Monday, November 30, 2015

Christian Authors: Resurrecting Aborted Writing Projects

On Easter Sunday in 33AD, the good news came forth: He's alive! In a much, much lesser way, I have news related to my blog article Christian Authors: Dealing With Aborted Writing Projects dated November 2, 2015: It's alive!

That may not be big news for you but it's big for me. It all began on Thanksgiving morning. If you are interested, please click on the above link where I've added comments about how the Holy Spirit resurrected this project.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Christian Authors: Dealing With Aborted Writing Projects

Updates on November 30, 2015 are shown in red
If you are a Christian author, or any other type of author for that matter, you may understand the emotion behind a decision to abandon a work before it is completed. Please allow me to confirm your thoughts: it does bring out a strong emotional response.

In 2010, I received an email from a missionary in Spain asking about A Topical Treasury of Proverbs, "Would you like your book in Spanish?" I responded that I needed to pray about it, hoping to get a direction from the Lord.

In 2011, I sensed the Lord's plans included not just a Spanish version but also versions in several other languages. A significant re-write was needed. I received permission from a well-known publisher that has produced various Bible translations in multiple languages. I began immediately.

The Preparation Effort
After two years effort including thousands of hours of toiling labor, I gave up. Here are the reasons why:
  • The Input of Others – With the work probably 85% complete and a series of books under way, I began showing portions to others. Did you know that your comments, when combined with those of others, can really take the wind out of a person's sail? They did for me.
    At 5:30am on Thanksgiving morning, I was drawn back to this effort. The Lord showed me that I have been lured into putting too much emphasis on man's approval and not enough on His. I began again.

  • Technology Issues – My approach was different than most writers. I used Microsoft Access to categorize Proverbs into roughly eighty topics and subtopics. My goal was to completely bypass Microsoft Word, going directly from the database to a PDF. While I used this technique for A Topical Treasury of Proverbs, the effort to include multiple languages with various fonts (think Russian and Chinese) was overwhelming to me. I also began thinking about the marketing effort to these countries. What words do I include on my webpages when marketing to the Spanish or French?
    The Lord basically instructed me to take one step at a time. For now, concentrate on the English version. There is much to be done, get on with my work. Therefore, I put on hold another more ambitious project that I was working on.

  • Retribution – Proverbs includes many verses that discuss punishment and penalties for the disobedient person. Are you perfectly obedient? I'm not. In the New Testament sense, God gives grace to the sinner who believes in Him. He does not demand perfection, He is looking for faith and love. Proverbs does not provide the assurance of grace, faith, and love. I was not able to find a way to include that sense in the manuscript.
    The Lord drew me back to my most recent (2012) revisions about retribution. He had given me some understanding at that time; my sense is that He will complete this. So, there is hope in this after all.

  • God's No Longer In This Project – I have written two other books, Joshua's Spiritual Warfare: Understanding the Chiasms of Joshua and A Garden of Love. In both of those books, I experienced the strong presence of the Lord as the Holy Spirit inspired one portion of the manuscript after another. In this Proverbs re-write, the work became drudgery. During those times, I had some divine inspirations but they were definitely not as frequent.
    As I started working on the description of the topics, the Lord modified my understanding of the major theme over a three-day period. Now I was inspired once again. I suppose the three year hiatus was necessary so that I could remove my old understanding as He revealed it more completely.

Dealing With Discouragement
Should I have given up? I don't know, but I will say that I have no desire to resurrect that project. The last time I really worked on it was in 2012.

Honestly, I no longer enjoy Proverbs as I do other books of the Bible. Maybe that is the heart issue that I'm dealing with. Or maybe it is deeper.

If I don't enjoy this re-write, why the discouragement? Because I am such a task-oriented fellow.

Yesterday, November 1, 2015, was the last day of a four-year period that I could have used that Bible translation in English. Today I am writing that Bible publisher a letter thanking them for that opportunity. I need to tell them that I was not successful.

Successful authors must be self-motivated and must complete their work. Readers do not buy incomplete works. I didn't complete it. So the enemy the devil then began to make me believe I am not successful. "No finished work, therefore not successful. God is not in it, stop writing." Can you see that train of thought?

The truth is that I gained a great deal of theological insight during the period when I wrote this. Through this and other venues at the same time, God was teaching me a greater understanding of grace. He was showing me the value of overlooking the high values I placed on myself and others.

God wants relationships, not perfection. Grace is then the vehicle for a relaxed view of perfection. Honestly, I'm still learning that but I believe I am much further than where I was.

How about you? Are there lessons you learned through your failures? What is the Holy Spirit attempting to have you receive?

