His Gift To Us: Chiasmus in Russell M. Nelson’s “The Sabbath Is a Delight”

Russell M. Nelson (lds.org)

In a previous article, we wrote about chiasmus in Russell M. Nelson’s “Becoming True Millennials,” a Worldwide Devotional address for young adults delivered in January 2016. In this article, we discuss chiasmus in “The Sabbath is a Delight,” his April 2015 General Conference address. This was his final General Conference address before becoming President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in July 2015. As such, throughout this article we refer to him as Elder Nelson.

In order to more fully appreciate chiasmus in this address, we need to introduce a new term: “spiral chiasmus.” In Chiasmus and Culture, a volume of scholarly essays published in 2014, Anthony Paul describes four types of chiasmus: cross-shaped, mirroring, circling, and spiral. A spiral chiasm occurs when “the formal symmetry sets up a more dynamic process of movement …, returning to the starting point, with the piquant difference that this starting point is no longer exactly what it was at the start — or where it was.” The value of this type of chiasm is its “capacity to open up thought” and generate “new possibilities” (p. 24, 36). In the same volume, Ivo Strecker describes the potential of spiral chiasmus to “shatter expectations and conventions (and establish new ones)” (p. 87).

In “The Sabbath Is a Delight,” Elder Nelson makes use of two spiral chiasms, one from the New Testament teachings of Christ and one of his own creation to help us assess our individual Sabbath observance. This article presents a detailed treatment of each of these chiasms, followed by a less-detailed analysis of several additional chiasms and parallelisms from his address. For an in-depth explanation of our methodology read our article, “Recognizing Parallelisms and Chiasmus in the Scriptures,” under the Methodology tab.

Diagram and Analysis:

#1: To shatter cultural conventions (and establish new ones) concerning Sabbath observance during his mortal ministry, the Lord declared a memorable spiral chiasm that is recorded in Mark 2:27

What did the Savior mean when He said that
A: “the sabbath was
B: made for man,
B: and not man
A: for the sabbath”?

A=A: “[S]abbath” contrasts with “sabbath.” The key to understanding this chiasm is recognizing that the two sabbaths mentioned are not the same sabbath. The first is made for man, the second is not made for man, but is used to control and limit his actions and to stifle his good works and communion with the Lord. In contrast, a sabbath made for man removes this burden and aides his spiritual and physical development.

B=B: “[M]an” equals “man.” Under the influence of either sabbath, the same man is observed. Under one he is liberated, under the other he is limited. This spiral chiasm invites us to ponder the differences between these two forms of sabbath observance and their effect on man and society. Which is preferred? Which should we work toward? Certainly, a sabbath where man selfishly focuses on himself is no more what the Lord had in mind than a sabbath where man is restricted and burdened. This spiral chiasm opens our minds to new possibilities concerning sabbath observance and encourages us to develop a sabbath observance that truly benefits man.

After referencing this declaration from the Lord, Elder Nelson (in the form of a parallelism) offers his authoritative commentary on the Lord’s meaning.

A: I believe He wanted us to understand that the Sabbath was His gift to us,
B: granting real respite from the rigors of daily life
C: and an opportunity for spiritual and physical renewal.
A: God gave us this special day,
B: not for amusement or daily labor but for a rest from duty,
C: with physical and spiritual relief.

A=A: “Sabbath was His gift to us” equals “God gave us this special day.” Recognizing that the Sabbath is a gift from God helps us develop an appropriate Sabbath observance. Our priority should be to use it for His purposes and for the furthering of His “work and glory” (see Moses 1:39).

B=B: “[R]eal respite from the rigors of daily life” equals “rest from duty.” Elder Nelson clarifies that the Sabbath is not a day for amusement or labor, but is a day for setting aside our rigorous routines.

C=C: “[S]piritual and physical renewal” equals “physical and spiritual relief.” The rest invited by the Sabbath is intended for both physical and spiritual rejuvenation.

#2: In addition to providing insight into the Lord’s spiral chiasm, Elder Nelson introduces his own spiral chiasm to spur further thought and insight. What is the relationship between “faith” and “love”? How does the Sabbath help us develop “a love for God”? This spiral chiasm introduces a spiral pattern for application that increases our love for and faith in God and His Sabbath day.

A: Faith in God engenders
B: a love for the Sabbath;
B: faith in the Sabbath engenders
A: a love for God.

A=A: “Faith in God” complements “love for God.” Faith in God means we believe in His promised blessings and live accordingly. Love for God develops as we experience His blessings and understand His intentions toward us. Faith in and love for God help us endure His chastening hand, knowing that the challenges we endure are for our benefit; we look for ways to grow in the midst of our challenges. The Sabbath is intended for believers — those who already have a faith in God. It is not intended to govern those who do not have a faith in God. In other words, observing the Sabbath is voluntary rather than compulsory and is intended for a society that recognizes religious freedom. However, choosing to observe the Sabbath will help us develop faith in and love for God, so individuals who are curious about God are invited to observe the Sabbath as part of their effort to understand and come to know Him.

