What is Systematic Typology? – Part Five

The Temple of Time

The “covenant-literary matrix” of the Bible is not a pattern imposed upon the text, but the internal logic of its arrangement. This fundamental structure, functioning at multiple levels simultaneously, is a ceaseless reiteration of God’s primary theme. It is an algorithm forged in the furnace of the love between the Father and the Son by the Spirit.

The Art of Why

“We have a God who hides things because He loves to be sought out, chewed out and found out.”

As Christians, we are rightly taught that we must not question God’s Word. The problem is that the Scriptures record many things which appear to have been given to us for the precise purpose of triggering questions. Even the provocative parables of Jesus are a breeze next to the arcane stipulations of the Torah. Those dark sayings were given to us as examples. They were not intended to be simple but they were intended to be understood.

Beauty and Power

A testimonial from a reader who is a structural engineer:

I just wanted to communicate to you my appreciation for your work and to encourage you that it has an effect.

At this point, I cannot even remember what crooked path led me to your stuff, but I have read Bible Matrix I and II and just finished God’s Kitchen.

I have always had an appetite for reading and studying Scripture, even as a youngster (I am 59 now). Reading your books has opened up a whole new vista and increased my appreciation for the beauty and power of the Word.

I cannot say that I have a thorough grasp on what you are communicating, but I stumble across the matrix regularly and it has affected how I live life, generally. My only regret is that it has taken me this long to find your books. I trust God’s sovereignty, but I wish that I were able to lead my children into this understanding. They are now on their own, but I plan to do what I can to introduce your work to them. (Both of my sons-in-law are artists, so perhaps they will catch on more quickly than I.)

I am planning on introducing your work to friends that I feel like are ready. I have explained the seven point matrix in an attempt to help several people understand why they might be facing various trials. I find that they are encouraged to encounter a Biblical structure that helps them understand the purpose and provides hope.

I am going to go back through the three books that I have already read and I am looking forward to what comes next.

Thanks again for your work. God bless you in your efforts. I think that these books will have an impact for God’s Kingdom long after you and I are no longer here.

Mark Batten
San Diego CA

You can find all my books here or register to read them in the online library.

The Language of Rainbows

Quantum Field Theology

“Show me your tomes and I will draw you a napkin.”

The usual way to approach a theological problem is to read just about everything written on the subject by just about everybody else, and quote just about every one of them in a book that almost nobody is going to read. And the result most often looks like the same landscape just slightly rearranged. There is little or no progress.1And some people even get paid to do this.

Although the value of such work should never be underestimated, true innovation in any field seems to be achieved by someone willing to attack its problems from an entirely fresh angle.

Visual Language

Mathematician and Nobel Prize winner John Nash (the subject of the movie A Beautiful Mind) was one such individual. Another, also a Nobel Prize winner, was physicist Dr Richard Feynman. His approach to science is very much like the approach of the school of biblical theology to which I subscribe. The scientist observing the laws of nature is like someone who does not know the rules of chess watching the game being played and attempting to make sense of it. Feynman said:

A fun analogy to get some idea of what we’re doing to try to understand nature is to imagine that the gods are playing some great game, like chess. You don’t know the rules of the game but you’re allowed to look at the board, at least from time to time, and in a little corner, perhaps. And from these observations you try to figure out the rules of the game and the movement of the pieces. You might observe, for example, that if there’s only one bishop moving around on the board that the bishop maintains its color. Later on, you might discover that the law for the bishop is that it moves on a diagonal, which would explain the law that you understood before, that the bishop maintains its color. That would be analogous to finding one law and later gaining a deeper understanding of it. You’ve got all the laws, and your understanding of chess is going well.