If you have a large screen monitor, can you see the flower on the right side of the screen? That is the awesome blossom from a relatively unknown plant called Gaura. I placed that photo on this blog in 2011 or 2012. To me, this flower is a symbolic picture of Lady Wisdom – she is a key component to understanding this book of Proverbs.

So now the Holy Spirit has changed my plans. I'm enthused and I'm once again in pursuit. I need to contact that Bible translator for their permission once again. I wonder, do other authors give up, only to find they are led to resurrect a "dead" project?

Sunday, November 1, 2015

The Beauty of the Chiastic Structure in Matthew 6:25-34

Do you read multiple books at the same time? I do and while it sometimes drives me crazy, I enjoy picking up what strikes my fancy based on my mood, time available, and the book's content. Recently I picked up Robert C. Tannehill's The Sword of His Mouth – I am just completing the first third of that text.

The stated purpose of Professor Tannehill's rhetorical and poetic study of the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) is to awaken the reader to new insight and move him to new action. I find the approach in The Sword of His Mouth to be encouraging in that it brings to light the beauty of the gospels by revealing the poetic effect of the gospel narrative. In the portion that I've read, the description of tension and patterns is refreshing to me. At the same time, I had to overlook the author's assumptions about redaction (see Chiasm Hint #3 - Use the Entire Passage) because I believe them to be erroneous.

Chiasms are unfortunately known by a number of different names – Professor Tannehill uses the name ′envelope structure.′ Some people call them ′inverted parallelism′ and others use names such as ′ring structure′, ′concentric symmetry′, and ′chiasmus′ – the concept remains the same, just the name changes.

On pages 59-67, Tannehill analyzes Matthew 6:25-33, noting that Luke 12:22-31 is essentially the same passage. These two passages quote Jesus' warning about anxiety: a comparison of our behavior with that of the birds of the air and the lilies of the field.

Again, this book is a look at the beauty of the Bible – the author uses the ′envelope structure′ to develop his point. This book is not an analysis of chiastic structures.

Noting the power of the chiasm, he instead focused on the beautiful comparison of the ′birds of the air′ with the ′lilies of the field′, and then the contrast to ourselves. This richly colorful text is seen as using common birds and a common flower to move us in an uncommon way with fresh insight and a call for action. The beauty is seen in these two analogies.

Here is my (not Tannehill's) analysis of the chiastic structure of Matthew 6:25-32. Tannehill's analysis primarily concentrated on the B and B′ levels:

A    Do not be anxious about your life  (v6:25)
B    Consider the birds of the air  (v6:26)
C    And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?  (v6:27)
C′   And why are you anxious about clothing?  (v6:28a)
B′ Consider the lilies of the field  (v6:28b-30)
A′ Therefore do not be anxious  (v6:31,32)

Tannehill's purpose is not to analyze the chiastic structure nor its center point (′And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?′ (Matthew 6:27 ESV). He simply observes the envelope structure (again, think ′chiasms′) while noting the Bible's inherent beauty. I agree, it is beautiful.

I believe it is through this poetic beauty that God can speak to us more effectively. In this, we hear in a profoundly more subtle way because the rhythm states to our inner spirit, ″Pay attention.″ And in this, we understand the profound conclusion to the center point of the message: ′But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.′ (Matthew 6:33 ESV)

And then we read a second and even more moving message – a message that concludes the entire chiasm together: ′Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.′ (Matthew 6:34 ESV)

I hope it touches you in the same way:

25 ″Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?
26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?
27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?
28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin,
29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?
31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ′What shall we eat?′ or ′What shall we drink?′ or ′What shall we wear?′
32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.
33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

34 Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.″
(Matthew 6:25-34 ESV)

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Chiasm Hint #5 - Look for Meaningful Center Points

I have a friend, a wonderful pastor who is sometimes impatient, that seems focused on quickly finding the center points. As he reads and meditates on God's Word, he of course finds parallel thoughts – they are all over the place in the Bible. Once he discovers a parallelism, he immediately looks for an emphatic word from God that is potentially half-way between the first and last portions of his discovered parallel thoughts. If he finds that emphasis, he meditates on that application for a while; if he does not find it, he continues reading.

I like this pastor's approach to finding the heart of God's Word for him today, but I do wish he would slow down to ensure that it is really a chiasm.

Going back to the story of David and Bathsheba in 2 Samuel 11 and 12 from the previous lesson, it seems to makes sense that Nathan's prophetic word to David would be the emphatic portion of that story. In that prophetic word, Nathan states, "This is what the Lord, the God of Israel says: 'I have anointed you … '" (2 Samuel 12:7). When we think back on that story, we may remember David's sin with Bathsheba, his manipulation that led to Uriah's death, or David's mourning over the newly born son. But God's directive based on David's failures are contained in Nathan's words for David.

