Archive for the ‘Chiasmi: Short and Sweet’ Category

Jesus and Pharisees


In Matthew 23:13-33 Jesus delivers 7 ‘woes’ to the scribes and Pharisees.  My Bible (NASB) refers to 8 woes in its sub-title, but the woe in v. 14 is absent in the earliest manuscripts.  7 woes makes good sense.  7 is a symbol of fullness, or completeness.  Matthew would like his readers to see these woes as full, complete, and impact-full.  These woes then lead into Matthew 24, where Jesus teaches about the coming destruction of Jerusalem (70 A.D.).

A    The first 2 woes involve other people (people are kept from entering the kingdom of God; a proselyte is turned into a ‘son of hell’), and end with a reference to Gehenna (~hell).

B    The middle 3 woes call the scribes and Pharisees “blind guides” (2 times), “blind men” (2 times), and “blind” (once), and are highly chiastic.

A’   The last 2 woes refer to “tombs”, and end with a reference to Gehenna (~hell).

The third woe (vs 16-22) contains 3 chiasmi.  It’s the only ‘woe’ which begins with “Woe to you, blind guides …” rather than “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites …”.  It’s a nice chiasmus.  Its basic outline is:  temple … altar … altar … temple (A B B’ A’).  It contains 2 ‘smaller’ chiasmi within it – in A and B.  I like the way the end builds from altar (B’) to temple (A’) to heaven (C).  This ‘building’ at the end should be contrasted to the ‘diminishing’ of similar terms in the explanatory passage, Matthew 5:33-37:

33  “Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, ‘YOU SHALL NOT MAKE FALSE VOWSBUT SHALL FULFILL YOUR VOWS TO THE LORD.’  34  But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God,  35  or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is THE CITY OF THE GREAT KING.  36  Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black.  37  But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’; anything beyond these is of evil.

Combining 5:33-37 with 23:20-22 you get a list that diminishes and then expands, with ‘heaven’ forming an inclusion (bookends):  (diminishing:) heaven, earth, Jerusalem, ‘your head’ … (expanding:) altar, temple, heaven.  Combined you get a lengthy list of things a person should not swear by.  It is better to simply have your yes mean yes, and your no mean no (5:37).   Jesus’ simplifies the topic.

To understand Jesus’ reference to the scribes and Pharisees as “blind guides”, see Matthew 15:14:  “Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit.”  The references to blindness in the 3rd to 5th woes fittingly follow the first two woes, which refer to potential followers of the scribes and Pharisees.  It’s fitting that the last 2 woes refer to tombs.  Tombs refer to ‘the end’ (at least our end ;-), and in this case, ominously lead into Jesus’ prophecies concerning the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple.

Here are the 7 woes, with 6 chiasmi:


13  “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from people; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.   

[Verse 14 deleted]

15  “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.

16  “Woe to you, blind guides, who say,


a    ‘Whoever swears by the templethat is nothing;

b    but whoever swears by the gold of the temple is obligated.’ 

c    17  You fools and blind men!  Which is more important?

b’    the gold

a’    or the temple that sanctified the gold? 


a    18  And, ‘Whoever swears by the altarthat is nothing,

b    but whoever swears by the offering on it, he is obligated.’ 

c   19  You blind men!  Which is more important?

b’    The offering,

a’    or the altar that sanctifies the offering? 


B’    20  Therefore, whoever swears by the altar, swears both by the altar and by everything on it. 

A’   21  And whoever swears by the temple, swears both by the temple and by Him who dwells within it. 

C    22  And whoever swears by heaven, swears both by the throne of God and by Him who sits upon it.

23  “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  

A    For you tithe mint and dill and cummin,

B    and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness

B’    but these are the things you should have done

A’    without neglecting the others

24  You blind guides,

A    who strain out

B    a gnat

B’    and a camel

A’    swallow!

25  “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!

A    For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish,

B    but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. 

  26  You blind Pharisee,

B’    first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish,

A’    so that the outside of it may become clean also.

27  “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.  28  So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

29  “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous,  30  and say, ‘If we had been living in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partners with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’  31  So you testify against yourselves, that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets.  32  Fill up, then, the measure of the guilt of your fathers.  33  You serpents, you brood of vipers, how will you escape the sentence of hell?

