One great resource that uncovers an inverse parallelism in the Old (First) Testament is Dave A. Dorsey’s book, The Literary Structure of the Old Testament (Baker, 1999). This is a must have for anyone serious about interpreting and teaching the Old Testament.
Chiasm or chiasmus is a writing structure, defined by Wikipedia:
Chiastic structure, or chiastic pattern, is a literary technique in narrative motifs and other textual passages. An example of chiastic structure would be two ideas, A and B, together with variants A’ and B’, being presented as A,B,B’,A’.
So we have an outline with point A at the top, and A’ at the end. We then work down (or up from the bottom) with similar or contrasting ideas until we reach center.
The importance of chiasm cannot be overestimated. It leads us to the center point, which is the emphasis of a portion of Scripture. Much of the First Testament and portions of the Second are written in this structure. Finding the center point (1) helps us interpret the emphasis or main lesson of the portion, and (2) helps teachers and preachers put the emphasis where it belongs.
Chiasm transcends chapters. Entire books or sections of books can have a broad structure, while sections have their own sub-structure. Many scholars and commentators have noted chiastic structures in their works. But there are many to be uncovered.
I prefer to avoid reinventing the wheel. But, because discovering chiasm is a fairly new idea, there is plenty of room for the pioneer. In this case, I am pioneering defining the chiasm of 2 Kings 4. Here is my outline:
Theme: Even Miracle Working Prophets and Wealthy Women Are Completely Dependent Upon God’s Revelation and Grace
A. Multiplying Oil (1-7)
B. Curing An Infertile Couple (8-17)
C. The Boy Dies (18-25)
CENTER: D. Elisha and the Wealthy Woman Can Presume Upon God and Are Helpless Without God’s Intervention (26-31)
C’. The Boy is Brought Back to Life (32-37)
B’. Curing the Diseased Stew (38-41)
A’. Multiplying Bread (42-44)
Now the interpreter can find the main thought of the chapter and put the emphasis where it belongs.
Method of detection
In this case, noting two similar miracles (multiplying of oil and multiplying of bread) alerted me to the possibility of chiastic structure. If you are reading Genesis, for example, and notice that both Isaac and Esau are considered the firstborn even though they were actually second-borns, that clues you also to the possibility of chiasm.
If you haven’t explored the world of chiasm before I suggest you take a gander at Dorsey’s book. But don’t stop there—be on the alert!
Ed Vasicek was raised as a Roman Catholic in Cicero, Illinois. During his senior year in high school (1974), Cicero Bible Church reached out to him, and he received Jesus Christ as his Savior by faith alone. Ed earned his BA at Moody Bible Institute. He has served as pastor of Highland Park Church since 1983. Ed and his wife, Marylu, have two adult children. Ed has written many weekly columns for the opinion page of the Kokomo Tribune, published articles in Pulpit Helps magazine, and posted many papers at his church website. Ed has also published the The Midrash Key and The Amazing Doctrines of Paul As Midrash: The Jewish Roots and Old Testament Sources for Paul’s Teachings.