Do Silence of Scriptures Prohibit or Permit?
Note: This article is designed to be a more thorough, detailed, and in-depth presentation of the case for respecting Bible silence, and it also includes a response to common objections received against each proof-text. If you are new to this subject, please consider first reading our more gentle introduction to the topic, An Introduction to Bible Silence.
How should we interpret the silence of God’s Scriptures? The answer first depends on how you define the word, silence. We may unintentionally bias our answer by defining the word with a prejudicial slant. Therefore, let us start by building on a neutral platform. According to Merriam-Webster, silence is defined as:
- forbearance from speech or noise
- absence of sound or noise
- absence of mention
In applying the above definition, silence in Scripture would refer to things, actions, or events that are not addressed by Scripture. On this topic, people usually have in mind the things that are not specifically mentioned. Based on this definition alone, we are sufficiently equipped to immediately answer our primary question: The silence of Scriptures - that is, the absence of mention - neither prohibits or permits in and of itself! Intrinsically, silences means nothing, because it is nothing. It is the absence of information; therefore, there is no significance we can attach to silence - by itself.
The silence of Scripture becomes significant only when it is coupled or observed in conjunction with God’s revealed pattern. The conclusion to be proven by this article is that the specific aspects of the Bible pattern exclude all other alternatives about which the Scriptures are silent. For example, when the Lord told us to “sing, making melody in your hearts” (Ephesians 5:19-20; Colossians 3:16-17), He did not have to specifically forbid all alternatives, such as the varied musical instruments. The absence of further approval in conjunction with command “to sing” prohibits the use of instrumental music in worship. It is this duo, this pair - a specific pattern combined with silence - that communicates meaning, drawing the distinctive line between authorized and unauthorized.
Later, we will examine how generic aspects of the Bible pattern include, permit, and authorize a multitude of options or expediencies. But, the primary purpose of this article will be to examine the restrictive power of God’s silence in conjunction with the specifics of His revealed pattern.
Oversimplifications, Misnomers, and Semantics
Regrettably, some in the defense of a respect for God’s silence may have oversimplified the answer to merely equating silence to prohibition. They might demand a specific approving reference before they will accept anything as authorized. “Where is the verse that mentions instrumental music?”, they ask. This is a good and valid question, but alone the absence of reference to instrumental music does not deny its acceptability. All formalization of this oversimplification can create a great opportunity for misunderstanding and hasty dismissal, as evidenced by this opposing comment:
If this so-called “law of silence” were to be followed “religiously,” then our PA systems, Powerpoint usage, song books, and other things which we commonly use in worship would all be outlawed. It really is time to apply some common sense to this “law,” and the way it is applied by so many. ...
Indeed, public address systems, PowerPoint, song books and several other items of public worship are not specifically mentioned in Scripture. Therefore, we may say that the Scriptures are silent on these specific items. However, few Bible students advocate requiring a specific reference in Scripture for God’s approval. The futility of such a requirement is obvious to even the most casual of Bible students, as evidenced by the above comment. It is difficult to know whether the above charge is is aimed deliberately at a straw man or issued in innocence. Regardless, such oversimplifications on both sides must cease, because it is untenable and the source of great diversion and unnecessary confusion!
Bible authority for the above cases are granted by a very broad and generic pattern, such as the command to assemble, the example of preaching, and the command to sing (Hebrews 10:24-25; Acts 20:7; Ephesians 5:18-19). This generic authority, which is later explained in more detail, answers many of the allegations of inconsistent or impossible observance of God's silence in Scriptures.
Furthermore, tackling this subject also raises the question, “Is God ever really, truly, and totally silent on any subject?”. This question exposes the label of silence as a misnomer, a poorly named and misleading title. As already mentioned, silence alone does not define authority, so why use it as the primary point of objection? Furthermore, God has not been totally silent on the points of controversy. Whether He has specified His preferred option, or whether He has generically authorized an entire category of options, He has indeed spoken! He has not been silent! Maybe it is for this reason the more seasoned teachers emphasize the powerlessness of silence to permit instead of the power of silence to prohibit.
Some may call this a difference of semantics, a mere variation in wording or conceptualization; however, it seems that often the essential issue is miscommunicated, misunderstood, or both. Too frequently, critical discussions are hurried down a divisive path, because at the outset, terms were not properly defined or the fundamental differences were not clearly exposed for joint analysis. Therefore, let us take diligent care to first define all terms, patiently outline the true underlying points of difference, and chart questions that will lead to unity when answered, before arguing the answers. If you judge that the above wording does not represent the true issue, or if you think it can be improved, please do not hesitate to contact the author. He would love nothing more than to work towards unity upon God’s Word (John 17:20-21; Ephesians 4:1-6).
Our Question and Method of Answer
The great question concerning God's silence is, “Are we free to practice whatever is not forbidden in areas where God has already positively specified?” In other words, unless qualified, does a specific instruction inherently eliminate all other possibilities, or must God specifically exclude all other possibilities? Although the practical challenges of any book containing a specific catalog of every prohibition are ridiculous, the reality is that much of Christiandom operates under the principle, “Unless God prohibits either specifically or generically, then He permits categorically.” Is this attitude correct? Does the Bible teach us that God’s silence permits? Or, do the Scriptures teach us to respect the exclusiveness of God's silence and pattern? Whenever we discover a specific element of the New Testament pattern, how should we interpret the conspicuous absence of further approval or condemnation?
As has often been said, but is still yet worth repeating, the Bible is its own best commentary. The completed revelation of God’s Word over more than 2000 years affords us with a tremendous, inspired witness to our forerunners’ successes and failures. Therefore, let us turn to the pages of God's Word to see how others fared, who either respected or presumptively disregarded God's silence in light of His established pattern. Please take note that if we can find just one demonstration of someone who was corrected, criticized, or condemned for operating under the presumption that silence inherently permits, then we will have answered our question and eliminated the security of operating under that assumption! Is that conclusion not correct? How would you react, if you discover God condemning those who presumed upon His silence in just one instance? How many instances would be required to change your mind? How many instances should be required?
Many of the following passages have been used as proof-texts for a long time by people from varied denominational backgrounds (for example, John L. Girardeau of the Columbia Theological Seminary, 1888). Therefore, please do not be discouraged into thinking that this represents a narrow sect. Furthermore, given the historic proliferation of these arguments, objections also naturally exist and abound. The purpose of this article will be to demonstrate the following most helpful Bible examples toward understanding the boundaries of authority, while also answering some of the more significant objections.
- David Proposes to Build God a House
- Divorce Forbidden from Creation
- Promise Made to Abraham’s Seed, Singular
- House of Prayer and Merchandise
- Houses to Eat and Drink In
- Strange Fire of Nadab and Abihu
- Jesus of the Tribe of Judah, Serving as a Priest
- Noah's Ark of Gopher Wood
The single most common objection to the above examples is most likely a human, visceral, gut reaction to the notion that God’s Word can be handled so definitively and precisely. Too many find it surprising to learn that God continues to expect us to thoroughly understand and apply His Word (Ephesians 3:3-5; 5:17; II Timothy 2:15; 3:16-17; II Peter 3:15-18; II Corinthians 10:3-5; John 12:48). However, as the following examples will sustain, God demands exactly such comprehension, application, and their requisite diligent study from us. May God help us with such an awesome task and have mercy on our frailty. May we kindly, gracious, patiently help each other in pursuit of this task (Colossians 4:6; Proverbs 27:17; Amos 1:11).
