Chiastic Structure

Dr.Greg Christopher, Dean of the Graduate School at Baptist Bible College in Springfield MO, is known in his church for promoting "chiastic structure" in his sermons. The concept reversal ABBA is a literary device called "chiasm" or "chiasmus" after the Greek letter chi (which looks like an X), and I had noticed it in the Bible long before hearing Christopher. However, he makes the point unavoidable.

My first encounter with chiasm is within the Call of Abraham, where God tells him [Gen.12:3]:

I will bless those who bless you, and
whoever curses you I will curse
Not yet recognizing it as a literary structure, I thought it remarkable that the blessing starts with God, but the cursing starts with the other guy. Later, in the plagues that devastated Egypt under Moses, God announced ahead of time that He would "harden Pharaoh's heart" [Ex.7:3], but when it comes down to happening, Pharaoh hardened his own heart several times [Ex.8:15,32] before we are told that God started to harden Pharaoh's heart [Ex.9:12; 10:20,27; 11:10]. Curiously, the first few times [Ex.7:13,22; 8:19] Pharaoh's heart "was hardened" with no active agent specified. But this is about chiasm, rather than fixing the blame for evil.

Dr.Christopher's favorite Bible verse for introducing the topic is Matt.7:6, also mentioned in the Wiki article:

Do not give dogs what is sacred;
do not throw your pearls to pigs.
If you do, they may trample them under their feet,
and then turn and tear you to pieces.
Less obvious in English translation and our urban culture, the "tearing" here is more likely to be the result of an attack by dogs, while "trampling" is something more appropriate to pigs' hooves. So the original audience would quickly recognize that Jesus was using a chiasm.

One interesting verse Dr.Christopher cites is Acts 2:38:

and be baptized,
every one of you,
in the name of Jesus Christ
for the forgiveness of your sins
This is a favorite verse of the Lutherans, who believe in baptismal regeneration, and it gives problems to the Baptists, who do not. When seen as a chiasm, however, the problems vanish. Baptism in the name of Jesus is a common New Testament theme, as is repentance for the forgiveness of sins, but no other place gives any hint that forgiveness results from baptism. Dr.Christopher, good Baptist that he is, makes a very credible case that this is no exception.

Larger chiastic structures also occur in the Bible. Dr.Christopher teaches a form of chiasm in Paul's first letter to the Thessalonians, which is too subtle for me to repeat here. More interesting is a very deep structure in Ecc.11:3-12:2, cited on the House Church Central website, and attributed to Daniel Fredericks. The form there is ABCDEFEDCBA.

Tom Pittman
2007 November 23