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Did Jesus Disregard God’s Silence?


The goal of this article is to answer a specific attack against a basic respect for the silence of God in Scripture. The term, “God’s silence”, refers to a lack of explicit revelation on a particular alternative to a given directive. For example, the Lord does not explicitly address instrumental music in worship in the New Testament, but He does command us to sing. Should we interpret this silence as God’s approval or disapproval for mechanical instruments? The Bible provides its own best commentary and guide through the examples of Jesus, His apostles, and the prophets. It is self-evident that we should handle God’s Word with the same respect that they demonstrated. One such example, which is the focal point of this article, focuses on Jesus’ drinking grape juice during His last observance of Passover, as recorded in the following two gospel accounts:

Now on the first day of the Feast of the Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying to Him, "Where do You want us to prepare for You to eat the Passover?" And He said, "Go into the city to a certain man, and say to him,`The Teacher says, "My time is at hand; I will keep the Passover at your house with My disciples."'" So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them; and they prepared the Passover. When evening had come, He sat down with the twelve. Now as they were eating, He said, "Assuredly, I say to you, one of you will betray Me." And they were exceedingly sorrowful, and each of them began to say to Him, "Lord, is it I?" He answered and said, "He who dipped his hand with Me in the dish will betray Me. "The Son of Man indeed goes just as it is written of Him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born." Then Judas, who was betraying Him, answered and said, "Rabbi, is it I?" He said to him, "You have said it." And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, "Take, eat; this is My body." Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you. "For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. "But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father's kingdom." And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. (Matthew 26:17-30 NKJ)

So they went and found it just as He had said to them, and they prepared the Passover. When the hour had come, He sat down, and the twelve apostles with Him. Then He said to them, "With fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; "for I say to you, I will no longer eat of it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God." Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, "Take this and divide it among yourselves; "for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes." And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, "This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me." Likewise He also took the cup after supper , saying, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you. (Luke 22:13-20 NKJ)

Curiously, the original regulations concerning the Passover feast did not mention anything concerning drink. But, yet Jesus used a drink (referenced here as a "cup" by metonymy, which we know because a cup cannot be usefully "divided" itself to distribute drink as in Luke 22:17). Where is the authority for such a drink? It was not specifically authorized in the original giving of the law, so should it not be condemned? Did Jesus add to God’s Word? Did Jesus disregard God’s silence, or did God never intend for us to interpret His silence as prohibition? Can you see the challenges this text presents to those who believe that silence prohibits?

Inadequate Answers

Feel free to contact me and disagree, but it seems there are some common answers that are insufficient in answering the underlying challenge. Some might wonder if Jesus really even drank anything during the Passover. Truthfully, all references to drink in the accounts are limited to the institution of the Lord’s Supper, which occurred after the Passover supper was concluded (Luke 22:20). Therefore, we could honestly contend that Jesus may have not drank anything in observing the Passover, demand that the challenger prove Jesus’ drank during the observance of the Passover (since the burden of proof would lay upon him to sustain the grounds of his charge), and thereby narrowly dodge the thrust of the challenge. Yes, Jesus distributed some drink early in the Passover supper, per Luke's account (Luke 22:17-18); however, there is no evidence that requires one to accept they necessarily drank of it. Maybe He was just distributing the drink early, which was to be consumed after the Passover was completed? Although this is possible, this seems entirely unlikely and far-fetched. Certainly, it will persuade no one, unless he is already persuaded.

Another proposal focuses on Jesus being the Lawgiver, which is coupled with the assertion that the Lawgiver can do whatever He wants, and that He is under no obligation to observe the Law. Although it is technically true that Jesus is the Lawgiver and therefore transcends it (John 1:17; James 4:11-12; Matthew 12:8), He also voluntarily came in a human form and subjected Himself to the Law (Philippians 2:6-8; Galatians 4:4). Furthermore, He was tempted to violate the law and having lived it perfectly, He was able to serve as sacrificial Lamb "without spot or blemish" (Matthew 4:6-10; I Peter 1:18-19; 2:22-25; Hebrews 4:14-15). Finally, He also lived as an example for us (I Peter 2:21; Matthew 16:24; Philippians 2:5). If Jesus ever violated the Law, He instantly ceased to serve as either our perfect example or our perfect sacrifice. Therefore, this is not a viable answer.