34  “Therefore, behold, I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes; some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city,  35  so that upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.  36  Truly I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.”

37  “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling.  38  Behold, your house is being left to you desolate! 

39  “For I say to you, from now on you will not see Me until you say, ‘BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD!’”

24:1  Jesus came out from the temple and was going away when His disciples came up to point out the temple buildings to Him.  2  And He said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here will be left upon another, which will not be torn down.” …  …  …



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There are quite a few chiasmi in Genesis.  I was reading through Genesis 8-10 the other day and noticed the following six:




20  Then Noah built an altar to the Lord, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar.  21  The Lord smelled the soothing aroma; and the Lord said to Himself, “I will never again curse the ground on account of man, for the intent of man’s heart is evil from his youth; and I will never again destroy every living thing, as I have done.


22  While the earth remains,

B    [Me:  moving from cooler time of the year to warmer time of the year?  Seedtime to harvest?:]

a    Seedtime

b    and harvest,


c    And cold

d    and heat,


d’   And summer

c’   and winter,


b’  (d”)  And day

a’   (c”)  and night

A’   Shall not cease.”



A    “Whoever sheds

B    the blood

C    of man

C’   by man

B’   his blood

A’   shall be shed …”



8  Then God spoke to Noah and to his sons with him, saying, 


a    9  “Now behold, I Myself do establish My covenant with you and with your descendants after you;  

b    10  and with every living creature

c    that is with you,

d    the birds, the cattle, and every beast of the earth

c’   with you – of all that comes out of the ark,

b’   even every beast of the earth. 

a’   11  I establish My covenant with you;

B    and all flesh shall never again be cut off by the water of the flood, neither shall there again be a flood to destroy the earth.” 

C    12  God said, “This is the sign of the covenant which I am making between Me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all successive generations;  13  I set My bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a sign of a covenant between Me and the earth.  14  It shall come about, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow will be seen in the cloud,  15  and I will remember My covenant, which is between Me and you and every living creature of all flesh;

B’   and never again shall the water become a flood to destroy all flesh

A’   16 When the bow is in the cloud, then I will look upon it, to remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.”  17  And God said to Noah, This is the sign of the covenant which I have established between Me and all flesh that is on the earth.”

[Me:  There is a match between the center and the end, a common feature in chiasmus: bow in the cloud; remembering.  At the same time, the author is able to match A’ with A via his ending comment, “… the covenant which I established between Me and all flesh that is on the earth”.]



1 Now these are the records of the generations of

A    Shem,

B    Ham,

C    and Japheth, the sons of Noah; and sons were born to them after the flood. 

C’   2  The sons of Japheth were Gomer and Magog and Madai and Javan and Tubal and Meshech and Tiras.  …  …

B’   6  The sons of Ham were Cush and Mizraim and Put and Canaan.  …  …

A’   21  Also to Shem, the father of all the children of Eber, and the older brother of Japheth, children were born. 22 The sons of Shem were Elam and Asshur

a    and Arpachshad

b    and Lud and Aram.

b’   23  The sons of Aram were Uz and Hul and Gether and Mash.

a’   24  Arpachshad became the father of Shelah …

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A painting on wood, by Julia Stankova


This is a nice little chiasmus.  The center, v. 18-19, is likely based on Isaiah 61:1-2, a messianic passage:

1  The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
Because the Lord has anointed me
To bring good news to the afflicted;
He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted,
To proclaim liberty to captives
And freedom to prisoners;
2  To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord

Interestingly, there’s no mention of ‘healing blindness’ in the above passage, even though it’s at the center of Luke’s chiasmus.  Nevertheless, healing blindness is used elsewhere in Isaiah, including the following messianic passage:

“I am the LORD, I have called You in righteousness, I will also hold You as a covenant to the people, as a light to the nations, to open blind eyes, to bring out prisoners from the dungeon and those who dwell in darkness from the prison.”  Is 42:6-7.

I think it’s fitting to have healing of blindness at the center of this chiasmus.  Not only did Jesus heal people of their physical blindness, He also healed people of their spiritual blindness.  The center serves double duty.  The spiritual aspect of Jesus’ job was ultimately at the core of his ministry: opening peoples’ eyes to who He was and what He came to do.


