13.2.07

The Law of First Mention

I received this anonymous question via my "Off the record" box:

The Law of first mentions? Where on earth did this come from? And does it extend beyond "Genesis has special details"? Because what about Job? Does that count as a first mention, seen as it could be older than genesis (in terms of being written) or do we just rely on the abilities of some old monks to put the bible in order for us. ; ) I have heard a number of teachers refer to this, but I cannot yet make use of it myself. So what better place to clear it up than where thousands of people can read it!


I'm flattered that this reader thinks I am able to give a definitive answer, (and that they think I have thousands of readers!)

Well, I'm more than happy to offer my thoughts on the subject, and to open up the comments section so that others with wisdom on the matter can chip in with their contributions too.

First, what is the Law of First Mention?
It is a principle in Biblical Hermeneutics (The framework for understanding and applying the Scriptures) that states that the first mention of something in the Scriptures is especially significant and sets the stage for how it is to be understood in the rest of the Word.

I have to say here, that I think "Law" is a misnomer, as it implies that it is something fundamental that can be appealed to to establish other truth. I think that the reader is right to challenge and question this. I think it is better to think of it as a "principle" or a "rule of thumb", because more often than not, the fist mention of something in the Word is highly significant. Not because there is an inviolable law that says it has to be so, but because that is what we observe to be the case.


Why should first mentions be significant?
So, what is the principle behind this principle? Why should there be special significance with how something is introduced in the Word?

Whatever you think about the first-mentions principle, one thing that is clear from the Scriptures is that Origins are important. The Bible begins with Genesis - the book of origins. And in this book are the origins, not just of the Universe, but of every major theme of Scripture: Sin and Redemption, Covenant, Prayer, Worship, God's people, God's ultimate purpose for his world, and even the Gospel and Christ himself, if you know how to look.

God begins at the beginning for a reason. We have to understand where we have come from if we are to appreciate where we are going. For example, you need to understand the problem of sin and the fall of man in Adam, if you are to appreciate forgiveness and our redemption in Christ. We see that God's commission to the Church is fundamentally the same as his commission to Adam - to go out into all the world and fill it with people in the image of God who will represent the Kingdom rule of God on the earth just as it is in heaven. God does not have many plans for this world, but one eternal unchanging plan. That is why origins are important, because what God purposed from the beginning is exactly what he will accomplish at the end.

Thus the first mention is significant, because more often than not, it is also the point of origin.


What constitutes a first mention?
In this context, we understand that it is the origin, rather than textual position in a compiled book, that is significant. Although the events of Job predate much of Genesis, Job deals with the issue of suffering rather than the issue of origins. To carry maximum significance, the first mention should be traced to the Book of Origins itself - Genesis. This is not to say that first mentions elsewhere are insignificant, but they certainly carry less weight.

There are other passages outside Genesis that deal with origins. Acts 2, for example, which is highly significant as a reference of origin when considering the nature of the Church. [Which in turn is the New Testament expression of God's called-out people, which can be traced back to Genesis.]


Usage and Abusage
Like any other principle, the First Mention principle can be both used and abused. It is absolutely right and proper, when studying any theme in Scripture, to make sure you trace it back to its first mention, to ensure you understand and grasp the context in which it is introduced, and any significant light that this sheds on the subject. However it is totally wrong to use this principle like a law that can be applied in isolation without reference to the rest of Scripture, to give a distorted emphasis to a verse of first mention, and to make it mean something that is not borne out by how the progressive revelation of Scripture fills out the details on this subject.

There is a wise old saying that goes: If all you have is a hammer, every problem starts to look like a nail!

The principle of first mention is just one of many tools we have in understanding and getting the most out of the Scriptures. Used correctly it can help frame our understanding of Biblical themes. Misused it can distort verses beyond what was ever intended.

8 comments:

Roger Aubrey said...

Chris: thanks. I must admit that I too sometimes question this 'Law.' Isn't it wiser to see where something comes into fullness in the Scripture, such as the Seed of Abraham in Galatians? I know it is of great value to see where something is mentioned first of all: but surely the unfolding and progressive revelation of the Word demands a far more holistic approach than tying ourselves into man made rules of interpretation. In fact I once heard Keri Jones say we should have a law of last mention! I think he had a point.

Well done for tacklin this one.

Callmeteem said...

Thanks for that. It enlightened me.

Zephry said...

Thanks Chris, that was a very balanced way of handling that question

Anonymous said...

the best is when they say we have to tithe because of the law of first mention. classic misuse.. I love it. Let's put everyone in bondage!

Bishop Greg Stevenson said...

Hi Chris

Grace and peace be unto and your beatiful family. My name is Bishop Greg Stevenson and I came accross your article because I was trying to think of the name Hermeneutics and couldn't think of it, but I did remember that it was the law of first memtion. I taught on the law of first mention many years ago, but now my efforts are focused on intercessory prayer for Jerusalem. Your article was good, easily understood and very balanced. When you consider that the real Author new what He was going to say in the end makes it more valuable to see or hear what He is saying in the beginning. I think that people have a problem sometimes with the context surrounding the word that is being mentioned. If the word or passage is taken out of context where is the profit of study. That is the reason that the scripture tells us to study to show ourselves approved unto God. Study is work and unfortunately everyone is not willing to work. You put work into this article. I don't think you sat down to lunch and wrote it on a napkin. Thanks. I have a chapter in a book that I started writing called "The Divine Library" I think you would enjoy it. Its on my web site www.forthepeaceofjerusalem.com
You could also just Google my name Bishop Greg Stevenson and it should come up on the first page of a Google search. If you have any trouble with the site you can e-mail me at Israel2015@aol.com
Be Blessed.
Bishop Greg Stevenson

Sherry said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sherry said...

This was very helpful to me. My Pastor is the first one to mention the "First Mention Principle" I am thankful for the opportunity to study further and more deeply with this in mind. Thanks again Chris!

Anonymous said...

please i need to know more about the principle of first mention....very eager to learn the basic...need help...bless