Chiastic Confession

Peter Leithart wrote about the chiastic structure laying on top of Luke’s account of the crucifixion, in Luke 23:

A– Jewish rulers mock (v 35)
B– Roman soldiers mock (vv 36-37)
C– One of the criminals mocks (v 39)

C’– Criminal confesses Christ (vv 40-43)
B’– Roman soldier confesses (v 47)
A’– Jewish ruler confesses (vv 50-53)

A few things to note here. At first glance, this structure seems unfaithful to the text because it ignores the central event of Luke 23, namely, the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ. But in Luke, as in all the gospels, witness is key. The concept of witness does not stop at the facts of what has happened; it demands that the one witnessing the events recorded responds to the message. There’s certainly room for reflection there.

Also note the progression. At first Jesus descends. The ruling class scoffs, then the soldiers rail, then the one of the criminals mock. He’s being rejected by socials classes from top to bottom. And then, as is the nature with chiasmus, the process is reversed. A criminal confesses him. A soldier declares him innocent. A ruler buries him in a new tomb. Just as Jesus was rejected by all the world, so he will be confessed by all peoples.

Last, look at the difference between the two sets. A group of Jewish rulers mock Jesus. It is a group of Roman soldiers who rail at him. Even though it is a singular criminal who denounces him, the language is significant: “one of the criminals” (plural). As we’ve seen before in the gospels, it is crowds who reject Jesus. They like to listen to his teaching, they’re attracted by his miracles, they love it when he feeds them– but crowds do not place their faith in Christ. Individuals do. That’s why the next set is made up of individuals from each of the three classes. A criminal, a centurion, and a ruler.

The good news of the death of Christ will go out into all the world, but it does so in a certain way. It is individuals who are to witness to Christ, and it is individuals who are commanded to do something with the witness they receive. Beginning with the low, the poor, the criminal, and the outcast, this word of the gospel must be proclaimed to every creature under heaven. Not only so, but the crucifixion of Jesus is a watershed for all who hear– we will either respond in railing and denunciation, or in fullness of faith. Witness calls for a response, and nothing other than a confession of faith will do.

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