In his address at the recent “Be One” celebration that commemorated the 40th anniversary of the revelation on the priesthood, President Russell M. Nelson made use of parallelism to emphasize the need to treat everyone as equals.
After reviewing the Lord’s “essential doctrine of equal opportunity for His children”, by referencing Matthew 22:36-40 and D&C 38:24-25, President Nelson shared three sequential parallelisms to stress the importance of applying this doctrine into our lives. These parallelisms were arranged to build in intensity, climaxing with the third parallelism. This building in intensity was created through form — the first two being less clearly parallel and the third being unmistakably parallel — and content — the first two providing a case study and doctrinal basis and the third providing a summary statement containing universally understandable metaphors.
This paper presents a diagram and detailed analysis of each parallelism.
President Nelson’s first parallelism describes the process of faithful people joining the Church throughout the world and becoming one, as “[d]ifferences in culture, language, gender, race, and nationality fade into insignificance”:
A: On every continent and across the isles of the sea, B: faithful people are C: being gathered D: into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. A: Differences in culture, language, gender, race, and nationality fade into insignificance as B: the faithful C: enter the covenant path and come D: unto our beloved Redeemer.
A=A: By mentioning “every continent”, “the isles of the sea”, and “culture, language, gender, race, and nationality”, President Nelson is addressing all forms of prejudice throughout the world.
B=B: Faith is the first principle of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, followed by repentance. Likewise, faith is the first step in overcoming prejudice, as the light of the Gospel heals our minds and hearts.
C=C: “[B]eing gathered” and entering into “the covenant path” is a commitment to follow Christ and live by his teachings. This enables us to forgive and see the divinity in others.
D=D: Overcoming prejudice is made possible by Jesus Christ, whose priesthood and ordinances are available in His restored church. No form of prejudice is beyond His healing reach.
In his second parallelism, President Nelson declares that prejudice is fully overcome through comprehending “the true Fatherhood of God”. This understanding opens our eyes to the divinity of the human family.
Ultimately, we realize that A: only the comprehension of B: the true Fatherhood of God A: can bring full appreciation of B: the true brotherhood of men B: and the true sisterhood of women.
A=A: “[C]omprehension” leads to “appreciation”. The more we comprehend that God is the literal father of the human family, the more we appreciate each other.
B=B: If God is our father, then we are all brothers and sisters.
Lastly, in his third parallelism, President Nelson encourages us to develop a mindset of “cooperation” that brings people together.
That understanding inspires us with passionate desire to A: build bridges B: of cooperation A: instead of walls B: of segregation.
A=A: “[B]ridges” is antithetical to “walls”.
B=B: “[C]ooperation” is antithetical to “segregation”.
The power of this final parallelism — from its combined form and content — drew an approving applause from the audience.
In calling on the people of the world and the membership of the Church to overcome prejudice of any kind, President Nelson effectively used parallelism to enhance his message, making it more memorable and powerful.
During the April 2018 General Conference I was particularly struck by a medical story told by Apostle Dale G. Renlund, who worked as a medical doctor prior to his calling as a general authority. He specialized in cardiology and transplant medicine, providing the chronic after-care for patients who had received heart transplantation surgery. He has drawn upon his medical experience in several prior talks, including his first address as a general authority where he used transplant medicine as a gospel analogy for maintaining the mighty change of heart, and his first talk as an apostle where he told the touching story of a patient who tragically died (including a role-reversal, where the parents of the patient provided comfort to him, the grieving doctor).
Elder Renlund’s April 2018 address tells of a heart transplant recipient becoming an important figure in the life of his heart donor’s family. This relationship is culminated in the temple sealing ordinance, where the transplant recipient acts as proxy for his heart donor as he is sealed to his parents. This story is told using a long-form textual chiasm:
A. “Todd, if you really do have to go, I promise I’ll see to it that your temple work gets done.” The next morning, Todd was declared brain dead. Surgeons
C. Todd’s heart into my patient, a remarkable individual named
D. Rod. A few months after the transplant, Rod learned the identity of his heart donor’s family and began to correspond with them. About two years later,
E. Todd’s mother, Betty, invited Rod to be present when she went to the temple for the first time. Rod and Betty first met in person in the
F. celestial room of the St. George Utah Temple. Sometime thereafter, Todd’s father—Betty’s husband—died. A couple of years later, Betty invited
G. Rod to
G. her deceased son in receiving his temple ordinances. Rod gratefully did so, and the proxy work culminated in a
F. sealing room in the St. George Utah Temple. Betty was sealed to her deceased husband, kneeling across the altar from her grandson who served as proxy. Then, with tears streaming down her cheeks,
E. she beckoned for Rod to join them at the altar.
D. Rod knelt beside them, acting as proxy for her son,
C. Todd, whose heart was still beating inside Rod’s chest.
B. Rod’s heart donor, Todd, was then sealed to his parents for all eternity.
A. Todd’s mother had kept the promise she made to her dying son years before.
Notice near the center of the structure that “Rod” and “her deceased son” (Todd) are paired elements, nested within the sacred rooms of the “St. George Utah Temple”. Betty’s “promise” to have her son’s temple work done forms the outer pair of elements, surrounding the sacred events in the interior of the chiasm. The literal meaning of the words is thus reinforced by the symbolic relationships between paired elements of the literary structure.
The entire subject of temple work is chiastic, as living descendants research family history and perform vicarious ordinances for ancestors who are deceased, with the center point of the relationship being the House of God where the ordinances are performed.