David Proposes to Build God a House
In many ways, David was perhaps the greatest king of Israel. God declared David to be “a man after His own heart” (I Samuel 13:14). Moreover, David often acted with the noblest of intentions (I Samuel 24:1-22; I Chronicles 11:18-19; 21:22-25). However, his character was also marred with the vilest of sins (II Samuel 11:1-12:23). Furthermore, despite his generally commendable intentions, he was known at least once to have behaved presumptuously, which ultimately cost the life of another man (I Chronicles 13:1-14; 15:1-15; II Samuel 6:1-8). Therefore, it should not be entirely surprising that we see David acting yet again with good intentions - but not fully contemplated:
Now it came to pass when the king was dwelling in his house, and the LORD had given him rest from all his enemies all around, that the king said to Nathan the prophet, “See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells inside tent curtains. ” Then Nathan said to the king, “Go, do all that is in your heart, for the LORD is with you.” But it happened that night that the word of the LORD came to Nathan, saying, “Go and tell My servant David, ‘Thus says the LORD: “Would you build a house for Me to dwell in? For I have not dwelt in a house since the time that I brought the children of Israel up from Egypt, even to this day, but have moved about in a tent and in a tabernacle. Wherever I have moved about with all the children of Israel, have I ever spoken a word to anyone from the tribes of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd My people Israel, saying, ‘Why have you not built Me a house of cedar?’ ”’” (II Samuel 7:1-7, see also, I Chronicles 17:1-6)
In this passage, the Lord Himself emphasizes a proper respect for His silence: “Wherever ... have I ever spoken a word to anyone ... saying, ‘Why have you not built Me a house of cedar?’”. The Lord had authorized the construction of a tent, the tabernacle (Exodus 25:9-27:21). That was the pattern that God defined and His people had observed under His supervision: “For I have not dwelt in a house since the time that I brought the children of Israel up from Egypt, even to this day, but have moved about in a tent and in a tabernacle.” Alternatives to this pattern were not explicitly forbidden. No where in Scripture did God prohibit people from constructing a permanent house. Moreover, God did not point to a passage that in any way precluded such a building. Instead, God pointed to the absence of positive authority or approval in conjunction with His existing, approved pattern, the tabernacle! Where was the verse that authorized building such a temple? In light of God's established pattern, the absence of further positive approval was necessarily prohibitive! This is the essence of a healthy respect for God's silence in Scripture as established and articulated by God Himself - “Wherever have I ever spoken a word to anyone?”! What further proof is necessary for the power of God’s silence in the light of His revealed pattern?
Some may rightly observe that David was commended for wanting to build God a temple:
And he said: “Blessed be the LORD God of Israel, who spoke with His mouth to my father David, and with His hand has fulfilled it, saying, ‘Since the day that I brought My people Israel out of Egypt, I have chosen no city from any tribe of Israel in which to build a house, that My name might be there; but I chose David to be over My people Israel.’ Now it was in the heart of my father David to build a temple for the name of the LORD God of Israel. But the LORD said to my father David, ‘Whereas it was in your heart to build a temple for My name, you did well that it was in your heart. Nevertheless you shall not build the temple, but your son who will come from your body, he shall build the temple for My name.’ So the LORD has fulfilled His word which He spoke; and I have filled the position of my father David, and sit on the throne of Israel, as the LORD promised; and I have built a temple for the name of the LORD God of Israel. (I Kings 8:15-20)
Yes, David clearly manifested a good heart in seeking the Lord's glory and not his own (“for the name of the LORD God of Israel”). However, David's plans did not accord with God's plans, because David's son was chosen to build God's temple, not David (II Samuel 7:12-13; I Kings 8:19-20)! Although David's heart was once again properly motivated, it was nonetheless in error and worthy of correction, since God clearly corrected David in II Samuel 7:6-7. Please compare this instance to a previous occasion, when David nobly sought to bring the ark of the Lord to him, which is exonerated by his ultimate success in doing so (I Chronicles 15:1-16:43). Regardless of the righteous motivations and goal, the original attempt was condemned, “because we did not consult Him about the proper order” (I Chronicles 15:13). Therefore, having noble intentions or genuine motivations does not necessarily justify a course of action. Likewise, people today may possess noble, righteous motivations in worship or service toward God, but if they fail to “consult Him about the proper order”, then why would it not be worthy of the same condemnation, especially given this advance warning?
Others may object because David was ultimately blessed by God in this context (II Samuel 7:8-17). True, David was blessed by the Lord here, but does that blessing justify his sin with Bathsheba, his error in transportation of the ark, or any other sin of David? The truth is that the great heroes of faith were not perfect people. They needed forgiveness of sins, just as do we (II Samuel 12:13; Romans 4:5-8). Therefore, as we sift through the holy text, we must be careful to “test all things; hold fast what is good; abstain from every form of evil” (I Thessalonians 5:21-22). And, in this text, the Lord's blessing of David is in no way connected to David's desire to build the temple, except circumstantially. In the context, the Lord's basis for blessing David began early with the Lord's election (“I took you from the sheepfold, from following the sheep, to be ruler over My people, over Israel. And I have been with you wherever you have gone, and have cut off all your enemies from before you ...”, II Samuel 7:8-9). Therefore, we must look to earlier passages that might explain the basis for such an election, like I Samuel 13:14. Furthermore, in David's prayer of thankfulness, he emphasizes his own personal unworthiness (II Samuel 7:18-20) in addition to God's name and glory being the underlying basis for David's blessing (II Samuel 7:21-26). No where does David or the Lord connect David's desire to build God a house with God's determination to build David a house, except that it provides the circumstances and occasion for the revelation. Finally, even the promise of that blessing does not change the fact that David was not permitted to build the temple, which is what is in question - the correctness of presumably adding to God's pattern.
The Lord's correction of David in II Samuel 7:6-7 has been recorded for all of us to learn (I Corinthians 10:11; Romans 15:4). The Lord gently corrected David, as He does each of us today through this inspired account. Will we heed the correction, like David, or will we proceed with any of our potentially unauthorized plans that we may have added to the Lord’s revealed pattern? Please, let us pause, meditate, and pray as we consider this passage and reflect on our own hearts and decisions. The pure heart is ultimately exonerated in how it receives correction, as did David.
