Where the Bible is Silent
(Part 1)

The topic I want to address in our lessons this week is quite broad in many ways. It touches upon Restoration history, hermeneutics, and logic. This topic has been ignored, misunderstood, and perverted by many--with disastrous results. As the twenty-first century continues, it seems such abuses are only getting worse and more frequent. We will endeavor to cover some important territory and wade into some deep waters. Nevertheless, we will still only be scratching the surface in some regards. In conjunction with God's word, there are five books in particular that have shaped my thinking greatly on this topic over the last dozen or so years. Many of the thoughts shared in our lessons this week were introduced to me via these books. I recommend them to you for a more in-depth analysis of some concepts we'll be chewing on this week:

How Implication Binds & Silence Forbids by George F. Beals.
Ascertaining Bible Authority by Roy C. Deaver.
Let All the Earth Keep Silence by Phil Sanders.
Logic & the Bible and When is an "Example" Binding? by Thomas B. Warren.
Early in the history of the Restoration movement, Thomas Campbell coined the plea, "Let us speak where the Bible speaks, and be silent where the Bible is silent." This commitment to the authority of the Bible has been a unique strength of the Lord's church. Wise men of the past have stated that if the time ever came when we surrender this commitment and became unconcerned about speaking as the oracles of God, from that time onward it would make little difference what we speak, or whether we speak at all.

It pains me to realize that many have lost sight of (or perhaps never understood) this Biblical principle of respecting not only the spoken will of God but also His silence. In the past, churches of Christ were known as "people of the Book" who listened to and obeyed what they read in God's word. This is a noble and good quality which must never be abandoned. It is this unwillingness to compromise the proper place of Scriptures that has distinguished churches of Christ from the churches of the world.

So, what does this "Restoration motto" mean? What does it mean to speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where it is silent? The answer is not as simple as it may appear at first. Although Campbell may have been the first to articulate the motto in this form in 1809, its essence existed long before he did. However, he was the first to apply it not just against Roman Catholic traditions but against Protestant creeds and confessions also. There are four primary interpretations of this motto which I will begin elaborating on at this time.

VIEW #1: We speak where the Bible speaks and do not protest [are silent] where the Bible is silent.
Those who support this view are often those who shake their finger and misapply passages like Matthew 7:1 ("Judge not, that you be not judged") so that it conflicts with other verses like John 7:24 ("judge with righteous judgment"). Friends, this view is simply not correct. There are doctrines and behaviors concerning which the Bible is silent against which we should and must protest. We will prove such to be the case this week.

VIEW #2: We speak where the Bible speaks and neither affirm nor deny [are silent] where the Bible is silent.
Those who advocate this view would be likely to make a statement like this: "Unless there is clear New Testament teaching, we cannot insist that people do certain things, nor can we insist that they not do certain things. If we affirm or deny, we would be speaking where the Bible is silent." Although this view has its supporters, I do not believe it harmonizes with Scripture. We will expose its flaws in our coming lessons.

We will consider the remaining two views in our next lesson.

Where the Bible is Silent (Part 2)

In our prior lesson, we began considering a well-known Restoration plea: "Let us speak where the Bible speaks, and be silent where the Bible is silent." There are four main interpretations to this "motto," and we have briefly explained two of them thus far. Some affirm that when the Bible is silent on a topic, then we have no right to protest against that particular subject. Others affirm that when the Bible is silent on an issue, then we have no right to either affirm or deny the matter in question. I believe both of these views fall short and are, in fact, inconsistent with the Scriptures. Let us now consider the final two views.

VIEW #3: We speak where the Bible is explicit [speaks] and are silent where the Bible is implicit [silent].
Proponents of this view hold what might be coined "the explicit-only doctrine." Although many are attracted to this position, it fails logically and Biblically. Since the precise statement ("we are silent where the Bible is implicit") cannot be found explicitly in Scripture, then the statement itself was derived by implication and is self-contradictory. Furthermore, it is not possible to apply a single truth from God's word today without the use of implication. We will have more to say on this point in our coming lessons.

