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.