There certainly are passages in the Bible that are arranged in a chiastic form that do not have a strong emphasis in the middle. For example,

A    A good man obtains favor from the Lord,  (v2a)
B    but a man of evil devices he condemns.  (v2b)
B′ No one is established by wickedness,  (v3a)
A′ but the root of the righteous will never be moved.  (v3b)
(Proverbs 12:2-3 ESV)

These two verses are a contrast between good (righteous) and evil (wicked) people. They are chiastic (A-B-B′-A′) but the impact does not seem to come from its structure; rather it is the distinction between these two opposing approaches that moves the reader. Here is a similar structure:

A    The wicked earns deceptive wages,  (v18a)
B    but one who sows righteousness gets a sure reward.  (v18b)
B′ Whoever is steadfast in righteousness will live,  (v19a)
A′ but he who pursues evil will die.  (v19b)
(Proverbs 11:18-19 ESV)

Again in these two verses, there is a contrast between the wicked and the righteous. It is chiastic because wickedness pairs with pursuing evil in the first part (A and A′), and righteousness in B is repeated in B′. While there is an urgent call in the Bible to pursue righteousness, I suggest that the power in two verses comes from the contrast between wickedness and righteousness, not its chiastic structure. Most of the book of Proverbs is a contrast between two opposites – contrasts are another form of emphasis in the Bible.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Chiasm Hint #4 - Look for Matching Themes

I hope you are enjoying this series of hints that are intended to help you become more fruitful in discerning meaningful chiastic structures in the Bible. In this article, we'll look at themes that distinguish one level from another.

In a previous article, Chiasm Hint #2 - Choose Meaningful Keywords, I introduced the distinction between keywords and themes. Keywords are those Greek or Hebrew words that, when translated into English, are represented in the same way. Themes are ideas that give similar or opposite meaning but not exactly the same words.

When a pair of passages offer similarity to one another, that pair is called a level. If you believe that B and B′ are similar, then B – B′ are a level, distinguished from an A – A′ level or any other level. The various levels define the parallelism of the chiastic structure.

When analyzing a passage for its literary structure, keywords can be a clue to its arrangement but you should be seeking the discovery of its themes. Your point of discernment begins when you see thematically how one section of Scripture has a similar thread to another section.

Let's look at the Bathsheba incident to see how the themes can be matched. I enjoy the many articles that Peter J. Leithart has prepared about chiastic structures. Let's look at his analysis of the Structure and Typology of the Bathsheba incident based on 2 Samuel 11-12.

Leithart identifies this as an A-B-C-D-E-D′-C′-B′-A′ structure that begins at v11:1 and concludes at v12:31. The center point is when Nathan confronts David's sin in v12:1-15a. He also pairs the two times that David slept with Bathsheba:

B    David sleeps with Bathsheba and she becomes pregnant.  (v11:2-5)
… See Leithart's article for the full structure
B′ David sleeps with Bathsheba and she becomes pregnant.  (v12:24-25)

In that example, if you compare 2 Samuel 11:2-5 with 12:24-25 in your Bible, you may see very few words that are common between the two. While the keywords conceived and pregnant appear in the first section, they do not appear in the second (although it also depends on your translation). However, the theme is precisely the same: he slept with her and she became pregnant!

Likewise, on the D-D′ level, mourning is the predominant theme that Leithart identified:

D    Bathsheba mourns for Uriah.  (v11:26-27)
… See Leithart's article for the full structure
D′ David mourns for his infant son.  (v12:15b-17)

In this D-D′ level, the keywords lamented and mourning are in the first part but those words do not appear in the second. Instead, in the second there is the evidence of mourning: his refusal to eat any food. Keywords do not give a clue to the parallelism but the theme remains: mourning.

When analyzing a passage for its literary structure, try to step beyond keywords. The structure's richness is seen when one theme is matched with another.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Chiasm Hint #3 - Use the Entire Passage

Imagine someone thinking, "If only those three verses were not there, this would be a great chiasm." This third Chiasm Hint suggests that the entire Bible as we have it today is the received Word from the Lord – selectively removing passages from a structure should definitely be questioned.

Let's suppose you notice that both Mark 1:22-27 and v2:10 discuss Christ's authority so you suspect a chiastic or other structure. That's good. In your analysis, you see a large public healing, the statement by Jesus "That is why I have come", and then two more healing events. Immediately you suspect a chiastic structure with the center point around the declaration of Christ's purpose in ministry (v1:38). So far this seems like a good approach.

