The M+G+R Foundation

The Cultural Scenario Behind

The Parable of the Ten Virgins and Their Lamps


The purposes of this brief document are two: (a) Help the inquiring faithful understand better the Christian Faith; and (b) Shed light upon the cultural background of the parables that Jesus used.


Jesus spoke in parables...

... because seeing they see not, and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. And the prophecy of Isaias is fulfilled in them, who saith: By hearing you shall hear, and shall not understand: and seeing you shall see, and shall not perceive. For the heart of this people is grown gross, and with their ears they have been dull of hearing, and their eyes they have shut: lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them. [Matthew 13:13-15]

However, the material He used was taken from the cultural environment of the time. This results, twenty centuries later, in that we view the events and parables that we read as something made up for the occasion without any more purpose than to transmit a message. As we understand the cultural background of the time the messages in the Sacred Texts become richer, fuller and easier to spiritually and intellectually absorb.

As the result of the tenacity and curiosity of a long time friend and supporter of our work, Mrs. P. B. D, we will bring to our readers the cultural background of the Parable of the Ten Virgins as well as the meaning behind “In my Father’ s house there are many mansions”.


The Parable of the Ten Virgins reads as follows:

Then shall the kingdom of heaven be like to ten virgins, who taking their lamps went out to meet the bridegroom and the bride. And five of them were foolish, and five wise. But the five foolish, having taken their lamps, did not take oil with them: But the wise took oil in their vessels with the lamps. And the bridegroom tarrying, they all slumbered and slept.

And at midnight there was a cry made: Behold the bridegroom cometh, go ye forth to meet him. Then all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise: Give us of your oil, for our lamps are gone out. The wise answered, saying: Lest perhaps there be not enough for us and for you, go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves. Now whilst they went to buy, the bridegroom came: and they that were ready, went in with him to the marriage, and the door was shut.

But at last come also the other virgins, saying: Lord, Lord, open to us. But he answering said: Amen I say to you, I know you not. Watch ye therefore, because you know not the day nor the hour.
[Matthew 25:1-13]

Now, let us take a look at the Marriage Customs of the Ancient Jews. (1)
[our highlights]


Traditionally, the couple’s fathers arrange the match. Sometimes, the bride and groom have never seen each other before the engagement. Leading up to the wedding day, the groom visits the bride’s father to solidify the match. He brings a skin of wine, his monetary assets and a marriage contract. When the contract is signed by the bride and groom, the betrothal is legal and the two drink from a cup of wine to seal the arrangement.
Preparing the Home

After the arrangement is made valid, the groom returns home to prepare a place for his bride
, which is called a chuppah. The couple is not allowed to marry until the groom’s father approves of the chuppah. The waiting period may last for as long as two years. During this time, the couple cannot be alone together. After the groom’s father approves of the chuppah, the groom goes to the bride. Traditionally, the couple didn’t know their wedding date until this (approval of the chuppah) had occurred.
The Approval

Though the bride knew that her groom would come for her, she had no way of knowing exactly when he would come to complete the marriage contract. Therefore, she remained constantly ready for the marriage to take place
. During the time of preparation, both the bride and groom took part in separate ritual immersions called the mikvah to prepare their souls for the event. When the groom’s father approved of the chuppah, the groom would go to the bride’s house —sometimes in the middle of the night— and they would be married. In some cases, the bride would be “abducted” and taken to be dressed and crowned for her wedding. This was done by the bride’s unmarried friends, who also carried the light which illuminated the groom’s path on his way to meet the bride.
The Ceremony

When the groom arrived at the bride’s house, he would present her father with the marriage contract and claim the bride as his own. They would then go back to the groom’s father’s house, where he would place the bride’s hand into his son’s hand. In that moment, the marriage was considered valid. The groom would then present the bride to all his friends and those who had come to celebrate the wedding. They would then attend the marriage feast and celebrate for seven days.

The connection between the setting used for the parable and the marriage customs of the ancient Jews is so clear that we will not spoil the joy of the reader in drawing the parallels as the Holy Spirit of God leads each individual to.

Now, regarding the many mansions in the father’s house... The Biblical reading is as follows:
[our highlights]

Let not your heart be troubled. You believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’ s house there are many mansions. If not, I would have told you: because I go to prepare a place for you. And if I shall go, and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and will take you to myself; that where I am, you also may be. And whither I go you know, and the way you know. Thomas saith to him: Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way?

Jesus saith to him: I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No man cometh to the Father, but by me. If you had known me, you would without doubt have known my Father also: and from henceforth you shall know him, and you have seen him. [John 14:1-7]

Considering that within Biblical texts Jesus refers to Himself as the “groom” and the Church, which is composed by those who believe in Him (by deed and not just words), is referred to as the “bride”, then the meaning of Jesus’ words through John 14:1-7, viewed within the the marriage customs of the ancient Jews, could not be any clearer as well as impacting.


Once again, the coherence of the Biblical Texts shines brightly through the darkness of this world delivering to those who have Eyes to See and Ears to Hear the confirmation of our beliefs, which, in turn, brings us much consolation and peace.

(1)  Source (Accessed in February 2014; Original contents no longer available in 2023)

Published on February 28th, 2014

The Seal of St. Michael the Archangel © Copyright 2014 - 2023 by The M+G+R Foundation. All rights reserved. However, you may freely reproduce and distribute this document as long as: (1) Appropriate credit is given as to its source; (2) No changes are made in the text without prior written consent; and (3) No charge is made for it.

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