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A chiasm is a literary device in which a sequence of ideas is presented, then repeated in reverse order. A “mirror” effect results as the ideas are “reflected” back.  Each reflected idea is connected to the original idea by a repeated word, often in a related form. This is called chiastic structure or chiastic pattern – and sometimes introverted parallelism.

To illustrate, think of two ideas. Begin with the first and label it A. Follow that with the second, labeled B.  Then introduce a variant of B and label it (b).  Follow (b) with a variant of A and label it (a).  That brings us back to the beginning. 

A simple chiasm would be diagrammed as A, B, b, a — and can be described as beginning (A) — middle (B, b) — beginning (a).  Chiasms can also have more ideas.  Diagram on the left below is A, B, C, D, d, c, b,,a]. A chiasm can also have a “pivot point,” a singular idea inserted at the end of the forward progression and before the beginning of the reflection. It stands alone, so let’s label it as X. Our diagram, on the right below, shows it as A, B, C -X- c, b, a.

Chiastic structures that involve many ideas, presenting and reflecting larger text segments, are often called “ring structures” or “ring compositions.”  In diagramming such, each idea would have a letter. Therefore a larger segment of text would have a larger chiastic structure.  For example, A, B, C, D, E, F……f, e, d, c, b, a. Or with a pivot point:  A, B, C, D, E, F…… pivot point (X) ……f, e, d, c, b, a

Chiastic Structure in Literature 

Chiastic Structure is clearly seen in ancient secular literature.  Works like the Iliad, the Odyssey, and the Histories of Herodotus all have chiastic structures.  

Likewise, the Hebrew Old Testament and Greek New Testament Scriptures are filled with chiastic structure.  Chiasms can be identified in verses, passages, single chapters, multiple chapters, and even books.  They can be simple or complex chiasms.

Examples of Simple Chiasms

Gen 9:6  Whoso sheds (A)
                          man’s blood (B),
                         by man shall his blood (b)
                be shed (a):

Mark 2:27  The sabbath (A)
                            was made for man (B),
                             not man (b)
                    for the sabbath (a).

John 4:23-24  …when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth(A):
                                            for the Father seeketh such to worship him (B).
                                                               God is a Spirit (X): and
                                               they that worship him (b)
                             must worship him in spirit and in truth (a).

Complex Chiasms

Chiastic structures found in larger passages, single chapters, multiple chapters, or most books are too long to diagram here.  But the Book of Jude is only 25 verses, and in it is found a chiasm. This slide is from a Bible study I taught on the Book of Jude.

Of What Benefit is Chiastic Structure?

I would suggest that noting chiastic structures in the Bible is informative, inspiring, instructive, and fun!  The chiasms reveal the beauty and design of the ancient texts. They focus on the specifics of the text.  And they reinforce our understanding and help us remember.  Plus, it’s fun to discover them.  Identifying chiastic structures gives us a clearer and deeper understanding of God’s Word.

Chiastic Structure in Spoken Presentations

We often see this method of structuring a presentation used by speakers. They introduce their subject matter with a thesis, statement, or question (A). Then they build upon it with supporting information (B – or more),  repeat (reflect back on) much of what they’ve already said with a variation (b).  And finally, return to that with which they began — the thesis, statement, or question (a).   We often refer to it as “bringing it home,” which is what chiastic structure does (A,B,b,a)

From the Gospel Coalition, Chad Ashby wrote, “a chiasm forms a kind of visual arrow for preachers, pointing to the heart of the passage.”  They diagram Nehemiah 5:15-16 (using the ESV), pointing to the last clause of verse 15 as being the “heart” of the chapter.  In this chiasm, they illustrate that Nehemiah “uses chiasm to contrast his own sacrificial leadership with the oppressive corruption of Jerusalem’s previous rulers.”

From the Gospel Coalition:

(A) They burdened:  “The former governors who were before me laid heavy burdens on the people”
(B) They took:  “took from them for their daily ration forty shekels of silver”
(C) They lorded: Even their servants lorded it over the people.
[X]  “But I did not do so, because of the fear of God” (Neh. 5:15)
                               (C’) I labored: “I also persevered in the work on this wall”
(B’) I gave: “we acquired no land”
(A’) I carried:  “all my servants were gathered there for the work”

(A, B, C, X, c, b, a)

In Conclusion

Look for the chiastic structures as you read and study your Bible.  They truly are a  “signature” of the Holy Spirit who wrote the book, and you’ll be blessed to understand His words better!



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