As you continue this analysis, you might then realize that before Jesus healed the paralytic, there was an action of faith by the four men and the paralytic in v2:1-5a. You have a problem because there is no corresponding discussion of faith:

A    Jesus calls four men to follow him  (v1:16-20)
B    Jesus taught as one who had authority  (v1:21-28)
D    Many who were sick were healed and many demons were cast out  (v1:29-34)
Regarding his ministry, Jesus stated, "That is why I have come."  (v1:35-39)
D′   Jesus cleansed a leper (that is, Jesus healed him and cast out demons)   (v1:40-45)
C′   Four men and a paralytic reveal their faith by going through the roof  (v2:1-5a)
B′ Jesus showed his authority by declaring, 'Son, your sins are forgiven'  (v2:5b-12)
A′ Jesus called Levi to follow him  (v2:13-14)

The mistake that some people make is to ignore one or more elements of the structure for the sake of completion. You should look for all of the levels to be completed: no broken steps.

For centuries, Bible scholars have wondered how the original text appeared. Some have suggested that portions of the Scriptures have been added, eliminated, and moved around to suit various needs. This rearrangement is in some ways like an editor that revises a manuscript prior to publication. Since the 1950's, a theory known as redaction criticism became more popular in some Bible colleges. According to that theory, some individual or individuals redacted (i.e. edited) the original composition.

Thankfully the redaction theory is not as widely discussed as in previous years. Yet it was argued that these alterations were intended to make the Bible appear more sensational, miraculous, or authentic. As stated in an article by Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry entitled What is Redaction Criticism?, "Redaction criticism reduces the quality of the biblical record, casts strong doubt on its inspiration, and implies that the Bible is not trustworthy as a historical document."

One of the problems that these Bible scholars had was that the arrangement of the Biblical text was not always in a linear manner. Instead, chiasms and other structures seemed to put passages out of their "normal" expected order. To them, this is further evidence that there must have been a redactor.

Your Application
Your take away? Don't allow stinking redaction thinking enter your analysis process. Deal with it!

There definitely are chiasms where one leg of the parallelism is considerably longer than its parallel counterpart, and other instances where an A-B-C-D … some verses … D′–C′–B′–A′ structure is present. But the normal pattern, the one you should initially pursue, should use all the verses in the structure. No broken steps.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Chiasm Hint #2 - Choose Meaningful Keywords

When analyzing a Bible passage to determine if it is chiastic, both keywords and themes can be used to identify the parallelism. Keywords are those Greek or Hebrew words that, when translated into English, are represented in the same way. Themes are ideas that give similar or opposite meaning but not exactly the same words. In this lesson, we will restrict ourselves to just keywords.

In this "Chiasm Hints" series, my intent is to help sharpen your skills when identifying chiasms in the Bible. In the first lesson we looked at "Order of Presentation". In this lesson, we will look at the choice of keywords. Appropriate selection of keywords should lead to better analysis and more meaningful understanding.

First Example
In this passage, the keywords make some sense with the overall structure:

19 Thus said the Lord to me: “Go and stand in the People's Gate, by which the kings of Judah enter and by which they go out, and in all the gates of Jerusalem,
20 and say: ‘Hear the word of the Lord, you kings of Judah, and all Judah, and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, who enter by these gates.
21 Thus says the Lord.’” (Jeremiah 17:19-21a ESV).

Using keywords, a structure like this might be deduced:

A    Thus said the Lord to me  (v19a)
B    Go and stand in the People's Gate,  (v19b)
C    By which the kings of Judah enter and by which they go out, and in all the gates of Jerusalem,  (v19b)
Hear the word of the Lord,  (v20a)
C′   You kings of Judah, and all Judah, and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem,   (v20b)
B′ Who enter by these gates.  (v20c)
A′ Thus says the Lord  (v21a)

In this structure, the keywords match as indicated by the violet, lime green, and light blue colors. The keywords meet the criteria of matching parallelism and they are a significant part of each level.

Also this chiasm has a fairly obvious centerpoint: X  Hear the word of the Lord. To the Hebrews reading this, they would have understood that the Hebrew word shema has a broader meaning than just "hear" for it also infers obedience. Possibly this would have been a stronger rendering: Hear and obey the word of the Lord.

