In part one of my look at Christian rock, I examined four common arguments opposed to it and found there to be a lack of any serious prohibition. In this article, I’ll take a look at a position that seems to turn the above findings on its head. If the Bible is silent on music does that mean it prohibits it?
The argument of Biblical silence has been used by certain Christian fundamentalists for as long as I can remember. It is because of Biblical silence that some denominations choose to discard any and every musical instrument from their church and worship gatherings. It has also been used to object to Christian rock music. Therefore, I’m going to separate this article into two sections. The first defining Biblical silence, and the second arguing why the Bible, or more specifically the New Testament, is silent on the use of musical instruments.
1. Defining Biblical Silence
The position Christian fundamentalists hold in regards to Biblical silence is put thusly,
(1) The Bible provides divine authority on things we should and shouldn’t do.
(2) If we don’t have divine authority on a certain action then performing that action would be stepping out of God’s established laws.
(3) We don’t have divine authority on the use of musical instruments, therefore the use of musical instruments is unbiblical.
Is that the entire picture? I believe there is a good reason to conclude it isn’t.
There’s an implication behind the position that silence always prohibits that I don’t think these critics have realized. Does arguing for the above imply that God didn’t tell us everything that was most important to Him? Did He forget or did He want to keep those commands a secret? Doesn’t this equate God to an imperfect parent, or else a cruel being that punishes us for doing something He didn’t command us to avoid?
It is my position that God condemns everything He hates in the Biblical text. Nothing important is left out. This is where we arrive at a variation of the implication of Biblical silence. It isn’t the case that silence always prohibits but that it opens the door to reasonable discernment and discretion. Allow me to expand on this thought.
A few have pointed out that things such as drug abuse, vandalism and arson, and gambling, aren’t explicitly prohibited in the Biblical text. Since these sins aren’t prohibited that means God didn’t explicitly condemn all He hates.
Not so fast. Take a closer look at those sins. Doesn’t the Bible forbid us from committing violent acts against our neighbour in Leviticus 6:2? Isn’t gambling a violation of Biblical stewardship? Isn’t drug abuse another form of substance abuse? Although these variations aren’t explicitly condemned the moral problems behind them are, therefore these are not examples of absolute silence.
Biblical silence prohibits when moral grounds have been clearly set in other forms. Just because the Bible may not mention a particular issue does not mean it is completely silent about the moral problem behind it. The examples above have transcendent moral implications the Bible isn’t silent about. Musical instruments have no moral implications so we don’t have solid grounds to argue they are wrong based on Biblical silence.
I will briefly give another instance where Biblical silence prohibits that is less relevant to our study of music. This is when the Bible gives commands that are singularly specific or exclusive and commands that preclude change. For example, if God chose Israel to be His people, it logically excludes others from being His chosen people too. God didn’t need to list every land that wasn’t His chosen people. In this case, silence logically prohibits.
Nowhere does God Himself explicitly choose instruments for His people to play, they simply play whatever they had available to them or whatever they knew how to play. In the Pslams, for example, we have a couple of instances where David lists a wide variety of different instruments. What is the point of this? To exclude other instruments? I believe there’s more to it, such as a celebration of diversity: people from all tribes, tongues, and colours can come to worship our creator. Not every specific instrument has to be mentioned as every instrumental group would suffice. If the point was to outlaw other types of instruments, that would have been made clear.
Outside of these examples, Biblical silence doesn’t strictly prohibit. Silence opens the door to discernment and discretion. Instead of avoiding everything the Bible is silent on we should argue thusly: “Based on what I know God commands, does this action in any way defy those commands or does it honour them?” The critic needs to argue how doing something innocent (playing instruments), in the service of doing something good (worshipping God), is violating a Biblical moral principle. The sole fact that the Bible is silent on the subject is hardly a good reason to condemn it altogether because it doesn’t fit into the contexts where silence does prohibit.
Moreover, why limit our scope to music? The Bible is also silent on things such as the use of hymn books or projectors and going on vacations and road trips. I don’t see anyone arguing for the removal of projectors in the church or that holidays should be outlawed.
A final point to make on this is that what they are arguing for is self-refuting. Let me explain. The Bible doesn’t state that “silence is always prohibitive,” therefore, based on the assumption that Biblical silence always prohibits, we should prohibit the phrase “silence is always prohibitive.” This theological position cannot support its own weight.
2. Why The NT Doesn’t Mention Musical Instruments
After what I have established above, why is the Bible silent on the subject of music at all? Why not mention services of worship where they used instruments? The simple answer is that they didn’t have instruments.
In Biblical times one couldn’t simply pop into a music store and pick up a guitar for a few hundred dollars. Most instruments were hand-crafted and incredibly expensive. An instrument is found in nearly every home today, but only the wealthiest of people could afford to buy an instrument back then. We would hardly expect Jesus’s disciples, mere fisherman, to be able to afford a flute or harp. In addition, even if they managed to buy an instrument they would need the time and resources to learn how to play it. You couldn’t play in a church if you didn’t know how for you would be committing an honour offence to the one you were playing for.
As a final note, in the time the NT was composed, most instruments were associated with various pagan gods and idols. By A.D. 670 all of these comparisons and associations had dissipated and the church took over the use of instruments for their own purpose. But by this time the NT was already 600 years old.
In conclusion, Biblical silence is not a sound reason to reject Christian music. There are many, many reasons Christian music is beneficial to the listener. As my family can testify, music has continually drawn us closer to God. It fills us with joy, wonder, and awe at who He is and what He has done.