Then all of a sudden, some strange phenomenon occurs in some corner, so you begin to watch out for it so you can investigate it. This phenomenon is “castling,” something you didn’t expect. By the way, in fundamental physics we are always trying to investigate areas in which we don’t understand the conclusions. The thing that doesn’t fit is the thing that’s the most interesting—the part that doesn’t go according to what you expected. We can have revolutions in physics after you’ve been noticing that the bishops maintain their color and go along the diagonals and so on for such a long time, and everybody knows that that’s true, but then you suddenly discover one day in some chess game that the bishop doesn’t maintain its color, it changes its color. Only later do you discover a new possibility: that the bishop is captured and a pawn went all the way down to the queen’s end to produce a new bishop. That can happen, but you didn’t know it. So it’s very analogous to the way our laws are. Things look positive. They keep on working. Then all of a sudden some little gimmick shows that they’re wrong and then we have to investigate the conditions under which this bishop changed color, and gradually learn the new rule that explains it more deeply.

In the case of the chess game, however, the rules become more complicated as you go along. But in physics, when you discover new things, it looks more simple. It appears on the whole to be more complicated because we learn about a greater experience, about more particles and new things. And so, the laws look complicated again. But what’s kind of wonderful is that as we expand our experience into wilder and wilder regions, every now and then we have one of the “integrations” where everything is pulled together, unified in a way which turns out to be simpler than it looked before.2Richard Feynman interviewed in “The Pleasure of Finding Things Out,” a documentary filmed in 1981. (Edited for clarity.)

This explanation by Feynman struck a chord with me, because it is exactly what I am proposing is the case when it comes to the literature of the Bible. Theological libraries are filled with flattened forests of isolated observations about the Bible, gathered and labeled under terminologies designed to describe similarity of appearance. One thing missing from theology is a “unified theory” which actually makes the entire book simpler rather than more complicated. Systematics are some help but overall they are just isolated collections of similar data, not a window into the internal logic of the “game” of biblical literature.

What is also missing is a way to express this “unified theory,” and Feynman is a help here as well.

Known for his assistance in the development of the atomic bomb, and honored for his work in quantum electrodynamics, Feynman is also famous for introducing a new “visual language” to express quantum field theory processes in terms of particle paths: the “Feynman diagrams.” This “simplification” required a mind not only familiar with the intricacies of physics, but also at ease with the logic behind them.

This was Richard Feynman nearing the crest of his powers. At twenty-three … there was no physicist on earth who could match his exuberant command over the native materials of theoretical science. It was not just a facility at mathematics… Feynman seemed to possess a frightening ease with the substance behind the equations, like Albert Einstein at the same age, like the Soviet physicist Lev Landau—but few others.3James Gleick, Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman.

So, what are the Feynman diagrams?

In theoretical physics, Feynman diagrams are pictorial representations of the mathematical expressions governing the behavior of subatomic particles. The scheme is named for its inventor, Nobel Prize-winning American physicist Richard Feynman, and was first introduced in 1948. The interaction of sub-atomic particles can be complex and difficult to understand intuitively, and the Feynman diagrams allow for a simple visualization of what would otherwise be a rather arcane and abstract formula. As David Kaiser writes, “since the middle of the 20th century, theoretical physicists have increasingly turned to this tool to help them undertake critical calculations,” and as such “Feynman diagrams have revolutionized nearly every aspect of theoretical physics.” (Wikipedia)

Though Feynman was not the originator of this visual language, he was the first to develop it fully and to teach other physicists to use it. What am I saying here? Well, of course, that I believe that what I refer to as the “Bible matrix” is such a language. It not only allows us to understand the complexities of the Bible’s history, architecture and theology in a simpler, more integrated way, but also to express them more efficiently.

Predictably, my “workings” need to be explained in long-winded prose for those unversed in this theological shorthand, but the visual solution itself is simple.

Old School Resistance

For Feynman, persuading the physics establishment to give up pages and pages of complicated calculations for simple diagrams was not so simple.

Feynman had to lobby hard for the diagrams which confused the establishment physicists trained in equations and graphs.4Leonard Mlodinow, Feynman’s Rainbow: A Search for Beauty in Physics and in Life.

While many adults’ eyes either glaze over or else look daggers at me for teaching something “new,” children and teenagers most often “get it” straight away. The young not only pick it up but with little training are able to “speak it” quite fluently. It not only gives them an understanding of Scripture beyond their years, it explains the patterns of human life. As a friend commented to me, “Once you’ve seen it, you see it everywhere.” If the Bible is the Word of God, we should not expect anything less.

