As promised in the July issue of this Monthly Letter, we are continuing our analysis of the history of the Worldwide Church of God under Herbert Armstrong, and those elements which made that particular religious movement absolutely unique in the twentieth century. Whether or not one chooses to believe that church was ever inspired or led by God,
we have already laid out proofs that the doctrinal teachings of that church were indeed unique
and not, as some have claimed, just “copied” from other religionists of the world.
While there are many writers who in recent decades have taken
aim at Herbert Armstrong to discredit his work, we have focused upon the particular statements of the man
who ascended ultimately to the leadership of that very same church as Pastor General—Mr.
Joseph Tkach, Jr.—after the deaths of Mr. Armstrong and his own father, Mr. Joseph Tkach,
Sr. Surely he, of all writers, should be able to provide real substance to justify the repudiation
of everything which the original founder of the church first taught. His own book, Transformed
By Truth, has been our textbook for testing the proofs offered to confirm that Herbert
Armstrong was merely a skilled, opportunistic salesman, rather than an inspired servant of the
living God. In the last issue we addressed the history of Mr. Armstrong’s teachings about
salvation and the hope of being born into the God Family as joint-heirs with Jesus Christ. We
confirmed both the unique essence of Herbert Armstrong’s teaching as well as biblical evidence
to show that the proposition is anything but baseless.
Next, we want to address a teaching which Mr. Tkach considered the capstone of all,
calling it “the central plank” of doctrines within the Worldwide Church of God—Anglo-Israelism. What is Anglo(British)-Israelism, and what was its
true significance within the body of doctrinal teachings of Herbert Armstrong? How and why has it been repudiated by so many
in the world today, and is there any basis for thinking it might actually have some merit?
In general, Anglo-Israelism involves the belief that those identified
as the Jewish people today do not represent the entire house of modern Israel, but only a small remnant, at most, of
three tribes—Judah, Levi, and Benjamin. It asserts that the northern kingdom of Israel—which
God called distinctly the House of Israel after its separation from the southern kingdom of Judah after the death of King Solomon—was later taken into captivity by the Assyrians and transported out of the Promised
Land, becoming lost in identity as Israelites, but nonetheless
producing descendants of those original Ten Tribes who have come forward to this very day.
It asserts further that those Israelitish descendants eventually migrated away from Assyrian
control in the east, settling in northwestern Europe and in the British Isles, from which also
North America became the primary source of settlement. These Anglo-Saxon/British/American
peoples are believed therefore to have legitimate claim as bona fide descendants of Abraham,
Isaac, and Jacob, equal to that of the descendants of the House of Judah—today called the Jews.
There are many different religious and political groups who profess
varying versions of this belief, all having their own particular agendas at heart. Many are simply attracted to the
idea of being the physical descendants of “God’s chosen people” as an exercise in human vanity.
Who would not like to discover that he actually descended from a very prestigious line of
forebearers chronicled in the Bible? Others take it a step further and claim that the Jews today
are imposters, using the concept of Anglo-Israelism to justify persecution toward them. Others
who are part of the “Christian Identity” movement take it even further and use their claim of
being the “true Israelites” to justify wholesale racial hatred toward “all others” and to engage
in anti-government activities to resist their own “Egyptian oppression” in the name of God.
Many of today’s most right-wing, anti-government, racist extremists lay claim to the idea of
non-Jewish Israelites as a core belief. Above all, the very concept of a modern discovery of the
lost Ten Tribes not only taps a romantic yearning in many for mystery and drama, but also
provides a classic foundation to promote almost anything one chooses, including many very
self-serving and dangerous ideas. Today, there are many peoples of varying races who lay
claim to being the “true descendants” of Israel, making the whole issue appear to be quite a
Mainstream “Christian” churches by and large despise the tenets of
only because of the troubling fruits in so many groups who profess them, but also because it
challenges many of their own assertions about God’s law—the Ten Commandments. Many of
them profess that they believe any true Israelite is required to “keep the law” today. But since
they despise the idea of being “under the law,” they will run from any proposal which remotely
hints that they might be subject to it. Their strongest argument for being exempt is that they are
“Gentiles,” and thereby automatically free from obligation (more on this point later). This
strategy is simple and circumvents the messier debates about whether or not the New Covenant
does away with the Ten Commandments. But if it somehow became plausible that a whole lot
of other people turned out to be bona fide Israelites today, that simple argument would fall flat.
