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The rule of fist mention is used by various forms of allegorical interpretation. Rather than inventing an allegorical meaning, clues are taken from the first mention.

For example: Garments are interpreted to represent either righteousness, or works based upon the first mention of garments in Gen 3:

Ge 3:7 And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they [were] naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.

What is the biblical authority for using such a method?

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@karzak "31 For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. 32 This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church." Paul seems to use it, saying the man and his wife represent Christ and the church. –  Bob Jones May 5 '12 at 4:01
    
Can you clarify "the rule of first mention"? Does it require the same word to be used, or are all verses referring to the same "thing" counted? Is it the first mention in Scripture that matters, or is it chronological? Does the "first mention" need to be a Hebrew word? Does it need to be in Genesis? Does it need to be in the Pentateuch? How are Greek and Aramaic linked to the Hebrew, since words can have a number of meanings? Once we better understand the claims we can make a more fair assessment of the rule. –  Jas 3.1 Jul 14 '12 at 0:20
    
Any one of these will do. I don't know where it first appeared bu tlots of people mention it. google.com/… –  Bob Jones Jul 14 '12 at 2:06
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2 Answers

In a hermeneutic system where free-for-all allegory is practiced, there is no rule to constrain a type or metaphor of first mention to any other usage.

In sensus plenior, since the use of a metaphor must be consistent every where it is used, the first mention is no different in authority than any other, but often contains more clues to unpacking the meaning of the metaphor.

By definition, in sensus plenior, all types are of Chirst, so by definition both Moses and Joshua are types of Christ. The question does not revolve around differences such as having their sandals removed. Even if they did there is more similar, than not. Moses did not have Aaron remove his sandals, he only received a kiss from him. Joshua did not have someone else remove his sandals, so why would we expect that John should be required to remove Jesus's sandals for Moses or Joshua to be a type of Christ?

Just because an author explains his metaphor does not mean that he has changed it. In fact, by the rules of SP, the meaning of the metaphor must sum up an include everything that is said about it. If John had said that a garment meant a new life, rather than righteousness, then we would be compelled by SP to find a solution to the riddle which included both, such as "a new life in God's righteousness". (This doesn't work, because the fig leaf aprons do not represent righteousness of God and the meaning of garments must include the fig leaves.) And often subtle difference actually help define different terms as aspects of a greater unifying idea.

An example where the scriptures changes the typological target is when Moses is called a god to Pharaoh, and Aaron his mouthpiece. Prior to this, Moses represents Jesus. After this he represents God, and Aaron represents Jesus as his mouthpiece.

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Hopefully I have understood the rule of first mention correctly, but I do not think there is warrant for it as an absolute law for a couple of reasons.

First, in terms of allegory in the Scriptures, one thing can often be a stand in or symbol for multiple other things. Moses, for instance, is a type for Joshua (Joshua 3:7). Moses parted the Red Sea, and Joshua parted the Jordan. Moses gives the covenant, and Joshua renews the covenant. Yet Moses is also a type for Christ. Moses gives the law from the mountain, and Jesus delivers a greater law in the sermon on the mount. Moses delivers the people in the exodus and Jesus too leads the people in a new exodus (Luke 9:31). If we were to follow this rule as a law, we would have to conclude that Moses was only a type for Joshua.*

Or again, the serpent in Genesis 3:1 represents Satan (Revelation 20:2). Yet, if we hold rigidly to the rule and allow only Genesis 3:1, being the first mention, to set the symbolism of serpents, then we will fail to see how the serpent that is lifted up in the desert by Moses is a symbol of Christ (John 3:14).

Second, especially in apocalyptic literature, the author often times explains the symbols, even if similar symbols have been used before in Scripture. For instance, a similar use of clothing to your example can be seen in Zechariah 3 where an angel takes the high priest's clothes which are smeared in excrement and changes them for new fine clothes. And in doing so he explains the symbol: "See, I have taken away your sin." Similarly in Revelation 19:8, John explains, "Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints." If John instead had written, "Fine linen stands for new resurrection bodies", we wouldn't say, "Nice try, John; but we already know because of the rule of first mention that fine linen cannot stand for resurrection bodies." The fact that the authors can and do explain their own symbols suggests that they are not constrained by the previous use of an object as a symbol.

That said, the rule is not all bad. Earlier texts quite clearly set the trajectory of our interpretation of later texts. Every text is written in a context, and the earlier writings naturally provide context for later ones; otherwise we can't make sense of allusions or even quotations which are so obviously present in the later texts. I don't know that I have a Biblical argument for this, except that the later writers were clearly influenced by the earlier ones and it makes sense that they would be influenced in their choice of symbols by the Scriptures before them, even as they had freedom to pen new metaphors.


* Someone might object that Moses and Joshua simply look like one another because they are both types from Christ. There are at least two reasons I would dispute this. First, the Bible itself makes the connections between Moses and Joshua explicit. "The Lord your God did to the Jordan just what he had done to the Red Sea when he dried it up before us until we had crossed over" (Joshua 4:23, cf. Psalm 114). Second, Moses is a type for Joshua in ways that he is not a type for Christ. Moses removes his sandals (Exodus 3:5) and Joshua removes his (Joshua 5:15). Jesus does not remove his sandals; instead he comes as one whose sandals John is unworthy to untie. In fact, I would argue that part of the typology of Joshua is that he is a New Moses who anticipates a greater New Moses still.

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Since Jesus said that all the scriptures spoke of him, doesn't it make more sense that both Moses and Joshua were types of Christ, and that Moses looks like a type of Joshua only because they both look like Christ? –  Bob Jones May 16 '12 at 12:31
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"The fact that the authors can and do explain their own symbols suggests that they are not constrained by the previous use of an object as a symbol." Isn't this the criticism of the allegorical method? That there are no controls on the meaning. If there is a contradiction with an earlier symbol, perhaps we didn't understand the earlier symbol correctly? –  Bob Jones May 16 '12 at 12:35
    
What if the serpent represents sin...then the meaning remains the same for Gen 3.1 and the serpent lifted up in the wilderness since Jesus bore our sin on the cross and he was "made to be sin". –  Bob Jones May 16 '12 at 12:43
    
@BobJones - Your questions are all good. I'll try to amend my answer (or add some comments) to address them soon. –  Soldarnal May 16 '12 at 16:08
    
Since Jesus said that all the scripture speaks of him, there is a tremendous burden on any claim otherwise. Since there was no one removing the sandals of Moses or Joshua except themselves, there is no reason to presume that John was commenting on anything more than his own unworthiness in comparison to Jesus. Later a woman removes his shoes to wash his feet with her hair, which is parallel to the teaching that the least in the kingdom is greater than John. –  Bob Jones May 17 '12 at 19:29
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