Question on Amos 5:23

By Eusebio Tanicala

Last April 10, I gave a lecture to a large crowd in Baguio City during the “Panagkakadua” (Fellowship) of Northern Luzon congregations. I insisted that Amos 5:21-24 does not prohibit the use of instrumental music in worship. I also told the brethren that Jack P. Lewis, a member of the Churches of Christ, and a well known scholar in the Old Testament, says that Amos 5 proves nothing about the use or non-use of instrumental music in worship.

During the open forum, a slip of paper was given to me with this question: “If Amos 5:23 is not a prohibition on the use of instruments of music, what does “I will not hear the melody of your stringed instruments mean?” The tone of the question was “is it not a prohibition?” I answered the question during the forum.

To my brethren and especially members of the PBC alumni association, please open your Bible to Amos 5:23. Please open your eyes and your mind. What is the first part of v. 23? It says, “Take away from Me the noise of your songs.” If v. 23 prohibits the use of stringed instruments, should not singing also be prohibited? But why do you sing in your worship time? Why do you sing in your birthday celebrations? Why do you sing during funeral services? Why apply prohibition on the second part of the verse but not in the first part of the verse. Come on, be true to yourself.

I repeat, Amos 5:21-23 is not talking about prohibition. I told the Baguio audience that the non-acceptance of the items enumerated is the employment of a figure of speech called “litotes” which means “relative negation.” This is the explanation of 1 Corinthians 1:17. Apostle Paul said that “he was not sent to baptize but to preach the gospel.” The Apostle Paul did not consider the non-essentiality of the act of baptism. He didn’t eliminate the command to baptize. He employed “litotes” which directs one to put to the side or reduce something and put to the center or magnify another which is more important.

In the case of the Corinthians, the converts were boasting and magnifying the names of the people who baptized them. As if their salvation were attached to the merits and popularity of the baptizers. So Apostle Paul “relatively negated” or put aside or reduced the importance of the baptizers so that he could put to the center or magnify the gospel of Christ (death, burial, resurrection) as the important thing in salvation. Which is why in another section of his letter to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul said, “I determine to know nothing except the cross of Christ.”

Please read Isaiah chapter 1 and Matthew chapter 23. The prophet Isaiah employed relative negation. So did our Lord Jesus.

The Israelites of Amos’ day were not accepted in their observance of their religious activities that were commanded through Moses because the people of Israel did not practice justice and righteousness (v.24). If justice and righteousness were practiced, then their religious duties could have been acceptable. Tithing the mint and anise and cumin could have been accepted among the Jews if the Jews practiced justice and mercy and faith. Wherefore Christ said, “These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.” (v. 23). Christ demands a balanced or a complete observance of all His commandments and all of our Christian duties.