Since they have no intention of ever being “under the law,” they also have no intention of
accepting that anyone but a very small group of “professing Jews” are actually Israelites today.
So mainstream Christians have many reasons to despise Anglo-Israelism and deny it even a
Herbert Armstrong was not the first to advocate belief in British Israelism, but he
certainly became best known for promoting it in the twentieth century. Although there may
have been underground movements for centuries suggesting the connection of modern Britains
with the Israelites, it was not until the 1800s that the concept began to be popularized more
openly. Then in 1902, a man named J. H. Allen wrote a definitive book entitled, Judah’s
Sceptre and Joseph’s Birthright, giving more substance to the theory than ever before. It was
this work which influenced many—likely including Herbert Armstrong—to examine its merits.
The end result was Mr. Armstrong’s most popular book, entitled, The United States and Britain
in Prophecy, with nearly six million copies mailed out during his fifty-year ministry. It would
be an understatement to say that from very early in his search to find the truth of the Bible in
the 1920s, British-Israelism played a role. But why was that so, and what was his particular
motivation for embracing such a provocative concept? Was he seeking to justify persecution
of the Jews, racial intolerance, or rebellion against our human governments? Or perhaps was
it merely an “attention getter” he felt would help make his brand of religion more distinctive?
We shall soon see. The written evidence is enlightening.
Joseph Tkach called belief in Anglo-Israelism the central plank of the church:
. . . Why do I call this theory the central plank? It affected nearly everything we
did. Its influence was both pervasive and powerful.
One of the strongest reasons Mr. Armstrong taught Sabbath-keeping so forcefully
was that he regarded it as the sign that the United States was one of the ten lost
tribes of Israel. As long as Americans worshiped on Sunday rather than on the
Sabbath, they would forget their true heritage as Israelites—and would be in
grave danger of divine judgment. . . .
Our whole commission was to tell people to start keeping the Sabbath; then they
would recover their identity and then they would be ready for the Lord’s
imminent Second Coming.
Without British-Israelism, much of the reason for a passionate proclamation of
the Sabbath is taken away (Transformed By Truth, p. 121).
When the Worldwide Church of God finally rejected this belief in the
1990s, how does he describe the result?
A few years ago when we realized this theory was unbiblical and actually served
to cloud the real gospel, we stopped preaching and teaching it. Thus the central
plank cracked. Yet none of us foresaw the effect this would have on our theology
as a whole. To a large degree, most of us did not realize (any better than a few
of our members still do) how central Anglo-Israelism was to our entire system.
When this plank finally cracked, it created a snap heard ’round our theological
world (p. 122).
How then do we summarize Mr. Tkach’s interpretation of the effect of British-Israelism
upon the Worldwide Church of God? It is unbiblical, it contradicts the true gospel message of
Christ, it was the central plank in the entire body of church doctrine, and disproving it also
proved that Sabbath-keeping is unnecessary. Are these conclusions sound? Let us put each of
them to the test.
