janet
    January 14, 2008 at 8:07 pm #

    Great post Connor. I appreciate the emphasis on It wasn’t good vs. evil, but wise vs. foolish. I think that too many saints miss that fact. I can’t tell you how many times I have endured Relief Society drama productions that portray the foolish as evil instead of foolish and it gives false comfort to those who are missing the boat.

    I believe that temple marriage and temple covenants are a big part of being wise.

  4. Dustin
    January 15, 2008 at 9:12 am #

    One quote that sticks out to me when I think of this parables comes from a fairly recent conference address by Elder Oaks when he said, “The arithmetic of this parable is chilling.”

    Also, the quote by President Kimball where he said, “It is so hard to wait and be prepared always” reminded me of a talk I listened to yesterday by Elder Eyring that he gave back in 1990 at BYU. I highly recommend listening to it.

  5. Janet
    January 15, 2008 at 7:42 pm #

    Dustin, thanks for the links. I loved Elder Eyring’s talk. Awesome.

  6. Spence
    March 11, 2008 at 7:28 pm #

    The ten virgins are the physical and spiritual senses. They never sin. Sin occurs in how we use them.

    At the time of death, when we “sleep”, only five can illumine our way into the marriage with Christ, if we have attended to their development, if we have laid up our treasures in heaven by developing those “talents”. The physical senses are always left behind. They were never alive to begin with. We don’t really know them.

    We cannot serve two masters. There isn’t enough “oil” to attend to both body and soul. So, prepare, build treasures in heaven, not this world, feed the “servants” – the senses of spirit, in this house (the body, in which the soul resides) whose care we have been charged with.

  7. Brian
    February 14, 2010 at 10:48 pm #

    Have you thought about the “link” between Matt 25:9 & Rev 13:17?

  8. Sean McLaughlin
    March 6, 2012 at 11:36 am #

    This is the article that got me to your blog in the first place. Our stake Relief Society is performing a version of “The Ten Virgins” narration/story/music which has been circulating around the church, the video’d version we looked at was done in Idaho. I am kind of a go to music guy so I am the lone man involved in this production. It got me seriously thinking about this parable and its present day application, also we had a regional broadcast with Elder Snow speaking about this parable. This is an EXCELLENT analysis and distillation.

    Thank you for your comments as well as the excellent commentaries people have been writing in on this. I believe this may be the ONE parable we MUST focus on RIGHT now in the HERE and NOW when it comes to sizing up ourselves in our efforts to live the gospel. One of course questions one’s self–“which group am I in?–the foolish or the wise? brings some serious self reflection.

  9. ralph nomad
    September 18, 2012 at 12:59 am #

    I believe you got the oil right but don’t forget to be watching the skies for Jesus’ return. If he catches you unaware he will leave you. So after the great tribulation begins, watch always. Jesus said the lamp of the body is the eyes. So keep your lamps burning and watch. Behold I come like a thief in the night at an hour you do not expect, so watch. And don’t forget the food and supplies it maybe a long watch

  10. George McCoy
    March 20, 2013 at 4:24 pm #

    Maybe we should look at the example of Jesus himself and forget. The theology and the judgement of others. As far as I can see none of us are “full vessels” , jesus knew this but he gave all his oil (blood) that we could be with him in paradise. It seems it is so easy for some to seem to know the mind of God these days and never having the “personal experience” with His son to really recieve the right revealations. Jesus said to give our all to our neighbors not holding back nothing. If we have to give our life then our new life will be given in heaven. I am glad that even though none of our lamps are full that Jesus. Has a place for all those who does not judge their fellowman but can have compassion on them and pray for them. Even the creature himself cries out for this.

  11. Pete
    December 10, 2014 at 1:23 pm #

    The passage subjectively asserts that the male is without fault and as a result that, 5 of the women are treated poorly by the bridegroom. The 5 women with oil are without charity and cause the 5 that ran out of oil to be denied by telling them to go find more (Mt. 25:9-10) — really. an oil vendor at 11pm? Of course they’re not there when the door opens.

