“But you didn’t say not to!” How many of us have heard that statement before? Once again, the rules of society (not to mention common sense) serve as the perfect example of a Biblical truth. This week in our study of Hermeneutics, we are going to be looking at the silence of the Scriptures. When the Bible is silent on something, does that mean that it’s okay, or that it’s not okay? That is the question we are going to answer.
Often times in the church today, we hear the phrase, “Speak where the Bible speaks, be silent where the Bible is silent.” While in theory this is an excellent approach to Bible study, in practicality, the Bible is silent on too many issues for this approach to give us a completely accurate understanding of what God is saying to us. We have to understand how to apply the silence of the Scriptures in order to fully understand God’s will for us. There are times when God’s silence is permissive, and times when it is prohibitive.
To begin with, let’s look at times that the silence of the Scripture is permissive. If I ask my oldest daughter to clean her room, what command am I giving her? I am simply commanding her to clean her room. Does it matter if she starts with her clothes or her shoes? No. Does it matter if she uses Windex or Febreze? No. As is typical with my oldest daughter, does it matter if she completely rearranges her room while she’s at it? No. All that matters is that, in the end, her room is clean. In this example, my silence is permissive: it allows her to use any means she chooses to achieve the task I have set for her.
Scripture operates in the same way. There are many times we are given commands by the Lord, but He does not specify the exact way he wants those commands carried out. For example; 2 Timothy 4:2 reads, “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” What is the command in this passage? The command is to “preach the word”. However, the passage is silent as to how that preaching is to take place. This means that we can teach any way we choose, as long as what we are teaching is the Word of God. We can use the internet, we can have sermons on Sundays, mail out tracts, have home Bible studies, etc. By its silence, Scripture permits us to use any means we have access to in order to spread the Gospel. So the silence of this passage is permissive.
Would this mean that really it makes no difference if it is a man or a woman up front preaching on Sunday morning, as long as he or she is preaching the truth? This passage permits it, right? This brings us to where Scripture is prohibitive, and this happens in two ways.
First of all, the silence of Scripture prohibits actions that contradict other Scriptures. Take our example of a woman preaching. Does 2 Timothy 4:2 prohibit a woman from publicly preaching the Word to Christian men? Not at all. But 1 Corinthians 14:34 does. It reads, “the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says.” We must use the Bible in its entirety to interpret the silence in 2 Timothy 4:2. When we are studying an issue, we need to make sure that the Bible is silent on the area we are looking at, and not just the particular verse we are studying at the time. All Scriptures are equally important, and God’s Word does not contradict itself. That means if we find a contradiction (such as saying that it is okay for a woman to publicly teach a man in spite of 1 Cor. 14:34), then the problem is with us, and we are using our own interpretation to understand Scripture rather than looking for God’s meaning.
A second way that the silence of Scripture is prohibitive is when one thing in particular is specified. We see this concept also in 2 Timothy 4:2. We cannot preach another Gospel, or a doctrine of man, and fulfill this passage. Paul tells Timothy to preach “THE word.” When he specified the Word, he excluded all other teachings. We cannot teach Judaism, Mormonism, “thus saith my preacher,” or “the commentary said;” we must teach only the Word of God.
Once again, in society we understand this perfectly. If you tell your child to keep their clothes clean, and they go play in the mud, how are you going to react? What if they say, “but you didn’t say not to!” Does that make it okay? Absolutely not. Because when you specified that they were to keep their clothes clean, that automatically prohibited any behavior that would get their clothes dirty.
How long would it take if you had to say, “Honey, don’t get your clothes dirty. So that means don’t climb the tree, don’t play in the mud, stay away from the dog, don’t roll in the grass, don’t lean against the car, don’t ride your dirty bike…” Think about how much longer it would have taken God if He had needed to specify all the things we were NOT supposed to do, even after specifying what He wanted!
Hebrews 7:13-14 is the perfect example of Scripture expecting us to understand this concept. It says, “For the one of whom these things are spoken belonged to another tribe, from which no one has ever served at the altar. For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, and in connection with that tribe Moses said nothing about priests.” The Hebrew writer is using the idea of the silence of the Scriptures being prohibitive, to point out that Jesus was not a priest by the old law. By saying that a priest had to be a Levite, Scripture automatically excluded all of the other tribes, and the Hebrew writer expected us to understand that.
The silence of the Scriptures, and whether or not it permits or prohibits is an area where many people—even in the brotherhood—today go astray. As we have seen today, sometimes it allows us to do whatever we deem necessary to fulfill the command, and sometimes it prohibits anything not specifically mentioned.
Just as the excuse of, “But you didn’t say not to!” does not work with us as parents, it won’t work with God. It is up to us to put in the time and effort in our study of God’s Word to understand His will for our lives in its entirety, and that means putting out the effort to understand the silence of the Scriptures on each issue we come across. May God bless you in your study of His Word.