How can we test if the whole idea of Anglo-Israelism might be
unbiblical, or not? First, are the historical events claimed in the theory really contrary to what the Bible shows? Is it true
(biblical) that the nation of Israel became divided into two kingdoms after the death of
Solomon? Yes (1 Kings 12:19–20). Is it true that those first called the “Jews” did not
encompass the majority of Israelite descendants, but specifically those of the House of Judah
only? Yes (2 Kings 16:1–6). Is it true that the particular kingdom called “the house of Israel,”
made up of the northern ten tribes (including the two sub-tribes of Joseph—Ephraim and
Manasseh) was taken into captivity by the Assyrians, never recorded in the Bible as again
returning to the Promised Land? Yes (2 Kings 17:18, 22–24). Is it true that the particular
kingdom called “the house of Judah” included only three tribes, Judah, Levi, and Benjamin, and
that this house went into a separate—Babylonian—captivity more than one hundred thirty years
after the northern kingdom was already removed? Yes (Ezra 1:5). Does this text also record
only the return of the Babylonian captives, not the Assyrian captives? Yes.
Those who challenge this history seek to use texts like Nehemiah 11:20 to “prove” that all of the tribes were represented among those who came back from Babylon: “And the residue
of Israel, of the priests, and the Levites, were in all the cities of Judah, every one in his
inheritance.” But this does not say that residue included families of all the original tribes. The
emphasis is upon the tribe of Levi, containing the priests, and the inheritance which they
reclaimed was only in the southern kingdom of Judah. The genealogy of the families returning
from Babylonian captivity are recorded in both Ezra and Nehemiah, and not one family of any
of the tribes of the northern kingdom—the House of Israel—is recorded.
Therefore, what is “biblical” is this: The majority of the nation of Israel did indeed lose their land and became transported slaves, never to return to their original inheritance. They lost their language and their very identity as Israelites. The only ones to retain their national identity and the Hebrew language were a remnant of the southern kingdom of Judah, a small fraction of the original nation of Israel. This is what the Bible records.
The only question remaining is, what actually happened to those Ten Tribes who
disappeared under the curse of God for their idolatry, never to return to the Promised Land?
There are three dominant possibilities: 1) They died out completely, leaving no descendants
at all. 2) They did not die out completely, but their few children were so intermingled with
other peoples and races that the Israelite bloodline was effectively diluted and/or extinguished.
3) The captives did indeed maintain cohesive bonds and perpetuated a bloodline that remained
dominantly “Israelitish,” even though they lost the knowledge of who they were.
Which of these theories, if any, might be true? Mr. Joseph Tkach says the whole theory
is unbiblical. He cannot mean that the history of the Assyrian captivity of the House of Israel,
separate and apart from the Babylonian captivity of the House of Judah, is unbiblical. That
would be foolish. What he seems to base his assertion upon is the uncertainty about what
happened after they became “lost.” How could anyone “connect the dots” to prove that any
modern-day nation(s) were descended from a captive nation which became lost by God’s design
thousands of years ago as a curse upon them? That is indeed a valid question. We cannot look
to Bible history to tell us. God chose not to record specifically what happened to them. Yet
many have attempted to do so through speculation, convoluted assembly of “facts,” and
emphasis upon folklore. There is no true “evidence” in any of this, and that is what Mr. Tkach
seems to emphasize:
When you start carefully reading Anglo-Israelite literature, you begin to notice
how it generally depends on folklore, legends, quasi-historical genealogies, and
dubious etymologies. None of these sources proves an Israelite origin for the
peoples of northwestern Europe. Rarely, if ever, are the disciplines of
archeology, sociology, anthropology, linguistics, or historiography applied to
Anglo-Israelism. Anglo-Israelism can operate only outside the sciences. And its
handling of the biblical data is no better. To make many of its conclusions
plausible, it must ignore large portions of Scripture which would immediately
puncture it with holes the size of football fields (Transformed By Truth, p. 131).
He never tells us exactly what these texts are from the Bible which would make it plain
that the idea of God preserving modern descendents of ten lost tribes is unbiblical. Again, his
greater emphasis seems be a lack of “scientific proof” that it actually happened. But if it were
God’s express will to blot out this historical link and to intervene to prevent man from
discovering this proof through use of his own scientific methods, how then would archeology,
anthropology, and historiography preempt such a God? After all, we are not dealing with a
human endeavor here, but the work of an invisible Creator who is carrying out a very definite
plan upon this earth. And it happens to be a God who shows much disdain for the sciences of
man and the products of his own academia.