    One should then ask the virtue of turning away invited vulnerable female guests, through a locked door, so that they would need to walk home alone in the dark unescorted (in a misogynistic country and a time where women are considered property), hungry and likely in danger of their lives and virtue — WHY ELSE WOULD THEY BE KNOCKING ON YOUR DOOR AT MIDNIGHT IF YOU DIDN’T OFFER THEM SANCTUARY IN THE FIRST PLACE?

    Would not the bridegroom have been seen in a better light (no pun intended) had he remained charitable and understanding and opened the door, then chastised the first 5 women that entered for being uncharitable?

    This parable could be seen to illustrate a total lack of charity in the absence of the bridegroom. In the presence of the bridegroom a crisis of security is created by his denial of the women and turning them into the streets. The reason the oil ran out was because the bridegroom was LATE(Mt 25:5). Had the man been on time, then the cruelty of the haves vs. the have nots in an artificially created situation would not have been evident or necessary.

    Personally I found this particular parable to indicate that the issue is with the the bridegroom and the 5 that he allowed to enter rather than the women that were turned away.

    In real life application, a man and his family with emergency food stores is prepared for a disaster while his neighbors are not. In the event where everyone is thirsty or starving (Hurricane Katrina or Sandy), and the one that prepared is well off, what should his response be when his starving neighbor’s kids knock on the door? Should he choose to respond in the way of the parable with, “I know you not” or “Go find a vendor and get more”? To follow such an absurd biblical example (as the women WITH oil or the bridegroom), one ceases to be charitable and human. In the modern day and age the parable should indicate this is NOT how you should behave because when all is said and done and power, water and food are restored, you are not praised for being prepared, but instead remembered for your lack of charity towards your neighbors.

  12. Nina
    April 3, 2016 at 11:45 am #

    today I am perplexed There is a lot to gather from this parable. Today I see the 5 wise virgins were not as perfect as they appeared. I see both as wrong… one unprepared.. the other selfish. The 5 wise attended the wedding but I don’t believe they were the bride. The door was not shut yet! I believe they could have poured out some Holy Spirit oil for these empty vessels and would have had more for themselves. God’s principles seen over and over again in scriptures. Like 2 kings 4:1-7 and Rev3:17 and the rest of expounded description of heaven in this parable. If you do not use it… you loss it. Perhaps not giving away the oil was not a deal breaker for heaven… but it sure would have pleased the Lord!

  13. james
    April 3, 2016 at 6:54 pm #

    I don’t know if the take away is to eat whole dried olives….

  14. Matt
    December 18, 2016 at 8:12 am #

    For those who have suggested the bridegroom was late and that it was his fault. I might point out a few things. It is the bridegroom who taught the parable. First the time of the Lord’s coming is set, no man knoweth the hour, “but my father only”. The time is defined, and that saints would recognize signs of the Lord’s coming if they were living the way they should. Secondly, the word tarry as defined in the dictionary can mean delay, stay longer, etc….could it be that the lord tarried to give the very most maximum time for the foolish virgins to be prepared?! And then returned, when his Father, knowing the defined time, gave instruction to return.? We read that the Lord’s arm is lengthened out all the day long to us, seemingly to me to suggest that his time extension is quite merciful. And third, by giving this parable two thousand years ago, we have the parameters that are set. The guidelines are defined as what is to happen. No one needn’t suggest that by not allowing the foolish virgins to enter, it isn’t fair or just. We all know what happens when we run a red light. Can we suggest that when we go through a red and get pulled over that we didn’t know?! Really? I’m grateful things are clearly are spelled out and pray that I will take advantage of his perfect mercy.


  1. Food Storage, Emergency Food and 150 years of Prophecy | Russell Page - Online - January 14, 2008

    […] On a side note . . . Connor Boyack has an interesting article on the subject of being prepared: An Analysis of the Ten Virgins […]

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