Editor's Section

R.K. Harrison

I still think his Introduction to the Old Testament is the best you can get your hands on.

His thinking was, and remains, at the forefront and his personal experiences were woven into his lectures.

He studied medicine informally as a matter of interest and in one class he described visiting a hospital for the mentally ill where he observed a man with "Nebuchadnezzar's disease", which is today understood to be boanthropy.

Two things Harrison said that have stayed with me:

You don't very often hear things like that in seminaries!



During my sojourn through this life I consider myself priveleged to have met some people who have influenced me both positively and negatively (a little merisus for you!)

I first heard about this word in a lecture given by the late R.K. Harrison in Wycliffe College at the University of Toronto.

Merismus crops up now and then throughout history (it's worth a web search) but it could well be one of the oldest literary devices known.

It dates back to ancient Sumer and it consists of using two end points of a continuum poetically to describe everything in the continuum. In Genesis we see it as "the evening and the morning were the first day". Even today we find it in our traditional wedding vows - "in sickness and in health"; "for richer, for poorer".

I've done a bit of thinking on this and I've concluded that merismus can be a very useful tool for seeing ourselves more clearly. I think it is also useful for looking at other things as well.

You can think of your own end points and put the names on your own continuum(s). Here is an illustration to show movement along a continuum:

  this end  slideright  the other end

With this illustrative animation the arrow moves back and forth. I did it this way to demonstrate that our location on any given continuum may not be static. This can be especially helpful in our Christian living.

I used the labels "this end" and "the other end" to avoid pejorative predudicing at this stage. As you can imagine, however, I am suggesting we use merismus in most instances to describe a continuum that goes from something that is not so good or desirable to something that is good and desirable. I'll use something from Paul to get us started.

At seminary, a professor (the late William L. Lane), gave a lecture (as I recall it was during his induction as a professor) in which he spoke of Paul referring to Jeremiah's prophet authority as his own apostolic authority. It's found in Jeremiah 1:10Jeremiah 1:10 (NIV)

"See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant."

(and elsewhere in Jeremiah)

Paul's expression of it is found in his second letter to the church at Corinth. He uses it in two places: Paul and his authority 2 Corinthians 10:8 (NIV)

For even if I boast somewhat freely about the authority the Lord gave us for building you up rather than pulling you down, I will not be ashamed of it.

2 Corinthians 13:10 (NIV)

This is why I write these things when I am absent, that when I come I may not have to be harsh in my use of authority - the authority the Lord gave me for building you up, not for tearing you down.


If you have read my article on Super ApostlesSuperapostles., you will have seen how cleverly Paul plays with the word super to get his point across and to defend himself. Clearly (well, it seems pretty clear to me anyway) Paul identifies the strutting superapostle egomeisters with the tearing down end of the spectrum and his apostleship with the building up end, using the "on behalf of" use of super.

Kinds of Authority

Not just formal authority, but anything that give us power over other people

Here are a few I can think of:

Can you suggest some others?

The continuum below may be useful for our personal self-critical self-perception.

build up  merismus  tear down

If we want to get set before we undertake anything we can ask ourselves where we are on the build up/tear down continuum. This can help ensure we do the right thing.

On the other hand, this can be a useful tool when reviewing our actions.

Merismus can be useful in other areas as well. Here are a couple from the world of buying and selling:

To a seller, which are you? To a buyer which one do you feel like?

customer  merismus  pair of pockets

For both buyers and sellers, can we not resist the pressure to move to one end or the other and meet somewhere in the middle?

nothing for something  merismus  something for nothing

Obviously there are many applications for merismus as a tool of perception. I hope this page acts as a catalyst for readers to develop it further.

It's actually bullying

The superstars of Corinth were bullies, using their charms to divert believers from their paths of discipleship. Like strutting peacocks they demanded the limelight and got it.

This was bullying and sadly it can be found today in many areas of "Christianity".

But with some new tools of perception perhaps unfortunate situations can be avoided.