Do you know what a chiasmus is? If you don’t, keep reading. If you do, feel free to skip a bit ahead.
A chiasmus is a rhetorical or literary figure in which words, grammatical constructions, or concepts are repeated in reverse order, in the same or a modified form.
A classic example is this simple statement:
The first shall be last, and the last shall be first.
You can visualize it like this:
or, as it’s often noted:
Sometimes the repeated ideas can be related but opposite. Idea A could be “hot” and A' could be “cold.” Opposite, but related ideas to illustrate a principle.
Chiasmus was particularly popular in the literature of the ancient world, including Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, where it was used to articulate the balance of order within the text. It can also be used to emphasize a central idea, which appears at the center of the chiasmus.
In the example above, it would look like this:
C: Central Idea
The chiasmus around the central idea serves to emphasize the most important thought of the discourse. Alma 36 is a great example of a chiasmus, with the central idea appearing in verse 18:
Now, as my mind caught hold upon this thought, I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death!
Alma’s story of repentance centers around his desperate plea to Christ for salvation. He draws attention to the message by placing it at the center of his chiasmus.
And that’s the end of the chiasmus lesson.
Here’s a chiasmus I ran across in the Testimony of St. John—it turns out the entirety of Chapter 2, comprising the discussion between Jesus and Nicodemus, is just a large chiasmus, with doublets of ideas repeated and inverted. It’s a thing of beauty.
Here’s the general structure:
- Light vs. darkness & the title, “Enlightened Heavenly Guide”
- Light vs. darkness & the ordinance of baptism
- Ascension vs. condemnation & overcoming sin
- Sacrifice of the flesh & refusal to believe
- You must receive and give heed to the servants God sends
And here it is in its fulness:
A. There was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a member of the Sanhedrin, who was in darkness and came to visit with Jesus. He sought wisdom from Jesus and said, Enlightened heavenly guide, some of us know you have descended from the High Council of Heaven because signs confirm you have authority from God.
B. Jesus answered and said to him, In the name of Father Ahman I testify there is a new dispensation begun. You must accept the ordinances of this new Light or you cannot hope to progress to know God.
C. Nicodemus said to him, If I believe this, can I ascend in this life, or will it be accomplished only in the afterlife? Jesus answered, In the name of Father Ahman I say to you, Except you receive the ordinance of baptism to join the new dispensation, and thereby forsake your sins and receive forgiveness and an outpouring of the Spirit, you will not ascend to God's presence in this life or the life to come.
D. All who are devoted to the ambitions of the flesh remain imprisoned by the flesh, and those who are born anew through the ordinances, receive the Spirit of Truth, and are able to know the record of heaven by the Spirit of Truth. Do not question if what I say is true because the Spirit of Truth confers light, knowledge, and understanding of the mysteries of heaven within every soul who receives it.
Nicodemus replied to him, Why is this not widely known? Jesus answered, Why does a member of the Sanhedrin not recognize that a new dispensation has begun? In the name of Father Ahman I confirm what was told by John the Baptist and I have begun a work that comes from heaven. But you who lead Israel fight against it and you refuse to humble yourselves. If I offered you a position of respect and authority, as you now hold, you would believe. But because I testify only of heavenly things that require faith and sacrifice, you refuse to believe?
E. I tell you, if you want to ascend to the Heavenly Council, you must first acknowledge and give heed to the messengers sent by them.
D' You can refuse to believe, but you will see in me a sign and remember this saying: When Moses nailed a brass serpent upon a pole in the wilderness, he prophesied of me. And I shall also be nailed upon a tree, and those who believe on me will receive deliverance through my sacrifice, even as Israel was delivered by looking with faith at Moses' serpent. Father Ahman loves the world, and like father Abraham, Father Ahman will allow His Son to become an offering for sin. Whoever believes and follows His Son will not be lost, but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world.
C' Those who believe and follow His Son will escape the limitations of sin. The faithless are condemned already because they refuse to believe and obey the Only Begotten Son of God. Everything about my assignment, which I am now performing, was foretold by the prophets sent earlier to teach Israel, for they all testified of me. They told you I would come, and I am now here doing what was prophesied, but you refuse to see it happening.
B' Enough is underway that rejecting it means you prefer darkness to light. Humble yourself and admit the prophets foretold the very things now underway; repent and be baptized and the Spirit of Truth will open your eyes.
A' If you want greater light, you will obey this instruction. If you refuse, then you never meant it when you greeted me as an enlightened heavenly guide.
Recognizing true messengers is the universal challenge of mankind. God sends messengers, and they are almost always rejected. Likewise, false messengers, speaking in Christ’s name, often gain followings, wealth, power, and prestige. The first challenge is to recognize the true and reject the false.
The second challenge is to give heed. Nicodemus acknowledged Christ by calling him by a respected title, but had not yet given heed to Christ’s message. It’s easy to confer titles and give lip service, but much harder to actually obey God’s message, which always requires sacrifice.
As Christ told Joseph Smith in the first vision, “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” Little has changed since then.
This weekend, in particular, Christ’s central message in this chapter is applicable. Ministers will stand and read addresses in an impressive stage production. It’s up to you to determine whether they were sent by Christ, or are on their own errand. Are you hearing the voice of the Lord, or the voice of an organization? Who you heed determines your eternal future.
I tell you, if you want to ascend to the Heavenly Council, you must first acknowledge and give heed to the messengers sent by them.