Thus, my dream is to see this “quantum field theology” with its simple diagrams become the language of Bible teachers everywhere.

Laws of Attraction

Though quite a few have dismissed this approach, I have been working on it for a number of years now and am more convinced than ever. The primary reason for continuing with it is, quite simply, it works. As Feynman describes, when the study seems to have hit a wall, or there is something which appears to confound the theory, further study reveals even greater unity and simplicity. There are now elegant—and extremely consistent—solutions to a growing number of supposedly complex theological debates which have occupied scholars for centuries. For every problem, I could sketch the resolution in a diagram on a napkin.

Layout 1This method almost always provides a fresh angle in approaching a problem, a “third way,” but this means I cannot fit into any particular denomination or theological framework, and explains why my take on many controversial Bible texts is unfamiliar. I can hear the heartbeat of the text, and it is a different drum.

But this “unified theory” also means that the logic behind every one of my positions, on every topic, is identical. What is more, they all gel together perfectly, just as they should. Readers often do not like my conclusions, but I defy anyone to fault my logic. Show me your tomes and I will draw you a napkin.

The second reason is that further study not only reveals greater unity but also more profound beauty.

I am no Feynman. Like Warhol, I take other people’s ideas, fit them together and repeat them endlessly to the annoyance of the establishment. But in doing this, Warhol changed our culture forever. Like Feynman, and like me, Warhol’s ease with the “mechanics” of his field was the result of his fascination with its beauty.

‘Do you know who first explained the true origin of the rainbow?’ I asked.

‘It was Descartes,’ [Feynman] said. After a moment he looked me in the eye.

‘And what do you think was the salient feature of the rainbow that inspired Descartes’ mathematical analysis?’ he asked.

‘Well, the rainbow is actually a section of a cone that appears as an arc of the colors of the spectrum when drops of water are illuminated by sunlight behind the observer.’

‘And?’

‘I suppose his inspiration was the realization that the problem could be analyzed by considering a single drop, and the geometry of the situation.’

‘You’re overlooking a key feature of the phenomenon,’ he said.

‘Okay, I give up. What would you say inspired his theory?’

‘I would say his inspiration was that he thought rainbows were beautiful.’5Mlodinow.


This is an essay from Inquiétude: Essays for a People Without Eyes.


If you are new to this method of interpretation, please visit the Welcome page for some help to get you up to speed.

References   [ + ]

1. And some people even get paid to do this.
2. Richard Feynman interviewed in “The Pleasure of Finding Things Out,” a documentary filmed in 1981. (Edited for clarity.)
3. James Gleick, Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman.
4. Leonard Mlodinow, Feynman’s Rainbow: A Search for Beauty in Physics and in Life.
5. Mlodinow.

The Most Embarrassing Verse in the Bible

The New Testament, taken at face value, really does seem to be talking about coming events which were not only momentous but also imminent.

Have you ever had the experience where the text of the Bible seems to create a difficulty and your pastor’s (or favorite theologian’s) explanation doesn’t really cut the mustard? C. S. Lewis, author of the Narnia chronicles and many other books, was at least honest about something which most Christians are happy to gloss over. He writes:

The apocalyptic beliefs of the first Christians have been proved to be false. It is clear from the New Testament that they all expected the Second Coming in their own lifetime. And, worse still, they had a reason, and one which you will find very embarrassing. Their Master had told them so. He shared, and indeed created, their delusion. He said in so many words, “this generation shall not pass till all these things be done.” And he was wrong. He clearly knew no more about the end of the world than anyone else. This is certainly the most embarrassing verse in the Bible. From C. S. Lewis, “The World’s Last Night” (1960), found in The Essential C.S. Lewis.