Elder Renlund’s talk contains the following chiasms, all of which emphasize the relationship between the temporal and eternal blessings of temple work:
We can perform the ordinances vicariously in temples, and our
A. ancestors may choose to accept the ordinances. We are also encouraged to help ward and stake members with their family names. It is
B. breathtakingly amazing that, through family history and temple work,
C. we can help to redeem the dead. But as we participate in family history and temple work today,
C. we also lay claim to “healing” blessings promised by prophets and apostles. These blessings are also
B. breathtakingly amazing because of their scope, specificity, and
A. consequence in mortality.
The ascending half of this chiasm refers to the “breathtakingly amazing” effects of temple work on those who have passed through the veil, as ancestors who choose to accept the ordinances may be saved and sealed, producing consequences in eternity. The descending side shows the mirror image, describing the “breathtakingly amazing” blessings given in mortality to those who participate in this work.
The following chiasm builds off of a quote from Ezekiel chapter 47 on the ascending side to explain the meaning of the symbolic language of the scriptural passage on the descending side:
A. “[and] the waters shall be healed. And it shall come to pass, that every thing that liveth, which moveth, whithersoever the rivers shall come, shall live: … for
B. they shall be healed; and
C. every thing shall live whither the river cometh.” Two characteristics of the water are noteworthy. First, though the small stream had no tributaries, it grew into a
D. mighty river, becoming wider and deeper the farther it flowed. Something similar happens with the blessings that flow from the temple as individuals are
E. sealed as families. Meaningful growth occurs going
F. backward and
F. forward through the generations as
E. sealing ordinances weld families together. Second, the
C. renewed everything that it touched. The blessings of the temple likewise have a
B. stunning capacity to heal. Temple blessings can
A. heal hearts and lives and families.
The river of water flowing from the temple through the desert to heal the Dead Sea is symbolic of the blessings of the temple, which flow into the lives of temple patrons and their family members in both directions (ancestors and descendants) and on both sides of the veil.
Elder Renlund concludes his talk with a reiteration of President Nelson’s invitation for us to “sacrifice” more of our “time” to do this important work of “temple and family history”, nested at the center of a long-form chiasm between a repeated quote from C. S. Lewis. Also emphasized in this structure is the doctrine that the Lord is the ultimate source of all of the healing and sealing blessings of the temple. The relationship of these elements within the chiastic structure suggests that our willing sacrifice in temple and family history work is at the center of our opportunity to call forth the blessings of heaven to heal us and our families.
A. “The Blessed will say, ‘We have never lived anywhere except in Heaven.’” God will
B. strengthen, help, and uphold us; and He will sanctify to us our deepest distress. When we gather our family histories and go to the temple on behalf of our ancestors,
C. God fulfills many of these promised blessings simultaneously on both sides of the veil. Similarly, we are blessed when we help others in our wards and stakes do the same. Members who do not live close to a temple also receive these blessings by participating in
D. family history work,
E. collecting the names of their ancestors for temple ordinances to be performed.
F. President Russell M. Nelson, however, cautioned: “We can be inspired all day long about
G. temple and family history experiences others have had. But
H. we must do something to actually experience the joy ourselves.” He continued, “I invite you to prayerfully consider what kind of
I. sacrifice—preferably a
I. sacrifice of time—
H. you can make [to] do more
G. temple and family history work.” As you accept
F. President Nelson’s invitation, you will
E. discover, gather, and connect your family. Additionally, blessings will flow to you and your family like the river spoken of by Ezekiel. You will find healing for that which needs healing. Orson and Parley Pratt experienced the healing and sealing effects of
D. family history and temple work early in this dispensation. Betty, her family, and Rod experienced it. You can too. Through His atoning sacrifice,
C. Jesus Christ offers these blessings to all, both the dead and the living. Because of
B. these blessings,
A. we will find that we, metaphorically, “have never lived anywhere except … Heaven.”
Elder Renlund teaches through precept, story, and even the very literary structure of his talk, that the blessings of temple work are simultaneously distributed to people on both sides of the veil. Jesus Christ is the source of those blessings, as he is the central figure in the Plan of Salvation and the power by which families are sealed together in the temple.
Mardy Grothe, in his book, Never Let A Fool Kiss You or a Kiss Fool You (Penguin Books, 1999), introduces the concept of “implied chiasmus”, which describes “a special kind of abbreviated chiastic expression.” He explains:
“Ordinarily chiasmus contains two phrases or clauses, the second one reversing the first. In implied chiasmus a reversal implies a saying–generally a well-known one–but stands alone.” (Chapter 16)
A clever example he shares is from the Muppet character, Kermit the Frog:
“Time’s fun when you’re having flies.”
This is an implied chiasm of the well-known idiom:
“Time flies when you’re having fun.”
Grothe’s concept of implied chiasmus acknowledges the parallel attributes of spoonerisms, the “interchange of sounds” that produces “a phrase with a meaning entirely different from the one intended” and which is quite humorous. In a classic spoonerism, the sound order is inverted from the familiar or intended phrase, so that together they create a chiasm and separated they create an implied chiasm. Implied chiasmus is similar to “phonetic chiasmus,” described in Farnsworth’s Classical English Rhetoric (David R. Godine, 2010), which is “based just on the sound or length of the words involved.”
Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) uses both implied chiasmus and implied parallelism in his writings. This article discusses a profound example of implied parallelism from Stevenson’s essay, “Aes Triplex” (1878), that references the words of William Wordsworth (1770-1850).
