[UPDATE: This post received an HONORABLE MENTION AWARD at the Latter-day Saint Publishing and Media Association 2018 Conference in Provo, Utah.]
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.
- This is paraphrased from Elder Holland’s introduction on 6 February 2015 at a fireside for CES Religious Educators. A video of his address, minus the introduction, is available on the Church website: http://www.lds.org/broadcasts/article/evening-with-a-general-authority/2015/02/helping-with-the-real-issues
- Robert Louis Stevenson, “On Some Technical Elements of Style in Literature” (Contemporary Review, April 1885). See our article on the subject.
- To learn about Elder Holland’s previous use of chiasmus, see our article: “We Must Walk Where He Walked: Jeffrey R. Holland’s Facebook Chiasm” (19 February 2017).
- D&C 64:34.
- D&C 8:2-3.
- Elder Holland’s source for this quote is Austin Farrer, “The Christian Apologist,” in Light on C.S. Lewis, ed. Jocelyn Gibb (1965), 26.
- Ward Farnsworth, Farnsworth’s Classical English Rhetoric (Boston: David R. Godine, 2011), 6, 10. This is also an excellent resource for learning more about chiasmus.