Chiasmus: 1 John 3:9

From: George Blaisdell (
Date: Sat Feb 27 1999 - 13:32:15 EST

B-Greekers ~

I am working my way through John Breck's "The Shape of Biblical
Language: Chiasmus in the Scriptures and Beyond," where he gives this
passage as illustrative of the 'helical' structure and flow of the
chiasm, where a chiasm is seen as a 'unit of thought' that revolves
around a central core to which it refers and which explains it.

1John 3:9 reads: [chiastically]


The parallel couplet 2 - 2' forms the 'bookends' that 'envelope' this
unit of thought when read/heard linearly, and are easily identified. As
well, the couplet 1 - 1' easily identifies. The central core, "0", has
no parallel, and is likewise easily identified.

What is not so easily seen is the [conceptual] helical flow that
structures this passage and gives it density. Visualize one of those
orange highway cones sitting on your table, and put the 2 at any point
on the circumference of the base, and put 2' at the opposite point of
the base but above it, say 1'4 toward the top. Then, at a point on the
base halfway between 2 and 2', move half-way up that old cone and
similarly place 1 and 1' opposite each other [rotated 90 degrees from 2
and 2']. now place 0 at the top. The helical flow of the thought
structure now runs from 2 to 2' to 1 to 1' to 0. AND... It as well
flows in reverse! [bi-directional flow]

So we have:

   1 1'
2 2'


2 2'
   1 1'

Placed together, [which Breck did not do], we have

2 2'
   1 1'
   1 1'
2 2'

Which forms the letter CHI of Chiasmus!

The spiral form can also be created with expanding concentric circles
around 2-1-0-1'-2'


Start at 0, circle to the left and up around to the right through 1,
then around and down and across through 1', then up and around through
2, then circle down again through 2'. You should have a spiral. It
moves inward to the center as well as outward from the center.

In English, then, from p 43, we have 3 reads of this passage:

Regular first:

2 No one who is born of God
1 Commits sin
0 For His seed abides in him
1' And he is not able to commit sin
2' Because he is born of God.

Inward helictical second:

2 No one who is born of God
1 Commits sin
1' And he is not able to commit sin
2' Because he is born of God
0 for [God's] seed abides in him.

Outward from the center third:

0 [Because] God's seed abides in him
2' No one who is born of God
1 Commits sin
1' And he is not able to commit sin
2 Because he is born of God.

[Breck notes that this is an exceptional passage in that it happens to
work out well in English translation.]

What is amazing to me about this is that apparently this triple
understanding of chiastic passages was immediately and perhaps even
instinctively comprehended by its readers/hearers of that time! And
that the Hebraic OT is even MORE chiastic than the GNT!



George Blaisdell
Roslyn, WA

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