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Chiastic structures in: Matthew 2 Corinthians Philemon
Romans Galatians 2 Peter and Jude 1 Corinthians Philippians 1, 2, 3 John
1) WHAT IS CHIASTIC STRUCTURING?
Chiasmus(from the Greek letter Chi: X), or chiastic structuring is a literary device often used by Old Testament and New Testament writers. They use it to build up to their main point and then back off from it in the reverse order (so that the parts 'cross over' like the members of the letter Chi - X).
2) CRITERIA FOR A CHIASM.Three criteria that will enable one to know that a chiasm has been found are:
2) At least in Paul's letters the centre will be tightly parallel, phrase for phrase. (In longchiasms, say 40-plus verses in Paul, the balancing members at the extremities [like A & A'] may consist of two or three verses each.)
3) The centre will be the main point. (Very often the main point will have already beenseen to be the main point by earlier commentators.)
3) HOW TO DETECT CHIASMS.
1) The first step is often to notice two separated passages on the same subject or which use the same infrequently-occurring words, or words which are significant for the author's argument but which do not otherwise occur with frequency in the given section (e.g., such words might be 'God', 'Father', 'Christ', etc.).
2) The intervening material between the two passages is
then scrutinized for parallel vocabulary and/or ideas which match each other
step-by-step until a centre is reached. Generally the closer one comes to the
centre the more precise the parallelism becomes, until it is frequently a
3) At other times one may begin with a single verse which is itself a chiasm. Having established that there is a centre, one then extends the limits until no more effective parallelism of subject and/or vocabulary is to be found.
4) Occasionally balancing members are antitheses (e.g., A: The good live; A': The wicked die).
5) Sometimes (as in 1
Corinthians and Galatians) the end of one chiasm overlaps with the beginning of
the next, indicating either (1) they are a literary unity and both came into
fixed form at the same time, or (2) just possibly the overlapping verses are
bridge passages written to join chiasms, one or both of which may have existed
earlier and both were extended at each end so as to overlap (i.e., the original
chiastic units would have been shorter than the form in which we have them now).
4) SIGNIFICANCE OF DETECTED CHIASTIC STRUCTURES (WITH EXAMPLES)
Note: All chiasms indicated below are given in full under the heading of the given writing.
(a) It can help one to see the whole argument and its main point.
(b) If an entire writing
can be shown to be chiastic overall, then it is more likely to be a literary
unity (as opposed to a composite work).
1 Corinthians - see above, but also see f) and g) below.
Philippians 1.1-2.24a x 2.24b-4.23 (also Galatians, Philemon, Jude, 2 Peter,
(But William Hollidays' arguments for the overall chiastic structure of Jeremiah may be a salutary warning that a final overall chiasm may not necessarily indicate an original unity or unitary origin.)
(c) One side of a chiasm
may shed light on the meaning of the other side or even the meaning of the
centre when either is in doubt.
Romans 1.18-2.1b x 2.4b-8 - centre: the judging one (ὁ κρίνων). The scope of this chiasm, which includes the clearly Gentile material of 1.19ff., calls into question whether the judging one is only the Jew, as, e.g., E. Käsemann and others maintain.
(d) One side of a chiasm may help to settle, or at least make more probable, a doubtful textualreading on the other side.
(e) If only the main body of a writing is chiastic, then the non-chiastic portions may have a different (quite possibly later) origin by the same or another hand.
(f) A chiasm which is complete when a portion within one side or at the centre is omitted may indicate that the non-included portion is a later interpolation.
(g) Two halves of a chiasm separated by materials in
between may sometimes indicate that the entire chiasm existed as a unit prior to
the present writing, being intentionally split by the writer of the present
Matt. 5.1-7.29 x 22.15-24.35: That the Sermon on the Mount antedates the composition of Matthew has long since been argued by Jean Héring. 'Dieu, Moïse, et les anciens', Révue d'histoire et de philosophie religieuses (Strasbourg, 1941), p. 201, n. 15. We would suggest that the whole unit was initially developed from the short Beatitudes and Woes as found in Luke 6.2-26m to form a kind of Two Ways document (the Way of Life: Sermon on the Mount, Matt. 5-7, and the Way of Death: Woes section, Matt. 23) akin to the Two-Ways sections of the Epistle of Barnabas and the Didache. (see Chiastic Structuring in the Sermon on the Mount).
(Incidentally, although Matthew contains many very lengthy complete chiasms, I have been unable to find a convincing overall chiasm.)
(h) Where one can demonstrate an overall chiasm and a continuous set of secondary chiasms (plus perhaps subsidiary levels, too), then this increases the likelihood that the writing was intended to be heard many times and that the author was carefully and seriously theologizing and not simply writing to a situation ad hoc and unsystematically.