14  And Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about Him spread through all the surrounding district.  15  And He began teaching in their synagogues and was praised by all.  16  And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was His custom,

A    He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath,

B    and stood up to read.

C    17  And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him.

D    And He opened the book and found the place where it was written, 


18  The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,

E    Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor.

F    He has sent Me to proclaim release  /  to the captives,

G    And recovery of sight to the blind,

F’   To set free  /  those who are oppressed

E’   19  To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.” 


D’   20  And He closed the book,

C’   gave it back to the attendant

B’   and sat down;

A’   and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on Him. 

21  And He began to say to them, Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”



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The following excerpt is from James L. Resseguie‘s book, “Narrative Criticism of the New Testament”, p. 58-60.  The excerpt is part of the book’s explanation for  “Chiasm (Chiasmus)”.

The book can be found here at Google Books, and here at Amazon.

The examples are short, but I enjoyed them.  I particularly liked his treatment of Luke 22:42 and Ephesians 1:2; 6:23-24.  Hopefully you’ll enjoy them as well.  🙂

The word chiasm is derived from the Greek letter chi (written X), which symbolizes the crossover pattern of words, phrases, clauses, or ideas that are repeated in reverse order.  The simplest type of chiasm is A B B’ A’ – a structure that comes full circle by highlighting key concepts in reverse order.  A chiastic pattern in Mark 2:27, for instance, keeps the reader’s or hearer’s attention focused on the main concepts.

A  The sabbath was made

B  for humankind

B’  not humankind

A’  for the sabbath.

Chiasms may draw attention to a theological or ideological perspective.  Jesus’ prayer in the garden of Gethsemane is an example of literary artistry at its best.  The literary form reinforces the theological perspective.  In Luke 22:42, for example:

A  Father, if you are willing.

B  remove this cup from me;

B’  yet not my will

A’  but yours be done.

The first person singular (me, my) is placed within the second person singular (you, yours), which visually underscores that Jesus’ will is completely enclosed within the will of the Father.  This becomes a model prayer for all: our will needs to be conformed to God’s will, not the other way around.

Paul uses chiasms to wrap together an entire book with key theological concepts.  In the Letter to the Ephesians he brackets his correspondence with the words “grace” and “peace” (also in 2 Thess. 1:2 and 3:16, 18).

A    Grace to you

B  and peace

B’  Peace be to the whole community. …

A’  Grace be with all who have an undying love for our Lord Jesus Christ

(Eph. 1:2; 6:23, 24)

Paul comes full circle, underscoring an important theological perspective: where there is grace, there is peace, and where there is peace, there is evidence of God’s grace.  Paul also uses interlocking chiasms to highlight the mystery of the Christian faith.  In 1 Tim. 3:16, for example, an interlocking pattern  explains “the mystery of our religion.”

[Jesus] was revealed in flesh,

vindicated in spirit,

seen by angels,

proclaimed among Gentiles,

believed in throughout the world,

taken up in glory.

Two sets of overlapping chiasms bring two separate worlds together – this world and the world above.  One set – flesh (A), spirit (B), angels (B’), Gentiles (A’) – is joined by a second set – angels (A) Gentiles (B), world (B’), glory (A’).  The interlocking pattern suggests that Jesus brings together in balanced harmony two worlds that were separated or at odds with each other.


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 worship .

This chiasmus comes from two sources.

The first source is here – on p. 243.  And here’s the writer’s brief description of the book of Amos, followed by his outline of the chiasmus:

Amos opens with eight judgment speeches to the seven nations surrounding Israel before announcing punishment for Israel in the eighth (Amos 1-2).  Immediately following is a “hear this word” speech with three parts.  Part 1 (3:1-5) explores punishment as an obligation of God’s covenant with Israel.  Part 2 (4:1-17) reminds Israel that they ignored the LORD’S past warnings.  Part 3 (5:1-17) takes up their death.  The third part opens (5:1-3) and closes (5:16-17) with a funeral lament.  Sandwiched in between is a description of the behavior that leads to death and that which leads to life, distinctions between what Israel does and what God is capable of doing (5:4-15).  There is a symmetrical structure to this section:

