The Chiasm of the Seven Churches (Churches 2)

Although the book of Revelation is written in Greek, the structure of the messages to the seven churches exhibits a literary form that is grounded in Hebrew logic. In western thinking A + B = C. The various pieces of a logical argument are working toward a conclusion. But in Hebrew logic A + B = A enhanced. The logic of the argument ends where it begins and the point of the whole argument lies in the middle. This literary form is called chiasm (from the Greek letter X [pronounced “key”]).

Writers produce chiasms when they reason full-circle back to the beginning point of an argument. The first point parallels the last point. The second point parallels the next to last point, and so on, with the climax at the center rather than the end. It is, perhaps, not coincidental that the form of the seven-branched lampstand in the tabernacle is analogous to a literary chiasm. Arms of the lampstand branch off from the center in both directions. In a seven-branched candlestick the middle branch is the fourth from either end with three side branches on each side of the middle, corresponding to each other.

The letter to Smyrna (second) has many similarities with the letter to the Philadelphians (sixth), both are very positive messages. The letters to Pergamum (third) and Sardis (fifth) are both to churches in steep decline. The message to Thyatira (the fourth and middle church) is twice as long as the others and is different from all the others (I will have more to say about Thyatira in a later post in this series). While it is, perhaps, a little less obvious than with the other parallels, this means that the first and last letters (to Ephesus and Laodicea) are also parallel. This tells us that Laodicea, like Ephesus, suffers from a deficiency of love.

In the Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, Bowman pictures a giant seven-branched candlestick standing on the Island of Patmos, backlit by a western sun. In his illustration, the shadow of the candlestick falls on Asia Minor with the seven points of light shadowed roughly in the locations of the seven cities of Revelation. Just as the seven-branched lampstand was the only source of light in the Hebrew tabernacle and temple, this picture would encourage the churches to shine the light of God’s truth into their respective neighborhoods.

2 thoughts on “The Chiasm of the Seven Churches (Churches 2)

  1. Matt McMearty

    In reading your blog above, a thought struck me. When you mentioned the chiastic structure of the seven letters and used the seven branched Menorah to illustrate the idea of how a chiasm is structured and works, and given that Revelation 1:2 says the seven lamps are the seven churches, then is it possible that the churches are the seven branched Menorah of the sanctuary of heaven through which the light of Christ is cast upon the earth? I can see potential problems with how I state it, but perhaps you have a better explanation of the churches being a seven branched Menorah. This possible connection is new to me, even though I knew the lampstands were the churches. I also realize that with Christ walking in their midst the lampstands may be more after Solomon’s Temple as individually freestanding lamps, rather than the imagery of the Tent of Meeting.

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    1. Jon Paulien Post author

      Bowman in the Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible has a similar thesis with a drawing of a giant candlestick on Patmos shadowing Asia Minor with the tips of the candlesticks located at the points in the map where they actually were. Speculative but intriguing.

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