Divorce Forbidden from Creation
Please notice the hermeneutic, the rule of interpreting Scripture, as demonstrated by Jesus Himself in the passage below:
The Pharisees also came to Him, testing Him, and saying to Him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?” And He answered and said to them, “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate. They said to Him, “Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?” He said to them, “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.” (Matthew 19:3-8)
Clearly, Jesus concluded that marriages should not end in divorce, because the Pharisees demanded an explanation for Moses' regulation of it (“Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?”). Despite the Lord’s forbearance as delivered by Moses, Jesus demonstrated that divorce was never God's intention by going back to the pattern established at creation (“from the beginning it was not so”). Where was the verse that forbid divorce? Where was the verse that prohibited a joined man and woman becoming unjoined? Where was the verse that commanded married men and women to stay joined forever? These verses are no where to be found! The verses that Jesus referenced (Genesis 1:27; 2:24) do not even mention divorce, fornication, or adultery!
So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. (Genesis 1:27)
And the LORD God said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.” ... And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall on Adam, and he slept; and He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh in its place. Then the rib which the LORD God had taken from man He made into a woman, and He brought her to the man. And Adam said: “This is now bone of my bones And flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, Because she was taken out of Man.” Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. (Genesis 2:18-24)
Please study the above verses from which Jesus operated and expected the Jews to operate. Where did God say, “What God has joined together, let not man separate”? It is nowhere to be found, except Jesus concluded it! How did He do this? What was His basis? He operated on silence coupled with God’s pattern! These verses stood and continue to stand as a testament to the power of a simple pattern established merely by recording God’s original design, which is an obvious reflection of His will. Whatever God does, man must leave it as it is until God does or speaks differently (Ezekiel 44:1-3). There were no explicit prohibitions in the above verses. There were no explicit exclusions. There were no explicit term limitations. And yet, Jesus expected them to have already understood (“Have you not read?”) that God’s pattern was for one man and one woman to be joined for life, thereby demonstrating and validating a hermeneutic based at least in part on the silence of Scriptures! Again, we have divine commentary, Jesus essentially articulating the recognition of silence's prohibitive power when combined with God's pattern - “What God has joined together, let not man separate”!
Some have claimed that the specific nature of a man joining to his wife inherently prohibits divorce, because divorce is the opposite of joining and mutually exclusive of it. However, such reasoning assumes that God's specific pattern must be observed indefinitely, which is fair and correct, but such thinking exemplifies a respect for God's silence! Where did God say the pattern was to be observed for life? It is nowhere to be found! Therefore, indefinite adherence to the Genesis pattern substantiates the exclusiveness of God's silence, which in this case is the lack of positive authority for divorce in light of God's positive authority for marriage!
Promise Made to Abraham’s Seed, Singular
In addition to a “great name”, the Lord promised Abraham to grant him a great nation (who would become the Israelites), a land for that nation (which would be the land of Canaan), and a Seed that would bless all nations (which Seed would be Christ):
“Blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies. In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.” (Genesis 22:17-18)
And I will make your descendants multiply as the stars of heaven; I will give to your descendants all these lands; and in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed; because Abraham obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws.” (Genesis 26:4-5)
Using the promise recorded in these verses, the apostle Paul makes a necessary argument based on the singularity of one word, “seed”:
Brethren, I speak in the manner of men: Though it is only a man’s covenant, yet if it is confirmed, no one annuls or adds to it. Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as of many, but as of one, “And to your Seed,” who is Christ. And this I say, that the law, which was four hundred and thirty years later, cannot annul the covenant that was confirmed before by God in Christ, that it should make the promise of no effect. (Galatians 3:15-17)
Apparently, the Galatian Christians had erroneously assumed that the object of the Abrahamic seed promise would be a plurality of Abraham's descendants — presumably the Jews. Paul corrects this error by noting that the word, “seed”, was actually singular - not plural! Jesus was the only descendant, who was intended to fulfill the final Abrahamic promise and bless all nations.
Paul's argument demonstrates the precision and power of Scripture, which the Lord intended us to observe and use. However, it also admonishes us to respect the silence of Scriptures! Based on the above divinely inspired interpretation, what was the correct number of descendants intended to be the object of blessing all nations? Was it not one seed, Jesus Christ? Furthermore, how did these Galatian Christians arrive at the false interpretation of many seeds? Was it not by adding to the intended number and meaning? Where is the prohibition that limited the object of the promise to one? Where were we told that only one seed would bless the nations? Yet, such an addition was clearly incorrect and unintended. The only way one could have properly interpreted those ancient promises and avoided an erroneous conclusion would be to respect God's silence by not adding more seeds to the promise! They should have understood that any additional number was excluded.
Some scholars have noted that the Hebrew word for “seed”, “zera`”, can be rightly translated as singular or a collective plural (R. C. H. Lenski, p. 159, Hendrickson Publishing)! This has caused some difficulty for commentators, because the referenced usage in Genesis 22:18 is almost identical to the usages in Genesis 13:15 and 17:8, where it appears to have reference to all of Abraham's descendants, not just one!
Consequently, some have suggested that Paul was carelessly or allegorically interpreting the Genesis account, retrofitting his needed meaning into the original, where it did not fit. Not only is such a suggestion absurd, it ignores. Paul's clear language: “He does not say, ‘And to seeds,’ as of many, but as of one”. Paul states that God said - past tense - that the promise was made to One Seed, not one! Paul was operating off what was previously recorded, not shoe-horned eisegesis or even new revelation. Therefore, the interpretation was true, intended, available, and expected, which continues to demonstrate the danger of adding where God was silent.
(Tangential Explanation: Because this passage has caused some students and commentators great difficulty, please consider the following explanation: Obviously, the promise was not extended to all of Abraham's seed, because the Ishmaelites and the Edomites were excluded from the land and nation promises (Genesis 21:12; 25:23; Romans 9:6-13). Therefore, a limited application - not the whole of Abraham's seed - was under consideration in each of the three promises, and it should have been understood very early. Like two bookends, Abraham and His Seed, Jesus, stand as defining recipients of the third blessing: Abraham stands as an archetype, the protofigure of salvation by faith (Galatians 3:6-9, 29; Romans 4:1-14), and Jesus stands as the fulfillment, means and Finisher of salvation by faith, by which He both blessed and was blessed (Galatians 3:13-14, 19-29; Hebrews 5:9; 2:9-16; Philippians 2:8-12). Neither of the other patriarchs, Isaac or Israel, received such a place as Abraham. So, Abraham and His Seed encapsulate the true collective, all the spiritual seed, who receive the ultimate end of the third blessing, eternal salvation in Christ Jesus. Therefore, a collective was always implied, but it was defined by two singular individuals in the original accounts. Please see Lenski and possibly Zahn for more explanation and commentary.)
