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Pauline Letters

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INTRODUCTION   TO    CHIASTIC   READING         
Bryan Davis   06/11/07

 

A chiasm or chiasmus chiasmus (ky-AZ-mus) n . is a reversal in the order of words ( or concept) in two otherwise parallel phrases, called a reverse parallelism. It is a literary form used by ancient writers to communicate maximum amount of meaning in minimal amount of space. A simple example of a chiasm would be , "Never let a fool kiss you , or a kiss fool you" . It could be structured this way to analyze:

 

   A  Never let a fool

         B   kiss

             C    you ,

          B   or a kiss

   A    fool you

 

The relationship between parallelisms and chiasmus could best be communicated this way;

 

                                  C  Parallelism and chiasmus

                                                        B   are related

                                                              A  but definitely not synonymous,

                                                         B  Chiasmus is reverse parallelism

                                                  C  and reverse parallelism is chiasmus.

 

The literary style of the chiasm or parallelism is structured so that all meaning flows through the middle of the text, or "intersection" of the text. It is derived from a Greek verb, quiasmo, meaning "mark with two lines crossing like an "X", creating a cross. Look at this example;

NET Romans 6:1

G  What shall we say then? Are we to remain in sin so that grace may increase? Absolutely not!  

  How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Or do you   not know    that as many as were baptized into   

   Christ were  baptized into his  death?  4  Therefore we    have been buried with him through baptism

     into death, in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the 

    Father,so we too may live a new life.

     F 5 For if we have become united with him in the likeness of his  death, we will certainly also be

       united in the likeness of his  resurrection.

       E 6 We know that our old man was crucified with him so that the body of sin

           would no longer dominate us,

         D    so that we would  no longer be enslaved to sin.

          C  7 (For someone who has died has been freed from sin.)

           B 8 Now if we died

            A with Christ,                                                                                                                                                                                                             

           B  we believe that we will also live with him.

          C  9 We know that since Christ has been raised from the dead, he is never  going to die  

              again; death no longer has mastery over him.

       D.For the death he died, he died to sin once for all,but the life he lives,he lives to God.

      E. 11 So you too consider yourselves dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

     F. 12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that  you obey its desires,13 and do not

      present your  members to sin as instruments to  be used for unrighteousness. but present   

    yourselves to God as those who are alive  from the dead  and your members to God as  

   instruments to be used  for  righteousness.14 For sin will have no mastery over you, because you are  

  not   under  law but under grace.

G   15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Absolutely  not!   

 16 Do you not know that if you present yourselves as obedient  slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or  obedience resulting in righteousness?

 

There is some controversy as to what are the rules governing chiasms in all literature and chiasms within the Bible . It has been noted that there are generally no rules and therefore we can use this term very generally and in a broad sense to look at scripture.  For example, sometimes the relationships are opposites, like a mirror. Other times it seems that there are simply concurring, endorsing statements to give depth and deeper understanding of the other parallel concept. Let us identify terms for communication purposes;

      

                C    -   referred as "C"             C  7 (For someone who has died has been freed from sin.)

                      B  -  referred as "B"               B 8 Now if we died

                           A   - referred as "A"              A   with Christ,                                                                                                                                                                                                              

                      B - referred as " B prime"        we believe that we will also live with him.

                C - referred to as " C prime "   9 We know that since Christ has been raised from the

                                                               dead, he is never  going to die again; death no longer has

                                          mastery over him.

 

 

It has come to my attention, that chiasms ( or parallelisms) are often divided conceptually. If this be the case, it would mean that breaking open these structures would be universal, and cross any language barriers.

 

Since we know the ancient Hebrews wrote in chiasms and other parallelisms, it is my intent to break it back down to the original organic heart of the writer to gain knowledge and understanding. The Lord said , "My people perish for lack of knowledge" , so if  one can discern scripture at the root level of it's original communication, we can serve the Body of Christ to gain  knowledge to prevent individuals  perishing.

 

If an individual wrote in a chiastic structure, it should be read in a chiastic structure to receive maximum information communicated by the author.  If I wrote to you in a poem and you read it as a flat piece of literature, you would miss some of my intent and content. If I wrote to you an advertisement for a particular product, and you read it as a poem, you would miss my intent, my purpose, and the thought processes behind the advertisement. 

    

Advertisement - "Buy an ocean front property in beautiful Atlantic  City  , New Jersey now and save a fortune on closing costs and realtor fees . Live in the property of your dreams, and enjoy everything you ever have desired in an entire lifetime."

 

or, as a poem ,  

 

Buy an ocean front property

In beautiful Atlantic City ,

New Jersey

 now

And save a fortune

On closing costs

And realtor fees.

