Thursday, April 7, 2016

Is Your Chiasm Meaningful?

The book of Proverbs has many great aphorisms (brief sayings) that are full of wisdom. Some of these have a chiastic A-B-B′-A′ shape but the center point is often not particularly meaningful. That is, there does not seem to be an emphatic center in these chiasms. Consider this example from Proverbs 22:22,23 (NET Bible):
A  Do not exploit a poor person because he is poor
    B  and do not crush the needy in court,
    B′ for the Lord will plead their case
A′ and will rob those who are robbing them.
In both B and B′ the setting is a court scene; the A and A′ versets are pictures of one triumphing over another. The shape is chiastic but the emphasis is not the court scene.

Instead the emphasis should be the contrast between verses 22 and 23. Simplified, these two verses could be stated as:
A  Do not abuse a poor person,
    A′ Else the Lord will abuse you.
The problem is not limited to Proverbs, where chiasms do not seem to have a strong center point. Consider Genesis 1:27 (NASB) for example. The structure is clearly chiastic and has been referenced by many as an example of a chiasm. However, to me it does not demonstrate the emphatic value of chiastic structures:
A  God created man
    B  in His own image,
    B′ in the image of God
A′  He created him.
I believe this value statement is individual and should be inspired to each person. To a certain extent, whether a center point is meaningful or not is subjective. To me, God's creation is more important than the image He created. It may be emphatic to you but not so much to me. I grant that some will see things differently than others.

SO, when you believe you have located a chiasm, go beyond the beauty of your finding. Ask yourself, "Is this chiasm meaningful to me?" Then ask, "Why?"