And finally, view number four, which I believe to be correct:

VIEW #4: We practice [speak] that which the Bible authorizes [where the Bible speaks] and decline to practice [are silent] that which the Bible does not authorize [where the Bible is silent].
Stated succinctly: "We practice that which the Bible authorizes and decline to practice that which the Bible does not authorize." I believe this view to be Scriptural, and this is how G.C. Brewer explained this "Restoration motto." He also affirmed: "To remain silent means that we will stop practicing where the Bible stops teaching; that our practice in matters of religion is limited by the word of the Lord, restricted by divine revelation."

I believe view number four is affirmed in Colossians 3:17, which I typically refer to as "the authority verse." There Paul declared - "And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him." To do something in the Lord's name is to have authority for it. If we don't have authority from the Lord to say or do a certain thing, then we ought not to say or do it! This brings up an all-important question: How can we know what the Lord authorizes? Some would scoff at the thought that this question is significant, but in so doing they ridicule the inspired words of the apostle Paul in Colossians 3:17. We will endeavor to show how we can know what the Lord authorizes in our remaining lessons this week. We will first approach the topic of authority in a general way by looking at various standards and then refine our focus very specifically to consider how the Bible authorizes both explicitly and implicitly. Finally, we will carefully define what it means for the Bible to actually be "silent" about a matter and what that means for a child of God wanting to live in a pleasing manner for the Lord.

Where the Bible is Silent (Part 3)

As we continue our studies on the silence of the Scriptures, this lesson will show the need for logic and reasoning as well as the fact that God’s silence in the Bible is intentional and not permissive.

In our lessons presented this week (which has included both new and old material--07/12/10, 07/13/10, 08/06/05, 08/13/05, 08/20,05), we have begun presenting some thoughts regarding Bible authority and what it means to speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where it is silent. There are many more points on these themes and related matters that we'd like to address, some of which we will bring up at this time and the rest we will tackle next week. Particularly, we will endeavor to hone our understanding of the silence of the Scriptures, what our response should be to this silence, the difference between silence and implication, and some commonly affirmed fallacies pertaining to Biblical silence.

First, let us consider some important passages on logic and reasoning, as they pertain to God's word:

Isaiah 1:18 - "'Come now, and let us reason together,' says the LORD."
II Timothy 2:15 - "Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth."
II Timothy 3:16,17 - "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work."
I Thessalonians 5:21 - "Test all things; hold fast what is good."
Some speak out against Aristotelian logic, as if Aristotle created logic! Logic is not an invention of men but is from God. He has given us the ability to reason and clearly expects us to employ such (as the passages above indicate). He has given reasoning abilities to humans that help enable us to distinguish between truth and error and between right and wrong. Nebuchadnezzar wasn't against logic; he was very pleased when his reason returned to him (cf. Dan. 4:36). Our God-given reasoning abilities are not bad and should not be disregarded or minimized for to be without them makes us like brute animals (which is essentially what the Babylonian king was for a span of time)! To attempt to approach God's word without logic and reason is a grave mistake. We must use the reasoning abilities God has given us when we open the Scriptures and endeavor to understand how we should interpret its silence.

When God is silent on a matter, it is not accidental but intentional. This can be deduced from II Peter 1:3 and Jude 3. Since God has given to us "all things that pertain to life and godliness," then there is nothing of value that He has neglected to share. This truth cannot be overstated. "The faith" has been delivered once for all time. This implies that God has nothing more to reveal to us, and the things He did reveal are precisely what He wanted to reveal. God didn't forget anything in His word; His silence on certain matters is intentional! We are presumptuous if we think we can or need to improve upon the Scriptures in any way. If we desire to be disciples of Christ, we must abide in His word (John 8:31,32)--which is impossible if we interpret Biblical silence as permissive. If we conclude that where God's word doesn't specifically forbid something then we are free to practice it (i.e., the silence-is-permissive approach), we are making a terrible mistake.

Let us consider three passages to elaborate on this point: II Corinthians 5:7 coupled with Romans 10:17 and Hebrews 11:6. We are to "walk by faith" and "faith comes by hearing" God's word and "without faith it is impossible to please Him." In other words, if we desire to please God, we must walk by the word of God. To affirm certain practices as acceptable because the Bible is silent about them is not to walk by faith since faith only comes from hearing the word of God (not silence). This principle of faith is broad and universally applicable in any context.