Is Lewis correct in this observation? The New Testament, taken at face value, really does seem to be talking about coming events which were not only momentous but also imminent. If Jesus and those who followed Him were wrong, then Christianity is a load of rubbish. This was the conclusion of atheist Bertrand Russell, who, although he granted that many of the teachings of Christ were excellent, pointed out that there were also some apparent defects:

For one thing, he certainly thought that His second coming would occur in clouds of glory before the death of all the people who were living at that time. There are a great many texts that prove that. He says, for instance, “Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel till the Son of Man be come.” Then he says, “There are some standing here which shall not taste death till the Son of Man comes into His kingdom”; and there are a lot of places where it is quite clear that He believed that His second coming would happen during the lifetime of many then living. That was the belief of His earlier followers, and it was the basis of a good deal of His moral teaching. From “Why I Am Not A Christian,” a lecture delivered in 1927 to the National Secular Society in London, found in Why I Am Not A Christian And Other Essays, 1957.

Of course, I don’t believe this to be the case, but what most Christians don’t realize is that the entire New Testament sits squarely on a structural foundation laid down in the books of Moses. If we truly understand Moses, we will understand not only the New Testament’s purpose, but also the answer to this important question. What was the imminent event? The destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple in AD70, an event which brought an end to the Old Covenant. The history from the ministry of Christ, through His ascension and Pentecost, through the ministry of the Apostles to the Jewish War follows a path well-trodden throughout previous Bible history. When you familiar with this pattern, suddenly many of the odd things Jesus says fall right into place.

You can either spend decades doing research, as I have done, or you can get a big handle on the structure of the Bible by reading my book, Bible Matrix: An Introduction to the DNA of the Scriptures. It is available from amazon, or you can register and read it in the Online Library. You can read the foreword by Dr Peter Leithart here.

Perhaps surprisingly, learning to read the New Testament in its first century context makes it more relevant and powerful, not less. And you will have a gob stopping answer for the likes of Bertrand Russell.

Fortune Cookie Christianity

“The Bible was written for us,
but it was not written to us.”

Western culture is not only becoming illiterate, but also Bible illiterate. Rejecting the Word confounds our words. Language is the gift of the Spirit.

Sadly, this Bible illiteracy includes Christians, who can rarely muster an understanding of the text beyond isolated verses. The problem with this particular way of reading the Bible is that God’s Word is not a collection of magic mantras or fortune cookie messages.

The Bible was written for us, but it was not written to us. We are reading somebody else’s mail, so we must interpret it in context before we can accurately apply it to ourselves. First interpretation, then application.

Doug Haley shares an experience of this kind of reading which not only reveals it to be a false comfort, but also reveals the only source of true comfort for the Christian. He writes:

Some years ago, I was undergoing a particular trial related to having been appointed to a parish where the minister was in significant conflict with the elders of the church. Through no fault of my own I was made for a twelve month period the meat in the sandwich so to speak. Late in that difficult year I visited a Christian friend who with well meaning zeal quoted Jeremiah 29:11 to me and told me not to worry, because God knew the plans he had for me. It was well meant and I took it as such, but as a biblical exegete [interpreter] it really rubbed me the wrong way.

Jeremiah 29:11 is a single line from a prophecy given to Israel while they are in the midst of their exile to Babylon. The immediate context of the passage also talks about a time when the 70 years of exile will have been completed, and when God will gather them from the nations to which He has driven them.

Did my friend intend to apply the rest of the passage to me as well by implication? Was he then implying that my time in this conflicted parish was God’s punishment upon me for some disobedience? Or was the point that I still had a period of punishment to run before God would once again restore me?

Elements of the story
cannot be taken from the story
without affecting their meaning.

The prophecy was given to a people in the midst of punishment for their disobedience. It cannot be lifted from its context as if it is some magical spell, where the form of words contains the power to deliver. Rather it is an expression of God’s intention towards a particular people at a particular time. Even if it can be generalised into a principle regarding the way God treats his people, it cannot be picked apart so that the nasty bones of prophecy are gone, leaving only the nice soft juicy bits.

