The Word Abused: Amos 3:3

Mike Willis
Indianapolis, Indiana

Anytime that one person sets out to review the writings of another, there is a tendency to disagree with everything which that persons says. In trying to avoid the error in which the other wallows, one sometimes falls into an error equally as bad on the other side; in avoiding the Scylla, one sometimes falls into the Charybdis. I am trying to avoid making that mistake with reference to my review of Leroy Garrett's series on "The Word Abused."

In the September, 1975 issue (Vol. XVII, No. 7) of Restoration Review, editor Leroy Garrett considered our usage of Amos 3:3 which reads as follows: "Can two walk together, except they be agreed?"- (KJV). So long as he spoke with reference to this passage, I found myself in agreement with Garrett. Amos 3:3 is part of a series of cause-and-effect statements to establish Amos' right and duty to prophesy. The context reads as follows:

"Do two men walk together unless they have made an appointment?

Does a lion roar in the forest when he has no prey?

Does a young lion growl from his den unless he has captured something?

Does a bird fall into a trap on the ground when there is no bait in it?

Does a trap spring up from the earth when it captures nothing at all?

If a trumpet is blown in a city will not the people tremble? If a calamity occurs in a city has not the Lord done it?

Surely the Lord God does nothing

Unless He reveals His secret counsel

To His servants the prophets.

A lion has roared! Who will not fear?

The Lord God has spoken! Who can but prophesy!" (3:3-8).

The cause-and-effect statements of this verse are written to show that the only reason Amos, a sheepherder and grower of sycamore figs from Tekoa, could consider himself a prophet was because God had called him. The word in 3:3 which must be dealt with is ya'ad (to agree-KJV); it is a Niphal (passive or reflective verb) verb which is defined as follows:

"1. Reflex. meet with any one at an appointed place, by appointment.... 2. Recipr. to meet together at an appointed time and place, by appointment ... Am. 3,3."1

"1. reflexive, meet at an appointed place.... 2. meet by appointment, Am. 3 3 . . ."2

The point of the verse is that Amos would not have been prophesying had God not called him (after all, Amos was neither a prophet nor a son of a prophet) the same as two people would not be walking together unless they had previously made an appointment to meet each other. The following commentators explain the meaning better than I can:

"The contents of these verses are not to be reduced to the general thought, that: a -prophet could no more speak without a divine impulse than any other effect could take place without a cause. There was certainly no need for a long series of examples, such as we have In very. 3-6, to substantiate or illustrate the thought, which a reflecting hearer would hardly have disputed, that there was a connection between cause and effect. The examples are evidently selected with the view of showing that the utterances of the prophet originate with God. This is obvious enough In vers. 7,8. The first clause, 'Do two men walk together, without having agreed as to their meeting?' (no'ad, to betake one's sell to a place, to meet together at an appointed place'or an appointed time; compare Job ii:11, Josh. xi.5, Neh. vi.2; not merely to agree together) contains something more than the trivial truth, that two persons do not take a walk, together without a previous arrangement. The two who walk together are Jehovah and the prophet (Cyril); not Jehovah and the nation, to which the judgment is predicted. . . . Amos went as prophet to Samaria or Bethel, because the Lord had sent him thither to preach judgment on the sinful kingdom."3

"The 'two' are God's judgments and the prophet's word. These do not coincide by mere chance, no more than two persons pursue in company the same end without previous agreement. The prophet announces God's judgment because God has commissioned him; the prophet Is of one mind with God, therefore the Lord is with him and confirms his words." 4

"The 'two' are Jehovah and the prophet. The prophet had been sent to Israel to carry out a mission from Jehovah; it would be Jehovah's judgment through the prophet's word. The prophet's presence at Beth-el was by divine appointment."5

Actually, had Garrett stopped with his exposition of Amos 3:3, I would have voiced only an "Amen" to what he said; I might have had some minor disagreements with his exposition but nothing of enough. consequence to have sought to reply to it. Furthermore, I would have concurred that our usage of Amos 3:3 with reference to a discussion of unity was an abuse of the Scriptures. But Garrett did not stop there. No, Garrett used the occasion to propagate his unity-in-diversity basis of fellowship. Read what he wrote:

"It Is Incredible that a misinterpretation could catch hold as this one has on Amos 3:3. One can hear It at college lectureships and from many pulpits, and he can read it in papers, books and church bulletins. 'Can two walk together except they be agreed?' is made to teach the people cannot be together, united In Jesus, and enjoying the fellowship of the saints unless they be agreed on everything or most: everything. One opposing societies or classes will insist that if he walks with a man, which Is made to refer to fellowship, the two of them will have to agree on societies and classes. If one is a premillennialist and another Is not, they can never 'walk together' until they see the issue alike. If the other fellow has an organ or piano at his church, fellowship is. impossible until he gives it up and comes over to our side, for we have to 'be agreed' if we 'walk together.' And there is no way, of course, for a Baptist and a member of the Church of Christ to share Jesus together since they are not 'agreed' on all the points of doctrine.

"One can only conclude that some dear soul back yonder, a debater or an editor perhaps, lifted that verse completely from its context and gave it this weird interpretation. It Is rather easily memorized, and it makes a good argument for one who has already concluded that unity Is :dependent upon conformity. So it has lived on as part of our "stock in trade, a proof text that unity Is contingent upon endorsement and approval. If you do not 'agree' or approve or endorse a person's position or practice, then unity and fellowship are Impossible. Amos 3:3 says so!

