A chiasm in Matthew 7?

I just noticed it this afternoon, after years of reading the conclusion to the Sermon on the Mount.

“Every tree …,” v. 19.

“Not everyone …,” v. 21.

“Everyone … Everyone …,” vv. 24, 26

This would appear to be a purposeful construction, constituting a chiasm (or chiasmus, I’m probably influenced here by the Portuguese quiasmo), where the middle element, placed between surrounding elements that correspond to one another, receives the emphasis. The chiasm is a common literary feature in Biblical texts.

In Matthew 7, the first (v. 19) and last (vv. 24, 26) elements contain two inexorable, inclusive principles, of judgment and consequences, respectively. The middle element offers a restrictive principle, not everyone. So a this-is-not-the-case statement is surrounded by two this-is-the-case statements. (I have joined the two “everyones” in vv. 24 and 26, since they are two sides of the same coin.)

The two inclusive elements highlight the exclusive element, together forming an effective conclusion to this powerful summary of Jesus’ teachings. The ending dismisses any attempt to make the Sermon on the Mount into an ideal vision of the Kingdom that is impossible to live up to in real life.

Jesus puts it to us this way: So are you going to do it or not? Put up or shut up.

Or in the words of an entertainment medium: “Do or do not. There is no try.”

J. Randal Matheny

Be pithy.

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