How To Form A Chiasm From the Canon of Scripture

August 7, 2012 — 4 Comments

In case you’re wondering, a chiasm is a way of structuring a presentation to highlight the middle portion. It takes its name for the Greek letter “Chi” which looks like our X.

A chiastic structure would look something like this:

  • Point A
  • Point B
  • Point C
  • Point B’
  • Point A’

The first and last points are very similar as are the middle two, but the exact middle is unique. We may not particularly use them in our outlining today, which either puts the most important point first (and then follows it with two not quite as strong) or last and the points build in strength. The chiasm though is particularly suited for a predominantly oral culture as it not only highlights the main point well, but provides a structure for remembering the subpoints easier.

As you might imagine, there are numerous chiasms scattered throughout the biblical storyline. While some interpreters may be a bit overzealous to hunt them down, it is true that they are frequent features of most biblical books. It hadn’t dawned on me until reading Canon Revisited that the entire Bible forms a chiasm.

In order to make it, first you need to put the Old Testament in Hebrew order:

  • Genesis
  • Exodus
  • Leviticus
  • Numbers
  • Deuteronomy
  • Joshua
  • Judges
  • Samuel (one book in Hebrew)
  • Kings (ditto)
  • Jeremiah
  • Ezekiel
  • Isaiah
  • The Twelve (one book of minor prophets, minus Daniel)
  • Ruth
  • Psalms
  • Job
  • Proverbs
  • Ecclesiastes
  • Song of Songs
  • Lamentations
  • Daniel
  • Esther
  • Ezra-Nehemiah (one book in Hebrew)
  • Chronicles (same as Samuel/Kings)

Notice in this layout we start with narrative (the primary history, Gen-Kings), and then have a middle part that provides covenantal commentary (Jeremiah-Esther), before resuming with a narrative that recapitulates the first (Ezra-Chronicles) While Kings ends with Israel in exile, Chronicles ends with the hope of a redeemer. Layed out this way, the Old Testament itself is rather chiastic.

Moving to the New Testament, it follows a similar chiasm of its own:

  • Matthew-Acts (narrative)
  • Romans-Jude (new covenant commentary)
  • Revelation (resumption of narrative with recapitulations and look into the future)

The New Testament starts with the dawning of the new creation and ends with the consummation of it. While the Old Testament prophets and sages provided commentary on life under the old covenant for the people of God, the New Testament apostles provide commentary for the people of God on the life under the new covenant. The two chiasms mirror each other nicely.

But, you could fit them together into a chiasm spanning the entire canon of Scripture:

  • Genesis (original creation)
  • Prophets (prediction of renewal and new covenant)
  • Gospels (life of Christ, new covenant enacted)
  • Epistles (description of renewal and new covenant)
  • Revelation (new creation finally fulfilled)

The movement of the entire canon goes from overall creation in Genesis, to centering on Jerusalem and single person (David) in Chronicles. It then keeps that geographic focus in the Gospels but changes the person to Christ, and then moves back out to the general creation through the book of Acts and on into Revelation. Michael Kruger explains this in much more detail in Canon Revisited and I would commend you to his more thorough sketch of this idea (p. 152-158). Among the items he brings forward to support this macro-chiasm:

  • A Moses-Elijah-David structure in the OT recapitulated in the NT
  • The centrality of sevens in Genesis and Revelation and the connection to Sabbath
  • The structural ordering of the NT around the “pillars” of the church, James, Peter, John (see Galatians 2:9).

There’s a little more to the chiasm, but this gives you the general idea. Kruger is not the only one to point out the chiastic structure of the canon, but fitting it as he does within the larger argument for the canon of the NT, makes his presentation particularly interesting. I found it compelling, and am curious to look into this idea a little more as a teaching tool.


Posts Twitter Facebook

I'm an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let's connect!

4 responses to How To Form A Chiasm From the Canon of Scripture

  1. Marturo,
    Love your observations about chiasms and forming a chiasm from the canon.
    Our pastor has been introducing us to chiasms lately and they’re fascinating.

    Our church is McKinney Bible Church (just North of Dallas, TX) and we have a one hour teaching service followed by a one hour Lord’s Table (Covenant Renewal/Memorial Feast) where men speak, read scripture, pray and sing hymns – all focused on Jesus and His amazing sacrifice.

    On Friday mornings, I meet with about 20 Baptist men to study Proverbs.

    Do you know of any CHIASM’S in Proverbs?

    Mike Owens

    PS – Anxious to keep us with your notes and comments – as I added my email address to your page.

    • Mike,

      Sorry for the delay getting back to you, school started up and things got crazy! Anyway, I don’t know of too many in Proverbs, but there is a giant chiasm between the opening chapters with a father extolling a young man to pursue wisdom, likening it to a woman, and the final chapter of the book talking about the virtuous women. I take that latter chapter to really just be using a woman again to explain the embodyment of wisdom since any one person could never fulfill the description in Proverbs 31.

      Hope that helps, and hope you’re surviving NTX this time of year! I spent a couple of study days at a Starbucks in McKinney and I really enjoyed Frisco as a hangout spot when we lived in Dallas.


  2. Howard Burgoyne October 29, 2012 at 3:21 pm

    If you want to get a wonderful literary commentary that provides an overview of structures of the Old Testament accounts, I highly recommend: Literary Structure of the Old Testament, The: A Commentary on Genesis-Malachi (by David Dorsey).

Want To Add Your Thoughts?