Saturday, June 13, 2015

The Structure of Jude

One of the more difficult things for beginners to grasp when using the inductive method is the ability to identify structure in the text. It is important not to get discouraged by this. It gets easier with practice. It is also important not to worry about making every detail “fit” into a structure. If you do that, you will likely begin to see things that may not be there. Although the structure can have a significant impact on our interpretation, if a given structure is really there, other indicators will support the resulting interpretation. For example, we do not need to know that Psalm 119 is an acrostic poem to recognize it has a unified theme and was intended to be memorized or meditated upon.

One of the more common structures students are likely to encounter is Chiasm. Chiasmus is a literary structure where ideas are mirrored or paralleled in such a way that they are either reversed or reflect back on themselves. The word comes from the Greek letter Chi which looks like our English X which itself exhibits a similar mirroring effect.

One of the most famous chiasms in English is Kennedy’s famous statement, “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” You will notice that the ideas within the statement reverse and the second half reflects back on the first half. When these kinds of structures are extended over larger sections of a text they are often called inverted parallelism. When it is a longer section of text involved, often the parallels will build to and from an emphasized central point.[1]

I am working through an introduction to inductive study with a group using the book of Jude. Recently, the question came up as to if Jude has this kind of structure. Since there were several in the group who missed the discussion, I thought it might be helpful to post something on the subject.
I think Jude has what I might call a “loose” chiastic structure. I would not push the significance of it too far or insist that we can discern exactly Jude’s intention in using it but I think elements of it are clearly there. Notice the following repetition of elements in the book [followed by the verse number]:

 A.  Address to the Beloved [3]
       B.  Ungodly people have come in (long ago designated…) [4]
             C. “I want to remind you…” [5]
                 D. The Lord & judgment [5]
                      E. He has “kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness” [6]
                          F. These people blaspheme [8]
                              G. Michael did not blaspheme against the devil but appealed to                                                God’s Word [9]
                           F. These people blaspheme [10]
                       E. “The gloom of utter darkness has been reserved” for them [13]
                 D. The Lord & judgment [14]
             C. “You must remember” [17]
        B. It was predicted ungodly people would come in [17-18]
A.  Address to the beloved [20]

Why would the illustration of Michael and the devil be central to the parallel? The men who have crept in are not submitting to the Word or the Church, they are criticizing the church, and they are twisting the grace of God to serve their own ends. They are rejecting God’s authority. They ultimately put themselves in a place of judgement over God and His people.

Their rejection of authority and their blasphemies are contrasted to Michael’s submission to God’s authority. Despite his high position, Michael does not even speak against the devil as boldly as these men speak. Even the archangel does not presume to exercise his own judgment or authority as do these men. The centrality of Christ and  His authority are therefore emphasized by Michael's example of pronouncing God's Word rather than speaking from His own authority. This is precisely what these men fail to do and why they will be judged.

[1] Chiasmus and inverted parallelism can be helpful to the interpreter but they can also be tricky. There are some people who see it everywhere and then try to cram every text into a chiastic structure. As I mentioned, we don’t want to impose structures upon the text that are not there. Scholars often argue for enormous, complex, and subtle, structures in various texts that even if present, probably would not have been apparent to those to whom they were writing.