Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Literary Structure in The Bible

With rapid expansion of digital communication, we may be losing the capability of constructing informative or inspiring sentences, punctuated and capitalized correctly, composed of carefully chosen and correctly spelled words, and arranged in logically organized and sequenced paragraphs. Apparently the ancient Greeks and Romans didn’t have those skills either, but they seem to have had something much more sophisticated. Take a look at this image of a Greek manuscript from Wikipedia.

Looks like Greek to me!  According to the Wikipedia article, this is the section of the New Testament we now label 2 Corinthians 11:33-12:9 (Chapter and verse designations were added only about 500 years ago.) Here it is in English, New Revised Standard Version, with all our normal grammatical helps removed and without the verse numbers.  Still looks like Greek.

but I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall and escaped from his hands it is necessary to boast nothing is to be gained by it but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord i know a person in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven whether in the body or out of the body I do not know god knows and I know that such a person whether in the body or out of the body I do not know god knows was caught up into paradise and heard things that are not to be told that no mortal is permitted to repeat on behalf of such a one I will boast but on my own behalf I will not boast except of my weaknesses but if I wish to boast I will not be a fool for I will be speaking the truth but I refrain from it so that no one may think better of me than what is seen in me or heard from me even considering the exceptional character of the revelations therefore to keep me from being too elated a thorn was given me in the flesh a messenger of Satan to torment me to keep me from being too elated three times I appealed to the Lord about this that it would leave me but he said to me my grace is sufficient for you for power is made perfect in weakness so I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses so that the power of Christ may dwell in me

In my math and science oriented education, 1948-1964, I missed all study of classical languages.  Had I studied Latin, I would probably know all about chiastic structure or chiasms, but the first I ever heard of them was during Bible courses at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, 2002-2004.

Take a look at these links for a quick introduction or a refresher and some examples.

I played around a bit with the passage above from 2 Corinthians and believe I found a chiastic structure buried therein, in Chapter 12, verses 1-5 (Click for a better view, then "back.":

So, what is the point?  Chiastic structures can be very helpful by pointing out where the writer intended to begin and end a sentence, a paragraph, or a longer passage.  "Boast" in the above section may be considered an inclusio, bracketing the section or perhaps paragraph.  So, whether it is important or not, I do not know, God knows, but it seems to me to be very useful in meditation on and study of Holy Scripture, searching for the deeper meanings.

During one seminary course, I wrote a paper on John 9, the story of the man born blind.  What a great story!  This narrative could be easily expanded into a screen play with interesting and complex characters and multiple underlying themes.  Here is an outline I prepared of the chiastic structure:

And here is the entire text organized in that same form.  I can't claim the professor gave me a superb rating on this structure, but he didn't declare it completely invalid either.  Read and enjoy! (Click for a more readable version, then "back.":

1 comment:

  1. G.B. - Thank you for referencing my article, "What is a Chiasm?" It think you did a great job in analyzing those verses from 2 Cor 12:1-5. I have not found a lot of chiasms in Paul's writings, and where they seem to exist, they are rather simplistic such as A-B-A.

    The question that I try to make in my article is, "Why is it there?" To me, the reader's response to the text is the most important part of the Scripture. After all, it is God's Word that is personally speaking to us.

    Regarding your analysis of John 9, this has been inspected by many people for its chiastic structure, so it is not surprising that you found it as well. I like how Peter Leithart analyzed it in "A House for My Name" which to me is an excellent manuscript. Leithart presents several different interpretations of John 9 which are all possible ways to see that text.

    In my book, "Joshua's Spiritual Warfare: Understanding the Chiasms of Joshua", I take the reader through my process of resolving the question, "Why is it there?" My response may not be yours, but I find it intriguing to see it from another person's perspective.