Second Example
Notice how the keywords in this passage have a sense of parallelism but the keywords are weak:

1 The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
2 As it is written in Isaiah the prophet,
“Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
who will prepare your way,
3 the voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”
4 John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. (Mark 1:1-4 ESV)

I suppose that a structure like this could be developed:

A    The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  (v1)
B    As it is written in Isaiah the prophet,  (v2a)
C    “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way,  (v2b)
The voice of one crying in the wilderness:  (v3a)
C′   Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight’”  (v3b)
B′ John appeared,  (v4a)
A′ Baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  (v21a)

I hope this is not your analysis, but if it is, would you consider some insight? The words prepare your way, and Prepare the way are nearly the same in the English, so a keyword parallelism might be suspected. In this analysis, Isaiah the prophet is paired with John [the prophet] which might be a possibility.

While most English translations also render the Greek as ‘prepare’ and ‘way’, a look at the Greek indicates they are different. (Don't worry if you don't know Greek). By checking Biblehub's Interlinear Bible, we see two different words: Mark 1:2 and Mark 1:3; the word kataskeuasei is not even similar to the word hetoimasate!

Yet sometimes synonyms like kataskeuasei and hetoimasate are paired together in parallelism, so we should dig deeper: “Are the two ‘prepare … way’ statements significant to the understanding of those verses?”. I suggest that they are not but I will admit it is a bit subjective. What is insignificant to me may be very significant to you.

The bigger question is, “Does the remainder of the structure make sense?” In this case, you must know that John was also a prophet like Isaiah, for the text does not say so. But more importantly, is it theologically correct to compare the gospel of Jesus Christ (saved by faith for the forgiveness of sins) with the gospel of John the Baptist (repentance for the forgiveness of sins)? My sense is that this passage was never intended for that contrast.

To me, I think it is a long stretch to call this passage chiastic. There are too many obstacles that make the whole pattern seem reasonable. You may not agree with me, but that is my analysis: the whole chiasm should have a strong literary basis for. While the passage to me is intriguing, the center point is not emphatic and parallelisms are weak. Let's look at another example.

Third Example
The point of this Chiasm Warning is to help you select significant words rather than the less important as the basis for the chiasm. Consider this passage:

34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
35 And some of the bystanders hearing it said, “Behold, he is calling Elijah.”
36 And someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.”
37 And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. (Mark 15:34-37 ESV)

The problem with selecting less important words is that the resulting chiasm may make very little sense.

A    And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (v34)
B    And some of the bystanders hearing it said, “Behold, he is calling Elijah.” (v35)
And someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, (v36a)
B′ “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” (v36b)
A′ And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. (v37)

When I review this structure, I sense that the words “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” have been completely lost. His loud cry is not nearly as important as his perceived abandonment by God. Also, the sponge with sour wine, a reed and a drink is important to the story of the cruxificion, but in my opinion it is not worthy of being the center point emphasis. To me, if someone presented this analysis, I would be tempted to join Jesus with a loud cry.

Fourth Example
In this passage, the repetition is apparent:

28 And they said to him, “By what authority are you doing these things, or who gave you this authority to do them?”
29 Jesus said to them, “I will ask you one question; answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things.
30 Was the baptism of John from heaven or from man? Answer me.”
31 And they discussed it with one another, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’
32 But shall we say, ‘From man’?” – they were afraid of the people, for they all held that John really was a prophet.
33 So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.” (Mark 11:28-33 ESV)

Considering this repetition, what are the pros and cons about this analysis?

A    And they said to him, “By what authority are you doing these things, or who gave you this authority to do them?” (v28)
B    Jesus said to them, (v29a)
C    “I will ask you one question; answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. (v29b)
D    Was the baptism of John from heaven or from man? Answer me.” (v30)
E    And they discussed it with one another, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ (v31)
E′ But shall we say, ‘From man’?” – they were afraid of the people, for they all held that John really was a prophet. (v32a)
D′ For they all held that John really was a prophet. (v32b)
C′ So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” (v33a)
B′ And Jesus said to them, (v33b)
A′ “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.” (v33c)

I encourage you to add your thoughts below.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Chiasm Hint #1 - Order of Presentation

Today I begin a new series that I am calling Chiasm Hints, pitfalls that can be easily made when analyzing the literary structure of the Bible. In our enthusiasm to identify chiasms in the Bible, it can be easy to see structures that were probably never intended. See my article What is a Chiasm? if you are already confused.

Now there are no chiastic policemen and I don't want to be considered one. However, I think that some ground rules may help us better hear what God, the One who inspired the Scriptures, intended.

Nils Lund, in his now infamous book entitled Chiasmus in the New Testament: A Study in the Form and Function of Chiastic Structures, suggested on page 31 that a chiasmus "is used in rhetoric to designate an inversion of the order of words or phrases which are repeated or subsequently referred to …" Using this general definition, he went on to explain that it is similar ideas that frame a structured pattern or theme.

