(Originally printed in the Winter 2004 Issue of the MCOI Journal beginning on page 14 )
This is a book review. Why do I say this? You knew that if you perused the title of the article. So why do I state the obvious, dear reader? It is as much for me as it is for you. I want to head off expectations. Many of our readers have wanted MCO to do an analysis of the burgeoning Hebraic Roots Movement which is, at present, an amorphous conglomeration of those who run the gamut from simply wanting bring into relief the Christian dependence on Jewish heritage on the one hand, to those who would redefine what it means to be a follower of Jesus by jettisoning terms like “church” and “Christian” and calling for a restoration of a more Hebrew Christianity. This movement is, at present, loosely associated with pundits who also run the gamut from Ralph Messer, who holds a heretical view of the Deity of Christ by denying the Trinity, to orthodox Jewish believers who simply want to celebrate their Jewish connection to Christianity. A thorough analysis of this movement is needed.1
Somewhere in the middle of this “movement” are Batya Wooten and the Messianic Israel Alliance.2 And somewhere in the middle of Wooten’s teachings is this book, which I will review and ask that you be patient and forgiving because this is not a full-fledged analysis of Wooten’s teachings-which I so much want to give you.
Wooten is orthodox on the Trinity. Unlike Messer, she affirms both the Deity and Humanity of Christ. What’s wrong with her scholarship is more subtle. The problem is that whatever teachers teach, they must know that their followers will take what they say and go beyond it. Usually the teacher is grounded enough so that those that do go beyond it don’t go too far off the reservation. However, when the teacher starts off at the limit of good scholarship, the students who go beyond have nowhere to go but off the reservation. Wooten begins close to the limits of good orthodoxy. I’m not prepared to say her teachings are heretical, but they do push the limits of good exegesis (as I will show); and I shudder to think what warped theology might follow from someone who buys into her method.
Who Is Israel and Why You Need to Know is representative of Wooten ‘s teachings which she and her husband Angus publish in the House of David Herald and on the internet. It attempts to answer the question posed by its title: Who is Israel and why should you need to know? Now that question is an important one. It is what ostensibly divides much of Christian theology into the camps of Dispensational and Covenant theology (sometimes called Replacement Theology – usually by its critics). Briefly, Covenant theologians hold that Israel as a nation has been replaced in God’s plan by the Church and any Semitic heritage is subsumed under the new identity of the Church. Dispensationalists say that God still has a place for the nation of Israel, as a race, in the coming tribulation. Wooten is vehemently against the Covenant idea of Israel being replaced by the Church.3 She says:
… To assume they are chosen to replace Jewish Israel is to violate Paul’s Romans 11:18 warning that they are not to be “arrogant” toward the Jewish branches. And one definitely finds a taste of arrogance in the bitter fruit of Replacement theology. Moreover, this insidious ideology added to the fuel of Hitler’s Holocaust flame. By leading people to expect persecution of the so-called “rejected” Jew, it encouraged a condescending placidity in the presence of gross evil.4
Now, I don’t know the intricacies of German sociology in 1933, but I do know this is an oversimplification. (And, therefore, I think a cheap shot.) I challenge Mrs. Wooten to provide some substantive lines of historical argument to back up such a claim. She would need to provide clear causal links and historical documents to show that Replacement theology directly contributed to the anti-Semitism of Germans during Hitler’s reign of terror. I suspect that when historical investigation is done about the motivations of Germans, what we will find is that a lot of Germans were simply secular; and that apathy and hatred was under girded by A LOT more than Replacement theology. To argue that it contributed to the Holocaust is at best a hasty generalization and at worst a misrepresentation.
Wooten is not a Dispensationalist either. The theology present in this book is something new. It holds that the Church is part of Israel, rather than Israel is part of the Church. The book has two primary goals. It argues against Covenant ideas of Replacement theology and it seeks to redefine Israel as something that is neither Jewish nor Gentile.
