Acts 15:14-21 & Amos 9 by Robert Dean
How did the early church use the Old Testament to settle disputes about the Gentiles' role in the body of Christ? James in Acts 15 goes to the book of Amos and under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit uses a "fuller sense" of the text to apply to the Church Age. Listen to this lesson to learn how Christ now being seated at the right hand of God instead of on David's throne means the church does not replace God's promises to Israel. Find out how the Masoretes translated the scriptures in the early centuries to leave out any references to the Messiah.

Jews and Gentiles in One Body. Acts 15:14-21


There is a real battle over this particular passage and there are two key issues here. The first is an issue of interpretation: what does the text mean, and do we interpret on a literal basis or an allegorical basis? In a society where intellectual pursuits are in the decline, when morality is challenged, and when traditions of Judeo-Christianity are being challenged, the battlefield is no longer on what the text says in any arena but what the text means. That is not just what does the text of the Bible mean, but what does the Constitution mean? The battle shifts away from what does it say and how do we implement it to what does it mean? And you start battling over what is the best way to interpret those documents.

Once a theological system validates an allegorical system it has sacrificed the understanding of objective truth. Allegory is basically assigning subjective values to various things in the text, so that your ideas and another person's ideas are going to change. There is no control over the meaning of the text. That is not to say that with literal interpretation we deny the use of figures of speech or metaphor, but those figures of speech, idioms or metaphors are used within a standard context.

The issue of replacement theology. The three chapters, Romans 9-11, deal with God's plan for Israel: that God has not given up Israel and that the promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the promises to David, the promises to the Jewish people have not been transferred to the church. They are still going to be fulfilled eventually with the Jewish people, and that is also at the foundation of this passage.

That central issue of interpretation leads to the second issue in this passage, which is replacement theology. Replacement theology is rearing its ugly head again in a lot of political ways in what is becoming known as "Palestinian Christianity" as opposed to Judeo Christianity. This has been expressed through a number of different organizations for about fifteen or twenty years. It is pure liberal utopianism and it is loaded with a lot of lies and a lot of the propaganda that comes out of the Palestinian community; but what governs it is replacement theology.

In the last 150 years there has been a continuous increase in the number of evangelicals who support Israel because of a biblical foundation. This is starting to stem that tide of replacement theology. Rick Warren has over 750,000 churches and pastors who have signed on to his whole "purpose driven" insanity, and they have to follow that whole blueprint to the letter or be kicked. So they all march like a bunch of little tin soldiers in the path of false teaching. Rick Warren is also into this Palestinian Christianity and the anti-Christian Zionism mentality. This is extremely distressing and concerning but living in the times in which we live that is what we should expect as things fall apart.

These issues are central to understanding this particular passage in Acts 15. Acts 15:13 NASB "After they had stopped speaking, James answered, saying, 'Brethren, listen to me. [14] Simeon [Peter] has related how God first concerned Himself about taking from among the Gentiles a people for His name.'"  The word there, epikaleo, for "take out of" is built on the same root as ekklesia, the word for "church." So it is a little bit of a paronomasia in the sense that it is similar to the word for church, a sort of a play on words there, because the church is a group that is called out from the world to assemble as the church, " people for His name." This brings up an important issue as well, i.e. are there just one people of God or are there two?

In replacement theology and a lot of covenant theology there is one people of God. In their view that is the church of the Old Testament, and the church is the Israel of God in the New Testament. That is their view; there is one people of God throughout all of history. But what we have here is not a reference to that concept. In pre-millennial theology, and especially dispensational theology, there are two peoples of God: the church and Israel and there is a distinction. God has a distinct plan for these two groups.

As James begins to speak here he references to what Peter has just said. Peter talked about the revelation that God gave him in Joppa when he was to go to Caesarea where Cornelius was located. God gave him new revelation indicating His plan to take the gospel to the Gentiles and include them in this new people where there would be neither Jew nor Gentile, but all one in Christ. Now James on the basis of Old Testament revelation—their appeal is to Scripture, not experience—appeals from Amos. When James quotes in Acts 15 he is quoting from the LXX, but it is not identical to what is usually accepted as the main LXX text today.

