Seven Biblical “Firsts”
In this post, we are not talking about historical first events such as the first sacrifice or the first building of a city that is mentioned in the biblical narrative, but the first appearance of terms that play vitally important roles in conveying the teachings of the Bible – words such as faith, hope, love, etc. We have selected seven of these key concepts; seeing their first occurrences can be instructive as well as interesting.
FAITH – Finding the first instance of the word “faith” in the Bible is not as simple as it may seem. This is because the Hebrew of the Old Testament has at least six words that can reflect different aspects of the idea. But many of these words carry meanings such as “faithful” which really means some aspect of loyalty (Genesis 5:22, 24, etc.). When it comes to the concept of faith as “trust,” the first clear instance is found in Genesis 15:6 which tells us “Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness” (emphasis added). Paul quotes this verse in the New Testament and translates it with the Greek word pistis – the same word he uses throughout his writings on faith.
HOPE – The first mention of hope is found in the book of Ruth. In Ruth 1:12 we find Naomi telling her daughters-in-law: “Return home, my daughters; I am too old to have another husband. Even if I thought there was still hope for me – even if I had a husband tonight and then gave birth to sons…” Here, in hope’s first appearance in scripture we see the very real difference between faith and hope.
LOVE – Arguably the most important single concept in the Bible, the first mention of love in the Bible occurs in Genesis 22 when God tells Abraham: “… Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you” (Genesis 22:3). Once again, a key biblical concept first appears in the stories about Abraham, in this case a particularly important one. This is not only the first occurrence of the word love in the Bible, it is also the love of a father for his son – a foreshadowing or pre-enactment of the greatest act of sacrificial love the world has known.
JUDGMENT – Although judgment is a quality often associated with the Old Testament in the minds of many, the word “judgment” itself does not appear till relatively late in the biblical narrative. It is only when we get to Exodus 6:6 that we read: “Therefore, say to the Israelites: ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment.” Judgment here in its first mention, as in so many cases in the Old Testament, is associated with an equal stress on salvation – in this case the physical saving of Israel.
TRUTH – This is one of several key biblical concepts first mentioned specifically in the story of Joseph. Genesis 42:16 records Joseph telling his brothers: “Send one of your number to get your brother; the rest of you will be kept in prison, so that your words may be tested to see if you are telling the truth. If you are not, then as surely as Pharaoh lives, you are spies!”
MERCY – Like truth, we first find this vital spiritual principle in the story of Joseph. Genesis 43:14 records his father Jacob telling Joseph’s brothers: “And may God Almighty grant you mercy before the man so that he will let your other brother and Benjamin come back with you ...” This is the original biblical story in which mercy and truth are juxtaposed.
FORGIVENESS – Yet another important biblical term – the last one on our list – is first specifically mentioned in the Joseph story. In Genesis 50:17 we read: “‘This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father…” The key qualities of mercy and forgiveness were obviously at the core of this story.
Looking at these “first occurrences” of key terms in the biblical narrative, it is especially interesting to notice that two of them – faith and love – first appear in the story of Abraham and three others – truth, mercy and forgiveness – occur in the story of Joseph. That accounts for five of the seven spiritual qualities that we look at here, and noticing these key “firsts” helps us to realize the importance of these two stories in the development of the Bible’s teachings. In these two stories alone we find direct examples of spiritual concepts that lie at the very heart of all the Bible contains. It is not surprising then that the stories of Abraham and Joseph are recognized as perhaps the greatest foreshadowings by individuals in the Old Testament of Jesus Christ – in whom these qualities would all be perfected.
R. Herbert (a pen name), Ph.D., was trained in biblical studies and Ancient Near Eastern languages and archaeology. He writes for a number of Christian venues as well as for his websites at LivingWithFaith.org and TacticalChristianity.org.