Further proof of this principle can be seen in John 4:24 coupled with John 17:17 regarding a specific subject--worship. We must worship in truth, and God's word is truth. Thus, we must worship according to God's word (specifically the New Testament today). But, if the New Testament is silent about an act of worship that we might consider adopting (e.g., using mechanical instruments to accompany our singing), then we cannot engage in that act of worship in truth. Therefore, Bible silence on worship forbids.

To pile up even more evidence, consider these related passages on the importance of basing our faith and practices on what the Bible actually says and not upon silence:

Deuteronomy 4:2 - "You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you."
Deuteronomy 12:32 - "Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it."
Joshua 1:7 - "Only be strong and very courageous, that you may observe to do according to all the law which Moses my servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may prosper wherever you go."
Proverbs 30:6 - "Do not add to his words, lest He rebuke you, and you be found a liar."
I Corinthians 4:6 teaches that we need to learn "not to think beyond what is written."
II John 9 - "Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son."
If we embrace certain beliefs and practices because the Bible doesn't specifically forbid them, are we not, in essence, adding to the word of God? We must walk by what is revealed if we are to please God! Our job is not to speculate on what God did not reveal (or why) but to carefully observe that which He has revealed! A genuine servant doesn't care why his master gave certain instructions and didn't mention other things; he simply tries to faithfully obey with all his might. He does not interpret the silence of his master on a certain matter as permissive. Isn't that how Jesus behaved toward His Master, the Father in heaven?

Look at these quotes from our Lord as you consider what His approach was to silence from the Father on any subject:

John 4:34 - "Jesus said to them, 'My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work.'"
John 5:19 - "Then Jesus answered and said to them, 'Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner.'"
John 5:30 - "I can of Myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of Father who sent Me."
John 5:36 - "But I have a greater witness than John's; for the works which the Father has given Me to finish--the very works that I do--bear witness of Me, that the Father has sent Me."
John 6:38 - "For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me."
John 7:16-18 - "Jesus answered them and said, 'My doctrine is not Mine, but His who sent Me. If anyone wills to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority. He who speaks from himself seeks his own glory; but He who seeks the glory of the One who sent Him is true, and no unrighteousness is in Him.'"
John 8:26-29 - "'I have many things to say and to judge concerning you, but He who sent Me is true; and I speak to the world those things which I heard from Him.' They did not understand that He spoke to them of the Father. Then Jesus said to them, 'When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and that I do nothing of Myself; but as the Father taught Me, I speak these things. And He who sent Me is with Me. The Father has not left Me alone, for I always do those things that please Him.'"
John 12:48-50 - "He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him--the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day. For I have not spoken on My own authority; but the Father who sent Me gave Me a command, what I should say and what I should speak. And I know that His command is everlasting life. Therefore, whatever I speak, just as the Father has told Me, so I speak."
John 14:10 - "Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works."
John 14:31 - "But that the world may know that I love the Father, and as the Father gave Me commandment, so I do. Arise, let us go from here."
Our Lord's words resonate so clearly: Bible silence is not permissive! Jesus only cared about teaching and doing precisely what the Father wanted. Jesus knew what the Father wanted based upon what He told and showed Jesus, not based upon silence. Shouldn't we follow Jesus' example?

We will continue our studies on this theme in our next lesson. Thank you for reading, and may the Lord bless you as you strive to do His will.

Where the Bible is Silent (Part 4)

In our prior lesson, we showed the need for logic and reasoning when approaching God's word as well as the fact that God's silence in the Bible is intentional and not permissive. We noted how Jesus Himself is a perfect example of One who said and did only that which the Father authorized. He did not go beyond His Father's instructions. Thus, Jesus respected the silence of His Father and did not view such as permission to do whatever He wanted on a matter. He restricted Himself to what the Father revealed and so should we.

Additionally, there are many Old Testament arguments that clearly show that Bible silence does not permit. Let us consider some primary examples briefly at this time.

