Re: Hebrews 11:1

From: George Blaisdell (
Date: Sat May 08 1999 - 10:36:43 EDT


>From: "Kevin L. Barney"

>I view the structure of this verse as either a simple parallelism
>(following the RSV):
>Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for,
> the conviction of things not seen
>or as an ABCBA chiasm as you (George) suggest at the beginning of your
>post. (Or, as is often the case, both.) That the C element (PRAGMATWN)
>goes with both A elements ties the structure up quite nicely.

Yes, that is exactly what stood out so clearly about this passage. The
grammatical structuring is chiastic, forming a parallelism. [But not a
chiasm per se, which is a literary term, where the elements are not
individual words but sentences, as I am currently understanding the term.]

>What was not clear to me was why a chiastic structure would have any
>bearing at all on the translation (unless one were intentionally trying to
>preserve the structure in English, something that is often difficult if not
>impossible to do).

Preservation of this structuring in English would be sweet indeed! But I
agree that doing so creates unavoidable ambiguity and fails miserably ~

As to the bearing on translation of this chiastic grammatical structuring, I
am but exploring that possibility.

Chiasmus itself has great bearing on translation, because it clearly
connects elements of syntax that are otherwise ambiguous. [Swine, dogs,
tearing open and trampling in the giving and casting of pearls and holy
things passage comes vividly to mind.]

Can a parallel understanding be applied to grammatical chiastic structuring?
  [That is a big part of my "11:1 obsession", as Jim so kindly 'methought'
unwholesome! :-)]

If yes, then the definition centers on and turns around [c], PRAGMATWN,
which itself affixes to both parallels, so that the primary sentence becomes
ESTIN DE PISTIS PRAGMATWN by chiastic emphasis, and the predicate
nominatives are themselves modifiers of PRAGMATWN. This feature makes
"things" as its gloss woefully inadequate, utterly losing the central and
'pragmatic' emphasis so clearly indicated by the centrality and bifurcation
of the term.

The point of this passage, on this approach, is that "Faith is of practical
actions..." ~ It is above all pragmatic [which is utterly missed in the RSV
and I believe all other renditions]. And this pragmatism works out in two
directions, forming the two predicate nominatives, each with its associated
participle, first one, then the other. Which gives rise in my understanding
to the question "Why first this one, then this other one? Would there be a
different understanding conveyed if that order were reversed?" Hence my
lingering question about implied causlality. [Is there any?]

Our non-Greek diagrammaing of this sentence would have to focus on the
subject plus the two predicate nominatives, with the rest peripheral to
these. My 'look' contradicts this approach in favor of the chiastic Greek
structuring of the grammatical elements, which 'turns' around [or 'hinges'
upon] the center.

George Blaisdell
Roslyn, WA

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