What Is Written vs. God's Silence

There are some people who are of the belief that we cannot understand truth as revealed in the scriptures. Let us consider what the Bible itself declares on this matter, as well as consider the implications and dangers of such a conviction.

First of all, think of what such logic implies about the nature of God. In Psalm 145.17, David declared of God, “The Lord is righteous in all his ways, and holy in all his works” (cf. Nehemiah 9.8,33). Similarly, Moses wrote of God, “All his ways are just” (Deuteronomy 32.4). In view of these acknowledgments, how just and righteous would God be to place my salvation upon “that which is written” and then give me “that which is written” (the Bible), knowing all the while that I could not understand it? The word “understand” occurs about 300 times in the Bible. Paul wrote, “Wherefore…understand what the will of the Lord is” (Ephesians 5.17). Did Paul speak of an impossibility? He also said that those who read his epistle could understand what he knew of “the mystery of Christ” (Ephesians 3.4).

If it were true that truth in the Bible could not be understood, only one of two reasons would explain why: Either God did not want us to understand it (the verses just given prove otherwise), or he was not able to make his words understandable. Who would dare accuse God of the latter? Therefore, in addressing the question of whether it was God’s desire for man to understand his will, consider two texts:

The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some count slackness; but is long-suffering to you-ward, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.
2 Peter 3.9

…Who would have all men to be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth.
1 Timothy 2.4

In view of the fact that God desires all to come to repentance and come to the knowledge of the truth, would anyone conclude that God purposefully spoke so as to not be understood on these matters? The Bible declares that God’s word is truth and that truth can be understood (John 17.17; 8.31-32; 7.17).

Consider also that if it were true that truth could not be understood, wherefore should truth even exist? Without truth, what consequences would we face? If truth did not exist, nothing could be labeled as error. If this were true, there could be no such thing as sin. If all this were true, then Jesus died for naught!

If truth can be understood at all, it can be understood alike. There can be only one correct understanding of the word of God. Anything other than this is a misunderstanding. To understand means to comprehend the meaning of; to receive the correct meaning of words and signs. There is a rule of logic that says two things cannot differ on the same subject and both be right. For example, if I tell you my phone number is 283-3634 and two weeks later you try to call me by dialing 283-2426 stating that, “I understood you to say…”, no, you did not understand me to say. You misunderstood me to say 283-3436.

We can agree on what is written. Many times the reality is that our disagreements are not over what God’s word says, rather what God’s word doesn’t say. Note these examples:

  1. Exodus 3.1-3. God spoke to Moses out of a “bush that burned with fire.” We can agree it was a “burning bush,” but never agree on what kind of bush it was that burned. The Bible is silent on the kind of bush it was.
  2. John 3.1-2. We can all agree that Nicodemus came to Christ “by night.” However, we can never agree on why he came by night. Unity can be found on the clear statement “by night.” Morning and noon are ruled out. Again, the Bible is silent on Nicodemus’ reason.
  3. 2 Corinthians 12.7-10. We can agree Paul had a thorn in the flesh. We will never be untied on what it was because the Bible is silent on that.
  4. John 8.1-8. This scripture explicitly states that Jesus “wrote on the ground.” On this we can all be united. What did Jesus write? We do not know. The Bible does not say.

We either accept by faith the inspired record on these matters or we reject it. But if we accept it, we are in agreement. That upon which the Bible is silent cannot be the basis of faith (Romans 10.17). The basis for our faith must be the same basis for our unity. That basis is not God’s silence but his words. God’s silence serves only as a basis for our opinions. Opinions are as our noses: Everyone has one. The Bible does not demand unity on our opinions.

There is no authority in God’s silence because silence provides no precedent that can be bound or basis for agreement. God does not require unity where there is no authority. Let us remember: What God’s word teaches, God approves, and what God’s word is silent on, God rejects.