Acts 15: An Early Church Conference (Guest Post by Ruben Videira)

Ruben Videira Soengas is a Spaniard who serves as a leader and staff member of Spanish Ministries in Grace Community Church. He currently is pursuing a Th.M in New Testament from the Master’s Seminary. His interest in Biblical covenants and especially the Davidic covenant makes him an able Biblical Theologian. His post today provides great insight into the how the Bible fits together. I encourage you to read and learn from Ruben. W. G.

There are few events recorded in the book of Acts that have had a greater impact throughout Church history than the council of Jerusalem (Acts 15). During this council, the leaders of the apostolic church were trying to establish if the Gentiles’ salvation would be possible apart from circumcision (Acts 15:1, 5). In order to solve this issue James, an elder in the church of Jerusalem, quoted Amos 9:11–12, indicating that the present work of God among Jews and Gentiles harmonizes with the divine intentions prophesied in Amos. James’ answer seems to solve the issue, and if that was the case, then what is really intriguing is that he connects the inclusion of the gentiles to the Davidic covenant. So, the obvious question is, why is James going back to the covenant with David?

In order to answer this question, it is necessary to understand what Amos is saying and for that we need to solve some interpretative issues present in Amos 9:11–12. One of the greatest difficulties in this passage is related to the meaning of the phrase “the Booth of David” (Am 9:11). This term should not to be equated with the Mosaic Tabernacle; rather, it normally signifies the hastily constructed shelters made of branches for the feast of tabernacles to protect the olive orchards during the month of harvest. It could also refer to booths used in David’s time for temporary protection for troops in the field (2 Sam 11:11), and since verse 12 alludes to war with Edom, it should perhaps be compared to such shelter occupied by the king and his troops (2 Sam 11:11; 1 Kings 20:12, 16). Nevertheless, what is clear is that it is not to be taken literally but figuratively. It is a metaphor of a temporary shelter.

A quick overview of Amos 9:11 will help to explain what this temporary shelter refers to. The verb “repair” cannot refer to the walls of the “booth” because “booth” and “their” in the original language do not agree in number.  Moreover, the Old Testament never mentions the reparation of broken walls of huts; rather, the broken walls refer to city walls in general. The plural number in this phrase may allude to the kingdom of Israel, which was divided into two kingdoms. In fact “their” and “kingdom” in the Hebrew text agree in genre. Thus, the phrase “repair their breaches” may be an allusion to the day when the divided nation would be united again.

The word “ruins” has attached a suffix that is connected with David. Ergo, it must refer to the fallen dominion of the Davidic dynasty. Consequently, Amos is prophesying that Yahweh will rise up the ruins of David, that is, the restoration of their former security, which will only take place under the Son of David.

The phrase “and rebuild her as in the days of old” naturally refers to the “booth,” and it is a nostalgic reflection upon the ideal period of the Davidic Empire. This prophecy implies the reunification of Israel with the Southern Kingdom of Judah under a Davidic ruler. Therefore, the kingdom, David’s dynasty, and the people are indissolubly linked together; one stands and falls with the other. In light of this, we may conclude that the “booth of David” refers to the Davidic dynasty and by extension to his empire and rule. God is promising the restoration of this royal dynasty under the Seed of David.

Another issue in Amos 9 is to determine who the remnant of Edom is. Most likely it is a representative of all the converted Gentile nations (Edom [edom] is a play on words on mankind [adam]). Also, Edom should be understood in its historical background connected with David. His conquest of Edom is detailed in 2 Samuel 8:14; but, in the time of Amos, Edom was an independent kingdom. When David’s booth would be restored, then, the Lord would bring Edom back under the control of the nation, as in the days of David. There will be a return to the glory of the ancient days of David. Edom was of all nations the most hostile to the Israelites. Thus, when Amos mentions that the restored kingdom of David would possess Edom, it not only highlights that those who most abhorred the booth of David would be brought under David’s control, but that it would also become part of that glorious empire. In addition, the phrase “and all the nations who are called by my name” qualifies the people denoted by the remnant of Edom, expressing ownership. This terminology normally appears in the context of covenant and covenant lawsuit, which implies that the nations will not simply come under Israelite hegemony (as before) but that they will actually become one with God’s people.

A final aspect related to the restoration of the booth of David is the return of Israel to the Promised Land (Amos 9:13–15). The use of the particles “again” and “no” in these verses shows that the Lord explicitly communicates that he will never allow the Israelites to be uprooted from their land. This fact is crucial because it shows that the inclusion of the Gentiles does not nullify the nation of Israel.

