chiasm: 10 things you can do to see it

I’m no mind-reader, but I think I know what you’re thinking right about now in this series on chiasm and Scripture.

“I see what you’re driving at, Dave, but can you give me some specific, practical, how-to advice on detecting the appearance of chiasm?”

Certainly! Here are ten things you can do; ten things I urge you to do. Some of them you’ve heard me say before while some of them may be new to you here.

1. Deliberately read Scripture a bit more slowly than you read anything else. This will help put your mind into a different gear and give your mind time to notice and absorb even more of what is being said, and how.

2. Don’t just read the passage silently to yourself; read it aloud or have it read to you. Most of Scripture was originally penned to be heard and hearing the word is a very different encounter than reading it with our eyes.

3. Expect chiasm to make an appearance on occasion in your encounter with Scripture. Simply expecting something to be there changes the way you look at things and so, changes what you are able to see. If you do not expect something to ever make an appearance, you will be much less likely to ever even notice it.

4. Read the text repeatedly, over and over. You’ll notice things with each reading that you didn’t notice on the first pass. The late Dr. Neil Lightfoot, a long-time prof at Abilene Christian University, had a saying that is quite applicable here. “There are three things you must do in order to understand Scripture. First, read the text. Second, read the text. Third, read the text.” 🙂

5. Ponder what you read. Reading is not an end in itself. Our reading the word was meant to bring us to reflection on the word. Reflect on that.

By the way, did you detect the presence of chiasm in the presentation of those five matters?


6. Take special note of what the different parts of the passage appear to have in common. Are there repeated words? Are there strongly related subjects in the sentences? Are there synonymous, or opposite, concepts? Etc.

7. Compare different renderings of the text. Looking at a text in several different English translations and versions, including those you don’t normally consult, can open your eyes to things you would never otherwise notice about a passage.

8. Think circular, not linear; refuse to think in a straight line. You remember yesterday’s post here on chiasm, right?

9. Consult what other readers/scholars say about they text. You want someone who has been properly trained and who knows what they’re doing working on your vehicle, right? You want an expert working on your teeth, right? Then how much more do you think you will profit from consulting the quality work of true scholars of Scripture? While consulting quality Bible commentary shouldn’t be your go-to, first stop encounter with Scripture, consultation with wise counsel must be a part of the mix. Let scholars of Scripture be your advisory council for they will notice things you will not.

10. Mentally zoom out from the text, backing off, as it were, so as to take in a panoramic view of the passage. Zooming in for a close-up look at Scripture passage certainly has its place (cf. #6 above), but an equally important perspective is the bird’s eye view.

Oops, I did it again, didn’t it?


And so, if you don’t remember anything except two things, what would you say I emphasized among those ten points? If you answered “expect it” and “don’t just think in a straight line,” well, congratulations, you are thinking chiastically and “get the point(s)!”