What does Acts 15:16 mean?Jewish Christians who were trained as Pharisees have found the concept of salvation through grace difficult to accept. When faced with Gentiles who also want to follow the Jewish God, the Pharisees demand the newcomers first convert to Judaism. They demand the Gentiles be circumcised and follow the Mosaic law. Peter disagrees, as do Paul, Barnabas, and many in the church in Syrian Antioch. James, the half-brother of Jesus and pastor of the church in Jerusalem, is giving his interpretation (Acts 15:1–15).
James is showing how it was God's stated plan all along to include Gentiles in the kingdom of David, which the council understands to be fulfilled in Jesus and His church. Here and in Acts 15:17, James quotes God's words in Amos 9:11–12 but with some modifications. The text is based on the Septuagint, the Greek translation of Hebrew Scriptures. That translation renders Amost 9:11 as :
In that day I will raise upJames introduced his quote by saying, "the words of the prophets agree" (Acts 15:15). He does, in fact, meld together phrases from other prophets. In Jeremiah 12:7-13, God tells Jeremiah He has forsaken Judah to the destroyers (Babylon). In Jeremiah 12:14, God promises to restore the Jews to their homeland. Jeremiah 12:15 says, "And after I have plucked them up, I will again have compassion on them, and I will bring them again each to his heritage and each to his land." Similarly, "I will return" probably comes from Zechariah 8:3. Amos 9 speaks about God disciplining and then restoring the northern kingdom of Israel; Jeremiah 12 gives the same message to the southern kingdom of Judah while Zechariah 8 references Judah's deliverance.
the tabernacle of David that is fallen
and rebuild the ruins of it
and will set up the parts thereof that have been broken down,
and will build it up as I the ancient days.
Mixing lines from different sources was a standard literary method in Jewish arguments called gezerah shavah. Educated hearers would know the Jewish Scriptures well enough to catch the references and understand how the different passages related. The quotes would be identified by the writer whose message the speaker most wanted to emphasize. The other quotes were added for context. We do something similar today with song lyrics—picking out lines from other songs or situations that reference similar situations —although as westerners, we are more literal with our citations.
The "tent" of David—sometimes translated "booth"—is not the tabernacle David built on the Temple Mount for the ark of the covenant (2 Samuel 6:17). It refers to David's kingdom: Israel has fallen. God had promised that David would have a descendant who would rule from his throne forever (1 Chronicles 17:11–14). At this time, Israel is occupied by the Romans and will not see political independence again until 1948—even today, Israel has not had a king. But Jesus will sit as King over Israel in the millennial kingdom (Acts 2:25–36; 13:23, 32–37).
The ESV line "rebuild its ruins" matches Amos 9:11 in the Septuagint, although the Amos in the ESV says, "and repair its breaches." A "breach" is a point in a wall, specifically a stone wall that surrounds a city, that has been torn down so the enemy can enter. In this case, the breach or ruin is a metaphor for an Israel which has no political autonomy and is invaded and occupied by foreigners.
James summarizes the last two lines of Amos 9:11 with "I will restore it." To "raise up its destruction" means to take the kingdom from a destroyed state and raise it to a healthy nation again.
Amos preached against the northern kingdom of Israel many years before it fell to the Assyrians in 722 BC. The northern kingdom at the time of this council is Samaria. As mentioned, Amos' prophecy will not fully come to fruition until the millennial kingdom when Jesus is King. Peter explained how Jesus fulfilled the Davidic covenant in his sermon on Pentecost (Acts 2:25–36). Paul spoke of Jesus in the context of David's kingdom in Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:33–36). More relevant for this conversation is the following verse which speaks of the "Gentiles who are called by [God's] name." James understands that the church is a preview of a peaceful world where Jesus is king and Jews and Gentiles worship God together.