"But this is to brutalize the scriptures. So abusive is this that it not only neglects the context, but ft is made to say the very apposite to what the scriptures really teach on agreement and unity."6

I deny that the Bible' teaches unity-in-diversity in the sense which Leroy Garrett means it. (I recognize that diversity within the realm of lawful 'items is permitted.) Here is the kind of unity in which he believes:

Each of our parties circumvents all this by demanding conformity on 'the doctrinal issues,' meaning of course the peculiar doctrinal stance of that particular sect. They might differ on what others divide over, while other differ on what they divide over, but they make sure that all others line up on what they call the issues or else. Quoting Amos 3:3 of course.

"We all admit that there are those basics that we must all accept. This Is why we all agree with the old slogan, 'In matters of faith, unity; in matters of opinion, liberty; In all things, love.' The faith that we are all to agree on is a matter of facts of Jesus, not theories about every question that comes up about the work, worship and organization of the church.' Those things fall withing the category of opinion, and there is to be liberty, and this is why 'unity in diversity' is the only things that makes sense. It is the facts about Jesus-the facts are believed, the commands are obeyed, and the promises are accepted-that makes us one and unites us together In Christ. The disposition we make about instrumental music, supporting Herald of Truth, or forming agencies for the work of the church has nothing, but nothing to do with our being in fellowship together with Christ." 7

"And yes, we may, for the time being, have to meet in separate houses because of our traditional hangups about organs, classes, cups, literature, tongues, or whatever. But it Is imperative that we realize that we are all in Jesus together in spite of these differences; and because we are in Jesus together we are sons of God together and brothers. Thank God, we are brothers! We must accept each other as such even if we do meet separately.

One thing we can do now is to forget about that wildcat interpretation of Amos 3:3. An organic brother and an inorganic brother CAN walk together even if they don't agree on that issue. And so with all, the rest of the opinions that we have allowed to separate us."8

With these statements, I am in strong disagreement. Although our usage of Amos 3:3 has been incorrect, the conclusion does not follow that unity-in-diversity is true! There are other texts which demonstrate the veracity of unity-in-truth; the doctrine does not need Amos 3:3 in order to stand. AI am' willing to forget Amos 3:3 and resort to 1 Cor: 1:10; Rom. 16:17-18 2 Jn. 9-11; etc. for confirmation that doctrinal agreement is necessary for unity.

Actually, Garrett recognizes that doctrinal unity is essential on some points. Thus, he wrote, "We all admit that there are those basics that we all must accept."9 (Are you saying that one must believe in unity in doctrine, mere bland conformity, Brother Garrett?) That is correct; but, we differ in deciding what these basics are. Garrett is willing to say that instrumental music, sponsoring churches, missionary societies, etc. are not among the essentials. He goes even further to say that they are mere "hangups"-i.e., prejudices that arise somewhere other than through our study of the scriptures. I am not ready to admit that because I do not believe that it is true! If you are willing to concede these points, you are willing to concede what I will not.

Neither Garrett nor any of his cohorts have proven that instrumental music, sponsoring churches, institutionalism, making recreation a part of the church's work, etc. are in the realm of lawful items and, therefore, qualified to be considered opinions. I might just as well label one's doctrine about Jesus in the realm of opinion as to label any of the above. My "say-so" is worth just as much as Leroy Garrett's "say-so." If you are willing to accept his "say-so" that instrumental music is in the realm of opinion, you logically must accept my "say-so" that one's doctrine about Jesus (whether it be the doctrine held by the Jews or modernists) is in the realm of opinion. The alternative to this is to demand that both of us prove by the Scriptures that what we assert is true. Until Garrett and his cohorts can prove that these items are authorized, and therefore qualified to be called expedient items, we cannot treat them as opinions; rather, we must treat them as unauthorized innovations.

Though I am not in disagreement with Garrett's exegesis of Amos 3:3; I am in total disagreement with his conclusion that fellowship can be maintained between those who oppose instrumental music in worship, sponsoring churches, recreation as part of the work of the church, etc. and those who support them. When you hear brethren methodically trying to discharge every passage which we have used to stop false teachers, you had better beware. Are you ready to concede that mechanical instruments of music in worship, sponsoring churches, recreation as part of the work of the church, etc. are scriptural? That is where they are heading. Personally, I am not going to wait until they get there before I start fighting them!


1. William Gesenius, A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Co., 1888), p. 408.

2. Frances Brown, S. R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs, A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1907), p. 416.

3. Carl Friedrich Keil, The Twelve Minor Prophets (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1951), p. 260.

4. W. J. Deane, The Pulpit Commentary (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1950), Vol. XIV, p. 40.

5. Homer Hailey, A Commentary on the Minor Prophets (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1972), pp. 99-100.

6. Leroy Garrett, "The Word Abused . . . 'Can Two Walk Together Except They Be Agreed,' '' Restoration Review, XVII, No. 7 (September, 1975), p. 123.

7. Ibid., p. 124.

8. Garrett, Op. Cit., p. 125.

9. Garrett, Op. Cit., p. 124.

Truth Magazine, XX:2, p. 7-8
January 8, 1976