From the Category, “The Eastern Eye”
[The Bible is an “Eastern” book. It was written many years ago in the “East” which today we refer to as “The Middle East.” As such, there are many customs and idioms that are not familiar to the “Western” mind.
In understanding the Scriptures it is important for us to understand the culture, but it doesn’t mean that we should necessarily follow that culture. Rather, it is in the understanding of the Eastern culture that we gain light and understanding about many things in the Bible.]
Without an understanding of eastern customs, the meaning of a record in Matthew 25 about the five wise and five foolish virgins is a bit difficult to grasp. A little insight about weddings in Bible times sheds some light on this passage. The parable Jesus spoke, recorded in verses 1-12, is about the kingdom of heaven, and it is helpful to understand what a parable is.
The parable begins with ten virgins taking their lamps (torches) to meet the bridegroom. This probably doesn’t sound like any weddings you have ever attended. But in Bible times, they had a number of customs unfamiliar to our culture.
According to Bishop Pillai, the bride’s house was decorated inside and out. Right before the wedding began, the bride’s mother and father would stand outside the door of their home and wait for the arrival of the bridegroom, and the ten virgins. The torches the virgins carried were about 4 or 5 feet long.
Similar to our modern day bridesmaids, the ten virgins were part of the wedding party, each performing a specific task for one of the ten days, as the ceremony itself lasted ten days. These ladies were usually relatives of the bride and they arrived at the bride’s house, with their torches and oil for the torches a day before the wedding to help with the decorations.
The wedding itself would begin at midnight. Sometime before then, the virgins would take their unlit torches and oil and wait for the bridegroom at an inn at the gate of the city. When the bridegroom arrived, they lit their torches and then proceeded to the bride’s house, and the wedding ceremony commenced.
In the parable, all ten went out to meet the bridegroom, which would have been at the inn. We also learn that the five foolish virgins did not bring any oil for their torches. When the bridegroom finally arrived, it was time to light the torches and proceed to the bride’s house.
In the parable, the five foolish virgins then exclaimed that they needed oil because they said their torches had gone out. That was untrue, since the torches were not lit until the bridegroom arrived, and we already know they did not bring any oil for their torches.
It’s important to note that those hearing this parable were very familiar with their wedding customs. For a virgin in the wedding party to not bring oil for her torch was indeed a very foolish thing to do.
The wise virgins preserved their oil for their own torches instead of sharing it with the foolish ones. In order for them to enter into the house for the wedding ceremony, they each needed a lit torch. They told the foolish virgins to go and buy some oil.
Buy Oil At Midnight?
One might wonder about buying oil around midnight. In Bible times, weddings were considered sacred. Most shopkeepers lived at their shops, or next to them, and waking a shopkeeper for something that important would be viewed as doing a service to God.
Once the bridegroom arrived at the inn, the ten virgins were to light their torches and then the entire wedding party proceeded to the bride’s house. Upon arriving, the father of the bride, waiting outside, would wash the feet of the bridegroom. Then, just at midnight, everyone would enter the house and the door was shut; no one would enter in once the door was shut.
The Point Of The Parable
Jesus began by saying the kingdom of heaven was like this parable of the ten virgins. Then, at the end of the parable, he told them to watch, because you don’t know the day or the hour when the Son of man comes.
To those hearing this parable, it would have very obvious to them that the 5 virgins who brought no oil were very foolish. The listeners might have had thoughts like, “How could they be so stupid? They knew what they were supposed to do, why did they deliberately refuse?”
The point for them, and it’s true for people today, is to not be foolish! Accept Christ and gain eternal life so you can enter the kingdom of heaven before the door is shut.
Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom.
And five of them were wise, and five were foolish.
They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them:
But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps.
While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept.
And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him.
Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps.
And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out.
But the wise answered, saying, Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you: but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves.
And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut.
Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us.
But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not.
Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.
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There are a number of books that you can read to get insight on customs, manners, idioms and meanings from the Eastern culture in which the Bible was written. The best I know of were written by Bishop K. C. Pillai. I have had the pleasure of listening to many recorded teaching by him.
He wrote three books, and they are hard to find, and are usually over priced. But, if you want to you can check this link to see what Amazon has to offer. Light Through an Eastern Window
Another great resource that I have used for years is a book called, “Manners and Customs of the Bible,” by James Freeman. Mine was printed in 1972 and I know they have newer additions. For the newest edition, just click the link and it will take you to Amazon. The New Manners and Customs of the Bible (Pure Gold Classics)