The essential argument in this book is that the nation of Israel – all twelve tribes – is still the core of God’s plan. In Wooten’s own words:
Long ago the Father divided Israel into the two houses of Ephraim (Israel) and Judah; as His ‘two witnesses,’ they were sent in different directions to accomplish different purposes, and, in this last day He would have the two come together, that they might serve to confirm His truth in the earth.5
Wooten doesn’t think Israel, as a race, has a mere part to play in the coming Kingdom of God; she thinks it has THE part to play in that Kingdom. Israel is not the Church; and Israel is not just the Jewish remnant. The so-called ten lost northern tribes of Israel6 are not lost; they are, in fact, made up of the so-called Gentiles who are coming to Christ. Wooten, in a particularly convoluted argument, says that most of the so-called Gentiles who are coming to Jesus are, in fact, blood Israelites; they just don’t know it. They are called “Ephraim” to distinguish them from the “Jews” that are made up of the two tribes of Judah and Benjamin She does not, however, argue that ALL such Gentiles are genetic Israelites who don’t know their heritage. This is a misunderstanding of her teaching, and we need to be careful not to misstate her position She concedes that there are some true Gentile converts or proselytes. However, these are described as coming into the Kingdom only in the context of what God is doing with Israel.
One of the major problems with Wooten’s teaching is simply bad exegesis. She does bad Bible study in order to lend credence to her argument that the Church comes into the Kingdom as part of Israel, she cites Revelation 21:12. noting that:
Yeshua invites His people to come into the New Jerusalem – through gates named after the Twelve tribes of Israel. And these are the only entrances.7
Now there certainly may be significance to the twelve gates, but to use this verse as proof that Israel is the only way into the Kingdom is to read A LOT into what the Apostle John recorded. It also negates Paul “s theology that “there is neither Jew nor Greek, bond nor slave.” (Galatians 3:28. NASB) What it does, in effect, is contradict Paul’s argument that in Christ, there is no distinction between Jew, Gentile, or any other group—such as the barbarians, Scythians, etc. It is just the reverse of what many Gentiles have done in the Church—they ignore the Hebrew heritage in favor of Gentile culture.
Wooten would agree that there is no distinction between Jew and Gentile; the problem is that she redefines what a Gentile is. Here again, we find some really bad Bible study. She refutes the idea that in Scripture, non-Jewish Christians are called Gentiles in the sense of being non-Hebrew. She wants to redefine Gentile simply as meaning those of the ten lost tribes, who she calls Ephraim. She cites Ephesians 2:11 as a text to support this:
Ephesians 2:11 says that they are “former” Gentiles.8
The problem is that, once again, a verse is taken out of context and chopped up. I quote the full verse and some of next for clarification:
Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the Flesh, who are called Uncircumcision” by the so called “Circumcision,” which is performed in the flesh by human hands – remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel…(Ephesians 2:11-12a, NASB)
Now if Paul is making a distinction between Gentiles (uncircumcised) and the commonwealth of Israel, is this not tacitly implying that, for Paul, the circumcised Jews were Israel? They are not “’former’ Gentiles” but rather formerly separated. Wooten does more damage in verse 19. She says:
Specifically, verse 2:19 states, “You are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household [of Israel].
Beware, gentle reader, of writers bearing brackets. Those last two words arc Wooten’s interpretation not Paul’s. And it begs the question because God’s household being made up of Israel alone is what she is trying to prove. This is circular reasoning.
Wooten skips over verses 12-18 which establish that through the cross, Christ has not only reconciled the circumcised with the uncircumcised, but He has created a relationship. Verse 13 says of these uncircumcised:
“But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”
Christ becomes the shalom-the “peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall.” (v. 14). My question is: If Gentiles are really the lost tribes of Israel, then why are they being referred to as “uncircumcised” in the flesh no less?
Also, it seems unlikely the “enmity” that needs reconciling is the centuries-old civil war between Ephraim and Judah as Wooten claims. IF Paul was referring to this ancient rivalry, what about the thousands of truly non-Hebrews who were reading Paul’s letter to the Ephesians who had little understanding of this Hebrew rivalry? I suppose they could have been told by the small Jewish population in the Church, but that they would even make that connection is doubtful.
