Jeff S. Smith

Solid Food

God's Golden Silence


The matter of silence in Bible authority is just as important as the matter of God's voice. What God says will not matter if we do not respect his silence equally. As many religious errors result from abusing God's silence as result from disregarding his voice.

These simple statements deserve much elaboration and this edition of "Solid Food" will be occupied  with their consideration. What does God's silence on any given question imply?

What Does Silence Mean?

Before the Protestant reformation, John Wycliff was a very influential reformer of the apostate church. Among his followers was Bohemian John Huss (1373-1415), who, earlier than Luther, opposed the papal sale of indulgences and use of armed force. Huss's own followers, though, were deeply divided into two camps.

One group known as the "Utraquists" forbade only those practices specifically condemned by the Bible, thus tolerating anything without explicit condemnation. The other group, known as the "Taborites," rejected all practices for which express warrant in the Bible could not be found, thus rejecting transubstantiation, the worship of saints, prayers for the dead, indulgences, priestly confession, dancing, and other such amusements.

In a war that broke out between the two factions, the Taborites were defeated in 1434 and almost swept away. The Taborites, however, had been on the right track, regarding the importance of the silence of God's word. But when Martin Luther came along and made forceful objections to papal tradition, he validated by his influence the idea that the silence of the scriptures on any given matter was implicit authorization.

Luther, reacting to the extreme conclusions of his more radical disciples, declared that "what is not contrary to Scripture is for Scripture and Scripture for it." The application of this principle was that anything which was not expressly prohibited in the Bible was therefore implicitly authorized. That influence continues to be felt today in most every Protestant denomination.

There was a third reformer, however, who stands out: Huldreich Zwingli, the foremost leader of the Protestant Reformation in Switzerland, was born January 1, 1484, seven weeks after the birth of Martin Luther.

While a student at the University of Basel (1502-06), an instructor impressed upon his mind the sole authority of the Scriptures. Zwingli's approach to Bible authority was far narrower than Luther's; he believed that authority existed only for that which clear authorization could be identified in the scriptures. As a result, he rejected the papacy, mass, intercession by the dead, monasticism, purgatory, clergy celibacy, relics, images and instrumental music.

Luther and Zwingli agreed on many points, but the silence of the scriptures in authority was not one of them; to Zwingli the will of God as set forth in the Bible, and conformity to it, was the ideal of religion, while Luther tended more toward emotionalism and subjectivism.

Some of Zwingli's followers did not believe even he went far enough in applying the principle of the silence of the scriptures. They began to doubt also infant baptism and started practicing full immersion as they saw in the scriptures. Their views spread and they became known as "Anabaptists," or "rebaptizers." They also supported a common observance of the Lord's Supper and congregational autonomy, in deference to the silence of the scriptures concerning the usual practices of their day.

Two Viewpoints

Thus two viewpoints emerged through the reformation, with one of them continuing to this day to define denominationalism, while the other caused people to tend toward restoration instead.

The first perspective on scriptural silence, held by Luther and modern Calvinists, is that silence is implicit authority.

The second perspective, held by Zwingli and later by Campbell, Stone, et al., is that scriptural silence is no authority at all.

But what do the scriptures say?

Six Scriptural Considerations

  1. Silence is the Absence of Authority

    Hebrews 7:13-14 states "For the priesthood being changed, of necessity there is also a change of the law. For it is evident that our Lord arose from Judah, of which tribe, Moses spoke nothing concerning priesthood."

    In discussing Christ's priesthood according to the order of Melchizedek, the Hebrew writer concedes that under the law of Moses, Jesus could never be a priest, for the Old Testament only expressly authorizes descendants of Levi to serve in that office. Verse 14 is then an argument from the silence of the scriptures that authority was absent and liberty extinct. Moses spoke nothing concerning a priest from Judah; thus it was unauthorized and impossible.

    Today, people demand to see an explicit condemnation of any act to which we object and yet the Hebrews were satisfied that God's silence was the lack of authority. "The New Testament doesn't say not to," they contend, extending this weak authority only so far as their opinions and imaginations take them.

