ACROSTIC ə krôs’ tĭk (Gr. ἀκροστιχίς, from ἄκρος, top, extremity, and στίχος, line of verse.) A poem in which the first letters of consecutive lines or stanzas form words, or an alphabet.
The OT contains fourteen acrostic poems, in which the twenty-two letter Heb. alphabet appears, with slight variations, at the beginning of:
Each line, of 1 line vv. (
Each line, or each half of 2-line vv. (
Each v.: every second line of 2 line vv. (
Every second line, or each half of 4-line vv. (
Each v.: every third line of 3-line vv. (
Every fourth line, or every two vv. of 2-line vv. (
A strophic arrangement, in which each letter begins three successive vv., appears in
The order of letters in the Sem. alphabet is now known to date back to Mosaic times (15th cent. b.c., Ugarit), confirming the possible antiquity of the acrostic
Acrostics aid in memorization. Awareness of acrostic structure has also assisted in the textual restoration of vv. such as
The NT contains no acrostics. Early Christians, however, used the fish as a symbol of Christ, because ̓ΙΧΘΥΣ, fish, is the acrostic of ̓Ιησου̂ς Χριστὸς Θεου̂ ̓Υιὸς Σωτήρ, God’s Son, Savior.
R. H. Pfeiffer, Introduction to the OT (1948), 544, 545, 630; N. K. Gottwald, Studies in the(1954), 23-32.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
a-kros’-tik: The acrostic, understood as a short poem in which the first letters of the lines form a word, or name, or sentence, has not yet been proved to occur in ancient Hebrew literature. The supposed examples found by some scholars in
Pss 9 and 10, which are treated as one psalm in Septuagint and Vulg, give fairly clear indications of original alphabetic structure even in the Massoretic Text. The initials of 9:1,3,5 are respectively ’aleph, beth, gimel; of 9:9,11,13,15,17 waw, zayin, cheth, Teth and yodh.
"Faithful is the Lord in his words And holy in his works,"
As this rapid survey will have shown, this form of acrostic as employed by Hebrew writers consisted in the use of letters of the alphabet as initials in their order, at regular intervals, the distance between two different letters ranging from one to sixteen lines. Once each letter is thus used three times, in another case eight times. The corruption of the text has in some cases led to considerable interference with the alphabetical arrangement, and textual criticism has endeavored to restore it with varying success.
These alphabetical poems have been unduly depreciated on account of their artificial structure and have also been regarded for the same reason as of comparatively late origin. This latter conclusion is premature with present evidence. The poems in La undoubtedly go back as far as the 6th century BC, and Assyrian testimony takes us back farther still for acrostic poems of some kind. Strictly alphabetical poems are of course out of the question in Assyrian because of the absence of an alphabet, but there are texts from the library of Ashur-bani-pal each verse-line in which begins with the same syllable, and others in which the initial syllables read together compose a word or sentence. Now these texts were written down in the 7th century BC, but may have been copied from far earlier Babylonian originals. There can be little doubt that oriental poets wrote acrostic at an early period, and therefore the use of some form of the acrostic is no clear indication of lateness of date. (For these Assyrian acrostics compare Weber, Die Literatur der Babylonier und Assyrer, 37.)
LITERATURE. In addition to authorities already cited: Konig, Einl, 58, 66, 74, 76, 399, 404, 419, and Stilistik, etc., 357 ff, Budde, Geschichte der alt-hebraischen Litteratur, 30, 90, 241, 291; article "Acrostic" in HDB (larger and smaller) and Hastings, Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, and Jewish Encyclopedia; commentaries on Ps, Nah, Pr and Lam; Driver, Parallel Psalter; King, Early Religious Poetry of the Hebrews, chapter iv.