Matthew’s Chiastic Structure and Its Dispensational Implications -- By: Gary W. Derickson

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 163:652 (Oct 2006)
Article: Matthew’s Chiastic Structure and Its Dispensational Implications
Author: Gary W. Derickson

Matthew’s Chiastic Structure
and Its Dispensational Implications

Gary W. Derickson

Gary W. Derickson is Professor of Biblical Studies, Corban College, Salem, Oregon.

The presence of chiasms in the New Testament, formally proposed by Nils Lund in the mid-twentieth century, has been recognized by scholars for decades.1 Chiasms have been noted as a literary and rhetorical device in the Old Testament also.2 Yet in spite of this focus on chiasms Ronald Mann has rightly observed that “all too often chiastic structures are passed off in the scholarly literature as mere literary niceties, a structural tour de force which serves only aesthetic ends. Too little consideration has been given to the possible exegetical significance of such structures in the interpretation of biblical passages.”3 Although elaborate chiasms were not used in ancient Greek literature, the presence of smaller chiastic units has been recognized in Greek writings.4 Thus the presence of smaller chiasms in the Scriptures comes as no surprise. But the fact that more elaborate chiasms are noted in the New Testament should no longer be a surprise in light of the practice of ancient Israel and the assumed influence of Jewish culture on the New Testament writers.

The Structure and Nature of Chiasms

Both Old and New Testament authors used various structural devices for literary purposes.5 Traina identifies five kinds of structural units a biblical author may have used in “constructing” his message: biography (persons), history (events), chronological material (time elements), geography (places), or logical arrangements (ideas).6 Chiasms may employ any of these materials within their structure, but invariably chiasms reflect a logical arrangement of ideas that serve to focus the reader on the point being made by the author, whether explicitly stated or implied.

As a literary device a chiasm may be a small unit of as few as three lines or it may encompass a complete literary work such as the Pentateuch. Though one key trait of chiasms is the repetition of material in reverse order, its arrangement of material does more than that.7 Its structure serves to point the reader or ancient listener to its central section as the significant element.

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