Dream symbols and the law of first mention

Are you trying to figure out what your dreams mean? Are there principles in the bible that can help? I believe that there are, and have found that the law of first mention is one such tool.

Read on to discover how it could help with building your own personal dream dictionary.

A personal dream language

I have had the privilege of reading the bible over many years, and have discovered that some of the biblical interpretation principles can also help unravel the mysteries in our dreams. I have been sharing some of these over a series of posts. I have already talked about the symbolic nature of dreams and dreams as parables in previous articles.

Those of you who interpret dreams regularly will know that over time we can develop a personal dream dictionary. This is a record of people, places and themes that appear regularly in our dreams, which usually mean the same thing each time.

Dreams are like an ongoing conversation, and as time goes by we gradually build up a wealth of experience. If we keep a note of what we’ve learnt it becomes so much easier – we start to get a feeling for our own personal dream language.

This is where the law of first mention comes in. This principle can be useful as we work on developing our dream dictionary.

Picture of lady writing with text: Over time we can develop our own personal dream dictionary

What is the law of first mention?

The law of first mention is more of a helpful principle for understanding Scripture than a hard-and-fast rule. It says that the first mention of a significant word in the bible sets the tone for understanding the use of that word later on. It gives us a foundational meaning which may then be progressively built on or developed throughout the rest of Scripture.

“The first mention of a word in the bible can give us a foundation for the use of that word later on.”

The practical implication is that when we are trying to understand a regularly occurring word or subject, our grasp of it may be helped by referring back to the first time that it is mentioned. Often we find a key there which will help us.

A biblical example: The first mention of dreams

For a bit of fun and to illustrate this principle, I thought I would explore the first mention of dreams in the bible. This occurs in Genesis 20:3 (the word for dream here is chălôm), and is about a dream that was had by a king called Abimelek.

This dream is set in the time of Abraham, who having arrived in this king’s area with his wife Sarah, had lied to him and pretended that Sarah was his sister. Abimelek took Sarah, but God spoke to him before he got as far as touching her, to warn him of the deception.

But God came to Abimelek in a dream one night and said to him, “You are as good as dead because of the woman you have taken; she is a married woman… I know you did this with a clear conscience … That is why I did not let you touch her … Now return the man’s wife…”

Genesis 20:3,6,7

What I love about this instance of first mention is that it sets the foundation for dreams as a means of God communicating with us.  It clearly states, “God came to Abimelek in a dream.”  

Also it reveals that we can literally have a conversation with God in our dreams. Isn’t that what we all long for deep down – to have a plain one-to-one conversation with God like this king did?  I do. This story defines dreams as a legitimate means by which this can happen. 

In the rest of Scripture the theme of dreams is then developed, and we learn about symbolic language and different types of dreams.  The subject is completed in the New Testament where we read in Acts 2 about the Holy Spirit being poured out on all mankind, and how we can all expect to receive dreams and visions from God by His Spirit. (See Everybody Dreams: Could they be messages from heaven?).

I love the interaction in this account, because it tells us so much more about the heart of God – how He intervenes to keep us on track and protects us from our own silly mistakes! It hints towards the later revelation that God is a good Father and works things for our benefit.

So for our understanding and interpretation of dreams, this first mention of dreams gives us several keys that we can take forward:

God communicates to us through dreams
– It is possible to converse with God in our dreams
God uses dreams to guide us and keep us on track
– God’s heart is to communicate information for our benefit

You can try this out for yourself by using a concordance or online bible-search-tool to find the first mention of any word or subject. Then meditate on the passage and see what God shows you!

Obviously some care needs to be taken when using this principle, as it is not always relevant, but it is a helpful tool to have in our kit. It can be pretty useful at times, particularly if we allow the Holy Spirit to guide our research.

Picture of bible and microphone with text: Try looking up the first mention of a word or subject in the b ible and see what God shows you!

So how does this relate to dream interpretation?

In the same way, God sometimes seems to use the first appearance of a dream symbol to set the meaning of that symbol in subsequent dreams. This is then a key which can be developed or adapted over time.

“The first appearance of a symbol in our dreams can give us the key to the meaning of that symbol in subsequent dreams.’