Once again, there is this problem that creeps up time and again with new movements that herald themselves as having the vital teaching needed for Christians. They attempt to argue that we all should be following this new teaching, but there is a conspicuous and curious silence of the New Testament on this “vital” teaching.9 If Wooten’s teaching about Israel was so important to the identity of Christianity, why do we not have ANY verses where Paul, John, or Peter explains that most Gentiles are really part of Israel and just don’t know it? Where do we find ANY explanation to those true, non-Hebrew converts that explains: When we talk about Gentiles, we are not talking about you but rather the ten lost tribes of Israel? Wouldn’t we expect this if Wooten’s argument is true? I think so. We would expect Paul to describe his missionary journeys in terms of going to the Hebrews who were lost to Assyrian assimilation We would expect Jesus to say when He sends out His disciples: “Go to the lost sheep of the house of Judah but not to Ephraim because you know they are not the same thing. However, He doesn’t and neither does Paul. IF it is so vital, then why isn’t it there?
Wooten wants to redefine Gentile into a term whose meaning is one of derision. To do this she cites Webster’s Dictionary which defines Gentile as heathen. She cites Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance as defining the Hebrew word goy/goyim as foreign, heathen, Gentile. So far, so good. It’s where she goes with the information that is the problem:
Those who believe in the God of Israel and in His Messiah are not foreign to Him. If they are true to Him, they are no more heathens.10
This is simply bad use of the concordance. She has taken the word foreign meaning not native to Israel and imported a theological idea of being “not natural” or “estranged” in relation to God.
The word goy has a range of meanings. Sometimes it has moral connotations—describing the nations and their practices—and sometimes it just means not native, not a descendant of Abraham or Jacob,” etc.
I wish I could say that this was the only time Batya Wooten misuses the Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance or the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament. I can’t. In fact, what is conspicuous in Wooten’s writings (as well as many others in the Hebraic Roots Movement) is the bad use of these resources. Mrs. Wooten doesn’t understand how language and meaning work. An example:
Abraham would father a multitude of nations, a hamon goyim. Goyim means Gentiles, or nations, and hamon means a noise, a tumult, turbulence, wealth, multitude, company. With these words, the Almighty decreed that from Abraham would come a “multitude of Gentiles,” specifically, a people who would cause a tumultuous commotion, or a great noise (about Abraham’s God) throughout the world.11
What wrong with this picture? A dictionary, even the good one at the back of the Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, gives a range of how the word is used. Context determines how it is used in any given verse. The word does not “carry” all of those meanings into each context. You cannot simply list all the possible usages of a word and then extrapolate from it that when God uses hamon, He means a tumultuous commotion when describing the nations. If so, why isn’t the word wealth included in Wooten’s extrapolation? Wealth can mean a lot of something or it can mean monetary value and purchasing power. Would these hamon goyim be a noisy commotion of wealthy people? I think not.
In addition to the bad exegesis in this book, we see some familiar bashing of the traditional Church – but with a twist. One of the most significant features of the entire Hebraic Roots Movement is the emphasis on the feasts of ancient Israel. There is nothing wrong with that. However, when it becomes THE feature of Christianity, we have a problem.
In her book, the traditional Church is once again ridiculed for changing the feast days and the Sabbath. All believers should follow the deuteronical feasts and the Sabbath. Wooten senses a charge of legalism and counters that such observance shouldn’t be done “in a legalistic sense.”12 However, her definition of legalistic is any attempt to try to “keep exactly ” the feasts on the exact feast day. Since the temple has been destroyed, there is no way to do this. The actual feasts should be kept regardless of the fact we can’t know the exact day. This would, in Wooten’s mind, be legalism—trying to calculate some specific day, not commanding the observance of said feasts.13
Here the Church is subtly targeted once again as the end-times culprit that will and does persecute true believers. She says that while some within the “church system” are true believers, there are many who are not. Again, so far, so good. I don’t dispute this, but what is subtly taught is that the ones who are not true believers are seen as part of the end-times apostasy. This is simply not true. She refers to Revelation 3 to associate this “church system” with the end-times apostasy.14 She wrongly associates the synagogue of Satan” that opposed the Church of Smyrna in Revelation 2 with those who would oppose Messiah. But what she doesn’t note is that most scholars associate this “synagogue of Satan ” with the Jewish presence in the city—the Jewish persecution of Christians after the break Christianity made with the Jewish religion. It is not simply all who oppose Messiah’s claims.
