One of my Favorite Bible Study Tools

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

This little rule opened for me a very simple way I can understand the Biblical standard of things mentioned in Scripture. It's a very simple, yet powerful tool you can use to better understand God's Word.

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, 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 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 Genesis, 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.

The modern NIV (2011) version we have today makes the first mention of love in Genesis  4:1, "Adam made love to his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. She said, “With the help of the Lord I have brought forth a man.”

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 human standard of love. Don’t get me wrong. I grew up on the NIV, 1984 version, 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 above about love.

Anyway, I hope you found the Bible Study Rule of First Mention interesting, and another way you can grow in your knowledge and understanding of God's Word. God bless your week!

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

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 Last updated Friday May 22, 2020


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