As an aside, according to the LDS Scripture Citation Index, Robert Louis Stevenson has been quoted more by President Thomas S. Monson in General Conference addresses than by any other LDS General Authority. President Monson also frequently quoted the words of William Wordsworth that are implied by Stevenson in this parallelism. To our knowledge, President Monson was unaware of this reference in Stevenson’s writings, but we consider this implied chiasm to be a fitting tribute to the life of President Thomas S. Monson, who died earlier this week.
Stevenson and Wordsworth:
Robert Louis Stevenson’s essay, “Aes Triplex” (1878), challenges the conventional thinking that death is the worst possible thing that can happen to a person and, instead, argues that not embracing life is worse than death. At the conclusion of his essay, he describes those who die while in the midst of pursuing “good work with their whole hearts”. He writes:
“In the hot-fit of life, a-tiptoe on the highest point of being, he passes at a bound on to the other side. The noise of the mallet and chisel is scarcely quenched, the trumpets are hardly done blowing, when, trailing with him clouds of glory, this happy starr’d, full-blooded spirit shoots into the spiritual land.” (emphasis added)
“Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting; The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star, Hath had elsewhere its setting And cometh from afar; Not in entire forgetfulness, And not in utter nakedness, But trailing clouds of glory do we come From God, who is our home:” (emphasis added)
Diagram and Analysis:
A: But trailing clouds of glory B: do we C: come From D: God, who is our home:
A: trailing with him clouds of glory, B: this happy starr’d, full-blooded spirit C: shoots into D: the spiritual land.
Stevenson’s meaning seems to be that, just as we bring with us “clouds of glory” from the presence of God when we are born, if we embrace life and seek to perform “good work with [our] whole hearts” while we are here, we can return to God’s presence at the end of our life with “clouds of glory” and be prepared to dwell in that “spiritual land”.
The concept of implied chiasmus is useful for identifying and understanding certain references authors make to other authors. By recognizing the implied structure of a reference, we can gain a deeper and more thorough understanding of an author’s intended meaning. Interestingly, this example from Stevenson is structurally a parallelism, but conceptually a chiasm, since it involves coming from and returning to God.
Perhaps the main controversy within the LDS Church over the past decade has concerned The Family: A Proclamation to the World. This document, announced by President Gordon B. Hinckley in September 1995 and approved by the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, lays out Latter-day Saint beliefs about the family and explains the importance of governmental efforts to strengthen the family.
Elder Dallin H. Oaks’ address at the October 2017 General Conference sought to clarify misunderstandings about the Proclamation and strengthen the faith and resolve of Church members to live and teach according to it. Elder Oaks also shared his experience participating in its creation. Describing it as a “revelatory process,” he explained how members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles “pleaded with the Lord for His inspiration on what they should say and how they should say it.” Elder Oaks affirmed that the Proclamation is “a statement of eternal truth.”*
To emphasize different aspects of his address, Elder Oaks used the rhetorical figures of chiasmus and parallelism, including several from the words of Jesus, the Apostle Paul, the Apostle James, and Gordon B. Hinckley. Interestingly, in the New Testament examples, Elder Oaks selected the portion of the verse that is a chiasm or parallelism, and, in one instance, omitted text in order to create or enhance a chiasm. In this paper, we diagram and analyze examples from each of these Church leaders.
#1: Elder Oaks opened his talk with a chiasm that describes how Latter-day Saints “forgo participation” in “some subjects” because of their “unique doctrine” and efforts to “follow the teachings of Jesus Christ and His Apostles.”
A: As is evident in our family proclamation, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints B: are blessed with unique doctrine and different ways of viewing the world. C:We participate and even excel D: in many worldly activities, D: but on some subjects C:we forgo participation B: as we seek to follow the teachings of A:Jesus Christ and His Apostles, ancient and modern.
#2: In this parallelism, Elder Oaks describes how faithful Latter-day Saints, or “those who strive for exaltation,” differ from “the world’s way” in their “personal choices in family life.”
A: Even as we B: must live with the marriage laws and other traditions C: of a declining world, A: those who strive for exaltation B: must make personal choices in family life according to the Lord’s way C: whenever that differs from the world’s way.
#3: Here, Elder Oaks uses a chiasm to contrast those who “grow and mature” by “choosing to obey God’s commandments” with those who “forgo that growth and maturity” by choosing to disobey or “deliberately refrain” from following God.
A: We grow and mature spiritually B: by choosing to obey God’s commandments in a succession of right choices. C: These include covenants and ordinances C: and repentance when our choices are wrong. B: In contrast, if we lack faith in God’s plan and are disobedient to or deliberately refrain from its required actions, A: we forgo that growth and maturity.
#4: In this parallelism, Elder Oaks shows how faithful Latter-day Saints have “distinctive priorities and practices” because of their “worldview.” As these priorities and practices sometimes result in “frustrations and pains,” Latter-day Saints are blessed through “[o]ur Savior’s Atonement” with the “strength to endure.”
A: Latter-day Saints who understand God’s plan of salvation have a unique worldview B: that helps them see the reason for God’s commandments, the unchangeable nature of His required ordinances, and the fundamental role of our Savior, Jesus Christ. C: Our Savior’s Atonement reclaims us from death and, subject to our repentance, saves us from sin. A: With that worldview, Latter-day Saints have B: distinctive priorities and practices C: and areblessed with the strength to endure the frustrations and pains of mortal life.