Is there a better explanation? Let us first research the nature of the original command for the Passover before we panic prematurely. :)

The Passover Laws and Regulations

The Passover feast was instituted before the tenth and final plague brought upon Egypt during the ancient Israelite slavery. It was observed during the night of the last plague, when an angel of the Lord moved through the land taking the life of every firstborn, whether noble or slave, adult or child, man or beast. The blood from a sacrificial lamb was placed on the doorposts and lintel of each Israelite dwelling according to the Lord’s command, so the angel would "pass over" the house, sparing the firstborn. This last plague caused the Pharoah of Egypt to free the Israelites in haste. The first Passover observance was designed to focus attention on the sacrificial lamb and their rushed departure.

Now the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying, "This month shall be your beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year to you. Speak to all the congregation of Israel, saying: 'On the tenth day of this month every man shall take for himself a lamb, according to the house of his father, a lamb for a household. And if the household is too small for the lamb, let him and his neighbor next to his house take it according to the number of the persons; according to each man's need you shall make your count for the lamb. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats. Now you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of the same month. Then the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it at twilight. And they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and on the lintel of the houses where they eat it. Then they shall eat the flesh on that night; roasted in fire, with unleavened bread and with bitter herbs they shall eat it. Do not eat it raw, nor boiled at all with water, but roasted in fire -- its head with its legs and its entrails. You shall let none of it remain until morning, and what remains of it until morning you shall burn with fire. And thus you shall eat it: with a belt on your waist, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. So you shall eat it in haste. It is the LORD'S Passover. For I will pass through the land of Egypt on that night, and will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment: I am the LORD. Now the blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you; and the plague shall not be on you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt. So this day shall be to you a memorial; and you shall keep it as a feast to the LORD throughout your generations. You shall keep it as a feast by an everlasting ordinance. Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread. On the first day you shall remove leaven from your houses. For whoever eats leavened bread from the first day until the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel. On the first day there shall be a holy convocation, and on the seventh day there shall be a holy convocation for you. No manner of work shall be done on them; but that which everyone must eat -- that only may be prepared by you. So you shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread, for on this same day I will have brought your armies out of the land of Egypt. Therefore you shall observe this day throughout your generations as an everlasting ordinance. In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at evening, you shall eat unleavened bread, until the twenty-first day of the month at evening. For seven days no leaven shall be found in your houses, since whoever eats what is leavened, that same person shall be cut off from the congregation of Israel, whether he is a stranger or a native of the land. You shall eat nothing leavened; in all your dwellings you shall eat unleavened bread.'" (Exodus 12:1-20, see also verses 21-51 NKJ)

This first observance was unique, because the Israelites left that same night, and so they had to be prepared to depart while they ate. In addition to commanding what should be performed that first Passover night, the Lord also regulated the ongoing observance of the Passover feast, which would serve as a reminder of their salvation and and emancipation. However, they were not required to observe every aspect of the original Passover observance. Furthermore, the feast of the first night actually began a week long feast, the Feast of Unleavened Bread. The Lord would expound upon this regulation as part of the deliverance of the law:

And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, "Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: 'The feasts of the LORD, which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations, these are My feasts. Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation. You shall do no work on it; it is the Sabbath of the LORD in all your dwellings. These are the feasts of the LORD, holy convocations which you shall proclaim at their appointed times. On the fourteenth day of the first month at twilight is the LORD'S Passover. And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the Feast of Unleavened Bread to the LORD; seven days you must eat unleavened bread. On the first day you shall have a holy convocation; you shall do no customary work on it. But you shall offer an offering made by fire to the LORD for seven days. The seventh day shall be a holy convocation; you shall do no customary work on it.'" (Leviticus 23:1-8 NKJ)

"'On the fourteenth day of the first month is the Passover of the LORD. And on the fifteenth day of this month is the feast; unleavened bread shall be eaten for seven days. On the first day you shall have a holy convocation. You shall do no customary work. And you shall present an offering made by fire as a burnt offering to the LORD: two young bulls, one ram, and seven lambs in their first year. Be sure they are without blemish. Their grain offering shall be of fine flour mixed with oil: three-tenths of an ephah you shall offer for a bull, and two-tenths for a ram; you shall offer one-tenth of an ephah for each of the seven lambs; also one goat as a sin offering, to make atonement for you. You shall offer these besides the burnt offering of the morning, which is for a regular burnt offering. In this manner you shall offer the food of the offering made by fire daily for seven days, as a sweet aroma to the LORD; it shall be offered besides the regular burnt offering and its drink offering. And on the seventh day you shall have a holy convocation. You shall do no customary work.'" (Numbers 28:16-25 NKJ)

