Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Chiasm Hint #5 - Look for Meaningful Center Points

I have a friend, a wonderful pastor who is sometimes impatient, that seems focused on quickly finding the center points. As he reads and meditates on God's Word, he of course finds parallel thoughts – they are all over the place in the Bible. Once he discovers a parallelism, he immediately looks for an emphatic word from God that is potentially half-way between the first and last portions of his discovered parallel thoughts. If he finds that emphasis, he meditates on that application for a while; if he does not find it, he continues reading.

I like this pastor's approach to finding the heart of God's Word for him today, but I do wish he would slow down to ensure that it is really a chiasm.

Going back to the story of David and Bathsheba in 2 Samuel 11 and 12 from the previous lesson, it seems to makes sense that Nathan's prophetic word to David would be the emphatic portion of that story. In that prophetic word, Nathan states, "This is what the Lord, the God of Israel says: 'I have anointed you … '" (2 Samuel 12:7). When we think back on that story, we may remember David's sin with Bathsheba, his manipulation that led to Uriah's death, or David's mourning over the newly born son. But God's directive based on David's failures are contained in Nathan's words for David.

There certainly are passages in the Bible that are arranged in a chiastic form that do not have a strong emphasis in the middle. For example,

A    A good man obtains favor from the Lord,  (v2a)
B    but a man of evil devices he condemns.  (v2b)
B′ No one is established by wickedness,  (v3a)
A′ but the root of the righteous will never be moved.  (v3b)
(Proverbs 12:2-3 ESV)

These two verses are a contrast between good (righteous) and evil (wicked) people. They are chiastic (A-B-B′-A′) but the impact does not seem to come from its structure; rather it is the distinction between these two opposing approaches that moves the reader. Here is a similar structure:

A    The wicked earns deceptive wages,  (v18a)
B    but one who sows righteousness gets a sure reward.  (v18b)
B′ Whoever is steadfast in righteousness will live,  (v19a)
A′ but he who pursues evil will die.  (v19b)
(Proverbs 11:18-19 ESV)

Again in these two verses, there is a contrast between the wicked and the righteous. It is chiastic because wickedness pairs with pursuing evil in the first part (A and A′), and righteousness in B is repeated in B′. While there is an urgent call in the Bible to pursue righteousness, I suggest that the power in two verses comes from the contrast between wickedness and righteousness, not its chiastic structure. Most of the book of Proverbs is a contrast between two opposites – contrasts are another form of emphasis in the Bible.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Chiasm Hint #4 - Look for Matching Themes

I hope you are enjoying this series of hints that are intended to help you become more fruitful in discerning meaningful chiastic structures in the Bible. In this article, we'll look at themes that distinguish one level from another.

Terminology
In a previous article, Chiasm Hint #2 - Choose Meaningful Keywords, I introduced the distinction between keywords and themes. Keywords are those Greek or Hebrew words that, when translated into English, are represented in the same way. Themes are ideas that give similar or opposite meaning but not exactly the same words.

When a pair of passages offer similarity to one another, that pair is called a level. If you believe that B and B′ are similar, then B – B′ are a level, distinguished from an A – A′ level or any other level. The various levels define the parallelism of the chiastic structure.

Analysis
When analyzing a passage for its literary structure, keywords can be a clue to its arrangement but you should be seeking the discovery of its themes. Your point of discernment begins when you see thematically how one section of Scripture has a similar thread to another section.

Let's look at the Bathsheba incident to see how the themes can be matched. I enjoy the many articles that Peter J. Leithart has prepared about chiastic structures. Let's look at his analysis of the Structure and Typology of the Bathsheba incident based on 2 Samuel 11-12.

Leithart identifies this as an A-B-C-D-E-D′-C′-B′-A′ structure that begins at v11:1 and concludes at v12:31. The center point is when Nathan confronts David's sin in v12:1-15a. He also pairs the two times that David slept with Bathsheba:

B    David sleeps with Bathsheba and she becomes pregnant.  (v11:2-5)
… See Leithart's article for the full structure
B′ David sleeps with Bathsheba and she becomes pregnant.  (v12:24-25)

In that example, if you compare 2 Samuel 11:2-5 with 12:24-25 in your Bible, you may see very few words that are common between the two. While the keywords conceived and pregnant appear in the first section, they do not appear in the second (although it also depends on your translation). However, the theme is precisely the same: he slept with her and she became pregnant!

Likewise, on the D-D′ level, mourning is the predominant theme that Leithart identified:

D    Bathsheba mourns for Uriah.  (v11:26-27)
… See Leithart's article for the full structure
D′ David mourns for his infant son.  (v12:15b-17)

In this D-D′ level, the keywords lamented and mourning are in the first part but those words do not appear in the second. Instead, in the second there is the evidence of mourning: his refusal to eat any food. Keywords do not give a clue to the parallelism but the theme remains: mourning.