#5: In this parallelism, Elder Oaks contrasts “[t]hose who do not believe in or aspire to exaltation” with “Latter-day Saints,” implying that Church members who reject the doctrine of exaltation are on dangerous ground. Rather than being a mere “statement of policy that should be changed,” the family proclamation “defines the kind of family relationships where the most important part of our eternal development can occur.”
A:Those who do not believe in or aspire to exaltation and are most persuaded by the ways of the world B:consider this family proclamationas C:just a statement of policy that should be changed. A: In contrast, Latter-day Saints B:affirm that the family proclamation C:defines the kind of family relationships where the most important part of our eternal development can occur.
#6: This parallelism expresses the dual responsibilities shouldered by Latter-day Saints: “following the gospel law in our personal lives” and “show[ing] love for all.”
A: We must try to B: balance the competing demands of following the gospel law C: in our personal lives and teachings, A: even as we seek to B: show love C: for all.
#7: Elder Oaks uses a chiasm to declare his testimony that the family proclamation is “a statement of eternal truth” and to encourage Church members to “teach it” and “live by it.”
A: I testify that the proclamation on the family is a statement of eternal truth, the will of the Lord for His children who seek eternal life. B: It has been the basis of Church teaching and practice C: for the last 22 years C: and will continue so for the future. B: Consider it as such, teach it, live by it, A: and you will be blessed as you press forward toward eternal life.
#8: Referring to the teachings of President Ezra Taft Benson, this parallelism shows how “our attitude toward and use of the family proclamation” is one of the tests of our generation. Elder Oaks encourages us to “stand firm in that test.”
A: Forty years ago, President Ezra Taft Benson taught B: that “every generation has its tests C: and its chance to stand and prove itself.” A:I believe B: our attitude toward and use of the family proclamation is one of those tests for this generation. C: I pray for all Latter-day Saints to stand firm in that test.
#1: In these two parallelisms, Jesus contrasts the things of God with the things of men and shows how our souls are infinitely more valuable than the riches of the world. (See Matthew 16:23, 26)
“Later, Jesus corrected Peter for not savoring
A: ‘the things that B: be of God, A: but those that B: be of men,’
declaring, ‘For what is a man profited,
A: if he shall gain B: the whole world, A: and lose B: his own soul?'”
#2: In these two antithetic chiasms, Jesus teaches His Apostles about the intolerance of the world. (see John 15:19)
A: “If ye were B: of the world, B: the world would A: love his own:
A: but because ye are B: not of the world, B: … the world A: hateth you.”
#1: Mirroring the teachings of Jesus that contrast the things of God with the things of men, the Apostle Paul uses a parallelism to show how God is superior to man. (See 1 Corinthians 3:19)
A: “For the wisdom B: of this world A: is foolishness B: with God.”
#1: Building on these teachings that contrast God and the world, the Apostle James shows in this parallelism that man cannot be friends with both God and the world. (See James 4:4)
A: “the friendship B: of the world C: is enmity D: with God[.] A: Whosoever therefore will be a friend B: of the world C: is the enemy D: of God”
Gordon B. Hinckley
#1: When President Hinckley introduced the family proclamation on September 23, 1995, he included this three-part parallelism about the “sophistry,” “deception,” and “allurement and enticement” of the world that necessitated the “warn[ing] and forewarn[ing]” of the proclamation.
A: “With so much of
B: sophistry C: that is passed off as truth,
A: with so much of
B: deception C: concerning standards and values,
A: with so much of
B: allurement and enticement C: to take on the slow stain of the world, we have felt to warn and forewarn.”
#2: Using the rhetorical figure of anaphora, President Hinckley shared his optimistic vision about Church members who would faithfully “live the gospel” in “a very uncertain world.”
“I see a wonderful future in a very uncertain world. A: If we will B: cling to our values, A: if we will B: build on our inheritance, A: if we will B: walk in obedience before the Lord, A: if we will B: simply live the gospel, A: we will be B: blessed in a magnificent and wonderful way. A: We will be B: looked upon as a peculiar people who have found the key to a peculiar happiness.”
Elder Oaks’ skillful use of chiasmus and parallelism draws attention to and reinforces different aspects of his address. Specifically, chiasmus and parallelism allow him to contrast and compare with exactness and clarity and to focus the attention of his audience. A careful reading of his address, with an awareness of his use of rhetorical figures, will allow the seeker after truth to develop a correct understanding of the Proclamation and withstand the false teachings the adversary seeks to spread.
On August 16, 2017, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spoke at a Chiasmus Jubilee at Brigham Young University that commemorated 50 years since John W. Welch discovered chiasmus in the Book of Mormon. It was on the morning of August 16, 1967 that Welch, a young LDS missionary serving in Germany, discovered chiasmus in Mosiah 5:10-12. The Chiasmus Jubilee was the conclusion of a two-day Chiasmus Conference that we attended and found to be worthwhile, as it brought together individuals from around the world who have an interest in chiasmus.
Elder Holland has been described as “one of the greatest orators of this dispensation.”1 As such, he is a master at using rhetorical figures. Like Robert Louis Stevenson’s stealthful use of chiasmus in his essay describing his chiasmus methodology,2 Elder Holland made stealthful use of chiasmus in his talk honoring the accomplishments of John W. Welch.3
This article presents several small-scale chiasms and parallelisms from Elder Holland’s talk, a large-scale chiasm that encompasses his entire talk, and examples of other rhetorical figures.
Elder Holland opens his talk with a humorous chiasm, emphasizing the uniqueness of the event.