Prior to this experience, I had academically understood the importance of context to meaning, but it is this event which has stuck in my mind ever since as a reminder that all texts, and Scripture perhaps more than any other, are integral texts. The meaning of any given portion of a text is effected by its relationship to its surrounding texts and the particular cultural and historical milieu into which the prophecy was given.

In the case of the Bible this understanding is even more important because of the single unifying purpose that overarches both the Scriptural record and the History it recounts. Because God orders all events, all the events are part of a huge pattern of God’s sovereign working in time. Because of that ordering they all effect each other. Elements of the story cannot be taken from the story without affecting their meaning. That being the case, to remove a text from its context without understanding its relationship to that context is actually to distort the passage, to misunderstand it, and in the case of my well meaning friend, to misapply it.

God knew the plans he had for Israel beyond their punishment for disobedience, He knew the plans He had for Jesus beyond the cross, and He knows his plans for me, but those plans are wrapped up in Jesus, who has born my punishment in my place. Because Jesus stood in the place of God’s wrath for me, my future can never be separate to His, and God’s plans for me will always be a reflection of His plans for Him. Without the context I might think that prophecy was all about my getting rich, or well, or happy. It’s not. It’s about me passing through the purifying fire to be reborn to new life for the sake of the world. God’s plans are good, and He knows them alright, but woe to the man who tries to rewrite them after his own likeness.

May God bless you today with a vision of His better purposes for you.

Hidden In Plain Sight

by Albert Garlando

Having read the Bible through many times over many years in many different ways I’ve always been trying to improve my comprehension of how, if at all, the whole story fits together. And not just in a systematic or logical way, but in the sense of how it teaches me about who God is, why he acts the way he does and what, if anything, I’m meant to do in response.

One can dismiss it as a haphazard sedimentation of religious manipulation collected to control the masses or pacify the minorities, but that doesn’t explain the impact it has had across diverse (and often opposed) cultures and social groups throughout history.

So, if the Bible is one big book with an editor-in-chief overseeing its entire construction, then what is that structure? Is it visible only to select initiates, requiring the identification of secret codes? Different groups have made this claim to establish themselves as a source of authority.

But the nature of the book and the author it represents is one of openness and perspicuity. God is the revealer of secrets, his spokespeople are the ones who communicate for the purpose of making things clearer, not more obscure. The book that more people avoid reading because of its purported difficulty is the one book that offers to uncover and reveal what is really going on behind the scenes. Why is it so hard?

Maybe because we are looking for something more complicated than what we’ve received. Maybe the hidden message is actually hidden in plain sight. You can call the “Bible matrix” a pattern, a plan, a habit, an architectural design — the name is irrelevant. The point is that right from the start of the Bible, there’s a recurring formula inherent in the way God shows and tells who he is, how he works and what he wants from his creation.

Indeed, it is a pattern that pervades all of creation: from the way you go about your day-to-day life; how you set the table and serve guests a meal; how a romantic relationship develops and is consummated; the plot of your favourite movie or novel — all hidden, but hidden in plain sight. And once you’ve seen the matrix, you can’t un-see it. The obscure and apparently random things that didn’t make sense in Bible narratives suddenly make perfect sense because God is doing the same thing, in the same way, just with different people in a different place and time.

God hasn’t changed and because we need to be told the same thing a dozen or so times before it really sinks in, thankfully, he hasn’t changed the way he acts nor what he wants us to do in response. God creates and reveals himself so that we might know him, approach him, receive from him and take what he has given and use it to magnify him. When you see that this is essentially what is happening in Genesis 1 and realize that this formula repeats itself throughout the entire Bible, the key is in your hand, all the doors are open, and you don’t need to have it all explained. Your eyes are opened and you respond with delight and praise, art and music, and a new joy in the fact that this exact shape is built into every facet of an obedient human life.

(Look at the 3D image above. Can you see the dolphins hidden in plain sight? It might take a minute for your eyes to focus.)

X Marks the Spot

The Bible has a shape.

In this age of science, we have been trained to read literature as a “stream of information,” that is, as disconnected facts in a flat, shapeless “feed.” But the Bible isn’t written that way.