Live in the property of your dreams,

And enjoy

Everything

You ever have desired

In an entire lifetime.

If I read it as a poem I would be dreadfully misled. The property may or may not be really  ocean front.  Atlantic City is not beautiful. You would not save a fortune, You may not save a dime, in fact, you may spend more now than if you waited to buy. It is impossible that a property in New Jersey could possibly be the property of your dreams, and it would probably turn out to be the property of your worst nightmare.  You would not "enjoy" the experience, and it would never be everything you have desired in your entire lifetime.

 

But , if you knew it was an advertisement, and you knew the intent and  language of the writer, you could interpret the text in context and realize that most of it is inflated , exaggerated, and it could become clear to you that whatever the opposite is , is the truth of the ad.

 

In a similar way, the ancients wrote in parallelisms and chiasms. If you do not read it chiastically, you will not receive the intent of the author, the full meaning of the author, the sarcasm or lack of sarcasm of the author, etc. In a broad sense, the language in which a text is written is the language which a text should be read.      

            

This writer is particularly interested in parallelisms and chiasms for the purpose of gaining greater insight as to the intent of the writer of scripture the Holy Spirit, not for the purpose of wrangling over archaeological literary law. Commenting on each level of the above chiasm, notice the flow and beauty of the above text;

 

                                                        Moving  Outward

     A   with Christ

 

A - This is the center of the chiasm.  Paul often uses "Christ", or "in Christ", or "with Christ" as the center for his chiastic (or parallelism) teaching. Everything else in his text must  flow through the center. If there are any hard fast rules, this is one. Reading from the center outward, all other conceptual points of the author in this chiasm will flow through "with Christ".

 

    B 8 Now if we died

    B'  we believe that we will also live with him.

 

B - Now if we died, we believe we also shall live with him. So you could also say, now if we died with Christ we believe we also shall live with Christ, because all concepts of this chiasm flow through "with Christ". In a sense, "with Christ" is implied. This is a classic mirror, or opposite relationship,  sometimes referred to as reverse parallelism, or inverted parallelism. We can simply say, it is an opposite relationship. The mirror relationship is classically referred as a chiasm or chiasmus.    

 

     C  7 (For someone who has died has been freed from sin.)

     C'  9 We know that since Christ has been raised from the  dead, he is never  going to die again; 

    death no longer has mastery over him.

 

C -      From "C" and "C prime " ( simply "C")  , we see a few things here.

       1.)  We see that we died with Christ therefore freeing us from the slavery of sin.

       2.) Since the word freed is used in contrast to the word "Mastery", we immediately see a  

            chiastic clue , or relationship  since "mastery" is a slave -  master , term.  

       3.) Paul says, "we  died" which is rather strange because I know I'm alive or I wouldn't be 

            reading  his  text.  So, I ask myself, "How could I have died?" Then I realize by going through

            the center of the chiasm, that "I died  "with Christ", and that He took my death, therefore

           freed me from both the enslavement of sin and the mastery of death.

       

            4.) Now I can breathe easier because I realize that I am both alive, and reading this text, and

            dead to the power of sin and death. I conclude; "This is good news!  Death no longer is my 

            master and sin that leads to death is not enslaving me."  I conjugate that I am both living

            and dead at the same time. So, I move on outward....for more meaning.

 

 

           so that we would  no longer be enslaved to sin

            D' 10 For the death he died, he died to sin once for all, but the life he

       lives, he lives to God.

 

 

 D-   From "D" we see that we can be no longer enslaved, at least, we see that Christ no 

        longer expects us to be enslaved to sin. So this involves choice, probably a continual one. From   

       D'( "D"  prime ) we note that at least in some sense our death to sin is absolutely final, the

        power over it is final, and it's God's will that we be no longer enslaved to sin "with Christ".

 

 

      E 6 We know that our old man was crucified with him so that the body of sin

      would no longer dominate us,

      E. 11 So you too consider yourselves dead to sin, but alive to God in   

      Christ Jesus.

 

 

E -  Flowing along from the inside out, now I see it is definitely  God's plan for sin to not

      dominate me. I see I was crucified with Christ, which is once and done, I'm dead to sin, and

      alive to God, "with Christ" ( the center). I see that to really be alive to God in Christ Jesus, I

      must not let sin dominate my life.  This conclusion cannot be drawn by any single edge of

      this relationship. Both must be seen in conjunction with the other for the full revelation. So, I'll

      move on...outward.

 

 

    F 5 For if we have become united with him in the likeness of his  death, we will

     certainly also be united in the likeness of his  resurrection.

