From:  Bible Authority and the Role of Silence                               Return to Home        

By Roland H. Worth, Jr.                               © 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Two:

Case For Divine Silence

As Divine Prohibition

 

 

 

 

1.  The Inconsistencies That Are Inevitable

If Biblical Silence Equals Divine

Approval And Acceptance

 

           

            The standard reaction to our reminder that “there is no scripture for what you are doing in religion,” is the rebuttal, “But the Scriptures don’t forbid it!”

            Sprinkling is justified as a replacement for immersion because there is no scripture denouncing it.

            Instrumental music is defended as part of Christian worship because there is no specific condemnation of it within the pages of the New Testament.

            Missionary societies and religious organizations larger than the local congregation are advocated and if criticized on the grounds of unscripturalness we are answered with the claim that such authorization is really not needed. 

            Even among our own brethren there are practices engaged in which are unauthorized by Sacred Writ, and which we oppose just as fervently as the unbiblical innovations in the religions around us.  Yet, when pressed, even our own co-religionists will fall back in desperation upon the old Protestant adage, “The Scriptures don’t forbid it.” 

This basic Protestant assumption is both impractical and in clear contradiction to the teaching of Scripture.      

            It will be the goal of this series of articles to vindicate the principle that we can only act in religious doctrine, worship, and work when God has spoken . . . only as He has spoken . . . and we must reside within the confines of what He has spoken.  To do what He has not authorized will be shown to be just as much a sin as to do what He has clearly prohibited.  Transgression is known as much by commission as by omission and both are equally wrong.

 

            In these articles certain terms will be used synonymously because the Scriptures themselves make them such:  The Scriptures make Christ and the apostles the revealers of God’s will and therefore we will consider the teachings of Christ and the apostles as equivalent to God’s will for man.  Although the Christian is not living under the Jewish law (the Old Testament) we will consider matters taught in the Old Testament for it reveals God’s attitude toward obedience to His will.  Though God’s law for man changes, He Himself and His attitudes do not.

            With that in mind, let us consider the important objections that can be made against the Protestant position that God’s silence allows us to do as he wishes in the field of religious endeavor.

 

            1.  Such a position effectively repudiates the traditional Protestant claim that the Scriptures are the sole guide in religious matters.

           

            If the Bible is our sole guide, we have no right to go beyond what it authorizes.  If our religion is truly a “religion of the Book,” our religion must match the religion of that book.  To claim that the Bible is the basis of our faith and then to go and do what it does not authorize is to contradict the very claim we have made and make it a mockery!  It virtually makes us hypocrites for we claim to the world that “we go by the Bible” yet when people challenge us for scriptural authority we reply “It isn’t necessary.”

            How can we convert others when we refuse to practice what we preach?  And this refusal is based not upon human weakness but upon settled policy, the conscious decision that we will not dwell within the strict limits of what God has authorized.

           

            2.  Roman Catholicism is one logical culmination of the Protestant position on God’s silence.           

 

            R. Laird Harris, writing in his book on the Inspiration and Canonicity of the Bible (Zondervan Publishing House:  Enlarged and revised paperback edition, 1969) comments on how unlike early Christianity is the Roman Catholic Church of today:

 

The main assumption of Roman Catholicism is the usual contention that the Church of the first three centuries was a Roman Catholic Church.  If so, it was a strange one.  No present-day Roman Catholic would have felt at home in it.  There was no doctrine of purgatory, of confession, of the mass.  Both elements of the Communion were given to the laity.

The infallibility of the Roman pontiff was nowhere held, because never claimed.  There was no rosary, no celibacy of the clergy, no doctrine of indulgences, no treasury of merit, no doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary or special adoration of her, no immaculate conception or bodily assumption of Mary.

The fact is that the Church of those centuries would have passed very well for a Protestant Church, but a present-day Roman Catholic would scarcely have known he had been to church if he had attended a meeting in the catacombs!  (pages 286-287)   

 

            Yet how can we—how dare we—condemn the Catholic Church when we accept the very principle that makes such inventions possible, that God’s silence is not equivalent to God’s prohibition?  If we can use the argument to justify our practices, why can not the Roman Catholic use it to justify his incense, his veneration of “saints” and of Mary, and his turning of the simple commemorative communion into the ‘sacrifice of the Mass”?

            Yet, it can be fairly stated that one (though not the only) logical result of the Protestant position is the current doctrinal stance of the Roman Catholic Church.  The door of silence through which we push instrumental music and humanly-invented religious organizations that take the place of the local church, is the very door that opens on the road that leads ultimately to Rome. 

We may stop somewhere along the way as weary and inconsistent travelers often do, but the only real question is how far from Rome we will stop.  And if we have gone half the way to Roman Catholic type innovations, what censure can we bestow upon our spiritual and physical offspring who wish to complete the journey?

 

3.  If silence does not prohibit, then Christian faith is basically anarchistic at heart and any idea of the Bible being the norm for Christian conduct is absurd.

   

If we can do whatever we wish—so long as we take care not to fall afoul of any specific prohibition—then there are virtually no limits restraining us.  In fact, the only practical limit on our “right” to innovate is found within the limits of human ingenuity itself.

Hence to refer to Christianity as a religious system is wrong for the very idea of a “system” requires that there is a framework that has to be built upon.  You can not build a system of thought (be it political or religious) on prohibitions alone; positive ideas and positions have to be advocated as well.  Yet if these positive positions (in this case, found in the Bible) do not limit us, how can we say that we build upon them since the structure we have built is not authorized by them?

The idea of the Bible being our norm is effectively repudiated when we do not have to rely on it to justify all our conduct.  Spiritual anarchy is the result for which of us dares say some one else’s innovations are worse than our own?

 

4.  It is inconsistent to demand that we strictly follow the positive commands of Scripture in regard to private morality and then claim for the church the right to ignore the limitations imposed by the positive commands and teachings concerning its worship and work.    

 

            Christ taught in His “Sermon on the Mount” certainly basic principles that you will hear from almost all the pulpits in this nation, whether the preacher is a modernist or a fundamentalist.  The need and necessity for teaching morals like Christ did is universally recognized regardless of one’s theological predispositions and misunderstanding of what He actually said and was driving at.

            There would be cries of outrage if we dared say that it is right for us to adopt a policy of “neutrality” concerning the welfare of people around us.  We would be rebuked (and rightly so) on the grounds that Christ demanded “love” and not “neutrality.”

            “But sir,” we would reply with a smile on our lips, “where is the Scripture that forbids it?  You have replaced immersion with sprinkling.  Why is it unjust if I replace love with neutrality?”

            Why should Jesus’ personal teachings limit us?  Why can’t we claim that we have found a better and more modern way of doing things?  In one case (morals) we have Christ speaking personally while on earth; in the case of church work and worship we have the same Christ speaking through His inspiration of the apostles.  So in both cases it is Christ speaking.

            You cannot get around this basic fact.  So it comes down to the question of whether Christ’s commands require absolute obedience without replacement or alteration of its substance.  To be consistent, one must teach that both sets of positive teachings are equally binding, or that neither is binding. 

There is no way to drive a wedge between the two since both have the same Author.  When you establish the binding nature of Christ’s teaching on personal morality, you establish the binding nature of Christ’s teaching (through the apostles) on the work and worship of the church (see Matthew 28:18-20).

This presents a dilemma for organized religion.  At the very same time that it insists upon strict obedience to Jesus’ ethical teaching, it does not feel that His teaching on church worship and work limits its activities.  How long will people accept the double standard practiced by those they consider their religious leaders?  How long will it be before they demand the right to ignore in their private lives the moral teachings of Christ just as their preachers, bishops, and elders have done when it comes to the organized activities of the church?

[Note:  The above was written in the very early 1970s and today the willingness of Modernists to embrace the moral teaching of Jesus as authoritative is far more tentative and reserved.  At least among more moderate and conservative folks, however, the argument is just as relevant as when originally written.]

 

5.  Those who claim that God’s silence authorizes their practices are inconsistent when it comes top their attitude toward the innovations found in other religions.                       

 

            Our Baptist friends do not appreciate the fact that Methodists and others have substituted sprinkling for immersion, the latter being the meaning of the word “baptism” when found in the New Testament.  Yet God nowhere says, “You shall not sprinkle.”  Instead, He says, “You shall baptize (immerse).”  If God’s silence is not His prohibition, how can they rightly object to the Methodist practice?