First Lamentation (vv. 1-3)

First Admonition (vv. 4-6)

First Accusation (v. 7)

Hymn (v. 8a)

The LORD is His Name

Hymn (v. 9)

Second Accusation (vv. 10-13)

Second Admonition (vv. 14-15)

Second Lamentation (vv. 16-17)

The second source for this chiasmus can be found here

The first source for this chiasmus presents the chiasmus in 9 parts, while the second source presents the chiasmus in 7 parts.  In presenting the chiasmus below, I’ve used the 9-part chiasmus of the first source, while borrowing the 7 descriptors, or titles, of the second source.  ( … I’m trying to take the best of both ‘worlds’ 🙂 .)

Here’s my description of the various matches in the chiasmus:

A and A’ refer to potential judgment on the house of Israel.  Funeral language is used: dirge, wailing, mourning. 

B and B’ call for repentance.  The key phrases in these sections use the word “seek”:  B:  “Seek Me and live”; “Seek the LORD that you may live”; B’:  “Seek good and not evil that you may live”.  … There’s an opportunity here to avoid judgment.

C and C’ offer the reasons for God’s judgment.  C gives a general description, while C’ fills in the details. 

D and D’ present God, the judge, in terms of ‘overwhelming’ power.  God is the one who controls all of nature.  D refers to the two constellations, the ongoing cycle of night and day, and the destructive force of the seas, while D’ refers to storms – specifically, highlighting lightning.  In this context, both the surging seas and the flashing lightning illustrate judgment and destruction.

E centers on the LORD God himself – which is fitting.

Once again, a choice is required.  Staying the course leads to judgment.  Seeking God allows for salvation. 

A warning delivered.  Humility required.  Action required.

(A nice chiasmus – imo.)

I would also like to point out that there are a number of smaller chiasmi within this larger chiasmus.  This time around, I’ve decided to display the smaller chiasmi on there own, following the larger chiasmi.  I think, in some ways, it makes for a clearer overall presentation of the varied chiasmi.  Some brief comments will be attached to the smaller chiasmi. 

But first, the larger chiasmus:


A    Description of certain judgment:    1 Hear this word which I take up for you as a dirge, O house of Israel.  2  She has fallen, she will not rise again– The virgin Israel. She lies neglected on her land; There is none to raise her up.  3  For thus says the Lord GOD, “The city which goes forth a thousand strong Will have a hundred left, And the one which goes forth a hundred strong will have ten left to the house of Israel.”

B    Call for individual repentance:    4 For thus says the LORD to the house of Israel, “Seek Me that you may live.  5  “But do not resort to Bethel, and do not come to Gilgal, nor cross over to Beersheba; for Gilgal will certainly go into captivity, and Bethel will come to trouble.  6  “Seek the LORD that you may live, Lest He break forth like a fire, O house of Joseph, And it consume with none to quench it for Bethel,

C    Accusation of legal injustice [Me: general description]:    7 For those who turn justice into wormwood And cast righteousness down to the earth.”

D   Portrayal of a sovereign God (D, E, D’):    8 He who made the Pleiades and Orion And changes deep darkness into morning, Who also darkens day into night, Who calls for the waters of the sea And pours them out on the surface of the earth,

   The LORD is His name. 

D’   9  It is He who flashes forth with destruction upon the strong, So that destruction comes upon the fortress.

C’   Accusation of legal injustice [Me: detailed description]:   

10 They hate him who reproves in the gate, And they abhor him who speaks with integrity.  11  Therefore, because you impose heavy rent on the poor And exact a tribute of grain from them, though you have built houses of well-hewn stone, Yet you will not live in them; You have planted pleasant vineyards, yet you will not drink their wine12  For I know your transgressions are many and your sins are great, You who distress the righteous and accept bribes, And turn aside the poor in the gate.  13  Therefore, at such a time the prudent person keeps silent, for it is an evil time.

B’   Call for individual repentance:    14 Seek good and not evil, that you may live; And thus may the LORD God of hosts be with you, Just as you have said!  15  Hate evil, love good, And establish justice in the gate! Perhaps the LORD God of hosts May be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.

