by Heath Rogers
Bible authority is established through direct statements, commands, approved examples, and necessary inferences. We understand what to do with the stated commands and prohibitions of Scripture, but what are we to do with the things God does not say? We know what to do with God’s voice, but what are we to do with God’s silence?
There are two ways to answer this question. Some allege that whatever is not expressly forbidden is allowed in their religious practice. When asked what authority they have for a practice, they respond, “Where does the Bible say not to?” To such individuals, God’s silence gives consent. Others contend that anything not authorized in Scripture is not permitted. The difference is whether the silence of Scripture is permissive or prohibitive. Should God’s silence be viewed as a green light to proceed or a red light to stop?
God has revealed His mind and will to us in the words of Scripture (I Corinthians 2:9-13). When God’s word is silent on a subject, we don’t have God’s mind or will on the matter. We can only presume to have God’s permission or authority when we proceed into areas where God is silent. It is a dangerous thing to make presumptions about God’s mind and will. God’s thoughts are higher and greater than our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9). Jeremiah observed, “O Lord, I know the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man who walks to direct his own steps” (Jeremiah 10:23). If we are not capable of directing our own steps, what makes us think we can presume to know God’s will?
Nadab and Abihu operated on God’s silence. “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” (Leviticus 10:1-2). They offered incense using fire that God “had not commanded them.” These men presumed they had God’s consent to use any fire they wanted. Fire for the incense offerings was to come from the altar (Leviticus 16:12). God was silent regarding fire from any other source.
The writer of the book of Hebrews understood God’s silence to be prohibitive. He used God’s silence as evidence that the Law of Moses had been taken away. Jesus is our High Priest, but He came from the tribe of Judah. The Law of Moses called for priests to come only from the tribe of Levi. “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 7:12-14). God’s silence does not give us consent.
“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 3:17). To do all things in the name of the Lord is to recognize Jesus as Lord and live in complete submission to His will. If we abide in His word, we are His disciples indeed (John 8:31). When we step outside of His word we are in His silence – forbidden territory. We are taking steps that destroy our fellowship with God. “Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son” (II John 9).
“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” (I Corinthians 4:6). The things that are written (the Scriptures) constitute a boundary or barrier for us. We must not think or go beyond this barrier. Within this barrier is God’s word. Beyond this barrier is God’s silence.
Failing to respect the restrictive nature of God’s silence will have serious consequences. Once this restriction is abandoned, the floodgates are opened. If anything not expressly forbidden in Scripture is allowed in our religious practices, then we can have instrumental music in our worship. But why stop there? We can have a band and light show to enhance our worship experience. We can have beads to aid our praying, statues upon which to focus our devotion, missionary societies to further our evangelism, fun, and games to keep our young people interested in church, family life centers to address the health and social needs of the community, fundraisers to build up our treasury, etc. We are standing on dangerous ground when we presume to speak for God. Let’s be content with the word of God and respect the restrictive nature of His silence.