In Matthew 25:1-12 we read about ten young ladies (a bridal party) eagerly awaiting the arrival of the groom. Five of them run out of oil and have to go buy more, missing the groom's arrival and thus be excluded from the wedding feast. The groom is universally seen as representing Jesus, the women are seen as representing individual believers, and the oil is generally seen as representing God's grace. (See my analysis on the parable and especially the symbolism of the oil.)

A surface reading would seem to indicate that all the women were nominally believers in Jesus, but someone of them did not properly prepare for his arrival (i.e. for their death or Jesus' Second Coming). This would suggest that there is more to salvation than faith alone - an aspect that can be "bought".

How do sola fide adherents explain this passage? A good answer should cite published commentary by notable advocates of salvation by faith alone.

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    I don't have time to flesh this out now, but here's a quick response: It is by grace through faith that we are saved, indeed. We also know, though, that faith without works is dead; moreover, true faith leads to good works, which is what most sola fide proponents will tell you. Oct 14, 2015 at 0:42
  • Since SE sites in general dislike massive quotations, I'l merely leave Matthew Henry's commentary on the passage as a link: biblestudytools.com/commentaries/matthew-henry-complete/matthew/…
    – warren
    Oct 15, 2015 at 17:40
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    The answer may change due to your basic premise. I believe that the oil represents the Holy Spirit, not God's grace. That difference changes things significantly. It is the work of the Holy Spirit that leads to sanctification. God's grace is sufficient for salvation, but resisting the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit can lead to loss of salvation (1 Cor. 15:1-2). Oct 16, 2015 at 16:24
  • @ScottSeverance I'm not sure it changes much - the question then becomes how does one "buy" more Holy Spirit rather than more grace. Either way, it seems there is a strong connotation of the believer actively doing something.
    – ThaddeusB
    Oct 16, 2015 at 17:13
  • The actively doing something part is to live by faith. A nominal belief in Jesus is not faith. We "buy" by surrendering ourselves to God. I also agree that the oil represents the Holy Spirit. It is the oil that lights up our lamps, the Holy Scriptures, the word of God.
    – Beestocks
    Oct 17, 2015 at 12:03

2 Answers 2


The short answer, is that works are not a requirement of salvation, but are an indication of salvation through faith, and the Holy Spirit working within the heart of the saved person. As such, the virgins in the parable that were not prepared were not of faith, as indicated by their surprise at the arrival of the bridegroom. Keep in mind that this parable is in reference to the second coming of Christ.

This interpretation is largely supported by the idea that the virgins were "foolish", as opposed to forgetful in failing to bring enough oil to wait until night, which demonstrates a lack of faith on their part that the bridegroom would arrive at all.

Also important is verse 25:11 of Matthew (ESV): "Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, 'Lord, lord, open to us.' But he answered, 'Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.'"

Note that he does not say that they were not prepared or had not done enough to merit entry, but that he did not know them at all, a phrase used by Jesus to indicate non-believers, such as the Pharisees in John 8:19 (ESV): "They said to him therefore, "Where is your Father?" Jesus answered, "You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also." The Pharisees knew Jesus' identity, of course. He was speaking to knowledge of him as the Son of God.

The comments above are my interpretations. The following additional response is taken largely from the interpretations presented in the HCSB Study Bible, specifically Charles Quarrels of Louisiana College, who authored the commentary on Matthew.

In the HCSB commentary, the virgins represent those who fail to persevere by waiting for Jesus' return with constant vigilance. The cry of "Master, master" (Gk kurie, kurie ) is identical to that of the false disciples in Matthew 7:21 . "I do not know you" echoes Matthew 7:23 and expresses exclusion from Messiah's kingdom.

The parable does not describe a true disciple who loses his salvation, but a false one whose commitment to Jesus was deficient from the start.


People misunderstand this and other warnings in the NT because they see only two groups of people in the world: unsaved and saved. But according to 1 Corinthians 2:15 and 3:1-4, there are three groups: unsaved ("natural,") carnal, and spiritual. So, many of the warnings in Galatians and Hebrews are addressed to the carnal, for one aspect of the carnal mind is to trust in oneself and one's works rather than Christ.

So people see the warnings like the 10 Virgins and believe that the ones who missed out are unbelievers. Yet unbelievers do not wait for the Bridegroom! Rather, these were the carnal ones in the ecclesia (which are all saved by biblical definition), who did not heed the signs and get ready for His return. (See Matthew 24:42-51 for examples of readiness and unreadiness.) The spiritual are always ready, since Jesus is their focal point.

We don't really need to spiritualize the oil as being the Holy Spirit indwelling the believer; it is sufficient that the 5 are noted for being "foolish," not "without the Holy Spirit." They were foolish because they were not doing what should be done to get ready for his coming. If they had faith that he was coming, then they would have been ready with the oil in the first place. They believed enough to be saved and be put into the house of God, but not enough to stir themselves to action to readiness afterward. For possible examples as to why they were foolish, or unfruitful, see the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:18-33).

Faith alone saves us. The foolish missed the Bridegroom; but because they believed, they did not lose their salvation. They did not build on the foundation of Christ, and so their works will be seen to be wood, hay, and stubble, yet they "will be saved, yet so as through fire" (1 Corinthians 3:11-15). All the warnings to members of the ecclesia harmonize when you see this duality of flesh vs. spirit, carnal vs. spiritual, works vs. faith everywhere in the NT. The dire warnings are not about losing their salvation and they never say so.

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    "The foolish missed the Bridegroom; but because they believed, they did not lose their salvation." - I have a really hard time seeing as how anyone could get that from the parable. Jesus says to the foolish "Truly, I say to you, I do not know you" which sure doesn't sound like something He'd say to a believer of any kind.
    – ThaddeusB
    Oct 18, 2015 at 2:54
  • I believe it speaks of intimacy with the believer - those engaged in pursuit of the Lord in prayer and obedience, opening their hearts to Him - versus those who would not. That's the "know" part, which I think relates to intimacy, not to head knowledge.
    – Steve
    Oct 18, 2015 at 4:52

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