February 14, 2003
Proof-texting is a common practice among those who believe any doctrine or practice must have some biblical basis justifying its existence. "The basic evangelical fallacy of our generation is 'proof-texting,' that process whereby a person 'proves' a doctrine or practice merely by alluding to a text without considering its original inspired meaning" (Dr. Grant Osborne, The Hermeneutical Spiral: A Comprehensive Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, page 6-7).
The proof-text model is an approach to biblical interpretation that "ignores context ... often relies on a na´ve reading of the text ... and is completely inadequate" (Kaiser & Silva, An Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics: The Search for Meaning, page 31). These authors go on to note that this methodology tends to "disregard the purpose for which the text was written, the historical conditioning in which it is set, and the genre conventions that shaped it. Consequently, this method is vulnerable to allegorization, psychologization, spiritualization, and other forms of quick-and-easy adjustments of the scriptural words to say what one wishes them to say in the contemporary scene, ignoring their intended purpose and usage as determined by context, grammar, and historical background" (ibid, pages 31-32).
Dr. Milton S. Terry, in his classic work Biblical Hermeneutics: A Treatise on the Interpretation of the Old and New Testaments, observed, "The teacher of Scripture doctrine should not cite his proof-texts ad libitum, or at random, as if any word or sentiment in harmony with his purpose, if only found in the Scriptures, must needs be pertinent" (page 595). Dr. D.R. Dungan, who refers to this as the "dogmatic method" of biblical interpretation, states that "almost anything can be proven to the man who wants to find the proof. It leads to a wrong use of the Scriptures, so that, instead of searching them for whatever they may contain, the doctrines have been first assumed, and then the Bible is compelled into some sort of recognition of the position" (Hermeneutics: The Science of Interpreting the Scriptures, page 39). He later asserts such dogmatists "resort to methods of proof that would not be recognized in any other search for knowledge" (ibid, page 74). These proof-texters will grasp onto "anything to save their doctrine from which they are determined not to part" (ibid, page 75). "Dogmatism first determines what it is willing shall be found in the Scriptures, and then goes to work at once to find nothing else there, and even to refuse that anything else shall be found" (ibid, page 78).
Suffice it to say, there are no reputable biblical scholars who have any use whatsoever for the dogmatic methodology of proof-texting. It is a blight upon sound, scholarly exegesis of the biblical text. And yet it is the interpretive model of preference among the proponents of the so-called "Law of Silence." Just to illustrate this fact, let me share with you just three of the "crown jewels" in the vault of these proof-texters --- passages they claim "prove" that "biblical silence excludes and prohibits." I think you will quickly perceive that their "proof" vanishes away into thin air under scholarly scrutiny.
Moses and the Priesthood
The passage that is dragged out most frequently by the "Law of Silence" proof-texters is found in the epistle to the Hebrews. It is a verse pertaining to something Moses didn't say, and from which an unwarranted conclusion is drawn.
The proponents of the so-called "Law of Silence" declare this is "proof positive" that "silence excludes and prohibits." Moses was silent about priests coming from any other tribe than Levi, therefore all other tribes are excluded by silence. Is this a logical, rational, reasonable conclusion to draw from this passage? Let's use the brains God gave us and think this through.
Was God silent with respect to which of the tribes would be the "priestly tribe"? No. God SPOKE. God SPECIFIED. The tribe was to be Levi .... and only Levi. "The Lord set apart the tribe of Levi to carry the ark of the covenant of the Lord, to stand before the Lord to serve Him and to bless in His name until this day. Therefore, Levi does not have a portion or inheritance with his brothers; the Lord is his inheritance" (Deut. 10:8-9). See also: Numbers 3:5-10; 8:5-26; 18:1-7. "Thus you shall separate the Levites from among the sons of Israel, and the Levites shall be Mine" (Numbers 8:14). "They are wholly given to Me from among the sons of Israel" (Numbers 8:16). "I am giving you the priesthood as a bestowed service, but the outsider who comes near shall be put to death" (Numbers 18:7).
God had made it very, very clear that no one from any tribe other than Levi would ever be allowed to serve in the priesthood. God had SPOKEN. God had SPECIFIED. He was NOT silent. Thus, the tribe of Judah was excluded from serving in the priesthood NOT because God was silent about Judah serving as priests, but rather because He had specified that only those from Levi could serve as priests.