B=B: “[L]ove for the Sabbath” complements “faith in the Sabbath.” Faith in God helps us appreciate or love the day of rest He has provided for us. This appreciation leads us to exercise faith in the promises of the Sabbath. Receiving the blessings of Sabbath observance helps us develop a love for God. This, in turn, helps us develop greater faith in God, a greater love for the Sabbath, and greater faith in the promises of the Sabbath. Viewed this way, the Sabbath becomes a vehicle for developing greater faith in and love for God.

Additional Chiasms and Parallelisms:

#3: The word “prophet,” especially in the title of the hymn “We Thank Thee O God for a Prophet,” usually refers to the president of the Church. However, in this context it refers collectively to all those who participated in General Conference — through music, prayer, and the spoken word.

A: Dear brothers and sisters, these two days of conference have been glorious.
B: We have been uplifted by inspiring music and eloquent prayers.
B: Our spirits have been edified by messages of light and truth.
A: On this Easter Sunday, we again unitedly and sincerely thank God for a prophet!

#4: Although Elder Nelson is the final speaker at this Conference, he invites the congregation to be open to the Spirit during his address in order to receive additional personal revelation.

A: The question for each of us is: because of what I have heard and felt during this conference,
B: how will I change?
B: Whatever your answer might be, may I invite you also to
A: examine your feelings about, and your behavior on, the Sabbath day.

#5: Elder Nelson uses a parallelism to invite the congregation to join him as he explores the meaning of “delight” as a description of the Sabbath (see Isaiah 58:13).

A: I am intrigued by the words of Isaiah,
B: who called the Sabbath “a delight.”
A: Yet I wonder,
B: is the Sabbath really a delight for you and for me?

#6: In this chiasm, Elder Nelson shares his own experience discovering the delights of the Sabbath day. As a medical doctor, it’s no surprise that this came about as a relief from his professional demands.

A: I first found delight in the Sabbath many years ago when, as a busy surgeon, I knew that the Sabbath became a day for personal healing.
B: By the end of each week, my hands were sore from repeatedly scrubbing them with soap, water, and a bristle brush.
B: I also needed a breather from the burden of a demanding profession.
A: Sunday provided much-needed relief.

#7: After detailing the origin and history of the Sabbath, Elder Nelson uses a chiasm to emphasize the modern-day covenant aspect of Sabbath observance.

In Hebrew, the word Sabbath means “rest.” The purpose of the Sabbath dates back to the Creation of the world, when after six days of labor the Lord rested from the work of creation. When He later revealed the Ten Commandments to Moses, God commanded that we “remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.” Later, the Sabbath was observed as a reminder of the deliverance of Israel from their bondage in Egypt. Perhaps most important, the Sabbath was given as a perpetual covenant, a constant reminder that the Lord may sanctify His people.
A: In addition, we now partake of the sacrament
B: on the Sabbath day
C: in remembrance of the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
D: Again, we covenant
D: that we are willing to take upon us His holy name.
C: The Savior identified Himself as
B: Lord of the Sabbath. It is His day! Repeatedly, He has asked us to keep the Sabbath or to hallow the Sabbath day.
A: We are under covenant to do so.

#8: This chiasm details how Elder Nelson became self-reliant in his efforts to keep the Sabbath day holy. Initially, he followed the “lists of dos and don’ts” created by others, but then developed the ability to discern appropriate behaviors for himself.

A: How do we hallow the Sabbath day?
B: In my much younger years, I studied the work of others
C: who had compiled lists of things to do and things not to do on the Sabbath.
D: It wasn’t until later that I learned from the scriptures that my conduct and my attitude on the Sabbath constituted
D: a sign between me and my Heavenly Father.
C: With that understanding, I no longer needed lists of dos and don’ts.
B: When I had to make a decision whether or not an activity was appropriate for the Sabbath, I simply asked myself,
A: “What sign do I want to give to God?” That question made my choices about the Sabbath day crystal clear.

#9: This chiasm emphasizes that the Sabbath is not just an ancient tradition, but a practice that has been renewed in our day for our benefit. Following this chiasm, he details these modern-day benefits by quoting D&C 59:9–10, 13, 15–16, drawing special attention to the promise that the “fulness of the earth” is given “to those who keep the Sabbath day holy.”

A: Though the doctrine pertaining to the Sabbath day
B: is of ancient origin,
B: it has been renewed in these latter days
A: as part of a new covenant with a promise.

#10: After detailing his own experience of becoming self-reliant in keeping the Sabbath day holy, Elder Nelson invites members of the congregation to explore their own Sabbath observance.

A: How can you ensure that your behavior on the Sabbath will lead to joy and rejoicing?
B: In addition to your going to church, partaking of the sacrament, and being diligent in your specific call to serve,
B: what other activities would help to make the Sabbath a delight for you?
A: What sign will you give to the Lord to show your love for Him?

Next, Elder Nelson provides a variety of ideas for members of the congregation to consider in their own efforts to keep the Sabbath day holy. These ideas are presented in a series of chiasms and parallelisms.

#11: Part of God’s intention in giving us the Sabbath is to strengthen eternal family ties.