            Yet if God’s silence is His prohibition, why have they appointed deacons to run their churches rather than the Biblically prescribed elders or bishops?  Why do they allow instrumental music to be used in their worship?  By justifying their own practices on the fact that the Bible does not directly forbid what they do--and, in the end result, that is the only way they can defend innovations such as those just mentioned--they are hardly in a position to rightly object when Methodists desire to introduce innovations that are just as unbiblical as those of the Baptist Church!

            Some of my own brethren are guilty of just such “double-standard” applications.  They denounce the inter-congregational organizations (such as the missionary societies) found in the Christian Church, but are perfectly content to encourage church participation in the equally unscriptural practice of funneling congregational resources from many placess through some central “sponsoring church.”  When we occupy the same unhallowed ground of non-authority, it hardly behooves us to criticize others for doing the same!

            [Note:  And in the 45-plus years since the above was first penned, would any deny that there has been a widespread slacking in opposition to denominationalism that was once so fundamental to our convictions?]

 

            6.  The Protestant position that God’s silence is His consent is the same position that would have justified the first century Pharisees in their conduct and which was vigorously attacked by Christ.

 

            In Matthew 15 we find what the Pharisees did with the positive command of Scripture to honor one’s parents.  In discussing this, remember that this is a positive command, not a negative, not a “thou shalt not.”

            They told their disciples, “If any one tells his father or his mother, What you have gained from me is given to God, he need not honor his father” (verse 5).  The Scriptures did not specifically prohibit what the Pharisees were saying.  If God’s positive statements do not rule out all alterations and substitutions, why were the Pharisees wrong in their conduct?

            Protestants confidently point to the fact that there is no Biblical prohibition of their non-Biblical practices.  Until Christ spoke, there was no specific Biblical prohibition of the Phariasic doctrine of how to avoid family responsibility.  The Pharisees were practicing, in conduct, the type of doctrine contemporary Protestantism preaches.

            And what was Christ’s reaction to this doctrine of Phariseeism and Protestantism?  Let Him speak for Himself:  

 

So for the sake of your tradition, you have made void the word of God.  You hypocrites.  Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men”  (verses 6-9).

[God’s Word modern speech version provides a more recent, but equally telling indictment in its translation:  Because of your traditions you have destroyed the authority of God's word.  You hypocrites!  Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:  “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.  Their worship of me is pointless, because their teachings are rules made by humans. ”]      

 

            These are harsh words.  But they are not my words; they are the words of the Man whom we claim to be founder of the faith.  The question before us is quite simple:  Will we accept Christ’s repudiation of the Pharisees in their assumption that they could modify/add a different practice to what God had revealed . . . or will we reject the validity of what He said? 

            First of all, we should recognize the ultimate consequence of rejecting His doctrine.  “Whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels” (Luke 9:26).  If we are ashamed to accept and abide within His doctrine in this life, He will be ashamed of us in the judgment.  Need I suggest what this means in regard to our eternal salvation or damnation?

            Second, in all that He taught (including this denial of Pharisaic doctrine), He was precisely echoing what God wanted Him to teach.  “When you have lifted up the Son of man, then you will know that I am He, and that I do nothing of my own authority, but speak thus as the father taught me” (John 8:28; cf. John 17:6-8).  In other words, God stands 100 percent behind the teachings of Jesus . . . including His denial of Phariasic doctrine that they could modify what God had revealed as authoritative.

            Third, Jesus’ teaching is intended for our age just as much as for His own.  “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Matthew 24:35).  The passage of time does not change the fact that His teaching is binding on us.

 

            7.  If we can go beyond God’s silence and create unauthorized forms of church work and worship, there is no consistent reason why we cannot do the same in regard to doctrine.     
           

            The Roman Catholic Church has done just that.  They not only have a multitude of practices unauthorized by Scripture, but they also have doctrines that are so unbiblical in nature that there are not even Scriptures to be found that can be distorted to justify them.  Prime examples in this category are the pious but mythological teachings that the Catholic Church has attached to the name of Mary, Jesus’ mother.

            There are concepts held by some Protestants that could perhaps be placed in the same category.  Reincarnation is one extreme example.  More well known are the doctrinal deviations sanctioned by Mormons and other contemporary sects, cults, and doctrinally strange groups that are defended in the name of “latter day revelation.”

            We would recoil from doing what the Catholic Church has done in regard to doctrine.  And we would similarly recoil from the aberrations found in Mormon theology.  Yet they can rightfully claim just as much Biblical sanction for their innovations in doctrine as can those who add instrumental music to Christian worship and missionary societies to church work—none.

            Yet if they are wrong, why aren’t we when we claim the same prerogative to innovate?  Dare we?

 

            8.  If God’s silence allows us to add practices that expand our religious conduct beyond that which is Biblically authorized, then God’s silence would equally allow us to restrict conduct beyond what is Biblically authorized as well.

              

            The two go together.  How can the prerogative to do one, avoid the prerogative to do the other as well?  However, forbidding us to eat certain meats certainly violates the positive declaration of Scripture that all meats are clean (Matthew 15:11; Romans 14:14; Acts 10:9-17).  Likewise, forbidding marriage violates the positive precept that marriage is honorable in all (Hebrews 13:4).

            And we discover in 1 Timothy 4:1-5 that some men would forbid these things and that the forbidding of such is a sign of apostasy.  Read carefully what Paul had to say and notice that his argument is not based on the fact that God directly or specifically forbade men to so limit the liberty of their brethren . . . but that these restrictions violate any logical deduction that can be responsibly made from the principle that it is fine to eat any human food we prefer . . . the positive teaching forbids making any restriction:

 

Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith by giving heed to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, through the pretensions of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and enjoin abstinence from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.  For everything created by God is good and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving; for them it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.
 

            Hence the impropriety of any prohibition grows out of God's positive and clear statements and it is improper to bind men otherwise.  Yet if God’s silence authorizes, then we should be able to both bind restrictions that are not mentioned as well as add practices that are not mentioned.  If one approach falls, both must fall for truth demands consistency.  And here the apostle Paul deals the death blow by repudiating the first type of practice.

 

            9.  If God’s silence does not prohibit, there is no need for positive teaching in the Bible since only God’s specific negative prohibitions are effective to ban any set course of conduct.  

 

            Christianity has been mocked by its enemies as a religion of negative “thou shalt nots.”  This has always been denied by pointing out that the New Testament contains many, many positive teachings and that these are just as vital to Christian faith as its prohibitions.

            But this line of reasoning does not square with what people argue when they want to innovate in the field of religion.  If God’s silence does not prohibit, then the positive commands of Scripture are of little or no value since they can freely be ignored, added to, or replaced on the grounds that what we are substituting has not been specifically forbidden!  If such were true, then God should have revealed His will only in the form of negative “Thou shalt nots,” since only in this way could He have effectively limited the religious conduct of His creation.

 

            10.  Carried to its logical extreme, the use of God’s silence to justify unauthorized religious practices can and has resulted in the abandonment of practices that are clearly authorized.        

 

            Take sprinkling as an example.  Even the most extreme Methodist or Catholic debater will concede that immersion was either the mode of baptism in the first century or that it was the predominant practice.  Yet look at these churches today.  When was the last time you heard of a Methodist or a Roman Catholic being immersed?  Mighty few and far between!

            Likewise, it is clear that baptism in the New Testament was believer baptism.  Belief was a pre-requisite.  Most who argue the matter won’t deny that such was the normal course in the New testament.  They usually argue that there were exceptions to the practice in the case of children of believing converts. 

Yet look at the churches that practice infant baptism today:  Child baptism is the norm and adult baptism the exception!  Indeed, if all children of converts were “baptized’ as infants, and if all men in one age were converted, believer baptism would be entirely eliminated!  What is undeniably right would be replaced by what is unauthorized (at the worst) and questionable (at the best).

Our Baptist friends should not be too critical of those who sprinkle and practice infant “baptism,” however.  They themselves have replaced the elders or bishops found in the New Testament with deacons as rulers of the local congregations.  In fact, have you ever heard of a Baptist church with bishops?   

Yet it is undeniably clear that there were bishops (in the plural number we might add) in the local congregations of the first century and that they exercised oversight of those bodies.  And yet what possible “justification” could there be for making deacons the rulers except that God has nowhere forbidden it?  (In all fairness, in the 21st century a modest number of Baptists have begun giving their minister the label of “bishop.”  The deacon system appears to stay in place in such locations, however, and it normally becomes a new name for "the preacher.")