I don’t know about you, A: but I don’t get invited to many jubilees. B: Church conferences, yes. B: Missionary meetings, yes. B: An occasional barn raising, yes. A: But it is rare to be part of a jubilee.
This chiasm presents a statement of gratitude for the accomplishments of John W. Welch framed within an expression of gratitude for gospel scholars throughout the Church. Welch represents the qualities of faith, loyalty, productivity, and legacy that describe the true Latter-day Saint scholar, of which there are “so many.”
A: I wish to say at the outset that the presiding officers of the Church appreciate and applaud the exceptional work being done by so many to search and to substantiate, to defend and promulgate the history and doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, including and especially the Book of Mormon, in a way both scholarly and spiritual. B: Obviously one of the influential, representative figures in this generation of such work C: is our friend and colleague John W. Welch, being honored tonight. D: I have known and loved Jack and other members of the Welch family for at least 40 of the 50 years we are commemorating. D: In deference to the clock I will not recount all of his academic accomplishments (much of which has been referenced here tonight), but suffice it to say, C: Jack, that the Brethren are grateful for B: your faith, your loyalty, your productivity, and what is increasingly your scholarly legacy in defending the kingdom of God. A: That compliment is, of course, extended to a legion of other men and women across the Church who are putting their shoulders to the wheel of reasoned, determined, persuasive gospel scholarship.
Here we see a series of chiasms and parallelisms that emphasizes the role of the mind and the heart in receiving revelation through the Holy Ghost. It also emphasizes that all truth, whether it be of a spiritual or secular nature, is revealed in this way.
A: Faith and testimony, gospel devotion and Church loyalty, conviction so strong it leads to covenants and consecration are ultimately matters of the Spirit. B: They come as a gift from God, B: delivered and confirmed to our soul by the Holy Ghost in His divine role as revelator, witness, teacher of truth. A: But it should be noted that truly rock-ribbed faith and uncompromised conviction comes with its most complete power when it engages our head as well as our heart.
A: “Behold, the Lord requireth B: the heart and a willing mind,”4 A: Jehovah declared to the early Saints, and to Oliver Cowdery specifically He said, B: “I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost. . . . Behold, this is the spirit of revelation.”5
I have always loved that definition of revelation. For one thing, it makes clear that A: all revelation that can be called revelation B: comes through the influence of the Holy Ghost— A: that is to say that the receipt of any truth is ultimately a spiritual experience, an enlightenment B: facilitated and confirmed by the Holy Ghost.
Secondly, that definition makes it clear that A: truth borne by the Holy Spirit comes with, in effect, B: two manifestations, B: two witnesses if you will— A: the force of fact as well as the force of feeling.
Elder Holland uses a chiasm to parabolically tell the story of Nephi and Lehi’s mission to the Lamanites recorded in Helaman 5. Like the converted Lamanites who went forth and doubted not, we too ought to embrace the evidences the Lord has provided for our conversions and be bold in testifying of gospel truth.
A: One of the seldom-told but truly striking stories of conversion in all of scripture is B: the success the later Nephi and Lehi had on their mission to the Lamanites outlined in the book of Helaman. C: After a dramatic sequence of earthquakes and voices from heaven, of angels appearing and prison walls crumbling, D: Mormon records that the people “were bidden to go forth E: and marvel not, E: neither should they doubt. D: And . . . they did go forth . . . C: declaring throughout . . . the [region] . . . all the things which they had heard and seen, B: inasmuch that the more part of the Lamanites A: were convinced of them, because of the greatness of the evidences which they had received.”
After referring to Hebrews 11:1, Elder Holland uses a chiasm to declare how the Book of Mormon, a tangible piece of evidence, is “at the heart, at the very center” of his testimony of the Restored Gospel.
A: For me a classic example of substance I hope for and evidence of things I have not seen is the 531 pages of the Book of Mormon B: that come from a sheaf of gold plates C: some people saw and handled and hefted C: but I haven’t seen or handled or hefted, and neither have you. B: Nevertheless, the reality of those plates, A: the substance of them if you will, and the evidence that comes to us from them in the form of the Book of Mormon is at the heart, at the very center, of the hope and testimony and conviction of this work that is unshakably within me forever.
This chiasm emphasizes the limitations that hamper us when we fail to take advantage of the “intellectual, documentable support” the Lord has provided to defend our testimonies. In contrast, Elder Holland invites us to imagine the “incomparably strong theological position” and “unique, persuasive vocabulary” we might enjoy in sharing the gospel.
A: Our testimonies aren’t dependent on evidence—we still need that spiritual confirmation in the heart of which we have spoken— B: but not to seek for and not to acknowledge intellectual, documentable support for our belief when it is available C: is to needlessly limit an otherwise incomparably strong theological position C: and deny us a unique, persuasive vocabulary in the latter-day arena of religious investigation and sectarian debate. B: Thus armed with so much evidence of the kind we have celebrated here tonight, A: we ought to be more assertive than we sometimes are in defending our testimony of truth.
This parallelism, from the English cleric, Austin Farrer,6 describes the critical role “rational argument” plays in sustaining faith. Interestingly, what the first two ‘B’ elements state negatively, the third ‘B’ element states positively.
A: “Though argument does not create conviction, B: lack of it destroys belief. A: What seems to be proved may not be embraced; B: but what no one shows the ability to defend is quickly abandoned. A: Rational argument does not create belief, B: but it maintains a climate in which belief may flourish.”
