For the past few decades at least, there have been books and movies discussing the proposed existence of a hidden Bible code. I ran across one of them on one of my free streaming movie channels the other day so I decided to watch it. I had seen books pop up over the years, but never paid any attention. They held about as much validity to me as the Nostradamus stuff does — which is pretty much zero.
Sadly the video was so poorly done, that after about twenty minutes I couldn't handle it any further. That and the fact that they started leaving the talk of the Bible and started speaking favorably of the teachings of the Gnostic writings.
What did learn from that short time I could sit through it, was that the idea of a secret Bible code is that it is a way to mathematically apply various different number combinations to find words buried in the text. These words are then able to supposedly form sentences that reveal events that were way off in the future of the text writer, but many in our past history.
What I am here to discuss today may be viewed be seen by some as being something along the same line as this far out idea of a hidden code, as it is a way of reading the Scriptures in a manner that highlights or emphasizes certain aspects of the text. There is nothing really secret to be found, unless deeper understanding of a Scripture text is a secret — which may be true to many professing Christians who don't read their Bible.
What I wish to open the door to this morning is the literary structure known as chiasms. It doesn't require any mathematical equations or puzzling tricks to piece letters together letters to find hidden words, it is simply something that scholars have noted and increasingly studied over the past few decades specifically.
There are various terms used by different scholars, each referring to some of the different arrangement we shall see, but for the sake of simplicity this morning, I won't get too much into all of that additional related jargon.
Some of the more common terms people use aside from chiasm, would be inverted or symmetric parallelism to describe this structure. Attention to chiasms began to appear in European publications back as early as the 1700s'. Then in the 1920's in the US, Nils Lund published some articles about it. He was the Dean of North Park Theological Seminary and spent 30 years of his career studying the chiasm literary structure, publishing a book in 1942 on his research.
One of the next major treatments on the subject came about in 1999 with the book by Dr. David Dorsey. Dorsey states:
My fascination with [Hebrew literary structure] was kindled when I began teaching Old Testament courses in seminary. At that time I was struck by the apparent lack of order within many of the biblical books. Jeremiah seemed hopelessly confused in its organization; so did Isaiah and Hosea and most of the prophets. Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes appeared to be in almost complete disarray, and even the more orderly historical books, such as Joshua and Kings showed signs of strangely careless organization.
Why did the biblical authors write like this? I would never write a book, an article, or even a private letter with such carelessness of arrangement. I was intrigued by the possibility that the Hebrew authors might have organized their compositions according to literary conventions that were different from ours.
I began to discover, over a period of years, that several structuring patterns rarely used by us were remarkably common in books of the Hebrew Bible, particularly chiasmus (symmetry), parallelism, and sevenfold patterns. I was increasingly struck by how often these patterns had been utilized to arrange biblical books.
It was my mother who gave me a love for literature… I still have many fond memories of those wondrous bedtime stories, whose structure — like the Bible — were designed for the ear, not the eye. (David Dorsey, The Literary Structure of the Old Testament)
In his book, Dorsey describes the structure and meaning of each Old Testament book using the chiastic approach. He found Genesis to contain this approach more frequently, but reveals how it is evident in every Old Testament book. So it is safe to say that this is a common styles to the Hebrews.
Well, when it comes to the New Testament, Bible scholars also find examples of this chiastic approach in every book as well, with some books showing it more prominently than others.
So what is a symmetric parallelism? It is a writing style that uses a unique repetition pattern to show clarity and emphasis within a story. In a nutshell, it is usually laid out in an A, B, C…C1, B1, A1 or similar pattern. Each of the opening points gets repeated with similar ideas but in a reverse pattern. Though there are several different arrangements and each can go by different technical names depending on the author, regardless of all of the terms it is a literary pattern that has been noticed and studied more and more.
I like the simple way one author described it, using a sandwich example. You start with A) a piece of bread, B) add mustard, C) a pieces of meat, C1) add another pieces of meat, B1) more mustard, A1) and another slice of bread. This is a very basic, simplistic example of how a chiasm might layout.
