There is a reason for silence
God had a purpose in speaking to us through the written word. He hasn’t spoken just to satisfy our curiosity. He has spoken to guide us: “I know, O Lord, that a man’s way is not in himself; nor is it in man who walks to direct his steps” (Jeremiah 10:23). He has spoken to show us how to be acceptable to Him: “For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe” (1 Corinthians 1:21).
Since the Scriptures are sufficient to equip us for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16ff), we can reasonably conclude that if the Bible doesn’t tell us something, it isn’t essential to our happiness or living to please God. Deuteronomy 29:29 sums it up: “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us ….”
Speculation is foolish
Many discussions about religious matters are filled with conjecture about some detail that God has not revealed. People often get “hung up” on such things. Many disagreements in religious teaching and practice are over matters about which the Bible is silent. People are divided less over what is in the Bible than over what isn’t in it.
This problem is evidently not new. Consider these warnings from Paul to Timothy and Titus: “For some men . . . have turned aside to fruitless discussion, wanting to be teachers of the Law, even though they do not understand either what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions” (1 Timothy 1:6ff). “But refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels” (2 Timothy 2:23). “But shun foolish controversies and genealogies and strife and disputes about the Law; for they are unprofitable and worthless” (Titus 3:9).
Silence is prohibitive
Sometimes people try to use the silence of the Scripture to justify what they do in religion: “The Bible doesn’t say not to.” Does that mean we are free to do anything and everything that God does not specifically prohibit? Is silence permissive?
We certainly don’t think so in other areas. I ordered a part from a tool company a few weeks ago. I simply told them which part I wanted. Happily, I didn’t have to go through the entire parts inventory list and say, “I don’t want that, or that, or that, . . .” The company understood, as we all do, that I wanted only what I asked for.
Now apply that common sense to the Bible. God does not need to specify everything He does not want. He simply tells us what He does desire, and that rules out everything else. If not, why not? Remember, the purpose of revelation is to guide us, to let us know how to please Him.
The Bible itself confirms that this is the correct approach. Consider a couple of examples.
Under the Mosaic Law, God specified the tribe of Levi as the tribe from which the Jewish priests were to be taken. He did not itemize all the other tribes as unqualified; He just instructed that Aaron and his sons (of the tribe of Levi) be set apart as priests (Exodus 28:1). Yet the author of Hebrews, writing by inspiration, affirmed that God’s silence with reference to the other tribes banned anyone from their number being a priest (Hebrews 7:13-14). Thus God’s silence is prohibitive.
Many direct statements of Scripture warn against acting outside the bounds of God’s revealed will. “Every word of God is tested . . . Do not add to His words lest He reprove you, and you be proved a liar” (Proverbs 30:5-6). God cautioned the Israelites, “You shall not add to the word which I am commanding you, nor take away from it” (Deuteronomy 4:2). As John concluded his prophecy in Revelation, he wrote, “I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God shall add to him the plagues which are written in this book” (Revelation 22:18). If our teaching and practice go beyond God’s revelation, we “add to” His words — and we act presumptuously. “For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he should instruct Him?” (1 Corinthians 2:16).
Many churches do things in their work and worship which the New Testament gives us no authorization to do. “The Bible doesn’t say not to” is not sufficient reason for us to engage in this or that activity. Let’s be content to focus on what God has commanded.
Study carefully what God says. Don’t fret over what He chose not to reveal. And in the words of Paul, “Learn not to exceed what is written” (1 Corinthians 4:6).