Chiasmus in the New Testament

Lund, Nils. Chiasmus in the New Testament. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, reprint 2013 [1942].

Interesting question: in what way, if any, did ancient man think in chiastic patterns? If he did, does this suggest a non-linear way of thinking? He certainly thought in chiastic patterns, but it is dangerous to make sharp dichotomies on that alone (since chiasms can also be found in Homer).

While many Biblical passages are of a sublime style, it must be noted that some passages seem verbose, repetitive, or monotonous. The genius of chiasm is that it shows these passages aren’t simply being verbose, but are integral to a sophisticated (and quite beautiful) literary pattern.

The center of the chiasm is the turning point. Sometimes there is a change of thought at the center, which Lund calls “shift at the center.”

Key point: if the chiasm is longer than four elements, then the center is more clearly emphasized and the corresponding elements refresh each other.


Chiasms can also follow a linear pattern.


Sometimes chiasms can be mixed.


Sometimes the book consists of a string of chiastic examples. It’s hard to know if he is explaining the theory of chiasm or just finding them. I shouldn’t judge it too harshly, though. This was brand new in the middle of the century (or at least it wasn’t widely known).

This book is different from other books on chiasm is that he sees clusters of statements as forming one element in a chiasm. Modern works on chiasm see each statement (or part of a statement) as an element.


Lund is very aware that Paul didn’t write “Holy Ghost Greek.” Paul’s style is definitely not that of Homer. Is he inferior, then? Does not his constant beginning of sentences with kai and hoti indicate a cumbersome style? Perhaps not. Might it be evidence of an earlier Semitic (or even Asiatic Greek) style?

Lund is able to identify chiastic patterns in Paul’s letters, but as noted above, Lund combines multiple units into one element. This gives the text a “clunky” feel. For example,


Even though it is cumbersome at times, the chiasm is still clearly there.


When Lund gives chiastic outlines of whole books, his arrangement is much neater. I think that is because there are fewer units within the text to arrange.


Lund’s section on the gospels is quite good, as narrative, especially narrative with a Hebraic background, lends itself quite readily to chiasm.


While it is always good to look for chiasms, as it is a most superior way of organizing the text, we must admit that Lund goes overboard, as evidenced below:


The sending out of the seventy evidences a nice chiasm.


His take on Revelation is somewhat forced at times. That there is a literary structure to it is undeniable. In fact, it is probably chiastic in some ways. I just don’t find all of his chiasms persuasive, though. He does make some good observations, though. Per Rev. 9:


Some humor: “Chapter 13 did not, as some writers hold, come out of one of Paul’s portfolios.”


It’s true this book nowhere near approaches the sophistication of Dorsey (1999). To be fair to Lund, however, he broke the ground for chiasmus in the 20th century. It is dated in some regards, as noted by the references to form criticism. One of the advantages of chiasm is that it shows how form criticism is completely wrong. Aside from that, and taken with a grain of salt on some passages, Lund gives the student a number of chiastic outlines to work with.


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