 

11.  If silence does not prohibit, there is no way to bring about unity in religion.     

 

            Mankind has had a hard enough time agreeing on what the Bible does teach, but most can sufficiently overcome their preferences, prejudices, and environment in order to come to a common understanding.  Men don’t question, for instance, that immersion is right.  They don’t question that singing in worship is proper.  Nor do they question the right of a congregation to send money to a preacher to preach the gospel.  All these things can be proved by Scripture and there is little or no controversy.

            However, controversy does erupt over matters not taught by Scripture—like sprinkling, like instrumental music, like missionary societies and sponsoring churches that do the work that should be done by the individual local congregations.

            We can agree on what the Bible does teach.  Men, being human, can not agree on which innovations are to be adopted and which rejected.  And because they can not, religious unity is impossible.  Only when men stop appealing to God’s silence to justify innovations like those mentioned can Christ’s prayer for unity (John 17:20-23) be translated into reality.

 

            12.  If we have the right to create unauthorized forms of religious work and worship, so did Moses in regard to the tabernacle.          

 

            God revealed to Moses how to set up the tabernacle and the various ordinances that were to govern its conduct.  In Exodus 25:40 we read, “And see that you make them after the pattern for them, which is being shown you on the mountain” (“according to the pattern:  Holman, GW [God’s Word Translation], ISV, NET, NIV). 

            A chapter later we find a similar statement, “And you shall erect the tabernacle according to the plan for it which has been shown you on the mountain’ (Exodus 26:30).

            The Divine pattern was even followed in matters that we would (by human standards) consider of little importance:  “And this was the workmanship of the lampstand, hammered work of gold; from its base to its flowers, it was hammered work; according to the pattern which the Lord had shown Moses, so he made the lampstand” (Numbers 8:4).

            Indeed, in all matters concerning the tabernacle God’s revelation was carefully followed.  The testimony of Stephen was, “Our fathers had the tent of witness in the wilderness, even as he who spoke to Moses directed him to make it, according to the pattern that he had seen” (Acts 7:4).

 

            We have a question for our friends who disagree with us on the matter of God’s silence:  Since these tabernacle commands were merely positive instructions, what prohibited Moses from adding uncommanded elements to the tabernacle?  What if, for example, he had said to himself, “This is good but I don’t see why we can’t add something to the Holy of Holies to cheer up the room and make it brighter.  It’s so drab in there!  And wouldn't it be great if everyone could see into the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies!” 

            Would he had been guilty of sin?  After all, he would be doing everything God said and then “merely” adding something Jehovah had not spoken for or against.

            Or what if Moses had decided that he did not like the lampstand that was in the holy place—surely an insignificant element in the entire tabernacle scheme if there ever was one!  What if he decided that he wanted to replace it with something different from the designated pattern? 

            They had maintained it for a while and done exactly what the Lord had commanded.  But now times had changed and it was time to “move on” to something newer and more up-to-date.  Something more stylish and with additional burning points to provide more lighting than the old had done. 

Would he have been guilty of sin?  I don’t think any who look upon God’s revelation as the standard of conduct would deny that he would have crossed the line and been guilty of transgression:  But note, transgression of His silence rather than what He had commanded.           

 

            13.  If we have the right to create unauthorized forms of religious work and worship, so did David and Solomon in regard to the temple.

 

            David delivered to his son Solomon the plans for the building of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem (1 Chronicles 28:11-12):

 

11 Then David gave Solomon his son the plan of the vestibule of the temple, and of its houses, its treasuries, its upper rooms, and its inner chambers, and of the room for the mercy seat; 12 and the plan of all that he had in mind for the courts of the house of the Lord, all the surrounding chambers, the treasuries of the house of God, and the treasuries for dedicated gifts.

 

These plans were given to David by inspiration, “All this he made clear by the writing from the hand of the Lord concerning it, all the work to be done according to the Lord” (verse 19).  The New English Translation (NET), for example, makes this even clearer, “[David said,] ‘All this was written for me by the Lord’s hand.  He made all the details of the plan clear to me.”

There is an arguable case for inspiration being claimed in verse 12 as well for that verse begins (in the KJV) with the words, “And the pattern of all that he had by the spirit.”  This wording is retained by the ASV (American Standard Version of 1901) and its sister version the ERV (English Revised Version).  The NKJV (New King James Version), NIV, and the WEB (World English Bible) also retain it as does the Jewish Publication Society’s translation of 1917.

However we decide the question in verse 12, it is unquestionably present in verse 19.  So what leaves us with the question:  What if David--or Solomon, for that matter--had desired to add a few extra rooms to the temple?  Everything else would be left exactly the way it had been commanded.  Not a single thing would be altered.

Or what if he had decided to add unauthorized means of worship or substitute something God had not specifically authorized?  The latter would—perhaps--have to be on a sporadic basis of course for otherwise what was commanded would have to be entirely omitted.  But by addition rather than complete substitution, this way you could have both at the same time!  (Just like you have "singing [authorized] and instrumental music" [unauthorized] at the same time!) 

Or perhaps one would rationalize “there is no prohibition” against doing this (and there wasn’t) and go ahead with the absolute change anyway.  No divine regulation is being violated, is it?  (Just ignored and forgotten.  "Something equally good substituted"--just ask all those intelligent folks who are advocating it!)

And as to adding “clever” touches to the worship to make it more appealing, well the additions had not been explicitly prohibited either, had they?

Would David have been sinless?  Few would assert such.  Yet can we be sinless when we alter God’s revealed instructions?  Are we more pious than David the great psalmist?    

 

            14.  If the Protestant position on God’s silence is correct, then Noah would have been acting properly had he changed the dimensions of the ark or constructed it out of any type of wood he preferred.

 

            These are God’s instructions to Noah (Genesis 6:13-17):

 

13 And God said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh; for the earth is filled with violence through them; behold, I will destroy them with the earth.  14 Make yourself an ark of gopher wood; make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and out with pitch.  15 This is how you are to make it: the length of the ark three hundred cubits, its breadth fifty cubits, and its height thirty cubits.  16 Make a roof for the ark, and finish it to a cubit above; and set the door of the ark in its side; make it with lower, second, and third decks.  17 For behold, I will bring a flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life from under heaven; everything that is on the earth shall die.              

 

            What would have happened if Noah had constructed the ark in different dimensions, either larger or smaller?  Would God have considered him truly obedient and still saved him from the flood?

            What would have happened if Noah had constructed the ark with only two decks instead of three?  Or added a fourth instead of limiting himself to the prescribed three?  In the latter case, you simply have something being added with nothing at all being omitted.

            What would have happened if he had covered the ark inside with pitch and not outside as well?  Or what would have been the result if he had covered the exterior with pitch and not the interior?  Or added something entirely different . . . or added something entirely different?  No direct prohibitions existed, after all.  I challenge you to find them anywhere in the text!

            What would have happened if Noah had built the ark out of something besides gopher wood?

            Somehow I just don’t believe that any of us would have felt safe and secure on such an ark!  I can not help but believe that all who read these lines would concur in my judgment that such changes would have been suicidal!  To change what God has decreed would have been casting scorn on the means He had revealed to save them!

            Yet all these changes are additions, substitutions, or replacements for what is authorized.  These are the very kind of practices people defend in modern Protestantism!  The person who would sprinkle converts instead of immersing them should not be afraid to get on an ark made out of pine instead of gopher wood—should he?  Yet both are substitutions for the divine will.

            The person who uses instrumental music should not be terrified at entering the ark made out of more stories than authorized by God either.    In this case, nothing has been removed, simply something “totally innocent” added.  Yet both are additions to the divinely revealed standard. 

 

            15.  If positive teaching does not rule out all alternatives, it would have been right for the Jews to limit or abolish circumcision or to replace it entirely with some other ritual.

 

            Circumcision was a positive command to set the people of Israel apart as His covenant nation.  Yet there was no prohibition specifically stated that prohibited adding to the requirement by requiring a mark on the forehead of each person, as some Orientals do today.  Would God have sanctioned it?  If not, why not . . . unless we concede the principle that God’s silence means the same as His outright prohibition?

            Even though the Law taught that the Jews were to be circumcised, it would be entirely consistent with Protestant practice if some other rite had been substituted—either on an absolute or personal preference basis.  For have not many replaced believer baptism with infant baptism?  What justifies the Methodist in his substitution would equally justify the Jewish innovation.

 

            16.  If unauthorized additions to religious conduct can properly be made, then there would have been nothing wrong if Jesus had served as a priest during His earthly ministry.         

