The Argument from Silence (Part 1)
The Argument From Silence
The argument from silence may basically be stated: Where the Scripture speaks to direct, it also
speaks to forbid conclusions other than its direction.
That the Scripture argues from silence can be seen from HEB 7:12-14.
Moses said nothing about Judah concerning priesthood.
From this, Paul reasoned that no man from that tribe gave attendance at the altar.
Mind that the fact that God gave the priesthood to the tribe of Levi without stating
that Judah was forbidden from that office was not an open door for Judah to
exploit, it was a closed door which invited judgment for anyone other than Levi to
assume that office. NUM 3:10.
Another example of this principle may be seen in MAT 12:3-4 c/w LEV 24:5-9.
God specified that the priests were to eat the shewbread.
It cannot be demonstrated that anyone else received such an order.
Therefore, for someone other than a priest to eat the shewbread would be
The argument from silence is implicit in 1CH 15:2.
In NUM 4:15 God gave commandment to the sons of Kohath (Levites) to carry the
furniture of the sanctuary.
Since God said nothing about anyone else carrying the furniture, this proves no one
else could do so.
The good intentions, leader initiative, popular consensus and participation, great
pomp and grand worship music (1CH 13:1-8) did not justify the disregard for the
Further examples of valid employment of the argument from silence would be:
The Bible nowhere teaches that all those forgiven in LUK 23:34-37 were later
Neither does the Scripture elsewhere set forth an infallible concomitance
of God's forgiveness and conversion in this life.
Hence, one cannot teach they must have been later converted. The passage
can rather be used to argue for unconverted children of God.
Likewise, the Bible does not teach that the rich young ruler of MAR 10:17-22 later
Neither does Scripture elsewhere set forth an infallible concomitance of
God's love for a sinner and that sinner's conversion in this life.
Therefore, one cannot affirm that he did follow Christ later.
Rather, this passage can be used to demonstrate that there is one case of a
man whom Jesus loved that did not follow Him.
The argument from silence must be used in conjunction with the other rules of Bible study.
Example: Some would argue that the Ethiopian eunuch (ACT 8:26-40) was not added to a
church when he was baptized because the passage does not say that he was added to a
church. They would point to the silence in the passage as a proof.
This is a misuse of the argument from silence, because it ignores the following rules:
No prophecy of the Scripture is of any private interpretation. 2PE 1:20-21.
We must compare spiritual things with spiritual. 1CO 2:13.
Other passages DO demonstrate that initial addition to a local church is a result of
The Argument from Silence
baptism. ACT 2:38-47.
Hence, addition to the church may be inferred in ACT 8:26-40 because it is
There is in fact no other command in the N.T. for a sinner to initially become a
member of a church other than the command, “Repent and be baptized...”
The Ethiopian eunuch could have been added either to the Jerusalem church from
which Philip, Peter and John had come (ACT 8:1-5, 14, 25) or to a newly
constituted church at Samaria.
This form of misuse of the argument from silence would also have to conclude:
baptism is not even required in order to be a church member. ACT 11:19-30.
baptism is not required at all but only repentance and belief. MAR 1:15.
Christ only died for Paul. GAL 2:20.
The exclusion of information that counters one's conclusion is a logical error called
The nature of God's commandments is that they admit of no addition nor diminution. They are to
be kept precisely as delivered. DEU 4:2; 12:32; MAT 28:20; 1CO 11:1-2.
Example of addition: LEV 10:1-2. Aaron's sons offered a fire that God did not command.
This was an addition to the service of God which He had specifically regulated by
Example of diminution: 1SAM 15:3, 8-9, 13-14, 19. Saul did less than God had required.
This was unacceptable even though Saul plead good intentions. God expects service to be
rendered according to the commandment.
Example of both addition and diminution: NUM 20:7-12. Moses failed to speak to the
rock (diminution) and smote it instead (addition). The fact that Moses got results did not
prevent the subsequent judgment for his disobedience.
