Balabanski, Vicky. "Chapter Two: Matthew 25:1-13 as a Window on Eschatological Change." Eschatology in the Making: Mark, Matthew, and the Didache. Cambridge: University Press, 1997, 42-54.
Balabanski takes the delayed return of the bridegroom in the parable of the maidens (Matthew 25:1-13) to be a significant motif in our eschatological understanding (Balabanski 1997, 24). She finds numerous interpretive challenges worthy of explanation. These challenges have inspired comment in the past, and Balabanski coniders the nature of the comments to be a significant means of evaluating the interpretive philosophies in play. Some look at the details so as to identify a cultural setting, while others consider the details to be primarily allegorical in nature. A third pattern "sees the parable as having been shaped by the early church, but having as its basis a genuine dominical utterance" (Balabanski 1997, 25). Balabanski evaluates this third pattern on the basis of the work of Puig i Tàrrech (Balabanski 1997, 26).
Puig i Tàrrech constructs a theory that the author has drawn numerous small elements from Q material as represented in the other Synoptic Gospels so as to create this parable which appears only in Matthew (Balabanski 1997, 26). Balabanski finds this schema to be more convincing than the other modes of interpretation, which attempt to treat the parable as a whole (Balabanski 1997, 27).
The episode of delay in the parable may raise valid issues of the delay of a parousia as a concern to the community surrounding Matthew's Gospel (Balabanski 1997, 28). Puig i Tàrrech postulates a small but influential group in the Matthean community which would have been troubled by the fact that Christians die while we await the parousia. This would have led to insertion of the master's delay in this parable (Balabanski 1997, 29). Balabanski suggests that the particular schema proposed is overly complex and that it is easier to consider the material which could be allegorical as a "pre-Matthean interpolation" (Balabanski 1997, 29).
The work of G. Bornkamm addresses verse 5-7a as pre-Matthean (Balabanski 1997, 29). The motifs of sleeping/waking and the setting in the middle of the night can both be seen as redactional but can effectively be considered as unified in their significance. Balabanski considers the word ἐνύσταξαν from verse five to be a non-Matthean feature primarily due to its rarity, being used only twice in the New Testament, once in Matthew and once in 2 Peter (Balabanski 1997, 30-31). The concept of the middle of the night can also be considered as a replacement for the early evening setting which would be more conducive to the use of torches. This suggests to Blabanski that the passage is intended to evoke images of a parousia, normally pictured as a nocturnal event (Balabanski 1997, 32).
The cry in the night which alerts the maidens is a subject of some debate. Balabanski takes it to be a Messianic summons, which action does have biblical parallels (Balabanski 1997, 34). The cry does not appear to be a call to battle or a summons to judgment, but a call to gather, issued to the crowd as a whole (Balabanski 1997, 35).
The motif of the coming of the bridegroom strikes Balabanski as significant especially due to the difference in wording between verses one and six. Verse one uses ὑπάντησιν while verse six uses ἀπάντησιν. Balabanski observes that Matthew's style "prefers repetition and consistency rather than stylistic variation" (Balabanski 1997, 37). For this reason she suggests a different source.
The motif which overshadows the entire parable is the delay of the bridegroom (Balabanski 1997, 38). The verb used for delay is found in various eschatological passages. Within the New Testament, "behind each of these passages is the implicit acknowledgement that the expected χρόνος differs from the actual χρόνος" (Balabanski 1997, 39). The community would therefore recognize the concept of delay and identify it with eschatology.
Balabanski considers whether the hypothetical insertion resolves challenges of the passage, as well as whether the passage without the alleged insertion makes sense (Balabanski 1997, 40). Her conclusion is that the material she views as inserted does resolve some of the challenges. The parable also is a sensible narrative even without the possibly inserted material. For these reasons, she feels free to consider the eschatological ideas an insertion (Balabanski 1997, 41-45 passim). Because the interpolated ideas may not be entirely internally consistent with the experience of any one Christian community, Balabanski takes them to come from multiple interpolators (Balabanski 1997, 46).
Balabanski further identifies Matthew 25:10c-13 as being drawn from Q material and being appended to the material central to the parable (Balabanski 1997, 46).
Verses 5-7 of Matthew 25 suggest an end result to the theological struggles caused by a delayed parousia (Balabanski 1997, 48). The passage, in Balabanski's view, is an attempt to explain the delay of the parousia without minimizing divine sovereignty (Balabanski 1997, 49). The fact of a distinction between groups of maidens suggests a time when some of the first generation of Christians have died but some are still alive (Balabanski 1997, 50). This reality can also be reflected in the parable's use of words for sleep, which could be allegorically aplied either to death or to a spiritual drowsiness (Balabanski 1997, 52). Finally, Balabanski considers the midnight return to indicate that while the parousia is not to be expected immediately, it is still within a concrete time period rathr than being somewhere in the vague and distant future (Balabanski 1997, 53).