But as you can see, each A section is a parallel, as is each B and C, with the C section being the central point of the sandwich. That would make C be the key purpose of the whole breakdown. In other words, for this illustration, we would expect the sandwich name to be based on C, not A or B.
These types of patterns can be found on a micro level, meaning within a single sentence, or at a macro level, meaning within a larger discourse. This type of chiasmus styling is widely found in ancient literature, but if often overlooked by modern interpreters. Mainly because the modern mind, unlike the ancient hearers, is not rehearsed in the use, appreciation or even recognition of these patterns.
So let's jump right in and show you what I mean as we take a look at a few of these types of structures, starting with a simple one on a single verse level, from Matthew 6:24:
No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. (Matthew 6:24 ESV)
A chiastic look at this verse would see it laid out as:
A) No one can serve two masters
B) for either he will hate the one
C) and love the other
C1) or he will be devoted to one
B1) and despise the other.
A1) You cannot serve God and money
So while we typically just see this verse as telling us we must choose which master we wish to choose, there is a more profound understanding when we view the chiastic layout of it.
We see three parallel themes here, the serving of one of the two masters, hating or despising one of them, and loving or devotion to the other one. The focus here is the central point, the C parallel. The center of a chiasm is understood to be the key focus of the text in question, and where we are to look to grasp the emphasis of the whole story.
So instead of approaching this verse and seeing the choice being that of choosing one of two masters, we see the central point is focused on the love and devotion to that choice. The focus then becomes that of loving the master, not choosing the master.
Let's look at another one, this one has four pieces instead of three. This is coming from Joshua 1:5-9:
Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:5-9 ESV)
And we would break it down like this:
A) Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you.
B) Be strong and very courageous
C) being careful to do according to all the law … that you may have good success…
D) This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth
D1) meditate on it day and night
C1) be careful to do according to all that is written in it… you will make your way prosperous… will have good success.
B1) Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed
A1) for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.
The number of lines can vary; there is no set number of parallels that it has to hold. But here notice the (A) sections both speak of God's continual presence, (B) speaks of being strong and courageous, (C) speaks of keeping the law to have success, and section (D) deals with the actual book of the law.
There also other kinds of patterns than those that totally match, where some have a definite single center point and not the parallel double center point as we have seen so far, like we see in Matthew 11:28-30:
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30 ESV)
Which we can break down as:
A) Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden
B) and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you
X) and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart
B1) and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy
A1) and my burden is light."
So the parallels are dealing with A) being heavy laden and the burden, B) getting rest under his easier yoke, and then the center focal point being that of learning from Christ's gentle and lowly heart. Another simple chiasm would be like 1 John 3:9
No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God's seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. (1 John 3:9 ESV)
A) No one born of God
B) makes a practice of sinning,
X) for God's seed abides in him,
B1) and he cannot keep on sinning
A1) because he has been born of God.
So why did they write in this literary style so often, you may ask? As Dave has pointed out in previous sermons, the Hebrew people were a people who gathered at set times, and they heard the word. This was not so much a culture where everyone sat around reading their Bibles. The scrolls were read to them, and they learned to memorize them from hearing. This type of chiastic parallel writing styles made for an easier way to remember things, since it often followed some sort of related repetitive pattern.
So, that was then, this is now right? Why should it really matter to us these days to try to see these patterns ourselves? One author, Roland Meynet, states that the Old and New Testament are replete with variants of these parallelisms or chiastic structures, and makes the case that recognition of these structural devices is an important key to an accurate exegesis of many major passages, sections and at times whole books.
We know how badly the Scripture is handled by most in the modern evangelical church these days. Context is ignored, and verses are stripped out and made to say things they were never intended to say.
So, people who have spent years studying this are coming away basically stating that a clearer understanding of much of the Bible can only be had when understanding these literary patterns. So aside from giving us a more poetic beauty at times, they can be an integral part of understanding the writer's key point of focus.
