Armstrong's Doctrine of Anglo Israelism
J. T. Smith
Lake Johnson, Texas
I recently acquired the book The United States and Britain in Prophecy by Herbert W. Armstrong. In this book Mr. Armstrong takes the position that there is a distinction in the "House of Israel" or "Children of Israel" and the Jews. In fact, Mr. Armstrong entitles chapter three of the book "National Greatness Promised Israel - Yet The Jews Never Received It - Why?" He takes the following position regarding those today who comprise Israel. "Yet we must face the astounding fact that our white, English-speaking people - not the Jews - have inherited national and physical phases of those promises" (Ibid, p. 12). The promises of which he speaks are those promised to Abraham by God. Thus, the doctrine is that the Anglo-Saxon people are the ten tribes of Israel which lost their identity when they were taken into Assyrian captivity. Thus the Anglo-Saxon people (Mr. Armstrong's Israel) are the ones to take part in the Millennium, not the Sews.
One interesting thing that I discovered while doing research for this article, was the fact that this doctrine did not originate with Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong. In fact, an article in an old Bible Banner edited by Foy E. Wallace, Jr. produced some interesting facts. The article by Yater Tant on this very subject sets forth the fact that "Richard Brothers (1757-1824), `a half-pay officer of eccentric habits in the British navy,' has given to the world one of the most amazing religio-political theories to be found in all history. It was this odd character who was the first in modern times, to advocate the singular theory that the British nation is in actual fact the true and real Israel of God. He claimed that the Anglo-Saxon race was descended from the `ten lost tribes' of Israel; that he, himself, was a lineal descendant of David, and the rightful claimant to David's throne; that very shortly God would overthrow all the enemies of Israel (England), and that he, Richard Brothers, would become the ruler of the whole world."
"Quite understandably, the Britishers confined this man to a lunatic asylum, but, even so, he secured and retained many admirers. Outstanding among them was C. Piazzi Smyth." Mr. Smyth said that while Brothers was absolutely right about the Anglo-Saxons being the true Israel, he (Brothers) had mis-calculated the matter. It was the Queen of England, not Brothers, who was rightful heir to the throne of David.
Hastings Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics lists a number of the proof-texts used by Brothers and also by Armstrong, who hold to Anglo-Israelism. It reminds me of the Jehovah's Witnesses in the childish way that take passages and make some point in the passage fit their theory. Here are some of them:
"Jeremiah 3:12. God's word should be proclaimed in the north. (Britain is to the north of Palestine).
"Isaiah 49:10. Heat or sun should not smite them. (Britain is foggy and cloudy most of the year. The sun rarely ever shines upon the people there.)
"Isaiah 24:15. God's name should be glorified in the isles. (Britain is an island kingdom.)
"Micah 5:8. The remnant of Jacob shall be as a lion among the nations. (Britain is traditionally the `lion,' even using the symbol of a lion in her coat of arms.)
"Isaiah 49:19-20, 54:3. Colonies should be established. (Britain is the world's greatest colonial empire.)
"Genesis 48:19. One of Joseph's sons, Manasseh, was to become a separate nation. (Who can deny that this refers to the United States?)"
Many of these same passages are used by Armstrong with the same childish kind of comparisons made by him. Also, the same kind of arbitrary meaning is given to many of the passages discussed by Mr. Armstrong. However, as I have already pointed out, the greater part of the material in Mr. Armstrong's book is given to show that Israel is never referred to as the Jews, and that the Jews did not include Israel. In fact, Mr. Armstrong said on page 68 of his book, "the terms `house of Israel' or `all Israel,' when the meaning is national, or the terms `Jacob,' or `Rachel,' or 'Ephraim,' or `house of Joseph,' or 'Samaria,' often used in the Bible in prophecy, relate to the ten-tribed birthright people, not to the Jews. This is a key and a master key, to Bible understanding!"
It is claimed by Mr. Armstrong that Ephraim and Manasseh, the two sons of Joseph who were blessed by Jacob, would be the heads of the tribe of Israel. Mr. Armstrong makes a special point to talk about Jacob "crossing his hands" in giving the blessing to Ephraim and Manasseh and what that means in prophecy. He believes that Ephraim represents the British Isles, and that Manasseh represents the United States. But, Mr. Armstrong has "his wires crossed." For, according to the Scriptures, Ephraim, which received the right-hand blessing of Jacob, should be greater than Manasseh, who received the left-hand blessing. This would mean that Great Britain is a greater nation that the United States which is supposedly represented by the boy who received the lesser blessing, Manasseh. So Mr. Armstrong's calculations will not work.
The Ten Lost Tribes
Mr. Armstrong insists that the ten tribes are the real Israel, not the Jews which consisted of Judah and Benjamin. He also affirms that we, the Anglo-Saxons of to day, are descendants of the ten tribes and, therefore, are the true Israel.
In reading Mr. Armstrong's book, I found that the majority of his problems come as a result of his endeavoring to "squeeze" the millennial theory into every passage that discusses Israel's return after their captivity by the Assyrians.