    F.  12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that                    

      you obey its desires,13 and do not present your members to sin as instruments

      to be used for unrighteousness. but present yourselves to God as those who

     are alive  from the dead  and your members to God as instruments to be used

       for righteousness.14 For sin will have no mastery over you, because you are not

      under law but under grace.

 

 

F - This relationship is clear as a bell relating the "resurrection" in "F" , with "alive from the dead" in

" F' ".  Here is another clear clue that there is a chiastic relationship going on here. With respect to  

 meaning, I see that my position "with Christ" is a single mindset of being alive from the

 dead.  I need to start thinking of myself single mindedly, as one who was raised with Christ. There is 

 no duplicity here. Paul has now said it five times, five different ways. (He actually said it 10 times, in 

five pairs)  I'm dead ...and I'm alive.  Period.  Again, the fact that we are reading this chiastically literally drills the idea home.

 

 

 

     G  What shall we say then?  Are we to remain in sin so that grace may increase? 2    

     Absolutely not! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Or do you  not know  that as many as

       were baptized into Christ were baptized into his  death?  4  Therefore we have been buried with

       him through baptism into death, in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead through

     the glory of the Father, so we too may live a new life.

     G 15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? 

     Absolutely  not!  16 Do you not know that if you present yourselves as obedient  

       slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or

     obedience resulting in righteousness?

 

G - "G" is loaded with goodness so let's look at it in part;

      1.)  Scripture is a flow of God's Word. We are highlighting cues within lines of the text just as   

      markers, not as the full revelation. Oftentimes, there are many relationships within a particular  

      line being divided out. "G" actually has three obvious relationships in it, and only two are   

      highlighted.  If all were emboldened or marked out by color it would disturb the flow and be

     difficult to read.  Remember that we are reading "the water of the Word". Ideally, for best

     reading,  nothing would be highlighted or color coded to preserve the flow, but by necessity for

     instruction, cues are highlighted for a point of reference, and to prove to the reader there is

     actually a relationship (parallel or reverse parallel) within the text.

     2.) Paul is emphatically calling the believer to stop sinning in his use of "Absolutely not!" . This 

     solidifies and seals the entire revelation he has been building from the center out. He is asking 

     poignant questions requiring direct answers that have already been given inside the text . He

    finishes by saying to either keep sinning and die, or obey and your result will be righteousness.

    3.)  Notice the two  uses of  "Absolutely  not! ".  It is my personal belief that Paul uses clues to   

    identify chiastic boundaries to make it easier for the reader to understand its beginning and end. 

    In this case, he is using "Absolutely not! ". I say this also because he uses the same phrase in other

    chiasms as borders in other texts:

 

 

 

NET Romans 3: 3 -6

 

C 3 What then?   If some did not believe, does their unbelief nullify the    

     faithfulness of  God?  4 Absolutely not!

         B  Let God be proven true, 

              A  and every human being  shown up as a liar,

         B   just as it is written: "so that you will be justified in your words

    and will  prevail when you are judged."

 C   5 But if our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, what shall  

   we  say?  The God who inflicts wrath is not unrighteous, is he?    (I am speaking in human terms.)  6 Absolutely not!

 

 

NET Romans 7: 7-13

 

 E    7 What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Absolutely not! 

   D   Certainly, I would not have known sin except through  the law. For

           indeed I would not have known what it means to desire something

             belonging to someone else if the law had not said, "Do not  covet."

          C 8 But sin, seizing the opportunity through the commandment

                produced in me all kinds of  wrong desires.

             B  For apart from the law,

          A   sin is dead.

             B 9 And I was once alive apart from the law,

          C  but with the coming of the commandment sin became alive  10 and I

        died.

      D So I found that the very  commandment that was intended to bring life

        brought  death!

11 For sin, seizing the opportunity through the commandment, deceived me

    and through it I died.  12 So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is

  holy,  righteous, and good.  13 Did that which is good, then, become death to   

  me?  Absolutely not!

 

NET Romans 11: 1- 11 

    F  So I ask,  God has not rejected his people,  has he? Absolutely not!

       E For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of

            Benjamin.

             D. 2 God has not  rejected his people whom he foreknew!

               C Do you not know what the scripture says about Elijah, how he

                        pleads with  God against Israel?

                    B  3 "Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished

                                your  altars;

                       A   I alone am  left

                     B     and they are seeking my life!"

                   C 4 But what was the divine response to him?  "I have kept for

              myself seven thousand people who have  not bent the knee to

           Baal."            

            D  5 So in the same way at the present time  there is a remnant chosen by grace.

