Monday, June 13, 2016

Thematic Structures in the Bible Expose Fresh Meanings

I've been studying chiastic structures in the Bible for over 15 years. When I mention that to most Bible-believing people, a glaze typically comes over their face. If they're interested, I offer to show them Matthew 6:24, a very simple chiasm with boat loads of profound truth.

A    No one can serve two masters.
B    Either you will hate the one
C    and love the other,
C′ or you will be devoted to the one
B′ and despise the other.
A′ You cannot serve God and wealth.
(Matt 6:24 NASB)

I explain that to many people, this verse conveys the thought that we must choose which master we will serve: God or wealth. While I believe that is correct, I boldly state that there is a far more profound understanding when looking at it from the standpoint of a chiasm.

I suggest that a chiasm is like a sandwich, bread at the top and bottom, mustard or mayonnaise on the bread, some lettuce next to the mayo, and then some meat. The meat is the important part.

In A and A′, the bread is revealed as two masters, God and wealth. The mustard or mayonnaise is the hate and despise in B and B′, and the meat is love and 'be devoted to' in C and C′.

Here is the clincher: I suggest that in a chiasm, the center is generally considered the emphatic portion of a passage, just as the meat is the major reason to purchase the sandwich. So I ask, “What is in the middle?” The answer is love and 'be devoted to.' “To who?” I then ask. The obvious answer is God. To that I then conclude this verse is emphasizing love, not service, to that master. When we love Him, then service is a natural outflow.

Types of Thematic Structures
There are five basic types of thematic structures in the Bible: chiasm, parallel symmetry, alternating repetition, immediate repetition and lists. The most common is the chiasm. In a brief look at 200 structures in both the Old and New Testament over the last 3 weeks, I found that 32% were chiastic, 24% contained parallel symmetry, 23% alternating repetition, 15% immediate repetition, and 6% lists. A substantial number of these contain variations that make their study most intriguing.

My hope is to help people learn how to read their Bible from the standpoint of thematic structures. The many gems that clarify the meaning of a passage are hidden within these structures. These gems then point to a Holy Spirit-type of interaction that emphatically reveals the meaning and application of the passage. My next book Discovering Emphasis in the Bible, which Lord-willing will be published later this year, attempts to take people through that identification and discovery process.

If you are interested in being notified when the book is available, my email address is

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Word Duplication in the Hebrew Portions of the Bible

The Hebrew portion of the Bible contains an intriguing technique to strongly emphasize an action: word duplication. If you said, “I will obey obey God” in English, it would make little sense. In Hebrew, that duplication gives very strong emphasis to the commitment to obey. You might say instead, "I will totally obey." My hope in this article is to teach how you can recognize this duplication technique – that is, how the Holy Spirit inspired the scriptures with this technique.

This literary device is also known as iteratio and subjunctio.

This rhetoric occurs when a word is repeated. Using the book of Zechariah (NASB), here are some instances of word duplication:

“Those who are far off will come and build the temple of the Lord.” Then you will know that the Lord of hosts has sent me to you. And it will take place if you completely obey the Lord your God. (v6:15)

The inhabitants of one will go to another, saying, “Let us go at once to entreat the favor of the Lord, and to seek the Lord of hosts; I will also go.” (v8:21)

“Woe to the worthless shepherd
Who leaves the flock!
A sword will be on his arm
And on his right eye!
His arm will be totally withered
And his right eye will be blind 1.” (v11:21)
Footnote: 1 Lit completely dimmed

It will come about in that day that I will make Jerusalem a heavy stone for all the peoples; all who lift it will be severely injured. And all the nations of the earth will be gathered against it. (v12:3)

Many times, an adverb [recognized by the -ly at the end of the word] indicates a duplicated Hebrew word.

In a sense, our English diminishes the word repetition. If you said, “I will jump jump over the candlestick”, that does not infer a jump that is twice as high. Rather, it points to the wholehearted commitment to jump over the candlestick. No burnt pants from that jump!

In our effort to hear the voice of God through the Holy Spirit, even the little things in language can provide a strong look into the heart of God. See if you can find examples of word duplication in these verses from Deuteronomy (NASB):

I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that you will surely perish quickly from the land where you are going over the Jordan to possess it. You shall not live long on it, but will be utterly destroyed. (v4:26)

You should diligently keep the commandments of the Lord your God, and His testimonies and His statutes which He has commanded you. (v6:17)

And when the Lord your God delivers them before you and you defeat them, then you shall utterly destroy them. You shall make no covenant with them and show no favor to them. (v7:2)