This not-so-subtle bit of exegesis sets up a kind of catch-22. One either has to agree with Wooten or be labeled part of the “church system.” If anyone takes issue with Wooten’s rehashing of Christian theology, then they are part of this “church system” that opposes Messiah’s teachings (which are, of course, synonymous with Wooten’s). This is the stuff that breaks churches apart. If we disagree with the “head cheese,” then we are seen as part of the “whore of Babylon” that opposes the “true work” of Christ; because anyone who doesn’t go with the new teaching is part of the “world system.” It is disingenuous to set up a false dilemma in which one either agrees with the position being presented or is part of some end-times conspiracy. As an aside: Just once I would like to hear some leader of a new movement say: If you disagree with me, you are not evil. You are not the Whore of Babylon (or even the Trollop of Bithynia). You don’t eat at the table of demons. You don’t have Satanic rabies. You’re not headed for cell block Alpha in spirit prison. We just disagree, and I think you are wrong.
To sum up, what good is there in this book? You shouldn’t be surprised when I say: Not much. This book fails in its attempt to refute Covenant theology. There are much more compelling books that use good scholarship and good exegesis of Scripture to argue that Covenant theology is wrong, if that’s what you want to argue.15 This book fails in its attempt to provide reconciliation between the Jewish Christians and the Gentile Christians by redefining what a Gentile is. I’m not so sure the problem is so bad that we need reconciliation; but even if we do, the way to go about it is not to redefine what Gentiles are. I think a sense of common unity might come by engaging in appreciation for the Jewish roots of our Christian heritage, while at the same time realizing that we are part of Someone Who transcends the distinction between Jew and Gentile. It is Jesus – Light of the Gentiles and a Glory to His people Israel (Luke 2:30-32). It certainly isn’t going to come from reading this book.Ω
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- The problem is that much of the material is in the form of sermons and not books This makes it more difficult to track their teachings than, for instance, the ideas of the WTBTS who publish a book or pamphlet faster than you can say “faithful and discreet slave.” ↩
- Hereafter known as the MIA. ↩
- Batya Wooten, Who Is Israel? And Why You Need to Know (St Cloud, FL: Key of David Publishing, 1998), p49 (Cf. foonote 81) ↩
- Batya Wooten, Who Is Israel? And Why You Need to Know (St Cloud, FL: Key of David Publishing, 1998), p92. ↩
- Wooten, xxx. ↩
- To clarify: As punishment for their sin, the ten northern tribes of Israel were carried off into captivity by the Assyrians and never returned to Israel—unlike the two southern tribes (Judah and Benjamin) who were carried off by the Babylonians in 586 B.C., but who later returned 70 years later ↩
- Wooten, p42. ↩
- Wooten. p93. ↩
- Now before you go thumping your logic text books at me and accusing me of making an argument from silence, please realize that an argument from silence is not always a bad thing. To argue that something couldn’t have happened because of the lack of evidence is not bad arguing if what we are arguing against having happened would show some evidence. For instance: If I argued right now that a bomb had NOT gone off in my study, and you asked me how do you know; I would legitimately cite the lack of evidence, since if a bomb had gone off, there would jolly well be some evidence. ↩
- Wooten. pp93-94. ↩
- Wooten. p3. ↩
- Wooten. p182. ↩
- Ibid. ↩
- Ibid.. p42; footnote 74 ↩
- Charles Ryrie, Dispensationalism (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers. 1996). See this reference, for starters. Note for the record; I’m not arguing that Covenant or Replacement theology is bad or good. I am a proponent of Dispensationalism. Good natured and erudite Christians differ over this idea. Note also for the record that I don’t think Covenant theologians in any way resemble the Whore of Babylon (or even the harlot of Toledo) just because they don’t agree with me. ↩