The Silence of Scripture

“Where the Scriptures speak, we speak; where the Scriptures are silent, we are silent.”
– Thomas Campbell, heretic

As slogans go, I like this one. It’s brief, pungent, and pointed. It’s also extra-scriptural. You won’t find it in the Bible. So it is a slogan with the nugget of a great principle within it, and that’s all.

Now, it may or may not be inspired by I Peter 4:11:

“If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.”

That’s scripture, and you won’t find anything to quibble about in it.

It says nothing about scripture or silence. Yet it is frequently called into play when a proponent wishes to defend a doctrine of strictly observing the silence of scripture; i.e. not doing anything that isn’t specifically “authorized” by scripture.

I find that astounding.

And, if the stakes were not so high, I would find it hysterically funny.

For the slogan and the scripture have been used to prosecute all kinds of things which scripture does not mention, but not all of the things which scripture does not mention, and certainly not equally. That’s right. The very folks who claim Campbell’s slogan speak loudest where the Bible is silent.

Would God condemn someone to hell for doing something that His Word doesn’t mention, let alone pronounce wrong?

Does He really intend to legislate through silence?

Did He expect each of His inspired writers to leave that impression?

– Though Peter (and other New Testament writers) do have some things to say about people who distort the scriptures – to their own destruction.

My inclination is to speak the very words of God; not to try to preach my intuition of any “commands” that a just and loving God could possibly generate by His silence – and come off looking ignorant and unstable. (Even if that means being denounced as a heretic like Thomas Campbell – who would share in communion with anyone who wanted to remember Jesus in that way with him.)

I hope I succeed at just speaking God’s words, at least most of the time.

If not – as always – I will turn myself over to His grace.

5 thoughts on “The Silence of Scripture

  1. I was thinking as I started reading that the “silence” thing was the biggest lie. If we are silent where the Bible is silent we would not be trying to “Enforce’ our opinion of what that silence means. Some of our harshest RULES are about things you CAN’T do. If it is silent…it is silent…

  2. I heard a great line from Rick Atchley “We speak where the Bible speaks and where it is silent, we have even more to say”.

  3. Back in the ICOC we used to turn that around and say “Speak where the Bible is silent, be silend where the Bible speaks.” Meaning, that if the Bible hasn’t said anything, it’s up to us to fill in the gap, if it has said something, we’ve got nothing to add.There’s value and danger in both approaches, particularly if you become arrogant enough to think that what you might say is from God himself.

  4. Keith,Thanks for pointing this one out–I think I missed it! Is it possible to be silent everywhere the Bible is silent? What amazes me is the rules people still have–ready to enforce on other Christians–on issues the Bible says nothing about. I saw Lee’s comment on Tommy’s blog–I so agree with that–I am just sorry it took me so long to get it!

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