In Leviticus 10:1,2 - "Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censor and put fire in it, put incense on it, and offered profane fire before the LORD, which He had not commanded them. So fire went out from the LORD and devoured them, and they died before the LORD." Nowhere had God specifically forbidden the priests from doing what Nadab and Abihu did. However, He had given instructions for them to follow. The fact that they went beyond those instructions (thinking it wasn't a "big deal," no doubt) and God punished them severely is significant. God's silence is not permissive, and God may punish those who do not restrict their actions to that which He has revealed.

In Numbers 20:8ff, God commanded Moses to speak to the rock before the people and it would bring forth water. However, Moses, in prideful anger, struck the rock twice with his rod. Intriguingly, God had explicitly authorized a rock to be struck previously in order to bring forth water (e.g., Exo. 17:6). Nevertheless, on this occasion God's expectation was clear and He had given different instructions. There is a difference between speaking to a rock and striking it and Moses understood the difference. There is no record of God forbidding the rock to be struck in Numbers 20, yet Moses was punished significantly for his presumptuous behavior (not being allowed to enter into the Promised Land). God's silence is not permissive, and God may punish those who do not restrict their actions to that which He has revealed.

In I Samuel 13:8ff, King Saul grew impatient and offered a burnt offering to God. God had not specifically forbidden such, but neither had He authorized it. Offering a burnt offering was the work of a consecrated priest. Saul lost his kingdom over this and other foolish actions he engaged in presumptuously. No matter how Saul may have tried to justify his behavior, God's silence is not permissive, and God may punish those who do not restrict their actions to that which He has revealed.

In II Samuel 6:2ff, David had the ark of the covenant transported on a new cart. This led to the death of Uzzah who reached out to stabilize the ark when the oxen, who were pulling the cart, stumbled. God struck him dead for his error. God had not specifically forbidden the ark to be transported on a cart, but He had explained how it was to be moved. Uzzah had no authority to touch the ark, and even though he meant no harm his actions were presumptuous. God's silence is not permissive, and God may punish those who do not restrict their actions to that which He has revealed.

Friends, the wise will learn from those things written before (cf. Rom. 15:4). Bible silence does not permit today, it did not permit in Jesus' day, and it never has!

Where the Bible is Silent (Part 5)

In our continuing study regarding the silence of the Scriptures, it would be helpful to observe that:

Some mistakenly think that silence is the same as implication. They incorrectly reason that if the Bible doesn't mention something explicitly then the Bible is silent about that matter and anything concluded on that matter would be via implication. Thus, they equate silence and implication. The problem here is this: If something is taught implicitly in the Bible, the Scriptures are not silent about that matter. This is a very important point to understand.

To illustrate the flaw of equating silence and implication, let us pretend we have three different mothers giving grocery lists to their respective sons:

List #1: Buy apples, meat, corn, and oatmeal.
List #2: Buy a dozen ears of corn, bananas, a loaf of bread, and a chicken.
List #3: Buy a loaf of white bread, a pound of cheese, hot dogs, and hamburger.
When considering these lists, do any of them grant authorization to buy a loaf of white bread? We can see that the third list covers the purchase explicitly. The second list covers the purchase implicitly. The son, who was instructed to buy "a loaf of bread," would have to decide what type to choose. Thus, the second list certainly authorizes him to buy a loaf of white bread, though it does not demand that he get white bread. Wheat bread would also be acceptable based on the wording of list #2. Finally, the first list does not grant any authority to buy bread of any type. To summarize, the third list deals with purchasing white bread explicitly while the other two lists deal with it non-explicitly. The second list authorizes the purchase of white bread implicitly, but the first list says nothing about buying any type of bread. In other words, the second list is not silent about buying white bread (due to implication), but the first list is silent and does not grant authority for any bread to be purchased. Therefore, there is a difference between silence and implication. Implication may authorize certain actions but true silence cannot authorize anything. What the first list says about white bread is akin to true Biblical silence (i.e., nothing was said at all either explicitly or implicitly).

