What Does Silence Teach?

When engaged in discussions of the Bible, we often hear the statement, “But the Bible doesn’t say we can’t!” Supposedly this proves that if something is not specifically condemned in the Bible, then it is acceptable. People will go to all sorts of lengths in use of the silence of the Scriptures to prove their pet doctrine is acceptable to God. What we should instead be asking is, “Does the Bible say we can?”

We need to remember that silence has never authorized anything. It does not authorize your child to do that for which you gave no permission, nor does it authorize us to do something for which God has never given permission (Heb. 7:14). Yet it seems that even people who understand this principle are still intent on using selective silence of the Scriptures. By selective silence I mean, one will use silence of the scriptures to condemn those who might practice something with which they disagree, such as those who use instruments of music in worship, but then argue from silence of the Scriptures for something they want to do or teach.

An example of this might be found in the wedding feast at Cana (Jn. 2:1-11). It is argued by those who might want to approve the use intoxicating beverages, that history teaches us wine (of the intoxicating type) was used extensively by the Jews and others in their feasts. The next point in the scenario is that Jesus turned water into wine. Therefore, because the Scriptures do not refute the conclusion, Jesus must have approved of the use of intoxicating beverages. Although I did not put it in such terms, the scenario equates with what is called a syllogism. A syllogism is defined as, “an argument of a form containing a major premise and a minor premise connected with a middle term and a conclusion.” It is also defined as “an extremely subtle, sophisticated, or deceptive argument.” If you look closely at the claims made by those making the argument above, you see the subtle deceptiveness in their argument. They reason from silence of the Scriptures and say that Jesus made intoxicating wine out of the water. The Greek word is “Onios”, a generic word that can or cannot mean an intoxicating beverage. Just because the English word “wine” appears in this passage does not necessarily indicate an intoxicating drink. And there is nothing else in the passage to indicate that the people were, in fact, intoxicated. Therefore, their argument is flawed.

Another place that people like to argue from silence of the Scriptures is found in the discussion of divorce and remarriage. The reasoning goes something like this; divorce was well entrenched and quite rampant among the Jews of Jesus’ day. When Peter and the rest of the apostles preached to the multitudes on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2), some of those who heard the message were obviously in this situation. Therefore, some of those who obeyed the gospel must have been divorced and remarried (this would be the minor premise). They obeyed the gospel and were not told they needed to dissolve that relationship after becoming a Christian (the connecting statement). Therefore, we should not tell those who are in unscriptural marriages to sever the relationship (the major premise). Once again, as with the previous example, we find that something is being argued from the silence of the Scriptures. When we look at Acts 2 & 3, we find nothing said one way or the other about the marital relationship of any of those 3000 that obeyed the Gospel. For all we know from what is said, they may have all been single. To conclude that some were in a second or third marriage is arguing something that is not stated in the Scriptures. To say that, even if some were in that position, they were not told to sever the relationship is also arguing something that is not addressed in the Scriptures. Therefore, we cannot use the silence of the Scriptures to approve unscriptural marriages.

The Scriptures tell us what God deems necessary for our salvation. Has He told us everything that was said or done by Jesus or the apostles? No, He has not (Jn. 21:25). Has he told us everything we need to know? Yes, He has (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Pet 1:3). To try proving something from what God has not said is to “whittle on God’s end of the stick,” and place oneself in the position of God. “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law” (Deut. 29:29).