“Silence of Scripture” Exemplified From the Book of Hebrews

By Brian R. Kenyon

In last month’s Harvester, an examination was given concerning Bible authority and “silence of Scripture,” especially analyzing the following two common misconceptions: (1) whatever the Bible does not explicitly forbid is authorized; and (2) whatever the Bible does not explicitly mention or exemplify must be unauthorized. Both of these are false. In this article, consideration will be given to specific examples of “silence of the Scriptures” in the Book of Hebrews that will help us further understand how the Bible does and does not authorize.

Explicit Examples

The classic example of the argument from silence in the Book of Hebrews concerns the priesthood of Christ. In a context where the Hebrews writer showed that the old law, represented by the Levitical priesthood, was destined to change, he wrote:

For the priesthood being changed, of necessity there is also a change of the law. 13For He of whom these things are spoken belongs to another tribe, from which no man has officiated at the altar. 14For it is evident that our Lord arose from Judah, of which tribe Moses spoke nothing concerning priesthood. (Heb. 7:12-14)

Of particular interest is the phrase, “of which tribe Moses spoke nothing concerning priesthood.” Jesus being from the tribe of Judah was well known among the first readers of Hebrews (“it is evident” cf. Isa. 11:1-4; Mt. 1:1-16; Rev. 5:5). Jesus could not serve as priest under the old law, not because the old law explicitly said, “People from the tribe of Judah shall not serve as priests,” but because the old law authorized only men from Aaron’s seed as those who could serve as priests (Ex. 28:1; Num. 3:10). In other words, there was no authority from God for those from the tribe of Judah to serve as priests. The Old Testament’s “silence” (i.e., “Moses spoke nothing”) concerning the tribe of Judah serving in the priesthood did not authorize it!

Another explicit example of the argument from silence in the Book of Hebrews concerns the superiority of Christ over the angels. The Hebrews writer rhetorically asked, “For to which of the angels did He ever say: ‘You are My Son, Today I have begotten You’? And again: ‘I will be to Him a Father, And He shall be to Me a Son’?” (Heb. 1:5). The implied answer is “None!” The first part of the verse alluded to Psalm 2:7, the latter part to Second Samuel 7:14. The point was that since God only said concerning His Son, “You are My Son, Today I have begotten You,” only His Son held that superior position (cf. Acts 13:33). Imagine how huge the Bible would be if it had to explicitly mention all those to whom “You are My Son …” did not apply! This verse teaches that angels are inferior to Christ, not because the Bible explicitly says, “To no angel does ‘You are My Son, this day have I begotten You’ apply,” but because Hebrews only taught concerning Jesus, “You are My Son, Today I have begotten You.” The Bible’s “silence” concerning the application of Psalms 2:7 to angels does not authorize applying it to them!

Implicit Examples

An implicit example is one that involves the argument from silence in its Old Testament setting, though the Hebrews writer did not explicitly mention the silence part of the argument. While there are a number of these examples, attention will be focused on two. First, consider the worship of Cain and Abel. The Hebrews writer declared:

By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks” (Heb. 11:4)

In the Genesis account, Cain and Abel both brought sacrifices to the Lord. Cain brought “of the fruit of the ground” (Gen. 4:3), and Abel “also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat” (Gen. 4:4). God “respected” Abel and his offering, but “He did not respect Cain and his offering” (Gen. 4:4-5). The Hebrews writer confirmed Abel offered his sacrifice “by faith,” which implies that Cain did not. There are no explicit commands that early in Genesis as to what exactly God required in offering sacrifices. However, a long standing principle is that “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17). Evidently, in that patriarchal system, God informed these two brothers exactly how to worship Him acceptably. There had to be a standard of authority, and that standard was the word of God (cf. Deut. 4:2). Note again that Paul said that “faith comes by hearing … the word of God,” not by what the word of God does not say! God may not have explicitly told Cain and Abel, “You shall not offer only the fruit of the ground,” but by God’s specifying the exact kind of offering, the brothers had no authority for any other kind, except that exemplified by Abel. “Silence” of the scriptures did not authorize.