 

            The conclusion seems inevitable.  If God’s New Testament silence does not prohibit infant baptism . . . if it does not prohibit sprinkling . . . if it does not prohibit instrumental music . . . if it does not prohibit all of the multitude of well meaning but unauthorized human schemes that are substituted for the individual congregations doing their own God-ordained work . . . then there was no way for God’s silence to have kept Jesus from serving as priest during His life lived under the Old Testament.  The principle is the same in both cases.

            One test of a position is whether its logical consequences are valid.  The matter of whether Christ could rightfully serve as a priest is, therefore, a good test of the Protestant view of Biblical authority.  If God’s silence allowed additions to that which is specifically authorized, it seems undeniable that Christ could have served in the priesthood.  Conversely, if Christ could not have properly served as priest, then the basic Protestant position that would have justified Him in so serving is clearly wrong.

            And what is the Biblical answer to the question.  The inspired Biblical answer is that He could not have served in that role:  “Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who offer gifts according to the law” (Hebrews 8:4)  This can not be dismissed as private judgment; it is the judgment of scripture itself on the question.  And it is the deathblow to the Protestant attitude toward Divine silence. 

 

            17.  If under the Old Testament, the positive decisions of uninspired judges could neither be added to or subtracted from, how much more the commands revealed by inspiration!

 

            Of the decisions of judges in regard to crimes--especially of violence--during the Old Testament age, we read in Deuteronomy 17:8:

 

If any case arises requiring decision between one kind of homicide and another, one kind of legal right and another, or one kind of assault and another, any case within your towns which is too difficult for you, then you shall arise and go up to the place which the Lord your God will choose, and coming to the Levitical priests, and to the judge who is in office in those days, you shall consult them, and they shall declare to you the decision.  10 Then you shall do according to what they declare to you from that place which the Lord will choose; and you shall be careful to do according to all that they direct you; 11 according to the instructions which they give you, and according to the decision which they pronounce to you, you shall do; you shall not turn aside from the verdict which they declare to you, either to the right hand or to the left.

To the extent that newer translations can possibly make it any more emphatic, consider these:

                        NET:  “Do not deviate right or left from what they tell you.’

            WEB:  “You shall not turn aside from the sentence which they shall show you, to the right hand, nor to the left.”

             

            Again, note that the obedience was to be one of strictest conformity, “not turning aside . . . either to the right hand or to the left.”  What more vivid way is there of expressing the idea that absolutely no departure at all . . . of any kind . . . was proper?  What more crystal-clear way is there to show that neither subtraction nor addition nor any deviation at all from what was prescribed was proper?

            Does any one seriously believe that God demanded more precise obedience to uninspired judges than to His prophets and apostles?   So any divergence of any kind from the Divine will is improper or else God demands greater respect and adherence to non-inspired teachings than to direct revelation.  Which would be manifestly absurd and impossible!

 

            18.  We mortals can not rightfully innovate in religion—by addition, subtraction, or substitution—because we are not morally and intellectually competent in the sight of God to do so.

 

            Let us hear the judgment of Isaiah on the hostility that exists between the human method of thinking and that of Jehovah—and the qualitative difference as well:  “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9). 

            Nearly all translations use virtually the same wording here.  One exception is NET which makes the point equally emphatic though preferring different expressions:  “Indeed, my plans are not like your plans, and my deeds are not like your deeds.  For just as the sky is higher than the earth, so my deeds are superior to your deeds and my plans superior to your plans.”  
            Let us hear the judgment of Jeremiah on mankind’s competence to act independently of Divine revelation:  “I know, O Lord, that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps” (Jeremiah 10:23).  Or as Holman puts it, “I know, Lord, that a man's way of life is not his own; no one who walks determines his own steps.”

            Actions independent of revelation lead to personal disaster all too easily.  “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Proverbs 14:12).  How then can it become a “way to heaven” when we substitute our own preferences for the pattern God has revealed?

 

            19.  The Scriptures teach that Christ is the head of the church and that the church is His body.  Does a body act independently of what its head tells it to do?

 

            In Ephesians the fifth chapter Paul discusses the fact that the church is the body of Christ and that He is the head of the body.  Has anyone ever heard of a well person whose arm moves by itself or whose legs carry him in one direction while the mind wants to go the opposite way?  Of course not!  The mind originates the movements of the various parts of the body—they don’t do differently or the opposite of what they’ve been instructed.

            Does it not follow that if Paul’s comparison of the church to Christ’s body is valid, the body--the church--can only properly act when and how its head (Christ) tells it to?  We believe the conclusion to be inescapable.  Yet if the conclusion be valid, nothing that the head (Christ) has not authorized should be done.  In short, divine silence prohibits rather than authorizes or permits!

 

            20.  We are to speak in religious matters strictly as the word of God speaks and hence we can not rightfully speak where it has not spoken.

 

            In First Peter 4:11 we read that “whoever speaks” should speak “as one who utters oracles of God.”  Notice that “whoever”—Peter is laying down instructions binding on all Christians.

            How can a person be preaching what the “oracles of god’ teach if he advocates something different or additional?  If he is advocating something not found within the “oracles of God,” he is in violation of Peter’s command here given to all believers.

 

            21.  Whoever does not remain within the confines of what Christ taught has neither His approval or that of God.   

 

            Second John 9 is quite explicit;  Any one who goes ahead and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God; he who abides in the doctrine has both the Father and the Son.”  The Holman translation, using different language, also renders the point well:  “Anyone who does not remain in Christ's teaching but goes beyond it, does not have God.  The one who remains in that teaching, this one has both the Father and the Son.”

            Hence it is essential that we remain within the limits of the doctrine of Christ in order to have divine approval.  No person who is doing what is unauthorized (missionary societies, sponsoring churches, etc.) can rightly claim that he is “abiding in the doctrine of Christ” since that doctrine does not authorize such activities.

 

            22.  If we substitute a practice for what God has authorized through Jesus and the apostles we can not rightly say that we are keeping God’s commandments for we are doing what He has not authorized.

 

            Love is defined by John as keeping God’s commandments:

                       

            1 John 5:3:  For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.

            ISV:  For this demonstrates our love for God:  We keep his commandments, and his commandments are not difficult. 

            2 John verse 6:  And this is love, that we follow his commandments; this is the commandment, as you have heard from the beginning, that you follow love.

            ISV:  And this is what demonstrates love: that we live according to God's commandments.  Just as you have heard from the beginning what he commanded, you must live by it.

 

            If love is to obey God’s teachings, what do we label our conduct when we are doing something besides what He has decreed?

            Jesus made a similar statement, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15).  Can we truly or fully love Him when He has commanded baptism (Mark 16:16) and we replace the burial in water--that is the meaning of the word--with sprinkling?

            Christ also said that we are His friends if we obey Him (John 15:14).  Through His apostles he authorized singing in worship.  Are we then any longer His friends if instead of obeying Him we substitute wholly or in part something else—instrumental music?  (Although it is rare some churches have periodic services, I understand, where only instrumental music is used and the human voice stays quiet.)

 

            23.  If “every word” of God’s revelation is to be obeyed, then nothing can rightfully be substituted for what He has taught.

 

            In Deuteronomy 8:3 we read, “ . . . Man does not live by bread alone, but that man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord. ”  Christ endorsed this principle when tempted by Satan:  “But he answered, ‘it is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God’ ” (Matthew 4:4).

            It is impossible for me to be overly emphatic about the word “every”—“every word” of the divine revelation is to be obeyed.  This is surely a death blow to the idea that we can substitute for what God has authorized--like having communion on Wednesday instead of Sunday. 

When we do such things, to that extent we are unable to boast that we are living by “every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”  Instead we are “living by every word from the mouth of God that pleases us . . . and ignoring every word whenever we find something that appeals to our preferences more.”  We define what is acceptable religious conduct, rather than allowing God to do so.      

 

            24.  Omitting that which is right is a sin.  Hence we cannot substitute our desires for the Divine will.

 

            In James 4:17 we read, ‘Whoever knows what is right to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.”  For a secondary translation I rather like the GW on this verse:  “Whoever knows what is right but doesn't do it is sinning.” 

            Our personal standards of right and wrong . . . desirable and undesirable . . . religiously uplifting versus religiously harmful or undesirable . . . these naturally vary from person to person.  But when we have been revealed the standards of proper religious conduct through the Bible, we are being instructed by an infallible source—no less than God.  How then can we whitewash doing something different or outright contradictory to what that source has revealed?  “It is sin.”

 

            25.  Unless God intends for His silence to prohibit, there was no reason for Him to provide us with a complete revelation of His will.

 

            Christ promised His apostles a total remembrance of His teaching and a total revelation of all spiritual truth that is needed by mankind.  “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26).