I like to follow Lund's directive in my analysis of chiasms, namely that we should look for similar themes. However, I have seen some people simply use the order of presentation to help justify their analysis of a chiasm. Consider this example:

A    Abram's age  (v1a)
B    God's first speech  (v1b-2)
C    God's second speech  (v3-8)
X    God's third speech  (v9-14)
C′ God's fourth speech  (v15-18)
B′ God's fifth speech  (v19-22)
A′ Abram's age  (v23-25)
(Genesis 17:1-25)

The problem with this approach is that there is no consideration of the context. As many Bible teachers will say, context is key. How does God's first speech relate to His fifth? What makes the third speech so special that it may be emphatic?

It may be that the first and fifth speeches are related but this analysis does not tell us how. And what if there were six speeches – would that mean an A-B-C-D-D′-C′-B′-A′ structure? Or seven speeches – an A-B-C-D-X-D′-C′-B′-A′ structure?

As I stated earlier, order of presentation should not in itself qualify a passage as a literary structure, most particularly a chiasm. Similar themes that are revealed in the context must be considered.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Christian Non-Fiction Authors: Selecting a Bible Translation for Your Manuscript

Christian Non-Fiction Authors BEWARE:

Are you using your favorite Bible translation in your compositions without permission from the one that owns that translation? I fell into that trap – fortunately I found out before the work was published but only after countless hours of effort.

Some people wonder why I chose the New English Translation (NET) Bible for my categorization of Proverbs (A Topical Treasury of Proverbs, $19.95). That was not my preferred translation. The answer lies in the very restrictive copyrights that are in most Bibles.

If you look at the copyright for a Bible from Zondervan, Tyndale House, Thomas Nelson, or most of the other well known Bibles except the King James Version (KJV), you will see that people (including authors) are not permitted to copy an entire book of the Bible unless you have their written permission. For example, the 1984 New International Version (NIV) restricted authors to 500 verses and 25 percent of any book. The newer version of the New International Version is considerably more restrictive.

I began my first analysis of Proverbs in 2004 by naively using one of those restricted translations. I put hours and hours and hours into that study only to hit bottom: no authorization. In 2007, my pastor suggested I look at the NET Bible. After some research, I found it is a good translation, was heavily researched during the translation from Hebrew, and is totally free without copyright restrictions. Again countless hours based on a nearly fresh start and frankly a better approach – it was published in 2008.

Today we find many translations of the Bible that are available on-line and totally free. offers many translations but there are many other on-line providers. But that does not mean you may copy and use them in your manuscripts!! Authors BEWARE.

Besides the NET Bible, consider also the English Standard Version (ESV) but still look at the copyright page before proceeding. Some publishers may grant permission to you on an individual basis. If you know a publisher that is easy to work with in that way, please make a comment on this blog. Thank you.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Chiasm for Numbers 11:1-6 - Revealing the Power of Prayer

While in the desert, it must have seemed to the Lord that the Israelites specialized in complaining. They:

  • complained about their lack of food (Ex 16:1-4)
  • complained about their hardships (Num 11:1)
  • wailed in complaint about the manna (Num 11:4)
  • questioned Moses' authority (Num 12:1-2)
  • grumbled against Moses and Aaron (Num 14:1-4)
  • opposed Moses and Aaron in rebellion (Num 16:1-3)

Each time that the Israelites complained, they thought they had a better solution. Their criticism was aimed at Moses, yet it was really the Lord's plans that they were condemning.

The following analysis looks at the chiastic structure to understand the power of prayer that can be used against a critical spirit. A chiasm (ky'-az-um) is a writing style that is frequently found in the Bible – it organizes themes much like a sandwich: A) a piece of bread on top, B) mustard, C) a piece of meat, C') another piece of meat, B') more mustard, and finally A') another piece of bread on the bottom. Chiasms generally focus on the meat, but the bread and mustard are necessary for a complete sandwich. Some chiasms do not have a mustard layer, other chiasms have lettuce on both sides of the meat, and some have just one piece of meat. For more information on chiasms, see What is a chiasm?

The power of prayer can be seen in Numbers 11:1-6:

1 Now the people complained about their hardships in the hearing of the LORD, and when he heard them his anger was aroused. Then fire from the LORD burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp. 2 When the people cried out to Moses, he prayed to the LORD and the fire died down. 3 So that place was called Taberah, because fire from the LORD had burned among them.

4 The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, "If only we had meat to eat! 5 We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost -- also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. 6 But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!" (NIV).

