The aim of this website is to provide some help to better understand the text of scripture. Recognition of the literary structure is an important part of this. However, we need to be careful not to impose patterns from our own imaginations – whether chiastic or some other pattern.
Here is a quote from I H Thomson’s book, “Chiasmus in the Pauline Letters”. Journal For The Study of The New Testament Supplement Series 111, Sheffield Academic press, Sheffield, 1995.
“The main purpose of this study is to show how the identification and analysis of chiasmus in the Pauline letters is a far more valuable and precise tool in the exegete’s hands than many have previously realised. However, some of the earlier work in this whole field has left an unfortunate legacy that makes it essential to approach it very carefully indeed.
Thus, until recently, the perception has been widespread that the study of chiasmus in the New Testament is little more than the esoteric pursuit of a few enthusiasts, whose exuberance in the ‘discovery’ of chiasms of astonishing complexity in almost every page of the New Testament seems to know no limits. It is not surprising that this has provoked an often justifiable backlash of scholarly scepticism among the more cautious, who feel that many such chiastic patterns tell us more about the ingenuity of the commentator than about the intention of the original author” (p 13).
After a few years of debating chiasmus here are some suggestions about how to discern a pattern that is meaningful and not imagination.
- The section of scripture is defined by repetition of key words/phrases i.e. bracketed or book-ended.
- The pattern is characterised by repetition of keywords, and phrases or by opposites (chiasmus based only on concept rather than exact repetitions are more difficult to agree on).
- if key phrases are inverted (“heaven and earth” v “earth and heaven”) this is strong evidence.
- The chiasm has a balanced symmetrical shape.
- The centre – often a regular parallelism – is highly significant.
- the whole unit makes sense.
- the unit respects other textual features.
- Broken patterns may nonetheless be significant.
Read and re-read the passage carefully and seek to hear what the Word is conveying. If there is not a chiastic pattern then the task is to search out what is the actual structure. Good chiastic patterns can be readily seen by others and this increases our confidence that we have discovered a truth.
I have added an asterisk* to posts where reference to academic articles or books are made either in the post or in a comment.