Sadly the majority of biblical scholars, while acknowledging the extensive use of chiasms in both Testaments, some still view it as just more of a literary curiosity with little significance when it comes to interpreting the meaning of the text. They seemingly fail to grasp that there is quite a significance placed on the structural arrangement of an organized body of communication, especially in ancient literature of this nature from this type of culture.
Of course these have been some simply ones shown so far, ones that take a verse or three and break it down and the paralleled words stand out as being related. But this same style idea can be found being used even across large sections of verses, with multiple verses making each of the parallel themes. For instance, the story of Bathsheba in 2 Samuel 11 and 12 spans two chapters, but the pattern can be seen:
A) Joab is on the field besieging Rabbah, but David stayed behind in Jerusalem (11:2-5)
B) David sleeps with Bathsheba, and she becomes pregnant (11:2-5)
C) David arranges for Uriah's death (11:6-25)
D) Bathsheba mourns for Uriah (11:26-27)
E) Nathan confronts David (12:1-15)
D1) David mourns for his infant son (12:15-17)
C2) David's son dies (12:18-23)
B2) David sleeps with Bathsheba, and she becomes pregnant (12:24-25)
A1) David goes to Rabbah and finishes the siege, then returns to Jerusalem (12:26-31)
So we see multiple verses make up each piece, and the pattern covers a much larger length of passage and storyline. Now for another one, this structure is usually referred to as a rhetorical chiastic structure. We're looking at the lost sheep parable from Luke 15:4-7:
What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.' Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. (Luke 15:4-7 ESV)
The thing noticeably different with this one, is that it breaks down with the exact same opening and closing patterns, not a reversal as previous ones discussed. We find:
1. What man of you, having a hundred sheep
2. if he has lost one of them
3. does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country
A) and go after the one that is lost
B) until he finds it? And when he has found it
C) he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing
D) And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors,
C1) saying to them, 'Rejoice with me
B1) for I have found my sheep
A1) that was lost.
1. Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven
2. over one sinner who repents
3. than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
So both the opening and closing pattern is centered on the same order of YOU, ONE and the ninety-nine, followed by the chiastic pattern of lost, find, rejoice, restore, rejoice, find, lost.
Now for another one, here is the common parable of the prodigal son from Luke 15. This story likewise has a pattern but it is also different that the patterns we have covered so far. In this case, we do not find key words in the text that match, but instead each section of the story represents a theme, and it is the theme that has the pattern.
Author Kenneth Bailey described this parable in this fashion:
The parable is a drama in two acts. Act one is the exile and return of the prodigal. This act focuses on three themes set in three scenes, which are followed by the prodigal's speech in the far country. This speech falls into two parts. The three themes are then reversed (and presented in inverse order) in the three scenes that follow the speech.
The second act is a drama of the older son and his father. In this case, the identical outline appears, only the final scene is missing. (Kenneth Bailey, Jacob and the Prodigal, Pg. 94)
I will note one thing before we start, as a reminder, since while I have covered this in a past message I gave, it was a while back. In the culture represented by this parable, to ask for one's inheritance early, was looked upon as a wish that your father were dead. That will assist with understanding the first theme we encounter here.
Now, since the story is way too long to try to show on the slides as a pattern as done previously, I will instead read the sections, and will build the theme pattern on the slide as we go.
There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.' And he divided his property between them.
So, as mentioned, asking for this inheritance in this manner, is to wish the father's DEATH. This is the theme of scene one.
Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need.
At this point, scene 2, - ALL IS LOST - all that the son had has been spent recklessly and he is in need.
So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.
At this stage, scene 3, there is UNQUALIFIED REJECTION of the son by everyone. This is then followed by the 2 part speech by the son:
"But when he came to himself, he said, 'How many of my father's hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger!
So, part one of the speech presents THE PROBLEM the son is dealing with, and then part two:
I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants."' And he arose and came to his father.
