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Cryptochiasmus: A Key to Interpreting Biblical Prophecy

Kuruvilla Thomas
Published on 23 September 2017

1. The Definition of Cryptochiasmus

1.1 Definition

A cryptochiasmus is a literary device that is used to obfuscate certain prophetic passages in the Bible. It consists of a set of events or facts, each of which is split into two portions, with one portion of the set presented in a particular sequence followed by the other portion of the set presented in the reverse sequence. A chiastic pivot, also called the 'X' or Chi, is placed between the forward and reverse sequences. The pivot must be special or different from the rest of the chiasmus in some way - it may be a headline or another event. The text of a cryptochiasmus must be rearranged in order for it to be correctly interpreted.

A cryptochiasmus is so named because its function is to obscure the meaning of text (on the other hand, a regular chiasmus, as used in ancient literature, is a rhetorical/poetic or mnemonic device),

This definition is based on examples from the Bible (they are only found in the Bible as far as we know), and the definition may be updated as necessary if more examples are found.

1.2 An Example

Since it may be instructive to see how a cryptochiasmus is constructed, we will choose three different events from the Bible and combine them into one chiasmus. Consider the three events below: event X, which will be the pivot; event 'A', which is split into 'A1' and 'A2'; and event 'B', which consists of 'B1' and 'B2'.

X   For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son

A1  In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
A2  Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good.

B1  The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord.
B2  and He will reign forever and ever.

In order to combine these distinct events into a cryptochiasmus, we designate event 'X' as the pivot point and reorder the phrases in the following sequence:

A1 B1 X B2 A2

(i.e., The initial parts of A and B are listed in sequence, the second parts are listed in reverse sequence and the pivot point, X, is placed at the centre.)

So we get the cryptochiasmus:

A1  In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth
  B1  The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord
    X   For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son
  B2  and He will reign forever and ever
A2  Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good.

Although we can get some sense of the events from these jumbled phrases, the phrases must be reordered into their original sequence, [X] [A1,A2] [B1,B2], to get a coherent narrative.

1.3 Auxiliary definitions

Unit and Subunit: Each of the two parts of an event or fact is called a subunit, and the combination of corresponding subunits is called a unit. In the example above, corresponding subunits A1 and A2 combine to form the unit [A1, A2].

Pivot point: The text at the centre of the chiasmus is the pivot point 'X' or 'Chi' in Greek (from which we get the word chiasmus).

Parse and reconfigure: Parsing a chiasmus is the process of splitting the text into subunits, and reconfiguring is the reordering of those subunits into individual units. In the example above, a parse and reconfigure of the cryptochiasmus (which is in the form [A1 B1 X B2 A2]) reorders the text into the form [X] [A1,A2] [B1,B2].

Multiply-applied Chiasmi: The result of one chiastic parse and reconfiguration can be treated as the input text for another chiastic reconfiguration. Subsequent applications of the chiastic reconfiguration may incorporate surrounding text that was not used in the previous reconfiguration. Subsequent applications may also omit units of the previous reconfiguration.

1.4 Ordering Rules

Ordering rules are the rules by which the subunits and units of a parsed chiasmus may be reconfigured. The basic reconfiguration takes the form:

[X] [A1,A2] [B1,B2] [C1,C2]...

More unusual orderings are employed in the case of multiply-applied chiasmi. (Since each unit and the pivot typically describe distinct events, not necessarily in chronological order, we can change the order of units without changing the meaning of the text. )

1.5 Differences between a cryptochiasmus and a regular chiasmus.

1.6 Examples of chiasmi in the Bible

Regular Chiasmi are a commonly used organizing structure in both the Old and New Testaments in keeping with the literature of the time [1]. They can vary in length from a short phrase to entire books of the Bible. A small example can be seen in Isaiah 49:24-25a.

"24 Can plunder be taken from warriors,
    or captives be rescued from the fierce?
        25 But this is what the Lord says:
    “Yes, captives will be taken from warriors,
and plunder retrieved from the fierce;"

Cryptochiasmi are hard to spot, but many examples can be found among these papers - the "Seventy Weeks of Daniel" (Daniel 9:24-27) [2] for instance.

1.7 Rules and Observations Regarding Cryptochiasmi in the Bible

These are some of the patterns we observed while deciphering cryptochiasmi in the Bible. There are the occasional exceptions to all the "rules" we list below.

Conclusion and Warning

Many scholars agree that certain prophetic passages are a mix of interwoven prophecies from several time periods, and we show that these prophecies are not intermingled arbitrarily but in a principled fashion through the chiastic method.

We believe that the cryptochiastic reconfigurations presented here are the result of divine inspiration.
Please do NOT try this on your own, as it amounts to altering the Bible.

As far as we know, cryptochiasmi in the Bible are only found in certain prophetic passages whose message must remain obscured until the time to open their 'seal' arrives.


[1] Chiasmus: An Important Structural Device Commonly Found in Biblical Literature By Brad McCoy
[2] A Chiastic Reconfiguration Of "The 70 Weeks Of Daniel"

Related pages

Daniel 9
Mark 13
Luke 21
Luke 17:22-37