chiasm: Galatians 5.22-23

Paul once reminded Christians living in Galatia of nine aspects of the fruit of God’s Spirit. While Paul certainly never intended these nine to be viewed as an exclusive or comprehensive catalog of the Spirit’s fruit, to this day, these nine are well known to Christians everywhere. It reads:


Now while few seasoned students of Scripture construe these nine aspects as merely being a checklist of equal terms, scholars do differ as to the relationships they each have with each other.

For example, is Paul saying that the first word in the list, love, is something like the supreme, word, an umbrella word under which the remaining eight aspects individually huddle?

Or another possibility: is he saying, the eight huddle under the supreme word, love, but do so in four pairs that have much affinity with each other (i.e. – joy and peace hang together, patience and kindness are buds, etc.)? Like this:


Another option: many students of the word do not see the word love as a supreme or umbrella word, but rather see three set of triplets that play well together (e.g. – love, joy and peace, etc.). Is this the case? Picture it.


Now this student enters, stage right, with yet another perspective: the nine words are chiastic triplets (A-B-A) and the three also form a single, greater chiasm. That is: it was not in Paul’s mind here to lay out love as the supreme, or umbrella, word (though I held that view for quite some time in years past), but as a word that would serve as the best lead. Further, Paul does have three triplets in mind, but all three triplets are mini-chiasms within themselves and are nested together as one large chiasm.

And so: love and peace have much in common (and result in joy), patience and goodness/generosity make a team (and are expressions of kindness), and faithfulness and self-control are yoked together (and are pathways of gentleness). The words that could have stood out in Paul’s mind were joy, kindness, and gentleness, with kindness (at the center of the three centers) being the focal point of it all. Thus …


And why do I see joy, kindness and gentleness as the focal points of these aspects of the fruit of the Spirit, with the kindness as the supreme point of emphasis? Because both the immediate and overall context cries out for it to be read that way. One need only be reminded of the way Paul had just finished describing the errant behavior of no small number of the Galatians Christians to come to that conclusion.

All the Law has been fulfilled in a single statement: Love your neighbor as yourself. But if you bite and devour each other, be careful that you don’t get eaten up by each other! (Galatians 5.14-15)