For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing
the understanding of the prudent. Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where
is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this
world? For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God,
it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe (1
If the only principles we accept as truth must be confirmed through man’s scientific applications, then Christianity itself fails that test most miserably. How do archeology,
anthropology, and historiography confirm that Jesus Christ was the literal Son of God, that man has the hope of eternal life after death, and that the Bible is the uncorrupted Word of that God, preserved from antiquity? There are no “scientific proofs” for any of those beliefs. But for those who accept those principles in faith, is there anything else we can do—as Christians, not as godless scientists—to test the viability of the claim that modern Israelites are still extant today? Yes indeed.
The best evidence to support Anglo-Israelism is not an attempt to “connect the dots” by
tracing their descendent migrations through history. It is to analyze God’s promises. God never
lies, and God made very specific promises concerning things He would do for the descendants
of Abraham. Here is a very succinct summary of key promises.
To Abraham, God made an unconditional promise, after he proved his faith in willingly offering his own son, Isaac, for sacrifice:
. . . By myself have I sworn, saith the LORD, for because thou hast done this
thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son: That in blessing I will bless
thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as
the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his
enemies; And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because
thou hast obeyed my voice (Genesis 22:16–18) [emphasis mine throughout].
All Christians recognize the spiritual aspects of these promises,
ultimately fulfilled in the Messiah—Jesus Christ—as the one “Seed,” and His never-ending Kingdom to come. But
Anglo-Israelism claims the promises were two-fold—both physical and spiritual—one promise
of “race” (great national blessings among the nations of men) and the second, that of “grace”
(Jesus Christ as Savior of all). Might that be true, or simply a twisting of the Scripture? Notice
how greater details are given by God when He reconfirms this same covenant with Abraham’s
Sojourn in this land, and I will be with thee, and will bless thee; for unto thee,
and unto thy seed, I will give all these countries, and I will perform the oath
which I sware unto Abraham thy father; And I will make thy seed to multiply as
the stars of heaven, and will give unto thy seed all these countries; and in thy seed
shall all the nations of the earth be blessed (Genesis 26:3–4).
Perhaps this promise still refers only to Jesus Christ becoming King of all “countries” in the future? But notice how God inspired Isaac to bespeak the birthright promise upon Jacob:
Therefore God give thee of the dew of heaven, and the fatness of the earth, and
plenty of corn and wine: Let people serve thee, and nations bow down to thee:
be lord over thy brethren, and let thy mother’s sons bow down to thee: cursed be
every one that curseth thee, and blessed be he that blesseth thee (Genesis
Well, it still may just be a restatement of the promise of Jesus Christ to come. But there is more. When God reconfirmed the covenant directly with Jacob, this is what He said:
And, behold, the LORD stood above it, and said, I am the LORD God of
Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac: the land whereon thou liest, to thee
will I give it, and to thy seed; And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and
thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the
south: and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed.
And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest,
and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done
that which I have spoken to thee of (Genesis 28:13–15).
One can still attempt to say this applies only to the spiritual return of Jesus Christ, but
it is getting a little harder for that to seem credible. It begins to sound like God perhaps was
making a physical promise of wealth, prosperity, and world influence to a physical people. If
it is only about Christ, then why do they first go out under Christ, and then have to come back
into the Promised Land later? Is not Christ bringing the Promised Land—the
Millennium—with Him when He first arrives on earth? Is Christ going to scatter Israel during
the Millennium, and then gather them together again later on? That simply does not match any
other prophecy. The scattering happens before Christ’s return—as punishment for their
idolatry—and then the gathering back into their original homeland occurs immediately with the
return of Christ to become King. Here is a further promise made by God to Jacob.
