Is the Church Ephraim?
Shabbat, September 4, 1999

In Ephesians 4, Rabbi Sha'ul tells us that the purpose of the five-fold ministry
of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers,
is so that we might

reach unity in the faith ... and become mature. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Messiah.
It is my fervent desire and vision that we might "speak the truth in love," wholehearted agape.
Yet we must also become mature. Amen?
Do you want to be "blown here and there by every wind of doctrine"?

So, today's talk is about a wind of doctrine that is blowing in parts of the Church
and even on the edges of Messianic Judaism
It has come increasingly to my attention in the last few months,
with Messianic Rabbis discussing its dangers on the web, people visiting us,
even a book advertisement appearing on the back of the Messianic Times.
This issue actually came out last winter, but for some reason, it was sent to me again this week.
This ad, Who is Israel, caused a firestorm of controversy last spring.
Why? Because in it, Batya Wooten claims that many gentile Christians,
especially those attracted to Israel and Messianic Judaism today, are actually the 10 lost tribes of Israel!
Batya Wooten sponsors conferences espousing the "Church is Ephraim" doctrine.
There is a call for Christians to claim their birthright as Ephraimites
This movement is gaining adherents.
This doctrine is making the rounds in Christian Zionism.
Is it a discovery of hidden truth or new illumination on the Scriptures?
Or is this one of those winds of doctrine to be avoided?
I believe it a variant of a false doctrine that has been circulating for centuries: British Israelism.

My teaching today, discussing the claims of this doctrine and the problems with it,
is based largely on an article by Daniel Juster (which is also available on the web).

The Ephraim doctrine is thought to solve many problematic areas of the Jew/Gentile issue.
First, it explains why many Christians feel an attraction or fascination for Jewish roots.
Secondly, it explains what happened to the lost tribes of Israel and how God is going to gather them.

The Ephraim doctrine attempts to answer a couple of interesting Biblical questions:
What happened to the promise of regathering the tribes of Israel scattered to all the nations?
Scripture promises of a massive regathering of all the tribes of Israel.
Yet history only records the return of Judah and a minority of the lost tribes
Also, how will God reunify Christians and Jews?
Some argue that this doctrine will produce a bond between
Messianic Jews and Messianic Northern Israelites, aka Christians.

To understand this teaching, we need to review some biblical history.
King David first ruled in Hebron over the tribe of Judah.
Then, after Saul's son Ishbosheth died, the northern tribes submitted to David.
The relationship between the northern and southern tribes was rocky to say the least.
After Solomon died, the northern tribes, rebelled against his son Rehaboam, establishing a new kingdom under Jeroboam.
The northern kingdom was known as Israel, the southern kingdom Judah.
Sometimes these two kingdoms were in alliance, sometimes at war.
Finally, the northern kingdom was destroyed by the Assyrians, and its people scattered,
leaving only the southern tribes (Judah, Benjamin, Simeon, and part of the Levites),
along with a remnant of the northerners who came south to Judah, remained.
Doesn't this historic division look like the history of Christians and Jews?
It is taught that the spiritual heritage of this conflict between tribes
continues in the historic conflict between church and synagogue.
Yet the Scripture promise that Israel will rule the nations in the Age to Come.
If the church is Ephraim at the present time and will be joined in faith by Judah,
then Israel and the Bride of Messiah will be synonymous. Another puzzle is solved.
Wooten and others support this teaching by citing prophecies that promise
the regathering of regathering of the northern tribes.
An important example is Ezekiel 37 (you may want to turn there), 15-23:

