Romans is bracketed by a clear inclusio.
…through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations…(ESV)
…but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith…(ESV)
Or so it may seem. These verses might be the outer walls of a chiasm that organizes the whole letter. Given how other things begin to line up, I’m leaning toward the chiasm. (A chiasm is simply a literary structure used in ancient texts, including the Bible, to emphasize certain points, draw concepts in parallel, contrast similar but different ideas, or perhaps just aid in memorization. Read the wikipedia article I linked to for more information.)
In Chapter 1:9-15, Paul tells them that he longs to go to Rome. And then towards the end of the letter, starting at 15:22, we have Paul again telling them that he longs to visit, and then offer his greetings to several individuals. That is compelling evidence, I think.
The letter is sprinkled with other, smaller chiasms throughout, and a quick Google search will give you some examples. But I only stumbled on one other site that even hinted at single, foundational structure for the whole letter that took the true bookends as starting points. I probably just didn’t look hard enough, but this gives me an excuse to exercise and flex some synapses.
So here is my rough attempt at sketching out the overall chiastic structure. Key differences are emphasized.
A. The gospel promised through the prophets in the holy scriptures. To bring about the obedience of faith in the nations. (Romans 1:1-7)
B. Longing to go to Rome. Harvest among the Gentiles. The righteous shall live by faith. (Romans 1:8-17)
C. The wrath of God revealed. Men have no excuse and are deserving of death. Idolatry. Dishonorable passions and did not acknowledge God. You have no excuse. In passing judgement, you condemn yourself. God will render to each according to their deeds. God shows no partiality. Obedience. Doers, not hearers. Guide to blind, a light to those in darkness? Name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles. (Romans 1:18 – 2:24).
D. Circumcision is a matter of the heart. Doers of the law, not only hearers. The Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God. God is not unrighteous to judge to the world. None is righteous. Both Jews and Gentiles are under sin. No distinction: all have sinned. God passed over by his blood (sacrificial overtones) former sins. God is God of the Jews and the Gentiles. What becomes of our boasting? We are justified by faith, apart from works of the law. Abraham the father of all who believe (brotherhood), the father of many nations. Abraham is heir of the world. (Romans 2:12 – 4:25)
D’. No distinction between Jew and Gentile. The Lord is Lord of all. The Jew’s rejection meant the reconciliation of the world. The Gentiles grafted into the promises of Abraham, supported by the root. All consigned to disobedience, so God may have mercy on all. Present your bodies a living sacrifice. One body, many members. Overcome evil with good. No authority except what has been instituted by God, and whoever resists will incur judgement. Love one another, and therefore fulfill the law. (Romans 10:5 – 13:11)
C’. Do not pass judgement on the servant of another. Cast of works of darkness, put on armor of light. Observing and eating to the honor of the Lord, because of giving thanks to God (or, acknowledging God). Each man will give an account. God is praised among the Gentiles. (Romans 13:12 – 15:13)
B’. Offering of the Gentiles. Plans to visit Rome. Greetings. (Romans 15:14 – 16:16)
A’. The gospel revealed (or disclosed, made manifest) through the prophetic writings. To bring about the obedience of faith.
There are many things to tease out of this structure, the most obvious being the play promise/revealed and on harvest/offering in parts A and B. I’ll be expanding some of these concepts in later posts. There is also an overriding theme of “exodus” that shines through in many places, which can be studied for profit.
In chapter 2, there is some overlap of verses that seem to belong to two parts. Each part emphasizes something a little differently. Better to treat the separations more like the gentle waves on a beach and less like sterile, impenetrable walls. There is harmonious overlap, but clear distinction. Paul goes back and forth on some topics several times.
I honestly don’t know how I would structure the middle. I would need to read it a few more times, and look at other chiastic structures besides the most obvious parallelism. But parts A and B, I think are the clear beginnings of a chiasm, and so that gives us a hint as to how everything else is structured.
What do you think? What would you change? Is there an outline or structure that better matches up?