The Eighteen Principles of Divine Revelation

Principle No. 5 The First Occurrence Principle

By Clifton L. Fowler

Taken from Grace and Truth Magazine 1923


The First Occurrence Principle is the principle which comes before us in this study. The presence of this principle in the Word of God has been frequently noted by Bible students during the years that have gone by. A. T. Pierson refers to this principle calling it “the Divine Law of Firsts.” Today, however, this important law lying embedded in. the Word of the living God is given virtually no attention by the men who write books. We do not find Christian writers denouncing this principle, but it has fallen into disuse which to all intents and purposes, is quite as bad as falling into disrepute.

The definition of the First Occurrence Principle is:


(a) Wherein God indicates by the context of the first occurrence, that truth or fact wherewith a subject of thought stands connected in the divine mind.

The use of the First Occurrence Principle unlocks many hidden treasures in God’s Holy Book. This is the peculiarity of the principle—that when it is accurately employed it uncovers the most amazing wealth of unguessed meanings. It makes the Bible a surprise box. Passages that abound in symbols the significance of which are utterly unknown to the soul, yield up messages of unsurpassed beauty where the First Occurrence Principle is employed and the meanings of the symbols drawn forth from the Word of God. The First Occurrence Principle makes the Bible self-explanatory.

In the study of the Direct Statement Principle which appeared in the March issue of “Grace and Truth,” it was shown that one of the most. remarkable illustrations of the activity of the Direct Statement Principle is in the revelation of the meaning of the symbols. This is indeed quite true but by far the larger number of symbols in the Word of God may be explained by the use of the First Occurrence Principle. Often when no direct statement setting forth the meaning of a symbol exists in the Scripture, the First Occurrence will carry the suggestion and implication which will lead the mind into satisfying confidence as to what a given symbol may mean in the mind of God. Because of the presence of this remarkable principle, together with the Direct Statement Principle, it is no flight of the imagination to say that not only is the Bible God’s revelation, but because the Bible is self-interpreting, the Bible is indeed and in truth it’s own Unabridged Dictionary.

Mere human mentality not interpret Bible symbols. If the symbols employed in the Word of God actually possess a specific meaning, then there could be no absurdity quite so complete as the absurdity of seeking the significance of these symbols in the books produced by the intelligence of man, no matter how creditable or highly respected that intelligence may be. The only logical place to seek for the significance of the symbols which occur in God’s Word is in God's Word itself. Where is there the man, who, outside of God's own revelation, could have any knowledge of the meaning of celestial symbology?

So vast is the field of possibility which opens up under the consideration of the First Occurrence Principle that it is impossible to do more than simply present a few beautiful and easily discerned illustrations of its activity in the Word of the living God, leaving the individual student to carry his studies forth into unexplored vistas of wondrous blessing.

The First Occurrence Principle Illustrated by the Symbol “Sword”

The sword is one of the most familiar symbols of the Bible. That student who does not know the meaning of this symbol is rare. ‘This fact makes the sword an especially valuable symbol: with which to illustrate our principle. The First Occurrence of the symbol sword is in Gen. 3:24. ‘The passage reads:

“So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden cherubims, and a flaming: sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.”

What is the Biblical significance of the sword? With what does the sword stand connected in this, its first occurrence? The narrative is so plain that little question need arise. Adam, because of sin, has been expelled from the Garden of Eden, in which God had placed the Tree of Life. God says that the purpose of this expulsion is to debar man from eating of the Tree of Life. ‘Then God placed the cherubim and the flaming sword to keep the way of the Tree of Life, On the surface, it looks like a contradiction to say that man is driven forth to prevent his eating of the tree, then when man is out of the garden to say God is keeping the way of the tree with a flaming sword. But it is not a contradiction, For man to have had access to the Tree of Life on the ground of his own efforts would have been contrary to God's honor. ‘There is no restoration to favor with God on the ground of human deeds. Ah, no, God has a plan which will reveal to man the depths of his need and at the same time bring honor to His own Name and show forth the beauty of His matchless grace. God expels the man from the blessedness of the garden thus revealing to the man the enormity of his sin of rebellion and unbelief. But God does not strip the man of hope. He now offers a new way of access to the Tree of Life, not by works, but by the way of the flaming sword. The task of the sword was to keep the way of the Tree of Life. What is it which through the years has “kept the way” to life? The veriest novice in the things of Jesus knows that it is the Bible which has kept the way of the Tree of Life. Man's philosophies would have long since obscured the way, but the Word of God has kept the way clear. In the First Occurrence of the symbol sword, it stands connected with that which keeps the way of the Tree of Life. It is God’s Word which for every soul, Keeps the way. The sword stands connected with the Word in the symbology of the Scripture.

