chiasm: what it is

Walk into any Chik-fil-a and you’ll nearly always be warmly greeted by the staff. Why is that? Because of their training and Chik-fil-a’s Core 4. Here’s a pic of a Core 4 reminder sticker stuck on the counter behind one of the cash registers.


Now what is it you see here? Four steps. And while we can detect something of a progression in sequence and development of experience in the steps, the fact remains all four steps are important; none are unimportant.

Consider the Core 4 just a wee bit more though and something else jumps out at you. The first and last steps (A – “create eye contact” and A -“stay connected”) have much in common, don’t they? As do the two middle steps: B – “share a smile” and B – “speak with an enthusiastic tone.” In fact, we could diagram those correlations something like this:




And that, my friends, is classic A-B-B-A, or X, chiasm!

Or, we could diagram the Core 4 in a different way – as a > – with the same effect:


Or yet further, we could conceive of the two pairs of commonality of thought that make up the Core 4 as a pair of concentric rings (aka: ring composition):


Once you discern the Core 4 as consisting of two pairs of action, you not only understand the Core 4 steps a bit better, you’ll also be hard pressed to forget them. Further, your appreciation of what’s going on in the Core 4 steps has surely deepened, too.

Which leads me to note that those matters are some of the major reasons for the existence of this literary device known as chiasm: it helps you grasp, appreciate, and remember the meaning of what’s going being communicated. No matter whether you think of it as an X, a >, or a set of rings (or spiral, helix).

Now let’s move from a sticker at Chik-fil-a-straight to a single verse in the Bible:


Do you detect (only) four distinct thoughts in the four sentences that make up this verse? Or do you now see two pairs of thought that share something in common? Like so:


Often chiasm is – in any literature, anywhere – very easy to detect. Naturally, the shorter the segment of thought, the easier it is to grasp. The repetition of key words can be a big clue at times (e.g. – “honor” in 1 Peter 2.17). Strong points of contrast or shifts to finer, more specific focus can also give chiasm away (e.g. – “everyone” and the “emperor;” “God” and “brotherhood”). And there are more clues, but that’s enough for us right now.

All of which leads me to say … “By jove, I believe you’ve got it!” So, stay with me in the days and weeks to come (God willing) and let’s make use of this new tool in our toolbox as we study Scripture.