In the Old Testament you have the development of the text of Scripture but it didn't reach a final form until after the return from the Babylonian exile, and probably under the oversight of Ezra." It is not a text that is identical to the text that we have. It seems like the text wasn't quite as set as it became by the period of time after Christ. The Hebrew text at that time was written in consonants, no vowels. You can probably get out a dictionary and find several words that would look the same if they had vowels removed and just had three or four consonants there, words that have no correlation or relationship to one another whatsoever. Sp part of the job of the Jewish scribal community after the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 was to sort of finalize the form of the Hebrew text. That fell under a group called the Masoretes. They developed by the second or third century after Christ a way of indicating vowels. They inserted vowel points, a system of dots or vertical lines put under the consonants to indicate where the vowels would be.  But it has become very clear due to studies of people in Old Testament textual criticism that the Masoretes had an agenda that was an anti-messianic agenda, because by the time they are finalizing what we refer to as our standard Hebrew text, the Masoretic Text, the Jewish community is coming under heavy assault from the gospel. So the trend in the Jewish community in the early part of this era was to try to come up with alternate interpretations for the messianic prophecies—Micah 5:2; Isaiah 53, and numerous others, including the passage here in Amos. The Masoretes worked on this, and if they changed the vowels in a word it would change the meaning of the word of that verse so that it no longer had a messianic implication. 

At Dallas Seminary during the 1970s there was only one man in the Old Testament department who believed that there were many messianic prophecies. The standard view in the Old Testament department in the late seventies at Dallas was that there was only one messianic prophecy in the entire Old Testament. That is becoming more and more of a popular view among evangelical scholars today and it is not a new view. Calvin held that view and many of the reformers held that view, because where did they learn Hebrew? They went and got a Jewish rabbi to teach them Hebrew. And the Jewish rabbi had been influenced by an 11th century rabbi who goes by the acronym Rashi who had worked out a lot of these alternate non-messianic interpretations for these passages. So that non-messianic interpretation of those passages, in combination with non-messianic editing of the Masoretes, influenced a stream of evangelicals.

Another major player in understanding Hebrew textual criticism is a scholar by the name of Emanuel Tov. He said that whenever the LXX and the Samaritan Pentateuch or the LXX and the Dead Sea scrolls agree against the Masoretic Text, especially in these messianic prophecies, go with the reading in the Dead Sea scrolls and the LXX and forget the Masoretic Text. But the view held in a lot of evangelical seminaries is to always go with the Masoretic Text, that is the final line. But of you go with the Masoretic Text you basically have to cut 90% of what we traditionally believe are messianic prophecies in the Old Testament because they basically get re-edited by the Masoretes. 

In our passage James is quoting from an LXX passage of his day, and even though this exact wording isn't found in the standard LXX several scholars have identified a number of identical readings in the Dead Sea scrolls.

We see that starting in chapter nine Amos is finally giving real hope of a change to the Israelites. He has hit them again and again, one punch of judgment after another judgment, all the way through from especially chapter seven on, with only a smattering of grace offerings. Amos 7:3 NASB "The LORD changed His mind about this. 'It shall not be," said the LORD." This is a sign of God's grace, but God's grace isn't indicated again until 9:8 NASB 'Behold, the eyes of the Lord GOD are on the sinful kingdom, And I will destroy it from the face of the earth; Nevertheless, I will not totally destroy the house of Jacob,' Declares the LORD." That term "sinful kingdom" refers primarily to Judah, the southern kingdom. The fact that He is not going to completely wipe out the Jews from the face of the earth is a sign of God's grace. [9] "For behold, I am commanding, And I will shake the house of Israel [the entire nation] among all nations As {grain} is shaken in a sieve, But not a kernel will fall to the ground. [9] All the sinners [unbelievers] of My people will die by the sword, Those who say, 'The calamity will not overtake or confront us.'" In other words, they are saying God is not going to judge us, we can just live like we want. There was no accountability. [11] This is where the quote comes into play in Acts 15. "In that day …" In Acts 15 it doesn't begin "In that day," it begins "After that." That isn't found in the LXX either. This is what has been identified as an inspired "sensus plenior application." Sensus plenior is just a Latin phrase for the full meaning of the text. Something is said in the Old Testament, and you would never get from the Old Testament the application that is used in the New Testament.

