chiasm: A-B-C-B-A

Now that you have the basic A-B-B-A concept of chiasm in your head (an X-shaped set of “similar pairs”), you’re ready to sharpen the point on that concept, as it were. Think A-B-C-B-A (i.e. – a > shaped set of “similar pairs” + a singular “point of emphasis”).

From yesterday’s post you recall we allowed Chik-fil-a to show us the way to A-B-B-A. Today we’ll let Hobby Lobby steer us toward a visual of A-B-C-B-A.

My wife likes candles. So, while recently making a surgical strike in Hobby Lobby for a couple of items, my eyes happened upon a candelabra, deeply discounted. I wish I could say my first thought was, “My bride would enjoy that. I’ll get that just for her!” However, truth be told, my very first thought was, “Chiasm! A-B-C-B-A! What a great prop! Oh, and I bet my bride would like that, too. Win-win!” Here’s a pic of it.


Or, to make the matter all the more obvious …


Yes, truly, chiasm is everywhere around us – not just at Chik-fil-a or Hobby Lobby – in both words on a page and in material structures. You just need to grow some eyes to see / “C” it.

And understand this: in rightly recognizing the existence of chiasm in a piece of literature, you are not imposing your sense of structure into, or overlaying your perception of design onto a text, but merely reading out what was there in the text all along. This is merely practicing responsible exegesis, not wreckless eisegesis at play. [You did catch the A-B-B-A structure in that last sentence, right?] Let no one tell you otherwise!

Just know that becoming aware of the chiasm that is there involves not merely watching for exact correspondence between words, but also in noting comparison or contrast in terms of general subject matter or thought.

The five sentences of similar thought that make up Proverbs 26.6-10 illustrates this well; a fine example of A-B-C-B-A chiasm as well as correspondence between thoughts. The text reads:


Compare the first and last sentences of that paragraph of thought. Ponder the similarities and differences between them. Then do the same with the second and fourth sentences. That leaves only the third, the middle, sentence. Can you see how that sentence stands alone and, therefore, stands out, something like the highest candle on a five-sentence candelabra? We can diagram it like this:


I encourage you to closely and thoughtfully read this passage several times with the preceding pic as a guide. If you do so, I’m confident you’ll see this was surely the original author’s intended point of emphasis.

And as you read and re-read, mark this point well: the climax or emphasis of thought in this set of sentences comes in the middle of the reading, not at the end. Yes, you read that right; read it again. And that is a crucial point to “C.” We’ll talk more about that in tomorrow’s post.