And God said unto him, Thy name is Jacob: thy name shall not be called any
more Jacob, but Israel shall be thy name: and he called his name Israel. And
God said unto him, I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply; a nation and
a company of nations shall be of thee, and kings shall come out of thy loins; And
the land which I gave Abraham and Isaac, to thee I will give it, and to thy seed
after thee will I give the land (Genesis 35:10–12).
If this promise is speaking only of the spiritual gifts to be given by Christ after His
return, then it would appear God is being partial, singling out the descendants of Jacob (now
called Israel) for that reward to the exclusion of others. Yet we know that Christ is coming to
offer that salvation to all mankind, not just to physical Israelites, let alone to one tribe only.
Might this mean that there really was a dual aspect to God’s promise—one physical, for a
temporary time, and the other spiritual, related to salvation to come later?
We find also that God made promises and recorded additional prophecies concerning what would happen to these peoples. There were birthright promises, and separate promises
of kingship—sceptre promises.
Now the sons of Reuben the firstborn of Israel, (for he was the firstborn; but,
forasmuch as he defiled his father’s bed, his birthright was given unto the sons
of Joseph the son of Israel: and the genealogy is not to be reckoned after the
birthright. For Judah prevailed above his brethren, and of him came the chief
ruler; but the birthright was Joseph’s (1 Chronicles 5:1–2).
And when Joseph saw that his father laid his right hand upon the head of
Ephraim, it displeased him: and he held up his father’s hand, to remove it from
Ephraim’s head unto Manasseh’s head. And Joseph said unto his father, Not so,
my father: for this is the firstborn; put thy right hand upon his head. And his
father refused, and said, I know it, my son, I know it: he also shall become a
people, and he also shall be great: but truly his younger brother shall be greater
than he, and his seed shall become a multitude of nations. And he blessed them
that day, saying, In thee shall Israel bless, saying, God make thee as Ephraim and
as Manasseh: and he set Ephraim before Manasseh (Genesis 48:17–20).
What J. H. Allen (and later, Herbert Armstrong) pointed out is that
these two distinct promises were not given to the same peoples. The birthright promises were given specifically
to Joseph, the son of Jacob (Israel), who became preeminent among all his sons. Joseph was
not the firstborn, but then neither had Jacob been the firstborn either. Yet it became God’s will
to give Jacob and Joseph the reward of the firstborn over that of their older brothers. So Joseph
received the double portion as a firstborn, which went to his two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh
(now making a total of thirteen tribes, not just twelve). Judah received the rulership—the
promise of God to wield the authority of the throne. Joseph’s sons would never have that
kingship, but neither would Judah’s sons have the birthright promises. Contained in this biblical
fact of distinction is the key to the whole theory of Anglo-Israelism.
God gave specific prophecies concerning the physical descendants of Israel, all of which would apply in the last days: “And Jacob called unto his sons, and said, Gather yourselves
together, that I may tell you that which shall befall you in the last days“ (Genesis 49:1). The last days typically refers to that time leading up to the arrival of Christ, not the time of His actual Kingdom.
