Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Chiasm, Chiasmus, or Chiastic Structure?

I was recently asked this question, "Is a chiasm the same as a chiasmus?" Also, "Is the word 'chiastic' related and if so, how?" This article attempts to diffuse this obfuscated mess.

What I am discussing is the use of a writing style that is found throughout the Bible. Yes, there is a popular singer named Chiasm; not the same. And there are the medical terms named chiasm, chiasma, and chiasmata that involve how the human eye is able to see; not the same. I am referring to the repeating A-B-C ... C′-B′-A′ pattern that is found in many New or Old Testament passages. See my article What is a Chiasm (or Chiasmus)? for more information.

Some Christian authors use the word 'chiasm' and others use the word 'chiasmus' but both mean the same thing when referring to the Bible. Other prominent Christian writers stay away from the words 'chiasm' and 'chiasmus', but instead refer to 'chiastic structure', 'chiastic parallelism', or 'chiastic repetition.' You may also find words such as 'concentric parallelism' and 'inverted parallelism' that again promote the same concept.

The words 'chiasm', 'chiasmus', and 'chiastic' do not appear in the Bible, just as the word 'paragraph' does not appear in the Bible. The identification of chiasms can help us understand God's emphasis in the passage.

In 1942, Nils Lund popularized the word 'chiasmus' in the United States by writing Chiasmus in the New Testament: A Study in the Form and Function of Chiastic Structures. Lund used the words 'chiasmus' and 'chiastic' in the title, but others over the years have abbreviated and/or modified his original concept. The result has been that these well-intended linguists have obfuscated the foray by using other names for the same concept.

To me, I prefer to call this reverse literary structure a chiasm, yet a chiasm is a chiasmus and a chiasmus is a chiasm; both are examples of the chiastic structure when referring to the Bible.

In my book Joshua's Spiritual Warfare: Understanding the Chiasms of Joshua, I use a rigorous analysis of the book of Joshua to show how to find chiasms and then how to extract meaning from them. My article, Background of Chiasms, is adapted from that book.