Disclosures: Boaz Michael offered me a sneak preview of the book with the working title Judah and Ephraim: The Two House Movement Examined and asked for my feedback, which I gave him. I haven’t seen the completed product, though, so I’m commenting from the perspective of a late draft that didn’t have any of my suggestions incorporated at that point.
I recently was talking with a one-law, two-house, neo-karaite messianic who still sacrifices Passover lambs. Dealing with one person with all those traits is a distinct challenge; the debate was even hard for me to follow.
The good thing is that he’s a fairly gentle, likable soul, which helped the discussion to stay civil. But I also was concerned about how his teachings would affect someone much newer to the messianic walk.
That’s where a resource like the forthcoming First Fruits of Zion book Twelve Gates comes in.
One of the answers to the last question is known as Two-House theology, which teaches that believers in Messiah (Christians) become Israelites when they come to faith. It teaches that those people can then be considered to be of the tribe of Ephraim, a common biblical name for the northern kingdom of Israel. In other words, another “house” or “tribe” in the House of Israel besides Judah.
However, the new Twelve Gates by Boaz Michael, founder and director of First Fruits of Zion, offers new messianics who are considering Two-House messianic theology an alternative view of the teaching.
Twelve Gates (due out in May) is a thorough and fair description of Two-House theology. The upshot of the Two-House approach is, in essence, that since believers are Israelites, they are bound to the same covenant obligations that natural-born Israelites are. That means all Christians are obligated to keep the seventh-day Sabbath, avoid forbidden foods, keep the annual festivals like Passover and Sukkot, and perform other obligations.
Messianic Jews, on the other hand, mostly believe that only Jews are obligated to such “sign commandments,” but that all believers are held to moral and ethical commandments.
But Michael doesn’t dwell on what Two-House adherents teach regarding obligations of Gentiles. First Fruits has made its beliefs on that known in such publications as The Holy Epistle to the Galatians and its quarterly Messiah Journal and in a white paper on the ministry’s Divine Invitation teaching.
Rather, he looks indepth at the teaching that comes from some parts of the Two-House movement that “modern Christians are in reality descendants of the lost ten tribes,” which he says is “at the core of the Two House movement.”
Not everybody in the Two-House movement believes that all Christians are genetically descended from the ten tribes or that they need to be in order to be acceptable, but they do maintain that, at the very least, when a person comes to faith in Christ he or she becomes an actual member of the people of Israel, even if only in a spiritual sense or inwardly sense, and is thus obligated to all aspects of the Torah. Of more concern is that they actually identify themselves as Israelites or even as Jewish.
Michael attempts to respond to all of these teachings with understanding and charity but also with firm disagreement. A long-time teacher and publisher in the messianic movement, Michael understands the impulses that drive many Gentile believers to the Hebrew roots of their faith. He realizes that they want to be identified as part of Israel, to be placed on an “equal footing” with Jewish believers. “It is an alternative to Messianic Judaism, a movement that gives Gentiles a presumed Israelite status as a basis for adopting a Jewish style of worship,” he writes.
But he also shows why these Gentile believers in Messiah aren’t the same as the children of Israel. He reviews historical records of the “lost” ten tribes to show that they weren’t really lost in the first place and actually became part of what is known as the Jewish people. He combs through Scriptural passages that Two-House proponents claim back their position and explains where such interpretations come up short.
He shows that the Two-House teaching is especially absent in the New Testament, or Apostolic Scriptures, where one would think it would be foremost in presentation. After all, if Jesus’ death and resurrection was the key to bringing back the ten tribes to Torah, wouldn’t that have been front and center in the Gospels and Letters? All we have, though, is an allusion to being grafted in in Romans 11 and a reference to the “commonwealth of Israel” or citizenship in Israel in Ephesians 2. If anything, Michael writes, the New Testament goes to pains to show distinction between Jewish and Gentile believers.
Michael also addresses the problem of supersessionism in Two-House theology. In Christian theology, the teaching usually assumes that the Church has replaced Israel and that distinctions no longer apply between Jew and Gentile. In Two-House, it means instead that Gentile identity has been replaced by Israelite identity. It’s almost a reverse form of supersessionism, but, Michael concludes, achieves pretty much the same result: if not the eradication of Jewish identity, at least its degradation.
As a consequence, the Two House movement is likely to be interpreted by Jews as a direct attack on Jews and Judaism. Jack Carstens rightly calls Two House claims to constitute “a complete usurpation of the Jewish national character,” a complaint that cannot be made of Christianity or of mainstream Messianic Judaism. While no Two House exegete would claim to be supersessionist or to be replacing Israel, this is certainly what it looks like from a Jewish perspective.
The sense of legitimacy that Two House theology grants its followers can easily translate into a sense of entitlement—entitlement to the name “Israel,” entitlement to interpret the Mosaic Law independent of Jewish (and Christian) exegetical tradition, even entitlement to the Right of Return—and while Ephraimites believe they are practicing a Biblically sanctioned religion in solidarity with the Jewish people, the fact that Jews do not accept their claims will almost inevitably result in a negative stance taken toward the Jewish people. This stance is already manifested in the deprecation of Judaism and Jewish tradition that is widespread in the Two House movement.”
In Twelve Gates, Michael examines just about every conceivable implication of Two-House theology that there is and tries to answer several questions that the teaching raises about Gentile inclusion in or exclusion from the House of Israel. He also responds to Scriptural claims made by Two-House adherents in a thorough manner.
In fact, everything about this book is thorough. The bibliography includes 71 works, and there are 131 footnotes. Michael has done his research over the years and has not rushed into this study.
What the author concludes is that the Gentiles’ attraction to things Jewish/Israelite is indeed miraculous and needs to be taken seriously by the Messianic Jewish community. In fact, Gentile attachment to Israel’s God is seen as prophetic fulfillment. The problems, he writes, arise when Gentiles “pretend to be Jewish or claim to have a share in Israel’s portion.”
In this light, the Two House movement emerges as a distraction, and a dangerous one. The problem is not just that it is based on speculation regarding ancestry. It also takes its followers’ focus off the redemption of the world through Jesus Christ and the role of both Jew and Gentile in God’s redemptive plan. It blurs the distinction between Jew and Gentile. It encourages a sense of entitlement rather than a sense of humility and acknowledgement of the unique status of the Jewish people. It sets up a roadblock in the bridge of Jewish/Christian relations.
The exciting thing about the existence of believing Gentiles, Michael writes, isn’t that they become literal members of the House of Israel. It’s that they are Gentiles coming into the Kingdom of God as Gentiles.
Do not seek a status that is not yours, but rather, glorify God that He made you the person you are. Work within the calling to which God has called you, and in doing so, you will hasten the return of Messiah and the redemption of all things.
Twelve Gates as I was able to see it is a much-needed corrective in the messianic movement, and it clarifies some very muddy theological waters as it gets back to a simple, plain reading of the Bible. In doing so, it strives to bring the messianic movement into balance and save some unnecessary detours for those new to it. I wish something like this had been available early on in my messianic walk.