Sunday, November 1, 2015

The Beauty of the Chiastic Structure in Matthew 6:25-34

Do you read multiple books at the same time? I do and while it sometimes drives me crazy, I enjoy picking up what strikes my fancy based on my mood, time available, and the book's content. Recently I picked up Robert C. Tannehill's The Sword of His Mouth – I am just completing the first third of that text.


The stated purpose of Professor Tannehill's rhetorical and poetic study of the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) is to awaken the reader to new insight and move him to new action. I find the approach in The Sword of His Mouth to be encouraging in that it brings to light the beauty of the gospels by revealing the poetic effect of the gospel narrative. In the portion that I've read, the description of tension and patterns is refreshing to me. At the same time, I had to overlook the author's assumptions about redaction (see Chiasm Hint #3 - Use the Entire Passage) because I believe them to be erroneous.

Chiasms are unfortunately known by a number of different names – Professor Tannehill uses the name ′envelope structure.′ Some people call them ′inverted parallelism′ and others use names such as ′ring structure′, ′concentric symmetry′, and ′chiasmus′ – the concept remains the same, just the name changes.

On pages 59-67, Tannehill analyzes Matthew 6:25-33, noting that Luke 12:22-31 is essentially the same passage. These two passages quote Jesus' warning about anxiety: a comparison of our behavior with that of the birds of the air and the lilies of the field.

Again, this book is a look at the beauty of the Bible – the author uses the ′envelope structure′ to develop his point. This book is not an analysis of chiastic structures.

Noting the power of the chiasm, he instead focused on the beautiful comparison of the ′birds of the air′ with the ′lilies of the field′, and then the contrast to ourselves. This richly colorful text is seen as using common birds and a common flower to move us in an uncommon way with fresh insight and a call for action. The beauty is seen in these two analogies.

Here is my (not Tannehill's) analysis of the chiastic structure of Matthew 6:25-32. Tannehill's analysis primarily concentrated on the B and B′ levels:

A    Do not be anxious about your life  (v6:25)
B    Consider the birds of the air  (v6:26)
C    And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?  (v6:27)
C′   And why are you anxious about clothing?  (v6:28a)
B′ Consider the lilies of the field  (v6:28b-30)
A′ Therefore do not be anxious  (v6:31,32)

Tannehill's purpose is not to analyze the chiastic structure nor its center point (′And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?′ (Matthew 6:27 ESV). He simply observes the envelope structure (again, think ′chiasms′) while noting the Bible's inherent beauty. I agree, it is beautiful.

I believe it is through this poetic beauty that God can speak to us more effectively. In this, we hear in a profoundly more subtle way because the rhythm states to our inner spirit, ″Pay attention.″ And in this, we understand the profound conclusion to the center point of the message: ′But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.′ (Matthew 6:33 ESV)

And then we read a second and even more moving message – a message that concludes the entire chiasm together: ′Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.′ (Matthew 6:34 ESV)

I hope it touches you in the same way:

25 ″Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?
26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?
27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?
28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin,
29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?
31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ′What shall we eat?′ or ′What shall we drink?′ or ′What shall we wear?′
32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.
33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

34 Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.″
(Matthew 6:25-34 ESV)