This brings us to the Hebrews 7:14 passage. Judah was a tribe "with reference to which Moses spoke nothing concerning priests." Why was Moses "silent" about Judah with reference to priests? Because God had SPECIFIED the tribe of Levi. There was no need for Moses to say anything about Judah for the simple reason GOD HAD SPOKEN. God had specified. Judah is excluded from the priesthood NOT because Moses was "silent" about them serving in that capacity, but rather because God had specified that priests would come solely from Levi. Thus, it is NOT silence that excludes or prohibits, it is specificity. This passage has nothing whatsoever to do with "silence," much less any so-called "Law of silence." When God has SPOKEN, there is no silence.
The proof-texters have only succeeded in proving their own ignorance and inability when it comes to sound biblical exegesis. Their wresting and manipulation of this text in a failed attempt to prove an untenable theory is a prime example of the "dogmatic model" of biblical interpretation. It is deplorable, and it is rejected by reputable, responsible scholars of the Word.
Noah and the Ark
Another example of a complete failure to properly perceive the significance of a biblical account by these "Law of Silence" dogmatists is the narrative of Noah and the ark (Genesis 6-9). God commanded, "Make for yourself an ark of gopher wood" (Gen. 6:14). "Thus Noah did; according to all that God had commanded him, so he did" (Gen. 6:22). "By faith Noah, being warned by God about things not yet seen, in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household" (Hebrews 11:7).
You might wonder, after reading the above passages, how someone could find validation for their so-called "Law of Silence" from this account. They are indeed creative, however. They maintain that since God was silent about any type of wood other than gopher wood, that His silence therefore prohibits and excludes all other types of wood. Thus, if Noah had chosen mahogany instead of gopher wood, he would have been in violation of the "Law of Silence."
But, is that true? Is it God's silence Noah would have transgressed, or is it God's specificity? It is obviously the latter. It is not God's silence that excludes mahogany as a suitable wood for the construction of the ark, it is God's specificity that excludes mahogany. God was NOT silent in this example. He had spoken. He had specified. This narrative has nothing whatsoever to do with "silence."
Now, if Noah wanted to use PINE to make a scaffolding to aid him in the building of the ark, that would have been acceptable. After all, God said nothing about scaffolding. If Noah had wanted to use mahogany to build a table for the ark, that would have been a matter of indifference to God. He was silent about tables that might accompany the ark as it floated upon the flood waters. Things that might be used as aids or accompaniments to this venture were left unspecified; God was silent about them. Thus, they were left entirely to the responsible judgment of Noah himself. They were neither proscribed nor prescribed; genuine silence does neither.
The "Law of Silence" dogmatists point to this narrative as "proof positive" that instruments of music in the public worship of the church are a soul-damning abomination. How? God said SING .... God said GOPHER .... thus, His "silence" about anything else excludes it. What these proof-texters fail to perceive, however, is that specificity excludes and prohibits only that which would negate, replace or invalidate that which is specified. It does not prohibit or exclude anything which would merely aid or accompany one's compliance with that which is specified. This is pure common sense, as well as a valid principle of interpretive logic.
Men use a great many things biblically UNspecified to aid them in their singing of songs, hymns and spiritual songs. Song books with musical notation are held in the hands and before the eyes of those singing. Thus, they are singing and reading at the same time. Is reading excluded because God was silent about it? Some say so. After all, they argue, God never said "sing and read." As bizarre as it may seem, there are actually a few who insist our singing must be from memory (from the heart and mind), and that reading from song books while singing to God is "unauthorized" by the "Law of Silence." A few make the same argument with respect to song leaders, four part harmony, PA systems to amplify the voice, pitch pipes, Power Point projection of songs onto a screen, tapping of the feet during singing (which constitutes a percussion instrument, in their thinking), moving the head in time to the rhythm (which they say constitutes dancing), or instrumental accompaniment of any kind to aid those singing. In all of these cases, however, singing still occurs. The command is NOT negated or replaced or diminished or invalidated in any way.
