February 3, 2003
There is no question but what the synagogue, and the activities associated with it, were an "innovation" or addition of men. By-the-way, I'm using this term "innovation" in a neutral sense here -- I'm not suggesting it was either good or bad, merely that it was not "ordained of God" via the Law of Moses or the inspired OT documents. In other words, the Scriptures are completely "silent" with respect to this "synagogue system." Personally, and just for the record, I don't think there is anything at all wrong with the synagogue system, and there is no question but what our Lord approved of it
The question to be posed to those who view the silence of Scripture as prohibitive, therefore, is this: Does the synagogue system violate the so-called "law of silence?" Is this whole system therefore "unauthorized?" If it IS "unauthorized" (prohibited by virtue of this "law of silence"), is any participation in this synagogue system thereby wrongful or sinful? Can one participate in that which is "prohibited" and "unauthorized" and not be guilty of sin? This may seem like a rather ridiculous question to some, but it actually goes to the very heart of this "law of silence" principle so firmly proclaimed by some of our brethren. I also believe it exposes the inconsistency of this so-called "law of silence."
The proponents of the "prohibitive nature of biblical silence" insist that any manmade addition to the written revelation of God constitutes an unlawful innovation, and that such is therefore "unauthorized" and sinful. This is exactly the situation with the synagogue system!!! The OT writings do not "authorize" it; it is an addition to the Temple system, and it was conceived and created by man. Indeed, in some locations it even came to replace the Temple system among the local Jews. "Why go to the Temple? We have the synagogue!" By this assumed "law of exclusion," therefore, it must automatically be characterized as a "sinful system," and all who engage in it or endorse it by their use of it are engaging in that which is "unlawful" before their God. This is the logical conclusion of this "law of silence."
Now, here is the problem: JESUS embraced this synagogue system! In fact, He did so regularly. The gospel records tell us He freely engaged in this "unauthorized innovation" and never once condemned it in any way. Indeed, Luke 4:16 tells us that He had developed the habit of participating in this synagogue system!!! "He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was His custom." This is the Greek word "etho" which refers to that which is done routinely, habitually. Jesus, who was still living under LAW, was routinely and habitually participating in that which had NO AUTHORIZATION in the Law. Jesus participated in a manmade innovation, and never once condemned it. When He stood up in the synagogue to proclaim Truth, why is it that He never once condemned their "departure from the pattern" by their "unauthorized innovation"? Why didn't He condemn their transgression of this so-called "law of silence"? He had many opportunities to do just that, and yet there is no record that He ever did. Why not?! And why did He join them in this so-called transgression of the "prohibitive authority of silence"?
This is a tremendous dilemma for those who insist that "silence is prohibitive." I have never seen it adequately addressed or explained by those who declare the "law of silence" to be a sound principle of biblical interpretation and a valid tool for establishing "authority." There are also other biblical examples that pose even greater concern for those who embrace this false interpretive theory, one of which will be examined in the next issue of Reflections (the Four Cups of Wine which were added by men to the Passover celebration, and which Jesus and the disciples embraced).
Let's be honest here. Either this "law" is valid, or it is not. If it is valid, then it should be consistently applied. If it is valid and consistently applied, then Jesus stands condemned by this "law of silence." Obviously, we can't have JESUS doing anything sinful, however. Scripture declares that He was without sin. Thus, His actions in participating in an "unauthorized" innovation of men was NOT considered sinful. This, at best, shows the "law of silence" to be woefully inconsistent and subjective in its application.
Someone, in response to this reasoning, once said that "Jesus had a mission and to complete His mission He needed a place to teach. Thus, the synagogue was thereby authorized." Well, could He have not taught in the marketplace? Could He have not taught in private homes? Could He have not taught out in the open areas? Or from a boat to those on the shore? Could He have not taught in the Temple courts? There were many places where Jesus could have taught, and indeed He utilized them all effectively. Why this need therefore to add to His list that which was supposedly an "abomination" to His Father?!!
Another person, in response to this synagogue argument, suggested that Jesus could "use the facilities" of the synagogue without having to lend His "consent" to it, or even needing to comment upon whether it "may or may not have been an improper organization or edifice." To this I would ask --- Is such a statement consistent with one's "law of silence" theory? By this reasoning, one should and could therefore go ahead and worship with those who sing accompanied by instruments of music, for example, and never say anything about it one way or the other! After all, you do not have to lend your "consent" to it by your participation, but you can be present and participate (just as Jesus did) without ever having to speak out against it. Let's face it, such actions would be a repudiation of the entire principle of this "law of silence." It would be an acknowledgement that it was not valid or vital to either salvation or fellowship. Either this "law" is valid, or it is not. You can't have it both ways. If it is valid, then Jesus stands condemned by it.
The so-called "law of silence" (a phrase which, by-the-way, is never found in Scripture) is extremely inconsistent and subjective in its application by it proponents. And it is easily demonstrated to be so. Men have circumvented this "law" for generations by conveniently labeling as "expedients" or "aids" those "unauthorized innovations" that they themselves choose to utilize and approve. If something appears on THEIR list of aids and expedients then it is approved by God; if it appears on MY list or YOUR list, however, it is "unauthorized" and condemned by the "law of silence." Men have become very creative at explaining how this "law of silence" in no way whatsoever applies to THEIR list, but rather applies perfectly to the lists of OTHERS.
This "interpretive tool" has been one of the key factors in many of the divisions that have plagued the Body of Christ. It has been used to exclude more than just those practices with which one personally disapproves; it has also been used to exclude brethren with whom one personally disagrees. When a principle or "law" leads to more division than unity, to more factions and less fellowship, it is time to take a closer look at that principle or "law."
This we shall do in upcoming issues of Reflections.
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