So part two of the speech has the son figuring out what THE SOLUTION is to the problem. So he heads home and we find:
But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.
Here, the son returns toward home, and before anything is said by him, he finds UNQUALIFIED ACCEPTANCE. On top of that, what does the father do?
And the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.' But the father said to his servants, 'Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet.
Now, the son who came home after having lost everything, now finds that through the father, ALL IS RESTORED. The father then continues:
And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.' And they began to celebrate.
And whereas we started the story with the symbolic death of the father by the son, we end with the theme of the RESURRECTION of the son to the father. So we find the pattern of this first part of the story — DEATH — ALL IS LOST — UNQUALIFIED REJECTION — THE PROBLEM — THE SOLUTION — UNQUALIFIED ACCEPTANCE — ALL IS RESTORED — RESURRECTION.
Now part two of the story takes place with the other son:
Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant.
Scene one finds the son as HE STANDS ALOOF, outside of the situation at hand, and he is told.
And he said to him, 'Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.' But he was angry and refused to go in.
Scene two finds the son presented with YOUR BROTHER — PEACE = ANGER. As he stands their angry, we are told:
His father came out and entreated him
So, the father steps down from his position of host at the party in order to give to his other son COSTLY LOVE. In return the son responds:
but he answered his father, 'Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends.
The sons is focused on MY ACTIONS — MY PAY — it is all a concern with his own standing. He continues:
But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!'
And turns around and is throwing up the issue with his brother, speaking of HIS ACTIONS — HIS PAY. The father replies:
And he said to him, 'Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.
The father again shows his son his COSTLY LOVE, and explains to his son:
It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.'" (Luke 15:11-32 ESV)
And so the story ends with YOUR BROTHER — ALIVE = JOY
And Bailey points out that:
Sophisticated first century listeners/readers would identify the matching stanzas and clearly sense the dramatic tensions of the missing ending that the Pharisaic audience alone could resolve by accepting to be found by Jesus. (Kenneth Bailey, Jacob and the Prodigal, Pg. 98)
This parable was told to the Pharisees, and they would have perceived that the angry son was referring to them. Their response is of course left open in the story, since they, the Pharisees, had to end the story with their decision on what to do with Christ. Of course we know what their response was, and the results that came down upon them, and the resulting expanded blessings granted to the other son.
Moving on, let's examine another pattern, sometimes referred to as a parallel symmetry, which basically means it is an alternating repetition. These type differ from the structure we have seen so far, as those tend to periscope out to a central theme. These types of structure have a parallel aspect, but not the same periscope central theme. An example of this can be found in Matthew 5:29-30:
A) If your right eye causes you to sin,
B) tear it out and throw it away.
C) For it is better that you lose one of your members
D) than that your whole body be thrown into Gehenna.
A) And if your right hand causes you to sin,
B) cut it off and throw it away.
C) For it is better that you lose one of your members
D) than that your whole body go into Gehenna. (Matthew 5:29-30 ESV)
So the pattern is A, B, C, D — repeat, A, B, C, D. Yet another different type can be seen when there will be a pattern within a pattern. Let's look quickly at 1 Corinthians chapters 11 thru 14. Now I won't read these chapters, but will simply lay out the pattern and themes, and then the pattern within the pattern. First, the initial pattern we find is:
A) Men and women leading in worship (11:2-16)
B) Disorder in worship — Holy Communion: Sacrament (11:17-34)
C) The spiritual gifts — in theory (12:1-31)
D) Love (13:1-13)
C1) The spiritual gifts — in practice (14:1-15)
B1) Disorder in worship — Preaching: Word (14:16-33a)
A1) Women and men worshiping (14:33b-40)
As we seem the middle focal point of the whole thing is love. And then digging deeper, that thirteen verse section on love is also following a pattern that can be broken down as:
A) Love and the spiritual gifts (13:1-3)
B) Love defined positively (4a)
C) Love defined negatively (4b-6)
B1) Love defined positively (7)
A1) Love and the spiritual gifts (8-13)
The overarching seven sections take a look at the conflict and confusion in worship at Corinth, and a need to focus on love. This break down was gleaned from Kenneth Bailey's book, and he states afterwards that:
Observing the structure of this "essay" was a turning point in my journey with 1 Corinthians. If Paul had to the effort to put chapters 11-14 together in this thoughtful way, the question became "what about the rest of the epistle?" Ever so slowly the composition of the chapters in the epistle appeared like a magnificent castle emerging into bright sunlight with the gradual lifting of a dense fog (that was in my mind). (Kenneth Bailey, Paul through Mediterranean Eyes, Pg. 16)
But, we can go one step further than what even Bailey covered here. Looking at his last section in the love part, verses 8-13 — they too have a pattern evident within them:
A) Love never ends.
