I recently read an article on a Messianic Jewish web site discussing some of the misconceptions about their beliefs. It was a good presentation of the fundamental elements of Messianic Judaism and the teaching within these congregations. What better source is there for discovering exactly what a particular group of people believes than those within the group?
But right after the introduction and before presenting the tenets of his faith, the author mentioned some problem areas he felt had confused the way people perceived Messianic Judaism. Among those, he pointed out Hebrew Roots and the “Two-House Movement.” He then offered a one-sentence description of the “Two-House Movement” that was, frankly, very inaccurate.
I’m sure that the description given was truly this gentleman’s perception of what Two-House people believe. But it is not the perspective of someone who is actually a part of this movement. So again, what better source is there for discovering exactly what a particular group of people believes than those within the group?
For the sake of simplicity, I will go ahead and refer to this as the Two-House movement along with the Hebrew Roots movement. “Movement” shouldn’t be an uncomfortable term; it refers to a concept that gains momentum as people begin to understand and practice it. We use terms like grass roots movement, civil rights movement, charismatic movement.
The Two-House movement is a modern-day awakening to an ancient concept, and the Hebrew Roots movement is a return to the roots of our faith in Yeshua the Messiah, which are in fact Hebraic. Messianic Judaism itself is a movement. Though it originates in the first century, the awareness and practice did not gain momentum until the later part of the twentieth century – just decades prior to the Two-House and Hebrew Roots movements. This is all part of an end-time awakening.
What Is The Two House Movement
A quick summary is inadequate, but you can read more in the articles listed here. In particular, I recommend you start with my post on The Blindness of Jacob. With that said, here is my quick summary.
The story of the Bible is the redemption of fallen man (Hebrew אדם adam, Strong’s #H120). It begins in the garden with the creation (Genesis 1 & 2) and concludes in the new heavens and new earth (Revelation 21 & 22). The story focuses on God’s covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The descendants of Jacob, also called Israel, are brought out of Egypt, united in covenant with God, divided when they violate the covenant, then scattered throughout the world in their unfaithfulness. The promise of redemption is that God will gather them together once again, renew the covenant, and dwell with them forever in faithfulness. This is all accomplished through God’s son Yeshua, the promised Messiah.
The term “two houses of Israel” (Young’s Literal Translation, also HCSB, NET) or “both the houses of Israel” (ESV, KJV/NKJV, NAB, NASB, NIV, RSV/NRSV, TLV) comes from Isaiah 8:14, referring to the divided kingdom of Israel – the Southern Kingdom of Judah and the Northern Kingdom of Israel/Ephraim.
“It is the LORD of hosts whom you should regard as holy.
And He shall be your fear,
And He shall be your dread.
“Then He shall become a sanctuary;
But to both the houses of Israel, a stone to strike and a rock to stumble over,
And a snare and a trap for the inhabitants of Jerusalem.
(Isaiah 8:13-14 NASB)
The Northern Kingdom of Israel fell to the Assyrians in about 722 BCE. The Southern Kingdom of Judah fell to the Babylonians in about 586 BCE. Some of Judah returned to the land following the prophesied 70 years of captivity, then was sent away again under Roman domination into what we now call the diaspora – the dispersion. The full restoration of the divided kingdom, prophesied in Ezekiel 37 (and lots of other places!), is yet to take place.
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. …I will take 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; and one king will be king for all of them; and they will no longer be two nations and no longer be divided into two kingdoms. They will no longer defile themselves with their idols, or with their detestable things, or with any of their transgressions; but I will deliver them from all their dwelling places in which they have sinned, and will cleanse them. And they will be My people, and I will be their God.”
It is important to note that from the beginning, Israel was made up of more than just the physical descendants of Jacob. The nation that left Egypt was a “mixed multitude” (Exodus 12:38). Foreigners have always been invited to participate in the covenant (Isaiah 56:3-8). The restored kingdom, when the two sticks are joined together into one, is made up of Judah and his companions and Joseph/Ephraim and his companions (Ezekiel 37:15-20).
The New Covenant of Jeremiah 31:31, quoted in Hebrews 8:8, is made with “the House of Israel and the House of Judah.” No mention is made of any other people, so it is critical that we understand who makes up these Two Houses.
“Behold, days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah” (Jeremiah 31:31).
What the Two-House Movement Is Not
1. The Two House Movement Is Not About Bloodline
As previously mentioned, Israel has always included those who are not ethnically blood descendants of Jacob (Israel). Caleb, the representative of the tribe of Judah sent to spy out the promised land (Numbers 32:12) is called a Kenizzite – from a Canaanite tribe descended from Esau (Edom) and not a direct descendant of Israel. Uriah, who served King David prior to his murder, was a Hittite. Isaiah makes it clear that “the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD” (Isaiah 56:6), specifically observing the Sabbath and holding fast to the covenant, are part of Israel.
