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Paul Melton

Silence within the Scriptures regarding a particular practice has been used throughout the ages as a common justification for digressive actions. If the Bible does not explicitly mention a certain issue, the assumption is made that that God is silent. For instance, in the New Testament, handclapping and instrumental music in worship, using multiple cups in the Lord’s Supper and many other practices are not specifically mentioned in the New Testament Scriptures. However, is the Lord really silent on these issues?  He is not silent on them.


The principle of silence is that which separates the church of Christ from Roman Catholicism, Protestantism, and all denominations.  Robert Richardson in his Memoirs of Alexander Campbell, Volume I (1868) wrote that,

The concealments of the Bible are as Divine as its revelations. Infinite wisdom was required as much to determine of what man should be ignorant as what man should know. . . .As it was the distinguishing error of Romanism to presume to dictate the faith and regulate the ordinances of the Church, irrespective of the teaching of the Scriptures; so the chief mistake of Protestantism consisted in substituting for the silence of the Bible human opinions and speculative theories. The great principle urged by Thomas Campbell, which demanded implicit faith in express revelation alone and an acknowledged or explicit ignorance in regard to all untaught questions, brought, therefore, those who adopted it into direct antagonism with the entire religious world.

Campbell is purported to have said “Where the Scriptures speak, we speak; where the Scriptures are silent, we are silent.”  This is a trustworthy saying.

  • “Where the Scriptures speak, we speak” is basically a reiteration of 1 Peter 4:11 “If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God.”
  • “Where the Scriptures are silent, we are silent” is basically a reiteration of Deuteronomy 4:2 “Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it”

These two statements taken together not only teach the necessity of taking the Divine revelation as our only guide in spiritual matters, but prohibit the addition and admixture of human opinions.

Those who contest these two Bible principles seek to engage in unlawful practices themselves or at least approve of those who do in order to enlarge their sphere of fellowship.


1. The construction of Noah’s ark

The classic example is the construction of the massive ark in which two of every kind of animal, and seven of every bird and clean beast, “the male and his female” (Gen.7:2, 3).

God’s instructions for the ark’s construction include,Make thee an ark of gopher wood; rooms shalt thou make in the ark, and shalt pitch it within and without with pitch” (Gen. 6:14).

God told Noah the type of wood to use: “gopher wood”. This directive of necessity excludes wood of every other classification. It also bars the use of metal, rubber, plastic or anything other than timber.

In the same manner, Noah could not modify the dimensions of the ark laid out by God in Genesis 6:16, “A window shalt thou make to the ark, and in a cubit shalt thou finish it above; and the door of the ark shalt thou set in the side thereof; with lower, second, and third stories shalt thou make it.”  What if Noah had decided to put an extra window or add a fourth story, or place the door at the end rather than on the side. He could always contend, “But, Lord, you did not say not to!” 

From this we can say with all confidence that God requires precise obedience to his commands, without additions or subtractions.

Here it is proper to distinguish between additions and aids. An addition is something distinct or divergent from the command given, whereas an “aid” is simply a tool employed in the implementation of the command that involves nothing different than the command. 

This can be seen in the building of the ark. Notice that the commands God gave carry with them certain admissible freedoms implicit within the stipulations themselves. For example, the command to “make an ark” implies the freedom to use any tool at his disposal (such as an axe, saw, etc.).  By using a saw or axe, Noah would have been executing only the requirement commanded of him, nothing more. Likewise the command to make “rooms” in the ark gave him the liberty to make as many as he saw fit, since God did not specify the number. However, God did specify the number of floors, three. 

The New Testament Scriptures inculcates singing in nine verses, with no mention of instrumental music in the church assembly (Mat. 26:30; Mark 14:26; Acts 16:25; Rom. 15:9; I Cor. 14:15; Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16; Heb. 2:12; Jam. 5:13).  The general command “sing” can be carried out with songbooks or without, with four-part harmony, or just soprano, sitting on a bench or standing. By using songbooks, we are doing nothing more than “singing”. However, if we play an organ, guitar or some other instrument, we are no longer just engaging in the act of singing. Now we are “playing” an mechanical instrument.  We have gone “above what is written” (1 Cor.4:6)

Wayne Jackson illustrates it in this way in his article entitled “Aid or Addition, What Is the Difference?”