In concluding his remarks, Elder Holland references Helaman 5:50 and uses a parallelism to express his desire for a new and larger generation of gospel scholars throughout the Church who can boldly declare secular supports for spiritual truths.
A: May our Father in Heaven bless us and [with?] an ever-larger cadre of young scholars around the Church B: to do more and more to discover and delineate and declare the reasons for the hope that is in us, A: that like those converted Lamanites, B: we may with bold conviction hold up to a world that desperately needs it “the greatness of the evidences which [we have] received,” especially of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon, the keystone of our religion.
In addition to a thorough use of chiasmus throughout his talk, Elder Holland’s entire talk is chiastically structured. At the center is our potential to be “upbraided” by the Lord if we do not take advantage of the “many infallible proofs” He continues to reveal in defending the kingdom of God. Instead, we should embrace Elder Holland’s desire for “an ever-larger cadre of young scholars” throughout the Church — whether it be as scholars ourselves or by playing a supporting role.
A: …the exceptional work being done by so many to search and to substantiate, to defend and promulgate the history and doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, including and especially the Book of Mormon… B: …truly rock-ribbed faith and uncompromised conviction comes with its most complete power when it engages our head as well as our heart. C: …the more part of the Lamanites were convinced of them, because of the greatness of the evidences which they had received. D: …he shewed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs… E: …He “upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart.” E: …we are honor bound to affirm and declare that truth and may be upbraided if we do not. D: …the gospel is infallibly true and that a variety of infallible proofs supporting that assertion will continue to come until Jesus descends as the ultimate infallible truth of all. C: …ye know these things and cannot deny them [because of the] many evidences which ye have received… B: …when that complete witness is borne to our heart and our head… A: …an ever-larger cadre of young scholars around the Church to do more and more to discover and delineate and declare the reasons for the hope that is in us… especially of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon, the keystone of our religion.
Other Rhetorical Figures
In addition to using chiasmus and parallelisms in his talk, Elder Holland uses other rhetorical figures that involve repetition: conduplicatio (“repetition of the same word”) and epimone, (“repetition of entire phrases”).7
After referencing 1 Peter 3:15 that includes the word “reasons,” Elder Holland repeats the word “reasons” three times. The second mention of “reasons” does not appear in the transcript of Elder Holland’s talk, but is from the delivery of his talk.
“Reasons, reasons for the hope that is in us. Reasons for our belief.”
Similarly, this next example of conduplicatio is enhanced by Elder Holland’s delivery of his talk, where the word “evident,” or the third mention in the series of three, is replaced with “observable” in the transcript. The Apostle Paul’s definition of faith referred to is found in Hebrews 11:1.
“In his classic definition of faith the Apostle Paul suggests, with one of those paradoxes that so frequently crop up in the gospel, that evidence is still evidence even if it is not immediately evident.”
After referencing Acts 1:3, that contains the phrase “infallible truths,” Elder Holland repeats three variations of the phrase.
“My testimony to you tonight is that the gospel is infallibly true and that a variety of infallible proofs supporting that assertion will continue to come until Jesus descends as the ultimate infallible truth of all.”
Lastly, in telling the story of Martin Harris’s witness of the gold plates, from which the Book of Mormon was translated, Elder Holland cites two back-to-back epimones from Martin Harris’s words.
“In response to that spiritual and temporal evidence he [Martin Harris] shouted for all of us, ‘Tis enough, ‘tis enough; mine eyes have beheld, mine eyes have beheld.’”
As can be seen, Elder Holland is a master at using rhetorical figures and has the instincts to enhance them while delivering his messages. By approaching his talk, “The Greatness of the Evidence,” with a careful study of rhetorical figures, including chiasmus, we can strengthen our understanding of his message and be better equipped to apply it to our advantage. Specifically, we can do our part to foster “an ever-larger cadre of young scholars around the Church” who can more effectively prepare the world for “the ultimate infallible truth of all,” the Second Coming of the Savior.
From July 5-8, we participated in the international “Robert Louis Stevenson: New Perspectives” conference at Edinburgh Napier University in Scotland. This four-day conference was fantastic, as we were able to meet and learn from Stevenson scholars from around the world. Our paper focused on chiasmus in Stevenson’s essays and included a 49-page collection of parallelisms and chiasms we have so far identified.
Currently, we are continuing our research and preparing our paper for inclusion in a forthcoming conference edition of the Journal of Stevenson Studies. We are very excited to share our findings with Stevenson scholars and hope our effort will contribute to a better understanding of his essays and a fuller appreciation of his skill as a writer. Our view is that Robert Louis Stevenson belongs in the pantheon of the greatest writers in the English language.
Although he doesn’t use the term “chiasmus,” Stevenson describes his methodology in his essay, “On Some Technical Elements of Style in Literature” (Contemporary Review, April 1885; Essays in the Art of Writing, 1905). Below are a few examples of parallelisms and chiasms from his essays:
1. “An Autumn Effect” (The Porfolio, 1875)
A: For it is rather in nature
B: that we see resemblance to art,
B: than in art
A: to nature;
2. “Talk and Talkers (a Sequel)” (Cornhill Magazine, 1882; Memories and Portraits, 1887)
A: Where youth agrees with age, not where they differ,
B: wisdom lies;
A: and it is when the young disciple finds his heart to beat in tune with his grey-bearded teacher’s
B: that a lesson may be learned.
3. “On Some Technical Elements of Style in Literature” (Contemporary Review, 1885; Essays in the Art of Writing, 1905)
B: and argument live in each other;
B: and it is by the brevity, clearness, charm, or emphasis of the second,
A: that we judge the strength and fitness of the first.
