Where in the Bible is Instrumental Music Forbidden?

by Jerry Fite

Nowhere in the Bible does God explicitly forbid the use of instrumental music in worship. Some find implicit condemnation in Amos 6:1-5, where the prophet writes, "they invent for themselves instruments of music, like David." But upon a closer contextual examination, one must conclude that the self-indulgent and insensate idolator is condemned, not the instrument. Using for revelry what David had been commanded by God to use in worship (II Chronicles 29:25-26) kindled the wrath of Jehovah.

To justify any practice upon the fact God has not forbidden it is to argue from silence. Silence never authorizes anything. Such endeavor to justify begins at the wrong place with the wrong emphasis.

For example, no one from the tribe of Judah, "as to which tribe Moses spake nothing concerning priests," could attend at the altar under the Mosaic Law (Hebrews 7:14). It was not that God said nothing against any family other Aaron being priests, for He clearly did (Numbers 18:7; 16:40). The emphasis is that he said nothing for the tribe of Judah attending at the altar. Since Jesus arose from the tribe of Judah and is priest, the lack of authority for such a combination necessitated the changing of the law, whereby a new order of priesthood is justified (Hebrews 7:12).

To argue from silence is to be presumptuous with Almighty God. Nadab and Abihu serve as sobering reminders of God's attitude toward man's daring presumptuous actions. They offered "strange fire before the Lord, which He commanded them not" (Leviticus 10:1). Notice that God did not say not to. He just gave no commandment. The price for assuming that God's silence is permissive was enormous and frightening. Fire from God devoured the two priests (Leviticus 10:2).

By His severity, God determines to teach that He will be sanctified among those who come before Him as priests, and be glorified among the people (Leviticus 10:3). Neither can be accomplished when men act upon what God has not revealed.

So, to justify any action merely because God does not forbid it is the wrong beginning place for authority and causes the creature to stand before His Creator as audaciously presumptuous. Some proponents of worshiping God with mechanical instruments of music try to appear less presumptuous by stating that the instrument was authorized by the Old Testament. They reason since its use is not expressly forbidden in the New Testament, God still authorizes it in worship today.

What might appear as less presumptuous is nevertheless presumptuous. The argument appeals to the Law of Moses, which was originally given only to the Israelites and which no Jew or Gentile is under today (Deuteronomy 4:13; 5:3, 13; Romans 3:1-2; 9:4; Hebrews 8:8-13), for authority. And when forced to appeal to authority found in God's new covenant in Christ, the proponent argues from silence: "God does not forbid it."

If his line of reasoning is right, then we have "authority" for offering incense to God in worship today. It was authorized in the Old Testament and is not forbidden in the New. One partaking of the Lord's supper could first eat a lamb typifying Christ and then partake of the unleavened bread and fruit of the vine. What a meaningful memorial, blending the old with the new! When asked for authority for such worship, one could reply, "It was commanded in the Old Testament and not forbidden in the New Testament." For the authority that supposedly allows for the mechanical instrument in worship, will also allow for the lamb on the Lord's table.

The reasoning that something is authorized if not explicitly forbidden never allows for the possibility that God has a peculiar design in mind. Only Aaron and his sons could handle or touch the ark of the testimony with rings and staves in order that it be borne by the sons of Kohath (Exodus 37:5; Numbers 4:15). When David ordered the ark to be brought to him from nearby Kiriathjearim, he allowed the ark to be borne on a "new cart" (I Chronicles 13:7). When the ark became unsteady, one of the two drivers, named Uzza, touched the ark to steady it and was struck dead before God (I Chronicles 13:10).

Later, David acknowledged, "no one is to carry the ark of God but the Levites," not because God expressly forbade all others, but that He only authorized the one family of Kohath (I Chronicles 15:2; Numbers 4:15). David confessed, "Because you did not carry it at the first, the Lord our God made an outburst on us, for we did not seek Him according to the ordinance" (I Chronicles 15:13). God's ordinance did not expressly forbid a "new cart," but such silence did not authorize it either. The ark was designed by God for carrying on the shoulder, not riding on a cart. When the Levites "carried the ark of God on their shoulder with the poles thereon as Moses had commanded according to the word of the Lord," the ark arrived at David's destination without incident (I Chronicles 15:15-16:1).

A child knowing that for his own protection his parents desire to know his whereabouts asks his mother's permission to go into a neighbor's house to play. Recognizing the family, she grants permission. What parent would be pleased to learn that in addition to the house specified, he went into two other homes before coming home? What boy would be justified by saying, "But Mom, you didn't tell me I couldn't go into those houses"? What mom feels compelled to enumerate all the houses her son cannot go into the next time the boy goes out to play?

Yet, the proponents of mechanical instruments of music demand the same work of God. They feel that they are justified in using the instrument of music in worship if God does not forbid it. Who thinks for a moment that Uzzah, David, or the frustrated parent would agree? Does God have to tell us what He forbids before He can preserve only what He wants in worship? How much more voluminous the Bible would be if God approved of such reasoning!

God never says, "Thou shalt not use mechanical instruments of music in worship." However, to assume that such silence is permissive is presumptuous. To establish what God desires in our worship today, we must begin with what God has commanded, not what He has not forbidden. The failure to do so is digressive, and is greeted with God's wrath, not His approval.