The Silence of the Scriptures and Why We Sing

by Edward Pratte

In the New Testament, some things are required and some things are prohibited. Everything else falls into the realm of the things which are permitted. As one focuses more closely on the things that are permitted, the silence of the Scriptures soon becomes a major concern. What about the silence of the Scriptures? Is it the case the silence of the Scriptures gives us permission to do whatever we think is best? That is, are we free to do anything which God has not specifically condemned? On the other hand, is the silence of the Scriptures prohibitive?

Which is it? Does the silence of the Scriptures give us permission to act as we think best? Or does the silence of the Scriptures forbid us to act? The answer: the silence of the Scriptures does both. Sometimes it allows us to act in keeping with our best judgment, and sometimes it forbids us to act.

Does this sound confusing? Of course, it does, and, in fact, it can be confusing. Yet, it does not have to be. It takes effort on our part to discern correctly whether the silence of the Scriptures allows us to act or forbids us to act. Those who really and truly desire to walk in the light of God’s Word can come to a biblical understanding with respect to the silence of the Scriptures.

In I Corinthians, the apostle Paul wrote as he was guided by the Holy Spirit. He said, “Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively transferred to myself and Apollos for your sakes, that you may learn in us not to think beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up on behalf of one against the other. (1 Corinthians 4:6). The New American Standard Version translates the latter part of this as follows: “... that in us you may learn not to exceed what is written, so that no one of you will become arrogant in behalf of one against the other." The verb translated “may learn” means to gain knowledge. Paul wanted the Corinthians to have knowledge that they were not to go beyond what had been written, not even to think beyond what the Scriptures say. In dealing with a problem facing the church in Corinth, Paul stated a very important principle: we are not to go beyond what is written. Since we must not go beyond what is written, what about the silence of the Scriptures? Sometimes it forbids us to act, but this is not the case in every situation where the Bible is silent. Sometimes we are permitted to choose to do what we think is best.

The key to making sense of this difficulty is the Rule of Specification. This rule may be stated as follows: When God specifies a particular object or action in a stated or implied classification, then all the unspecified things in that category are thereby excluded. To state the Rule of Specification in a less technical way, we are forbidden to do anything other than what God has specified in those instances where He has spoken. When God stipulates anything, we are to do only the thing stipulated, and we must not do anything else which falls within the designated category.

For example, when God commanded Noah to build the ark, He specified that Noah was to build the ark out of gopher wood (Genesis 6:14). Since God specified the type of wood to be used in building the ark, was Noah permitted to use oak, pine, or walnut? Would Noah have been obedient to what God had specified if he had used some type of wood other than gopher? No, of course not! When God specified gopher wood, then that excluded all other types of wood. This concept is not hard to understand. It was necessary for God to specifically forbid all other types of wood were logically excluded.

Yet again, when the Lord specified that bread and fruit of the vine are the elements to be used in observing the Lord’s Supper (I Corinthians 11:23-26), He excluded the use of steak, fried chicken, mashed potatoes, pinto beans, etc. I am not acquainted with anyone who misunderstands this principle as it relates to the Lord’s Supper.

In addition, in Hebrews 7, the inspired writer used the fact Moses had said nothing about anyone from the tribe of Judah serving as a priest to show that Jesus could not have been a priest under the law of Moses. Hebrews 7:12-14 says, “ 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.” Moses had specified the tribe of Levi to be the tribe from which the priests were to come, and he had said nothing about the priesthood and the tribe of Judah. In this case, the silence of the Scriptures prohibited Jesus from being a priest under the Old Testament law. Silence can be prohibitive.

At other times, the silence of the Scriptures allows us to choose what we think is best. For example, the Bible tells us to go into all the world and preach the Gospel (Mark 16:15). But the Bible does not specify any method of our going. We can go by car, plane, boat, bicycle, or any other means of travel. God allows us to choose the method we think is best. In such cases, the silence of the Scriptures is permissive rather than being prohibitive.

So for those who argue that it's okay to include musical instruments during worship to God, they need to be clear the New Testament worship instructs us to sing! Had it said music that would have included musical Instruments.

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