Hur Star Det Skrivet? (How is it Written?)

by Elder M. Lindahl

The 1991-1992 Academic Catalog from Hendrickson Publishers delivered to my mail box the other day carried an exciting announcement: Chiasmus in the New Testament, A Study in the Form and Function of Chiastic Structures, by Dr. Nils W. Lund is to be republished in paperback in January, 1992. The blurb states:

One of the classic studies in form criticism that acknowledged the debt owed to Jewish patterns of speech and thought, Nils Lund’s Chiasmus in the New Testament has had an impact upon the scholarly study of Scripture extending far beyond its original 1942 appearance. One virtually cannot read a commentary on a New Testament book without seeing some reference to “chiastic structure,” “a chiasm,” “chiasmus,” “inverted parallelism,” or an A B C C’ B’ A’ pattern. Form criticism has changed drastically since the appearance of Marlin Dibelius’s From Tradition to Gospel. In some ways Chiasmus in the New Testament anticipated those evolutions and opened windows that allow us to understand the biblical text on its own terms. Its enduring relevance to modem rhetorical and literary criticism makesits reappearance especially timely and welcome. . . . Ronald E. Man described Chiasmus in the New Testament as “. . . an epoch-making work in the study of New Testament chiasm . . . .”

Nils W. Lund (1885-1954), a pastor and educator in the Covenant Church. was former Dean of North Park Theological Seminary, where he served on the faculty from 1922 till his death. His Ph. D. from the University of Chicago Divinity School (conferred in 1941) culminated over thirty years of study of chiasmus.

The 1942 publishing of Lund’s book was an important even for Covenanters. It is a scholarly treatise which shows that Christian faith and academic learning can be brought together. Faith and learning not only meet in Lund, they combine in him to form a veritable, living synthesis. In his person, his teaching, and his writings, he challenges and encourages us all to hunger and thirst after knowledge along with righteousness.

The stereotype of the pietist as an anti-intellectual has been with us for many years: I read two books recently that portray from different perspectives the commonplace view that Läsare (pielists) are biblicists.

Arthur Sundsted, in one entitled Svärmarna, translated by Rev. Bengt Anderson and published as Swedes of Vision in 1991, describes the reactions of Dalarna pielists to the dead formal worship in the State Churches in Orsa parish, Sweden, from the 1840s to 1866. The youthful pielists, most in their teens and early twenties, who challenged the tight hold that a corrupt clergy had on the word of God and the sacraments, themselves created serious disorder and chaos in the society. The original title Svärmarna, a plural noun, indicates how the established priests viewed the Läsare. The image is that of a teeming host of bees, swarming, congregating, moving frantically about. Svärmarna best translates as “the turbulent ones,” “the rabble-rousers,” “the trouble-makers,” or “the fanatics.” Although the English translator attempts to put a positive spin on their disruptive activities by calling them “Swedes of Vision,” these radical pietists come off as insolent, irrational, misguided, and untutored Christ enthusiasts. For them Christian discipleship and education were incompatible. To think these Dalarna Baptists called Waldenström a liberal!

Pietists also receive bad press in a 1980 book, A History of Christian Spirituality, by Urban Holmes III. He contends that pietists have an excess of the imaginative or nonrational, blended with an overemphasis on the affective or emotional. That may not sound so bad, but in his scheme, it means that Läsare are superficial, anti-intellectual, extra-institutional, and overly emotional. Holmes describes pietism with phrases like: “an essentially shallow form of spirituality;” “devotionalism at its subjective and sentimental worst;” “a kind of ‘do-it-yourself Spirituality” (pp. 136-138).

Lund’s person and work certainly challenge this old, archaic stereotype. A most devout, spiritual man, Lund opened the deepest, most significant, and controversial biblical issues. For us, he was the model learned pietist, one who lived and moved and had his being in Christ and, at the same time, was not afraid to ask the tough questions. He embraced the view, both in his person and his writing, that one could be Christ’s disciple and think in depth about faith, creeds, and the Bible.

To Paul Peter Waldenström ‘s Bible-centered question, Vår star det skrivet? (Where is it written?) Lund added another, though he did not to my knowledge put it quite this way, viz., Hur står det skrivet? (How is it written?). Waldenström’s “where” question, calling for the location and information about the historical context of a passage, crucial as it is, is not enough. The literary form or structure in which a passage is expressed must be clarified in order to uncover the meaning more fully.

Lund, who lived and worked in a theologically conservative setting, was interested in the origin and formation of Jewish Scriptures, their relation to the earlier Babylonian, Egyptian, and Sumerian cosmologies, which different human authors (called by the letters, J, E, D, & P) were operative in the writing, and so forth. In the New Testament, he studied the literary dependencies that exist among the Gospels, the literary units that make up the Gospels, the Hebraic character of both prose and poetic writings, and so on. He insisted that his students know something about how both Testaments came into being; how written materials, through human decisions, came to be acknowledged and canonized as sacred, authoritative Scripture, as the Word of God. Some literalists who accepted Waldenström’s question readily, using it to locate proof-texts, obviously had serious reservations about Lund’s approach.

