Recently, I had the pleasure of an interchange with Robert Wilkin, one of the contributing authors of Four Views on the Role of Works at the Final Judgment. I had a chance to review his contribution to the book here, and he stopped by to give his thoughts on some of my questions here. Today, I would like to respond to his rebuttal and continue to flesh out this conundrum of the role of works at Judgement.
I would like to start with the last thing that Robert said to illustrate where he and I diverge, then I will dive into the “Parable of the Virgins.” Here is what he said:
What drives me in Biblical interpretation is harmonization with the clear passages (i.e., the analogy of faith). If John 20:28 clearly establishes the deity of Christ, for example, then John 1:1 cannot be saying that Jesus is “a god” or “a God.” If John 6:35 and 11:25-26 proves eternal security, then Heb 6:4-8 cannot be saying that everlasting life can be lost. If John 3:16 says that “whoever believes in Him…has everlasting life,” then no other text can be saying that some of those who believe in Him will be eternally condemned due to insufficient good works.
At first blush, that sounds correct. Most systematic theologians would agree, generally, with what he said. I must disagree. The work of the systematic theologian (the branch of theology that I grew up in) would take the sweeping themes of Scripture and find the harmony of the related passages throughout and create an overarching theology.
But therein lies the rub. All too often there are passages left out or stretched because they do not neatly fit. This is a common critique of Systematic Theology and one that has a growing chorus of dissenters.
I prefer to look at those passages in the Bible, especially from different authors, as having a unique voice and perspective. After all, we are describing, in large part, things that are from a different realm – the supernatural. They are complex and are conceived from the mind of God. (i.e. really, really big) It would make little sense that human authors, inspired by God, would describe different perspectives of a large, complex issue and all come up with uniform talking-points on the matter.
So instead of stretching one theme over a variety of verses, I prefer to have each author give his unique perspective among a larger democratic chorus, giving Jesus the deciding vote as the Elder Brother. This way the integrity of the voices is maintained and a larger, cohesive whole can be perceived.
There is more to say on this without the space…
Now onto the “Parable of the Virgins.” First, we must establish that the parable in question is a part of a larger talk that Jesus gave and can be found in Matthew 24-25. In order to give a flavor of what Jesus said, I have grabbed the section before and after the parable so that you can see it in context (click on the toggle bar):
”MatthewThe Day and Hour Unknown
36 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; 39 and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. 41 Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.
42 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.
45 “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? 46 It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. 47 Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. 48 But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, ‘My master is staying away a long time,’ 49 and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. 50 The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. 51 He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
The Parable of the Ten Virgins
1 “At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish and five were wise. 3 The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. 4 The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. 5 The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.
6 “At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’
7 “Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’
9 “‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’
10 “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.
11 “Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’
12 “But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’
13 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.
The Parable of the Bags of Gold
14 “Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. 15 To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag,[g] each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. 16 The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. 17 So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. 18 But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.
19 “After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 20 The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’
21 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
22 “The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’
23 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
24 “Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’
26 “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27 Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.
28 “‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. 29 For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
In the passage before the “Parable of the Ten Virgins,” we see Jesus describing the conditions right before His return. First he tells us that life will be as normal, then suddenly, without warning, people will disappear and be taken. Next he tells us that this suddenness is a kind of lightening attack so that it cannot be prepared against. Finally, He gives a description of a good and wicked servant. The good servant does as his Master asks, even while He is away. The wicked servant, however, is lazy and abuses his fellow servants. His lot is that he will be cut to pieces and assigned “a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” That does not sound pleasant. But more on that in a moment.
Now we have the “Parable of the Ten Virgins.” Although this starts a new chapter in the book of Matthew, it is a clear continuation of the same talk that Jesus is has been giving. In fact, all of what we are reading is about the “Coming of the Son of Man” and what happens to “us” at that time. Each parable just illuminates a different angle. So what is this parable saying?
I think a plain reading of the text is saying that in order for us to be granted entrance into Christ’s Kingdom (i.e. sharing in His joy and ruling with Him), we must be ready for His Return. In fact, I think that is the plain reading of all these passages. Why do I say this? Because of what Jesus Himself says in the last verse of the parable: “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.” What does He mean by that? Look back at verses 30 and 36 of Matthew 24:
Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory … But about that day or hour no one knows.
Time and again in this passage we see that Jesus is describing his Second Coming and is illuminating two possible outcomes of judgement when He returns.
Continuing on, we have the “Parable of the Bags of Gold.” Here, again, he have industrious servants and those that are lazy. The productive servants are given a place of honor within the Kingdom and the lazy servant is thrown “outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Again, disturbing imagery and quite forceful in language…
I believe the passage clearly describes Jesus weighing the thoughts, motives, and actions of those claiming His Name and winnowing out the worthy from unworthy. How that is done will be a matter for future blog posts as we continue on in the book review.
Onto the points that Robert Wilkin made and some remarks from me:
Neither sozo (save) or soteria (salvation) occur in the Parable of the Ten Virgins or in Matthew 25 (or 24:45-51).
Well, to be fair to Robert, he was responding specifically to the Parable of the Ten Virgins and I had made a more general statement about his treatment of Matthew 24-25. So I will give him that. Those words are not found in the passage.
I do take it that the midnight cry refers to the abomination of desolation which will occur at the mid-point of the Tribulation. However, my interpretation does not depend on that.
I guess this betrays my leanings toward “Historic Pre-Millennialism” but all of Matthew 24-25, to me, is rife with allusions to Christ coming and His elect meeting Him in the air. So the fact that this Parable ends with “therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour” just signifies that this is the sudden return of the Master.”
Clearly the 5 virgins had been slated to take part in the torch dance. So if your view is correct and participation in that dance signifies getting into the kingdom, then these 5 virgins lost everlasting life.
Yes, as disturbing as this is, I believe that is the clear reading of the text. Robert referenced one passage earlier by saying “If John 6:35 and 11:25-26 proves eternal security, then Heb 6:4-8 cannot be saying that everlasting life can be lost.” But let’s look at what Hebrews 6:4-8 says:
4 For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. 7 For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. 8 But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned.
It appears that the Parable of the Ten Virgins and Hebrews 6:4-8 are in complete agreement. As for John 6:35 it states that “Then Jesus declared, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.'” I completely agree. But look at the qualifier that Jesus gives at the beginning of the verse: “Whoever comes to me.” This verse in no way shows that what began as an act of freewill (however Divinely empowered) is not maintained with continued acts of freewill (however Divinely empowered). The same simple treatment can be given to his other verse mentioned (John 11:25-26).
So back to my original point. I think in order to give fair treatment to the Parable of the Ten Virgins, we must keep it in the context of the passage we find it and give it it’s own, independent voice within Scripture. Only then can we have it interact with the other passages on Judgement and see what emerges. To me, the larger point that Christ is getting across is that there are eternal consequences to how we carry out our duties within the Kingdom while on Earth. Wilkin would agree up to the point that they effect rewards. I get the feeling that being assigned with the hypocrites, having gates barred in my face, and weeping and gnashing of teeth speak to something more… dreadful.
Again, if you have not already grabbed a copy of Four Views on the Role of Works at the Final Judgment I highly recommend it.