Silence: Permissive or Restrictive?
The matter of how to establish authority has always been a difficult matter for most people, at least in their early development of faith in Jesus Christ. Please consider this carefully.

If silence (the fact that the Bible does not say anything on a matter) permits us to do whatever we want, then it permits everything. For example, those who make that argument must be prepared to admit that popes, cardinals, monks, nuns, infant baptism, burning incense, sprinkling babies and adults, instrumental music, auricular confession, district synods and associations, national, state, and district organizations are all permitted. Silence would not permit one of the above items and not permit the other items equally.

On the other hand, if silence on a matter restricts (does not permit), then it restricts everything that is not generally permitted. For example: the Law permitted Levitical priests. Saul was not from that tribe and thought he could offer the sacrifice, perhaps on the assumption that silence permits. He was wrong. Silence restricted the sacrifices to Levites of Aaron's family. If the law were still in place, then Jesus could not be a High Priest because He was of the tribe of Judah. Moses spoke nothing concerning priests from Judah (Heb.7:14). Paul is arguing that the Law had to be changed in order for Jesus to be a legitimate priest because the silence of the Law about priests from Judah did not PERMIT but restricted Jesus from being a priest under the law. When it came to the Law of Moses, did silence about Judean priests permit Jesus to be a priest? Or, did it restrict Jesus from being a priest while the law was still binding? We must conclude that the Law of Moses could not be in effect AND Jesus be a lawful priest. Jesus was not permitted by silence to be a priest under the Law of Moses. The Law of Moses was taken out of the way so that Jesus could be a lawful priest under a better covenant.

Implications of Paul's Argument on Silence from Hebrews 7:14

Specific authority restricts. Levi and Aaron's sons were specified. When a matter is specified there are no other options. It is a matter that is removed from the realm of general authority, and it takes on the nature of specific expectations. Silence about Judah or Simeon or Reuben does not permit priests to be taken from those tribes under the Law of Moses. In order for us to be priests as Peter says we are (1 Pet.2:5,9) the law would have to be taken out of the way and a new law that generally allows it must replace the old law. Now, the new covenant does not allow the specific restriction to Levi. It does not even demand circumcision as the Law did. To bind such things as circumcision or tribal priesthood would be to "pervert the gospel"(Gal.1:6-10). The gospel does not allow us to add circumcision or the other shadows of the law (Col.2:14-17). Now, Paul recognized that silence restricted. That principle of law is still a principle of correct application of law no matter if we are talking about an old law or a new law. In other words, Paul argues that silence about circumcision when they first preached the gospel, did not PERMIT people to add it. In fact, it restricted such an addition to the gospel. We are restricted by silence from adding things from the Law of Moses or from the laws and traditions of men. To add such things to the gospel is to pervert and corrupt the gospel. The gospel is perfect and sufficient. To add something to it is to open the door to all things that people desire to be permitted to do.

Modern Applications

Infant baptism is a modern example. Specific authority restricts baptism to penitent believers (Mark 16:15-16; Acts 2:38). Silence about infant baptism does not permit it. We would have to change the gospel and replace it as Jesus did the Law of Moses if we want to add infant baptism on the basis of silence. I have talked with Baptists who can easily see this point when it comes to the topic of infant baptism, but when the topic changes to instrumental music that reasoning they used against infant baptism flies out the window. I pointed out to one fellow that we are just using the same principle of common sense respect for authority that they use on infant baptism, only we are also applying the same logic to the issue of instrumental music, and I added that Baptists in the 1800's even argued like us on that issue as well. He simply could not respond and deny it. He saw that point though he decided to ignore it in application.

If silence restricts where at least general authority does not authorize, then popes, cardinals, and multi-congregational organization is not permitted by the new covenant. Silence about Popes and Cardinals do not permit them. To have them one must change the gospel much like Jesus changed the law by removing it and replacing it. Who has authority to replace the New Testament?

If specific authority restricts, and the church preached without a Missionary Society because the church is it's own missionary society, then the additional organization and church support of the Missionary Society is not permitted. To have such an organization in addition to the local churches one must change the New Testament and replace it. The same is so with other institutions and sponsoring church arrangements.

