Doesn’t Say I Can’t
Doesn’t Say I Can’t
Every now and then I will run into someone who justifies life damaging, eternity ruining behaviors on the basis that they can’t find a Bible verse that explicitly names and condemns it. Is such a valid argument? The more inclusive the broader question for those wanting to live an honorable life is, "How does God authorize/give His approval of a practice or behavior, and how does He let us know what is forbidden – those things that do not have His approval?”
Get the Right Law
Just by picking up a Bible and giving it a cursory glance, everyone can see it is divided into two sections, Old Testament and New Testament. There is a reason for this.
- The Bible says that even before the Law of Moses, there was a law in force, “For until the Law sin was in the world; but sin is not imputed when there is no law” (Romans 5:13). That is, Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph were all under divine law.
- The Bible then says that at Mount Sinai a Law was given between God and Israel (Deuteronomy 4:13; 5:1-2). This Law included the Ten Commandments and many other laws. Even the Old Testament said that this law was going to end one day when a New Covenant or Testament arrived (Jeremiah 31:31-34).
- The New Covenant that arrived is the New Testament which replaced this Law (Hebrews 8:6-13; 9:1-4). Officially, the Old Covenant ended at the death of Christ, at which time the New Covenant began (Hebrews 9:16-17; 10:9).
- Since the death of Christ, no one approved by God has lived under the Old Testament Law, in fact, the New Testament makes it clear that one is in the wrong if they try to seek Him by keeping the Old Testament Law today (Galatians 5:1-4).
There are differences between the two covenants. For example, the Old Testament commanded the observance of the Sabbath, and it was a sin if one did not observe it (Exodus 20:8). It likewise commanded circumcision and various food laws (Leviticus 11). Yet in the New Testament the sin would be in continuing to observe the Sabbath or circumcision as a religious ordinance (Galatians 5:1-5; Acts 15:1,5; Colossians 2:14,16-17), or keeping and binding food laws on others (1 Timothy 4:1-4). At the same time there are things that have always been wrong, such as lying, adultery, and murder and adding to God’s word. So if we are going to find out what God allows and forbids for us today, we need to closely consult the New Testament, for that is the covenant we are living under.
How God Forbids: By Direct Statement
There are various places where God simply gives a list of things that are forbidden:
- Romans 1:29-32
- 1 Corinthians 6:9ff
- Galatians 5:19-21
- Ephesians 4:25-31
- Colossians 3:5-9
- 1 Timothy 1:9-10
How God Forbids: By Condemning the Category
- “Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed” (Luke 12:15).
There is a good reason for this. The Bible would stretch into countless volumes if God had to specifically condemn very form and variety of sin. In addition, we would equally need endless updates to keep up with the new terminology in the world. But God, in His wisdom, expects us to use honest reasoning, and does not want to burden us (1 John 5:3). Therefore, He did something far more uncomplicated. He simply said, “Every form of greed is wrong”. Whether it is insider trading, a ponzi scheme, playing video poker or all the other forms, past, present and future, seeking undeserved financial advantage at the expense of others is wrong.
- “Envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these” (Galatians 5:21).
- “And immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching” (1 Timothy 1:10).
This keeps it simple. God does not have to specifically condemn every form of drunkenness, warn against every brand of liquor, or name every illegal narcotic. Rather, He simply says drunkenness, no matter what form it takes, whether one is inebriated from beer, wine, whiskey, weed, cocaine, LSD, Heroin, etc… it is all condemned.
Therefore, a practice may never be specifically named in the Bible, and yet it is condemned because it fits into a condemned category. This would be true of the following:
- Pornography fits into the categories of immorality, impurity and sensuality (Galatians 5:19).
- Living together in a sexual relationship prior to marriage fits into the category of immorality (1 Corinthians 7:1).
How God Forbids: By Not Authorizing the Practice
- “Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took their respective firepans, and after putting fire in them, placed incense on it and offered strange fire before the Lord, which He had not commanded them. And fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them” (Leviticus 10:1-2).
These men did not do something which had been specifically condemned, rather, they did something which had not been commanded or authorized. A Scripture did not specifically condemn what they did – the problem was rather no Scripture gave them the right to use the fire in the context as part of an act of worship. The obvious conclusion then is that it is never enough to declare, “I can’t find a verse against it”, rather, I need to find a verse that gives me permission, especially when it comes to worshipping God. God wants us to know the truth (1 Timothy 2:4), so if He has been silent, then He has been silent for good reason.
How God Forbids: By Authorizing Something Else
There are many biblical precedents that repeatedly make this point:
- Saul is rejected as King over Israel because he rebelled against God (1 Samuel 15:22-23). The precise problem? He spared the king of the Amalekites and the best of the livestock. Yet that alternative had not be authorized, for God had previously said what He wanted done with both (1 Samuel 15:3). Clearly, it is rebellion when we opt for any alternative which God has not authorized.
- Uzzah dies because he reached out to touch the ark of the covenant after it had been put on a new cart for transportation purposes (2 Samuel 6:6-7). The problem? God had not authorized this method of transportation for the ark; it was only to be carried and touched by the Levities (1 Chronicles 15:2,13).
- King Uzziah is struck with leprosy for trying to offer incense in the temple (2 Chronicles 26:16-19). The problem? God had only authorized the priests to do this (26:18).
- In the New Testament God has authorized congregational singing in worship (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16). The option of using instrumental music or having soloists and choirs is not given. The command is specific, that is, we are told to sing.
- Some denominations have a human head of headquarters. The problem? God is specific, Jesus is the sole head of the church (Ephesians 1:22-23).
- Some groups have female bishops or elders. The problem? God has already specified “men” to be in that position (1 Timothy 3:1-4).
- Some groups have more than one congregation under the oversight of an eldership. The problem? God has been specific about which congregation elders can oversee – the congregation among them (1 Peter 5:2).
- Some denominations baptize by sprinkling water on a person’s head. The problem? God has already specified that baptism is immersion (Romans 6:1-4; Acts 8:38).
Our awesome God deserves hearts eager to wholly seek and honor Him. May our attitude always be "What can I do today to draw nearer to my God" rather than "What sins can I engage in under the imagined loophole of 'It doesn't say I can't'".
Mark Dunagan | firstname.lastname@example.org
Beaverton Church of Christ | 503-644-9017