Today, June 15 by the Church calendar, we commemorate the holy Prophet Amos, known to us from his prophecy in the biblical canon. As readers of this blog already know, one of my primary research interests is the history of biblical interpretation, particularly as it pertains to Apostolic (i.e., intracanonical) and Patristic exegesis, and their continuities and discontinuities. On the occasion of this feast, then, it occurred to me to share a remarkable example of continuity between these involving the Prophet’s better known oracle in Christian antiquity (and indeed, the very text written on the scroll he is holding in the icon to the right), Amos 9:11-12:
On that day I will raise up
the tent of Dauid that is fallen
and rebuild its ruins
and raise up its destruction,
and rebuild it as the days of old
in order that those remaining of humans
and all the nations upon whom my name has been called
might seek out me,
says the Lord who does these things. (NETS)
As is well known, this passage is quoted in Acts 15:16-17, where St Luke essentially reproduces (with some editorial variations) the LXX text in his retelling of St James’ address to the Council of Jerusalem. The point that this quotation is meant to prove in that context has been the subject of hot debate among commentators, but I believe that Ernst Haenchen is right when he states:
“When [St Luke] speaks of the re-erection of the ruined tabernacle of David, he does not see this as the restoration of the ruined tabernacle of David, he does not see this as the restoration of the Davidic kingdom, nor does he even see in it an image of the true Israel. He conceives it as adumbrating the story of Jesus, culminating in the Resurrection, in which the promise made to David has been fulfilled: the Jesus event that will cause the Gentiles to seek the Lord”1.
Apostolic exegesis, then, sees in this passage a foretelling of the “Jesus event” centered in the Resurrection, which (as I have noted earlier) is arguably the locus of Davidic fulfillment in the New Testament. Patristic exegesis, consciously patterned after that of the Apostles, follows suit. Note what St Irenaeus of Lyons writes in his Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching (36-38):
And He fulfilled the promises [made] to David; for God promised him to raise up, from the fruit of his ‘womb’, an eternal King, whose reign would have no end. And this King is Christ, the Son of God become the Son of man, that is, become the Fruit from the Virgin, who was of the seed of David. And for this reason the promise was “from the fruit of the womb,” which is proper for parturition from a woman; and not, “from the fruit of the loins,” or, “from the fruit of the kidneys,” which is proper for generation <from a man>, so that the proper Fruit of the virginal womb [descended] from David might be announced—who reign<s> forever over the house of David, and of whose reign there is no end.
Thus, in this way, he gloriously accomplished our salvation and fulfilled the promise made to the patriarchs and dissolved the old disobedience—the Son of God become the Son of David and the Son of Abraham [….] Rich in mercy was God the Father: He sent the creative Word, who, coming to save us, was in the same place and situation in which we were when we lost life, breaking the bonds of the prison; and His light appeared and dispelled the darkness <of the prison>, and sanctified our birth and abolished death, loosening the same bonds by which we were trapped. And He demonstrated the resurrection, becoming Himself the “firstborn from the dead,” and raising in himself fallen man, raising [him] above to the highest heaven, to the right hand of the glory of the Father, as God had promised, by the prophets, saying, “I will raise the fallen tabernacle of David,” that is, the flesh [descended] from David: and our Lord Jesus Christ truly accomplished this, gloriously achieving our salvation, that He might truly raise us up, saving us for the Father”2.
In the next installment I will offer one further example of patristic exegesis that addresses the question of the “historical meaning” of this prophetic text and its expansion in Apostolic use.
1 Ernst Haenchen, The Acts of the Apostles: A Commentary (Oxford: Blackwell, 1971), page 448.
2 St Ireneaus of Lyons, On the Apostolic Preaching, trans. [Fr] John Behr (Crestwood: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1997), pages 63-64.