attitude toward the silence of God has become a problem with many in
interpreting the Scripture. Some believe that “silence gives consent,”
while others believe that authority gives consent. Which attitude does
the Bible teach?
The very nature of
revelation answers this question. Paul wrote, “For what man knows the
things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no
one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God” (1 Cor.
He went on to say the things of God have been revealed “not in words
which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing
spiritual things with spiritual” (v. 13). Just as a man cannot know what
pleases me from silence, he cannot know what pleases God from silence.
If we could have known it from silence, He could have remained silent!
But He spoke His will, because we could not otherwise know it.
articles we studied the attitude of Jesus and the apostles toward God’s
word. The doctrine of the Judaizers was based upon the silence of God.
After showing, from precept, example and necessary inference, that
Gentiles could be accepted without circumcision, a letter was sent
stating: “Since we have heard that some who went out from us have
troubled you with words, unsettling your souls, saying ‘You must be
circumcised and keep the law’ – to whom we gave no such commandment – it
seemed good to us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men
to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men who have risked their
lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ”
The Judaizers had been speaking where God was silent, therefore without
authority for their doctrine.
According to some
advocates of the new hermeneutic we do not need pattern authority for
what we do and some even say “instrumental music is neither scripturally
allowed nor scripturally forbidden.” The Bible is also silent about
whether we should have a Pope, pray through Mary or observe the Lord’s
supper on Saturday.
What should be our
attitude toward the silence of Scripture? There are two examples in the
book of Hebrews that show the Holy Spirit’s answer to this question. In
the writer makes an argument for the unique deity of
based upon God’s silence. “For to which of the angels did He ever say:
You are My Son, Today I have begotten You?” The answer implied is that
God never said that about any angel. “But to the Son He says: Your
throne, O God, is forever and ever; A scepter of righteousness is the
scepter or Your Kingdom.” We know from revelation that Jesus is the Son
of God, and we know from silence that angels are not! Later, the writer
said concerning Christ,
“For He of whom these things are spoken belongs to another tribe, from
which no man has officiated at the altar. For it is evident that our
Lord arose from Judah, of which
tribe Moses spoke nothing concerning priesthood” (Heb.
His necessary inference from this silence was, “For if He were on earth,
He would not be a priest, since there are priests who offer the gifts
according to the law” (Heb. 8:4). According to some of the non-Spirit
led teachers today, the writer should have said since Moses said nothing
either way about priests from Judah, we cannot know whether or not Jesus
could be a priest on earth.
Leaders in the
Reformation Movement had different attitudes toward the silence of
Scripture. “Luther said we may do what the Bible does not forbid.
Zwingli said what the Bible does not command we may not do, and on that
account he gave up images and crosses in the churches…Organs in church
also were given up. The Lutherans love to sing around the organ. The
Zwinglians, if they sang at all, did so without any instrument” (“The
Thunderous Silence of God,” Joe Neil Clayton, p. 70).
coined the phrase “Where the Bible speaks, we speak; where the Bible is
silent, we are silent.” This is based upon 1 Peter 4:11, but also upon
other clear teachings of the word of God. When
made that statement: “A Scottish bookseller, Andrew Munro, a rather
sentimental person, was the first to break the silence. ‘Mr. Campbell,’
he said, ‘if we adopt that as a basis, then there is an end of infant
baptism.’ Campbell replied: ‘Of course, if infant baptism be not found
in the scriptures, we can have nothing to do with it’” (“The Search for
the Ancient Order,” Earl West, Vol. 1, p. 48). The Campbells, and others
who were dissatisfied with denominational doctrines, determined to leave
anything not authorized in the New Testament and go back to the Bible
and build according to God’s pattern. The advocates of new hermeneutics
have become dissatisfied with the restrictions of God’s pattern and have
begun the cycle back to denominationalism. One talented young man who
spoke in the Nashville exchange between institutional and conservative
brethren (Dec., 1988) said, “command, example and necessary inference,
and generic and specific authority is Greek to me.” After he returned to
the institutional church in Dallas, and was fired by the
elders, he drew his followers out and started his own sect. When
brethren do not know how to establish Bible authority, they drift
further and further from the pattern, even though they had traditionally
done the things authorized in the New Testament.
One brother, who
no longer believes this statement, said: “If we are not silent where the
Bible is silent, it matters not what we speak nor whether we speak at
all.” If the Bible is true, that is true! The apostle of love said: “He
who says, ‘I know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar,
and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly the love
of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him” (1
Jn. 2:3,4). In his second epistle, he said: “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” (2
John 9). We cannot abide in the doctrine of Christ if we do not know
how to establish New Testament authority. It is sad to see brethren
become dissatisfied with the New Testament pattern and call it “just the
church of Christ tradition.” It has been my experience that once this
root of bitterness springs up it is nearly impossible to remove it. They
become bent on changing a congregation or destroying it, and often they
completely leave anything akin to New Testament Christianity.
(This is the third
article in a four part series on hermeneutics.)