            “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come” (John 16:13).  What the Spirit taught, He received from Jesus and what Jesus gave the Spirit to reveal, Jesus Himself had shared in common with the Father (John 16:14-15).

            Peter declared that Christ’s promise of a total revelation was fulfilled:  “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence” (2 Peter 1:3).  Although there are several other fine translations that prefer different wording to convey the point, let us limit ourselves to that of Holman:  “His divine power has given us everything required for life and godliness through the knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness.”

            I suppose that one could try to restrict “life and godliness” to morality alone, but does anyone seriously believe that the One who gave us a complete revelation of that did not also provide a similar revelation regarding “life and godliness” in our collective religious behavior as well?  Why would He possibly give us a “blank check” in regard to the latter and careful regulations only about the former?        

 

            Just as Peter emphasized the totality of the revelation available, so did Paul.  He speaks of how he declared the entire revelation to those willing to listen:  “I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God’ (Acts 20:27).

            Paul also teaches us that we can live in such a way that all we do is authorized by Christ—which implies a total revelation not only in regard to doctrine but also in regard to morals:  “And whatever you do, in word or deed (i.e., in teaching or conduct), do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17).

            Whoever does not remain within the doctrine taught by Jesus does not have the approval of God (2 John 9, quoted above).  This implies that all that is right and proper is contained within the doctrines revealed and advocated by Jesus.  Otherwise there would be no certainty that those who were going beyond that doctrine were engaged in evil.

            Every activity that is good in the sight of God for His people to engage in is authorized somewhere by Scripture:  All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work’ (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

 

 

 

 

 

2.  Scriptural Examples of Where Silence Prohibited

 

 

            1.  The writer of Hebrews argues that God’s silence meant that angels could not claim the rights given to Christ.  Hence, divine silence restricted the claims they could make.

 

            This is the argument found in Hebrews 1:13-14:  “But to what angel has he ever said, ‘Sit at my right hand, till I make thy enemies a stool for thy feet’?  Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to serve, for the sake of those who obtain salvation?”

            The words spoken of Christ proved that He was superior to angels since none of them ever had--or ever would--receive some a promise.  They also showed that angels could never claim the rights and prerogatives of Christ because God had been silent.  He had not spoken.  He had not authorized.  Silence meant a Divine prohibition.  What could be clearer?

            Could they have claimed more?  Could they have done more than what they were authorized?  As a matter of fact they could:

 

Now I desire to remind you, though you were once for all fully informed, that he who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe.  And the angels that did not keep their own position but left their proper dwelling have been kept by him in eternal chains in the nether gloom until the judgment of the great day; just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise acted immorally and indulged in unnatural lust, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire (Jude).    

 

            They left their Divinely established “position” and were punished.  Note how this is paralleled with the destruction of the Israelites “who did not believe” (and practice) God’s law and the people of Sodom and Gomorrah who did not believe and practice God’s moral law.  In other words, refusal to remain within the limits of what God has authorized sure sounds like a failure of “belief” as well. 

Whether we take the exegesis a step too far on that point—and surely it is an appealing step in its context!—the fundamental fact still remains that God had not authorized them to do what they were doing and, therefore, it was sinful.  What is it when we mere mortals go beyond what God has authorized in the name of our religious zeal and enthusiasm?  Why should we expect to get praise—of all things—from our God?

 

2.  By clear implication Christ accused the money changers in the Temple complex of both violating the prohibitions of the Jewish law and doing what was unauthorized by the law as well.         

 

            The money changers had violated both the positive and the negative statements of the Jewish Law.  “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’?  But you have made it a den of robbers” (Mark 12:17).  Question:  Would the money changers have been right in their conduct if they had not defrauded their customers out of a fair rate of exchange?

            Clearly not for Christ also accused them of violating the positive demand of Scripture, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations.”  Notice that Christ considered the positive injunctions just as binding as the prohibitions.

            Note that He considered additions to what the Law authorized as being inherently improper.  The Law said the Temple was to be a house of prayer; the moneychangers had, in practice, added to it places of business as well.  Now, these innovations made a certain sense:  Animals and birds to be sacrificed had to be purchased somewhere and where was more convenient?  The temple tax had to be paid in a certain type of coinage and where easier to come across it than here? 

            Lay aside the dishonesty what could possibly be wrong?  Well, that lay in “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations.”  That meant, Jesus is arguing, that it wasn’t to be turned into “a house of business” as well.  If He held such stringent beliefs concerning the place of worship how much more stringent must His attitudes be toward additions to the ordained acts of worship!         

 

            3.  Under the Old Testament, those who did something different from that authorized by positive instructions were considered worth of death:  The case of those who violated the positive command to honor their parents.      

 

            In relation to positive commands ruling out the embracing of substitutes, there is the strong example of those who violated the positive commandment of honoring and respecting one’s parents.  Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land which the Lord your God gives you” (Exodus 20:12).  “That your days may be long in the land” implies that there was a “downside” for doing otherwise. 

In fact, to act differently that that was commanded (i.e., by dishonoring conduct) was counted as making one worth of death (Deuteronomy 21):

 

18 If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son, who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother, and, though they chastise him, will not give heed to them, 19 then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his city at the gate of the place where he lives, 20 and they shall say to the elders of his city, “This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.”  21 Then all the men of the city shall stone him to death with stones; so you shall purge the evil from your midst; and all Israel shall hear, and fear.    

 

            If a person who violated God’s positive command concerning family relationships was reckoned worthy of outright death, what should we say of those who violate God’s instructions concerning worship?  Shall we praise them as role-models and exemplars of superior spirituality because they have allowed good intentions to throw out reverence for the Heavenly Lawgiver?

            No, I’m not saying that violence is justified in this life for the New Testament is a covenant of peace, while the Old Testament was a covenant that carried a drawn sword to enforce its demands.  So we are not talking about how we should treat those who act unbiblically, but we are talking about God’s attitude toward such mistreatment of His law.

            God’s law could and did change between the Old and the New Testaments.  But there is no reason to believe that His attitude toward those who scorn it or ignore it has changed in the least.  God will not punish man in this life for transgression of His positive commands by additions and subtractions, but how can those who do such feel secure when thinking of the ultimate Judgment Seat before which we all shall appear?

 

            4.  Under the Old Testament, those who did something different from that authorized by direct/positive instructions were considered worth of death:  The case of those who violated the positive command to honor the Sabbath.

 

            The Sabbath law was a positive command rather than a prohibition, but it implied the prohibition of all labor on that day for doing otherwise would result in the commandment for rest being violated (Exodus 20):

 

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.  Six days you shall labor, and do all your work; 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your manservant, or your maidservant, or your cattle, or the sojourner who is within your gates; 11 for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.

 

            Now, what was God’s attitude toward those who did something different on that day besides worshipping and resting from labor?  Let us take an extreme example—probably the most harmless act that we could conceive of, the picking up of mere sticks.  By human standards where could the harm be? 

Yet God saw fit to punish with death such “minor” deviations from His law of rest (Numbers 15):

 

32 While the people of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering sticks on the Sabbath day.  33 And those who found him gathering sticks brought him to Moses and Aaron, and to all the congregation.  34 They put him in custody, because it had not been made plain what should be done to him.  35 And the Lord said to Moses, “The man shall be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp.”  36 And all the congregation brought him outside the camp, and stoned him to death with stones, as the Lord commanded Moses.

  

            “You shall rest on that day” translated into “from every needless physical work no matter what excuse or reason you might introduce.”  No matter how appealing the rationalization might seem to the individual concerned, it still counted as overt rebellion against the will of God.  What then does He think of our well meaning innovations for which there is not an iota of scriptural authority?

 

            5.  Under the Old Testament, those who did something different from that authorized by direct/positive instructions were considered worth of death:  The case of those who violated the injunctions concerning how worship was to be offered—the case of Nadab and Abihu.

           

They were punished with death because they ignored God’s silence.  On a matter of religious worship, we might add.  The Biblical account of the incident is short:  “Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer, and put fire on it, and laid incense on it, and offered unholy fire before the Lord, such as He had not commanded them.  And fire came forth from the presence of the Lord and devoured them and they died before the Lord” (Leviticus 10:1-2).

            Notice that when they did what was unauthorized—what “He had not commanded them”—God punished them for their behavior.  He conspicuously did not applaud them for their “courageous” or “creative” innovation, but held it firmly against them.  What clearer evidence can there be that what God does not instruct us to do, He does not want done in His service? 

