The Silence of the Scriptures



            Throughout the religious world today and even within the brotherhood of the church, there is an ever increasing notion that the silence of the scriptures endorse or deny certain acts of worship and basic Christian principles.  It is the purpose of this study to show that we as students of the Bible must adhere to the word of God and go to the word and the word only in search of what God expects of us.

            It matters not what this brother or that brother thinks or says in regard to biblical silence.  What matters is what does the Bible say or not say.  “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (Psalms 119:105 NASB).  If we truly believe the word of God is our guide, why is it so easy for those who wish to take the silence of the scriptures as God’s approval for their actions either positive or negative?

            The Reformation Movement had a slogan “Where the Scriptures speak we speak, and where they are silent, we are silent.” It is my firm belief that this statement is just as important for us today as it was two-hundred years ago.  Who are we to think that because God was silent on a particular matter, we, who are not inspired, have the authority to add or take away from God’s inspired Word?  Within the word of God there are three distinct warnings recorded by inspired writers of the dangers involved in speaking where God had not spoken or not listening where he has.  The children of Israel were warned not to add to or take from the word commanded them (Deut. 4:2).  Solomon repeated this warning in Proverbs 30:6.  John, in writing the conclusion to the book of Revelation recorded the warning to not add or take away from the writings of that book and the penalty that would befall those who did such (Rev 22:18).   We should take this warning seriously for our own actions today in how we worship and what we believe.


            In any discussion regarding the silence of the scriptures, one must first of all identify the scriptures as the word of God.  If we do not truly believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God, further discussion is fruitless.  The student of the Bible, which all should be, should look to the Bible for all answers into how we are to be righteous in the sight of the Lord. 

            The very principle that each Bible student must clearly understand is that the scriptures are the inspired word of God.  The sooner one believes this fact, the sooner the student of the scriptures can more readily accept the silence.  The important thing for us to realize is that even though God was silent, there is still a message in that silence.  Space will not allow me to address each and every instance but I will address those instances which make it clear that God has spoken, even in His silence. 

            One of the best known instances of silence comes to us in the story of Nadab and Abihu.  These two sons of Aaron were guilty of offering strange fire to the Lord.  The key phrase in the story is found in Leviticus 10:1, “which he commanded them not.”  This indicates to us that the silence was prohibitive.  They were told to get the fire from the altar but they chose to get it from somewhere else.  It mattered not that perhaps they did so with good intentions or that no one would know the difference.  They paid the price of disobedience with their lives.  Gary McDade points out, “The absence of a positive command from the Lord points to the truth that there are areas where the scriptures are silent.”[1]   We can learn much from this story.  The pattern of worship was given to Moses by God and was to be strictly adhered to.  If doing that “which he commanded them not” received the hot displeasure of God in the Old Testament, then violating the same principle under the New Testament law cannot be pleasing to God today.”[2]

            The story of Uzzah in 2 Samuel 6, shows us that good intentions do not prevent the silence of the scriptures form being enforced.  When God gave Moses the instructions on the building of the Ark of the Covenant, he included the manner in which it was to be carried.  There were to be two gold rings on each side and two poles of acacia wood covered with gold inserted into the rings and carried by the tribe of Levi.  David had the Ark placed on a new cart to move it from the house of Abinidab.  As it was being moved it looked as though it would tip over and Uzzah reached out to steady it.  They were not to touch it or carry it in the manner in which they were doing.  Did God tell them they were not to carry it on a cart?  No, but he did tell them to carry it with the poles and that the Levites were the ones to carry it.  This violation of God’s law cost Uzzah his life. David learned a valuable lesson regarding God’s law of silence.  He learned that silence was prohibitive.   We should learn from this that God has a prescribed way of doing things and we are not authorized to add to or delete from God’s very instructions.  The reason silence can forbid when it cannot authorize is that God has said all that he intends to say on a matter.[3]

            We are to take this same principle and apply it today in our worship.  The relevance of understanding the silence of the scriptures is key to our worship being acceptable to God or not.  In order for our worship to be acceptable it must be in Spirit and in truth (John 4:24).  In order for our worship to be accepted, we must be obedient.  This obedience comes from the heart (Rom 10:17).  We must have the attitude that we will do whatever is required of us and allow nothing that is not. 

