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Chiastic Structures Explained

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What is a Chiastic Structure?

The Bible, including the book of Revelation, uses chiastic patterns for laying out ideas.  A chiastic structure is method of writing that the Hebrews used to express parallel ideas or to explain things in detail.  This pattern can be diagrammed using outline form, and when correclty done, it looks like the left side of the letter X, which is Chi in the Greek alphabet.  Hence, the name, Chiastic Structure, derives from this similarity.  Such a diagram might appear as follows:


The first idea, A, is parallel to idea A’ (pronounced "A prime"), idea B is parallel to idea B’, idea C is parallel to idea C', and so on.  You can think of A and A' as comparable to music, where A is one note and A' is an octive higher so that it sounds like the same note, only higher. As you can see, when drawn out like this, it does indeed resemble the left side of the Greek letter Chi (X).  The idea placed at the center of the chiasm is usually the most important idea presented by the writer of these structures so that the climax of the story occurs in the center of the story, with the parts preceeding the center moving up towards it, and the parts following the center moving away from it.

Scholars have proposed a wide variety of chiastic structures for the book of Revelation, but since many of them differ widely from each other, it is very unlikely that most of them are correct.  The most likely chiastic structure for the book of Revelation shows the center being around chapter 12-14. Usually the parts preceeding that area are considered historical, while the parts after the center are considered generally to be future and to largely deal with End Time events.

This idea of chiastic patterns also encompasses more than simply a pattern used in the Bible.  It can also extend to identical or similar ideas, or even to words, phrases or concepts, in which the second set of such related or identical words, ideas, phrases, or concepts is expressed in reverse order (or nearly reverse order) of the first.  An example of a phrase where this occurs in the Bible that is well known is:

Mat. 19:30 - But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first.

Another such Biblical example is the following:

Mark 2:27 - And he said unto them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath:

Perhaps more modern examples of chiasmus using reverse or nearly reverse order of words are:

For a fuller explanation of chiastic structures, the author has searched the internet and found several good explanations with examples that can help the reader better understand them as they appear in the Bible.  The author has also included several web links which show analysis of chiastic structures so that the reader can get an idea of what is involved in outlining a chiastic structure from actual Bible material.  Click on the links below and enjoy what you learn.

Never Let a Fool Kiss You - a website about a book by Grothe, which explains the use of chiasmus in relatively short but memorable phases. This site is worth checking out.

Chiastic Structures and Isaiah 14.  - This site is a very good explanation of chiastic structures.

What Is Chiasmus?  - Another good explanation of chiastic structures with good examples. Follow the links at the top of the web page to go from one page to the next to obtain the complete explanation.

A chiastic structure in Revelation.  - This site is an introduction to chiastic patterns found in the book of Revelation.

Hmmm.  - A web site giving some additional information about chiastic patterns in some books of the Bible.

Toward a Chiastic Understanding of the Gospel According to Matthew (Part 1).  - This site describes the application of chiasms in the book of Matthew.

The Chiastic Structure and Meaning of Paul's Letter to Philemon.  - This site provides a proposed application of chiasms.

The Chiastic Structure of John.  - This site provides an application of chiasms for the works of John.