These verses can be analyzed as a chiasm. Continuing the sandwich analogy in the chart below, the two pieces of bread are listed first, the mustard level is then listed, and then the meat is shown on the bottom level. In this way, the verses under First presentation are to be read from top to bottom, while the verses under Inversion are to be read from bottom to top:

Chiasm for Numbers 11:1-6
Level First presentation Inversion Theme
A - A′ Israelites complained about their hardships (Num 11:1a) The Israelites complained about the manna (Num 11:4-6) Israelites complained
B - B′ Fire from the Lord burned among them (Num 11:1b) Fire from the Lord had burned among them (Num 11:3) Fire from the Lord burned among them
C - C′ Moses prayed to the Lord (Num 11:2a) The Lord responded by causing the fire to die down (Num 11:2b) Moses prayed and the fire dies down

As stated above, chiasms generally focus on the meat. Think about this: which had greater authority, the complaints from the Israelites or the fire from the Lord? Hopefully you said fire from the Lord.

Now think about this: which had greater authority, the fire from the Lord or the prayers of Moses? Again, the prayer should be the answer. Therefore, this chiasm emphasizes the authority that is available in prayer.

Thomas B. Clarke is the author of Joshua's Spiritual Warfare: Understanding the Chiasms of Joshua (Bible Discernments, 2008), available at Amazon.Com for $14.99 plus shipping and handling.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

How to Prepare a Topical Study of the Bible

Have you considered delving into one or more topics in the Bible? Has the Lord been prompting you to research something with more clarity than a simple word search? This article identifies the steps that I took in preparing a topical study of the book of Proverbs. A topical study, that is the look at specific subjects or themes, may not be for everyone, but if it is for you, this is my approach.

The Problem with Word Searches
A word search is good in that it can help you find occurrences of an English, Greek, Hebrew or Aramaic word in a portion or all of the Biblical text. For example, if you were looking into ‘grace’, you might open a search engine in a concordance, Bible software or through the internet. If you are using a Bible in your native language such as English, you would have to choose the translation of the Bible and which books of the Bible to investigate. If you want to look at it in the Greek, you might look for the word charis through a tool such as BibleHub: Greek word charis. There you will find there are five spellings for the word charis in the Greek.

But what about those times where Jesus extended grace to someone but the word ‘grace’ was never used? When Jesus met the woman at the well, some would suggest that he extended grace rather than criticism for her. And when he met Paul on the road to Damascus, the Lord's demonstration of blinding power was done with grace rather than condemnation. Hopefully you see that word searches can be limiting.

Topical Studies
Three times I've tackled the topical study of Proverbs – the second of those has been published. Here is my approach:
  1. The first and possibly most obvious thing I did was download a copy of Proverbs to my computer using a translation that I liked. On my first attempt, I failed to check the copyright permissions for that translation – ultimately that decision led to my abandoning that attempt. My second attempt used the NET Bible (New English Translation) because it is free of copyright restrictions as long as you stay within their rules.

  2. In my opinion, the Bible verses should be placed in a database application. While a spreadsheet might work for a while, I believe you will quickly outgrow that approach unless you are extremely clever. I used Microsoft Access which worked very well for me, placing each verse in a separate row in one common table. I also had tables that listed each book of the Bible and each translation that was being used. When the Bible verses were added, I recorded the ‘address’ information: translation, book, chapter, verse number and verse text.

  3. I then created two additional tables: keywords and topics. Keywords and topics were added as I discovered them. For each keyword, I tentatively identified the topics. Even the keywords were tentative at this stage because what I was looking for a working set of topics.

  4. The next part was a bit more complicated: I designed two more tables that contained just the relevant verses for each topic. In the case of Proverbs, many times the reference was restricted to just one verse but that was not always the case. If you are working with a narrative portion of the Bible, it is important to know the beginning and end of the passage. There also can be breaks where the narrative begins for a few verses, something irrelevant is discussed, and then then passage continues. The relevant portion may also be restricted to just a portion of a verse. The two tables that I designed were a) the reference and b) the specific verse portions for each reference.

  5. The time consuming portion came next: I read the entire text in context. By using the keywords, the references were located along with the verse portions. I found it absolutely necessary to read what preceded and what followed the identified verses, else I incorrectly categorized something or missed verses that were relevant. During this period, I finalized the list of topics and added other passages that the keyword search did not identify.

  6. I can't tell you how many times I analyzed Proverbs but it was a lot. At times it was numbing. Most of the time I found it necessary to categorize a verse into more than one topic. When I've looked at how others have categorized Proverbs, that is most important: verses are often not restricted to one topic.
    “The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down into a person’s innermost being.” (Proverbs 18:8 NET)
    That particular verse was categorized under ‘Gossip / Rumors’, ‘Heart’, and ‘Speech that Destroys’.

