Dedicated to the writings of Saint Luke.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Luke rewrites Amos

In the fifth vision of the Prophet Amos recorded in the ninth chapter, Amos claims to have seen God. Amos then contrasts what happens in the heavenly temple with the earthly temple. This is a picture of opposition between God and an earthly temple that can be eliminated by God. Luke does not explicitly allude to the beginning of Chapter 9 but his citation of verses 11 and 12 may constitute an allusion. The NT quotation contained in Acts 15:16-18 differs slightly from the Septuagint text to which it is compared.

“After these things I will return, and I will rebuild the dwelling of David, which has fallen; I will rebuild its ruins, and I will set it up, that the rest of men may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who are called by my name, says the Lord, who has made these things known from of old.”

In the very next verse, James announces the Apostolic Decree.

As noted by Marion Soards, divine action is being reported by James. James Dunn has indicated that this passage from Amos was “featured in Jewish speculation of the period about the restoration of Israel, of the David kingdom” and it would not be surprising that the Jerusalem community identified with the remnant of Amos 9:11. This passage provided comfort to both the remnant and to select Gentiles. These verses were also cited by the Qumran community.

The Jewish speculation was particularly strong in the period prior to 70 CE and is one of many reasons why I date the writings of Luke early and prior to the destruction of the Temple by the Romans. It is noteworthy that Stephen’s sermon does not mention the abomination of desolation featured in Matthew and Mark.

The Amos quotation was slightly modified at the beginning changing “on that day” to “after these things” creating an ambiguity as to what happens just before “the dwelling of David” is restored. Does the reader know that in Amos, God will destroy the temple and afterward “the dwelling of David” will be rebuilt? Luke may be relying on the reader to recall and relate the accusation against Stephen to the verses quoted from Amos. Is Luke now applying the fifth vision of Amos against the Herodian Temple in Jerusalem? I noted at the beginning that Amos claims to have seen God. Just before Stephen was stoned, Acts records: “Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth against him. But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; and he said, ‘Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God.’" Stephen saw the glory of God.

Is it the purpose of Luke to use the two verse Amos quotation to also allude to the events recorded at the beginning of chapter nine of Amos and to also suggest that Stephen has in fact issued the same prophecy as Amos?

Perhaps the most important part of the Amos quotation utilized by Luke is this: Whoever responds in belief to this mission will be included in the eschatological community consisting of Jews and gentiles. With this response to this mission, the gentiles become part of God’s people without being obliged to observe the Mosaic laws in full.

Most of the commentators focus on the Apostolic Decree announced by James paying little attention to what may be the more important message. I need to do more thinking about Amos, Stephen and Luke.

Copyrighted 2006


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