A’   Description of certain judgment:   

16 Therefore, thus says the LORD God of hosts, the Lord, “There is wailing in all the plazas, And in all the streets they say, ‘Alas! Alas!’  They also call the farmer to mourning, and professional mourners to lamentation.  17  “And in all the vineyards there is wailing, because I shall pass through the midst of you,”says the LORD.



And now, here are 6 smaller chiasmi that can be found within the larger chiasmus: 

From section B:    

a    “Seek Me that you may live.   

b    5  “But do not resort to Bethel,   

c    And do not come to Gilgal,   

d    Nor cross over to Beersheba;   

c’   For Gilgal will certainly go into captivity,   

b’   And Bethel will come to trouble.   

a’   6  “Seek the LORD that you may live

Comment:  There’s a contrast here between the outside (a/a’) and the inside (b/c/d/c’/b’) of this chiasmus. Do you trust the LORD, or the cities? 

From section D:  

a    8  … And changes deep darkness

b    into morning,

b’   Who also darkens day

a’   into night …

Section C’:

a    10 They hate him who reproves in the gate,

b    And they abhor him who speaks with integrity

c    11  Therefore, because you impose heavy rent on the poor and exact a tribute of grain from them,

d    i   though you have built houses of well-hewn stone,    ii   Yet you will not live in them;

d’   i’  You have planted pleasant vineyards,   ii’   yet you will not drink their wine

c’   12  For I know your transgressions are many and your sins are great,

b’   You who distress the righteous and accept bribes,

a’   And turn aside the poor in the gate

13  Therefore, at such a time the prudent person keeps silent, for it is an evil time.

Comment:  I like the parallelism in the center.  Because of their transgressions, the oppressors will not be able to enjoy their stone houses and pleasant vineyards.  Punishment is incurred.

From section B’:

a    14 Seek good

b    and not evil  … …

b’   … …  15  Hate evil,

a’   love good

Comment:  This is a nice example of a ‘delayed’ chiasmus.  There’s actually some words between b and b’, which I’ve left out here.

Section A’:  

a    16 Therefore, thus the LORD God of hosts, the Lord,

b    says

c    There is wailing   [Me: Hebrew: mispedin all the plazas, and in all the streets they say, ‘Alas! Alas!’

d    They also call the farmer  /  to mourning   [Me: Hebrew: ebel],

d’   and professional mourners  /  to lamentation   [Me: Hebrew: nehi]. 

c’   17  “And in all the vineyards there is wailing   [Me: Hebrew: misped]    because I shall pass through the midst of you,” 

b’   says

a’   the LORD.

Comment:  The distinction between c/c’ and d/d’ is location (c = plazas and streets / c’ = vineyards) versus people (d = farmers / d’ = professional mourners).    c/c, d/d’ is also a nice example of how an author can choose between matching words directly (c/c’ = Hebrew:  ‘misped’) or indirectly, (using synonyms; d/d’ = Hebrew:  ‘ebel’ / ‘nehi’).  The use of synonym sometimes offers variety to a text, spicing it up.  (I love cinnamon.  It’s a nice spice.  …  Sorry, couldn’t help myself.)

From section A’:

a    16 …  “There is wailing   

b    in all the plazas,   

b’   And in all the streets   

a’   they say, ‘Alas! Alas!’

Comment:  The wailing in a is given voice in  a’: ‘Alas! Alas!’.

Overall, I think there’s some very nice chiastic work done here by the author.  Seven chiasmi in all!!!  (In some ways it reminds me of the numerous chiasmi found in Mark 3:20-35.)  Nice!

The main message in the overall chiasmus is “Seek God, that you may live.”  It’s matching section adds, “Seek good and not evil, that you may live”.

Repentance and change of course is required.

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Just thought I would mention the 1984 Ronald E. Man article, “The Value of Chiasm for New Testament Interpretation” – available online.  The paper contains a number of nice chiasmi. 

Eventually I would like to place some of the chiasmi on this blog.

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Some excellent examples of chiasmi in Jeremiah – both short and longer – can be found in chapter 3 of Jack R. Lundbom’s 1997 book, “Jeremiah: a Study in Ancient Hebrew Rhetoric”.


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