Archive for the ‘Explanation’ Category



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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A while ago I read a blog entry entitled “Chiasms on the Brain?” on the blog For His Reknown.  The blog is written by James M. Hamilton Jr., who is the associate professor of Biblical Studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and preaching pastor at Kenwood Baptist Church.  It’s short so I’m taking the liberty of reproducing the blog entry here in full.  (Hopefully he won’t mind.)

Please have a gander at his site.  I think it’s a good one.  🙂


Chiasms on the Brain?

By James M. Hamilton, August 28. 2012

I was recently asked some questions about chiasms: Are biblical scholars just bored and seeing things? Would ancient audiences have picked up on them? Is this a widely attested ancient Near Eastern device? Do lay Bible readers have any hope of seeing them or must they consult commentaries?

These are good questions. There are biblical scholars who are very suspicious of chiasms, especially of larger proposals that stretch over whole sections of texts or even whole books. I come down with those who see chiasms as a key structuring device in ancient literature. I would add that it’s not just ancient literature. I think it was a prof I had in college, Skip Hays, who suggested that The Great Gatsby has a paneled structure that is basically chiastic. There are plenty of examples of balanced structures in the world’s literature. Think of the Divine Comedy . . .

Anyway, in a world that didn’t use chapters, chapter titles (the chapter and verse numbers in the Bible were added later–they don’t come from the biblical authors), bold subheadings, and italics, authors seem to have employed chiastic structures, inclusios, and other devices that rely on the repetition of key words, phrases, or thematic concepts to structure their material.

There is evidence that early on the biblical texts were widely memorized, as well as evidence that they were regularly read aloud. I think it plausible that authors expected their audiences to recognize chiastic structures and inclusios formed by the repetition of key words, phrases, and concepts, and if they weren’t caught on first hearing (those accustomed to listening closely to texts being read aloud probably had more facility for hearing such things–I notice that my sons, who have heard us read aloud to them a lot, seem to catch more from a first reading than my wife and I sometimes do) they could be noticed in the memorization/meditation/recitation process.

This is not limited to the ANE, though, because chiasms are also widely attested in the NT. I see a chiastic structure in the whole book of Revelation.

A proposed chiasm is either convincing or unconvincing, isn’t it? We’re dealing with those points on the scale from impossible to unlikely to implausible to possible to plausible to likely to certain . . . Sometimes chiasms are more apparent if the texts are read in the original Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic, though if you’re reading a more literal translation you might still pick it up if you’re paying close attention and thinking hard about how the text hangs together. I think if you were to study a text really closely or memorize it in something like the NASB or ESV or NKJV, you might notice a chiastic structure . . . so commentaries are not the layperson’s only hope of seeing the structure that is there.

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***** Update:  This post is under review.  Please see the question raised by Sherrie in comments.  Thank you.

***** Update 2:  Sherrie has been to Israel and looked for this particular chiasmus!  She’s been kind enough to write about her experience  …  Thank you Sherrie!  I really appreciate it!

Recently in Israel (May-June 2013), we visited the Shrine of the Book with its display of the Dead Sea Scrolls. A careful search did not find the image shown above on this blog. Of course only a small portion of the scrolls is exhibited. The lower level of the museum is devoted to the Aleppo Codex or I should say codices since there are more than one. “The Aleppo Codex belongs to a large “family” of Masoretic manuscripts, which contain vocalization, cantillation marks, and Masoretic annotations.” On this lower level, I was thrilled to find a page written in the same way as the image above, although it’s not the same text. The label indicated it was the Small Codex, probably written in 1341 at Aleppo. I don’t know what passage of scripture is on the page. As to the image below, a close look shows this to be a bound book, not a scroll or leaves from a scroll. My best guess is that it is from another portion of one of the Aleppo codices, not the Dead Sea Scrolls. For more information, see the extremely informative webpages that describe the Aleppo Codex and have a wealth of information about the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Bible, and lots more. An overall description is here http://www.aleppocodex.org/links/6.html and a description of the Small Crown is found on this page http://www.aleppocodex.org/links/7.html after scrolling down a bit. 