            A postscript:  Then Moses said to Aaron, ‘This is what the Lord has said, I will show myself holy among those who are near me, and before all the people I will be glorified.’  And Aaron held his peace.”  Aaron seems clearly inclined to protest, but did not do so when Moses informed him that their action was reprehensible in God’s sight.  He was acting to uphold his own honor against their unauthorized innovations.

            Although we have not gone into the view of commentators, this would seem to be an useful occasion to depart from our previous pattern.  Albert Barnes in his Old Testament commentary on this passage, effectively argues that they were committing a variety of sins envolving ignoring what had been ordained to be done--and not merely committing one sin alone:

 

The sin of Nadab and Abihu was of a complicated nature, and involved and consisted of several transgressions:—

(1) They each took his own censer, and not the sacred utensil of the sanctuary.

(2) They both offered it together, whereas the incense was only to be offered by one.

(3) They presumptuously encroached upon the functions of the high priest; for according to the Law the high priest alone burnt incense in a censer. (See Leviticus 16:12-13; Numbers 17:11.)  The ordinary priests only burnt it on the golden altar in the holy place (Exodus 30:7-8), or on the brazen altar as a part of the memorial.  (See Leviticus 2:2-3; Leviticus 2:16, etc.) . . . .

(4) They offered the incense at an unauthorized time, since it was apart from the morning and evening sacrifice.

And offered strange fire.They filled their vessels with common fire instead of taking it from the holy fire of the altar, which was always to be used in burning incense.  (See Leviticus 9:24; Leviticus 16:12.)  It is with reference to this practice that we are told—“And the angel took the censer and filled it with fire off the altar” (Revelation 8:5). 

Ancient tradition says that Nadab and Abihu had partaken too freely of the drink offering, and performed their service in a state of intoxication, when they were incapacitated to distinguish between what was legal and illegal. . . .  Others, however, suppose that the phrase “strange fire” denotes not offered according to the prescribed law, just as “strange incense” is used in the sense of incense not prepared in the manner ordered by the Law (Exodus 30:9).  

 

            Barnes was convinced that “such as He had commanded them” was an idiomatic way of saying “which He had strongly forbidden them” from doing.  In light of Barnes’ own detailed analysis of how their action expressly—yea, repeatedly--departed from the ordained way of doing this offering, it seems far better to conclude that the expression is properly to be taken in the way we have suggested. 

            To be slightly ludicrous:  Are we to really believe that God stood there (so to speak) and gave them a lecture on all these specific points, “strongly forbidding them” to do each and every one of these things?  It seems far simpler and far more probable that He had simply spoken of what to do . . . and they were ignoring it on multiple matters.  In other words, the text would still cover unauthorized religious innovation in exactly the manner we have suggested.         

 

            6.  Under the Old Testament, those who did something different from that authorized by direct/positive instructions were considered worth of death:  The case of those who violated the injunctions concerning how worship was to be offered—the case of Korah.

 

            Korah's problem was two-fold.  First, he lusted for the religious power that Moses had.  Even though God had used him to rescue Israel from Egypt, Korah was convinced that he, personally, had just as much right to oversee the people for he had powerful backing among them:  He had no less than 250 leaders of the people who were willing to back him in the confrontation. 

            Interlocked with this was the claim to be able to reorganize the religious life of the community in a way more congenial to their desires.  After all:  “You (= Moses) have gone too far!  For all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them; why then do you (= Moses) exalt yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?”  (Numbers 16:3)  Therein lies the challenge to the religious rules God had laid out for their governance.  The people/congregation have decided the matter; who are you to stand in the way?

 

                        And Moses said to Korah, “Hear now, you sons of Levi: is it too small a

            thing for you that the God of Israel has separated you from the congregation of

            Israel, to bring you near to himself, to do service in the tabernacle of the Lord,

            and to stand before the congregation to minister to them; 10 and that he has

            brought you near him, and all your brethren the sons of Levi with you?  And

            would you seek the priesthood also?  11 Therefore it is against the Lord that you

            and all your company have gathered together; what is Aaron that you murmur

            against him?”

 

            Rather than be the support personnel, they would be the leaders as well--including performing the various duties of the priests--one of which was to offer incense--as seen in the example of Zechariah in Luke 1:8-10 and the words of the priest in 2 Chronicles 26:18. 

            God might occasionally permit someone else to do the priestly duty of sacrifice--sometimes in the period of the judges some Divinely appointed leaders did so . . . Gideon of Manasseh stands out as an example (Judges 6:25-27), as does Samuel who was both a judge and a Levite.  Some prophets were commissioned to do such and Elijah stands out in that class.  Even so all of these envolve offering sacrifices and not offering incense.  And in each case their special authorization is clearly implied by the position they held.

            In contrast to these, Korah and his supporters thought they had the inherent right to any and all priestly rights (Numbers 16:10, above).  Even so, there was no specific prohibition that outlawed others from offering incense in particular.  But the authority was only given to the priests and not the Levites.  Did the silence prohibit or permit? 

            To settle the matter of who was authorized to have spiritual power in Israel--and secondarily whether the right to offer incense was restricted to those specified to do so--the tragic confrontation that ensues is played out to its bitter end:   

 

16 And Moses said to Korah, “Be present, you and all your company, before the Lord, you and they, and Aaron, tomorrow; 17 and let every one of you take his censer, and put incense upon it, and every one of you bring before the Lord his censer, two hundred and fifty censers; you also, and Aaron, each his censer.”  18 So every man took his censer, and they put fire in them and laid incense upon them, and they stood at the entrance of the tent of meeting with Moses and Aaron.  19 Then Korah assembled all the congregation against them at the entrance of the tent of meeting.  And the glory of the Lord appeared to all the congregation.

 

            After persuading the masses to separate themselves away from Korah, it becomes what it always was—a confrontation between Moses and Korah and his followers.  Which side would God favor?

 

28 And Moses said, “Hereby you shall know that the Lord has sent me to do all these works, and that it has not been of my own accord.  29 If these men die the common death of all men, or if they are visited by the fate of all men, then the Lord has not sent me.  30 But if the Lord creates something new, and the ground opens its mouth, and swallows them up, with all that belongs to them, and they go down alive into Sheol, then you shall know that these men have despised the Lord.”

31 And as he finished speaking all these words, the ground under them split asunder; 32 and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households and all the men that belonged to Korah and all their goods.  33 So they and all that belonged to them went down alive into Sheol; and the earth closed over them, and they perished from the midst of the assembly.  34 And all Israel that were round about them fled at their cry; for they said, “Lest the earth swallow us up!” 35 And fire came forth from the Lord, and consumed the two hundred and fifty men offering the incense.

 

            Now God is not going to reach down and open the earth if we innovate new things into our religion that God has provided no authority for.  But are we really so “smart,” “spiritual” and “insightful” that our alterations are sure to gain God’s approval, unlike those of Korah?  Especially when Korah is held up to us as a warning of what not to do (Jude, verse 11)? 

 

            7.  Moses was denied admission to the promised land because he violated God’s silence.

 

            Here is what God instructed Moses to do:  “Take the rod, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water; so you shall bring water out of the rock for them; so you shall give drink to the congregation and their cattle” (Numbers 20:8).  Notice that though Moses was to take the rod with him, all that he was actually instructed to do was to speak to the rock.  Notice that there was no overt prohibition of his hitting the rock with the rod; rather, there was only the positive command of speaking to the rock.

            Now that we have seen what he was supposed to do, let us examine what he actually did:  “And Moses lifted up his head and struck the rock with his rod twice; and water came forth abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their cattle” (verse 11).

            Whether he just hit the rock . . . or both spoke and simultaneously struck it twice . . . or did them in sequential order is certainly debatable.  What is certain is that he hit the rock, which was an act completely different from what Jehovah had commanded him.  It seems as innocent as can be.  A harmless addition; who could possibly object?

            God’s reaction to Moses going beyond the positive command and doing something different is revealed in the next verse, however:  “Because you did not believe in me, to sanctify me in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them” (verse 12).  His conduct represented a lack of “sanctifying” Jehovah in the sight of Israel—a lack of setting Him apart, honoring Him, respecting Him as he should have.

            As a result he was prohibited from entering the promised land.  Now this punishment is utterly illogical unless God considers His positive commands as forming iron-bound barriers beyond which His followers can not go by addition, substitution or omission.

            In our quoting of verse 12, we left off the initial words:  And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron.”  Note that Aaron had been present as well and called to account for his role in what happened.  At the least, he could have hollered out to stop Moses from hitting the rock and reminding him that was not what was to be done.  Alternately it may carry the connotation that Aaron was quite happy with what Moses had done and would have done the same if the staff had been in his hands.