"Observe the month of Abib, and keep the Passover to the LORD your God, for in the month of Abib the LORD your God brought you out of Egypt by night. Therefore you shall sacrifice the Passover to the LORD your God, from the flock and the herd, in the place where the LORD chooses to put His name. You shall eat no leavened bread with it; seven days you shall eat unleavened bread with it, that is, the bread of affliction (for you came out of the land of Egypt in haste), that you may remember the day in which you came out of the land of Egypt all the days of your life. And no leaven shall be seen among you in all your territory for seven days, nor shall any of the meat which you sacrifice the first day at twilight remain overnight until morning. You may not sacrifice the Passover within any of your gates which the LORD your God gives you; but at the place where the LORD your God chooses to make His name abide, there you shall sacrifice the Passover at twilight, at the going down of the sun, at the time you came out of Egypt. And you shall roast and eat it in the place which the LORD your God chooses, and in the morning you shall turn and go to your tents. Six days you shall eat unleavened bread, and on the seventh day there shall be a sacred assembly to the LORD your God. You shall do no work on it." (Deuteronomy 16:1-8 NKJ)

Admittedly, there is no instruction provided regarding drink of any kind as it pertains to the feast, including the seven days of feast. Does this silence constitute a prohibition of all drinks for these 7 days? Or, does this represent a distorted understanding of God’s silence?

Generic Authority for Drink

The following 4 approaches answer the question in different ways, but each of which independently make the same point: Drink was generically authorized for all Jewish feasts, and fruit of the vine was but one expedient. Jesus did not "add" anything to the Passover, and so there is no conflict with a proper respect for God’s silence. Certainly, this case is not sufficiently parallel to the question of instrumental music to permit it.

First, at its institution the Passover was defined as a " feast to the Lord throughout your generations" (Hebrew: chag), and it is generally referred to as such, as a feast (Exodus 12:11, 14; 34:25; Deuteronomy 16:16; Ezekiel 45:21). The word for "feast" is a very generic word, which included the practice of drinking (Genesis 26:30; I Samuel 25:36-37; II Kings 6:22-23; Esther 1:5-8; Job 1:4; Jeremiah 16:8; Daniel 5:1). Therefore, when the Lord designated the Passover as a "feast", especially one centered around a meal, he generically authorized drink and all of the things expedient in conducting the meal: bowls, plates, forks, tables, etc.

Second, the Lord had foretold that He would "put His name for His dwelling place ... where the Lord your God chooses" (Deuteronomy 12:1, 5). Once they crossed over into the Land (Deuteronomy 12:8-10), they were to seek that place and take all of their offerings, tithes, and sacrifices there (Deuteronomy 12:5-6, 14, 26-27). It was there they were to "eat before the Lord your God" and "rejoice ... in which the Lord your God has blessed you" (Deuteronomy 12:7, 18; 14:22-23, 26; 15:19-20; Exodus 24:1, 9-11; I Chronicles 29:20-22). They were not permitted to offer sacrifices elsewhere (Deuteronomy 12:8, 13, 17). This eating specifically included "eating ... new wine ... wine or similar drink" (Deuteronomy 12:17; 14:23-26). Therefore, "eating before the Lord" the portion associated with any offering or sacrifice, which would include feasts, would include drinking "new wine", or fruit of the vine. Therefore, "eating" would generically authorize drinking.

Similar language about offering and eating the Passover "in the place where the Lord chooses to put His name", is also found elsewhere corroborating the application (Deuteronomy 16:1-2, 5-6). In fact, all 3 "feasts" are mentioned as occasions where the males were required to "appear before the Lord", and they were never to appear "empty-handed", but they were to bring free-will offerings (Deuteronomy 16:16-17), further strengthening the application of Deuteronomy 12 and 14 to the Passover in Deuteronomy 16, which is this: Drink was generally authorized by specific mention in relation to all sacrifices and feasts in the place where the Lord chose for His name to reside. Therefore, Jesus’ drinking fruit of the vine during the Passover observance was generically authorized by the command to "eat", and the drink therefore serves as nothing more than an aid in fulfilling the command.

Third, the Passover feast was always "eaten" (Exodus 12:8-11; Numbers 9:11; II Chronicles 30:18; Ezra 6:19-22). It was never "drunken" or "eaten and drunken". In fact, even on the night when the Lord instituted the Lord’s Supper, the Passover was never "drunk", only "eaten" (Matthew 26:17, 21, 26; Mark 14:12, 14, 18, 22; Luke 22:8, 11, 15-16). This further suggests that "eating" would have also included drinking, unless we are to conclude that the Israelites never drank anything in any of their feasts ever. Furthermore, if somehow we were to contrarily prove that drinking was not included in the command to eat, then we could alternatively conclude that drink was inconsequential and a matter of complete indifference to the Lord. It had no more significance than the color of their belt or number of bristles in the hyssop.

