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