            Either way the fact that both are called to account for hitting the rock rather than just commanding it is important because of what happens later in the chapter at Aaron’s death;

 

23 And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron at Mount Hor, on the border of the land of Edom, 24 “Aaron shall be gathered to his people; for he shall not enter the land which I have given to the people of Israel, because you rebelled against my command at the waters of Mer′ibah.    

 

            Not doing what God said and doing something that would seemingly be so utterly innocent—hitting the rock instead of ordering it; what could possibly be wrong with that?  Yet in God’s eyes substituting personal preference for God’s instructions was counted as having “rebelled against my command.”  If you do not respect God’s instructions and remain within that commandment you are a rebel, an insurrectionist against not a mere human regime but God Himself.  And we are to seriously believe that doing so today through our innovations and changes will be received with divine acclamation?  Really?

 

            Our entire last two chapters concern arguments against the proposition we are attempting to affirm but that I had not previously had brought to my attention.  I have also encountered recently an argument that attempts to undermine our argument from the present text.  The action, in immediate context, reads:

 

Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Take the rod; you and your brother Aaron gather the congregation together.  Speak to the rock before their eyes, and it will yield its water; thus you shall bring water for them out of the rock, and give drink to the congregation and their animals.”  So Moses took the rod from before the Lord as He commanded him.

10 And Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock; and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels!  Must we bring water for you out of this rock?”  11 Then Moses lifted his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod; and water came out abundantly, and the congregation and their animals drank. 

 

            Moses’ sin, this approach argues, is in what Moses said rather than what he did in hitting the rock:  “Must we bring water for you out of this rock?”  Moses was acting as if it were by his power that the water was coming out of the rock!  Really?

             This reason won’t work out for at least two reasons, one of which we have already touched on but not with this aspect in mind.  The grounds for punishment are spelled out in regard to Aaron in 20:24:  Aaron shall be gathered to his people; for he shall not enter the land which I have given to the people of Israel, because you rebelled against my command at the waters of Mer′ibah.”  But speaking was explicitly required, “Speak to the rock before their eyes, and it will yield its water; thus you shall bring water for them out of the rock, and give drink to the congregation and their animals” (20:8).

            The speaking part was authorized.  He did not “rebel against my command” in doing that; he did speak.  What the sin envolved was in what he did, hitting the work:  “rebelled against my command” which was to hit the rock. 

            The second problem is whether what Moses said reflected arrogance and, perhaps, even the claim of God-like power when he said:  “Must we bring water for you out of this rock?”  In their eyes, Moses was coproducer of the water for he spoke and the water would come out.  Since he was taking an immense amount of criticism for his “failure” to provide for the needs of the nation, is there any reason he shouldn’t take some partial credit for its alleviation?

            Furthermore, we have firm textual evidence that God had no problem with this:  Speak to the rock before their eyes, and it will yield its water; thus you shall bring water for them out of the rock, and give drink to the congregation and their animals” (20:8).  Hence Moses was going to play a key role in producing the water by what he did at the time.  Hence for him to speak of “must we bring water for you out of this rock?” simply reflects what God had already told him—that, yes, he would play a role. 

So the sin has to be sought in the only other alternative.  Hitting the rock instead of speaking to it.  Substituting one act for another.  Assuming that there was nothing wrong in doing that.  A sin of acting without divine authority, of thinking divine silence on the matter would be overlooked.  It wasn’t; it cost him entrance into the promised land.      

 

            8.  Uzzah died because his well intentioned act of keeping the ark from falling to the ground violated the prohibitions and positive commands of Scripture.     

 

            This incident is recorded in 2 Samuel 6:1-11 and is a longish text for us to be quoting, but doing so puts the events firmly in the front of our minds:

 

David again gathered all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand.  And David arose and went with all the people who were with him from Ba′ale-judah, to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the name of the Lord of hosts who sits enthroned on the cherubim.  And they carried the ark of God upon a new cart, and brought it out of the house of Abin′adab which was on the hill; and Uzzah and Ahi′o, the sons of Abin′adab, were driving the new cart with the ark of God; and Ahi′o went before the ark.  And David and all the house of Israel were making merry before the Lord with all their might, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals.

And when they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled.  And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah; and God smote him there because he put forth his hand to the ark; and he died there beside the ark of God.  And David was angry because the Lord had broken forth upon Uzzah; and that place is called Pe′rez-uz′zah, to this day.

 

            David was probanly angry for two reasons:  Uzzah was quiet innocently trying to keep the ark from falling off the cart onto the ground.  Secondly, it frustrated his own plans for moving the location of the ark (verse 9).

            But this well intentioned act is still specified as the cause.  There were at least three sins envolved that day.  First, it violated the prohibition of touching the ark:     

 

When the camp is to set out, Aaron and his sons shall go in and take down the veil of the screen, and cover the ark of the testimony with it.  15 And when Aaron and his sons have finished covering the sanctuary and all the furnishings of the sanctuary, as the camp sets out, after that the sons of Kohath shall come to carry these, but they must not touch the holy things, lest they die.  These are the things of the tent of meeting which the sons of Kohath are to carry (Numbers 4).

 

            Some make it even blunter:  Instead of “lest they die,” they read “they will die” (Holman, GW, NET, NIV) or something else that conveys that obvious threat of death.

            Yet even here the supposed permission given by “it doesn’t say not to” can be incorporated:  One could well argue that the text gives the broad general principle but was never intended to cover emergency situations.  After all, the prohibition is laid down “just” as a broad principle; it conspicuously omits such phrases as “under any and all circumstances whatsoever.”  In other words, even prohibitions can be gotten around under the “silence permits approach” to interpreting and living by scripture. 

            Two positive commands of the Mosaical Law were also violated.  First, Levites were the exclusive parties authorized to transport it:  At that time the Lord set apart the tribe of Levi to carry the ark of the covenant of the Lord, to stand before the Lord to minister to him and to bless in his name, to this day” (Deuteronomy 10:8).

            Our text doesn’t specifically say whether Uzzah was a Levite or not.  It is generally assumed that he was, based on the fact that he should have been if he was going to be envolved in moving the ark at all and upon Josephus the Jewish historian identifying himself as such.    

            The ark was at Ba′ale-judah, however (according to 2 Samuel 6:2), and this is normally identified as part of Judah, which seems to reduce (though doesn’t eliminate) the chance he was a Levite.  Perhaps more convincing is the parallel account of how the ark ultimately arrived in Jerusalem and David’s public admission to the Levites that they hadn’t transported it—or, at least, had not transported it properly (1 Chronicles 15:12-13 can be read either way). 

            Read that mixed bag of evidence as you wish.  It doesn’t really have an impact on our ultimate conclusions.  However, assuming that he was not a Levite—and the text conspicuously does not identify him as such—it should be remembered that there is no specific prohibition of non-Levites carrying it . . . only a textual affirmation that they should be the ones.  But if silence does not rule out the alternatives, what possible harm could it have done?  Yet he still landed up quite dead. 

Did “silence authorize” for that poor fellow?  After all, the proper procedures for ark handing were written for Levites and their handling of the ark.  And since there are no rules for how non-Levites were to handle it, why should the consequences of their improper behavior possibly affect him?  After all the scriptures were totally silent on that matter.

But even if we decide that he was a Levite, there was a specified method to how it was to be carried:

 

Deuteronomy 10:  At that time the Lord set apart the tribe of Levi to carry the ark of the covenant of the Lord, to stand before the Lord to minister to him and to bless in his name, to this day.   

Numbers 7:  On the day when Moses had finished setting up the tabernacle, and had anointed and consecrated it with all its furnishings, and had anointed and consecrated the altar with all its utensils.  So Moses took the wagons and the oxen, and gave them to the Levites.  But to the sons of Kohath he gave none, because they were charged with the care of the holy things which had to be carried on the shoulder.

 

            There was no specified prohibition of carrying it in a carriage/cart, as was being done in the attempted transporting of it to Jerusalem:  And they carried the ark of God upon a new cart, and brought it out of the house of Abin′adab which was on the hill; and Uzzah and Ahi′o, the sons of Abin′adab, were driving the new cart  (2 Samuel 6:3).  If there was evil in Uzzah transporting the ark this way, it was by violating God’s law of “silence is prohibition”—carrying it was specified; all other means were automatically ruled out.  Unless “silence gives permission” and if that were the case why did he land up dead?