House of Prayer and Merchandise
During Jesus' last week, He “cleansed the temple” by casting out the money changers. In doing so, He makes references to two Old Testament passages:
So they came to Jerusalem. Then Jesus went into the temple and began to drive out those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. And He would not allow anyone to carry wares through the temple. Then He taught, saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it a ‘den of thieves’.” (Mark 11:15-17)
The two quoted Old Testament passages are:
Even them I will bring to My holy mountain, And make them joyful in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices Will be accepted on My altar; For My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations." (Isaiah 56:7)
“Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, burn incense to Baal, and walk after other gods whom you do not know, and then come and stand before Me in this house which is called by My name, and say, ‘We are delivered to do all these abominations’? Has this house, which is called by My name, become a den of thieves in your eyes? Behold, I, even I, have seen it,” says the LORD. (Jeremiah 7:9-11)
These people may have indeed suffered from a multitude of sins and heart problems, which would be a valuable lesson to consider at another time. However, if we study the above passages diligently, we can find another example of Jesus’ respect for God’s silence in Scripture. The Lord’s revealed plan was that His temple would be a place of prayer for all races and nations, and yet these moneychangers had made it a place of business. Surely, these businessmen suffered from greed, a lack of reverence, and a host of other spiritual maladies; however, they also exhibited a disrespect for God’s silence in Scripture. Where was the verse that prohibited men from buying and selling animals for sacrifice on the temple grounds? They were authorized to buy animals to be used in sacrifice (Deuteronomy 14:23-26), plus Jesus does not condemn their sacrifice of purchased animals in general. However, He expected them to understand that the positive dedication of God’s temple to prayer was sufficient to exclude the merchandising that was occurring on the temple grounds!
Some may contend that the buying and selling was detracting from the worship, even replacing it. However, this is supposition. Where is the verse that proves these businessmen were interfering with worship? If the people were being prevented from worship, then why were they purchasing animals for sacrifice, which they would never use? If the sellers did not prevent the people from worshiping, then we must conclude they merely added to the temple’s purpose! Was there not both worship and commerce ongoing, but worship nonetheless?
Others may argue that Jesus was really addressing a selfish, lazy shortcut in worship, because the people were buying animals instead of sacrificing their own. However, the Old Law already authorized purchasing animals associated with temple worship and sacrifice (Deuteronomy 14:23-26). Furthermore, the Scriptures do not support this second objection as being the people’s real problem. The true problem, among other problems, was that they added to the purpose of the Lord’s house beyond the Lord’s original specification, and that is the condemnation that Jesus enforces. Please, let us look at the verse again:
So they came to Jerusalem. Then Jesus went into the temple and began to drive out those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. And He would not allow anyone to carry wares through the temple. Then He taught, saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it a ‘den of thieves’.” (Mark 11:15-17)
Please notice that Jesus did not condemn their heart, lack of faith, taking a shortcut, etc. All they did was add - not replace - and the addition is what Jesus condemns. Jesus did not allow anyone to carry goods through the temple. Were all of their hearts wicked? Why did He focus on those carrying wares in the temple, instead of those possessing evil hearts? Jesus definitely never missed an opportunity point out heart problems (Matthew 5-7; 23, etc.). Whatever additional problems these businessmen may have had, these additional problems were not the subject or object of Jesus’ condemnation. Only speculation can presume additional heart problems beyond those specified in the passage. Again, what does God’s Word say? How did Jesus use the quoted verses? What logic did He use? What hermeneutic did He exemplify? Did He not condemn their addition to God’s place of worship? If it was sinful to add to the purpose of God’s house of worship then, would it not likewise be sinful for us today? What would the Lord do to our worship, if He physically visited it and found us adding to His revealed pattern for worship, as these Jews had done?
Houses to Eat and Drink In
The Corinthian church was distressed with a multitude of spiritual issues. One of which was their perversion of the Lord’s Supper, as seen here:
Therefore when you come together in one place, it is not to eat the Lord's Supper. For in eating, each one takes his own supper ahead of others; and one is hungry and another is drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you in this? I do not praise you. ... Therefore, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. But if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, lest you come together for judgment. And the rest I will set in order when I come. (I Corinthians 11:20-22, 33-34)
After rebuking the Corinthians, Paul reminds them of the pattern for the Lord’s Supper, which he had previously delivered to them:
For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death till He comes. (I Corinthians 11:23-26)
As you study this pattern, please try to find the prohibition for eating a common meal in addition to the Lord’s Supper. Where did the Lord say not to eat their own supper in addition to the Lord’s Supper? It is not there. The Lord was silent in regard to its specific prohibition or permission, but yet, by inspiration Paul expected the Corinthians to have eaten their own supper elsewhere. How were they supposed to know? Silence! God had specified a pattern, and by adhering closely to it, they would have avoided these perversions. If it was a sin for them to add to the Lord’s Supper, will it not likewise be a sin for us to add to the same supper?
First, it has been argued that the early Christians actually shared a common meal as part of their worship based on Acts 2:42, 46; 20:7, 9 and Jude 12. Therefore, it may be argued that their addition was already authorized, which would invalidate the above usage as a proof-text against additions. Second, others have asserted that their drunken, gluttonous feast was being observed in place of the Lord’s supper, thereby replacing, substituting, and displacing it. Therefore, it has been argued, that their failure to observe the Lord’s Supper was the real issue, not their addition to it. Third and finally, some have emphasized the multitude of problems noted in this passage, including drunkenness, gluttony, selfishness, and divisiveness, which are supposedly more critical than their disrespect for the delivered pattern and the Lord’s silence.
Answering these objections in reverse order, yes, the Corinthians exhibited a multitude of spiritual problems; however, would not all of these problems have been avoided quietly, confronted individually, and solved internally, if the Corinthians had followed the Lord’s original pattern, instead of adding to it? The Lord’s commands are designed to produce godly character within each of us:
Now the purpose of the commandment is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere faith, from which some, having strayed, have turned aside to idle talk, ... (I Timothy 1:5-6)
Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart, (I Peter 1:22 NAS) ... (compare to “unto” or “for remission of sins”, Acts 2:38)
When we neglect obedience to God’s commands and His pattern, ungodliness grows and proceeds unchecked in our hearts, revealing itself in many ugly forms. Scoffing at the likelihood of obedience producing such a character is to scoff at the commands' Designer and Lawgiver (James 4:11-12). Regardless, whatever part of the Corinthians’ condemnation we judge to be more critical, it does not change the fact that at least some part of their condemnation according to Scripture was a failure to follow the pattern by respecting its silence. Given the abundance of homes, there was no reason forcing them to eat their own supper in the assembly (“What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in?”). Furthermore, drunkenness, selfishness, haughtiness, and divisiveness are never approved. They are always condemned regardless of the location. Therefore, moving the meals to their home would not have made drunkenness, selfishness, haughtiness, or divisiveness acceptable! Consequently, Paul’s approved option for eating at home could not have resolved these other problems. His point could only fix the one remaining problem - eating a common meal in addition to the Lord’s Supper!
Yes, the Corinthians’ perversion of the Lord’s Supper was so extreme that no one may have been properly observing the supper, hence Paul’s wording (“when you come together in one place, it is not to eat the Lord's Supper”). So, it seems that they may have completely displaced the Lord’s Supper. However, what was the solution that the Holy Spirit offered? Was the answer to ensure that everyone had equal portions? If a lack of sharing was the real problem, why did God not simply tell them to share their food, as they were told and approved elsewhere (II Corinthians 8:13-15; Acts 2:44-45; 4:34-35)? Or, was the answer to ensure that the unleavened bread and fruit of the vine received more emphasis than the common meal? Maybe they just needed to spend more time dwelling on Christ and His sacrifice instead of the common meal? No, the answer was removing the meal and going back to the simple pattern of unleavened bread and fruit of the vine, as Paul had already delivered to them. If the problem was only a matter of emphasis, then why would they need to take their own supper elsewhere? If the real problem was only a matter of substitution and not addition, then why could they not just add back what was missing? Why did they have to subtract their own supper?
