Explain the parable of the 10 virgins and those without oil

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Question / Comment -  Can you explain the parable of the 10 virgins. What does the oil represent and who are those without oil?


I just finished the 3rd study on oil (very edifying by the way) and was contemplating how these might apply to The Parable of 10 Virgins. I’ve heard the same explanation of this parable time and time again, but something in the Spirit urges me to dig deeper. Most people are in the camp that the 5 foolish didn’t have the Holy Spirit or weren’t Saved, but the parable clearly states they are waiting for the Bridegroom and they have lamps with oil. That tells me that they are Christians. BUT they panic when the Bridegroom arrives and say they don’t have enough oil, then ask the 5 wise for some of theirs because the wise brought extra jars. To which the wise tell them no, go buy from those who sell oil lest we won’t have enough. What is the takeaway here? What is The Lord trying to tell us? When the door is shut and the Bridegroom tells them he doesn’t know from whence they came, I am reminded of His words “Not everyone who says Lord, Lord…..did we not do many wonderful works….”I’m praying for discernment and clarity. I would love to read a study on this.


JPN Reply:


yeah there are lots of questions raised with the parable of the 10 virgins that have been debated for some time. Does it speak to the Lord's coming at the rapture or the 2nd Coming? Who are the 10 virgins if they are not the bride? Did both the wise and foolish virgins have oil initially? What does the oil represent? And were the foolish virgins ever saved spiritually.. and then were they shut out and lost? 

Your question got me to read this parable again and think of any assumptions that I may have had which are not necessarily in the text of the parable. One of these concerns the oil... but more on that later! : )

Here is the entire parable for reference:

Parable of 10 virgins - Did the all have oil and what does oil mean?Mat 25:1-13 NKJV "Then the kingdom of heaven shall be likened to ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. (2) Now five of them were wise, and five were foolish. (3) Those who were foolish took their lamps and took no oil with them, (4) but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. (5) But while the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept. (6) And at midnight a cry was heard: 'Behold, the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet him!' (7) Then all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps. (8) And the foolish said to the wise, 'Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.' (9) But the wise answered, saying, 'No, lest there should not be enough for us and you; but go rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves.' (10) And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding; and the door was shut. (11) Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, 'Lord, Lord, open to us!' (12) But he answered and said, 'Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you.' (13) Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.

Concerning whether this is for the rapture or second coming, I see it having an application for both so I don't think one needs to be dogmatic there. The main principle taught applies to both. And that principle, like all of the parables in Matthew 25, is that there will be a separation of the true and false (even if they look outwardly quite similar) at Jesus' return and it is important to be a true believer, watching and waiting for His return. When He returns, the door is shut to the foolish virgins who had no oil and Jesus (the Groom) says to them 'Assuredly I say to you, I do not know you.' You correctly linked this up with what Jesus said earlier in Matthew :

Mat 7:21-23 "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. (22) Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' (23) And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'

The fact that Jesus does not know these foolish virgins, or 'never knew them' in the Mathew 7 passage, shows that they were never saved. He literally never knew them. It reminds us also about another saying of Jesus where the door will be shut and those that Jesus knows not are shut out and called 'evildoers'.

Luk 13:23-27 Someone asked him, "Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?" He said to them, (24) Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. (25) Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, 'Sir, open the door for us.' "But he will answer, 'I don't know you or where you come from.' (26) Then you will say, 'We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.' (27) But he will reply, 'I don't know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!'

Now contrary to this. the Bible is clear that God knows His own, and they will not be shut out or perish. For example:

2Ti 2:19 Nevertheless, God's solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: "The Lord knows those who are his," and, "Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness."

Joh 10:27-29 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. (28) I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. (29) My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand.

Now with both Matt 25 with the foolish virgins and Matt 7 with those that Jesus never knew, they were both doing some things that made it look like they were genuine. The foolish virgins took a lamp out to meet the groom. Those in Matt 7 had prophesied and even cast out demons in Jesus' name. It looked real. But neither was known to the Lord. They were 'professors' but not 'possessors' of salvation and the Spirit as we shall see.

What does the oil mean? And did they all have oil at the start?      

There are various assumptions that we make when we read this parable that it doesn't specifically say. One such assumption is that both the wise and foolish virgins initially had oil. Another that goes along with this is that both had their lamps burning for sometime before they went out. Before re-reading this parable and doing some study I'll put my hand up and say I assumed that was the case. I no longer do. Now as you have seen in my other studies, oil is a well known consistent type of the Holy Spirit. So it seems entirely fair to say that having oil in the lamp is symbolic of being a true believer, possessing the Holy Spirit. This has caused a lot of debate with the parable of the 10 virgins. Did they initially have oil and a burning lamp? If so, what does running out of oil mean? Did they lose their salvation and miss the Lord's coming? You wrote:

'Most people are in the camp that the 5 foolish didn’t have the Holy Spirit or weren’t Saved, but the parable clearly states they are waiting for the Bridegroom and they have lamps with oil. That tells me that they are Christians'

It is true that all 10 were waiting for the Bridegroom (though all 10 fell asleep doing so!) But it isn't correct that they all had lamps with oil. This I believe is an assumption we make but Jesus actually said:

Matt 25:3 Those who were foolish took their lamps and took no oil with them, (4) but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps.   