Conclusion
When analyzing a passage for its literary structure, try to step beyond keywords. The structure's richness is seen when one theme is matched with another.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Chiasm Hint #3 - Use the Entire Passage

Imagine someone thinking, "If only those three verses were not there, this would be a great chiasm." This third Chiasm Hint suggests that the entire Bible as we have it today is the received Word from the Lord – selectively removing passages from a structure should definitely be questioned.

Let's suppose you notice that both Mark 1:22-27 and v2:10 discuss Christ's authority so you suspect a chiastic or other structure. That's good. In your analysis, you see a large public healing, the statement by Jesus "That is why I have come", and then two more healing events. Immediately you suspect a chiastic structure with the center point around the declaration of Christ's purpose in ministry (v1:38). So far this seems like a good approach.

As you continue this analysis, you might then realize that before Jesus healed the paralytic, there was an action of faith by the four men and the paralytic in v2:1-5a. You have a problem because there is no corresponding discussion of faith:

A    Jesus calls four men to follow him  (v1:16-20)
B    Jesus taught as one who had authority  (v1:21-28)
C    NO CORRESPONDING VERSE(S)
D    Many who were sick were healed and many demons were cast out  (v1:29-34)
Regarding his ministry, Jesus stated, "That is why I have come."  (v1:35-39)
D′   Jesus cleansed a leper (that is, Jesus healed him and cast out demons)   (v1:40-45)
C′   Four men and a paralytic reveal their faith by going through the roof  (v2:1-5a)
B′ Jesus showed his authority by declaring, 'Son, your sins are forgiven'  (v2:5b-12)
A′ Jesus called Levi to follow him  (v2:13-14)

The mistake that some people make is to ignore one or more elements of the structure for the sake of completion. You should look for all of the levels to be completed: no broken steps.

Redactors
For centuries, Bible scholars have wondered how the original text appeared. Some have suggested that portions of the Scriptures have been added, eliminated, and moved around to suit various needs. This rearrangement is in some ways like an editor that revises a manuscript prior to publication. Since the 1950's, a theory known as redaction criticism became more popular in some Bible colleges. According to that theory, some individual or individuals redacted (i.e. edited) the original composition.

Thankfully the redaction theory is not as widely discussed as in previous years. Yet it was argued that these alterations were intended to make the Bible appear more sensational, miraculous, or authentic. As stated in an article by Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry entitled What is Redaction Criticism?, "Redaction criticism reduces the quality of the biblical record, casts strong doubt on its inspiration, and implies that the Bible is not trustworthy as a historical document."

One of the problems that these Bible scholars had was that the arrangement of the Biblical text was not always in a linear manner. Instead, chiasms and other structures seemed to put passages out of their "normal" expected order. To them, this is further evidence that there must have been a redactor.

Your Application
Your take away? Don't allow stinking redaction thinking enter your analysis process. Deal with it!

There definitely are chiasms where one leg of the parallelism is considerably longer than its parallel counterpart, and other instances where an A-B-C-D … some verses … D′–C′–B′–A′ structure is present. But the normal pattern, the one you should initially pursue, should use all the verses in the structure. No broken steps.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Chiasm Hint #2 - Choose Meaningful Keywords

When analyzing a Bible passage to determine if it is chiastic, both keywords and themes can be used to identify the parallelism. Keywords are those Greek or Hebrew words that, when translated into English, are represented in the same way. Themes are ideas that give similar or opposite meaning but not exactly the same words. In this lesson, we will restrict ourselves to just keywords.

In this "Chiasm Hints" series, my intent is to help sharpen your skills when identifying chiasms in the Bible. In the first lesson we looked at "Order of Presentation". In this lesson, we will look at the choice of keywords. Appropriate selection of keywords should lead to better analysis and more meaningful understanding.

First Example
In this passage, the keywords make some sense with the overall structure:

19 Thus said the Lord to me: “Go and stand in the People's Gate, by which the kings of Judah enter and by which they go out, and in all the gates of Jerusalem,
20 and say: ‘Hear the word of the Lord, you kings of Judah, and all Judah, and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, who enter by these gates.
21 Thus says the Lord.’” (Jeremiah 17:19-21a ESV).

Using keywords, a structure like this might be deduced:

A    Thus said the Lord to me  (v19a)
B    Go and stand in the People's Gate,  (v19b)
C    By which the kings of Judah enter and by which they go out, and in all the gates of Jerusalem,  (v19b)
Hear the word of the Lord,  (v20a)
C′   You kings of Judah, and all Judah, and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem,   (v20b)
B′ Who enter by these gates.  (v20c)
A′ Thus says the Lord  (v21a)

In this structure, the keywords match as indicated by the violet, lime green, and light blue colors. The keywords meet the criteria of matching parallelism and they are a significant part of each level.

