The Use of Amos 9:11–12 in Acts 15:16–18 -- By: David M. King
ATJ 21 (1989) p. 8
The Use of Amos 9:11–12 in Acts 15:16–18
Mr. King is an MDiv. student at ATS.
Many interesting and important topics come under the general heading of hermeneutics. One such area which has provided no lack of scholarly discussion is the question of the interpretation and use of the Old Testament scriptures with regard to New Testament doctrine and practice. Inevitably, discussion of this topic must consider the way in which the New Testament authors understood and applied the Old Testament, and while this brings up many potentially difficult passages, few are as thorny as James’ citation of Amos 9:11–12 during the Jerusalem Council as recorded in Acts 15:16–18.
The council was called to resolve “the issue of whether to accept the Gentiles.”1 After Peter related his experience at the home of Cornelius, and Paul and Barnabas told of their work among the Gentiles, James acknowledged these works of God as true, and corroborated the experiential evidence with the testimony of the prophets, citing Amos specifically. In his citation James quotes from the Septuagint (LXX) rather than from the Hebrew text (MT), and herein is the problem for it would seem that the LXX version of the passage is based upon a flawed reading of the Hebrew, which upon first reading seems to be entirely unrelated to James’ argument.
The import of this discrepancy reaches beyond hermeneutics to a question of errancy. Was a major crisis of the early church solved on the basis of an erronious understanding of the book of Amos, and if so how does this affect our formulation of a doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture? Can we simply conclude with Augustine that “whatever is found in the Septuagint and not in the Hebrew manuscripts, the one and the same Spirit chose to say it through the Seventy rather than through the Hebrew manuscripts; and He showed thereby the prophetic character of both”?2 Surely claiming inspiration for both the LXX and the MT in this case merely compounds the problem.
It shall be the goal of this paper to argue that James does quote from the LXX, and that this version is based upon a misreading of the Hebrew, but that upon close observation of the three versions (MT, LXX and NT) it can be seen that James’ use of the passage does no violence to the intended meaning of the prophet. It shall be shown that the incorporation of the Gentiles into the believing community of God was present in the Hebrew text of Amos. Therefore, even though James cites a faulty translation, his use of
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