Hermeneutics and Silence

Frank Jamerson
Lakeland, Florida

The proper attitude toward the silence of God has become a problem with many in interpreting Scripture. Some believe that "silence gives consent," while others believe that authority gives consent. Which attitude does the Bible teach?

The very nature of revelation answers this question. Paul said, "For who among men knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of the man, which is in him? Even so the things of God none knoweth, save the Spirit of God" (1 Cor. 2:11). He went on to say that the things of God were revealed "not in words which man's wisdom teacheth; but which the Spirit teacheth; combining spiritual things with spiritual words" (v. 13). Just as a man cannot know what pleases me from silence, he cannot know what pleases God from silence. The very purpose of revelation is to reveal God's mind. If we could have known it from silence, he could have remained silent!

In a previous article we used the example of the Jerusalem conference to show how the apostles established authority. The doctrine of the Judaizers was a doctrine based upon the silence of the apostles. The conclusions of the discussion was that "we gave no commandment" to those who "went out from us . . . subverting your souls" (Acts 15:24). The Judaizers therefore were teaching "without commandment," or "speaking where God was silent." The apostles did not say, "Well, God was silent about circumcising Gentiles, so go ahead and bind that upon God's people, and we will remain silent."

According to some of the advocates of "a new hermeneutic," we should not condemn activities that are not specifically condemned in the Scripture. In the March, 1990 issue of The Examiner, brother Holt said that instrumental music in worship "is neither 'scripturally allowed' nor scripturally 'forbidden.' The NT Scriptures say absolutely nothing about instrumental music one way or the other." He went on to say that he had debated the instrumental music issue three times in years past, but had taught his "deductions and human reasoning" when he did so, and said: "It is not easy to prove that something is sinful which is not even mentioned in the Scripture." (If he had made much a statement when he started the paper four years ago, many of his present disciples would have thrown up their hands in horror at such disrespect for authority, but they have drunk at his well long enough that they can now swallow such false teaching.)

But, let us look further at examples of what our attitude should be toward the silence of Scripture. In Hebrews 1:5-8 the writer makes an argument on the deity of Christ from silence. God never said to an angel, "Thou art my Son," but he did say that about Jesus. We know then, from revelation that Jesus is the Son of God, and we know from silence that angels are not! Later in the book that same Spirit-guided writer argues from the silence of Scripture that Jesus could not be a priest on earth. He said, "For he of whom these things are said belongeth to another tribe, from which no man hath given attendance at the altar. For it is evident that our Lord hath sprung out of Judah; as to which tribe Moses spake nothing concerning priests" (Heb. 7:13,14). His conclusion was, "Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, seeing there are those who offer gifts according to the law" (Heb. 8:4). According to some of the non-Spirited teachers of our day, we would have to say that since Moses said nothing either way about priests from Judah, we cannot know whether or not Jesus could be a priest!

Leaders in the Reformation and Restoration movements were divided over this issue. "Luther said we may do what the Bible does not forbid. Zwingli said what the Bible does not command we may not do, and on that account he gave up all images and crosses in the churches . . . Organs in church also were given up. The Lutherans love to sing around the organ. The Zwinglians, if they sang at all, did so without any instrument" (via The Thunderous Silence of God, by Joe Neil Clayton, p. 70). In 1809, Thomas Campbell concluded a sermon with the statement, "Where the Bible speaks, we speak; where the Bible is silent, we are silent" (via Search for the Ancient Order, Vol. 1, Earl West, p. 47). This became a slogan for many without understanding its meaning. The statement of the apostle Peter, "If any man speak, let him speak according to the oracles of God" (1 Pet. 4:11), necessarily implies that if the word of God has not spoken, we should not speak. Some restoration leaders continued to speak the slogan while introducing missionary societies in the work of the church and instrumental music in worship, and the modernistic Disciples of Christ denomination is the fruit of that attitude.

The Bible teaches us that "faith comes by hearing" God's word (Rom. 10:17). When men act upon the silence of Scripture, they are not acting by faith. Secular history shows us the fruit of this disrespect for authority. Those who substitute sprinkling for baptism, water for the fruit of the vine in the Lord's supper, add instrumental music to worship, etc. can say "the Bible says nothing about those things either way," but the Bible does teach us that when you "have no such commandment," you should not act. It further says, "Whosoever goeth onward and abideth not in the teaching of Christ, hath not God: he that abideth in the teaching, the same hath both the Father and the Son" (2 Jn. 9).

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Author: jfm

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