The word of the LORD came again to me saying, "And you, son of man, take for yourself one stick and write on it, 'For Judah and for the sons of Israel, his companions;' then take another stick and write on it, 'For Joseph, the stick of Ephraim, and all the house of Israel, his companions.' Then join them for yourself one to another into one stick, that they may become one in your hand. And when the sons of your people speak to you saying, 'Will you not declare to us what you mean by these,' say to them, 'Thus says the LORD God, "Behold, I will take the stick of Joseph, which is in the hand of Ephraim, and the tribes of Israel, his companions; and I will put them with it, with the stick of Judah, and make them one stick, and they will be one in My hand." ...Thus says the LORD God, 'Behold I have taken the sons of Israel from among the nations where they have gone, and I will gather them from every side and bring them into their own land; and I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel; one king will be king for all of them; and they will no longer be two nations, and they will no longer be divided into two kingdoms. And they will no longer defile themselves with their idols...'
The image on the cover of Wooten's most recent book is of course based on this passage.
Another proof text is Hosea 1:11, which declares that
"The people of Judah and the people of Israel will be reunited."
Also Isaiah 11:13: "Ephraim will not be jealous of Judah, nor Judah hostile toward Ephraim."
The context of the two sticks prophecies in Ezekiel 37 shows that the joining of Israel and Judah in one nation leads to their receiving the everlasting covenant ushering in the Age to Come.
How will this happen? If the Church is Ephraim the puzzle is solved.
The true Church (Ephraim) joins in unity with a believing Judah.
There seems to be a parallel with Romans 11.
When the Jewish people are made jealous, they will be one with Christians in one olive tree.
Then "all Israel will be saved"--where all Israel is both Jews and believing Gentiles.

This exegesis (a fancy way of saying interpretation) of Scriptures about Ephraim is actually not new:
The Mormons believe that the Mormon Church represents Ephraim which will be rejoined with the Jews.
This is why they have established a large center in Jerusalem, on Mount Scopus.
The Hasidim is not thrilled with their presence!
The Jehovah's Witnesses believe that they are the real twelve tribes of Israel (no Jews needed).
British Israelism, a theology developed during the 19th century,
claims that the Anglo/Irish citizens of Great Britain and the original United States
are actually descendants from the lost tribes of Israel.
Herbert Armstrong and the WorldWide Church of God has picked up on Anglo-Israelism,
as have other fringe groups including Kingdom Identity or Christian Identity.
The fellow who shot the children at the JCC in LA was with Christian Identity.
Here's an excerpt from the Kingdom Identity web site:
WE BELIEVE the White, Anglo-Saxon, Germanic and kindred people to be God's true, literal Children of Israel. Only this race fulfills every detail of Biblical Prophecy and World History concerning Israel and continues in these latter days to be heirs and possessors of the Covenants, Prophecies, Promises and Blessings YHVH God made to Israel. This chosen seedline making up the "Christian Nations" (Gen. 35:11; Isa. 62:2; Acts 11:26) of the earth stands far superior to all other peoples in their call as God's servant race (Isa. 41:8, 44:21; Luke 1:54). Only these descendants of the 12 tribes of Israel scattered abroad (James 1:1; Deut. 4:27; Jer. 31:10; Jo 11:52) have carried God's Word, the Bible, throughout the world.
Apparently these groups have no place at all for the actual descendants of Judah,
whom they dismiss as a false group descended from Cain! Ugh!
Batya Wooten and her adherents are not so rabidly anti-Jewish
(in fact, many are actually Jewish and they claim a desire for unity with Judah),
but they do buy into much of the British Israel mythology.
Moshe Koniuchowsky of Miami Beach argues that "Britain" comes from Hebrew "brit"
meaning covenant (actually, it's a Celtic word),
that Anglo-Saxons descend from Scythians (or Sacae) who were actually Ephraimites
(actually the Anglo-Saxons were Aryans while the Ephraimites were Semites)
that Isaiah 49:1, "Listen to me, you islands; hear this, you distant nations,"
is referring to the British Isles and North America
(actually the Hebrew word translated "islands" is better translated as "coastlands"
and is unlikely to refer to North America, unknown to the Biblical prophets!), etc.

