It is amazing how people recognize a truth and practice it in every area of their lives except when it comes to religion. For example, people generally recognize that silence does not authorize when the instructions are specific. For example, I recognized this even when I was a young child. My parents would occasionally send me to the corner grocery store with a list of specific items they wanted me to purchase. I would purchase only the items on the list. I understood not to purchase items that the list was silent about. If candy was not on the list, I knew that the absence (silence) of candy on the list did not authorize me to buy candy. I knew that my parents did not have to list all of the items “thou shalt not purchase“; they only had to list the specific items they wanted me to purchase. Simply stated: silence is not permissive!
Most recognize that when a doctor writes a prescription, he does not have to list all the medications he does not want used. He simply indicates the correct, specific medication and that automatically rules out all other medications. The doctor’s silence does not authorize; the doctor’s silence prohibits the use of all medications not mentioned. When specific requirements are stated, silence is not permissive.
A recipe, if followed, to make a particular dish requires acceptance of the fact that specifics in that recipe eliminate the use of other ingredients and the specific measurements eliminate other measurements. The recipe does not have to list ingredients that are not to be used; the recipe does not have to state that other measurements of these ingredients are not to be used. The specifics are given and those specifics forbid variations and deviations. When specific requirements are stated, silence is not permissive.
We recognize this principle in everyday life. This is the way we function. But, does this principle apply to matters in religion? Does God in His Word use this principle and expect us to understand the significance of silence when commands are specific?
Is This Principle Used by God in His Word?
Consider the command of God to Noah, “Make thee an ark of gopher wood” (Gen. 6:14). God specified “gopher wood” as the material out of which the ark was to be constructed. Suppose Noah reasoned like some do today and decided that because God had not commanded him NOT to make the ark out of oak, spruce, or hickory that he was permitted to use these materials in that structure. If he had done so, he would not have obeyed God. Noah knew when God specified “gopher wood” this eliminated the use of all other woods. When God specified “gopher wood” this was not permissive, but restrictive. God said, “thus did Noah, according to all that God commanded him, so did he” (Gen. 6:22). This principle is sometimes called the law of inclusion/exclusion. The command included “gopher wood” and thereby excluded all other kinds of wood.
When God specified that the people of Israel were to use a lamb in observing the Passover, this did not permit them to use another kind of animal (Exo. 12-3-6). Moses found out that when God told him to speak (a specific act) to the rock that this did not permit him to strike the rock (Num. 20:8-13). He disobeyed God and was punished for his disobedience.
Through Elisha the prophet, God told Naaman to dip seven times in the Jordan river to cleanse his leprosy. God specified the water in which Naaman was to dip for cleansing. God did not list the waters that he was not to use for this purpose. When He specified the Jordan river, the waters of Abana and Pharpar in Syria and all other waters were NOT permitted. It should be noted that sometimes God gives a generic command. Had God said to Naaman dip seven times in water, that would permit the use of any water for that purpose. But, God specified the Jordan; His silence regarding other waters did NOT permit other waters being used, but rather prohibited the use of other waters.
This important principle is set forth by the writer of Hebrews. Showing that the law of Moses had ended, he focuses on the Levitical priesthood and the priesthood of Christ. “For it is evident that our Lord sprang out of Juda; of which tribe Moses spake nothing concerning priesthood” (Heb. 7:14). The law said “nothing concerning the priesthood.” That means the law was silent regarding priests coming from any tribe other than the tribe of Levi. In other words, the law of Moses specified that the priests should come from the tribe of Levi and was silent about all other tribes. God’s silence did not permit priests coming from other tribes. The Hebrews writer states that, because of the prohibitive nature of God’s silence, the only way that Jesus can be a priest is for the law of Moses to have ended.
It is obvious that in God’s Word, God uses the principle that we are considering. When God specifies in His commands, man disobeys God when he deviates from those specifics. When God specifies, God’s silence is not permissive; His silence in these circumstances is prohibitive.
Most recognize this principle even in most religious matters. Most recognize that the Bible nowhere says “thou shalt not” use hamburger and buttermilk in the Lord’s Supper, but this is not generally practiced because God has specified what is to be used. Most recognize that nowhere do we find in the Bible that it is stated “thou shalt not” pray to Mary or the apostles, but this is not generally practiced because God has specified to whom we are to pray. Most recognize that it is not stated in the Bible “thou shalt not” baptize infants, but this is not to be practiced because God has specified that only penitent believers are to be baptized.
Notice the impact of the following Scriptures on this principle of silence. “Now these things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself and Apollos for your sakes; that in us ye might learn not to go beyond the things which are written; that no one of you be puffed up for the one against the other” (1 Cor. 4:6, ASV). “Whosoever goeth onward and abideth not in the teaching of Christ, hath not God: he that abideth in the teaching, the same hath both the Father and the Son” (2 John 9, ASV). “For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book” (Rev. 22:18).
The Real Focus and Application
The principle of silence being permissive is applied primarily by many to justify the use of mechanical instrumental music in the worship of the church. They say, “God has never said thou shalt not use mechanical instruments of music in the worship of the church.” To them, the silence of God regarding instruments of music permits the use of them. (This is admission, by the way, that God has not said anything about the use of these instruments in worship.) But, God has specified the kind of music that is to be used in the worship of the church. In every case, God has specified singing as the kind of music that is to be used. Consider two passages: ‘Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Eph. 5:19). “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (Col. 3:16).
When God specifies singing that prohibits every other kind of music in the worship of the church. It is clear: The silence of God is not permissive; The Silence of God is prohibitive. When mechanical instruments are used in the worship of the church, people are disobeying God—they are sinning! “The Lord not only authorizes music in the church, but tells us the kind of music we should have. The Lord has not left it with us to select the kind of music we should have. The Bible is not silent on this question as some people think.” (E.M. Borden, ACC Lectures 1926-1927, page 210).