The ark was built of gopher wood, and whether or not Noah used a PINE scaffold or placed a MAHOGANY table in the family quarters in no way altered his complete compliance with what God specified. The same with the specification to sing. Aids or accompaniments in no way change the fact of the full compliance of those who sing. The argument of these so-called "Law of Silence" dogmatists is completely invalid. Is it any wonder the world mocks when they behold the degree of competence (or incompetence, more correctly) of some professing to be "sound scholars" of the Word?!
Nadab, Abihu and "Strange Fire"
Yet another narrative from the Old Testament writings that is often held up as "proof" of the validity of the so-called "Law of Silence" is that of the tragic deaths of two sons of Aaron -- Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10).
They made an offering unto the Lord God which He had not commanded them. Well, there you have it. Proof positive that silence prohibits. God had not commanded this particular offering .... He was silent about it .... thus, when they transgressed this "Law of Silence," God zapped them. So, those who choose to sing with instrumental accompaniment had better beware. "You're next!" .... or, so suggest these dogmatists.
Are they correct? Was the sin of Nadab and Abihu that they broke the "Law of Silence," and they paid for that violation with their lives? I believe the answer is NO. Once again, "silence" has nothing to do with this narrative.
Nadab and Abihu were truly favored men. They were sons of Aaron (the first High Priest of Israel) and nephews of Moses. They were also direct descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Exodus 24:11 lists them as being among the "nobles of the sons of Israel." Their names even appear prior to the Elders of Israel. God asked for them by name to come and commune with Him on Mt. Sinai (Exodus 24:1), and they "saw the God of Israel" (Exodus 24:10). Few men were as truly blessed as they.
However, their sin was multi-faceted. Through exegesis of the biblical text one can determine several fatal errors committed before their God. These were:
For those who would like to examine the biblical analysis in support of each of these transgressions of God's Law, I would refer you to my published study at the following location:
With regard to the issue of "silence," however, we need to notice the last of the four above listed transgressions. What exactly was this "strange fire" of which the text speaks? The answer is -- it was fire (or, more correctly: burning coals) which was not taken from the brazen altar, but rather from some other source. In other words, it was burning coals taken from a source other than the one SPECIFIED by God.
When ceremonial worship was first instituted among the people of Israel, victims on the brazen altar were consumed by fire sent directly from heaven. This was considered holy fire; fire which came from the very presence of God Almighty. The people were commanded to keep this fire burning at all times. The offering of daily incense was to be burned in censers using ONLY the coals taken from this particular fire, and no other.
Thus, Nadab and Abihu presented an offering before the Lord that only the High Priest was commanded and authorized to make, and they presented this offering in a location (the Holy of Holies) where only the High Priest was authorized to enter. They used coals taken from a source other than the one specified by direct command from God, and they did so because they were drunk! Saxe and Jensen cite this as "no light offense," but rather as "flagrant disobedience and presumption" (Studies in Leviticus).
These two men were in direct violation of several SPECIFIC COMMANDS. This was not a case of transgressing "silence." This was a case of doing the exact opposite of what God had SAID to do. It was not silence that was violated, it was specificity. They replaced, negated, and invalidated what God had specified. This was not a case of using something as an aid or accompaniment in their obedience to what was specified. This was a case of voiding what was specified by substituting something else in its place. This is a vital distinction that the proponents of the so-called "Law of Silence" seem incapable of comprehending.
The sin of Nadab and Ahihu was a willful, malicious, irreverent replacement of what God SPECIFIED with something they themselves chose instead. They violated direct commands of deity, rather than violating His silence.
Although more could be provided, these few examples of attempts to validate a fallacious theology by proof-texting should suffice to show the error of this mindset and interpretive model. The assertion that biblical silence excludes and prohibits is false. It cannot even remotely be justified by sound exegesis of the Word. Those dogmatists who try anyway only succeed in displaying their woeful inadequacy with respect to the principles of sacred hermeneutics.
From a fellow Minister in New Mexico:
I am enjoying your "Reflections." Your articles on "silence" have been thought provoking for a fellowship that routinely subscribes to the "silence is prohibitive" mantra. I just wanted you to know that others are thinking much the same as you are concerning the "law of exclusion" and the nature of "silence" in the Scriptures.
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