I find it very disturbing that the same sort of Anglo-Israel arguments are espoused by many cults and hate groups, don't you?
Frankly, I think these teachings are a bit "wacko" (and no, I am not making a pun, I mean it!)
Dan Juster believes--as do all the Messianic Rabbis who discussed this doctrine on the IAMCS list--
that the whole tenor and thrust of the New Testament Scriptures stands against this view.
First, in Acts 9-15 we have the story of early Jewish Body of Believers accepting Gentiles
as legitimate members of the Body of Believers.
In Acts 9 Paul is commissioned to bring the Good News to the nations (Gentiles).
This was a watershed change in direction for the early community of faith.
There is no hint that this mission is to be explained as gathering the lost tribes of Israel.
This certainly may have made Paul's mission more acceptable to the Jerusalem community.
In Acts 10:34-35, God's preparation is by sending Peter to the household of Cornelius.
Before Peter sees the Spirit fall on this household he states,

Truly, I perceive that God is no respector of persons, but in every nation those who fear him and do what is right is acceptable to him.
When the case is made to the leaders of the Jerusalem community their conclusion is that
"God has granted repentance to life to the Gentiles."
Nothing about long lost Ephraim here.
If the Gentiles were of Israelite descent, then they should be circumcised, shouldn't they?
But that's not what the Jerusalem council ruled in Acts 15.
Instead James cites Amos 9:11, which refer to the Gentiles (goyim), not Ephraimites.
Amos 9 promises the rejuvenation of the Tent of David and that all nations would flow to it. This is a promise of the Age to Come.
As scholars like George Ladd point out, the New Testament view is that the Kingdom of God has already come but not yet come in fullness.
The features of the Age to Come have broken into this transitional period.
Hence, the spirit is poured out at Shavuot, Pentecost. Healing is available.
The insight of James is that another feature of the Kingdom has broken in,
the union of Jew and Gentile under the Messiah.
In the Age to Come, Israel and the nations will be one under rule of Messiah,
but already this is happening in the Body of Believers where Jew and Gentile are one in the Messiah.
The Jewish people will walk by their Torah calling and will circumcise their children.
Gentiles are not so required.
There is no prophecy of the saved Gentiles in the Kingdom being circumcised.
The writings of Rabbi Shaul of course teach us more about about the relationship of Jews and Gentiles
The good news is the power of God to the "Jew first and also to the Greek" (Romans 1:16).
There is no difference between Jew and Gentile: both are saved by faith in Messiah Yeshua.
In Romans 11, Sh'aul urges the Gentiles to participate in God's plan to make Israel jealous.
It is important to note that Paul uses Israel and Jews interchangeably in his writings
as was the case in much of first century usage.
When he says that "all Israel will be saved," it is clear from the context that this is hope
for his Jewish brethren, the "natural branches."
"Do not be conceited," he warns the Gentile believers who were the "wild branches":
"Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in."
I once discussed this passage with a Wisconsin Synod Lutheran pastor:
It was amazing to me that he believed that "the Israel which experienced a hardening"
in Romans 11:25 is the Jews, yet "all Israel" that "will be saved" in 11:29 is the church!

This inconsistent interpretation follows from Replacement Theology:
if it's a blessing, it must be the church; if it's a curse, it must the Jews!
That Lutheran pastor may not be a rabid anti-Semite, but his doctrine is, IMHO, devilish.
The Ephraim doctrine ain't much better.

In Ephesians 2, Sha'ul speaks to those who are Gentiles not of the circumcision.
They were strangers to the covenant and excluded from the commonwealth of Israel.
He has "made both groups into one." He "made the two into one new man."
The two sticks of Ezekiel could be interpreted as a type or foreshadowing of the one new man.
But to say that gentiles are literally Ephraim actually goes against the message of Ephesians.
The one new man is more than a reconciliation of Israelites;
it's the reconciliation of all nations.
A great danger of this Ephraim doctrine is that it diminishes the glory of the Gospel,
which is that Jew and Gentile have been made one in the Messiah,
not that Jews have been rejoined to their lost physical kin.
The disciples were commissioned to take this good news is to go to all nations.
Juster concludes, "for Messianic Judaism, such a view is confusion and a conceptual disaster."

