James Interprets Amos 9:11-12 (Acts 15:13-18)

The previous post explored the meaning of the only fundamentally positive text in Amos–its ending, Amos 9:11-15. The text of Amos envisions a future time when Yahweh would rebuild the “tent of David” with the result that Israel would “possess the remnant of Edom and all the nations who are called” by Yahweh’s “name.” This would involve permanently replanting Israel in the land God gave them and blessing them with prosperity.

At least four significant questions emerge from Amos 9:11-15. First, what is the “tent of David”? Second, what is the meaning of “possess” (militaristic or inheritance) in relation to the nations? Third, what is the meaning of the land promise? Fourth, when did or will this happen?

One might imagine that this was fulfilled when Judah returned from exile. But Amos seems to include Israel in this promise (rather than just Judah), and the post-exilic community never experienced the prosperity or the security that Amos envisioned. This is one reason Second Temple Judaism sometimes thought of themselves as still in exile.

In Acts 15:13-18 elder James applies Amos 9:11-12 to the situation of the early Christian community. Is his application a fulfillment? Does Amos 9:11-15 find its terminus in the reality of the Christian movement in Jerusalem? This is where I want to focus this post.

If one compares Acts 15:16-18 with Amos 9:11-12 several significant differences are apparent (highlighted in italics).

Amos 9:11-12

Acts 15:16-17

In that day After this
I will return
I will raise up and I will rebuild
the tent of David the tent of David
that is fallen that has fallen
and repair its breaches
and raise up its ruins I will rebuild its ruins
and rebuild it and I will restore it
as in the days of old
That they may possess the remnant of Edom That the remnant of mankind may seek the Lord
and all the nations who are called by my name and all the Gentiles who are called by my name
declares the Lord says the Lord
who does this who makes these things
known from of old

While there are several differences between the Hebrew text of Amos and James’s citation (which is primarily from the Septuagint), the most significant is found in Acts 15:17.  Whereas Amos announces that “they may possess the remnant of Edom,” the LXX reads “the remnant of humanity may seek the Lord.” Whereas one understanding of Amos is that Israel will possess the land of Edom, James announces that the remnant of humanity will seek the Lord. While Amos may intend the possession of the land of Palestine (including Edom and other nations contiguous with it), James connects the text with the inclusion of the Gentiles in the Christian community.

What happened? How does one move from the Hebrew text of Amos 9 to this Christian text in Acts 15? This is an instructive question as it illuminates the hermeneutical method of the early church as well as early Judaism (see W. Edward Glenny, BBR [2012] 1-26).

At one level, it is possible that James is not simply thinking about Amos though this is the substance of his quotation. James endorses Peter’s testimony about Cornelius as God’s gracious “visitation” upon the Gentiles so as to include them among the people of God. The “words of the prophets,” James says, “agree” with this (Acts 15:15). The quotation is not an exact reproduction of the LXX as we know it (neither is it an exact translation of the Hebrew in Amos 9:11-12). Rather, James–as Luke records it–may conflate several prophets in order to focus his point.

Glenny suggests that Acts 15:16-18 evidences the influence of other prophet texts, including:

  • “After this” is from Hosea 3:5 with a reference to Israel’s return to Yahweh and the Davidic king
  • “I will return” is from Zechariah 8:3 or Jeremiah 12:15 in which context the nations will learn the ways of God.
  • “will seek” may reflect Zechariah 8:22-23 where nations seek Yahweh in Jerusalem
  • Zechariah 2:14-17 lies in the background with the emphasis on the “nations” who become the people of God.
  • “makes these things” may come from Isaiah 45:21 which also alludes to the inclusion of the nations.

These connections reveal that Luke’s summary of James’s speech reflects a wide-ranging interpretation of the prophets regarding the nations–using word connections that was part of Jewish hermeneutics of the time (called gezerah shavah).  The point (and the quotation) is not solely dependent upon Amos 9. James argues that the Scriptures–the prophets–agree with the witness of Paul, Barnabas, and Peter.

Theologically, experience itself or alone is insufficient for the early Christian community. Rather, James argues that the prophets agree with said experience and thus confirms the truth of the experience. Scripture must “agree” with the experience of the church if she is to pursue God’s mission instead of our own imagination.