Sherrie Kline Smith, Special Collections and Research Librarian

***** Update 3:  In light of Sherrie’s research I’ve changed the title to this blog entry.

From here

Personally, I find this particular design intriquing.  I’ll have to look into it a bit more.  I like it’s shape.  It’s not required of a chiasmus of course – either visually or conceptually, but it’s nice to see another possible element from ‘the literary toolbox’ of the ancient chiastic writer. 

Like it.  🙂

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A few years ago I read the book, “The Shape of Biblical Language – Chiasmus in the Scriptures“, written by Father John Breck.  This morning I picked up John’s “Scripture in Tradition:  The Bible and Its Interpretation in the Orthodox Church“.  Chapter 5 is entitled, “Chiasmus as a Key to Biblical Interpretation”.  Below are a few select quotes from that chapter:


From the early nineteenth century through the middle of the twentieth, scholarly attention focused especially on the contributions and limits of historical-critical approaches to biblical interpretation.  In recent years, interest among exegetes has shifted to various forms of literary analysis.  Although the results have been mixed (much of the effort has been expended to correct false or one-sided conclusions drawn by other scholars), certain specific contributions have been especially helpful in clarifying the meaning of scriptural passages by locating the center of the author’s interest and thereby pinpointing literal sense of a given text.

The most significant of these, to my mind, is the contribution made by a small number of biblical scholars, beginning in the mid-eighteenth century with the works of the Anglican hierarch Robert Lowth and continuing today with studies by scholars such as John Gerhard, Charles H. Talbert, and especially Peter F. Ellis.  These studies base their interpretation of biblical texts on a form of literary analysis that investigates the concentric parallelism or chiastic (also called “chiasmis”) structures of biblical passages.

It seems obvious that any writing should be read according to its linear progression, from beginning to end, as we read a novel or newspaper article.  In antiquity, however, a linear reading of a text was very often complemented by another kind of reading.  This reading follows the laws of what is call “chiasm” or “chiasmus,” a rhetorical form based on concentric parallelism.

…  Chiasmus is a rhetorical form developed on the basis of parallelism.  But it takes parallelism an important step further by creating a movement that is in essence concentric.  Although any passage reads in linear fashion, from beginning to end, it can also incorporate another movement:  from the exterior to the interior, from the extremities toward the center.  In this way, meaning is developed from the beginning and end of the passage toward the middle.  Accordingly, the ultimate meaning of a chiastically structured passage is expressed not at the end, in what we understand to be the “conclusion.”  The real meaning or essential message of the text is to be found rather at its center.

This chiastic way of composing and reading a literary text, so that meaning develops from the extremities toward the center, seems to have originated in the Semitic world at least three thousand years before Jesus Christ.  It is found in ancient Akkadian and Sumerian texts, and it spread from these to the Greek world.  The epics of Homer, for example, are chiastically structured, as, presumably was much of the oral tradition that underlies them.  Writers of both the Old and New Testaments used chiasmus extensively   Although it seems not to have been taught in rhetorical schools after the beginning of the Christian era, chiasmus nevertheless appears throughout the ages, down to the present day.

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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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Chiasmus was not used exclusively by Biblical writers.  It was used by others as well. 

John W. Welch‘s book ”Chiasmus in Antiquity” is an excellent book for viewing possible chiastic structures from cultures outside of Israel.  It’s a good starting point for understanding chiasmus outside of the Bible.

Here are the chapter titles:

I particularly enjoy Welch’s cover which features the following chiastically arranged artwork.  Nice … :

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John W. Welch:   Criteria for Identifying and Evaluating the Presence of Chiasmus

Craig Blomberg:  Criteria for Detecting Extended Chiasmus  (Click on Section I)


John Welch lists 15 criteria, while Craig Blomberg lists 9.

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