In answering the last objection, it must be admitted that individual disciples did indeed share common meals - in each other’s houses!
So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:46-47)
And, Acts 20:7 does say, “the disciples came together to break bread”. However, is this not what already occurs during the simple, congregational observance of unleavened bread and fruit of the vine for the Lord’s Supper according to the Lord’s pattern (Jesus “took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it”, I Corinthians 11:23)? Only presumption and speculation could embellish upon this specific instance of “breaking of bread”, growing it into a common supper.
Finally, Jude’s reference to an approved “love feast” is very vague and scant of explanation:
Woe to them! For they have gone in the way of Cain, have run greedily in the error of Balaam for profit, and perished in the rebellion of Korah. These are spots in your love feasts, while they feast with you without fear, serving only themselves. They are clouds without water, carried about by the winds; late autumn trees without fruit, twice dead, pulled up by the roots; raging waves of the sea, foaming up their own shame; wandering stars for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever. (Jude 11-13)
Based on the text’s surrounding figures (Cain, Balaam, Korah, clouds without water, late autumn trees, raging waves, and wandering stars), we must clearly interpret these “love feasts” as also being figurative. Do these feasts refer to a spiritual feast on God’s Word, a spiritual feast of brotherly love, or merely individual acts of hospitality? The text simply does not elaborate. There are a multitude of interpretations that are consistent with the whole of Scripture, which do not require invention. How can one confidently promote what was supposedly such a common practice in the first century based on a single, uncertain, passing phrase? If we cannot be certain of the interpretation, how can we be certain of its authority and application? Given the lack of surety, would not Romans 14:23 apply here (“for whatever is not from faith is sin”)? How can we innocently participate by faith in common suppers as the Lord’s Supper, if we cannot prove they were indeed “love feasts” using the Word of God, which is the basis of faith (Romans 10:17)? If it is not of faith, will it not be sin to us?
Strange Fire of Nadab and Abihu
The Old Testament book of Leviticus includes the following example of Nadab and Abihu, who presumed to offer unauthorized fire before the Lord:
Then Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer 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. And Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the LORD spoke, saying: ‘By those who come near Me I must be regarded as holy; And before all the people I must be glorified.’” So Aaron held his peace. (Leviticus 10:1-3)
Again, the divine commentary explains their error as a failure to respect the Lord's silence by proceeding beyond the boundary of God's command. Where was the command that forbid this unauthorized source of fire (“profane fire”)? There was no preceding command that said to only use fire from a specific location. And, yet their presumption was regarded as a major offense to the Lord's holiness, openly disrespecting Him, which required their lives. Can we not learn from their example of presumption? Should we not also avoid adding to the Lord's command? Should we not adhere to the pattern He has delivered to us, lest the same fate befall us eventually? Should we expect the Lord to approve of us, if we worship Him in way “which He had not commanded”?
Occasionally, some will observe that there was a very specific command that Nadab and Abihu violated, which warranted their capital punishment:
“Aaron shall burn on it sweet incense every morning; when he tends the lamps, he shall burn incense on it.;And when Aaron lights the lamps at twilight, he shall burn incense on it, a perpetual incense before the LORD throughout your generations. You shall not offer strange incense on it, or a burnt offering, or a grain offering; nor shall you pour a drink offering on it. And Aaron shall make atonement upon its horns once a year with the blood of the sin offering of atonement; once a year he shall make atonement upon it throughout your generations. It is most holy to the LORD.” ... And the LORD said to Moses: “Take sweet spices, stacte and onycha and galbanum, and pure frankincense with these sweet spices; there shall be equal amounts of each. You shall make of these an incense, a compound according to the art of the perfumer, salted, pure, and holy. And you shall beat some of it very fine, and put some of it before the Testimony in the tabernacle of meeting where I will meet with you. It shall be most holy to you. But as for the incense which you shall make, you shall not make any for yourselves, according to its composition. It shall be to you holy for the LORD. Whoever makes any like it, to smell it, he shall be cut off from his people.” (Exodus 30:7-10, 34-38)
Previously, the Lord had indeed commanded the priests to compound a very specific recipe of incense to be used on the altar of incense. They were specifically told not to use any “profane” or “strange” (Heb., zuwr, same as Leviticus 10:1) incense on this holy altar. Furthermore, even compounding this holy incense for personal use warranted a person being “cut off from his people”, so it is not surprising that the Lord might have taken the life of one, who dared to test Him publicly by violating this specific command in front of all the congregation of Israelites.
This objection to respecting God's silence logically rests on this very specific prohibition found in Exodus 30:7-10, 34-38. However, this prohibition is for “profane incense” - not “profane fire”! Now, it is admittedly conceivable that Moses may have used “fire” as a figure of speech in Leviticus 10:1-3 for “incense”, as found in Exodus 30:7-10, 34-38. However, Leviticus 10:1 makes it very clear that Moses was not loosely using “fire” to represent “incense” or some combination of both, because he specifically refers to both incense and fire as individual components in their censers offered before the Lord (Leviticus 10:1). Therefore, there is no loose usage of figurative language that would permit application of Exodus 30:7-10, 34-38 to the events of Leviticus 10:1-3. Consequently, the example of Nadab and Abihu still stands as a lesson today for all who would disrespect the Lord's silence and his holiness!
Others have indicated that the real problem was that Nadab and Abihu were intoxicated. It is true that in the following verses, the Lord does indeed prohibit the priests from being drunk (Leviticus 10:8-11). However, there is no clear connection in verses 8-10 with the preceding verses 1-7 of the same chapter, except the theme of holiness to the Lord. Moreover, this theme of holiness is continued in verse 12, which begins direction for eating grain offerings, which were presented to the Lord by fire. Therefore, using the same reasoning, should we not also assume their eating of grain offerings was the real offense to the Lord?
In truth, we need not look further than the passage’s own context, because our verse clearly shows the Lord's concern. They offered “profane fire, which He had not commanded them”! Furthermore, every time Nadab and Abihu are ever mentioned again in the Scriptures, they are always connected with their death for offering “profane fire” to the Lord:
And these are the names of the sons of Aaron: Nadab, the firstborn, and Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar. These are the names of the sons of Aaron, the anointed priests, whom he consecrated to minister as priests. Nadab and Abihu had died before the LORD when they offered profane fire before the LORD in the Wilderness of Sinai; and they had no children. So Eleazar and Ithamar ministered as priests in the presence of Aaron their father. (Numbers 3:2-4)
To Aaron were born Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar. And Nadab and Abihu died when they offered profane fire before the LORD. (Numbers 26:60-61)
Now these are the divisions of the sons of Aaron. The sons of Aaron were Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar. And Nadab and Abihu died before their father, and had no children; therefore Eleazar and Ithamar ministered as priests. (I Chronicles 24:1-2)
The only exception is I Chronicles 6:3, which briefly mentions them as sons of Aaron without any reference to their sin or death.