Fourth, please consider this passage:

"Observe the month of Abib, and keep the Passover to the LORD your God, for in the month of Abib the LORD your God brought you out of Egypt by night. Therefore you shall sacrifice the Passover to the LORD your God, from the flock and the herd, in the place where the LORD chooses to put His name. You shall eat no leavened bread with it; seven days you shall eat unleavened bread with it, that is, the bread of affliction (for you came out of the land of Egypt in haste), that you may remember the day in which you came out of the land of Egypt all the days of your life. And no leaven shall be seen among you in all your territory for seven days, nor shall any of the meat which you sacrifice the first day at twilight remain overnight until morning. (Deuteronomy 16:1-4 NKJ)

Notice they were to sacrifice the Passover and eat no leavened bread with it. What was the "it"? Is it the roasted Passover lamb? No, because it was not permitted to remain beyond the morning of the first day, and yet they were to eat unleavened bread with it for 7 days! In the context, the Passover itself is the only possible antecedent or substantiative. Therefore, the Passover feast is something eaten that goes beyond and is larger than both the Passover lamb (meat) and unleavened bread! It is a feast - not just the roasted lamb and unleavened bread. Therefore, the generic command to feast has some specific elements required (roasted Passover lamb, unleavened bread, and bitter herbs), and some specific elements are prohibited (leavened anything, including bread), but the generic command to feast retains its generic authority and wide range of expedients on all other matters, for example, drinking fresh fruit of the vine. The specifics provided, such as unleavened bread and roasted unblemished lamb, only limited the otherwise broad and general command to eat a feast.

Finally, here are a few other supporting thoughts, as well as some just interesting, curious, or related facts, many of which are provided just for easy reference and unforseen, potential usefulness:

So, in conclusion, the generic commands for the Passover to be "eaten" and to be observed as a "feast", generically authorized almost any drink, provided it was unleavened. Therefore, the fruit of the vine was in no way an addition, rather it was an expedient or aid, much like song books or pitch pipes aid singing but do not interfere with command to sing. Consequently, Jesus’ usage of drink in the Passover is not parallel to the case of instrumental music, because there is no generic command to make music. In regards to New Testament music, the Lord specified vocal music, but there is no specification regarding drink of any sort for the Passover. Furthermore, the Passover command always pertains to the eating - not the drinking. In contrast, we find commands regarding the specific type of music - singing (Ephesians 5:19-20; Colossians 3:16-17). So, even if we could not explain Jesus’ usage of drink in the Passover, we still could not make a point, because the commands and situations are just not parallel.

Answering Retorts

Some of the attacks, which use Jesus’ example on that historic Passover night to justify instrumental music, emphasize an elaborate, traditiional, and complex ritual of the Jews involving many cups, which they are conviced Jesus used. Although we have shown that Jesus could have used as many cups as He wanted, it may be beneficial to expose the presumptuous usage of Scripture by this attack's advocates. As we noted earlier, the only sure references to "the cup" on Passover night are when Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper "after supper", when the Passover was over (Luke 22:20). Only Luke may have a reference to Jesus using a cup during the Passover observance itself (Luke 22:14-17), but Jesus only speaks of the cup in regard to the Lord’s Supper, and He only gives thanks for it, as was His custom whenever eating or drinking anything (Matthew 15:36; John 21:13; I Timothy 4:3-5). Furthermore, it's unclear if that cup was even drunk during the Passover observance (Luke 22:18). I presume it was, but my conclusion is just that - presumption! There is certainly no Scriptural reference to Jesus using 4 or 5 cups with elaborate dedications or spiritual lessons, not like Al Maxey describes in lengthy detail. Furthermore, notice what "passage" he quotes to prove that Jesus used the cup in the elaborate, ornate, and complex tradition he described:

"From the NT record it seems clear that Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper by associating it with the third cup of wine. It was known as the 'cup of redemption,' linked in rabbinic tradition to the third of the fourfold promise of redemption in Exodus 6:6f, 'I will redeem you.' Jesus associated this cup of red wine with His atoning death" (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, volume 3, page 678). Yes, the cup utilized by Jesus in His last Passover celebration, a cup given special new spiritual significance to those under the soon to be established New Covenant, was a human innovation and addition to God’s directives. As such it was "unauthorized." Thus, each year as Jesus and His family, and later as Jesus and His disciples, celebrated the Passover, they made use of the four cups of wine (as they were mandatory), even though the OT Scriptures were completely SILENT with regard to drinking from cups of wine.

