The Value of Chiasm for New Testament Interpretation -- By: Ronald E. Man

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 141:562 (Apr 1984)
Article: The Value of Chiasm for New Testament Interpretation
Author: Ronald E. Man


The Value of Chiasm for New Testament Interpretation

Ronald E. Man

[Ronald E. Man, Co-pastor, International Chapel of Vienna, Vienna, Austria]

Chiasm, also called chiasmus, may be defined as “a stylistic literary figure which consists of a series of two or more elements followed by a presentation of corresponding elements in reverse order.”1 The individual elements may consist of single words, phrases, sentences, paragraphs, or even longer sections of material. One of the most familiar examples of chiasm is found in Matthew 7:6:

A Do not give what is holy to dogs,

B and do not throw your pearls before swine,

B’ lest they trample them under their feet,

A’ and turn and tear you to pieces.2

By recognizing this chiastic structure one can make much better sense of this verse than might otherwise be done; for it seems most logical that the dogs (A) tear to pieces (A’), and the swine (B) do the trampling (B’).3 Other examples of chiastic structures will be given later in this article.4

Talbert has shown that chiasm, as a particular literary expression of symmetrical design, was common in Semitic cultures (as well as in ancient Greek and Latin literature).5 The use of chiasm infused the thought-and speech-patterns of the Semitic mind, and in this manner it found its way into the Old Testament and then into the New Testament.6

Until this century chiasm was not widely recognized as an important structural device in biblical literature, though a few

scholars in the 18th and 19th centuries addressed this issue.7 In 1942 Nils Wilhelm Lund wrote Chiasmus in the New Testament, an epoch-making work in the study of New Testament chiasm. For the first time a major, systematic treatment of the subject was undertaken. Lund also contributed several articles on the subject as well.8 In 1958 Jeremias published a significant article on Pauline chiasm.9

Since these seminal studies the study of New Testament chiasm has blossomed, until today recognition of chiastic structures is common in full-scale commentaries and other scholarly works.

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