Others have noted that there is indeed a very specific command for the source of the fire to be used for incense offered to the Lord:
Now the LORD spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they offered profane fire before the LORD, and died; and the LORD said to Moses: “Tell Aaron your brother not to come at just any time into the Holy Place inside the veil, before the mercy seat which is on the ark, lest he die; for I will appear in the cloud above the mercy seat. ... Then he shall take a censer full of burning coals of fire from the altar before the LORD, with his hands full of sweet incense beaten fine, and bring it inside the veil. And he shall put the incense on the fire before the LORD, that the cloud of incense may cover the mercy seat that is on the Testimony, lest he die. (Leviticus 16:1-13)
The problem with using this verse is that the above command was delivered to Aaron after his sons, Nadab and Abihu, sinned and died!
In reviewing the preceding context of Leviticus 9, it seems that the entire effort of Nadab and Abihu to make an offering at that time was wholly presumptious. In the preceding chapter of Leviticus 9, Moses, Aaron, and Aaron’s sons are directed to prepare for the Lord’s appearing at the then new “tabernacle of meeting” (Leviticus 9:1-6). This preparation involved the offering of several sacrifices for atonement and peace (Leviticus 9:2-21). Seven times in this chapter, the people are specifically commanded by the Lord or the pattern of the Lord's command is emphasized with phrases, like “as the Lord commanded” or “in the proscribed manner” (Leviticus 9:2, 5, 6, 7, 10, 16, 21). As a result, we read next:
Then Aaron lifted his hand toward the people, blessed them, and came down from offering the sin offering, the burnt offering, and peace offerings. And Moses and Aaron went into the tabernacle of meeting, and came out and blessed the people. Then the glory of the LORD appeared to all the people, and fire came out from before the LORD and consumed the burnt offering and the fat on the altar. When all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces. (Leviticus 9:22-24)
It is at this point that Nadab and Abihu grab their censers and offer their “strange fire before the Lord”. The Lord had clearly dictated how the previous sacrifices were to be performed and presented, but He had not yet explained exactly how this incense of atonement was to be burned and offered “before the Lord”. It is only after their death that the Lord details the procedure for its offering and the source of the incense’s fire. Therefore, it seems that their entire effort was presumptive, completely disregarding God's silence, because they engaged in an offering that had not yet even been prescribed, much less regulated. Therefore, it is not surprising that they would trespass, since they had long crossed over the bounds of revelation at that time. Regardless of their larger motivation, the lesson from Scriptures is still plain and clear. Let us therefore avoid offering to God, except that which He has commanded us.
Jesus of the Tribe of Judah, Serving as a Priest
The epistle to the Hebrews is a tour de force in Bible hermeneutics, repeatedly providing eye-opening demonstrations of careful, powerful Bible interpretation, because so many of its truths are argued from implications provided by Old Testament Scripture. Therefore, the epistle's logic not only divinely sanctions the use of careful reasoning and necessary inference to fully understand God's Word, but it also provides at least one clear demonstration of the rightful respect for God's silence:
Therefore, if perfection were through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need was there that another priest should rise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be called according to the order of Aaron? For the priesthood being changed, of necessity there is also a change of the law. 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. (Hebrews 7:11-14)
Here the writer of Hebrews points to the necessary rejection of the Old Testament’s, Old Law, because Jesus descended through the tribe of Judah - not Levi. Furthermore, only the Levites were authorized to be priests under the Old Law (Numbers 1:50-51; 3:6-10; 16:1-17:13; 18:1-7). Since Jesus was a priest (Hebrews 7:15-28) and from the tribe of Judah, then He necessarily was a priest according to a new law, not the Law of Moses. This logic demonstrates the usefulness, importance, and power of essential conclusions derived from God's Word, but it also demonstrates the power of God's silence.
The writer never appeals to any prohibition against priests coming from the tribe of Judah. Instead he appeals to God's silence! Where is the verse that authorized a descendent of Judah’s tribe to serve as priest? Where is the verse that contains positive approval of priests coming from some other tribe but Levi? Nowhere! It is no where to be found in all the pages of God's Word! Therefore, given the pattern for Levitical priests (Hebrews 7:5, 9, 11) and Jesus’ tribal heritage (Hebrews 7:13-14) and His priestly service (Hebrews 7:11, 15-17), our writer concludes the priestly order was changed, necessitating a change of the authorizing law! Consequently, we must necessarily conclude that Jesus served as a priest according to some other law than the Law of Moses. But, we must also conclude that disrespecting God’s silence is necessarily a clear violation of God's will; otherwise, the Hebrew writer greatly erred in his inspired logic!
The language of Hebrews 7:11-14 is a undeniably clear demonstration that silence cannot inherently permit (“of which tribe Moses spoke nothing concerning priesthood”). However, the diligent Bible student will likely know that Moses did not just positively authorize priests to serve from the tribe of Levi, but he also specifically forbid anyone serving from any other tribe under the penalty of death! In this case, we have more than just God's silence!
“but you shall appoint the Levites over the tabernacle of the Testimony, over all its furnishings, and over all things that belong to it; they shall carry the tabernacle and all its furnishings; they shall attend to it and camp around the tabernacle. And when the tabernacle is to go forward, the Levites shall take it down; and when the tabernacle is to be set up, the Levites shall set it up. The outsider who comes near shall be put to death.” (Numbers 1:50-51)
“Bring the tribe of Levi near, and present them before Aaron the priest, that they may serve him. And they shall attend to his needs and the needs of the whole congregation before the tabernacle of meeting, to do the work of the tabernacle. Also they shall attend to all the furnishings of the tabernacle of meeting, and to the needs of the children of Israel, to do the work of the tabernacle. And you shall give the Levites to Aaron and his sons; they are given entirely to him from among the children of Israel. So you shall appoint Aaron and his sons, and they shall attend to their priesthood; but the outsider who comes near shall be put to death.” (Numbers 3:6-10)
Then the LORD said to Aaron: “You and your sons and your father's house with you shall bear the iniquity related to the sanctuary, and you and your sons with you shall bear the iniquity associated with your priesthood. Also bring with you your brethren of the tribe of Levi, the tribe of your father, that they may be joined with you and serve you while you and your sons are with you before the tabernacle of witness. They shall attend to your needs and all the needs of the tabernacle; but they shall not come near the articles of the sanctuary and the altar, lest they die -- they and you also. ... Behold, I Myself have taken your brethren the Levites from among the children of Israel; they are a gift to you, given by the LORD, to do the work of the tabernacle of meeting. Therefore you and your sons with you shall attend to your priesthood for everything at the altar and behind the veil; and you shall serve. I give your priesthood to you as a gift for service, but the outsider who comes near shall be put to death.” (Numbers 18:1-7)
Beyond these very clear and explicit warnings, we also have the demonstrative case of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, who tried to assume the position of priest and were punished by God by death, as recorded by Moses (Numbers 16:1-17:13). So, absolutely, yes, we have very clear, specific, and fearful prohibitions against anyone serving as priests under the Old Law, except those from the tribe of Levi! In fact, there are multiple, poignant, undeniable passages that clearly teach God's specific will. ... And, yet, for all of these, which passage did the Hebrew write select to make his point? Which specific condemnation did he choose to invoke? What was the most powerful way he could express this prohibition?