For ancient people, and good modern storytellers, literature is like architecture, or like weaving. So the Bible has a very definite shape, just as a building has a shape, and just as clothing has a shape.

The shape of the text is one of the author’s means of getting his point across. Since modern readers see texts as flat transmissions of data, they miss a whole channel of communication. It’s like watching a 3D movie with one eye closed.

Ancient writers added depth using clever tools like symbols, symmetry, repetition and fractals. Many Bible teachers are not aware of these “shapes,” and they try to deal with the strange artifacts remaining in the “flattened landscape” using other means.

One attempt at compensating for this lack of awareness is the list of rules which Bible scholars have given us for reading the Bible. The list is about as long as the Bible itself and many of the rules contradict each other. But the Bible is just like any other well-crafted book. It doesn’t need a list of rules because you are expected to dive right in and let the author fill you in as you go along. In the case of the Bible, part of that “filling in” is the repetition of symbols, key words and literary structures.

The good thing is that the best TV shows and movies are using these sorts of things more and more in their stories. The Bible is a very visual, artistic and musical book, so the fact that young people are now raised on visual media means they already have all the skills they need to understand and enjoy it. They just need to learn to apply these existing skills in a new way.

The skeleton key

In his commentary on the Psalms, the Bible scholar Origen (185AD – 254AD) shared a comparison that he heard from his Hebrew teacher: The Bible is like one big house with many rooms. All the rooms are locked, and at each door there is a key. But the key at each door is not the key to that particular door.

The job of the Bible scholar, and indeed any reader of the Bible, is to match the keys to their doors. In many cases, the meaning of a Bible story or passage can only be “unlocked” by comparison with an earlier text, or through an explanation in a later text. This means that we must not treat the Bible as separate writings motivated by the human needs of the day, but read it as one book which is a progressive revelation of the plan of God.

This still sounds like a lot of work, but it turns out there is also a kind of “skeleton key” built into the Bible, one which opens every door. It is a key which has been hidden in plain sight, and it has to do with the shape of the text.

You might remember the scene in the movie Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade, where the main characters were in a library looking for a secret entrance to a crypt. It turned out that there was a giant X in the marble floor, but nobody noticed it until they looked down on the room from above. In the Bible, as we shall see, X most definitely marks the spot.

How does this key work? Every part of the Bible has the same shape as the whole thing, which means that each instance of this shape, in its own way, is telling the same story. Every Bible story has the same “deep structure,” which means that when you compare and contrast these common shapes, there are some very profound observations you can make about the purpose of the text.

Here is the image we will be using to describe the “shape” which underlies every part of the Bible, and indeed the entire book.

Print

Yes, it looks weird. But just wait until you see what it means.

Once you know the basic shape and understand how it works, you can see it everywhere. What seemed flat now has an extra dimension, like a “pop-up” book, and many strange features that made no sense when the book was flat now suddenly make perfect sense.

The text is a tool

Why does the Bible have a shape? Because it was designed to shape us. It doesn’t just give us a list of abstract truths, like many Bible teachers do. It also demonstrates how truth itself is a process of building something in history according to the spoken pattern. The symbolic shape works like a stamp, a brand, or a mold.

Bible teachers refer to symbols as “types.” This is because the Greek word for a stamp or pattern is typos, which is where we get typeface and typewriter from. A type stamps, carves or impresses its character into something else, and that is what the shape of the stories in the Bible is designed to do. For those who wrote it, and for those who teach it, the shape of the text is a tool in the hand of a craftsman. As we read the Bible, its pattern recasts the shape of the way we think in order to forge the shape of the way we live.

Flying information

Now we’re ready to decode that mysterious symbol above.

The structures in the Bible replicate many patterns found in nature, and the image of geese flying in formation is a great illustration of where we are heading.

As we’ve discussed, popular culture communicates in the same way the Bible does: with images, sound and repetition. Part of the reason we are no longer aware of this is the fact that we rarely hear the Bible read aloud any more. Before modern times, reading and writing was a career, and although history was recorded carefully (not passed down orally to the degree that some people believe), it was not read by most people but heard. Consequently, it was written in ways that impacted people and etched itself onto their memories and into their hearts.