           6 And if it is by grace, it is no longer by works, otherwise grace would no longer be  grace.

         E 7 What then? Israel failed to obtain what  it was diligently seeking,  but the  

      elect obtained it.  The rest were  hardened, 8 as it is written, "God gave them a spirit of stupor,

      eyes that would not see and ears that would not  hear, to this very day."

    9 And David says, "Let their table become  a snare and  trap, a stumbling block and a retribution for them;  let their eyes be darkened so that they may not see,   and make their backs bend   continually."

F 11 I ask then, they did not stumble into an irrevocable fall, did they?  Absolutely not!      

 

 

 Here's a great one..... with boundaries that are not as definitive  but, a clear, definitive, picturesque center... a very clear center:

 

 

 NET Romans 3: 10- 18

10 just as it is written: "There is no one righteous, not even  one,

               F 11 there is no one who understands,

                      E   there is no one who seeks God. 12 All have turned away,

                                D  together they have become worthless;

                                      C  there is no one who shows kindness, not even one."

                                         B 13 "Their throats are open graves,

                                              A    they deceive with their tongues, 

                                         B  the poison of asps is under their lips."

                                     C     14 "Their mouths are full of   cursing and bitterness." 

                               D      15 "Their feet are swift to shed blood,   16  

                       E     ruin and misery are in their paths,

              F  17 and the way of peace they have  not known."

   G 18   "There is no fear of God before their eyes."

 

 

A    Tongues  - in between throats and lips - a perfect center

B    Throats and lips

C    Cursing and bitterness are opposite to kindness

D   Worthless are they who are swift to kill, or shed blood

E    If you turn away from God, you will be miserable

F    No understanding = no peace

G   No fear of God = no one righteous

                                                 

                                 

  IN  REVIEW

 

Notice that we learn so much more because of the chiastic relationship. We read from the center outward. We divide the concepts using letters of the alphabet.  "B" would relate to "B'" as well as the center , "A" , C would relate to C' as well as the center "A". The top letter is referred to as simply the letter. The bottom letter is referred to as "letter + prime ".   For example; B' is "B prime".  So, read along with me from the center outward;

                  

                       F.14 Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers.

                              E.  For what partnership has righteousness 

                                     D. with lawlessness?

                                            C.   Or what fellowship has light

                                                   B. with darkness?

                                                        A. 15 What accord has Christ

                                                   B.  with Belial?

                                            C.  Or what portion does a believer

                                      D. share with an unbeliever?

                                             E  16 What agreement has the temple of God

                       F. with idols?

 

A. "What accord"  means "what agreement". So, every thought in this chiasm must flow  with ,

" What accord has Christ " , or "What agreement has Christ", All conceptual meaning in a chiasm must go through the center, (just like esoterically all meaning everywhere must go through Christ, the center of the entire cosmic chiasm). Chiasm means intersection, so, all meaning within the individual chiasm must go through the center. 

B. We learn the Belial is not in agreement with Christ, plus, Belial is related to darkness.  So we equate Belial with darkness as well as  the flat relationship of Christ and Belial.

C.  In "C " we learn that the believer is "light"  (instead of just equating the believer and the unbeliever, or just light and darkness). We also know that "light" is in accord with Christ and darkness is not.

D.  In "D" we learn that the unbeliever is equivocal to lawlessness. (instead of just contrasting the unbeliever with the believer). We also realize neither the unbeliever nor lawlessness is "in accord with Christ".

E.  In "E" we learn the temple of God is the same as righteousness. (Instead of simply contrasting the temple of God with idols, or righteousness and lawlessness) 

F.  In "F", the reader sees a relationship between the unbeliever and idols. The reader can deduce that he should not be in agreement, in accord with either. So, in conclusion, the chiasm has enabled the author to;

1.) Expand on his initial communication,

2.) Give depth and dimension to just the simple sentence structure,

3.) Show more relationships within the same volume of text.

   
When a sentence has an emboldened word or series of words, it indicates a possible chiastic cue. This cue is not necessarily the entire relationship or revelation, but, only an indicator that there could be a chiastic relationship with its counterpart. For example in the example above, in the "E" line there is not only a relationship between "temple of God"  and  "righteousness  , but also look at the relationship of "partnership " in E  and "agreement" in E' .

 

As I study the amazing reality of chiasms, I'm finding there are chiasms within chiasms. This is monumental because as a man, the Apostle Paul could only go so deep in his chiastic writing. One is moved to continually marvel at the reality  of the fact that the Spirit of God is the author.

 

 


Bryan Davis
Bryan can be scheduled by calling his cell phone at: ( 717) 681-3595, or by writing him by email at: Lifemelody@comcast.net