I’ve been reading Bible Matrix, by Michael Bull. A better name for this book would be “An Introduction to Biblical Chiasms”. Honestly, I had never heard of them until about a year ago. None of the Bible teaching traditions I grew up with ever mentioned the idea once. As even the Wikipedia article on it is pretty weak, it appears to not be very widespread among Christian scholars. I’m not sure if that’s because it’s a relatively “new” idea (it’s not new really) that has been largely ignored by scholars over the centuries, or one that has only recently been developed and fleshed out more fully, or one that all the scholars are aware of but have actively rejected. I highly doubt the third option as chiasm analysis seems to be a pretty obvious help in some cases and doesn’t tend to lead to anything particularly heterodox.
It functions as a particular theory of biblical interpretation, recognizing that the Bible authors used certain literary conventions over and over again. Keeping this in mind, it gives us insight into what the author thought was the most important part of a particular passage and where he was going with it. It can also be used to explain a bunch of the typology in the temple and festivals. It’s very useful in the Old Testament, but doesn’t see much action in the New.
I must admit I’m not exactly sold on it. When it works, it seems to work very well. Scholars who are really interested in chiasms are definitely on to something. While describing chiasms to my wife though, she remarked “But couldn’t you find something like anywhere you looked?” She’s right. Even some of the examples given in this book seem like a stretch.
Still, I really like where Bull, the author and Leithart, who wrote the forward for the book and who often blogs about chiasms, is going with much of this. It makes a lot of sense and seems to be a more legitimate and consistent lens for understanding the Old Testament typology and flow.
Is there a motivation behind this? I think that it is ultimately used to prop up postmillenialism. You can use the recurring chiasm structure in SO many bible narratives, especially the creation ones to make a hefty case that God’s plan for man always looks like:
Eschatologies like premillenialism (including the rapture) don’t fit this pattern at all. They tend to stop at “Testing” for a long, long time, with a sudden Glorification tacked on at the end. Postmillenialism claims that the church is maturing right now. As bad as things may be in the world, beneath it all, the bride is maturing. It could be a couple more thousand years until Jesus comes back. Not that their aren’t lots of problems with this view, but it IS a closer fit to the larger themes of scripture.