There and back again

Western culture owes far more to the Bible than most people realize, which is possibly why the book written by Bilbo Baggins in J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit was entitled “There And Back Again.” This is the fundamental shape of every story in the Bible.

One tool the ancients loved to use in their literature was symmetry, and we find this everywhere in the Bible. Its basic shape is like a “>” symbol but it is symmetrical in the way that a flock of geese is symmetrical. Very often, the “goose” at the center was the main point of the story, a factor which our modern minds are likely to miss.

So, the journey “there and back again,” whether it was Abraham’s servant heading out to find a bride for Isaac, or the Lost Son squandering his money and heading home, would look like this:

A
B
C
D
C1
B1
A1

 

The points in the second half expand upon their counterparts in the first half. The central point is known as the thesis, which means it was often the main point or argument of the text. Identifying the structure would enable the reader to identify the main or most important idea the author was communicating through his careful arrangement of the text. So if you ever wondered why some Bible books seems to be a bit of jumble, here is the answer. They are not a jumble at all — they have an internal logic of which we are not always aware.

If this sounds tiresome, it’s not. It’s actually a lot of fun reading the Bible to find symmetrical patterns, whether it be in the Law, the Prophets or the Gospels. Some of them are small. Some of them are large. Some of the large ones contain smaller ones.

This method is called “chiasm” because of the Greek letter X (pronounced “ky”). Simple chiasms can be presented as an X shape, such as Matthew 23:12:

Print

We won’t be using the full X shape (which looks a little like a chromosome) because the Bible’s basic pattern has a center that is actually part of the text. So from here on, all chiasms look like the geese in formation.

Chiasms are clues

The chiasms in the Bible are practical. They help us identify the author’s main point. They are also beautiful. Once identified they let you in on the amazing literary artistry in the biblical texts. And they are everywhere, which means if we don’t become conscious of them to some degree as we read, we are not reading the texts as they were meant to be read.

Here is a simple example from 2 Samuel 11-12:

A  David doesn’t go out to fight Ammon
B  Bathsheba is pregnant
C  Bathsheba mourns Uriah
D  Nathan confronts David
C1  Bathsheba mourns her son
B1  Bathsheba is pregnant
A1  David conquers Ammon

 

We can see that the symmetry highlights both the similarities between certain events and the differences. A and A1 contrast David’s disobedience and his victorious obedience. C and C1 both concern the mourning of the bride, firstly for the father and then for the son.

You might notice that this is not simply a literary structure, but also an historical structure. The author of the text is also the author of the history.

Here’s another simple example found in 1 John 3:9, and this time there is a bit of a twist:

No one who is born of God
commits sin,
for His [God’s] seed
abides in him
and he is not able
to commit sin
because he is born of God.

 

The first thing you will notice is the beautiful symmetry. But the symmetry reveals something… Something is wrong! Unlike all the other points, C and C1 do not match. This is deliberate, and it shows us that the reason the one who is “born of God” is not able to sin is the work of God’s “seed” living in him.

But there is more to this chiasm than meets the eye, even when we notice this deliberate discrepancy. This verse follows a pattern laid down in Genesis 1 and repeated throughout the Bible, and if we are aware of this, the reason for John’s strange use of the word “seed” here becomes apparent to us.

I hope you are beginning to see not only the beauty of the Bible, but the potential such analysis has for really opening the text for us. And we have only just begun.

Read the entire book for free.

Downsampling the Word

In Steven Spielberg’s 1977 movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) cannot get the image of the Devil’s Tower out of his mind. At the dinner table, maddened by this new obsession, he recreates the mountain in mashed potato. Finally, he notices the distress of his family, but he comments, through some tears, “Well I guess you’ve noticed something’s a little strange with Dad. It’s OK. I’m still Dad. I can’t describe it, what I’m feeling, what I’m thinking. This means something. This is important.”