B) As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.
C) For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.
D) When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.
C1) For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
B1) So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three;
A1) but the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:8-13 ESV)
When we recognize this chiastic structuring, which periscopes inward, we can more fully appreciate the individual corresponding A/A1, B/B1, C/C1 paralleling themes. And even though they each appear at a distance from each other in the text structure, they complete each other as thematic twins.
And interestingly note too, in some of these parallel arrangements, if we read the verses by actually starting from the center point and reading the parallels out from there, putting each of the thematic twin parts together, it makes good sense still. This is one of those cases, and if we reassemble this verse from the inside out, following a D, C, B, A parallel pattern we get:
When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. Love never ends. (1 Corinthians 13:8-13 ESV)
Now, I could go on with example after example from the Scriptures, as there are even more additional patterns and theme break-downs that could be shown. Some who have studied this process even more have said that the Bible contains a couple thousand such chiastic patterns, but this morning I only seek to give you a brief introduction to this "hidden code" that the ancients incorporated within the text.
Most modern Bible readers view the Scriptures as just randomly patterned writing styles, never giving any thought to a possible idea of a purposeful underlying structure. So to them, this underlying structure is a hidden code that they miss; one which could help in clarifying verses further for their understanding.
I am hopeful that if this is the first you have heard of this idea of a purposeful literary structure in the ancient texts, that just knowing it is there in your Scriptures, it may make your bible study that much more interesting, especially if you start being on the lookout for them as you go.
Finding these chiastic patterns is sometimes easy, and sometimes hard. But instead of just reading through things, slow down, look for patterns, and look for repetition. When you run across one, stop and examine around it to see if it expands out into a broader pattern. One writer relayed how he ran across one of the simpler ones:
I recently came across a very simple chiasm one morning, so let me take you through my process. I was reading Matthew 23 which is the chapter about the seven woes. There I saw the words exalt and exalted occurring in the same verse. "Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted" (Matt 23:12). I saw the repetition of exalt, but the repetition of the center words humbled and humbles only appeared when I re-read the verse. I had to go back over it again to catch what I had initially missed:
A) Whoever exalts
C) will be humbled
C1) whoever humbles
A) will be exalted. (Matt 23:12)
That chiasm with its clear center point was God's Word for me that day — possibly we all need reminders about humility. (Thomas B. Clarke)
As we have seen, these patterns and themes can take many forms. They can be themes that are opposite and build backwards, but they can also be repetitive themes of the same types of things. Sometimes it may be a noticeable change in the flow of a story that gives the clue of a potential chiasm. Look for comparative themes in separate sections of a story, then examine if they create a pattern.
One note that was made by Mr. Clarke whom I quoted above, was that it is best to use a more literal Bible translation in order to find these chiastic themes. He suggests things like the KJV, NASB, or ESV. I would actually alter his suggestions, and suggest replacing the KJV with Young's Literal version. It has the same manuscripts behind it as the KJV, but is much more literal.
The reasoning he gives for using these types of translations is that these word and phrase related themes would be easier to find with such a word-for-word style of translation. In using some of the more thought-for-thought translations, like the NIV, The Message, Living Bible, etc., it would make the patterns near impossible to find. In those type of translations, words are modernized, changed, and often the order of the words are altered.