Sometimes Christians wrongly idolize the Jewish people.
While Messianic Jews appreciate the appreciation,
there's no need for a new doctrine about Israelite biology to explain it.
It is the work of the Holy Spirit, fulfilling the prayer of Yeshua and the desire of the Father.
An improper response is for non-Jewish believers to wish they were Jewish or to feel rejection.
Rather, non-Jewish believers can rejoice that they are the spiritual seed of Abraham.
They have been raised with Messiah and are seated with Him in heavenly places.
God also loves every nation.
All nations are culturally distinct and have unique contributions to make to the Body of the Messiah.
All can appreciate the Jewish roots of our common Messianic faith
and also appreciate various national identities as willed by God to enrich his Kingdom.
Unity should not be sought by uniformity.
Unity comes through Yeshua and the appreciation of cultural variety.

Many believers are discovering Jewish ancestry--Darlene, Shelley and others in our congregation.
When they do, this strengthens their commitment to their calling to follow the Lord
as Messianic believers, and that's good.
Yet I don't think it's necessary for my wife or the Breeds or other among us
to research their genealogies in search of Jewish blood.
"Neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions,
rather than godly edifying which is in faith." (I Timothy 1:4).

What of the supposed lost tribes? Dan Juster offers several reasonable solutions to this mystery:

1. All Israel is included in the Jewish people today.
After the destruction of the northern kingdom, northerners joined the southerners
during the revivals of Hezekiah and Josiah. 2 Chr 30:18 says that
"many of Ephraim and Manasseh, Issachar and Zebulun came to Jerusalem" for Passover.
This event occurred sometime after the Assyrian invasion and the carrying away of Israel.
In 2 Chronicles 34:9, it is recorded that Ephraim and Manasseh
contributed to the rebuilding of the Temple by Josiah.
While the Assyrians did destroy the kingdom of Israel, apparently not all were exiled.

2. When the nation of Israel came back from captivity, northerners were included in one people.
The two sticks became one then; they will receive the covenant of peace
after their present regathering is complete.
Ezra 2 and Nehemiah 7 record that a remnant of all Israel returned.
They were descendants of, for example:
Arah from the tribe of Asher (cf. Ezra 2:5 with 1Chronicles 7:39, 40);
Azgad whose name means from Gad (Ezra 2:11);
Bethlehem from the tribe of Zebulun (cf.Ezra 2:21 with Joshua 19:15-16);
Ramah from the tribe of Naphtali (cf. Ezra 2:26 with Joshua 19:32-39); and
Nebo from the tribe of Reuben (cf. Ezra 2:29 with 1Chronicles 5:1-8).
After the captivity, it seems that the Judah and Israel were again united.
Ezra 8:35 tells us that

the exiles who had returned from captivity sacrificed burnt offerings to the God of Israel: twelve bulls for all Israel.
Moreover, Luke 2:36 tells us Anna was of the tribe of Asher, a northern tribe.
It is common Jewish consensus that all 12 tribes are represented in the Jewish people today.
The Encyclopedia Judaica notes that, "Various theories, one more far fetched that the other, have been adduced, on the flimsiest of evidence,
to identify different peoples with the ten lost tribes."

3. There could be a regathering of people representing the lost tribes who will be identified as such.
The falashas of Ethipia and other groups in Africa, Afghanistan, India and Iran
may be a remnant of the ancient diaspora, returning to Israel in these days.
A historical aside: when the founders of the modern state were considering what to call it,
their were two prominent alternatives: Israel or Judah (from which comes "Jew")
I think it is prophetically significant that they chose the name Israel.

Finally, 4. The Messiah could identify and gather the lost tribes after his return.
All of these solutions are possible and more in accord with the exegesis of the biblical text.

If we are to avoid being blown "blown here and there by every wind of doctrine,"
we must take a humble approach to the text and a repudiation of dogmatism
for matters that are not clearly taught in the biblical texts.
Dogmatism on conclusions that are highly speculative show a lack of maturity.
My prayer, along with Rabbi Juster and Rabbi Sha'ul,
is that "we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God
and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Messiah."

Comments for the Rabbi?