 “A cane may aid one in taking a walk, but with or without this device, one is just walking. But if one walks for a while, and then rides a bicycle, he is no longer just walking; something has been added to his mode of travel. Now, he’s both walking and riding. [He then provides another example,] “A mother sends her son to the market to buy a loaf of bread. He brings the bread home in a bag. The bag is merely an aid. Should he purchase a candy bar as well, he has disregarded the instruction of his mother by an addition.” Access date: May 23, 2020).

Teachers and preachers are obliged to “teach” with the understanding of the audience (1 Cor.14:19). Whether he speaks using a microphone, chalkboard, handouts, or a projection of the verses on a screen, he is doing nothing but speaking and reading God’s word. These are just teaching aids or tools he uses to carry out the command to speak God’s word to one audience. However, if he were to play an audio recording or movie, at that moment, he ceases speaking and now he is doing something additional which God never authorized, namely, “showing a film” in church or “playing an audio” in church.  No longer do we have one man standing before an audience addressing the assembled as 1 Corinthians 14:26-39) teaches. Now we have someone speaking who is NOT present in the assembly, which is something different than what God commanded.

2. God’s silence regarding other fire

In Leviticus 10:1, the word of God states that these two priests, offered strange fire before the Lord, which he commanded them not.”  And as a consequence, verse 2 says, “And there went out fire from the Lord, and devoured them, and they died before the Lord.”

In Leviticus 9:24, God showed his approval to these same two priests, when the strictly adhered to God’s ordinances regarding burnt sacrifices. God sent down fire in approval of what their scriptural worship.  Now in Leviticus 10:1,2, He sends down fire in disapproval of their actions and burned them alive.  It is interesting how Nadab and Abihu followed God’s procedure precisely, using the golden censers God had ordained, the used the correct incense. Does it really matter that they retrieved coals of fire for their incense from a place other than the bronze altar which God has ordained in Leviticus 16:12 and Numbers 16:46?

Besides, God had not explicitly forbidden the use of fire from another source (a fireplace, a furnace, or a stove, etc.).  God simply told them what He desired, and expected them to respect his silence.  They did that “which he commanded them not.” 

We must heed this example. The apostle Paul commands us to follow Christ’s example in 1 Corinthians 11:25 “he took the cup”.  Then he commands us “this do ye”. The number of cups is specified just as the number of number of windows on Noah’s ark. However, the volume, the shape, the material of which the cup is made is not specified.     

3. God’s silence regarding striking the rock

God specifically commanded Moses and the thirsty Israelites as they journeyed through the wilderness of Zin to “speak ye unto the rock” (Numbers 20:8) and that it would produce water to quench their thirst.  However, Moses in anger “lifted up his hand, and with his rod he smote the rock twice and the water came out abundantly” (Num. 20:11-12), and God was so seriously displeased that he bared Moses from entering the promise land. God did not tell Moses NOT to strike the rock.  However, Moses did not believe God and modified God’s prescribed order of speaking to the rock.

Moses knew better. Deut. 12:32 “What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from.”

4. God’s silence regarding priests of the tribe of Judah

The Mosaic law clearly stipulates that priests must proceed from the tribe of Levi (Numbers 3:5-13). For this reason, Hebrews 7:14 says that Jesus could not be a Jewish priest, “for it is evident that our Lord sprang out of Juda; of which tribe Moses spake nothing concerning priesthood” (Heb. 7:14). The writer to the Hebrews appeals to the silence of the Scriptures. Why was it forbidden that a men from the tribe of Judah be priests? Because the Law of Moses “spoke nothing” about priests coming from that tribe. God’s silence was prohibitive.

