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The Biblical Literary Device called “Inclusio”

Yesterday in my sermon preparation I came across a literary feature which some call “inclusio” which basically speaks of the framing of a story with two parallel phrases. Inclusio is a literary device which some of the biblical writers use. It can be argued the whole Bible includes an inclusio with Genesis and Revelation having similar themes. However, I have learned that is more of a chiasmus (different yet similar use of Hebrew poetry). If you search “inclusio” on the internet you will likely get Wikipedia’s definition which speaks of Mark 11 including the cursing of the fig tree and the cleansing of the temple in an inclusio so as to make a point that Jesus is judging. I tend to be suspicious of Wikipedia, therefore I don’t rely on this to give me a reliable definition.  Moreover Eerdman’s Dictionary speaks of the function of the inclusio in that it “functions as a frame to illustrate the major emphasis contained within.” They cite Psalm 8 which begins and ends with “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens.” (Psalm 8:1 ESV) But I am still not convinced that we have an accurate definition that stands out from other literary devices like chiasmus. 

Chris Brauns wrote a post speaking of inclusio which gives perhaps the most concise definition:

“Inclusio – This literary term references the bracketing of a passage in the Bible by similar phrases. Identifying literary features such as inclusios helps us both better appreciate the literary beauty of God’s inspired Word and identify important themes”

(http://chrisbrauns.com/2015/02/the-gospel-of-matthews-use-of-inclusio-or-bracketing/) 

Brauns limits the definition of inclusio to “phrases.”  I think this is helpful because when speaking of other literary devices it may get very confusing. The inclusio that I came across was in 1 Kings 2:12 and 1 Kings 2:46.

“So Solomon sat on the throne of David his father, and his kingdom was firmly established.” (1 Kings 2:12 ESV)

“…So the kingdom was established in the hand of Solomon.” (1 Kings 2:46 ESV)

Now, we all have the same information to work with, but we don’t all interpret it the same. For example some take the inclusio to mean that this was “how” Solomon established the kingdom, while others speak of the things contained in the inclusio as being results of the kingdom being established. 

The natural reading is that the kingdom was established when Solomon was put on the throne and his enemies judged and his friends exalted with him. From that point because the kingdom was established the final judgment of the enemies was carried out. This is the vantage point that Iain Provan takes when he writes the following:

“His rule was firmly established: Since this is clearly something that the authors regard as already a reality (cf. also 2:24), it is misleading of the NIV to head 2:13–46 with the title Solomon’s Throne Established, as if this establishment was a consequence of the events described rather than their presupposition. This in turn has led the NIV into a misleading translation of v. 46b: The kingdom was now firmly established in Solomon’s hands. There is no now in the Hb. text. Verse 46b is simply a restatement of the God-ordained reality (Solomon’s grip on the throne is firm) that has just been illustrated by the events described.”

(Provan, Iain W.. 1 & 2 Kings (Understanding the Bible Commentary Series) (p. 41). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.)

Others like Ryken take the whole matter as “how” the establishment of the kingdom takes place. Perhaps there is some truth to both, but I favor the former presupposed state of the established kingdom for two reasons:

1. The biblical context clearly teaches that what happened in 1 Kings 2 leading up to the 12th verse is Solomon being established as king.

2. The theological premise of the gospel gives a precedence to accomplished work preceding judgment of enemies.

The implications may be various, but take for example sanctification. Sanctification works in a manner that the kingdom has been established in a believer’s life, therefore sin can now be conquered and life can now be lived for the glory of God. Furthermore, and preceding this, the basis of how we invite people to Christ is that Christ is already on the throne and people are to bow to him now. His kingdom is established, therefore! One does not make Jesus king, one is to come to Jesus because he is king. So, that’s the idea and the reason why I take the approach I do to 1 Kings 2:12–46. Inclusio is a literary device that frames the text but interpreting what the author means by using it takes the use of context both theological and biblical.