            David, in later speaking to the Levites at the time of the later and successful bringing of the ark to Jerusalem, indicated that one or both of these two problems—a non-Levite envolved or Levites “carting” the ark rather than carrying it—was at fault (1 Chronicles 15):     

 

Then David summoned the priests Zadok and Abi′athar, and the Levites U′riel, Asai′ah, Jo′el, Shemai′ah, Eli′el, and Ammin′adab, 12 and said to them, “You are the heads of the fathers’ houses of the Levites; sanctify yourselves, you and your brethren, so that you may bring up the ark of the Lord, the God of Israel, to the place that I have prepared for it.  13 Because you did not carry it the first time, the Lord our God broke forth upon us, because we did not care for it in the way that is ordained.”  14 So the priests and the Levites sanctified themselves to bring up the ark of the Lord, the God of Israel.  15 And the Levites carried the ark of God upon their shoulders with the poles, as Moses had commanded according to the word of the Lord. 

 

            In spite of his honorable intentions, Uzzah combined two great evils:  doing that which is branded by Scripture as wrong (not carrying it by conveying the ark in a cart instead) and doing that which is not authorized by Scripture (touching the ark).  The Old Testament texts blame both for his death, thereby indicating that Jehovah vehemently disapproves of both.

            Does the Master of the universe have to spell it out any plainer?  What He has not authorized, He does not wish for us to do!

            Although we have already spent considerable space on this, the remarks on 2 Samuel 6:7 in the Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges seems highly appropriate.  They demonstrate how denominational scholars, at their best, can grasp the broader fringe of these points without quite recognizing how much the principles would alter their own religious practices if they but implemented these principles.  But, oh, how much easier it is to recognize their value in regard to someone else’s religion other than our own!

 

Such a penalty for a well-meant and natural action seems to us at first sight strangely severe.  But it must be remembered that one of the great lessons which the nation of Israel had to learn was the unapproachable Majesty of the holy God.  The Ark was the symbol of His presence, and the Levitical ordinances were designed to secure the strictest reverence for it.  It was to be carried by the Levites, but they might not come near until it had been covered by the priests, nor touch it except by the staves provided for the purpose, upon pain of death (Numbers 4:5, 15, 19-20).

It is probable that Uzzah was a Levite, and if so, he ought to have known these injunctions: but in any case, as the Ark had been under his charge, he ought to have made himself acquainted with them.  Perhaps he had come to regard the sacred symbol which had been in his house so long with undue familiarity.

Nor was David free from blame in allowing such a neglect of the Law.  The occasion was an important one.  It was the first step in the inauguration of a new era of worship, in the newly established capital of the kingdom; and if these breaches of the divine ordinances had been left unpunished, the lessons they were intended to teach might have been neglected.

Uzzah’s death was necessary for a solemn warning to David and the people. “By this severe stroke upon the first violation of the law, God impressed a dread upon the hearts of men, and gave a sanction to His commands that no man should attempt upon any pretence whatever, to act in defiance of his Law, or boldly to dispense with what God has established.” (Bp. Sanderson, quoted by Bp. Wordsworth.)

If such reverence was due to the symbol, with how much greater reverence should the realities of the Christian Covenant be regarded?  See Hebrews 10:28-29


            9.  Saul lost the rulership of the Jewish kingdom for his descendents because he ignored the prohibitive nature of God’s silence.

 

            The Mosaical Law provided for priests to offer animal sacrifices to God.  There was no authorization for kings to do so nor (to the best of my memory) any direct prohibition of it either.  Yet we find that when Saul did such he was branded as a violator of God’s law and was punished by having the kingdom denied to his offspring (1 Samuel 13:13-14).

            If silence is not prohibition, he deserved no punishment.  He had not violated one specific “thou shalt not” had he?  Shouldn't he have been praised for his dedicated religious passion? 

            In this case we actually have some of his reasoning preserved for us to examine (1 Samuel 13):

 

He waited seven days, the time appointed by Samuel; but Samuel did not come to Gilgal, and the people were scattering from him.  So Saul said, “Bring the burnt offering here to me, and the peace offerings.”  And he offered the burnt offering.

10  As soon as he had finished offering the burnt offering, behold, Samuel came; and Saul went out to meet him and salute him.  11 Samuel said, “What have you done?”  And Saul said, “When I saw that the people were scattering from me, and that you did not come within the days appointed, and that the Philistines had mustered at Michmash, 12 I said, ‘Now the Philistines will come down upon me at Gilgal, and I have not entreated the favor of the Lord’; so I forced myself, and offered the burnt offering.”

13 And Samuel said to Saul, “You have done foolishly; you have not kept the commandment of the Lord your God, which he commanded you; for now the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel for ever.  14 But now your kingdom shall not continue; the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart; and the Lord has appointed him to be prince over his people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.”  15 And Samuel arose, and went up from Gilgal to Gib′e-ah of Benjamin.

 

            Note that his explanations / rationalizations did not make him right.  Samuel had not shown up when he was supposed to be present (verse 8).  With no one else available to do the job, surely someone needed to!  And who better than the king himself? 

            The Philistines were gathering, presumably to attack (verses 11-12), while Saul’s own forces were melting away (verse 8).  Which of us would not have felt tremors of alarm?  Fully justified ones at that!  The sacrifice needed to be . . . had to be . . . offered before the battle to give the troops confidence in their victory.  With no one else to do it, what other choice did he really have?

            Finally, he acted unwillingly:  “I forced myself.”  He wasn’t trying to exercise prerogatives not rightly his.  He was not trying to grab priestly / prophetic rights that were not his.  He was simply “filling the void” when there was no one else to do so.

            How could this possibly be wrong?  From our modern standpoint we could also say that, “There was nothing said that prohibited me from doing this.  All you said was that it was your intent to do so—but absent your presence what else could I possibly do?  There was never an order that ‘you yourself will not offer the sacrifice under any condition,’ was there?”

            But the “silence equals permission” scenario was thoroughly rejected when it came not to a mere everyday Christian like you and me.  It happened to an outright ruler of God’s people.  Not even he had the right to act in such a manner.  Why then should we expect to be cheered when we imitate Saul's well meaning but fully unauthorized behavior?

 

            10.  King Uzziah lost his kingdom because he did not respect the silence of God as prohibiting him offering incense.  The specified parties were priests but there was no direct prohibition of kings doing so. 

 

            In 2 Chronicles 26 we read of King Uzziah going into the temple to offer incense:

 

16 But when he was strong he grew proud, to his destruction.  For he was false to the Lord his God, and entered the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar of incense.  17 But Azari′ah the priest went in after him, with eighty priests of the Lord who were men of valor; 18 and they withstood King Uzzi′ah, and said to him, “It is not for you, Uzzi′ah, to burn incense to the Lord, but for the priests the sons of Aaron, who are consecrated to burn incense.  Go out of the sanctuary; for you have done wrong, and it will bring you no honor from the Lord God.”  

19 Then Uzzi′ah was angry.  Now he had a censer in his hand to burn incense, and when he became angry with the priests leprosy broke out on his forehead, in the presence of the priests in the house of the Lord, by the altar of incense.  20 And Azari′ah the chief priest, and all the priests, looked at him, and behold, he was leprous in his forehead!  And they thrust him out quickly, and he himself hastened to go out, because the Lord had smitten him.

21 And King Uzzi′ah was a leper to the day of his death, and being a leper dwelt in a separate house, for he was excluded from the house of the Lord.  And Jotham his son was over the king’s household, governing the people of the land

 

            Notice that Azariah’s objection was not, “the Scriptures prohibit you from offering incense,” which would accuse him of violating a “thou shalt not.”  Instead his objection that the right to do so had been given to someone else--the priests.  His line of reasoning is crystal clear:  Since it is the responsibility of the priests to offer the incense, you—the king—have no business doing it.  In other words, God’s positive regulation concerning who was to offer incense was equivalent to God’s prohibiting everyone else.

            That God fully supported Azariah’s interpretation of Divine silence meaning Divine prohibition can be seen in what followed:  The king was promptly struck with leprosy and the priests did what they normally would have bent over backwards not to do:  Physically throw their own king out of the temple.  And with the king covered with leprosy, there wasn’t a man or woman in the kingdom who was going to challenge the propriety of what they had done.

            He lost his power, having to cede it to his son while he himself lived the remainder of his life as an outcast leper.  He lost a kingdom because God’s law of silence was not respected.

            What will we lose?  Is it really worth the pride we have in our “constructive innovations”?  Good intentions do not guarantee God's approval.