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(Added this post to my list of Biblical Survey posts – each of which shows a whole category of items from the Bible.)

As you may have heard, this month, my friend Andy Naselli, New Testament Professor at Bethlehem College and Seminary, has put out his concise commentary of the book of Romans, the “greatest letter ever written.” This book is complete and helpful, and my only critique is the same as Tolkien on his own work: It is too short.

One literary aspect that Andy brings out in several places is the potential presence of chiasms in Paul’s epistle. I believe he points out five of them.

Wikipedia defines chiasm as a “reversal of grammatical structures in successive phrases or clauses.” The most simple would be where the phrases are formed in an A B B’ A’ pattern but it can be more complex with more levels – like:

And so forth. In all cases, a set of ideas or phrases are repeated but in reverse order. And apparently (at least according to my study Bible) this was a somewhat common literary structure in Paul’s time.

I bring this up because last year I finished memorizing the book of Romans and just at the end I noticed a phrase, “to bring about the obedience of faith” in Romans 16:26, the second to last verse in Romans. I remembered this from Romans 1:5 – the same phrase – “to bring about the obedience of faith”. It’s the only time this phrase is used in Romans, or indeed in the whole Bible. In fact, in the whole Bible, those are the only two passages with the three-word phrase “obedience of faith.”

So I wondered, what if there was a large scale verse-level chiasm in Romans?* What would that look like? Well, there would be presumably something before 1:5 with a similar phrasing from after 16:26. And there was one: Christ Jesus in 1:1 and Jesus Christ (note the reversal) in 16:27. A good obvious choice to begin and end a chiasm with.

So I looked inward and remembered 1:7 (“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the  Lord Jesus Christ”) – similar to 16:20 (“The God of Peace … grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you”). Here’s a picture of the proposed Chiastic structure with color coating:

The First Three

So I continued and found that in both cases (moving inward) Paul moves from talking about the good traits of his readers (1:8 and 16:20) and then the bad traits of evil people they are in contact with (in 1:25 and 16:18):

Extending to Five.

So now I was intrigued, and I kept going inward. And I worked and found several more.

At this point, you might have two questions:

  1. How many more did he find?
  2. What’s in the center?

The short answers are (1) lots and, (2) something better than I expected.

Before I elaborate – two disclaimers:

  1. I make no claims that this massive precise chiasm was inspired or intentional (or even that it actually exists), although I could imagine Paul, or even Tertius who “wrote this letter” slipping these in during a re-write. For important purposes.
  2. I don’t know Greek. I’m using the ESV. If you’re looking at the Greek or another translation, your mileage may vary.

Getting back to my two questions…

  1. How many did I find? To be more precise, the answer is 44 – give or take. Some stretch the concept a little. Below is a picture of the whole thing and I have the full list at the bottom of the essay.
All 44.
  • 2. And what did I find in the middle?

First, I ask you to consider, if you were looking for evidence there was a real and intentional verse-level chiasm in Romans, what would you expect to find in the middle?

In any case, as I was moving inwards, I found myself in chapter 7 on the front site and chapter 9 on the back. And then moving from both sides into chapter 8, which appeared to be the center of the chiasm. So I found 8:1 (“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus“), corresponding with 8:34 (“Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died“)

And 8:6 (“to set the mind on the spirit is life and peace“) pairing with 8:27 (“he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit“). Now just 21 verses apart.

And so on until I found the only two usages of the phrase ‘we wait’ (or even just the word ‘wait’) in the book of Romans – 8:23 (“as we wait eagerly”) and 8:25b (“we wait for it with patience.”). Now we’re only a verse apart. So what’s in verse 24-25a?

It turns out to be perhaps the most repetitive passage in Romans.

The Proposed Center of Romans.

It’s a sentence with Hope-See-Hope repeated twice with a bonus ‘hope’ and ‘see’ on either end. It’s like a double chiasm within itself. Awesome.

This time I did look into the Greek and found something similar – the pattern is Hope-See-Hope-See-Hope-See-Hope. So it’s also symmetric.

So here’s what the center looks like:

The Middle Six

That’s something I might expect to find in the center of a giant chiasm.

So what do you think? Does this seem reasonable/possible/interesting to you? And if you think the chiasm is actually there, does it glorify God?

I leave creating a First and Second Corinthians chiasm as an exercise for the reader.

To conclude, here are the verse/passages, as I found them, listed out in order, from the outside-in.

Note: In the second column: I’ve put a ‘R’ if this is the only place in Romans that one of the phrases appears, a ‘B’ if this is the only place in the Bible that one of the phrases appears, a ‘T’ if the similarity is more topical than actually employing the same word, and a ‘C’ if there are contrasting/opposite ideas in the two passages.

Thanks for reading! I appreciate any comments.

In case you’re curious, here is a list of other posts on my blogs which show a whole category of items from the Bible.

* By the way, I’ve seen other attempts at making a big chiasm out of Romans. What is different here is the extent of the intricacy and precision.

If what used to be a good sign is now a bad sign, this is a good sign.

Your passivity is assertive.

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August 2022