In my experience this is most commonly relevant for people who appear in our dreams, but can also apply to other things like places, buildings and even objects.

As an example I’m going to share one of the first dreams I ever wrote down:

Dream example: Watching ‘Joseph’ with my son

I dreamed I was with my middle son in a theatre searching for something. We ended up sitting in the auditorium watching the musical ‘Joseph and his Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat’. My friend Jo and her family were sitting with us. We were on the front row and had an excellent view.

Picture of theatre stage lights

Joseph was one of the great dream interpreters of the bible, and many people know his story due to this famous musical by Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber. As this was one of the first dreams I had after starting to write them down, it was fairly clear that God was speaking to me about understanding dreams, and searching for meaning in them. The clue is right there in the title of the musical!

Dream symbol: My middle son: I was new to dream interpretation and keen to start building my dream language, so I had been wondering what this son of mine could represent in a dream. This dream clearly links him with my journey into understanding dreams.

Since then, every time he pops up in one of my dreams I first start by considering whether he represents something relating to my dream life. This has always proved to be the case, and has been borne out consistently for over ten years so far – even in cases where I initially thought it wasn’t so.

The symbol Joseph: A secondary point of interest is that my friend Jo was sitting in the front row with me. Although Jo could be short for Joanne, the name Jo, or ‘Joe’, is often used as an abbreviation for Joseph. This again points to Joseph in the bible and interpreting dreams (as per the title of the musical). Since then, every time someone with the name Jo, Joe or Joseph has appeared it has always been about my dream life or interpreting dreams.


This dream was affirming and encouraging me to continue seeking understanding of dreams. It was also establishing both my middle son and the name Jo as dream elements, that God could use whenever He wanted to talk to me about my dream life.

A building block in place

You can begin to see how useful it is to have a few basic building blocks such as this in place for understanding our dreams! It makes the whole process much easier and faster.

However this does have to be established over time, and in relationship with God, the source of our dreams. It develops through having a dream, trying to interpret it, then seeing whether we are right in hindsight. Then repeat the process as necessary!

I have noticed this though: Often when God is establishing a meaning like this, He will give a very clear and obvious dream, like my Joseph dream.

Picture of boy building with blocks and text: We can develop some building blocks in our own dream life


You may have realised by now that I treat dreams as an ongoing conversation with God. This is truly what I believe they are – at least they have become that in my own life.

I have found that when certain symbols like people, places and objects appear regularly in our dreams, God often uses the first appearance to establish its meaning. This then becomes a building block for establishing our own personal dream dictionary.

  • If a symbol appears regularly in your dreams, you could think back to the first time that you can remember it clearly, to see if that helps establish the meaning.
  • If you are stuck on a symbol, you could ask God to give you a dream to clarify the meaning of it.

God loves to keep us communicating with Him, so He may sometimes use a symbol differently from usual to draw us into conversation – so never assume, always check! A symbol could also change its meaning over time. For example our current boss could become our ex-boss etc. When a situation changes like that it’s likely that the meaning of the symbol will change.

I recommend that you keep a list of people, places and other symbols that appear in your dreams, and what you think they mean. Be prepared to update it as you gain understanding, or if its meaning changes. This takes a bit of discipline, but it really will save time in the long run!

The law of first mention does not always apply, but I have often found it to be a helpful implement in my toolkit. Maybe it could be a tool in yours too!

If you’d like to know more about the biblical model of dream interpretation, please do get in touch! You can also check out my Facebook group where you can meet other Christians who are learning about dreams.

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3 thoughts on “Dream symbols and the law of first mention

  1. As a matter of fact, I always forget about my dreams.

    However, I was born with a strong spirit. From Kanuga (An Episcopalian Conference Center) to Diocese Events, The Gathering (student-led worship service) to the Bristol Pilgrimage to Volunteering. For some odd reason, always really felt a connection to “Those who have Walked in Darkness have seen a Great light”. I once studied the bible- Gardner Webb is a Christian University so Old and New Testament were required: that was where I attended The Gathering- going almost every Tuesday Night was an amazing stress reliever

    Liked by 1 person

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