Evidence #304 | January 31, 2022

Chiasmus in Mosiah 3:18–19

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Scripture Central

Abstract

The chiasm in Mosiah 3:18–19 has unique terms, compound phrasal elements, a powerful turning point at its center, balanced symmetry, lack of extraneous repetition, and strong statistical backing.

The multi-layer chiasm found in Mosiah 3:18–19 was the second chiasm discovered in the Book of Mormon.1 It also happens to be one of the most convincing and elegant.2

  Abut men drink damnation to their own souls except they humble themselves
  Band become as little children,
   Cand believe that salvation was, and is, and is to come, in and through the atoning blood of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent.
    DFor the natural man
     Eis an enemy to God,
      Fand has been from the fall of Adam,                                                                           
      F*and will be, forever and ever,
     E*unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit,
    D*and putteth off the natural man
   C*and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord,
  B*and becometh as a child,
 A*submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love

Structural Analysis

Nearly every section of this chiasm has a shared element that is unique within the overall structure. Only A and A* contain the word “humble.” Only B and B* have the phrasal components “become(th) as” a “child” or “little children.” Only C and C* discuss the “atonement” or “atoning blood” of “Christ the Lord.” And only D and D* contain the phrase “natural man.” Because they contain multiple words or concepts in sequence, the phrasal elements (compared to stand-alone words) are less likely to have been randomly arranged in a chiastic pattern. The phrase “natural man” is especially noteworthy, seeing that it turns up only one other time in the Book of Mormon (Alma 26:21).3

Instead of repeated words or phrases, E and E* feature a conceptual parallel: the term “God” is paired with another member of the Godhead, the “Holy Spirit.” Sections F and F* feature a parallel involving time: the natural man “has been” an enemy of God from the fall of Adam (or, in other words, from the very beginning) and “will be” for eternity. “Has been” and “will be” are just different tenses (past and future) of the same verb (“to be”). These are the only sections in the chiasm where this verb shows up.

As is the case with many chiasms, a turning point can be found near the middle. About half of the sections in the first half contain negative ideas, such as men drinking “damnation to their souls” (A), the “natural man” (D), becoming an “enemy to God” (E), and the natural man’s persistence throughout time (F/F*). After the center, however, there is a noticeable shift. Section E* involves “yielding to the enticings of the Holy Spirit.” Section D* discusses “putting off the natural man.” And A* features only positive attributes of Christ, rather than a warning of damnation. In sum, after the central turning point, the second half of the chiasm progressively “undoes” the negative effects of the fall listed in the first half and center.

King Benjamin teaching his people. Image via churchofjesushchrist.org. 

None of the chiasm’s shared elements are repeated anywhere else and, on the whole, it lacks other types of extraneous repetition. It also has good symmetry and is one of the four strongest chiasms in the Book of Mormon based on statistical analysis, making it especially unlikely to have occurred by chance.4

Conclusion

The inverted parallelism in Mosiah 3:18–19 constitutes a remarkable example of chiasmus. Its compound phrasal elements, unique terms, powerful central turning point, balanced symmetry, lack of extraneous repetition, and strong statistical backing make it one of the best in the Book of Mormon.5 This chiastic structure provides good evidence of the Book of Mormon’s literary complexity and Hebrew origins.6

John W. Welch, “The Discovery of Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon: Forty Years Later,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 16, no. 2 (2007): 74–87, 99.

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.

John W. Welch, “Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon,” in Book of Mormon Authorship: New Light on Ancient Origins, ed. Noel B. Reynolds (Provo, UT: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1982), 33–52, esp. 43.

Mosiah 3:18–19

Mosiah 3:18–19

Literary Features
Parallelisms
Chiasmus in Mosiah 3:18-19
Book of Mormon

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