Making an issue of bloodline heritage distracts from the real issue of obedience, and dilutes the redemptive work of Yeshua.
The Lord GOD, who gathers the dispersed of Israel, declares,
“Yet others I will gather to them, to those already gathered.”
As I urged you upon my departure for Macedonia, remain on at Ephesus so that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines, nor to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies, which give rise to mere speculation rather than furthering the administration of God which is by faith.
(1 Timothy 1:3-4)
But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
2. The Two House Movement Is Not British Israelism
British Israelism is a nineteenth century belief that the Anglo-Saxon people are the real Israel. The claim is made that the migration of the scattered tribes of Israel can be traced into Europe, and even into specific countries. According to adherents of this view, the royal family on the throne of England is directly descended from King David. The Stone of Scone, or Stone of Destiny, used in the coronation ceremonies in the United Kingdom, is allegedly the pillow used by Jacob when he saw his vision of the ladder to Heaven. Other outrageous things, such as the claim that “Brit-ish” is Hebrew for “covenant man,” plague the British Israelite movement.
Herbert W. Armstrong and the Worldwide Church of God popularized British Israelism in the United States. Armstrong believed that Great Britain and the United States were the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, a view he details in his book The United States and Britain in Prophecy. I read this book, but have never been a follower of Armstrong’s teaching. Again I will stress that if you want to know what a particular belief system teaches, go to the source and not someone who thinks they know about the source. However, British Israelism is not the same as the Two-House movement.
Christian Identity (a misnomer) is an extreme racist viewpoint growing out of British Israelism. The Identity movement believes that, while humankind was created on the sixth day of creation, Adam – the pure Caucasian race with which they identify as Israel – was created on the eighth day. Besides these teachings of white supremacy, there are even more bizarre ideas within this group. It is not the Two-House movement.
Confusing these other groups with the Two-House movement sometimes happens because we share some common beliefs. This is to be expected, but it does not mean we are the same. Consider, for example, Christian Pentecostals. It is a core belief among Pentecostals that those baptized in the Holy Spirit will speak in tongues. However, speaking in tongues is practiced in other Christian groups, as well as non-Christians, even pagans and Wiccans. There are churches in the Appalachian region who handle poisonous snakes, and some of them are called “Holiness” churches. But most people in Holiness churches would reject such an idea, and it would be absurd to assume “snake handler” when someone mentions the Holiness movement.
3. The Two House Movement Is Not Replacement Theology
Replacement Theology it the idea that Christians have replaced Israel as the true people of God. Scripture teaches differently. In fact, Scripture knows nothing of a new religion of “Christianity.” The first followers of Yeshua were Jews, and as the Gospel went out to the nations, they were to join with these Jewish believers – not start something new. The Two-House message is not replacement theology, nor is it anti-Semitic.
At that time you were separate from Messiah, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Messiah Yeshua, you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of the Messiah.
(Ephesians 2:12-13 TLV)
We understand that that the Two Houses of Israel are indeed of Israel, not one House of Israel and one House of Christians. The disciples – Jews – were called χριστιανους Christianoús (Strong’s Greek word #5546, Acts 11:26). Jewish people do not need to “convert to Christianity;” they need to believe in and follow the Jewish Messiah, Yeshua. And the rest of us, well, we need to believe in and follow the Jewish Messiah, Yeshua, as well.
Jews for the most part are fully aware of their identity, while the scattered Northern Kingdom is often called “the Ten Lost Tribes.” The claim made by the prominent Messianic Jewish teacher in the article I mentioned is that the Two-House movement believes “the northern ten tribes of Israel were actually Christians who accepted the gospel.” That is incorrect. Some people have suggested that a large part of the northern ten tribes are in the Christian church, but that may or may not be true and certainly cannot be proven. The result of disobedience is clear in Deuteronomy 28:64: “Moreover, the LORD will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other end of the earth” (emphasis added).
It is worth noting that when Ezekiel prophesied about the two sticks becoming as one, God did not tell him to put the stick of Judah with the stick of Joseph/Ephraim. No, it is the other way around.
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.”
(Ezekiel 37:19, emphasis added)
Batya Wootten, one of the early pioneers of the Two-House Movement, has suggested that perhaps this name itself is a misnomer, and we should be calling this the One-House Movement. We should be focused on unity in Messiah Yeshua, not building walls of division. This, ultimately, will be the fulfillment of prophecy.
Thus says the Lord GOD, “Behold, I will take 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; and one king will be king for all of them; and they will no longer be two nations and no longer be divided into two kingdoms. They will no longer defile themselves with their idols, or with their detestable things, or with any of their transgressions; but I will deliver them from all their dwelling places in which they have sinned, and will cleanse them. And they will be My people, and I will be their God.”
Unless marked otherwise, Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible (NASB) © The Lockman Foundation