According to Amos 9:11–15 the future reconstruction of the booth of David demands the reestablishment of national Israel, including the restoration of Gentile nations. It also demands recovery from destitution, return from captivity, and relocation in the Promised Land. The Land is inseparable from God and His people. God’s people cannot fulfill their duties apart from the Land. In fact, their reestablishment indicates spiritual restoration, since their right to enjoy the land is contingent on their covenant loyalty. This expectation on the land is heightened in the New Testament; therefore, it affirms the physical rooting in the land, as it was expected in the Old Testament. Consequently, the Church does not displace Israel. Rather the Church is the strange branch grafted into the promises given to Israel (Rom 11:22–23). This restoration is in part possible in light of the Davidic covenant under the rule of the Son of David, to whom a dynasty and throne that would endure forever was promised. So, we see that these verses progressively nuance the inclusion of the Gentiles into the people of God. The northern and southern kingdom, the Davidic person, the people of Israel and the remnant of the Gentiles at large were all encompassed in that rebuilding of the tent of David. Thus, Amos’ prophecy highlights both, the covenantal uniformity and national diversity. In other words, the restoration of David’s booth encompasses all the people of God—uniformity; although, it maintains the various nations included in the people of God—diversity, and behind this lays the Davidic covenant and its connection with God’s program for human history and his nation Israel. Thus, it is clear that God intended to receive the Gentiles under the banner of David—the Messiah. After this God will revisit Israel and restore the collapsed tent of David to its former glory.

 

How is all this related to the council of Acts 15? Doubtlessly James’ quote agrees with Amos’ prophecy of a future Israelite and Gentile restoration under the seed of David linked to the Jewish repossession of the land and to the reestablishment of the Davidic Empire. However the issue at the council was to determine if circumcision was required of the Gentiles, and James’ speech was meant to offer an answer to this debate. Therefore, James’ discourse is not a mere analogy of the calling of Gentiles into the dispensation of the gospel, which is, in fact, the traditional dispensational interpretation. It is not either an already/not yet fulfillment as progressive dispensationalism presents. Much less does it found its fulfillment in the church as non-dispensationalists assert. Rather, James affirms the inclusion of the Gentiles into the people of God due also to the Davidic covenant, and this is the reason why Gentiles do not need to be circumcised since David’s house includes Jews and non-Jews.

So, why is James going back to the Davidic covenant? The Abrahamic covenant is foundational to the Davidic and New covenants. It offers God’s blessing upon human life both individually and nationally. God would bless all nations in Abraham (Gen 12:3) and his seed (Gen 22:18). This is first displayed through the Mosaic Covenant and mediated by national Israel. Later, under the Mosaic administration, the Davidic covenant was established, which provides both the structure by which the Abrahamic blessing will be fulfilled for all descendants, and the mediator by whom the land will be repossessed, the kingdom established, and the Gentiles reconciled with God, who by means of the New Covenant would grant reconstituted hearts eliminating the problem of sin and making possible the reconciliation of national Israel and the Gentile nations under His Messianic rule. Thus, God who is progressively carrying out His purposes includes the Gentiles as part of His people in preparation for the fulfillment of the Davidic covenant, which would be the scenario to bring completion to the Abrahamic and New covenants. The relevancy of this is that we should include the Davidic covenant as an intrinsic element that defines the people of God. Often times we explain the nature of the present gathering of believers only in light of the New Covenant. In consequence, we often dissolve the national implications of that covenant in favor of a “spiritualization” that does not leave room for Israel when, ironically, God made the covenant with them (Jer 31:31). Nonetheless, if we add to the picture not only the Abrahamic covenant but also the Davidic, as James is doing in Acts 15, then it is hard to get away with the national expectations and implications for the people of God, even during the time of the Church. Hence, the Church does not replace Israel, the land promises given to Israel will be fulfilled, and even in heaven we will have nations (Rev 21:26), The reason for this is, I believe, as the Trinity illustrates, that God glorifies himself when he is the cause of perfect unity among great diversity.

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2 thoughts on “Acts 15: An Early Church Conference (Guest Post by Ruben Videira)

  1. Great stuff Reuben, thank you for sharing. Key exegetical passages such as this one, should be talked about and debated again in the modern church, if we are going to be “of one mind, striving together for the faith”. Even disagreements leads us forward theologically, and provide a basis for further future agreement.

    Blessings on your continuing studies.

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