Sensus plenior is pulling something that is out of the text that you wouldn't normally get just reading the text. So when we look at this passage: "I will raise up the fallen booth of David, And wall up its breaches; I will also raise up its ruins And rebuild it as in the days of old," the application of that to the church isn't evident in that passage. James is going to apply it (not say it is fulfilled) to what is happening in their circumstance in Acts 15. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit he has the authority to expand the meaning of that text (but we don't, because we don't have the inspiration of the Holy Spirit). This is an inspired use of the Old Testament that goes beyond the original meaning of the text of the Old Testament.

Amos 9:12 NASB 'That they may possess the remnant of Edom And all the nations who are called by My name,' Declares the LORD who does this." Notice it ends, "Declares the LORD who does this."  If we look at verse 8 'Behold, the eyes of the Lord GOD are on the sinful kingdom, And I will destroy it from the face of the earth; Nevertheless, I will not totally destroy the house of Jacob,' Declares the LORD." That phrase, "Declares the LORD" ends a segment. Then verse 9 "For behold, I am commanding, And I will shake the house of Israel among all nations As {grain} is shaken in a sieve, But not a kernel will fall to the ground," etc. down through verse 12 where we have again, "Declares the LORD who does this."  That phrase breaks the passage into segments.

Then verse 13 introduces a new element. It relates to prophecy. NASB "Behold, days are coming," declares the LORD, "When the plowman will overtake the reaper And the treader of grapes him who sows seed; When the mountains will drip sweet wine And all the hills will be dissolved [will flow with it]."  This prophecy is all related to the bounty and prosperity during the time of the Millennial kingdom. When the Lord returns there is going to be this abundance of production. [14] "Also I will restore the captivity of My people Israel, And they will rebuild the ruined cities and live {in them;} They will also plant vineyards and drink their wine, And make gardens and eat their fruit.[15] I will also plant them on their land, And they will not again be rooted out from their land Which I have given them," Says the LORD your God." This is talking about the restoration of the Jewish people to their historic land promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob by God. This is not being fulfilled today. What is being talked about here is the return of the remnant when they have been regenerated and have welcomed the Messiah.

Where does Amos 9:11, 12 fit here? "On that day" is in relation to the conclusion of the judgments that are mentioned in the previous three chapters. It all comes to a head and God finalizes the judgment on His people in vv. 9, 10. Then He says, "In that day I will raise up the fallen booth [tabernacle] of David." The word "tabernacle" in the Hebrew is the word sukkah. It indicates a temporary dwelling. What this describes is the house of David, the Davidic dynasty. The house of David had fallen down by this time. Amos is announcing this judgment on the people. This judgment on the Davidic dynasty, this judgment on Judah, is going to come to a crashing halt with Zedekiah in 586 BC when Judea and the temple is destroyed by Nebuchanezzar, which then means that for God to fulfill His promise to David in the Davidic covenant He will have to restore the house of David.

Literal interpretation here means that this relates to the house of David. You can't transfer it to the church. That is what covenant theology does and what replacement theology does. They leave behind literal interpretation and say this has to refer to the church, the tabernacle of David here is the church, and they try to make this restoration of the tabernacle of David fit with what happened on the day of Pentecost.

