Is Amos 8:11-12 a prediction of the Great Apostasy?

by Luke Wayne

One of the central doctrines of the Mormon religion is their teaching that the New Testament church fell into absolute, universal apostasy shortly after the death of the Apostles. This is the doctrine that justifies their claim of the need for a "restoration" of the "true church," the "fullness of the gospel," the "priesthood," and so much else. Yet, the proof-texts they use to defend this alleged "great apostasy" all turn out to teach nothing of the sort! A great example is Amos 8:11-12.

The Argument

When teaching about the supposed "great apostasy," Mormon Missionaries will often refer to Amos 8:11-12, which says:

"'Behold, days are coming,' declares the Lord God, 'When I will send a famine on the land, Not a famine for bread or a thirst for water, But rather for hearing the words of the Lord. People will stagger from sea to sea And from the north even to the east; They will go to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, But they will not find it," (Amos 8:11-12).

They claim that this is a prophecy concerning the post-apostolic church and the lengthy period of history before their founder, Joseph Smith, "restored" the true church. In fact, however, this turns passage out to be a prophecy concerning Israel and the Assyrian exile, a prophecy the New Testament identifies as having already been fulfilled even back then!

The Context of Amos

King Solomon, son of David, was the last Old Testament King to rule over all twelve tribes of Israel. After that, the kingdom split into two nations: Judah to the south, under the descendants of David in Jerusalem, and Israel to the north under non-Davidic kings who mostly ruled from Samaria. The first king of Israel was Jeroboam, son of Nebat. He led Israel into an idolatrous sin from which no subsequent king ever repented:

"So the king consulted, and made two golden calves, and he said to them, 'It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem; behold your gods, O Israel, that brought you up from the land of Egypt.' He set one in Bethel, and the other he put in Dan. Now this thing became a sin, for the people went to worship before the one as far as Dan. And he made houses on high places, and made priests from among all the people who were not of the sons of Levi," (1 Kings 12:28-31).

Thus, Jeroboam's sins included placing golden calves in Bethel and Dan, establishing various "high places" for worship rather than worshiping at the temple in Jerusalem, and appointing priests who were not descendants of Aaron or even of the tribe of Levi. The book of Amos was written later on, during the time of another king whose name was also Jeroboam: 

"The words of Amos, who was among the sheepherders from Tekoa, which he envisioned in visions concerning Israel in the days of Uzziah king of Judah, and in the days of Jeroboam son of Joash, king of Israel, two years before the earthquake," (Amos 1:1).

About this second Jeroboam we read:

"In the fifteenth year of Amaziah the son of Joash king of Judah, Jeroboam the son of Joash king of Israel became king in Samaria, and reigned forty-one years. He did evil in the sight of the Lord; he did not depart from all the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel sin," (2 Kings 14:23-24).

This is the context of the book. The prophet Amos came to pronounce judgment on Israel, the northern nation under Jeroboam ruled from Samaria. For example, we read:

"Thus says the Lord, 'Just as the shepherd snatches from the lion’s mouth a couple of legs or a piece of an ear, So will the sons of Israel dwelling in Samaria be snatched away— With the corner of a bed and the cover of a couch!'" (Amos 3:12).

Amos was prophesying about the coming exile, and specifically judgment for the sins of Jeroboam. Note, for example:

"For on the day that I punish Israel’s transgressions, I will also punish the altars of Bethel; The horns of the altar will be cut off And they will fall to the ground," (Amos 3:14).

Bethel, remember, is the location of one of the two golden calves (the other was in Dan). Amos is not writing about the future New Testament church but about Israel of his own day!

The Context of Chapter 8

As we approach chapter 8, where our key text lies, the context has not changed. In chapter 7, we read:

"The high places of Isaac will be desolated And the sanctuaries of Israel laid waste. Then I will rise up against the house of Jeroboam with the sword," (Amos 7:9).

Amos then records a confrontation that occurred between himself and one of the false priests of Bethel:

"Then Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, sent word to Jeroboam king of Israel, saying, 'Amos has conspired against you in the midst of the house of Israel; the land is unable to endure all his words. For thus Amos says, "Jeroboam will die by the sword and Israel will certainly go from its land into exile,"'" (Amos 7:10-11).

