Evidence #314 | February 28, 2022

Chiasmus in 2 Nephi 25:24–27

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Scripture Central

Abstract

On both statistical and aesthetic grounds, the chiasm in 2 Nephi 25:24–27 provides evidence for the Book of Mormon’s literary complexity and Hebrew origins.

As described by Dennis Newton, the chiastic structure in 2 Nephi 25:24–27 is “highly likely” to have been intentionally created.1 The proposed chiasm is given below in its entirety:2

  AAnd, notwithstanding we believe in Christ, we keep the law of Moses,
  Band look forward with steadfastness unto Christ, until the law shall be fulfilled.
   CFor, for this end was the law given;
    Dwherefore the law hath become dead unto us, and we are made alive in Christ because of our faith; yet we keep the law because of the commandments.
     EAnd we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ,
     E*and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.
    D*Wherefore, we speak concerning the law that our children may know the deadness of the law; and they, by knowing the deadness of the law, may look forward unto that life which is in Christ,
   C*and know for what end the law was given.
  B*And after the law is fulfilled in Christ,
 A*that they need not harden their hearts against him when the law ought to be done away.

Structural Analysis

Sections A and A* pair the phrase “we keep the law of Moses” with “the law ought to be done away.” The concept of law is present in every section of the chiasm (except E and E*), so it isn’t particularly meaningful here. What makes these sections distinct is that the need to “keep” the law in A, is contrasted with the idea of it being “done away” in A*. This antithetical relationship in the outer boundaries is meaningful because the justifications for keeping and then doing away with the law are developed throughout the inner sections of the chiasm. Section A provides a starting point for a chiasm on law, and A* gives a fitting resolution.

Sections B and B* contain the nearly verbatim phrases “the law shall be fulfilled” and the “law is fulfilled.” These are the only sections where the key term “fulfilled” occurs.

Sections C and C* contain the nearly verbatim phrases “end was the law given” and “end the law was given.” These are the only sections which contain the key words “end” and “given,” either in isolation or together.

Sections D and D* feature a compound element. The phrases “law hath become dead” and “made alive in Christ” in D are coupled with “deadness of law” (repeated twice) and “life which is in Christ” in D*. These are the only sections which contain forms of the terms “dead” and “life,” either in isolation or together. 

Sections E and E* are the only sections that contain forms of the word “prophesy.” Section E has several expressions of Christ (talk, rejoice, preach) that culminate in “prophesy.” Section E* repeats that final expression (“we write according to our prophecies”) and then emphasizes that Christ is the source of the remission of sins which should be looked to. Thus, Christ is featured prominently in the center of the chiasm, perhaps suggesting his central importance to the Law of Moses. Interestingly, these are the only sections which don’t have any form of the word “law.” This omission may have been implemented to emphasize Christ’s preeminence over the law (it depends upon him, not the other way around). Finally, it should be noted that these central sections contain one of the most famous and memorable passages in the Book of Mormon.

Moses and the Tablets, by Jerry Harston. Image via churchofjesuschrist.org. 

Statistical Analysis

According to Newton’s statistical analysis, this chiastic arrangement has a 99.98% chance of having been intentionally created.3 Stated another way, the chances of it having occurred by accident are 1 in 5,000.

Conclusion

The chiasm in 2 Nephi 25:24–27 is one of the very best in the Book of Mormon. It is five layers deep and has virtually no extraneous repetition of key elements (and very little repetition of additional material).4 The parallel sections in A/A*D/D* each discuss a unique aspect of the law. These variations on a theme then culminate in a message about Christ at the center (E/E*). This arrangement powerfully communicates that Christ is the center of the law. He is the lawgiver, and without him it is effectively dead. Moreover, it can only be fulfilled or done away through him. It is hard to imagine a more poignant and climactic central chiastic message. On both statistical and aesthetic grounds, this chiasm provides remarkable evidence for the Book of Mormon’s literary complexity and Hebrew origins.5

Dennis Newton, “Nephi’s Use of Inverted Parallels,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 22 (2016): 79–106.

Boyd F. Edwards and W. Farrell Edwards, “When are Chiasms Admissible as Evidence?” BYU Studies 49, no. 4 (2010): 131–154.

Donald W. Parry, Poetic Parallelisms in the Book of Mormon: The Complete Text Reformatted (Provo, UT: Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, 2007), 5–6.

Boyd F. Edwards and W. Farrell Edwards, “Does Chiasmus Appear in the Book of Mormon by Chance?” BYU Studies 43, no. 2 (2004): 103–130.

2 Nephi 25:24–27

2 Nephi 25:24–27

Literary Features
Parallelisms
Chiasmus in 2 Nephi 25:24–27
Book of Mormon

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