Source:Echoes:Ch7:8:Climax poetic form

Climax: A Unique Poetic Form

Climax: A Unique Poetic Form

In 1898 the biblical scholar E. W. Bullinger identified a poetic form in the Bible that he called "climax" (Greek for "ladder").14 He described this unique form in the Bible as "a beautiful figure, very expressive; and at once attracts our attention to the importance of a passage."15 Climax occurs when the same word or words found at the end of one clause are repeated at or near the beginning of the next clause. Bullinger also refers to this form as "gradation," because the structure of a passage presents an ascension of thought, going up by steps from one level to the next.

Bullinger provides the following biblical example of climax, found in Joel 1:3–4. To make the form easily recognizable, the verse has been structured with the repeated words aligned on the left:

Tell ye
your children of it, and let
your children tell
their children, and
their children another generation. That which the palmerworm hath left hath the
locust eaten; and that which the
locust hath left hath the
cankerworm eaten; and that which the
cankerworm hath left hath the
caterpiller eaten.

Note the four sets of repeated words: your children, their children, locust, and cankerworm. This duplication creates a continuation of thought from one segment to the next. In a dramatic way, four generations of one family are spoken of (ye, your children, their children, and another generation). This structure indicates an ascension of thought from the first generation to the last. The four generations parallel another gradation of thought—the four "generations" of the caterpillar family: the palmerworm, locust, cankerworm, and caterpillar.

The following climax, from Moroni 8:25–26, demonstrates the existence of this poetic form in the Book of Mormon:16

And the first fruits of repentance is
baptism; and
baptism cometh by faith unto
the fulfilling the commandments; and
the fulfilling the commandments bringeth
remission of sins; And the
remission of sins bringeth
meekness, and lowliness of heart; and because of
meekness and lowliness of heart cometh the visitation of the
Holy Ghost, which
Comforter filleth with hope and perfect
love, which
love endureth by diligence unto prayer,
until the end shall come, when all the saints shall dwell with God.

There are six repeated words or phrases in this climax—baptism, the fulfilling the commandments, remission of sins, meekness and lowliness of heart, Holy Ghost (paralleling Comforter), and love. The beginning point of the climax (or ascension of expression) is repentance, an essential step onto the path of eternal life. Repentance is followed by baptism, obedience, and so on, finally culminating in salvation as the righteous receive an eternal station with God.

A climactic passage in Mormon 9:12–13 begins with the fall of Adam but concludes with humankind's being "brought back into the presence of the Lord" because of Jesus Christ.

Behold, he created
Adam, and by
Adam came
the fall of man. And because of
the fall of man came
Jesus Christ, even the Father and the Son; and because of
Jesus Christ came the
redemption of man. And because of the
redemption of man, which came by
Jesus Christ, they are brought back into the presence of the Lord.

The key words and concepts repeated in this passage—Adam, fall of man, Jesus Christ, and redemption of man—create a series of parallel statements. Through the alternating parallelism coupled with these climactic lines, Adam is seen as a character complementary to Jesus Christ, and the concept of the fall of man stands opposite to the redemption of man. Through Adam (the "first man Adam," the Apostle Paul says) came the fall of man, but through Jesus Christ (the "last Adam") came the redemption of man (see 1 Corinthians 15:45). A similar passage is found in 1 Corinthians 15:22, where the words Adam and Jesus and die and alive are found in the couplet—"For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive." Because of Jesus Christ's infinite atonement, repentant souls "are brought back into the presence of the Lord."

The fact that climactic forms appear in the Book of Mormon is good evidence that this volume of scripture belongs to the ancient world of its companion volume, the Bible. Bullinger discovered climax in the Bible more than six decades after the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. For that reason, and because of the scarcity of climax in the Old Testament, it is highly improbable that Joseph Smith was aware of this poetic device. Rather than attribute the approximately twenty examples17 of climax in the Book of Mormon to happenstance or to Joseph Smith's uncommon literary knowledge and skill, it is more reasonable to accept that the Book of Mormon authors who used climax belonged to an ancient Near Eastern literary tradition corresponding to that of the Old Testament.[1]


  1. Donald W. Parry, "Hebraisms and Other Ancient Peculiarities in the Book of Mormon," in Echoes and Evidences of the Book of Mormon, edited by Donald W. Parry, Daniel C. Peterson, and John W. Welch (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 2002), Chapter 7, references silently removed—consult original for citations.