Chiasm in 2 Kings 4 and in General

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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 Bio

Ed Vasicek was raised as a Roman Catholic but, during high school, Cicero (IL) 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 and served as pastor for many years at Highland Park Church, where he is now pastor emeritus. 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.


I think it was also a tremendous memory aid for Israel that helped in meditating and remembering. For an example in the NT, look closely at Phil. 2:5-11 as well. I think that section is a chiasm as well.

Yes, I think it was helpful in memorizing. And there are certainly many NT passages that at written as a chiasm.

Dorsey’s book is the best to date for the Old Testament, but there is none that I know of that does the same for the New Testament. Some good commentaries sometimes call attention to chiasm, and sometimes an internet search comes through.

"The Midrash Detective"

Good study. Thanks. I wondered what Dorsey was like. The only other guy I know of who majors on chiasms like this is Bullinger.

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

I read all about chiasms in Seminary, in a lot of books since, and I’m still not sold on their value. A few reasons:

  • I haven’t really taken a close look at their practical value
  • Until fairly recently, my standard translation was the KJV, which has the format of one verse = one paragraph, so the practical value of chaisms never really meant much to me. I think the layout format of your Bible does have an impact on how you view the text.
  • This (above) aside, I’ve never had too much trouble grasping the basic unit of thought and interpreting the flow without chiasms. Chaisms just seemed unnecessary for me. They didn’t aid me in figuring out the point of the passage. To be honest, it seemed like an academic and ivory-tower preoccupation.

I’ve wondered if I’m being simplistic, but I’ve always been skeptical about chiasms. But, I keep reading so much about them that I’m compelled to keep an open mind for now. The next time I preach through an OT book, I’ll keep an eye out! My opinion will probably change as I get into second-year Hebrew and we begin translating Hebrew poetry.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government.