One of my Favorite Bible Study Tools

When I took Inductive Bible Study, at CalvaryChapel Bible College, one of my favorite Bible study techniques I learned was regarding the Bible Study Rule of First Mention. 

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 Simply put, the rule says: The first time something is mentioned in the Bible sets the standard for what that word means as it appears throughout the rest of Scripture.  

First Mention of Love 

So let’s say you want to know what the Bible says about love. While 1 Corinthians 13:4-8, the famous love chapter, has lot to say about love, by doing a Bible Gateway search on the word love in the NKJV Bible, we find the first mention of love is in Genesis 22:2. 

Then He said, “Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.”


Chuck Smith notes:   

“This is the first time the word "love" is used in the Bible. And it's interesting it's not used of a mother's love for her children or a husband's love for his wife, but it's used of a father's love for his son as the greatest love, because we have a picture here of the love of the heavenly Father for His own only begotten Son, that relationship that exists between the father and his son. So "take now thy son, thine only son.  Notice the words "Thy son, thy only son Isaac, whom thou lovest." It reminds us of a scripture in the New Testament that declares, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son." (John 3:16)

So using the rule of first mention, we see the Biblical standard for the word love. However, a word of warning.  Whenever looking up the first mention of a word, it is essential that you use a word-for-word translation of the Bible rather that a thought-for-thought translation. 

Word-for-word Translations vs. Though-for-thought

Word-for-word translations include: KJV, NKJV, NAS, NASB. ESV, ASV, CSB
Thought-for-though translations include: NIV,  NIV (1984), NLT

So what’s the big deal? I’ll show you why using a word-for-word translation is so important when studying the first mention of a word in Scripture.

The Problem with Using a Thought-for-Thought Translation

Sticking with our original example of love, let’s say we want to learn what the Biblical standard for the word love is using the rule of first mention using the NIV 1984 a thought-for-thought translation.  In this translation, the context of love is completely different.   

The first mention of love in NIV 1984 is Genesis 20:13 where we find Abraham explaining to Abimelech why he lied about Sarah, being his wife, saying she was his sister. Here Abraham reveals how he coached Sarah, to lie for him, as a way to show her love for Abraham. 

And when God had me wander from my father’s household, I said to her, ‘This is how you can show your love to me: Everywhere we go, say of me, “He is my brother.”’” (Genesis 20:13)

This was actually the second time Abraham asked Sarah to lie for him, saying she was his sister, instead of his wife.  In Genesis 12:10-13 it explains:
10 Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to live there for a while because the famine was severe. 11 As he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, “I know what a beautiful woman you are. 12 When the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me but will let you live. 13 Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.”

This is why later on in Gerar, Abraham asks his wife, Sarah, to show her love for him, by lying to protect him. Clearly this is not the Biblical standard of love: lying for the one you love to protect them. That’s the trouble with using a thought-for-thought when looking up the first mention. 

Yet when I looked up Genesis 20:13, the NIV 1984’s first mention of love, the NKJV translated that verse this way, 

And it came to pass, when God caused me to wander from my father’s house, that I said to her, ‘This is your kindness that you should do for me: in every place, wherever we go, say of me, “He is my brother.”’”

In other words, Abraham was saying to Sarah, "Show me kindness by saying, “He is my brother.”’ Do me a favor, Sarah. You can show kindness towards me by helping me out with this." Abraham was probably motivated by the same fears for his safety there that moved him to ask Sarah to lie for him  back in Genesis 12:11-12.

So with a word-for-word we see the sacrificial standard of love, as of a father sacrificing his only begotten son, whereas a thought-for-thought led us to a misinterpretation of the Biblical standard of love. Don’t get me wrong. I grew up on the NIV 1984, have read it, memorized from it, and studied from it for years. It’s a great translation. It was only until I learned the rule of first mention, that I realized I needed to use a word-for-word translation so I don’t get the wrong idea about a word, like in the example about love.

Question for you: What is one of your favorite tools for studying the Bible?




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18 comments:

  1. One of my favorite things to remember...

    When you see a "therefore", read the verses before it to see what it's there for!

    Context, context, context! SO important. :)

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    1. Jenni, I love that saying, "When you see a "therefore", read the verses before it to see what it's there for!" My pastor likes to say that, when he comes to a therefore. "Find out what it's there for." I agree context is so important! Context is king. God bless you richly!

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  2. Interesting post--I enjoyed it. I love going back to the Greek and seeing what the word broken down means. It just adds clarity for me.

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    1. Pamela, so glad you liked this. I love going to the Hebrew and Greek, too for specific Word studies after I apply the rule of First mention (if I am doing a topical study). Otherwise, I just will go right to the Greek or Hebrew to study a word. I love Blue Letter Bible and Precept Austin for doing word studies. Both are a wealth of information. God bless you, lots!

      http://www.blueletterbible.org/
      http://www.preceptaustin.org/greek_word_studies1.htm
      http://www.preceptaustin.org/Greek_to_Me.htm
      http://www.preceptaustin.org/hebrew_word_studies.htm

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  3. I had never heard of the "rule of first mention", but I will definitely be implementing it into my regular Bible study routine. I also never knew that about the different versions of the Bible. Very interesting! Thanks for your insights.

    Found you on Beautiful Thursdays.

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    1. Keri, I'm so glad this blessed you! God bless you richly as you continue to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord, Jesus Christ!

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    1. Thanks, Denise! Glad you liked it. God bless you richly!

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  5. Thanks for sharing this insight...I will definitely use this technique in my personal Bible Study...lately I have been very intrigued by a literary context approach to Bible Study...looking at what genre is used in a book of the Bible and seeing how this impacts the meaning. I use the ESV Literary Study Bible and a book called Words of Delight by Leland Ryken.

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    1. Kel, I'm glad was helpful to you. Thanks for sharing. That Bible sounds good. I've never heard of that other book. I'll be sure to check it out. God bless you much!

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  6. Thanks for linking up with FPF...great insight here, I've never focused on the method you described here. I myself love looking up specific character qualities and finding different passages in the bible that reflect these in Jesuss...Michy

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    1. Michy, looking up character qualities is a great way to grow in the knowledge of God! Thanks for sharing! God bless you richly!

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  7. I featured this one too today! I have a featured button if you'd like!
    http://passionateandcreativehomemaking.blogspot.com/2012/10/beautiful-thursdays-link-up.html

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    1. Thanks, Angell! That's a blessing! God bless!

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  8. www.HolyBibleVerse.com & BibleGateway.com are the best online Holy Bible search engines & study tools (over 200 translations of the Bible between them).

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    1. Thanks for sharing these, Maxwell! I love BibleGateway.com! I have never heard of the other site. I look forward to checking it out. Thanks again for sharing. We are so blessed to live in a day and age when God's Word is so readily available to us. God bless you lots!

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  9. Amazing interpretation, Brooke! To have a better understanding, I usually do a word-for-word translation first before I make a conclusion. In that way, we can avoid misinterpretation of the teachings.

    Ja @TheInstituteFW.org

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    1. Thank you, Ja! That's great that you study from the word-for-word translation first to guard against any misinterpretations. My favorite quote for interpreting Scripture is referred to as "The Golden Rule of Bible Interpretation." It instructs, "When the plain sense, makes sense, seek no other sense, lest it be nonsense." God bless you richly!

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Thank you for taking the time to share. May God bless you richly!