The Dangers of the
Law of First Mention
October 31, 2005
According to the Biblical Research Studies Group, the Law of First Mention is "principle that requires one to go to that portion of the Scriptures where a doctrine is mentioned for the first time and to study the first occurrence of the same in order to get the fundamental inherent meaning of that doctrine."1 The idea is that God deliberately arranged Scripture so that the first mention of any concept or word reveals its most fundamental and overarching character. It's a useful idea to a certain point, but very quickly becomes absurd when treated as a "Law." Either one's conclusions become nonsense, or they become justification for theological preconceptions. Let me give you some examples.
When God made Adam and Eve, be brought them together again, and the writer of Genesis says that this is why a man leaves his parents and is united with his wife (Gen 2:24). Yeshua went a step further and said that because God established the first marriage, no man should dare to divorce his wife without sufficient cause (Mat 19:3-9). That's well and good. It doesn't contradict anything else that Scripture says, and in fact is supported by God's laws and his prophets. (See, for example, Malachi 2:16.)
There are other, less sound conclusions that we can draw from the Creation account, using the Law of First Mention:
God said that it is not good for a man to be alone (Gen 2:18), and did not create a second, celibate man. Therefore, celibacy is unwise, and all men must be married if they expect to be happy. (See Matt 19:10-12 for a refutation.)
Eve was Adam's only wife, and because he listened to her all of humanity suffers sickness, sin, and death (Rom 5:12). Therefore, every man should have at least two wives to counter-balance the potentially unwise advice of one wife, because, as Solomon wrote, a three-fold cord is not easily broken (Ecc 4:12).
The first time someone brought a botanical offering to God, that offering was rejected (Gen 4:2-5). Therefore God does not want such offerings. (See Lev 5:11 and 27:30 for a refutation.)
The first murderer was also a farmer (Gen 4:2), and his descendants were the first to dabble in metallurgy, music, and tent-making (Gen 4:20-22). Therefore, farmers are likely to be more violent than husbandmen, and murder promotes industry and art.
All four of these ideas are contradicted by either common sense or by other Scriptures, but you can see how easy it would be to use the Law of First Mention to find support in Scripture for your own pet doctrines. The Torah, in general, and Genesis, in particular, are foundational to all of the rest of Scripture. To an extent, they inform the vocabulary and ideas found in the rest of Scripture. In fact, much of the prophets, history, poetry, and letters that make up the rest of Scripture is just commentary on the Torah and how it applied to current events of the day. In that sense, as well as in the sense of historical context, First Mention can help us to understand a point that a later writer might be trying to make. Beyond that it is as likely to lead us into a ditch as it is to help us find the path.
1 "Biblical Research Studies Group- Fourth Rule: The Law of First Mention" accessed on 10/31/2005 at http://www.biblicalresearch.info/page48.html.