Today we come to a very interesting text in John 5.19-30. If you have been reading this commentary carefully you may be surprised to find that I took such a long text for consideration all at once instead of dividing it up on many smaller pieces as I usually do. That is so, because here we meet an obvious and unquestionable example of an ancient form of literary design – chiasm and one of the many functions of chiasm is to help the interpreter to clearly see where the literary unit begins and where it is brought to a literary conclusion. It is easier to first show a diagram how chiastic structure looks like and then to attempt to explain it. The literary unit when analyzed has the following structure:
The sentence either word by word or at the very list in thought by thought is repeated in the beginning and in the end of the literary unit. It is as if the original author goes from A1 to B1, from B1 to C1, from C1 to D1. But then all of the sudden the original writer of the text switches gears and moves backwards in the exactly the same order (D2, C2, B2, A2).
If you have never heard of such a thing called chaism do not be alarmed, most people living in the modern times and reading modern literature have not. Yet a simple google search will uncover a huge literary and interpretive field that makes use of interpreting the Bible with the help of finding all kinds chiastic structures throughout the Bible seemingly omnipresent.
Before we even begin to wet our feet in the Chaistic interpretive ocean, please, allow me the privilege of a disclaimer. When it comes to finding chiasms in all imaginable places in the Bible I am a skeptic. I come kicking and screaming before I acknowledge that when looking at a given text we are indeed finding ourselves in the presence of chiasm. For example, many scholars have sought to show that the entire Gospel of John (not to mention other books) follow this kind of ancient literary bit, rhythm and structure – we today call chaism. Up until now, however, within my study of John I have not yet been persuaded that the Gospel of John is indeed structured as such, when it comes to its entire 21 chapters. I feel that often times interpreters tend to fit the biblical facts into their own theories and not vice versa as it should be.
However, after this lengthy disclaimer, by a chiastic skeptic like myself I must admit that I am finally persuaded that John 5.19-30 is indeed structured as a clear cut chiasm. Not only are thought-by-thought parallel repetitive structures are present, but my positive identification of it as a true (and not apparent) chiasm is safeguarded by word-by-word clear repetitive occurrences as well.
This week I would like you to get a basic grasp on what chaism means, next week I will show you how to interpret it responsibly. So make sure you come back in a week to see the update to this study. And, yes, you should be proactive and look up the word “chaism” or “chiastic structure” on the web. So here it is, can you see my point?
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