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. (Hebrews 7:13-14)
Although specific prohibitions abounded in Scripture and were readily available, the authority that the inspired writer chose to observe was God's silence - the absence of approval! Therefore, should we not also take notice of God's silence and respect its binding power, since that was the missing characteristic that the Hebrew writer emphasized?
Again, someone might object that this is not a case of true silence, because the Lord specifically spoke. He was not silent. He prohibited priests serving from any other tribe than Levi. Consequently, the claim can be made that this case is simply not parallel or useful to cases which do not have specific prohibitions. Since this second objection is essentially a reapproaching or rewording of the original objection, let us reword the same answer: The inspired writer of Hebrews established his case without referencing any of the abundant prohibitions. Therefore, if he could build a binding, necessary, and prohibitive case based on silence - not specific prohibition, then why can we not do the same? Since his conclusion was undeniable, then are we not therefore equipped and required to likewise observe and respect the Lord's silence?
Noah’s Ark of Gopher Wood
A classic proof-text for respecting God's silence in revelation is the case of Noah’s construction of the ark:
And God said to Noah, “The end of all flesh has come before Me, for the earth is filled with violence through them; and behold, I will destroy them with the earth. Make yourself an ark of gopherwood; make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and outside with pitch. And this is how you shall make it: The length of the ark shall be three hundred cubits, its width fifty cubits, and its height thirty cubits. You shall make a window for the ark, and you shall finish it to a cubit from above; and set the door of the ark in its side. You shall make it with lower, second, and third decks. ...” Thus Noah did; according to all that God commanded him, so he did. Then the LORD said to Noah, “Come into the ark, you and all your household, because I have seen that you are righteous before Me in this generation. (Genesis 6:13-7:1)
Frequently, an argument is made from this proof-text in a series of apparently compelling questions, like so:
Please notice the detail of God's specific pattern as delivered to Noah. He was given specific measurements for the height, width, and breadth of the ship, as well as the number of windows and doors. God also specified even the type of wood to be used in the ark, gopherwood! Whatever type of wood that might be, Noah surely understood it. Can you imagine what would have happened if Noah had used a different type of wood? What if he added other types of wood to the construction to bolster and support what God specified. Would that have been acceptable? Surely not! Furthermore, the Scriptures explicitly state that Noah followed God's pattern exactly, so we know that he did not add to the pattern in any way!.
The fallacy of this reasoning, as presented here, is that it fails to justify its assertion that Noah did not add to the pattern, except to note that Noah “did according to all that God commanded him”. However, the passage does not identify whether Noah added to the pattern or not. Any conclusion based on the manner of Noah’s obedience fails, because the Scriptures do not explain how Noah obeyed. One must assume whether Noah strictly followed God’s pattern or took liberties in adding to the pattern. Therefore, one must assume the answer to the question to be proven to make any use of this proof-text, or one must justify his conclusion by establishing it from other passages, which defeats the usefulness of this passage as a proof-text.
So, if the case of Noah is not useful to prove or establish the power of God’s silence to prohibit, then why even mention it here? One, the text should be properly understood to prevent future misuse. Two, some of those who denounce even the existence of a pattern for the New Testament church admit that Noah was not free to add to God’s pattern or take away from it, primarily because of its specificity. However, when the Lord provides specific instruction in the New Testament, such as to sing, they somehow cannot see a pattern. Consistently adhering to the reasoning that they use to prohibit Noah’s usage of any other type of wood would likewise eliminate our usage of any other instrument beside our voice (Ephesians 5:18-19; Colossians 3:16-17). Noah was not forbidden from using any other wood beside gopherwood. He was not threatened with death for using any other wood. And, yet all would agree that Noah had to use gopherwood - no other wood was allowed, because the Lord simply specified gopherwood. He did not have to specifically exclude all other alternatives. Using the same reasoning, one would have to denounce mechanical instruments in worship, since the Lord specified the voice! “Oh, consistency! Thou art a jewel!”
An Unconvincing or Telling Illustration?
Frequently, when teaching, listening, researching, or discussing this question, two different illustrations are offered. Each is an appeal to consistency and represents an argument from the lesser to the greater, like so:
Imagine a father stepped into a room of his house including his son and some of his friends. Imagine that the father gives his son some money and the keys to the family car and tells his son to go buy some bread from the grocery store. How would that father react, when his son came home with the requested bread and unrequested candy, cokes, and trinkets? Would he approve his son or chastise him?
Or, imagine that your boss, a state’s governor, or maybe even the President told you to fulfill a specific mission. How would they react if you performed their requested work, but you also used their resources to fulfill your own interests too? Would you excuse yourself to them on the grounds of their failure to specifically prohibit your unauthorized expenses?
Both illustrations appeal to lesser authority figures, whether they be our parents, bosses, governors, or even the President. If we know to respect their authority and their silence, then how much more should we respect the greater authority of our far greater God?! This is a valid form of reasoning and worthwhile line of questioning, which is generally supported by this example in Malachi:
“A son honors his father, And a servant his master. If then I am the Father, Where is My honor? And if I am a Master, Where is My reverence? Says the LORD of hosts To you priests who despise My name. Yet you say, ‘In what way have we despised Your name?’ You offer defiled food on My altar. But say, ‘In what way have we defiled You?’ By saying, ‘The table of the LORD is contemptible.’ And when you offer the blind as a sacrifice, Is it not evil? And when you offer the lame and sick, Is it not evil? Offer it then to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you favorably?” Says the LORD of hosts. ... “You also say, ‘Oh, what a weariness!’ And you sneer at it,” Says the LORD of hosts. “And you bring the stolen, the lame, and the sick; Thus you bring an offering! Should I accept this from your hand?” Says the LORD. “But cursed be the deceiver Who has in his flock a male, And takes a vow, But sacrifices to the Lord what is blemished-- For I am a great King,” Says the LORD of hosts, “And My name is to be feared among the nations.” (Malachi 1:6-14)
The appeal of the two above illustrations of human origin are in many ways parallel to the above illustration of divine origin, and in previous days they were compelling as was this illustration. However, there is a significant weakness in these illustrations that must be explained. The conclusion is supposed to be self-evident and beyond all dispute! These illustrations do not prove, rather they are a call to consciousness to a truth that is already known and elsewhere upheld. They are useful to corroborate the point, to show that respect for silence is not unknown to us. Even from our human relations, we should know that silence does not permit. In days gone by, this was a convincing illustration, because people understood, respected, and obeyed authority in general.