4. “Lay Morals” (1896)
A: Now the problem to the poor
B: is one of necessity;
C: to earn wherewithal to live, they must find remunerative labour.
A: But the problem to the rich
B: is one of honour;
C: having the wherewithal they must find serviceable labour.
A: Each has to earn his daily bread:
B: the one, because he has not yet got it to eat;
B: the other who has already eaten it,
A: because he has not yet earned it.
Over the next few months, we will update and expand upon our 49-page collection of parallelisms and chiasms from Stevenson’s essays. In the meantime, feel free to download a copy for personal review. Perhaps, it will inspire you to study his essays in full!
David O. McKay served as president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from April 1951 until his death in January 1970. Prior to this, he served as a counselor in the First Presidency beginning in 1934 and as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles beginning in 1906. Professionally, David O. McKay was an educator, serving as a teacher and principal at Weber Stake Academy (the forerunner of Weber State University) in Ogden, Utah.
President McKay is remembered for his prophet-esque physical appearance and countenance, the growth and expansion of the Church that occurred during his two-decade tenure, and his teachings: “Every member a missionary” and “No other success can compensate for failure in the home.”
On April 9, 1951, David O. McKay was sustained by the Church’s worldwide membership as president of the Church, replacing President George Albert Smith who had passed away a week earlier. In his inaugural address, President McKay expressed his humility at his new responsibility, dedication to the work of the Lord, and need for the sustaining faith and prayers of Church members.
To aid his expression President McKay paraphrased Abraham Lincoln’s Farewell Address, which was delivered on February 11, 1861 at the Great Western Railroad station in Springfield, Illinois before Lincoln departed for Washington D.C. to assume his duties as President of the United States. Lincoln biographer, Gabor Boritt, considers the Farewell Address Lincoln’s “finest poetry” up to that point in his life and Harriet Beecher Stowe considered it one of Lincoln’s three most beautiful addresses (The Gettysburg Gospel, 92, 159).
Chiasmus and parallelisms are distinctive features in both President McKay’s inaugural address and President Lincoln’s Farewell Address.* This article presents a diagram and detailed analysis of Lincoln’s brief Farewell Address, followed by a diagram and detailed analysis of the relevant paraphrasing passages from McKay’s inaugural address. For an in-depth explanation of our methodology read our article, “Recognizing Parallelisms and Chiasmus in the Scriptures,” under the Methodology tab.
[*Note: Chiasmus is a well-documented feature of Abraham Lincoln’s writings and speeches. For example, the chapter on “Chiasmus” in Farnsworth’s Classical English Rhetoric references Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address (1863), speech at Cooper Institute (1860), debate with Stephen Douglas at Ottawa (1858), letter to A. G. Hodges (1864), and letter to James Hackett (1863).]
Abraham Lincoln’s Farewell Address (1861)
#1: In this parallelism Abraham Lincoln attempts to express his “feeling of sadness” at leaving Springfield, Illinois. David O. McKay also had difficulty expressing his feelings in his inaugural address.
My friends — No one, not in my situation, can appreciate my feeling of sadness at this parting. A: To this place, and the kindness of these people, B: I owe every thing. A: Here B: I have lived a quarter of a century, and have passed from a young to an old man. A: Here B: my children have been born, and one is buried.
A=A: “[T]his place” equals “Here” and “Here,” referring to Springfield, Illinois and the community that had been his neighbors for “a quarter of a century.”
B=B: “[E]very thing” complements “lived a quarter of a century” and “my children have been born, and one is buried.” Abraham Lincoln lived nearly half of his life in Springfield, Illinois. This was long enough to put down deep roots, raise a family, and develop close relations. Following his assassination in 1865, President Lincoln was buried in Springfield’s Oak Ridge Cemetery.
#2: This chiasm expresses a sense of foreboding doom for President Lincoln, but also evidences his courage and patriotism in the face of serious personal danger.
A: I now leave, B: not knowing when, B: or whether ever, A: I may return,
A=A: “[L]eave” contrasts with “return.” In departing from home, Lincoln naturally contemplates his eventual return.
B=B: “[W]hen” complements “ever.” Perhaps a premonition of his assassination, Lincoln does not know if he will ever return to Springfield. With the Civil War weeks away from beginning and several states having already left the Union, an ominous black cloud hung over the nation. President Lincoln would give his life to preserve the Union.
#3: In this parallelism Abraham Lincoln compares his task to preserve the Union with that of George Washington’s task to create or found the Union.
A: with a task B: before me A: greater than that which B: rested upon Washington.
A=A: “[T]ask” compares to “greater than that.” Lincoln considers his “task” as president to be “greater than that” of any previous president.
B=B: “[M]e” compares to “Washington.” Lincoln specifically compares himself to George Washington, “Father of our Country,” General of the Continental Army, and first President of the United States. Instead of founding the nation, Lincoln would be preserving it — a task he considered to be “greater” or more difficult. Later, in his Gettysburg Address, Lincoln would once again draw a comparison to the nation’s founding and call for “a new birth of freedom.”
#4: This parallelism expresses Abraham Lincoln’s humility and complete reliance upon God. David O. McKay paraphrases this passage in his inaugural address.
A: Without the assistance of the Divine Being who ever attended him, B: I cannot succeed. A: With that assistance B: I cannot fail.
A=A: “Without the assistance” contrasts with “With that assistance.” Lincoln refers to the “Divine Being” who oversaw the founding of the nation. His “assistance” was vital for both the founding and the preserving of the nation.