Also this chiasm has a fairly obvious centerpoint: X  Hear the word of the Lord. To the Hebrews reading this, they would have understood that the Hebrew word shema has a broader meaning than just "hear" for it also infers obedience. Possibly this would have been a stronger rendering: Hear and obey the word of the Lord.

Second Example
Notice how the keywords in this passage have a sense of parallelism but the keywords are weak:

1 The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
2 As it is written in Isaiah the prophet,
“Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
who will prepare your way,
3 the voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”
4 John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. (Mark 1:1-4 ESV)

I suppose that a structure like this could be developed:

A    The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  (v1)
B    As it is written in Isaiah the prophet,  (v2a)
C    “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way,  (v2b)
The voice of one crying in the wilderness:  (v3a)
C′   Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight’”  (v3b)
B′ John appeared,  (v4a)
A′ Baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  (v21a)

I hope this is not your analysis, but if it is, would you consider some insight? The words prepare your way, and Prepare the way are nearly the same in the English, so a keyword parallelism might be suspected. In this analysis, Isaiah the prophet is paired with John [the prophet] which might be a possibility.

While most English translations also render the Greek as ‘prepare’ and ‘way’, a look at the Greek indicates they are different. (Don't worry if you don't know Greek). By checking Biblehub's Interlinear Bible, we see two different words: Mark 1:2 and Mark 1:3; the word kataskeuasei is not even similar to the word hetoimasate!

Yet sometimes synonyms like kataskeuasei and hetoimasate are paired together in parallelism, so we should dig deeper: “Are the two ‘prepare … way’ statements significant to the understanding of those verses?”. I suggest that they are not but I will admit it is a bit subjective. What is insignificant to me may be very significant to you.

The bigger question is, “Does the remainder of the structure make sense?” In this case, you must know that John was also a prophet like Isaiah, for the text does not say so. But more importantly, is it theologically correct to compare the gospel of Jesus Christ (saved by faith for the forgiveness of sins) with the gospel of John the Baptist (repentance for the forgiveness of sins)? My sense is that this passage was never intended for that contrast.

To me, I think it is a long stretch to call this passage chiastic. There are too many obstacles that make the whole pattern seem reasonable. You may not agree with me, but that is my analysis: the whole chiasm should have a strong literary basis for. While the passage to me is intriguing, the center point is not emphatic and parallelisms are weak. Let's look at another example.

Third Example
The point of this Chiasm Warning is to help you select significant words rather than the less important as the basis for the chiasm. Consider this passage:

34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
35 And some of the bystanders hearing it said, “Behold, he is calling Elijah.”
36 And someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.”
37 And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. (Mark 15:34-37 ESV)

The problem with selecting less important words is that the resulting chiasm may make very little sense.

A    And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (v34)
B    And some of the bystanders hearing it said, “Behold, he is calling Elijah.” (v35)
And someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, (v36a)
B′ “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” (v36b)
A′ And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. (v37)

When I review this structure, I sense that the words “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” have been completely lost. His loud cry is not nearly as important as his perceived abandonment by God. Also, the sponge with sour wine, a reed and a drink is important to the story of the cruxificion, but in my opinion it is not worthy of being the center point emphasis. To me, if someone presented this analysis, I would be tempted to join Jesus with a loud cry.

Fourth Example
In this passage, the repetition is apparent:

28 And they said to him, “By what authority are you doing these things, or who gave you this authority to do them?”
29 Jesus said to them, “I will ask you one question; answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things.
30 Was the baptism of John from heaven or from man? Answer me.”
31 And they discussed it with one another, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’
32 But shall we say, ‘From man’?” – they were afraid of the people, for they all held that John really was a prophet.
33 So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.” (Mark 11:28-33 ESV)

Considering this repetition, what are the pros and cons about this analysis?

A    And they said to him, “By what authority are you doing these things, or who gave you this authority to do them?” (v28)
B    Jesus said to them, (v29a)
C    “I will ask you one question; answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. (v29b)
D    Was the baptism of John from heaven or from man? Answer me.” (v30)
E    And they discussed it with one another, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ (v31)
E′ But shall we say, ‘From man’?” – they were afraid of the people, for they all held that John really was a prophet. (v32a)
D′ For they all held that John really was a prophet. (v32b)
C′ So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” (v33a)
B′ And Jesus said to them, (v33b)
A′ “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.” (v33c)

I encourage you to add your thoughts below.