Sadly, in this day and age, when independence, self-empowerment, free-thought, creativity, and liberty are universally cherished beyond all restraint, discipline, and authority, these illustrations mean almost nothing. Even the word, authority, must be explained in this context, because it is so poorly understood and disrespected, just as a word! It has moved from the common vernacular to jargon. Children do not think twice about buying the unauthorized additions, because they presume their father would not mind. Employees stretch their bosses' provision, citizens steal from the government, and the President is a sneer. The liberal mind has become the standard in almost all relationships. Although this is telling in and of itself, these illustrations no longer hold the power to generally touch and convince the common consciousness.
Because a few have almost exclusively relied on these illustrations and specialized jargon to make their case, the charge has been made that any respect for silence is the fruit of tired human tradition, unique to a single denomination or movement. In fact, when one turns first to these illustrations instead of Scripture, in the minds of many, it only weakens the apparent case. Consequently, if your case is ultimately built on Scripture, then please lead with Scripture, build with Scripture upon Scripture, and finish with Scripture (II Timothy 3:16-17; 4:1-5)! If you need an illustration, then as a general rule, please use the Bible, which is full of illustrations (Romans 15:4; I Corinthians 10:6, 11-12). And, if you want to appeal to what is self-evident, as did the Holy Spirit (I Corinthians 15:27; Hebrews 7:7), please first know your audience and make sure your conclusion is beyond all dispute with them. Please remember, illustrations do not prove. They only explain or corroborate. These illustrations have a good and rightful place, but they should not be the primary point in any discussion today, because they ultimately lack the power to prove, and because too many people can no longer relate to them.
The truth is that years of disrespecting authority and silence has grown from seed into seed. Parents tolerate disrespectful and disobedient children, because liberality has taken control over all relationships, even those where it most obviously does not belong and cannot function. A generation has arisen that does not understand or respect any authority (Proverbs 30:11-17; Revelation 9:1-11). People are willing to presume upon God, because presumption upon every other authority figure is tolerated. Therefore, we must not fail to teach and show that God has revealed the danger of presuming upon Him, restoring a proper fear of God. But, even if every parent to every king should weaken, fail, and lose all demand for respect and authority, never deceive yourself into “willfully forgetting” (II Peter 3:3-7) that our God is a “great King”, Who demands and expects His name to be feared. Even though He is our loving heavenly Father, He still expects “His honor” (Malachi 1:6-14)! We may drift, but He does not (II Timothy 2:13; Hebrews 2:1-3)!
Conclusion and Closing Application
Scriptures abound with examples of those approved by “handling accurately the word of truth” and those condemned by devising their own means, operating disrespectfully in the realm of the Lord’s silence. The following table summarizes our references and observations:
|David Proposes to Build God a House||II Samuel 7:1-7;
I Chronicles 17:1-6
|Tent, Tabernacle||God’s House of Worship||Temple of Cedar||Corrected by God|
|Divorce Forbidden from Creation||Matthew 19:3-8;
I Corinthians 6:16
|1 Man + 1 Woman||Marriage||1 Man + 1 Woman and later, More Women||Condemned in NT|
|Promise Made to Abraham’s Seed, Singular||Galatians 3:15-17;
|Seed, Singular||Number of Offspring||Seeds, Plural||Error|
|House of Prayer and Merchandise||Mark 11:15-17;
|House of Prayer||Temple’s Purpose||House of Prayer
|Houses to Eat and Drink In||I Corinthians 11:20-27||Bread and Fruit of Vine||Elements of Lord’s Supper||Common Supper||Condemnation|
|Strange Fire of Nadab and Abihu||Leviticus 10:1-3; 16:1-13;|
Exodus 30:7-10, 34-38
|Fire from the Altar before the Lord||Source of Fire||“Strange Fire”, “Commanded Not”||Death|
|Jesus, of the tribe of Judah, Serving as a Priest||Hebrews 7:11-14||Priest from Levi||Tribe of Priest||Judah||Violation and Change of Law|
|Noah’s Ark of Gopher Wood||Genesis 6:14-16||Gopher Wood||Ark’s Wood||Gopher and Pine||Unknown for Sure, But Condemned by All|
|New Testament Praise||Ephesians 5:19;
|Sing||Music||Sing and Play||???|
In each of these above cases, God spoke, defining a promise, purpose, or command. In each of these cases (except Noah), man took liberty and added permission or authority to the command. In each of these cases man went, or potentially “went beyond what is written” (I Corinthians 4:6). In none of these cases were the additions specifically prohibited, mutually exclusive, or physically incompatible with God’s delivered pattern. Each addition was purely optional, and according to man’s wisdom, each addition was purely complimentary to God’s pattern. And yet, in each case, man was criticized, condemned or even executed for his presumptive addition.
What is the conclusion then, except that which has been derived repeatedly throughout this article? Every command, example, and implication from God contains both specific and and generic elements. Whatever God specifies, He expects us to respect and obey. The above cases repeatedly demonstrate this point. He will not specify everything that we should not do. He is frequently “silent” concerning the alternatives. But, He expects us to simply follow whatever pattern He has revealed. Whenever we add to the Lord’s directive, even if it is compatible with the the Lord’s command such that we can do both, we will not please our God. God is never totally silent. Whatever He specifies not only authorizes the specifics, but it also prohibits the alternatives.
Finally, please consider the question of instrumental music in application to the above examples. Is instrumental music authorized by Scripture? The Lord commands us to sing:
And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, (Ephesians 5:18-20)
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. 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. (Colossians 3:16-17)
Many approve and participate in praise to God with the mechanical instrument based on the premise that it is nowhere prohibited. “Where is the command that says it is wrong to use instrumental music?”, they ask. Based on the above examples, you should be able to answer this question. But, in conclusion, please ask yourself, “In the category of music, how is adding the mechanical instrument to God’s command to sing any different than ...?”
- Adding a house of cedar to God’s command to use a tabernacle?
- Adding a new wife after leaving the old wife?
- Adding more seeds to the promise to bless by one seed?
- Adding business to the temple’s purpose of prayer?
- Adding common food to the elements of the Lord’s Supper?
- Adding other sources of fire for incense beyond the altar of the Lord?
- Adding other tribes for priests beyond Levi?
- Adding pine, oak, or any other wood to the command to use gopher wood?
- Adding mechanical instruments to the command to sing?
Actually, adding the mechanical instrument is not any different than any of the above examples, is it? As you think on this one application, please also consider these common practices for further potential application:
- Church Fellowship Halls
- Church Sponsored Recreational and Social Events
- Spiritual Dance in Worship
- Church Sponsored Colleges or Schools
- Church-wide Synods, Conferences, Seminaries, and Other Ruling Governance
What is the Bible pattern for the organization, worship, and work of the church? How well do the churches we attend adhere to the pattern? Is their only bound the verse of specific prohibition? Do they operate as though silence permits? Or, do they respect God’s pattern and His silence as revealed in Scripture? “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”
Do not add to His words, Lest He rebuke you, and you be found a liar. (Proverbs 30:6)
Next in this series, let us consider the differences between generic and specific Bible authority.
Suggested Further Reading
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