Now, a brief word about the meaning of the key word in Lund’s life work. This is not meant as a review of Lund’s book.

What exactly is the “Chiasmus?” In the classes I had with Lund at North Park Theological Seminary—Denominational History, New Testament, The Epistles of Paul, and Old Testament Introduction—and in his writings he explained it many times. The word Chiasmus comes from the Greek letter Chi, X. It is like an “X” and was used by Lund as a visual metaphor to characterize the way the Hebrew mind habitually worked. Hebrew thinking and expression unconsciously start with a theme that is developed dynamically to a climax point and then return with a restatement that echoes the same theme in a slightly altered form. The term [Chiasmus] is used in rhetoric to designate an inversion of the order of words or phrases which are repeated or subsequently referred to in the sentence (Chiasmus in the New Testament, p. 31). I remember that Lund used a passage from Amos 5:4b–6a to illustrate the chiastic pattern for us:

A Seek me and live:
B But do not seek Bethel
C And do not enter into Gilgal
D Or cross over to Beersheba
C’ For Gilgal shall surely go into exile
B’ And Bethel shall come to nought
A’ Seek the Lord and live.

Notice the way the thought moves here. The theme of A is expanded and supported by references to Bethel and Gilgal with Beersheba as center point. Then, in reverse order, Gilgal and Bethel are counterpoised, along with reasons for avoiding them, and the theme— Seek me and live—is reaffirmed in A’.

Most of the New Testament writers were Jewish, and this recognizable inversion style, the chiastic pattern, is clearly evident in their writings. Paul, though he writes letters in Greek, expresses himself in the Hebrew literary mannerisms and habits of his mother tongue.

It is Lund’s purpose to demonstrate the influence of the literary style of the Old Testament in the New in response to those who dismiss the New Testament as poor Greek or careless writing.

When the nature of the chiasmus as a literary principle has been grasped and its wide application in the writings of the Old and the New Testament ascertained, the reader will find that some passages commonly regarded as verbose and loose in construction are really specimens of an altogether different literary style . . . . (Ibid, p. 30)

Lund found the chiastic thought-structure throughout the entire Bible. Sometimes it involves one verse or several verses, sometimes a chapter or even an entire book. We followed along in his lectures on the Pauline epistles, I remember, with prepared chiastically-structured literary analysis outlines. Using the chiastic form as a norm, he would at times show that some problem or corruption was present in a text, that one of several alternative manuscripts was best, that a key word was missing, and so on.

But the form was never, for Dean Lund, the literary critic, an end in itself. He often criticized an art for art’s sake aesthetic. The chiastic form, though significant, is finally but a human vehicle for Divine revelation. The question of the nature of the literary wrappings was often put to the side as Lund displayed the revelatory gifts within. The margins of our chiastically organized class notes are filled with devotional, theological, and spiritual insights from his lectures.

Passionate as he was about his literary studies, he could also admit that he tended to see everything in the light of the chiasmus. A widower, he confided to us one day with a twinkle in his eye, that he knew for sure that a certain young lady was to become his second wife because her name—HANNAH— was chiastic!

I worked hard in Lund’s classes. I was taking a class from him in 1953-54. We returned from Christmas break to hear the sad news that Dr. Lund had died. Dean Erik Hawkinson met with our class to suggest how we might conclude the last weeks of the semester. The students made some suggestions, and then the Dean said something to the effect that, “Out of respect for the great teacher you have had, I expect that you will read the books on the bibliography he gave you, write reports on them, and hand them in to me.” Many books filled that two-page bibliography, and no student to our knowledge had ever read all those old, dry, scholarly books. Yet, “Hawkie” had us. No one dared to complain or challenge the Dean and show, thereby, disrespect for Dr. Lund. I have to confess that I worked much harder for Lund after his death than I ever did when he was alive!

Nils Wilhelm Lund originally published Chiasmus in the New Testament at the age of fifty-seven, after thirty years of hard work. Fifty years later, on the golden anniversary of that first publication, I would like to celebrate its belated reissue with this toast:

Cheers to Dean Lund’s memory. You shared your spiritual insights and experience with us. You taught us to trust our reasoning powers and to think deeply as we study the Biblical texts. You were for us the quiet scholar, living in the turbulent city, who with love and good taste, with care and intimacy, listened to the distinction in the text May your words and work continue to inspire new generations of young Covenanters. We salute you, Nils Lund, a mentor for all seasons!