Archive for the ‘Breck, John’ Category



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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The following chiasmus is from p. 101 of John Breck‘s 2001 book, “Scripture in Tradition: the Bible and its Interpretation in the Orthodox Church“:


A    19 Jesus therefore answered and was saying to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner.

B    20 “For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself is doing; and greater works than these will He show Him, that you may marvel.

C    21 “For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son also gives life to whom He wishes. 22 “For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son, 23 in order that all may honor the Son, even as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.

D    24 “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.

D’   25 “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear shall live.

C’   26 “For just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself; 27 and He gave Him authority to execute judgment, because He is the Son of Man.

B’   28 “Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs shall hear His voice, 29 and shall come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment.

A’   30 “I can do nothing on My own initiative. / As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is just, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.

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