  7. In time, I found that the English language sometimes twisted the original intent of the passage. I found a location that had all the Strong's Numbers for each verse, loaded that into another table in the database, and used that to refine my queries. This proved very helpful.

  8. To each topic / reference combination, I identified a keyword or keywords that qualified the passage. In the case of Proverbs 18:8, for example, the word gossip was highlighted for the ‘Gossip / Rumors’ topic which the words innermost being were highlighted for the ‘Heart’ topic.

  9. Sometimes I had comments to make about the passage that I felt were relevant to the topic. For example,
    “‘I love those who love me, and those who seek me find me.’” (Proverbs 8:17 NET)
    The words “I” and “me” give personification of Wisdom.
    You too might wish to add relevant comments either for your own use or eventually end up being published.

  10. Using database software, it was a relatively easy matter to prepare the final text in alphabetical order with the references organized sequentially. In my case, I was able to create a PDF from Microsoft Access that was sent to the publisher – it never touched a word processor.

I took the above approach because I like a challenge and because I believe that the Lord prompted me, “Tom, you can do something that many other people are not trained to do.” However, by the third time I went through Proverbs, I became ready to move on – that work remains nearly finished but unpublished.

If you are considering the analysis of just one topic such as “money”, this type of structure may an overkill. A word processor might do just as well. But whichever you use, be very, very careful to never modify the Biblical text. Your final proofread should include a line-by-line comparison of your text with a paper copy of the Bible. Never assume your work is error free.

For more information about Tom, see A Bit About Me. You may also want to see more details about A Topical Treasury of Proverbs.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Having Problems With Your Daily Bible Reading Plan? There is a Better Plan

Are you struggling with your daily Bible reading plan? Do you feel like the schedule is in charge and you're not? Do you sense that while you attempt to regularly follow that plan, your enjoyment of the Bible seems lacking?

It is all too common these days (they are very busy days, it seems) that in committing to read through the Bible every day, that we become slaves to the schedule. Many times we are encouraged to read through the Bible in a year. Some plans are different than others, but the point is that people everywhere are being told that they should daily be in God's Word. What better way, we ask ourselves, than to establish this regular routine?

An example of the many daily Bible reading plans. I do not endorse any of them.

Christians can often feel that a regular discipline is necessary for a fulfilled life. Christianity is often viewed as a sacrificial lifestyle, so a daily Bible reading plan is the answer. I agree that discipline is appropriate but I think there is a better approach.

I write this from experience. Three times I read through the Bible in a year and it became increasingly tedious each time. I encourage every born-again believer in Jesus Christ to read through the Bible at least once. But a forced march? No, I don't agree with that.

I personally think that a first-time reading plan that starts with the book of John and then is followed by the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, Acts, etc. is a great beginning point. That puts the books of Luke and Acts together so we can see the move of the Holy Spirit more clearly. There are many other approaches so please don't let me legislate your schedule. And please, read at your own pace.

The problem with most regimented reading plans is that the pace often takes the joy out of God's beautiful Word. Please, allow yourself to slow down and savor what the Lord inspired. His Word is profound and it is tailored just for you.

I have observed a growing Bible illiteracy among the church and possibly you have too. But for those that do read on a regular basis, I sense it does not seem to be as meaningful as it once was. That is the problem as I see it: we race to Beat-the-Daily-Reading clock but we miss the nuggets.

I personally have become a very strong proponent of a discipline called “literary criticism.” It is an awful name for a wonderful topic: a focus on the beauty of God's Word. For those that have been through the Bible, I see nothing wrong with reading a book like The Sword of His Mouth by Robert C. Tannehill as your daily reading. It is the Bible in expository form and I have read many such books either in part or in whole. Expositories and commentaries help the Bible reader see it in a new dimension. In this case, Tannehill teaches from the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke). His book may be read with it in one hand and the Bible on your lap. (Unfortunately I found his first chapter to be boring.)

Another approach might be to read all of the footnotes in a certain book of a good study Bible. It is common for me to spend weeks studying just one book of the Bible. Please, take your time and enjoy His Word for you today.

For most people, I suggest doing something Bible related on most days. I do not advocate a devotional such as The Daily Bread as the major input because it can become a weak substitute for the Bible itself. Even worse is the random approach that opens the Bible to any page, like pulling a playing card from a deck of 52.

I suggest that a purpose is best but not a schedule. Some days I read a little; other days I spend 4-5 hours or more deeply in His Holy Word. My life can get busy and I'm sure yours can too.

To me, I have found the saying "A Living Bible" to be very true. God's Word does speak to me and I very much relish the times when that happens. It is alive, it is vibrant, and it is personal.