Again we see the context is Jeroboam, Israel, and the coming exile. The narrative goes on:

"Then Amaziah said to Amos, 'Go, you seer, flee away to the land of Judah and there eat bread and there do your prophesying! But no longer prophesy at Bethel, for it is a sanctuary of the king and a royal residence,” (Amos 7:12-13).

The sanctuary to the golden calf at Bethel is obviously still central here. Amos then replies:

"But the Lord took me from following the flock and the Lord said to me, ‘Go prophesy to My people Israel.’ Now hear the word of the Lord: you are saying, ‘You shall not prophesy against Israel nor shall you speak against the house of Isaac.’ Therefore, thus says the Lord, ‘Your wife will become a harlot in the city, your sons and your daughters will fall by the sword, your land will be parceled up by a measuring line and you yourself will die upon unclean soil. Moreover, Israel will certainly go from its land into exile,’” (Amos 7:15-17).

Amos responds by doubling down on the prophecy of the exile which would come upon ancient Israel. Immediately, the oracle of chapter 8 begins:

"Thus the Lord God showed me, and behold, there was a basket of summer fruit. He said, 'What do you see, Amos?' And I said, 'A basket of summer fruit.' Then the Lord said to me, 'The end has come for My people Israel. I will spare them no longer," (Amos 8:1-2).

The "basket of summer fruit" is a play on words in Hebrew, the words for "summer fruit" and "end" being very similar. The point here, however, is that the oracle here is about Israel's imminent judgment. God will no longer spare them. The end has come. It is in this context that we read our key text: 

"'Behold, days are coming,' declares the Lord God, 'When I will send a famine on the land, Not a famine for bread or a thirst for water, But rather for hearing the words of the Lord. People will stagger from sea to sea And from the north even to the east; They will go to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, But they will not find it," (Amos 8:11-12).

That we still have not left the context of Israel is quite clear, as Amos goes on to immediately clarify:

"As for those who swear by the guilt of Samaria, Who say, ‘As your god lives, O Dan,’ And, ‘As the way of Beersheba lives,’ They will fall and not rise again,” (Amos 8:14).

Again, we are told that this is a judgment on the "guilt of Samaria" and those who swear by the god of Dan (i.e., the golden calf). Thus, the "famine of the word" is not an apostasy of the future church. It is the people of Israel being cut off from their true God. Amos was sent to preach God's word to them, as many prophets before had been. But soon, judgment would come on them. In that day they would yearn to hear from God, but God would no longer speak to them. This happened. Assyria came and took them from their land. Amos' words were fulfilled shortly after he wrote them, long before Jesus walked the earth.

Subsequent Promises and New Testament Fulfillment

In Chapter 9, Amos goes on to promise that after this judgment would come a time of blessing and restoration. In that section we read:

"'In that day I will raise up the fallen booth of David, And wall up its breaches; I will also raise up its ruins And rebuild it as in the days of old; That they may possess the remnant of Edom And all the nations who are called by My name,' Declares the Lord who does this," (Amos 9:11-12).

In Acts 15, when the church in Jerusalem was discussing the matter of gentile converts of Christianity, James points out that Amos' prophesy is fulfilled by Gentile inclusion in the church:

"Simeon has related how God first concerned Himself about taking from among the Gentiles a people for His name. With this the words of the Prophets agree, just as it is written, 'After these things I will return, And I will rebuild the tabernacle of David which has fallen, And I will rebuild its ruins, And I will restore it, So that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, And all the Gentiles who are called by My name,’ Says the Lord, who makes these things known from long ago," (Acts 15:16-18).

Thus, not only was the judgment of Amos 8 already fulfilled in the Assyrian captivity, but the New Testament shows us that the subsequent promises of restoration are also already fulfilled in Jesus Christ by the inclusion of all nations (Jew and Gentile) in the New Testament church! Thus, not only is there no great apostasy here, but there is also nothing left for Joseph Smith to fulfill. And since the promises of Amos 9 seem to be permanent once inaugurated, this passage actually seems to be a strike against the idea of a universal "great apostasy" of the church.