If we are in the time of reformation (Heb.9:10-15) in which the carnal things of the Old system are replaced with a spiritual counter-part, and the New Testament says to specifically "sing and make melody in your heart" and never authorizes under a general command to just "make music", then we are restricted to vocal singing and the melody is to be specifically made in the heart (Eph.5:19). 200 years ago most Baptists, Presbyterians, and Lutherans made these very points. To do other than this one would have to change the New Covenant. Silence does not permit. Silence about playing instruments does not permit them. We need some general authority. "Make music" would be general enough, but it is not to be found in the New Testament of this time of reformation. "Play a song" would be general enough, but it is not found in the New Testament in this time of reformation. We have specifics that restrict us from going to the types and shadows of the old system. We are restricted from the burning of incense, animal sacrifices, and instrumental music. This is precisely why that the early churches did not employ these things. We are not only restricted from adding back the shadows of the Law of Moses but we are also restricted from adding the doctrines and traditions of men. These also change and corrupt the gospel. We are restricted from Popes and Cardinals, district orders and associations. Silence did not permit Jesus to be a priest under the Law, and silence did not permit the Jewish Christians to start binding circumcision upon the church. Christians are restricted from being Baptists and Methodists and Presbyterians. Silence does not permit. We are to be Christians, nothing more, less, or else.

Now let me clarify something that confuses some people. The idea of "general" authority is confusing to some. Let me illustrate. When God told Noah to "build an ark", he had general authority to choose a saw and hammer. You do not say "God was silent about a saw and hammer, and therefore those are not authorized". General authority is not silence. When God said "Build an ark" without specifying any specific tools to use, then Noah has general authority to choose whatever tools would help him fulfill the general command to build an ark. Tools that aid in the carrying out of the command are authorized. Specification would restrict. For example, "build an ark using only a hammer" would restrict. "Gopher"wood is a specific restriction, but tools are generally authorized according to the best judgment of Noah. When someone asks for specific authority for song books or pews or lights, etc., claiming that the Bible is "silent" about those things, they show a misunderstanding of the argument on silence. General authority is not silence. It is only lack of specificity. God's authority to Noah was not "silent" about a saw or hammer. They are authorized under the general command to "build". However, God was silent about Pine or Oak. The matter of silence comes into play only when there is neither general or specific authority. For another example: If God had said "have a priesthood" to the Israelites and left it at that, then anyone could be a priest. You would not ask a Danite for his authority to be a priest in that case. You could not say "the Law is silent about Danites being priests". General authority ("have a priesthood" without any specifications) would have allowed Danites to be priests. However, since the Law did specify Levites and specifically those from the sons of Aaron, then Danites are excluded. The silence about Danites for priesthood restricts. Don't confuse lack of specificity with silence. Don't confuse unspecified tools and expedients with matters that God is actually silent about in either a general or specific way.

"Buried in baptism"(Rom.6:3-5; Col.2:12) restricts us to burial or immersion and does not permit sprinkling or pouring. The only way to lawfully do those things today is to change the New Testament law of Christ. Baptists recognize that as so, but now will throw out those solid principles of common sense when it comes to other matters. The only way to include gymnasiums, instrumental music, and the general Southern Baptist Association, would be to change the New Testament. The silence of the scriptures does not permit just select items. They cannot oppose Catholics for having Popes and Cardinals and burning incense (which they do on the basis of the idea that silence permits) and then select a few other items as being permissible. Silence either restricts in every way or it permits in every way. I believe that we can all see that silence restricts. General authority allows choice without specification. Specific authority restricts to the items of specification. Silence about something that is not authorized either generally or specifically only restricts us from proceeding. We have only one source of measuring an issue. We must use it carefully and handle it aright. We must be careful to prove all things and hold fast that which we can prove by scripture to be good. Jesus' authority is expressed for us in the New Testament. We must not go beyond the boundaries of that authority (Matt.28:18; 2John 9-10).

By Terry W. Benton

Return to the General Articles page

Home / Bible studies / Bible Survey / Special Studies / General Articles / Non-Bible Articles / Sermons / Sermon Outlines / Links / Questions and Answers / What Saith The Scriptures /Daily Devotional / Correspondence Courses / What is the Church of Christ / Book: Christian Growth / Website Policy / E-mail / About Me /