As you can see, Thomas Campbell did not originate the principle of silence. It is as old as the revelation of the Sacred Scriptures themselves.  However, he did express the principle in and emphatic terms in his “Declaration and Address” in 1809,

With respect to the commands and ordinances of our Lord Jesus Christ, where the Scriptures are silent, as to the express time or manner of performance, if any such there be, no human authority has power to interfere, in order to supply the supposed deficiency, by making laws for the church; nor can anything more be required of Christians in such cases, but only that they so observe these commands and ordinances. . .Nothing ought to be received into the faith or worship of the Church, or be made a term of communion among Christians, that is not as old as the New Testament.

God so fashioned the Sacred Scriptures as to communicate “His will”, his wishes, his desires regarding acceptable service to Him. Ephesians 5:17 says, “Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is.”  We must respect what the Lord authorizes. When a practice is not specifically mentioned, never assume it is sanctioned by heaven. On the contrary, we must ask, “Is it an addition or subtraction from what is commanded?” (Rev.22:18-19). We must also inquire whether our action violates any of the general principles set forth in God’s revealed will. 


“Will worship” is specifically condemned in Colossians 2:22,23 as being “after the precepts and doctrines of men.”  Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament defines “will worship” as “worship which one devises and prescribes for himself . . .” (p. 168). It is “a mode of worship which a man chooses for himself, independently of the revelation which God has given” (Adam Clarke, Commentary on Colossians).

W. E. Vine defines “will worship” as “voluntarily adopted worship, whether unbidden or forbidden” (Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, p. 236).

Therefore, to engage in practices which God has “forbidden” is “will worship” but so also is participation of practices that are “unbidden”. To engage in that which God has not bidden or solicited, to do in worship that which God’s word is silent is to engage in will worship. 

God has not bidden instrumental music, multiple cups, or movies in worship, yet men have imposed these not in pursuit of God’s will, but in the satisfaction of their own human will.  Disregarding God’s silence in regard to worship constitutes “will worship.”

Mark Reynolds in this article “The Silence of the Scriptures” illustrates how consumers and business both respect the principle of silence in our daily lives, and the disastrous results of ignoring this principle. He writes,

Suppose a man who believes that he can practice anything in religion that the Bible does not specifically condemn, takes his automobile to the mechanic to get his oil changed. He tells them, “Please change my oil.” After giving the mechanic these instructions, he goes back to his office and works the rest of the day. Can you imagine his surprise when he returns back to the shop to see that the mechanic has not only changed his oil, but has also put a new engine in the car, tinted all the windows, put on new tires, and painted the car pink! Obviously he would want to know why they mechanic had done all of this without his authorization. He might say, “I only told you to change my oil!” Can you imagine his rage when the mechanic replied, “But you did not tell me not to do these things.” Surely one who expects God to be lenient would not be so patient when the same violation was used on him.

Deuteronomy 12:32, “What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from.”

God, in his infinite wisdom far superior to our own, has expressed his will, His plan of salvation and the method which He considers acceptable worship. Who are we to challenge his authority and go beyond what is written.  Let us close with the words of the apostle 2 John 9, “Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son.” 

The Greek word translated “transgresseth” according to W.E. Vine means “to go aside . . ., hence to go beyond” (Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, p.1161). Adam Clarke explains it like this, “He who passes over the sacred enclosure, or goes beyond the prescribed limits; and abideth not in the doctrine-does not remain within these holy limits, but indulges himself either in excesses of action or passion; hath not God for his Father, nor the love of God in his heart.”

Let us respect every word of Christ’s doctrine, which was also the apostolic doctrine, that we might maintain our fellowship with the heavenly Father and His Holy Son.

 Recommended articles:

Introducing the Church of Christ – Ronny Wade

God’s Sevenfold Unity – Jerry Cutter

Repentance – J. W. McGarvey


The Ancient Faith website is a thematic collection of scholarly yet simple Bible essays and sermons, many of which were composed by Restoration preachers such as J.W. McGarvey, Moses Lard, Benjamin Franklin, and Alexander Campbell. These courageous men of faith through hours of Bible investigation studied themselves out of denominationalism, asking for “the old paths” (Jer. 6:16) and seeking to return to “the faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). We hope you will join with these men in their fervent plea to restore “the ancient order,” “the ancient gospel” or, as it was sometimes called, “the ancient faith.”