X Marks the Spot? A Critique of the Use of Chiasmus in Macro-Structural Analyses of Revelation

chiasmus |kīˈazməs| noun; a rhetorical or literary figure in which words, grammatical constructions, or concepts are repeated in reverse order, in the same or a modified form.

I do not believe that the ancient writers were intending to structure their texts through a chiasmus. It is not a valid hermeneutical category for New Testament studies. You may find it in some Hebrew poetry in the Old Testament, and even that would be on a micro level.

It is an incredibly subjective and imaginative way of interpreting the Bible. It is also highly selective. You can practically make a text say anything you want. I think when you see an interpreter invoke chiasmus structure, it is a sign that they could not argue for their conclusion by other sound means.

Typically, it is done by atomizing isolated words and forcing them into a some chiasmus pattern to support a preconceived conclusion of the interpreter’s desire. Do not get me wrong, there are some pretty creative and sophisticated uses of chiasmus! But at the end of the day, they end up being contrived, subjective, imaginative, and idiosyncratic.

The worse case I ever saw on this use was an article written by someone trying to prove a pretrib rapture by doing a chiasmus structure analysis on 2 Thessalonians 2, as if Paul was intending to be creative as he wrote about warning against apostasy and “every kind of evil deception directed against those who are perishing, because they found no place in their hearts for the truth so as to be saved. Consequently God sends on them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false.” (2 Thess 2:10–11).

All this to say, there have also been some creative, but untenable, applications of chiasmus to the book of Revelation as a whole. If you think that chiasmus interpretation is valid, you may want to read David A. deSilva’s article before going headlong into your conclusions.

(It is a copyrighted journal article, so you will have to have access to journal articles either at a theological seminary library, or through a journal subscription service online. Logos Bible software may have it as well.)

David A. deSilva. “X Marks the Spot? A Critique of the Use of Chiasmus in Macro-Structural Analyses of Revelation.” JSNT 30.3 (2008): 343–71.

The role of chiasmus as a structuring device in ancient literature continues to be a much-debated facet of literary and rhetorical analysis, with often overly-exuberant discovery of complex chiasmi spanning whole books running far ahead of the methodological substructure needed to sustain a convincing demonstration of the same. This article analyses three recent attempts to propose a chiastic macro-structural analysis of Revelation and “nds them to present “ne examples of three recurring problems in the quest for the elusive chiasmus: (1) developing chiastic outlines by means of selective shaping of summary statements for major blocks of text; (2) discovering a chiasmus by means of selective reading of key terms; and (3) creation of a chiasmus by means of manipulation of formal markers. The article is offered in the hope that future proposals will take the methodological cautions proposed by critics of chiasmus to heart, as well as the standard rules of critical thinking (e.g., seeking for better alternative structuring devices alongside the quest for the hidden chiasmus).


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