B=B: “I cannot succeed” contrasts with “I cannot fail.” Lincoln declares his complete dependence upon God. This parallelism is closely paraphrased by President McKay.
#5: This chiasm optimistically references God’s omnipresent nature.
A: Trusting in Him B: who can go with me, B: and remain with you B: and be every where for good, A: let us confidently hope that all will yet be well.
A=A: “Trusting” equals “confidently hope.” After declaring his complete dependence upon God for his task of preserving the nation, Lincoln encourages the people of Springfield to optimistically place their trust in God.
B=B: “[G]o with me” complements “remain with you” and “be every where for good.” Lincoln refers to the omnipresent nature of God.
#6: To conclude his Farewell Address, this parallelism expresses his desire that the people of Springfield pray for him as he prays for them.
A: To His care B: commending you, A: as I hope in your prayers B: you will commend me, I bid you an affectionate farewell.
A=A: “His care” complements “your prayers.” Lincoln will be praying for the people of Springfield and hopes they will be praying for him, as well.
B=B: “[C]ommending you” complements “commend me.” Through the power of their prayers, God will watch over both President Lincoln and the people of Springfield.
David O. McKay’s Inaugural Address (1951)
#1: This parallelism echoes the opening of Abraham Lincoln’s Farewell Address where he states, “No one, not in my situation, can appreciate my feeling of sadness at this parting.” Both Lincoln and McKay had difficulty expressing their feelings on these momentous occasions and were humbled by their new responsibilities.
My beloved fellow workers, brethren and sisters A: I wish it were B: within my power of expression C: to let you know D: just what my true feelings are on this momentous occasion. A: I would wish that B: you might look into my heart C: and see there for yourselves D: just what those feelings are.
A=A: “I wish” equals “I would wish.” This parallelism expresses the “wish” of President McKay’s heart.
B=B: “[M]y power of expression” contrasts with “you might look into my heart.” Acknowledging his own lack of expressive abilities, President McKay wishes that his audience (the world-wide membership of the Church) would be able to discern for themselves what is in his heart.
C=C: “[L]et you know” contrasts with “see there for yourselves.” While he can’t communicate effectively, he wishes they could see for themselves. He desires for them to gain their own spiritual witness of his feelings and intentions.
D=D: “[M]y true feelings” equals “those feelings.” President McKay’s sincerity is evident from his desire for complete personal transparency.
#2: This complex chiasm is constructed of a chiasm (CDEEDC) and a parallelism (FGFG) framed by a chiasm (ABBA). The chiastic structure of this passage makes it clear that President McKay is speaking from the perspective of the First Presidency, not just his own.
A: The Lord has said that the three presiding high priests chosen by the body appointed and ordained to this office of presidency B: are to be “upheld by the confidence, faith, and prayer of the Church.”
C: No one can preside over this Church without first being in tune with D: the head of the Church, E: our Lord and Savior, E: Jesus Christ. D: He is our head. C: This is his Church.
F: Without his divine guidance and constant inspiration, G: we cannot succeed. F: With his guidance, with his inspiration, G: we cannot fail.
B: Next to that as a sustaining potent power, comes the confidence, faith, prayers, and united support of the Church. A: I pledge to you that I shall do my best so to live as to merit the companionship of the Holy Spirit, and pray here in your presence that my counselors and I may indeed be “partakers of the divine spirit.”
A=A: “[T]hree presiding high priests” equals “my counselors and I.” President McKay refers to the First Presidency, the highest governing body of the Church, which consists of the President of the Church and his counselors (see D&C 107:22). The new First Presidency, consisting of David O. McKay, Stephen L Richards, and J. Reuben Clark, will do their best to “merit the companionship of the Holy Spirit.”
B=B: “[C]onfidence, faith, and prayer of the Church” equals “confidence, faith, prayers, and united support of the Church.” The First Presidency are sustained by the membership of the Church (see D&C 107:22).
C=C: “[T]his Church” equals “His Church.” The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the Lord’s authorized church (see D&C 1:30).
D=D: “[H]ead of the Church” equals “He is our head.” While the First Presidency is the highest governing body of the Church, Christ is the “head of the Church” and directs its affairs through revelation.
E=E: “Lord and Savior” equals “Jesus Christ.” The same Jesus Christ testified of in the New Testament and to whom the Christian world prays is the head of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
F=F: “Without his divine guidance and constant inspiration” contrasts “With his guidance, with his inspiration.” Paraphrasing Lincoln, President McKay acknowledges the needed “guidance” and “inspiration” that comes from God, who also inspired and guided Washington and Lincoln.
G=G: “[W]e cannot succeed” contrasts with “we cannot fail.” Like Lincoln, President McKay expresses his and his counselors’ complete dependence on God, their need for His “sustaining potent power,” and gives Him the credit for any success that may come during their tenure.
With a professional background as an educator, David O. McKay was a widely and well-read individual. This is apparent from his paraphrasing of Abraham Lincoln to express his feelings at a parallel moment in his life. Although the sense of foreboding doom is absent from President McKay’s inaugural address, he is aware that his calling will only end with his death (which happened of natural causes at age 96). Retirement is not an option. Hence, McKay is also expressing courage and commitment. While McKay’s paraphrasing of Lincoln can be identified and appreciated without a knowledge of chiasmus, recognizing the presence of chiasmus in both addresses provides a more precise and nuanced understanding of their words and how they relate to each other.