While arguing from silence is a logical fallacy, I think there are times that an argument from silence must be reckoned with.  For example, in discussing whether Matthew 28:19 originally read “in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” or “in my name,” some Trinitarian scholars argue that the latter is original.  “In my name” does not appear in any extant manuscript, so what is there basis?  One reason is Justin Martyr’s silence on the passage.  In one of Justin’s work he was arguing for “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” as the appropriate baptismal formula, and yet he never once appealed to Matthew 28:19 for support as we would expect for him to have done if Matthew 28:19 originally read “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”  Since he did not, it stands to reason that Matthew 28:19 did not read “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” in Justin’s day (or at least in the manuscripts he had access to), but rather “in my name.”  While this is an argument from silence, it is a strong argument nonetheless.

My point is not to make any claims for the originality or non-originality of Mt 28:19, but rather to point out that we can’t just dismiss an argument based on silence by labeling it is fallacious.  While I admit that an argument from silence does not carry as much weight as an argument from positive evidence, it does carry some weight and should be reckoned with.  The principle is that if something is true, we expect to find certain evidence for it.  If what we would expect to find in the way of evidence is not found, it should cause us to question whether our hypothesis/model is the appropriate one.

Another good example of an argument from silence that needs to be reckoned with concerns the identity of God.  Trinitarians argue that God is eternally Father and eternally Son—two distinct persons in a triune Godhead.  I observe from the Biblical data, however, that the Father-Son terminology is mysteriously absent from the OT (“father” appears a handful of times, but is used in a different sense than we find in the NT, and is never used to describe God’s relationship to another divine person; “son” is only used prophetically a few times in the OT, referring to the future Messiah, not a preexistent divine person), beginning to appear only in the NT.  Why is this?  If God is eternally Father and eternally Son, we would expect to read about the Son in the OT, or expect to see dialogues between Father and Son as we see in the NT.  And yet we don’t.

While one could say in response to this argument that it can be dismissed because it fallaciously argues from silence, the fact remains that the silence itself is deafening, and needs to be explained.  While it does not disprove a Trinitarian view of God or prove a Oneness view of God, this argument from silence is one that Trinitarians need to reckon with, as it definitely is counter-intuitive to what we would expect to find if Trinitarianism was true.

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