In an effort to show the ridiculousness of Mr. Armstrong's reasoning, I want to note his teaching on the millennium. Not long ago, I was returning home from a trip and listening to Mr. Armstrong on the car radio. He was discussing Daniel chapter two, describing Daniel's interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar's dream. He was doing an excellent job of describing the interpretation of the dream. He showed how the Babylonian empire was represented by the head of gold, the Medo-Persian empire was represented by the breast and arms of silver, the Grecian empire was represented by the belly and thighs of brass, and then "bingo," he jumped from the Grecian kingdom all the way to time in which we live as a time when God would set up His kingdom which would never be destroyed. Why not just continue to show the next kingdom in the historical line was the Roman kingdom when God would establish His kingdom? That is the mystery indeed. But after taking the above position, you can see the problem that anyone would have in trying to explain the return of Israel. But let's note some Bible facts.
Fact 1. When Jeremiah was prophesying of the Babylonian captivity, he included Israel in his prophecy. We read in Jeremiah 23:7-8, "Therefore, behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that they shall say, The Lord liveth, which brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt; But, The Lord liveth, which brought up and which led the seed of the house of Israel out of the north country, and from all countries whither I have driven them; and they shall dwell in their own land."
Fact 2. The book of Ezekiel was written by Ezekiel to try to comfort his companions during the'time of their tribulation in Babylonian captivity. The book may be divided into three main divisions. The first division (chapters 1-24) contains predictions of the conquest of the Jews. The second division (chapters 25-32) was delivered during the invasion of Jerusalem. The final division (chapters 33-48) foretells the return of all God's people from Babylonian captivity. Israel is mentioned in every division of Ezekiel's prophecy.
In the first division (Ezek. 3:1), Ezekiel was told, ". . . go speak to the house of Israel." In the second division, God told Ezekiel, "Therefore, O thou son of man, speak unto the house of Israel . . ." (Ezek. 33:10). And in the third division, Ezekiel is carried out in the spirit of the Lord and set in a valley of dry bones. Ezekiel was shown by the Lord that these bones would take on flesh and they would be given breath and they would become a great army (Ezek. 37). What was meant by that which Ezekiel saw? God explains it in Ezekiel 37:11-14. "Then he said unto me, Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel: behold, they say, Our bones are dried, and our hope is lost: we are cut off for our parts. Therefore prophesy and say unto them, Thus said the Lord God; Behold, O my people, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel. And ye shall know that I am the Lord when I have opened up your graves, O my people, and brought you up out of your graves, And I shall put my spirit in you, and ye shall live, and I shall place you in your own land, then shall ye know that I the Lord have spoken it, and performed it, saith the Lord." Not only that, but in the next verses (15-22) God shows that Judah and Israel would be united in the return. (See also Jer. 23:7-8).
Not only did God say that both would be brought back from the Babylonian captivity, but that all the kingdoms of the earth would be turned over to Cyrus king of Persia and those among all of God's people who desired could return to Jerusalem (2 Chron. 36:22-23). This would include both Judah and Israel and God declared that He would be their king (Hosea 13:9-11).
Fact 3. When we come to the New Testament, we find that the word "Jew" was applied to "Israel," and those of Israel were referred to as Jews.
When the birth of Jesus was made known, what is said? "Where is he that is born king of the Jews?" (Matt. 2:2). But in verse 6, I read, "And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, art not the least among the princes of Judah: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel." You will note that in one verse Christ is said to be king of the Jews, and in the other He is said to be the ruler of Israel. He was also referred to as King of Israel (John 1:49).
When Christ sent forth His disciples on the "limited" commission, you will observe that He sent them "to the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matt. 10:6). So it was not that they were "lost" in the sense of not being able to find them, but in the sense that they were lost spiritually. Otherwise, how would they be able to find them to preach to them?
In Acts 2:5 we read that "there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven." However, in verse 22, Peter referred to them as "Ye men of Israel," and in verse 36, he referred to them as "all the house of Israel." Hence, these "Jews" were referred to as "the house of Israel."
When Paul went into the synagogue in Antioch in Pisidia, he was given the opportunity to speak. He addressed those who were there as "Men of Israel" (Acts 13:16). However, verse 42 tells us that at the close of his lesson "the Jews were gone out of the synagogue . . . ." Also, Paul said in Galatians 2:15 that he was "a Jew by nature." But he also said that he was "of the stock of Israel," and yet in the next breath said he was "of the tribe of Benjamin" (Phil. 3:5). You will recall that the tribe of Benjamin was included with Judah in the two tribes that, according to Mr. Armstrong, were not at all Israel.
Many other instances could be cited to show that the New Testament identifies a Jew as an Israelite and an Israelite as a Jew, but surely the above passages are sufficient.
The reason Mr. Armstrong missed the truth on this subject is because of his many false premises upon which he bases his theory.
1. He, like Mr. Brothers of long ago, puts his own connotation on the verses that he needs to prove his theory.
2. He misses the teachings of the Scripture on the fact that both Judah and Israel were included in those who were in Babylonian captivity.
3. He will not allow for the return of Israel after the Babylonian captivity, as many of the Old Testament prophets prophesied, but desires to make their return at some future time in harmony with his millennial theory.
4. He must deny plain passages in the New Testament that show that the Jews were Israelites, and that the Israelites were called Jews. So, my friends, neither Britain nor the United States may be found in prophecy, Mr. Armstrong to the contrary notwithstanding.
Guardian of Truth XXVII: 11, pp. 338-340