Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. (2 Tim. 2:15 NKJV, emphasis added)
Was careful chiastic reading what Paul had in mind as he wrote those famous words to Timothy? The apostle Paul mentioned “rightly dividing” which is at the core of finding a chiastic structure in a text passage.
In chapter 1 of Chronicles, I wrote,
Prior to my research for this book, I did not understand how the Greek word behind “rightly dividing” (orthotomeo, Strong’s #3718, which means literally “to correctly cut or rightly divide”) had anything to do with Bible interpretation. At one time I thought perhaps the translators got it wrong and it’s rightly divining, which to me would have made more sense. But no, it is dividing.
Tomeo means “to cut,” and ortho means to be straight or correct. [This is where we get our words orthopedic “straight child” and orthodontics “straight teeth.”] Some translations such as the NIV and NASB use the phrase “correctly handling.” Though this phrase seems like a good translation, it doesn’t fully capture what “rightly dividing” means. It includes “correctly handling” but involves more.
Surprisingly, the concentric method of reading presented in this book involves literally dividing the text into two proper and correct halves, thus focusing the reader’s attention where needed to obtain a fuller meaning. Paul wrote on, and read from, scrolls. This verse in 2 Timothy gives us a hint that Paul and all the first century Christians knew how to read in a way that we do not.
A Chiasmus of 2 Timothy
As the book was being reviewed and was going into the design cycle, I wondered if 2 Timothy itself, speaking of rightly dividing, might have a chiastic structure. (That would be appropriate, it seemed!) I began noting some of the words immediately around “rightly dividing” there in 2 Timothy 2:15.
So it was just this week I finished identifying a chiastic structure and drew it up. Note in the Figure, the perfectly convergent structure of 2 Timothy, with 21 marker sets, and “rightly dividing” in the center. I used the NKJV, as that was the only translation among those I was using, which translated “orthotomeo” as “rightly dividing.” I did my best to carefully divide 2 Timothy.
The chiastic structure of 2 Timothy derived here yields a beautifully symmetric structure, with “rightly dividing” appropriately in the center of the structure! Admittedly, the echoing markers do not add much more to the interpretation of 2 Timothy, but it is yet another example contributing to the idea that chiastic structures exist everywhere in the Bible. And as Chronicles shows, the difference chiastic structure in prophetic texts makes to the interpretation of those texts, compared to linear reading, is like night and day.
Note the first marker set echoes the “will of God” with “Amen” (which means “so be it”) on the outer edge of the text. A chiasmus is usually more reliable when it isn’t forced, but it just comes out the way it does, nicely. To this end, note the seventh marker set. Likely the two greatest quoted texts of this epistle echo one another, talking about the inspired word of God. Note the second marker pair, where the Lord Jesus Christ and Timothy switch order in each marker, just like a classic chiastic marker.
Of note also, are the thirteenth and sixteenth marker sets. The thirteenth is simply a word association contrasting the idea of being trapped with being free. The sixteenth marker set marvelously adds meaning—those who are His, will also live with Him.
The authors of the New Testament such as Paul and John, writing on scrolls, may very well have noted the chiastic word trails as they wrote under the guidance and inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
Chronicles has shown us the effectiveness that a “rightly divided” prophecy text has in opening up greater understanding. There are many examples of chiastic structures turning traditional interpretations on their ear—those teachings sought out by “itching ears” as 2 Timothy 4:2 mentions.
It will be interesting to see the entire role chiastics has to play in the interpretation of Scripture, and particularly of prophecy.