A.T Robertson was one of the foremost Greek scholars of his day. He writes on this verse:

"Took no oil with them (ouk elabon meth' heautōn elaion). Probably none at all, not realizing their lack of oil till they lit the torches on the arrival of the bridegroom and his party."

Bible Commentator John Gill writes of the spiritual application:

Now these foolish virgins, though they took up a lamp of a profession, yet were unconcerned for the oil of grace, to fill, maintain, and trim this lamp: they were ignorant of the nature and use of true grace; they saw no need of it, and therefore did not ask for it, or about it; they neglected it, made light of it, and denied it as useless; and being destitute of it, took up their profession without it; and in this lay their folly.

Having fallen asleep, they were finally awakened at midnight because of a cry that the bridegroom was coming and what did they do? They immediately go to trim the wicks in preparation for lighting the lamp. You see the Bible doesn't say that their lamps were lit before this and went out, only that they took lamps with them. Now as they go to light the lamps the foolish virgins panic because without oil their lamp is just going out. Again Greek scholar A.T Robertson writes:

"Are going out (sbennuntai). Present middle indicative of linear action, not punctiliar or aoristic. When the five foolish virgins lit their lamps, they discovered the lack of oil. The sputtering, flickering, smoking wicks were a sad revelation. “And perhaps we are to understand that there is something in the coincidence of the lamps going out just as the Bridegroom arrived. Mere outward religion is found to have no illuminating power” (Plummer). "

Bible teacher A. C. Gaebelein writes well on this on so I'll quote in length:

In the next place we read that half of the virgins representing the Christian profession were foolish. Their foolishness consisted in taking their lamps, but they took no oil. However, their condition is fully discovered and demonstrated after the midnight cry. The other five were wise and they took oil in their vessels with their lamps. What these lamps and vessels were is best explained by Edersheim. He says: “The lamps consisted of round receptacles for pitch or oil for the wick. This was placed in a hollow cup or deep saucer, which was fastened by a pointed end into a long wooden pole, in which it was borne aloft.”

That we have in the division of the ten virgins, into five foolish and five wise, the false and the true is obvious enough. The five foolish virgins are representing such who are only professing Christians, while the five wise are possessing Christians, true believers. But it may be said, did not the foolish virgins go forth to meet the Bridegroom? In their profession they certainly did, but that does not make them really saved persons. Everything later shows that they were unsaved and all their profession was simply empty. They are the representatives of such who have the form of godliness (the lamps) but who deny the power thereof, who lack the power to give out light (the oil). And here again is an objection. Did they not later say “give us of your oil for our lamps are going out?” Then they must have had some oil else how could they say that the lamps were going out? There is no proof at all in this that they possessed oil. In the first place, it says in the beginning, “they took no oil”; this in itself should settle this question. In their alarm, however, when the cry of the coming of the Bridegroom was heard they made an effort to have shining lamps. Who does not know that a wick may be set burning without oil to give forth a puff of smoke and then to go out? This was the case with the foolish virgins. They never had oil as the great masses of professing Christians in these days have lamps, the form outwardly, but they have never accepted Christ in the heart, and therefore the oil, the Holy Spirit and His power, is lacking. A fearful condition it is! Alas! the innumerable thousands and hundreds of thousands who are in this condition today! The wise virgins represent the true believers, who not alone have lamps, but oil in their lamps with their vessels. The Holy Spirit is present with every true child of God, though he be the weakest and the least taught.

It is worth noting that so many of Jesus' parables speak of this separation of the true and false at His coming. Whether it is the parable of the wheat/tares. the weeds, the net, the wedding feast, the virgins, the talents or the sheep and the goats (or others I've forgotten) they all have this theme of the true and the false being together until they are separated when the Lord returns. They can often look the same outwardly but the Lord knows those that are His and always will. And in this parable of the 10 virgins only 5 had oil showing the presence of the Holy Spirit in a saved individual.   

It will always be a well debated parable but that is how I see it. Hope it helps.

God Bless! 

A reply from the one asking the question


Fantastic study! Your explanation was well thought out and explained. I now see that the foolish having oil in their lamps is an assumption! I have read that parable dozens of times and never realized that it doesn’t say they have any oil. It makes sense that they are religious on the outside, but lack the Holy Spirit. Sadly, it does seem to be the condition of many within the churches today. I wonder, who is it that they run to attempt to buy oil from? What merchants sell oil and how might one “sell” it? They would likely be selling “snake oil” these days. Another study for another day I suppose! 

Thank you for your help! Much love! 

JPN Reply:


thanks for replying and I'm really pleased that it helped you. It makes the most sense when looking clearly at the passage and Biblical types. Your snake oil comment made me laugh... and sadly not at all far from the truth! 

The Lord does tell us to "Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost." (Isa 55:1) So the offer to 'buy' even without money is there. Unfortunately there are a lot of 'snake oil' salesmen out there. And in the context of this parable it is obviously emphasizing the time that 'the door was shut.' In other words, with the coming of the bridegroom they had missed the time given to be part of the marriage. And thus it ends with the key point to be ready and watchful:

Mat 25:11-13 Later the others also came. 'Sir! Sir!' they said. 'Open the door for us!' (12) But he replied, 'I tell you the truth, I don't know you.' (13) Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.

The day will come when the groom returns and the door is shut. We need to have the oil of the Holy Spirit, picturing true salvation, so that we are ready to meet Him.

God Bless.