A: The Sabbath provides a wonderful opportunity
B: to strengthen family ties.
A: After all, God wants
B: each of us, as His children, to return to Him as endowed Saints, sealed in the temple as families, to our ancestors, and to our posterity.

#12: To encourage parents to take advantage of Sabbath opportunities to teach the gospel to their children, Elder Nelson quotes a chiasm found in D&C 68:25 that emphasizes their responsibility to do so.

We make the Sabbath a delight when we teach the gospel to our children. Our responsibility as parents is abundantly clear. The Lord said,
A: “Inasmuch as parents have children in Zion …
B: that teach them not to understand
C: the doctrine of repentance, faith in Christ the Son of the living God,
C: and of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of the hands, when eight years old,
B: the sin be upon
A: the heads of the parents.”

#13: After quoting from a First Presidency letter from 11 February 1999, Elder Nelson uses a chiasm to rejoice in the availability of “wonderful resources” that aid “righteous, intentional parenting.”

Years ago the First Presidency stressed the importance of quality family time. They wrote:
“We call upon parents to devote their best efforts to the teaching and rearing of their children in gospel principles which will keep them close to the Church. The home is the basis of a righteous life, and no other instrumentality can take its place or fulfill its essential functions in carrying forward this God-given responsibility.
“We counsel parents and children to give highest priority to family prayer, family home evening, gospel study and instruction, and wholesome family activities. However worthy and appropriate other demands or activities may be, they must not be permitted to displace the divinely-appointed duties that only parents and families can adequately perform.”
A: When I ponder this counsel, I almost wish I were a young father once again.
B: Now parents have such wonderful resources available to help them make family time more meaningful, on the Sabbath and other days as well.
C: They have LDS.org, Mormon.org, the Bible videos, the Mormon Channel, the Media Library, the Friend, the New Era, the Ensign, the Liahona, and more—much more.
B: These resources are so very helpful to parents in discharging their sacred duty to teach their children.
A: No other work transcends that of righteous, intentional parenting!

#14: A Sabbath activity that can bring “immense joy” is family history work. The following two chiasms describe and illustrate this joy and invite us to experience it for ourselves.

A: In addition to time with family, you can experience true delight on the Sabbath from
B: family history work.
B: Searching for and finding family members who have preceded you on earth—those who did not have an opportunity to accept the gospel while here—
A: can bring immense joy.

A: I have seen this firsthand. Several years ago, my dear wife Wendy determined to learn how to do family history research.
B: Her progress at first was slow, but little by little she learned how easy it is to do this sacred work.
C: And I have never seen her happier.
B: You too need not travel to other countries or even to a family history center. At home, with the aid of a computer or mobile device, you can identify souls who are yearning for their ordinances.
A: Make the Sabbath a delight by finding your ancestors and liberating them from spirit prison!

#15: Our Sabbath observance can extend outside our family circles and include rendering service to others, especially the sick and lonely.

A: Make the Sabbath a delight
B: by rendering service to others,
C: especially those who are not feeling well
C: or those who are lonely or in need.
B: Lifting their spirits
A: will lift yours as well.

#16: Self-discipline is required in order for us to not slip into pursuing our “own pleasure” on the Sabbath day (see Isaiah 58:13–14).

A: Not pursuing your “own pleasure” on the Sabbath requires self-discipline.
B: You may have to deny yourself of something you might like.
C: If you choose to delight yourself in the Lord,
B: you will not permit yourself to treat it as any other day.
A: Routine and recreational activities can be done some other time.

#17: Drawing a parallel between paying tithing and keeping the Sabbath day holy, Elder Nelson uses a parallelism and a chiasm to help us see that both are ways of showing gratitude to the Lord.

Think of this:
A: In paying tithing,
B: we return one-tenth of our increase to the Lord.
A: In keeping the Sabbath holy,
B: we reserve one day in seven as His.

A: So it is our privilege to consecrate
B: both money
B: and time
A: to Him who lends us life each day.

#18: In concluding his address, Elder Nelson uses two chiasms to remind us that keeping the Sabbath day holy is part of being “an example of the believers” (1 Timothy 4:12) and part of the process of becoming “sanctified in Christ” (Moroni 10:32-33).

Now, as this conference comes to a close, we know that
A: wherever we live we are to be examples
B: of the believers
C: among our families, neighbors, and friends.
B: True believers
A: keep the Sabbath day holy.

I conclude with the farewell plea of Moroni, as he closed the Book of Mormon. He wrote,
A: “Come unto Christ,
B: and be perfected in him,
C: and deny yourselves of all ungodliness;
C: and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness,
B: and love God with all your might, mind and strength,
A: then … are ye sanctified in Christ.”


In his two addresses that we have diagrammed, a distinct chiastic pattern is emerging. Russell M. Nelson speaks in a series of brief chiasms that mostly go unnoticed during an initial reading. However, each emphasizes a principle or practice of the Gospel that is worthy of study and that greatly enriches a study of his entire talk. The insights available through a chiastic study of this talk can help us to more deliberately keep the Sabbath day holy and realize its promised “delight.”

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