            There are those in the religious world today who practice things not found in scripture.  The most prominent subject in this area is the use of musical instruments in worship.  When confronted or questioned about the use of instruments, the reasoning is usually stated that instruments were used in the temple under the Old Testament and God allowed it, why can’t we use them?  They continue with the argument that the New Testament doesn’t say you can’t use instruments in worship.  They are correct in their assumptions, but does that make it acceptable to God?  If we accept that God’s word is complete and final, we have to conclude that God has prescribed but one way to worship him.  We as believers must worship in the manner prescribed.  Wayne Jackson makes this observation; “One is not at liberty to go beyond what has been prescribed in a religious practice, anymore than a pharmacist is allowed to add more to your medicine than what the physician prescribed.”[4] When music is addressed in scripture, it speaks of singing and only singing (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16).  All one needs to do is look back at the examples from the Old Testament and see that even though God might be silent, he still speaks.  Phil Sanders said, “God’s word is both complete and final; it is all-sufficient. God has said all he wills to say and has purposely hushed.”[5]

            Are we to assume that we can add an instrument and still be pleasing to God?  I dare say that if we do add that which God has not authorized, we fall to the same plight as Nadab, Abihu and Uzzah.  The difference being that our judgment will not be on this earth, it will be in eternity.  So our question to those who insist on instruments of music in worship, is it worth your soul? 

            This same principle should be applied in everything we do in our daily lives as well as our worship. “ Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father” (Col 3:17 NASB).  Paul, in writing this to the Colossian brethren, was instructing these brethren on both worship and daily living.  ‘Whatever’ is a broad word.  It includes everything we do.  Notice that after using the word whatever, he further expounded in word or deed, and in such to do all “in the name of the Lord,” or in other words by the authority of the Lord.  We recognize that all authority rests with Christ (Matt. 28:18).  Our Lord promised to teach us all things through his Spirit (John 14:26).  Paul told the young preacher Timothy that all scripture was inspired by God and profitable for doctrine.  He also said that the man of God would be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17).  And so everything we do must be authorized by the New Testament.[6]  So we do not have the authority to speak where he has not spoken.  Silence is prohibitive.

The Hebrew writer made it very clear that God has spoken to us through his Son (Heb. 1:1-2).  Is it to broad a brush to think that in speaking to us, he told us everything we need to know in order to be pleasing to him?  I believe God has spoken and in his silence he speaks loudly.  If we follow his instructions in our worship and in our daily lives, God will indeed bless us.

            If there is a still a question in the readers mind about how to apply the silence of the scriptures we can look back to a statement credited to those in the Reformation Movement.  We must speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where the Bible is silent. This is not only the safe route to follow; it is the only route to take.  Do we sacrifice our souls just to do our own will or do we take what the scriptures say and remain obedient to God?






















Beals, George F. How Implication Binds and Silence Forbids. Ann Arbor, MI: PC Publications, 1998.


Berkhof, L.B.D. Principles of Biblical Interpretation.  Baker Book House, 1975.


Jackson, Wayne.The Silence of the Scriptures, November, 1999.



KearleyF.Furman.Myers, Edward P., Hadley, Timothy D. Biblical Interpretation Principles and Practices, Baker Book House, 1986.


McDade, Gary. The Case of Nadab and Abihu, The Spiritual Sword.  Volume 38, No.1 October 2006


Miller, Dave.  Piloting the Strait. Pulaski, TN: Sain Publications. 2005


Rhodes, Kevin W. How to Study the Bible. USA: Xlibris Corp. 2005.


Sanders, Philip. Let All the Earth Keep Silence. Fort Worth, TX: Star Bible Publications, 2006.










[1]McDade, Gary. The Case of Nadab and Abihu, The Spiritual Sword, October 2006. 13


[3]Sanders, Philip. Let All the Earth Keep Silence.2006. 18

[4]Jackson, Wayne. The Silence of the Scriptures, Christian, Nov 10,1999

[5]Sanders, Philip. Let All the Earth Keep Silence, 2006. 41

[6]Beals, George F. How Implication Binds and Silence Forbids, 1998, 107