We have all been on the receiving end of a good joke told poorly. There was nothing wrong with the content, the problem was delivery. Somehow, words that are hilarious when told one way lose their power when told another. The point is that delivery is just as important as content, and the same goes for the Bible. In fact, it’s been said that the words of a Scripture give half of the meaning but the literary structure gives the other half. That is, the way the words are arranged are just as important as the words themselves! To be good readers, we must be clued in to the literary strategies of the authors of Scripture.
One such example of the importance of structure can be found in Mark 1:21-28. I believe this story have a chiastic structure, where details mirror each other. For an example of chiasm, check out Randy McCracken’s blog post here and scroll down a little.
The Structure of Mark 1:21-28
Here is how I have laid out the structure of Mark 1:21-28 (using the invaluable tool Biblearc). Each color represents a new change of focal characters.
Notice the repetition in the way Mark has structured this story:
- Introductory verse (1:21)
- The crowd is amazed at Jesus’ teaching (1:22)
- Unclean spirit enters, challenges Jesus (1:23-24)
- Jesus reveals the extent of His authority by casting out the demon (1:25)
- The unclean spirit leaves the man (1:26)
- The crowd is amazed at Jesus’ teaching, reinforced by His exorcism (1:27)
- Closing verse (1:28)
The amazed crowd (A) appears first, followed by the unclean spirit (B), followed by Jesus (C). This order is then reversed. I would argue that this is not accidental. Here is the structure displayed in the form of a chiasm:
B) Unclean spirit
B) Unclean spirit
Importantly, the centre of the chiasm, and thus the centre of this story, is Jesus (C). If we read this story and miss its exaltation of Jesus, then we misread the story! Specifically, the focal point of this story is Jesus’ authority. Jesus’ authoritative actions serve to reinforce the amazement of the crowd (A). Who is this man? Of course, ironically, the unclean spirit (B) knows the answer to that question!
Though a simple example, noticing the structure of Mark 1:21-28 makes clear and reinforces Mark’s key point here: Jesus is utterly unique and works with unique authority. Unsurprisingly, Jesus is the hero of the story!