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Principle of First Reference?

Posted by Matt Postiff November 26, 2007 on Matt Postiff's Blog under Interpretation 

There is a proposed hermeneutical principle in the study of the Bible which its proponents call the principle of first reference. When a word or concept is encountered, the first reference in the Bible to that word or concept is consulted as the most significant defining or foundational passage. (If anyone reading can supply a better definition, please send it to me.)

Even though I had studied quite a bit of theology, the first time I remember running into this concept was a couple years ago in the book Velvet Elvis by post-modern/emerging church guru Rob Bell. I then ran into it in a Days of Praise devotional last week (November 24 - Magnified Mercy).

It strikes me as a very unreliable and unbiblical principle--I considered it nonsense from the first time I heard it. For one thing, "first" reference has to be defined--is it first in chronological composition of the Bible? Or first in "Bible order" in the 66-book English Bible? Or is the order of books as it is found in the Hebrew Bible (which is different)? Second, there is no mention of such a principle in the Bible. Third, we do not apply this principle to any other book. Finally, there is no inherent reason that just because a word is used for the first time that this use defines its characteristics. That use could be the odd use, the opposite of normal, or a bad example of the practice of that word or concept.

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