At another level, the LXX version of Amos 9  reflected in the text of Acts 15  is rather different from standard English translations of Amos. How does the LXX get “remnant of humanity” from “remnant of Edom” as well as changing “possess” to “seek”? In both cases it may be a simple revocalization of the Hebrew text, that is, supplying different vowels to the Hebrew consonants. Edom is close to Adam, for example. Further, Edom may function as a metaphor for hostile nations that are now included among the people of God. “Possess” has the similar consonants as “seek.” The Greek translators, for whatever reason (perhaps a different Hebrew reading or a deliberate hermeneutical strategy like what is evidenced at Qumran; cf. Richard Bauckham, “Jews and Gentiles [Acts 15:13-21]” in History, Literature and Society in the Book of Acts), substitute “seek” for “possess.” Whatever the case the LXX makes clear that some Jewish readers of Amos understood the text to mean the inclusion of the Gentiles rather than a “possession” (militaristic) of the nations. Even the original reading of “possess” may have included a sense of inclusion as evidenced that the nations would be called by the name of Yahweh. Either way, James’s point stands: the inclusion of the Gentiles is something with which “the prophets agree”.

How, then, does James (within the context of Luke-Acts) understand the “tent of David”? He appears to understand it as already restored and rebuilt in the context of the inclusion of the Gentiles. So, what is the “tent of David”?

Many interpreters link it to the Davidic kingdom or dynasty, specifically in the exalted reign of the resurrected Lord Jesus. Whatever the “tent of David” is, it is effected before the inclusion of the Gentiles. God rebuilds the “tent” with the result or for the purpose of including the nations. In other words, God renews the Davidic dynasty in the reign of Jesus the Messiah who inaugurates the Gentile mission in order to include them among the people of God (Israel). The prominence of “David” in the sermons in Acts is an important clue (cf. Acts 2:24-36; 13:22-23, 34-35) to this meaning. In those “sermons” Peter and then Paul directly connect the promise of David with the resurrection and exaltation of Jesus as the promised Davidic king.

But does this do justice to the “tent of David”? Elsewhere in Acts, the term “tent” refers to worship sanctuaries such as the temple or tabernacle (cf. Acts 7:43, 44, 46). The term is consistently used of the tabernacle in the LXX.  Does James use this language in order to recall the temple or sanctuary? Perhaps we might best understand this, with G. K. Beale  (The Temple and the Church’s Mission), as the resurrected Messiah has erected a new temple (sanctuary). In some ways this may be identified with the church, but in other ways it may anticipate the eschatological temple of God which is the heavenly temple that descends as the new Jerusalem upon the new heaven and new earth.

In one sense, James identifies Amos 9 with the inclusion of the Gentiles and thus the reality of the rebuilt “tent of David.” A new temple has been built and/or the Davidic dynasty has been restored. So, is this the fulfillment of Amos 9:11-15? Or, does Amos 9:11-12 simply “agree ” (in harmony with) with the development or progress of redemption? Does Amos 9:11-15 find its terminus in  the establishment of the church (Jew & Gentile) through the reign of exalted Lord? And what of the land promise?

I think we will need yet another post to address those last questions.

4 Responses to “James Interprets Amos 9:11-12 (Acts 15:13-18)”

  1.   rich constant Says:

    thanks john mark
    another ONE!!!!

  2.   Patrick Odum (@PreacherPatrick) Says:

    Thanks, John Mark. Great post.
    I wonder how this hermeneutic fits (or doesn’t) with the historic “pattern” hermeneutic that many of us grew up with.

  3.   rich constant Says:

    IF….the father actualized or actualizes now or when “die / sleep”
    where are / or would we be located?
    is not eph. 2:1-6 not saying future / present ?
    also is not eph 2:19-21 not spelling out “corporate unity” future / present, IN the TEMPLE for the faithful of the “Israel of GOD” the new creation…GAL 6:15-16 , as being and becoming a ” Eph 2:21 in whom all the building being fitted together grows into a holy temple in the Lord”?
    there young man

    •   rich constant Says:

      I guess I should explain myself by calling you a young man John mark.

      its all compared to what,I’m at least 10 years older than you at 65 and a half.
      when I was 25 you would be 15 years old,so compared to that you would be a young man to me..
      .now then John Mark what’s really changed.
      well I’m an old man and compared to what you’re still young.

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