Another implicit example is that of Noah. The Hebrews writer declared, “By faith Noah, being divinely warned of things not yet seen, moved with godly fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his household, by which he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith” (Heb. 11:7). After God determined to “destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth … Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord” (Gen. 6:7-8). God provided the means by which Noah and his family would be saved. God instructed Noah to build the ark (Gen. 6:14-16). After specifying the materials, the dimensions, the window, the levels, and the numbers of animals, inspiration declared, “Thus Noah did; according to all that God commanded him, so he did” (Gen. 6:22; 7:5, 16). Wayne Jackson fittingly observed:

Though the question is frequently ridiculed these days—when authority is held in contempt—it is still appropriate to ask: Would Noah have been preserved if he had acted upon the presumption that “whatever is not [explicitly] forbidden is allowed,” and so had altered the divine pattern for the building of the ark? (17)

The answer is obvious: “No.” Noah could not have been faithful if he, for example, used oak wood to build the ark, not because God explicitly said, “Thou shalt not use oak wood,” but because Noah only had authority to use “gopher wood.” Imagine how huge the Bible would be if God had to explicitly list all the kinds wood Noah could not use in building the ark! “Silence” of the scriptures did not authorize.

Silence Versus Exclusion

Some confuse the principle of exclusion with the silence of the Scriptures. Silence in one verse does not exclude. Some well intentioned brethren will say of Colossians 3:16, for example, that since this verse explicitly says “sing,” it excludes all other forms of music. The truth of the matter, however, is that Colossians 3:16 only authorizes singing as music in worship. If a person can find another passage that authorizes mechanical instruments in worship, then those instruments would be authorized. Mechanical instruments in worship are not authorized, not because Colossians 3:16 excludes them, but because the Bible does not authorize them! While this may seem trivial or a matter of semantics to some, it is important to understand this distinction. Too many of our brethren at the very least loose credibility and at worst bind false conclusions because they adhere to the so-called “law of exclusion.”

To illustrate the contradictory “logic” of this so-called “law of exclusion,” consider what God authorizes for first-day-of-the-week worship. Acts 20:7 authorizes the church to partake of the Lord’s Supper on the first day of every week. To say that the “silence” of a verse excludes, would be to say that Acts 20:7 excludes all other acts of worship except partaking of the Lord’s Supper. However, the contradiction enters when First Corinthians 16:2 is examined. That verse authorizes a Christian to “lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper” on the first day of the week. The truth of the matter is that the “silence” of a verse does not exclude! The “silence” about the first-day-of-the-week contribution in Acts 20:7 does not exclude giving on the first day of the week. Acts 20:7 authorizes partaking of the Lord’s Supper on the first day of the week. Likewise, the “silence” about the Lord’s Supper in First Corinthians 16:2 does not exclude partaking of the Lord’s Supper. First Corinthians 16:2 authorizes “laying something aside.” Only when the entire Bible is silent on an issue does silence of the Scriptures forbid a matter.


The argument from silence is a crucial part of the Hebrews writer’s argument that Christ is superior and offers a better covenant. Members of the church of Christ today must respect true silence of the Scriptures. Because there is not an explicit “Thou shalt not” does not give people license to believe, teach, and/or practice whatever they want. May the Lord help all people, especially Christians, to live the principle: “whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Col. 3:17).

Works Cited
Connelly, Marlin, and Phillip Morrison. “Should the Use of Instrumental Music in Worship Be a Barrier to Fellowship with Others, Such as Independent Christian Churches?” A Contemporary Discussion Hosted by Freed-Hardeman University. 11 Feb. 2005.
Jackson, Wayne. “The Silence of the Scriptures.” Spiritual Sword 28.2 (Jan. 1997): 16-21.