There is Maxey's proof for the 4 to 5 cups - the International Standard Bible Encylopedia! For people who operate solely from God’s Word, the ISBE is certainly no kind of proof for such a critical point. Maxey does not even go to the Bible to prove that Jesus used a cup in the Passover, much less in the elaborate form he describes, because he cannot. But, yet Maxey writes with certainty that Jesus, His family, and His disciples used the four cups of wine, speculating that they would have certainly followed the tradition of the rabbis! For someone who decries presumption and prejudicial interpretation, Maxey sure does a lot of both. Christians are to neither speculate nor engage in divisive arguments built upon such speculations (I Timothy 1:3-7; 4:7; 6:20-21; II Timothy 2:15-16; Colossians 2:18-19), but that is the foundation of one of Maxey's chief points - speculation. Just because other Jews had a tradition of doing something, we should not presume Jesus did the same, primarily because we know that He often did not follow the superfluous traditions of the rabbis (Matthew 15:1-2).

To further expose this grossly inconsistent rationalization, please consider Maxey's treatment of the only possible rebuttal known to him at the time of the writing below:

Some suggested that Jesus would have refused, on principle, to employ this "unauthorized addition" to the Passover, and thus He never actually utilized the four cups of wine. This is a ridiculous assertion that seemingly forgets His use of these cups in the establishment of the Lord’s Supper. It also fails to reconcile how such yearly refusal for decades had gone unnoticed by His fellow Jews, who were intent upon finding any small deviation from the Rabbinic Tradition in His every action. Had Jesus consistently refused to use the four cups of wine, it would have come to the attention of His critics. However, there is not a single word of criticism against Jesus for such an omission of what was then a mandatory aspect of the Passover meal. There is thus no doubt that Jesus had observed the Passover repeatedly "otherwise than prescribed." If the so-called "Law of Silence" is valid, then Jesus violated it. If violation of this so-called "law" constitutes sin, then Jesus sinned.

Did Maxey just use silence to 100% confidently prohibit approval of an assertion? How can we seriously accept a doctrine that is within itself inconsistent, not to even mention the Bible?

A Summary

Maurice Barnett succinctly addresses this same issue in his book, By What Authority?, which is provided here as an additional explanation and a valuable summary:

THE PASSOVER: Hougey, op.cit., page 157, makes reference to the Passover as found in the Old Testament. He makes no direct argument, but rather an implication. Others have stated the argument directly that the Old Testament does not specifiy a drink element for the Passover. The Old Testament specifies unleavened bread, meat and bitter herbs, etc., but no drink. But, the drink, fruit of the vine, was present at the Passover of Jesus and the disciples, Matthew 26. Therefore, a drink element could be added to the original instructions for the Passover. The conclusion from that is that we can do thte same with any instruction from God.

Answer: What is overlooked is that this is called the FEAST of the Passover which is what it was. There were many feasts, even one that lasted for seven days, with its specific instructions. Can we assume that for a whole week they were to drink nothing? Feasts were attended by food and drink. With the Passover, God specified for the feast what was important to the symbolism He wanted to portray. Whatever they drank was not important to that and so remained unspecified. The drink was a matter of choice under the instruction that it was to be a feast. Also, food and drink offerings were always connected with the feasts under the law, including the Passover, Numbers 15:1-3.

The drink on this last Passover was important for the institution of our communion and awas specified as fruit of the vine; it was all planned that way by the Lord. Note that Luke 22:20 and I Corinthians 11:25 take special notice that it was after the Passover supper that Jesus "took the cup." (By What Authority?, Maurice Barnett, p.73-74.)


Despite the charge that Jesus disregarded the silence of Scriptures, we can see that Jesus merely used one possible expedient and aid in fufilling the original command to eat the Passover feast. The specifications to eat unleavened bread and roasted lamb would have no prohibitive limitation on drink, which was authorized by the general command to feast. Therefore, Jesus complied with the original command, and He did not disregard God’s silence. Consequently, this attack has no power to protest a healthy respect for God’s silence.

Interpreting God’s silence, the silence of Scriptures is a frequently debated topic that directly manifests one's attitude toward God, especially if the personal convinction cannot be clearly, strongly, and definitively justified by Scripture. When confronted with challenging issues and difficult texts, often one's attitude toward God may impact his early conviction more than God’s Word until he can finally discern God’s Word. Therefore, let us be careful that we examine our hearts closely, be patient with others, and seek to stand firmly upon God’s Word. Some men may have a bitter, scornful, self-righteous axe to grind. However, we must resist such men and cling to God’s Word: "Nevertheless the solid foundation of God stands, having this seal: "The Lord knows those who are His," and, "Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity" (II Timothy 2:19 NKJ).

Unless otherwise noted, all quotations are from the New King James Version, copyright © 1994 by Thomas Nelson Publishers.

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