I realize that much of the above may seem somewhat worthless without some concrete Biblical application. Allow me to share a couple brief examples at this time. Is the Bible silent about church buildings? No. Although there is nothing said explicitly about such structures, the Bible does deal with them implicitly. How so? Well, the general obligation to assemble (cf. Heb. 10:25) implies the need to have a place of some sort to meet. Since the Scriptures do not specify what type of place should be used, it is left up to our judgment as to what is most expedient for the present circumstances. This is similar to the second shopping list above, where bread was authorized in general but the son would have to make a decision as to what type would be best. In both cases, implication--not silence--authorizes white bread and church buildings.

Another example shows the error in equating Bible silence with implication. Is the Bible silent about whether God loves John Smith? The correct answer is no, but why? Undeniably, no one can find an explicit statement in Scripture that affirms: "God loves John Smith." Of course, few would deny that the statement is true via implication (cf. John 3:16). If God loves all the world, then certainly He loves John Smith. Nevertheless, if we equate silence to implication, we are forced to mistakenly conclude that the Bible is silent about whether or not God loves John Smith (or any human being living today, for that matter). Such is a serious mistake in reasoning and will lead to other significant interpretive flaws. When the Bible teaches something via implication, the Bible is not silent on that matter! You cannot apply a single Biblical truth today without using implication to know whether it applies to you or not. This is the case since your name is not explicitly stated in Scripture. For example, Mark 16:16 implies the need for me, Stephen R. Bradd, to believe and be baptized to be saved but it does not teach such explicitly. I'm using my God-given reasoning skills to deduce that Mark 16:16 applies to me since it does not explicitly state my name anywhere in the verse.

Where the Bible is Silent (Part 6)

In addition to showing the difference between silence and implication, it might be helpful to more clearly define what we mean when we say "the Bible is silent" about a particular issue. I cannot improve upon the definition George Beals offered in his book ( How Implication Binds & Silence Forbids ) on page 76: "The Bible is silent on an action when there is no Bible passage or combination of Bible passages which explicitly or implicitly teaches that the action is forbidden (is a must-not-do), required (is a must-do), or permitted (is an option)." If an action is neither required nor permitted either explicitly or implicitly in Scripture, then it is not authorized. Some will object: "But Stephen, if the action in question isn't forbidden either explicitly or implicitly, then how can we know it's not permitted?" It's a question many ask, but we've already answered it. Actions for which the Bible is truly silent are actions that are forbidden, since they lack proper authority. This fits well with our understanding of Colossians 3:17.

Let us consider another example for clarity. Someone might suggest we start using white chocolate during the Lord's Supper, in addition to unleavened bread and the fruit of the vine, to symbolize Jesus' bones. What does the Bible say about this? The Bible is silent regarding using white chocolate in this fashion. The Bible authorizes two elements (unleavened bread and fruit of the vine), but says nothing about using anything else. Thus, since the Scriptures are silent on white chocolate being used at the Lord's table, what is the proper conclusion? What course of action should be followed? If the Bible is truly silent about the matter, there is no authority for the act either explicitly or implicitly. Therefore, this is a matter about which we cannot act "in the name of the Lord," and yet we are commanded to only act "in the name of the Lord" (Col. 3:17).

So, how should we interpret Biblical silence? Some affirm that God's word doesn't tell us how to interpret silence and we must simply choose what we think is best. However, if the Bible did not instruct us how to interpret silence, we would be wise to employ the "when in doubt, don't" principle of Romans 14:23. In other words, if the Bible didn't tell us how to interpret silence, we should all be compelled to doubt that Biblical silence permits. Nevertheless, we know that the Scriptures claim to be all-sufficient and complete (cf. II Tim. 3:16,17). Thus, they should be sufficient to equip us to answer this important question! The Scriptures prepare us for every good work. Thus, if the Bible does not address a particular work (is silent about it), then that work cannot be good. We must do only what we have proved to be good (cf. I Thess. 5:21). If we do that which is not authorized in the Scriptures, where all good works are found, we violate I Thessalonians 5:21 and sin in so doing. If we can't find Biblical authority either explicitly or implicitly for a particular action in question (in a general or specific way), then God's silence on that matter should be interpreted as intentional and prohibitive. In other words, Bible silence forbids!

We will conclude this series in our next lesson.

by Stephen R. Bradd

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