chiasmus & the Bible: Q & A

Q. Chiasmus? What’s that? And why should I care?
A. Because it will help you remember the content, understand the emphasis, and appreciate the beauty of much of the literature that makes up what we call “the Bible.” Remember, understand, and appreciate. That’s powerful stuff!

Q. Okay, but you didn’t tell me what it is. What is it?
A. Oh, we can define it, but trust me, it is far easier to depict it than describe it. That’s right, you’re going to get a great many visuals in this series. [1] Just dive in, work with me, and you’ll pick up on the simplicity and beauty of this literary device very quickly.

Q. Is this something I know by another name and you’re just throwing a fancy word around?
A. I doubt it. While chiasmus has several different designations and appears in a a number of variations, we’ll just keep it simple – paint with a rollerbrush,” so to speak – and use the term chiasm. But, if you look in the literature, you’ll find phrases like A-B-B-A pattern, paneled structure, reverse parallelism, ring composition, etc. We’re going to keep it simple here; we’re going with chiasm.

Q. Rings? Panels? Parallels?
A. Yes. Chiasm can be depicted several ways (e.g. – as an “X”, as a “>”, as a set of indented panels or layered boards, as a set of concentric rings, as a cone-shaped spiral or helix, as an A-B-B-A or A-B-C-B-A outline, etc.). But, more often than not in this extended series of brief, daily posts on the subject, I’ll make use of what might be called “the standard” or “common” X and > outlines with A-B-C designations (relax that will be crystal clear to you after tomorrow’s post).

Q. I’m sure I still don’t know what you’re talking about. Remind me: why should I care about this?
A. To put another tool in your toolbox for your efforts to glean all you can from the Bible. To help you remember, understand, and appreciate Scripture. And to open your mind to a way of encountering the literature of the Bible in a way that was natural and normal to its original authors and audience.

Tomorrow we’ll let Chik-fil-a teach us how chiasm works. Truth. Come and see!

[1] You doubt me? Well then, try this definition on for size. Chiasmus scholar extraordinaire, Ian H. Thomson, defines chiasm as: “… bilateral symmetry of four or more elements about a central axis, which may itself lie between two elements, or be a unique central element, the symmetry consisting of any combination of verbal, grammatical, or syntactical elements, or, indeed, of ideas and concepts in a given pattern.”

Feel better? I didn’t think so. That’s why we’ll strive in this series to show, not tell. Now bookmark this page and go take a Tums.