Skip links

Chiasms in Romans

Surprising examples of chiastic patterns in the book of Romans

Considered by many to be the most significant of the Apostle Paul’s writings is his letter to the Romans. Not only was it an important letter, but it is still regarded today as the most doctrinal Epistle of the New Testament. As one scholar puts it, “Romans is one of the most important theological documents of all time. It’s influence on the course of Christian history and the development of Christian theology is inestimable.”[1] Another says that Romans “is Paul’s strongest theological argument and the nearest thing to a systematic theology we have in Scripture.”[2] Even poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge called it “the most profound work in existence” and Martin Luther said it is “the chief work of the New Testament.”[3]

It may not come as a surprise, then, that the book of Romans contains several chiastic patterns in order to aid its readers in the learning of the most important message of all time: The good news of Jesus Christ. Some of these chiasms are limited to just a few verses while others span several chapters. One example of a chiastic structure spanning many chapters is found in Romans 5-8. Following an A-B-C…C’-B’-A’ pattern Paul teaches us through these four chapters that:

A: Believers can be confident of final glory (5:1-11)

B: believers are in Christ and thus are free from condemnation in Adam (5:12-21)

C: Believers are set free from the power of sin (in 6:1-23)

C’: Believers are set free from the binding authority of the law (in 7:1-25)

B’: Believers are free from condemnation because of the Spirit’s work (8:1-17)

A’: Believers can be confident of final glory (8:18-39).[4]

An example of a chiasm spanning only a few verses is found in Romans 2:6-11 and can be summarized as follows:

A: God judges everyone the same (v.6)

B: Life is the reward for doing good (v.7)

C: Wrath is the penalty for evil (v.8-9)

B’: Life is the reward for doing good (v.10)

A’: God shows no favoritism (v.11)[5]

Another six-verse chiasm is found in Romans 9:24-29 where Paul teaches about the inclusion of the Gentiles into God’s family (a common theme in Romans).

A: God calls people from the Jews (v.24b)

B: God calls people from the Gentiles (v.24c)

B’: The Old Testament confirms that God calls people from the Gentiles (vv.25-26)

A’: The Old Testament confirms that God calls people from the Jews (vv.27-29)[6]

Some chiastic patterns are only one or two verses long. For instance, in Romans 5:12 a simple A-B…B-A pattern is employed:

A: Sin enters the world through one man

B: Death results

B’: Death comes to all

A’: Because all sinned[7]

Another brief, but significant, chiasm is found in one of the most quoted passages in all of Romans. In Romans 10:9-10 Paul teaches us that:

A: That if you confess (v.9)

B: with your mouth the Lord Jesus (v.9)

C: and believe (v.9)

D: in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, (v.9)

E: YOU WILL BE SAVED (v.9)

D’: For with the heart (v.10)

C’: one believes unto righteousness (v.10)

B’: and with the mouth (v.10)

A’: confession is made unto salvation (v.10)[8]

What these chiastic patterns help demonstrate is that the book of Romans wasn’t haphazardly written but rather thoughtfully penned by Paul who ultimately wrote through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit of God.

 

Ryan Hembree | November 5, 2021 – 3:00 PM EST


[1] Douglas J. Moo, NIV Biblical Theology Study Bible, Introduction to Romans, 2019, D.A. Carson general editor.
[2] Ron Hembree, Quick Study Bible, Romans, 1415.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Douglas J. Moo, NIV Biblical Theology Study Bible, Note on 5:1-8:39, 2028.
[5] Douglas J. Moo, NIV Biblical Theology Study Bible, Note on 2:6-11, 2023.
[6] Douglas J. Moo, NIV Biblical Theology Study Bible, Note on 9:24-29, 2037.
[7] Douglas J. Moo, NIV Biblical Theology Study Bible, Note on 5:12, 2029.
[8] https://www.chiasmusxchange.com/2015/01/13/romans-10910/