God’s prophecy for Ephraim and Manasseh in the last days is even more specific by far than we have yet seen, and helps confirm that what God had in mind was more than just a
spiritual promise of the ultimate Kingdom under Jesus Christ:
Joseph is a fruitful bough, even a fruitful bough by a well; whose branches run
over the wall: The archers have sorely grieved him, and shot at him, and hated
him: But his bow abode in strength, and the arms of his hands were made strong
by the hands of the mighty God of Jacob; (from thence is the shepherd, the stone
of Israel:) Even by the God of thy father, who shall help thee; and by the
Almighty, who shall bless thee with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the
deep that lieth under, blessings of the breasts, and of the womb: The blessings
of thy father have prevailed above the blessings of my progenitors unto the
utmost bound of the everlasting hills: they shall be on the head of Joseph, and on
the crown of the head of him that was separate from his brethren (Genesis
This promise of greatness was never given to Judah. It was Ephraim and Manasseh whose descendants carried that birthright promise into the House of Israel—the northern kingdom of Ten Tribes—separate and apart from the House of Judah. And yet, during the biblically-recorded history of those Ten Tribes—even until their ultimate disappearance into
captivity—no such greatness ever manifested. Did God lie? God also made specific promises to Judah. The sceptre promise of rulership over Israel was assured in the hands of a descendant of Judah. Here is God’s prophecy concerning Judah in the last days:
Judah, thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise: thy hand shall be in the neck
of thine enemies; thy father’s children shall bow down before thee. Judah is a
lion’s whelp: from the prey, my son, thou art gone up: he stooped down, he
couched as a lion, and as an old lion; who shall rouse him up? The sceptre shall
not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come;
and unto him shall the gathering of the people be (Genesis 49:8–10).
This confirms that this last-day prophecy is talking about the time prior to the return of Christ, because it occurs until Shiloh (the Millennium) comes! If that is true of the Judah prophecy, so it is true of the Joseph prophecy. God later confirmed this very same promise to King David:
And when thy days be fulfilled, and thou shalt sleep with thy fathers, I will set up
thy seed after thee, which shall proceed out of thy bowels, and I will establish his
kingdom. He shall build an house for my name, and I will stablish the throne of
his kingdom for ever. I will be his father, and he shall be my son. If he commit
iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men, and with the stripes of the
children of men: But my mercy shall not depart away from him, as I took it from
Saul, whom I put away before thee. And thine house and thy kingdom shall be
established for ever before thee: thy throne shall be established for ever.
According to all these words, and according to all this vision, so did Nathan
speak unto David (2 Samuel 7:12–17).
This cannot be spiritualized away, applying only to Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is certainly the final descendant of David who will sit upon that throne for eternity, but this promise of God
begins with the physical son of David—Solomon—and applies all through time till the return of Christ. Christ has never and will never commit sin. Yet this prophecy states, “if he commit
iniquity . . .” Therefore the promise of a perpetual kingship without end applies to a human dynasty, not just a spiritual one.
I have made a covenant with my chosen, I have sworn unto David my servant,
Thy seed will I establish for ever, and build up thy throne to all generations
The rest of the theory of Anglo-Israelism seeks to demonstrate from
God’s prophecies that David’s royal line would cease to rule over the House of Judah (which was certainly fulfilled through the Babylonian captivity), but would nonetheless be preserved and transferred to rule over the descendants of the House of Israel, wherever they would be planted by God after their migrations.
For thus saith the LORD; David shall never want a man to sit upon the throne of
the house of Israel (Jeremiah 33:17).
Did God fulfill His promises concerning the future of the nation of Israel—His peculiar treasure? Many have read these biblical promises of great national wealth and power to be
wielded by the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the last days and have become
discouraged by the fact that the modern Jews today have never manifested its fulfillment.
What most have forgotten is that when analyzing the history of the Worldwide Church
of God and the teachings of Herbert Armstrong, this is really the key which makes the question
most relevant. If God is true and the Bible is His divinely-inspired Word, then the promises of
God must always be sure. Those who reject Anglo-Israelism still have a serious dilemma. They
become hard-pressed to explain how God followed through on all that He has prophesied.
What then have we learned about this proposition thus far? The basis of the theory is very credible from the Bible.
Next time, we will delve into the history of Herbert Armstrong’s specific interpretation
and see how and why Anglo-Israelism became an early part of that work. Was it truly the
“central plank” of all church doctrine? If not, what was its true role? Does the validity of the
Sabbath really hang upon the credibility of Anglo-Israelism? What was Herbert Armstrong’s
true orientation, and how was his teaching different from anyone else’s, including J. H. Allen’s?
The answers are very revealing indeed.