Amos, Acts, and the Bible’s Perspicuity

The Council of Jerusalem

A fascinating discussion has been going on at Called to Communion regarding the Apostles’ reference to Amos 9:11-12 at the Council of Jerusalem:

In that day “I will restore David’s fallen shelter—I will repair its broken walls and restore its ruins—and will rebuild it as it used to be, so that they may possess the remnant of Edom and all the nations that bear my name,” declares the LORD, who will do these things.

This is the NIV version of Amos, from the Hebrew apparently, while the Apostles quoted from the Septuagint version (Greek), that reads slightly differently:

“After this I will return and rebuild David’s fallen tent. Its ruins I will rebuild, and I will restore it, that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, even all the Gentiles who bear my name, says the Lord, who does these things” things known from long ago.

Question: does it seem clear that these verses in Amos are explaining that the Gentiles will not need to be circumcised?

One Protestant apologist argued just that:

Amos 9:11-12 does answer the question of whether circumcision is necessary, because it refers to Gentiles who are called by the name of the Lord. That may not be perspicuous to you, but it is the reason that James quoted it.

The discussion that follows is very interesting, but just staying on this part of it, we see how far Protestants must go to claim that the Bible is perspicuous. These verses say nothing about circumcision, yet we are to understand that a Christian exegeting this passage should be able to come to that conclusion.

This happens many times in the New Testament: Jesus or the Apostles quote something from the Old Testament, and if it were not for them quoting it and applying it to some particular revelation or decision or statement, we would have little clue that the OT passage ever could have been used to support such a thing. We have the benefit of two thousand years of Church teaching and the New Testament to aid us in understanding these things, but by no means are they clear enough without those aids.

For sola Scriptura to be true, the Bible must be perspicuous to a very high degree. Yet passages like this show it is simply not the case. We need the Apostolic Tradition and the Magisterium of the Church (which in NT days, was composed of the Apostles and elders like those who attended the Council of Jerusalem). This didn’t end with the death of the last Apostle, as many Protestants (and Mormons) would claim. Rather it continued with the Apostles’ successors, men like Clement and Ignatius and Irenaeus, even down to the present day.

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7 Responses to Amos, Acts, and the Bible’s Perspicuity

  1. Yeah, I saw this discussion and it did make me smile. I have encountered Protestants before who say that the Apostles followed Sola Scriptura and ones who said they did not. I’d love to know what rules of exegesis you need to follow to make Amos 9:11-12 say that circumcision will not be required of gentiles in the New Covenant.

  2. I much prefer the plain language of St. Paul who said “circumcission or uncircumcission…it does not matter. But the new creation.” (paraphrased)

    He was saying that what ‘we do’…or what ‘we don’t do’…is no longer important. What is important is the new person in Christ…and trust in what ‘He has done’, for us.

    My 2 cents.

  3. I should have said, ‘what we do for righteousness sake, is not important’ (the vertical plane).

    What we do for the sake of the neighbor, is very important. (the horizontal plane)

  4. shawna b says:

    i had to reread the beginning 3x bc i had no idea what it had to do w circumcision. then i got to the bottom, and i thought ah ha, thats how. haha. thanks for the laugh this morning

  5. Gabe Smith says:

    Great article!
    I had a conversation with a very unique Lutheran pastor this past weekend concerning Peter’s role in the apostles. I mentioned that only he was given the keys to the kingdom and how that was a nod to a story in the OT. He informed me that that was a horrendous exegesis of that verse. I then went on to the council of Jerusalem and how Peter is the one that stood up. He laughed and said if you read the council of Jerusalem if anyone is the pope it should be James. Peter was an attorny and James was the judge. Have you heard this argument before? How could I better show Peter was the Cheif apostle?

    • Devin Rose says:

      Gabe,

      Well, for the first verse, it’s not “horrible exegesis,” even though he disagrees with the interpretation. And for the council of Jerusalem, while it is true that one cannot “prove” the papacy from this event alone, it is clear that Peter had a leading role to play there.

      I would say, the bigger point to make is that, an objective reading of the NT shows Peter being singled out time and time again. I recall reading somewhere that Peter is referenced more times than all the other Apostles combined. So it’s not just one isolated incident; rather, the whole NT, especially the gospels, show that Peter was special.

      Now then, you can concede that the NT itself doesn’t explicitly define every Catholic doctrine concerning the bishop of Rome and his primacy, but it doesn’t have to. We can look to the early history of the Church, Ignatius of Antioch, Clement, Irenaeus, and so on and see the church of Rome’s unique authority.

  6. Gabe Smith says:

    Thanks Devin! That pastor and I were talking about those specific church fathers and the real presence which he agreed with. I should have been like well you agree that they were right with the real presence, but not the church structure?

    Thanks again!