The Gospel of Matthew’s Use of Inclusio or Bracketing

Chris —  February 20, 2015

Christ said his disciples are the "salt" of the world.Currently I am preaching through the Sermon on the Mount. Given that our time on Sunday mornings is limited, I am making my study notes available. Bear in mind that these are simply my notes and are not particularly well organized and certainly not edited. Some of the material is technical. Previously I posted my notes on the Kingdom of Heaven. Today, I am posting my notes on a literary feature called “inclusio.”

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.

Two important examples of inclusios in the Gospel of Matthew show us that the Sermon on the Mount focuses on the importance of the Kingdom of Heaven. Notice the inclusio with the beatitudes in Matthew 5:3-10. The first and last beatitudes promise the kingdom of heaven:

[3] “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

[4] “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

[5] “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

[6] “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

[7] “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

[8] “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

[9] “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

[10] “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Regarding this bracketing of the beatitudes with a promise of the Kingdom of Heaven, Carson comments:

We need to notice that two of the beatitudes promise the same reward. The first beatitude reads, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (5:3). The last one says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (5:10). To begin and end with the same expression is a stylistic device called an “inclusion.” This means that everything bracketed between the two can really be included under the one theme, in this case, the kingdom of heaven. That is why I have called the beatitudes, collectively, “The Norms of the Kingdom.”[1]

Or, compare Matthew 4:23-25 and Matthew 9:35-38 which brackets the section of Matthew 5-7:

[23] And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. [24] So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, epileptics, and paralytics, and he healed them. [25] And great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan. (Matthew 4:23-25)

[35] And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. [36] When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. [37] Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; [38] therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Matthew 9:35-38)

On Matthew’s use of inclusio or bracketing with Matthew 4:23 and Matthew 9:35, Piper writes:

 When we look to see what is sandwiched between these two summary descriptions of Jesus’ ministry, what we see are two major sections: chapters 5–7 are a collection of Jesus’ teaching called the Sermon on the Mount; and chapters 8 and 9 are a collection of stories mainly about his healing ministry. So what it appears we have is a five chapter unit designed by Matthew to present us first with some typical teaching of the Lord concerning the way of the kingdom, and second with some typical healings and miracles to demonstrate the power of the kingdom.

 The value of seeing this is that it warns us against treating any little piece of this section in isolation. Matthew is the writer here and he is putting his material together in a particular way. He is the inspired apostle, and we should care about how he chose to put things together. That is the way he gets across his meaning.[2]

[1] Carson, The Sermon the Mount: An Evangelical Exposition of Matthew 5-7, 16.

[2] John Piper, “The Beatitudes and the Gospel of the Kingdom,” Desiring God, January 26, 1986, http://www.desiringgod.org/sermons/the-beatitudes-and-the-gospel-of-the-kingdom .

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