Example of both addition and diminution: GEN 3:1-6. Eve added to the restriction God
had imposed upon the tree of knowledge of good and evil (“...neither shall ye touch it...”).
In so doing she diminished the commandment of God to dress and keep the garden.
When God specifies something in a commandment, it is to be done without alteration.
As seen already, since God specified that the Levites were to bear the ark in a
particular fashion, nobody else had the right to transport it their own way.
NUM 4:15; 7:8-9; 1CH 13; 15:2, 13-15.
Since God gave the priesthood to the sons of Aaron, nobody else had the right to
assume that office or perform its offerings.
NUM 18:7; 1SAM 13:9-14; 2CH 26:16-23; NUM 16:8-10 c/w HEB 5:4.
It follows therefore that since Christ committed the responsibility of baptizing to
those who also had the commission to teach, and no contrary example of anyone
else baptizing can be shown, it may be concluded that only those who are ordained
ministers of the word may baptize. MAT 28:19-20; MAR 16:15-16.
The church is an institution set up by God with its purpose and work regulated by God's
commandments. Hence, the church must not add to nor subtract from the commandments
of God in its worship, government and discipline.
Example: God commands singing in church worship (EPH 5:19; COL 3:16). The
church must do only THAT in its musical exercises. A mechanical instrument or
whistling would be additions to the commandment of God.
God commands the eating of unleavened bread and the drinking of wine in the
The Argument from Silence
Spreading blue cheese and smoked oysters on the bread would be an
addition to the commandment.
To eat only the bread without drinking the cup would be a diminution of the
To use beer and pretzels, or grape juice and leavened bread, would
constitute alterations of the commandment.
To adore the bread as being divine is to add an element to the picture:
Idolatry (and what becometh of this god a few hours later?).
A distinction must be made between an aid and an addition in the service of God. An aid
adds no element to the keeping of the commandment whereas an addition does. Observe
the product of what is done and see if it matches what is commanded to determine if
something is an aid or an addition.
Example: Jesus commands the eating of bread in the Lord's Supper. Using a
plate in which to pass around the bread adds nothing to the commandment. But
spreading jelly on the bread would be an addition because the finished product
would be the eating of bread and jelly.
Example: God commands singing in the church. A songbook is only an aid. The
finished product is singing with no additional element to be heard. But an organ
would be an addition because the finished product is singing AND playing which is
more than God commanded.
Example: God commanded Noah to make an ark of specific dimensions using
gopher wood (GEN 6:14-16). Use of a hammer or saw would have been an aid.
Cedar wood, however, would have been a substitute of the commanded product (at
worst) or an addition to the original commandment (at best).
There are general principles in the Bible that may be applied to specific situations not specifically
addressed in Scripture.
Example: The Bible does not expressly state, “Thou shalt not gamble.” But, it does lay
down several principles which stand against gambling.
Scripture teaches us to use judgment, prudence and planning so as to minimize
the risks of a given venture. EPH 5:15; LUK 14:28-33.
Scripture teaches against waste. PRO 18:9; 21:20.
Scripture warns against hastily acquired windfalls. PRO 20:21; 13:11.
Scripture also warns against attendant evils of gambling. JOEL 3:3; MAT 27:35.
Example: Scripture does not specifically prohibit cigarette smoking. But,
Scripture warns against coming under the power of a thing (1CO 6:12; 9:27), and
tobacco addicts are under the power of tobacco.
Scripture teaches that all should be done to the glory of God in the name of Jesus
Christ with thanksgiving (1CO 10:31; COL 3:17). Can one be enslaved to
cigarettes and likely expedite bad health and a premature death all to the glory of
God with thanksgiving?
Mind that the application of such Biblical principles may be used to warn or direct in the
steps of wisdom but not to create “Thou shalt not” proscriptions which would be additions
to God's law.
There are things concerning which God has not given specific commandment. In these cases, it is
wrong to require these things and also wrong to prohibit these things.