    When a school teacher today tells a student he may be excused to go to the restroom, his silence regarding a trip to the cafeteria, pay phone and parking lot is not considered authority to do all those things, but is considered to be the lack of authority and grounds for punishment on the basis of presumption. Is a school teacher then higher authority than almighty God; is His silence not worthy respect instead of presumption?

  2. Pious Intent is No Excuse

    Concerning David's presumption to build God's temple, 2 Samuel 7:7 reports God's reply: "Have I ever spoken a word to anyone from the tribes of Israel ... saying 'Why have you not built me a house of cedar?'".

    David's intention was to build God a temple, and his plans were noble, but misguided and presumptuous. God's reply is an appeal to silence: "When I have ever spoken a word" regarding this project?

    Folks today will defend their projects and intentions against accusations they are unauthorized by boasting of their good intentions and even results. You cannot object to church sponsored orphanages, old folks' homes or colleges without hearing this refrain. The trouble is, good intentions have never been a substitute for Bible authority and God's silence on any matter is an invitation to abstain, not presume.

  3. Worship Innovations Unwanted

    When the priests, Nadab and Abihu offered profane fire before God in Leviticus 10:1-3, they were punished and killed for their presumption. What made their fire "profane"? It was worship "which he had not commanded them."

    All these priests wanted to do was offer God something different; perhaps they were weary of the same old worship and figured that God must be as well. God, however, did not want their worship innovations, for man's creativity was not evidence of growing piety, but shrinking reverence for God's explicit revelation and his thundering silence.

    The innovation of New Testament worship: emotionalism through testimonies and dimming of lights, instruments in music and applause, etc. is supported today as evidence of a filling with the spirit and a deeper feeling of love and praise for God. Yet, Nadab and Abihu would testify that God has no desire for man to improve upon the divine pattern and that approaching him with such innovations is regarding him as unholy.

  4. Speak What You Read, Not What You Feel

    The apostle Peter wrote, "If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God" (1 Peter 4:11).

    If we limit ourselves to speaking only as God's recorded oracles reveal, we will eliminate much of what passes for religion today. Everything that intrudes upon God's silence will be done away with and only those things with firm foundation in book, chapter and verse will remain.

    Instead of standing on thin ice or shifting sand, we will be founded upon a rock of certainty. We must learn to speak where the Bible speaks and remain silent where the Bible is silent.

  5. No Creed But Christ

    Revelation 22:18-19 warns against adding to or taking away from God's revelation to John.

    The creeds of men are designed to clarify the supposed confusion of God's word and improve upon his communication to us. Like the traditions of the Jewish elders and opinions of the scribes and Pharisees, however, they erect a wall of doctrinal disunity that is not easily shattered, a wall which God did not build. The creeds encode their own forms of "Corban," loopholes and justifications for dismissing the weightier parts of the law, when found inconvenient or impolitic (Matt. 15:1-9, 23:23-24).

    To invade God's silence and speak in its place one's opinions is to invite a dismissal from the book of Life. Today, Christians are pressured to bring the Bible up to date by removing any reference to gender roles and condemnation of homosexuality and fornication. God's word, however, abides forever and is only tampered with at man's risk.

  6. Don't Cross That Line

    John warns against giving aid and comfort to the enemies of the cross as he addresses the elect lady in 2 John 9-11. We must learn to abide in the doctrine of Christ‹to live there and never travel beyond it. As for those whose wanderings take them beyond Christ's doctrine, we should have no fellowship with them, but rather expose them (cf. Eph. 5:11 and 2 Tim. 2:17-18).

    Not abiding in Christ's doctrine is going beyond it: going beyond what is revealed to that which is not and asserting that one can take advantage of God's silence to authorize anything not specifically condemned. The principle is clear: going beyond what we can read is sinful; God's silence is golden and must be revered and not broken.


It is clear how your interpretation of God's silence will commit you to many things. These six passages, and no doubt many more, establish the fact that God's silence is golden and is not wide-open authority, but implicit prevention.

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