Three Literary Mountains: Seeing the Chiastic Structures of John 7

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When I preached through the Five Books of the Psalms a few years ago, I began to see chiasms as “literary mountains” (see below). Which is to say, just as mountains in the Bible serve as meeting places with God, so chiastic structures (literary mountains) do the same. Because chiasms put stress on the high point of the passage, we should seek to understand how the author builds his argument and his artistry around that centerpiece. And what results is a staircase that moves up the literary mountain and back down again.Book 1

In John’s Gospel, there are more than a few chiastic structures. John 1:1–18 is carefully constructed as a chiasm. So is John 2–4 and John 5–11. And because the Gospel shows multiple chiasms, it validates our search to see further literary structures as chiastic (A-B-A). In fact, John 7 has three of these literary mountains—one small (John 7:1–9), one large (John 7:10–36), and one medium in size (John 7:37–52).

Without getting into all the interpretive details of all that follows, I offer the following literary structure. Each begin with the “feast of booths” as the gateway to each “mountain.” Then each put in the center of the chiasm, i.e., the high point of the mountain, the divide that stands in the crowd because of Jesus.

By looking at these these three chiasms together, it helps us get a sense for how to read the whole chapter, and to understand what the main point is—namely, that Jesus has come to fulfill the Feast of Booths, which will cause a divide between those who are enslaved to the shadow (i.e., the Law) and those who will believe in the substance (Christ, to which the Law points).

Tell me what you think? Does this reading match the text, as you see it? Or would you make adjustments?

The Small Mountain: Jesus Conceals Himself from His Unbelieving Brothers (John 7:1–9)

Before the Feast of Booths, Jesus encounters the unbelief of his brothers. Their words reveal their worldly opposition; his words reveal his patience with elect unbelievers.

A – Galilee (v. 1)

** Feast of Booths (v. 2)

B – Jesus Brothers Speak to Jesus (vv. 3–4)

C – Not even his brothers believe in him (v. 5)

B’ – Jesus Speaks to His Brothers (vv. 6–8)

A’ – Galilee (v. 9)

The Large Mountain: Jesus Sifts the Crowds Disclosing Unbelief and Creating Faith (John 7:10–36)

In the middle of a muttering crowd, whose intention is to kill him, Jesus passes over others he will find later, exposes those who truly reject him, and Jesus finds his own who will rest in his word and his works.

0 – Crowds ‘muttering’ (vv. 11–13)

** The Feast (v. 14)

A – Single Question doubting the man Jesus (vv. 14–15)

B – Jesus teaches . . . and bears witness to the One who sent him (vv. 16–19)

C – The crowd renders their evil verdict – No one is trying kill you. (v. 20)

D – Jesus teaches (v. 21)

E – Corrects views on Sabbath and Circumcision (v. 22–23)

D’ – Jesus commands (v. 24)             

C’ – Some of the people believe his teaching and defend his claim. (vv. 25–27)

B’ – Jesus teaches . . . and bears witness to the Father who sent him (vv. 28–29)

A’ – Single question affirming the Christ (vv. 30–31)

0 – Pharisees ‘muttering’ (vv. 32–36)

The Medium Mountain: Jesus Creates a Division between the People (John 7:37–52)

Those who drinks of the Spirit will believe on Jesus, but those who refuse to drink will reject him. The ultimate divide among the crowd is not based on the flesh but the Spirit.

** The Feast (vv. 37–39)

A – Three Responses (vv. 40–42)
1 Some say Jesus is the Prophet (v. 40)
2 Others say Jesus is the Christ (v. 41)
3 But still others question Jesus as the Christ (v. 42)

B – Division (v. 43)

A – Three Responses (vv. 44–51)
1 Arresters vs. “no one laid a hand on him” (v. 44)
2 Officers vs. Pharisees – “no one spoke like this man” (vv. 45–47)
3 Pharisees vs. Nicodemus – No one deserves condemnation with a trial (vv. 50–52)

Again, if you see other things in John 7, please leave a note in the comments.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

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