The Argument from Silence
Some would reason that if the Bible doesn't speak of a certain thing then that means it is
An example would be the Amish who tend to forbid the usage of modern electrical
devices because these were not used in the Bible.
However, in an attempt to apply the argument from silence, they are actually
violating it by making the Bible teach a bunch of “Thou shalt nots” that it does not
To establish prohibitions not laid down in Scripture is to fall into the very thing Paul
warned against in COL 2:18-23, “...touch not; taste not; handle not; Which are all to perish
with the using.”
These are “ordinances....after the commandments and doctrines of men.” Christ
addressed this in MAR 7:1-13, the practice of “...teaching for doctrines the
commandments of men” (v. 7).
The Roman Catholic church has been notorious for such carnal commandments,
like dietary laws and priestly celibacy. Scripture calls them doctrines of devils.
We are not to set up laws of performance and abstinence in addition to those given in the
word of God. To do so is to VIOLATE the argument from silence by making the word of
God teach what it does not teach!!
Sometimes in a misguided zeal to do what is right, people fall into this trap of misusing the
argument from silence: reasoning that since the Bible teaches us to trust in the Lord to
protect us and meet our needs, that it would be wrong to ever purchase insurance or accept
some benefit from the government.
But the same reasoning would forbid us from using our faculties to supply our
needs or owning a weapon for self-defense.
This reasoning would condemn us for locking our doors, doing nothing to protect
our children, or keeping our personally identifiable information private, etc.
We ought to exert ourselves in such areas, but not to place our ultimate trust in our
own devices. PRO 21:31.
A good rule to remember is, “...where no law is, there is no transgression” (ROM 4:15).
A thing is not to be considered sinful if there is no law regarding it.
Where there is no law, a thing is to be regarded as lawful and pure.
1CO 10:23; ROM 14:14, 20.
If there is no law regarding a thing, it is to be allowed. It may not be forbidden.
But neither may it be required simply because there is no law requiring it. It may
or may not be done.
Example: Paul treats of the issue of meat in ROM 14. He neither requires
nor forbids the eating of meat. The ideal situation given in vs. 1-12 is for
those who eat to not despise those who don't and vice-versa.
However, he discourages the eating of meat in a case where a
weaker brother would stumble, be offended or made weak.
This surrender of liberty is designed for the weaker brother's
edification. ROM 15:2.
Example: Paul neither requires nor forbids the esteeming of one day above
another (ROM 14:5-6). However, Paul flatly denounces the observance of
days for justification as was being done at Galatia (GAL 4:10) or by
coloring them with the practices and rituals of paganism. 2CO 6:14-18.
The Argument from Silence
Pay strict attention to what is REQUIRED in the word of God (DEU 10:12-13) and distinguish
that from what is PERMITTED.
Example: God requires singing in the church. But He does not specify how much singing
is to be done. As such, arbitrary requirements regarding how long to sing should not be
fabricated and then judgments passed on that basis.
Example: We are to follow Christ in baptism. But this does not mean (as some have
contended) that we must be baptized in a river.
Pressed to an extreme, this kind of reasoning would require us to be baptized in
Rather, we follow Christ by following His teaching and righteous conduct, not
following Him physically or geographically.
Example: A church may have more than one bishop as at Philippi (PHIL 1:1). But this is
not required. A single bishop/steward is sufficient to rule his Lord's house.
LUK 12:42; TIT 1:5.
Example: The church is to observe the Lord's Supper in the breaking of bread. Some have
asserted that it must be only done every Lord's day because we see disciples meeting to
break bread on the first day of the week. ACT 20:7.
The record of ACT 20 actually shows that they did not break bread until after
midnight, or the second day. vs. 7-11.
Paul's instruction was “...as often as ye eat this bread...” (1CO 11:26), which only
denotes frequency, not calendric requirement.
ACT 2:46 indicates an irregular but frequent observance.
Conclusion: We are not to prescribe or proscribe what the Bible does not prescribe or proscribe.
What the Bible does not teach, it does not teach.