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Inclusio, Bookends, Romans

One of my favorite laws of literary structure is inclusio.

The less technical term is bookends.

Whatever you call it, it’s when a section of literature (biblical or otherwise) begins and ends with the same phrase or idea. Any author who employs inclusio wants to make sure that you understand the material in between the bookends in light of the bookends themselves.

Two of the more famous inclusio are Psalm 8, which opens and closes with the anthemic “Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” and  the parable of the workers in the vineyard in Matthew 20, which is bracketed by “the last will be first, and the first will be last” in 19:30 and 20:16.

So imagine my surprise when, while reading Romans every morning alongside my men’s LifeGroup, I discovered a book-level inclusio on Paul’s signature letter. In his opening paragraph, Paul declares the goal of his apostleship:

“to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith”  (1:5).

After sixteen chapters worth of material that literally changes the world, Paul bookends his letter with these words in 16:26:

“so that all the Gentiles might come to the obedience that comes from faith.”

It’s Paul’s way of calling out to anyone paying attention: this book? It’s about the obedience that comes from faith. First for the Jew, and then for the Gentile.

We rather narrowly celebrate that salvation comes from faith in Paul’s thought.  And so it does.

It’s not as sexy — but certainly more biblical — to rejoice in the obedience that IS faith and that COMES FROM faith. This is I know, for the inclusio tells me so.

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