In verse 12 we have an interesting reference: "That they may possess the remnant of Edom."  You can hear the similarity between Edom and Adam. What are the consonants of Edom? DM. What are the consonants in Adam? DM. How do you tell which is which if there are no vowels or no vowel points? You just have the same two consonants. So context has to tell you what it is. You can change the vowels and in one case it is Adam and in the other case it is Edom. If it is Edom then this is talking about a historical fulfillment that has to do with the people of the Edomites. But of the original is Adam, which is also the word for mankind, it would be "that they may possess the remnants of mankind," and then this becomes related to a messianic prophecy related to the coming of the Messiah to rule over all of the human race. That is exactly what we have in this particular passage.

In verse 11 this is how it reads in the Masoretic text: "In that day I will cause to stand the booth [feminine singular noun] of David, the fallen one [feminine singular noun again], I will wall up their breeches [feminine plural noun] …" To what does that plural noun refer? It doesn't fit. " … and his ruins [masculine singular noun]…" To what does that refer? It is very confusing in the Masoretic Text.

The same verse in the LXX (the pronouns all fit): "In that day I will raise up the tent of David which has fallen, and I will rebuild its ruins [the house of David]; and its remains I will raise up. And I shall rebuild it as in the days of old [12] so that the remnant of men [not Edom] shall seek [believers of all history, both Jew and Gentile], and all the Gentiles upon whom my name is called, says the Lord who shall do these things."  The LXX makes more sense, but the Masoretic Text got messed with in terms of the pronouns and the meaning to obfuscate the messianic prophecy in the text. The ancient rabbinic view is that this is a messianic prophecy. The Masoretes obfuscated that by the way they added different vowel points to change the meaning so that it wouldn't appear to be a messianic prophecy. 

The problem that we get with the interpretation in Acts 15 is the confusion brought by the Calvinist Reformed covenantal theologians. O. T. Allis was an Old Testament scholar from Westminster Seminary in the 30s-50s who said: "If James' quotation here in Acts 15 refers to the Christian church the claim of dispensationalists that prophecy skips over the church age cannot be maintained." He is trying to argue that James is saying that Amos 9 is fulfilled. But look carefully at the text of Acts 15:15. "With this the words of the Prophets agree, just as it is written." He doesn't use the term "fulfillment." He just says the idea of God saving Gentiles is not new. The prophets agreed with that. He uses the word "prophets" in the plural and that doesn't just mean a plurality of prophets, it relates to the entire second division of the Hebrew Scriptures. James isn't talking about individual prophets, he is talking about that section that is called "the prophets."

Another scholar, a post-millenialist, is Ken Gentry. He said: "This is one of the passages in the New Testament to illustrate how the church fulfills prophecies regarding Israel; and that this is the ultimate fulfillment of many prophecies to Israel, symbolically depicted as Israel." He gets into allegorical interpretation. "I note above that some Old Testament prophetic passages apply to the Gentiles calling in the New Testament. Consequently they speak of the church." They base this idea that somehow Jesus is sitting on David's throne today. The New Testament teaches in Revelation 3:21, "He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne." So right now while Jesus is sitting in heaven during what we call the session He is not sitting on His throne, He is sitting on the Father's throne.

So as we look at this passage in Acts 15 this is not a passage where James is saying that the church fulfills this passage, that the church is the rebuilt tabernacle of David. He is simply saying that just as in the fulfillment of this passage in the future there will be an inclusion of a large number of Gentiles in the kingdom. It is not outside the plan of God to include the salvation of Gentiles today. In other words, Gentiles don't have to be Jews in order to be saved. This is exactly what John Nelson Darby concluded in this passage. He said: "Verses 11 & 12 of this chapter [in Amos] are quoted in Acts 15, not for the purpose of showing that the prophecy had then come to pass but to prove that God had all along determined to have a people from out of the Gentiles, and that therefore the language of the prophets agreed with that which Simon Peter had been relating of what God had done in his days. It is not the accomplishment of a prophecy but the establishment of a principle by the mouth of the prophets as well as the Word of the Spirit by Simon Peter." In  other words, the principle is that God is going to save Gentiles. You don't have to become Jewish to be saved. God has a separate plan for the Gentiles.