It is most valuable in ‘order to test the accuracy of the conclusions arrived at by the use of the First Occurrence Principle, to use if possible, the Direct Statement Principle. As has been shown in a former discussion, the Direct Statement Principle also reaches into the realm of God’s Unabridged Dictionary in which most of the illustrations of the First Occurrence Principle are found. There is an example of the Direct Statement Principle which gives us the meaning of the symbol “sword” in Eph. 6:17:

“The sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God”

This passage alone would give us by direct statement and without further study, the Biblical significance of this symbol whose meaning we are investigating. Its testimony takes on special, value because we see it to be in perfect harmony with the significance of the symbol as clearly indicated by the First Occurrence Principle. ‘The Direct Statement Principle and the First Occurrence Principle lead us to the same conclusion. They agree. The harmony of the Word is indicated and the accuracy of the First Occurrence Principle demonstrated.

It is most enlightening to follow the passages of the Scripture bearing upon this symbol. ‘The eyes of the student are greeted with the most perfect symmetry and agreement everywhere. As the Word of God is that instrumentality through which God judges the world and blesses His own, so we find throughout the Bible the “sword” becomes an instrument of judgment and blessing. The last time that we meet this symbol in the Bible is in the nineteenth chapter of the Revelation. It is represented as going out of the mouth of our Lord Jesus. At first thought the statement is almost an absurdity for anyone knows that swords do not go out of the mouths of men, but when one remembers the significance of this symbol, the passage becomes radiant with light, for it is out of the mouth of our blessed Lord that His miraculous Word has gone forth. ‘That passage which at first glance might have seemed ridiculous becomes only another convincing proof of the uniformity of Scripture testimony on the significance of the symbol “sword.”

The First Occurrence Principle Illustrated by the Symbol “Trumpet”

This symbol is not quite so familiar to the ordinary student of the Word as the one which we have just considered, but we will not have to seek very far before we will discover that so clear is the testimony of the Word of God as to this symbol’s significance that there can be no question left in the mind. The first occurrence of trumpet in the Scripture is Ex. 19:13:

“When the trumpet soundeth long, they shall come up to the mount.”

The passage occurs in connection with the historical events which transpired when Israel was encamped at the foot of Sinai. It takes but one glance at the passage to reveal to the prayerful student of God's Word that the trumpet in the Bible stands connected with a gathering of God's people. It may be a gathering for blessing; a gathering for war; or a gathering for judgment, but the Divine Law of Firsts here indicates that the significance of the trumpet is a gathering. Does the balance of Scripture bear out this conclusion? The answer of the Word of God is most definite. In I Kings 1:39 the trumpet was blown at the time that the people had GATHERED for the anointing of Solomon. In Matt. 24:31 the Saviour declares that there shall he the sound of a trumpet when the angels GATHER His elect from the four winds of heaven from one end of heaven to the other. In I Thes, 4:16, where the Holy Spirit is describing the Rapture of the Church, it is declared that the trump of God shall sound and the dead in Christ shall rise first and by a mighty miracle of God, shall be GATHERED unto Him in the air. The Word of God does not leave the mind of God’s child questioning. Perfect agreement is spread from end to end or the sacred revelation. Thus it is seen. that when once the significance of a symbol is discovered it can be counted on with absolute certainty that wherever or whenever that symbol appears throughout the Word of God it will always carry the same significance.

The two illustrations which we have given showing forth the value of the First Occurrence Principle in determining the meaning of a Bible symbol are sufficient to give the earnest student a start in investigating this most interesting and fascinating line of study. The student whose whole soul is suffused with the burning desire to know God’s Book can begin to have a sense of assurance, which he never before experienced. Bible study is not» an illusive thing. The God of the Bible does not fluctuate. He changes not. His very use of the symbols “in the Bible is a picture of His own steadfastness for when once the meaning of a symbol is learned it may be confidently depended upon that the meaning of that symbol remains the same, no matter how many different writers” may employ the symbol, nor how many centuries may intervene between its appearances on the page of divine revelation. This brings calm and assurance to the soul that ~ would otherwise be too dejected to continue Bible study, and produces the courage to press steadfastly on to larger and fuller knowledge.

These great facts of Bible study fill the soul with awe and deepen the conviction that “the Bible is not only the Book of God, but the God of Books.”

Copyright 1923, Clifton L. Fowler