The closer you can get to the original rendering from the Hebrew, the easier these patterns may appear. Another writer commenting on the subject states that when running upon what appears to be or is questionably a chiastic pattern, it is important to go back and compare the original language. Since there are times where the same Greek or Hebrew word is translated into multiple different English words, and visa verse, it is best to compare within the original language text. This will confirm better if the actual words, as well as the order they appear in, make for a true pattern or theme.
Once we begin to see just how greatly these literary styles are used through most of Scripture, we should be further amazed at how the ancient cultures were mentally trained to be able to hear and grasp these patterns with little to no study as we have to do.
These patterns were intentionally used to make things easier to understand for the hearing cultures of that time, and those listeners were able to hear and catch the central point and the surrounding points more easily. To me that is somewhat mind boggling, considering most of us read the Scriptures year after year and rarely notice any such patterns.
While the Old Testament is said to be laced throughout with them, when it comes to the New Testament, some have found it to be not as thoroughly used. It is said that the writings of Matthew, Mark and John are full of them because those writers were Jewish, but books by Luke for instance, who was a Gentile writer, contain fewer chiastic patterns.
Of course, discovering these patterns is most easily done when you already have a solid familiarity with the Scriptures. If you are faithfully reading it regularly, then that increased familiarity with the stories should make the texts and patterns begin to become more easily identified. In writing about ways to begin identifying a pattern, one writer on the subject stated:
This process is where a sound understanding of Scripture comes into its own. Finding individual words that make up a chiasm is just a mechanical process, thinking upon the Word and seeking to rightly understand it is a lifetime's work.
Now a word of warning. Most people who have discovered the world of chiasmic patterns warn against going overboard and forcing patterns upon texts where they do not actually exist. This is not hard to imagine since people are so prone to do that exact thing when it comes to the basics of interpreting text. They force their interpretation onto a text that has no relation to what they want it to say. Author I.H. Thompson, in his book on chiasms in the Pauline letters puts it this way:
The main purpose of this study is to show how the identification and analysis of chiasmus in the Pauline letters is a far more valuable and precise tool in the exegete's hands than many have previously realized. However, some of the earlier work in this whole field has left an unfortunate legacy that makes it essential to approach it very carefully indeed.
Thus, until recently, the perception has been widespread that the study of chiasmus in the New Testament is little more than the esoteric pursuit of a few enthusiasts, whose exuberance in the 'discovery' of chiasms of astonishing complexity in almost every page of the New Testament seems to know no limits.
It is not surprising that this has provoked an often justifiable backlash of scholarly skepticism among the more cautious, who feel that many such chiastic patterns tell us more about the ingenuity of the commentator than about the intention of the original author. (I H Thompson, Chiasmus in the Pauline Letters, Pg. 13)
So while this process can greatly benefit your studies and understandings of Scripture, it is important to not turn this literary structure search into an obsession that ends up robbing from the true beauty of Scripture. There are many sites on the web where people have posted their found patterns, but most everyone suggests reading and finding them on your own, and using other's findings more as verifications of what you believe you see.
The major factor necessary to even remotely begin picking up on these structures is of course to get in there and frequently read the Word. Familiarity with the text and story line ultimately will allow you to better recall pieces from here and there and then you will begin to see the connections of themes across longer sections of texts.
As Christians, we all cherish God's Word as being unique and inspired. Hopefully this introductory look into the world of chiasms and ancient literary structures just shows further how special these writings are, and the depth that exist that can be studied time and time again to find new riches for our spiritual growth. Hopefully, being exposed to this teaching this morning will pique your interest in continuing to dig deeper into God's Word to glean the additional riches that have been buried right in front of you.
I am greatly indebted to many scholars and writers on this topic, upon the shoulders of whom I have stood in putting together the information for this presentation, to include the writings of Thomas B. Clarke, David Bivin, Kenneth Bailey and others.