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Christian Ephraimism
Where is the Spiritual Birthright?

by: Robert Somerville

"If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise." (Galatians 3:29)

What is "Christian Ephraimism"? Among those who would bring the church to a better understanding of the Jewish roots of the Christian faith, there are some who are now attempting to establish a fleshly connection of most (if not all) Christians to Abraham. Its corrosive effect is to undermine our spiritual birthright in Jesus the Messiah by subtly shifting the focus from the virtues of spiritual re-birth in Christ to those of natural birth or lineage from Abraham. In other words, they put forward an elaborate doctrinal scenario that would have us believe that our coming to faith in Christ is the result of, or accompanied by some genetic connection to Abraham. They contend that this connection was made through Ephraim the second son of Joseph who's DNA was supposedly disseminated among all the nations of earth ? a "Christian Ephraimism" of sorts. I fear that it harkens back to the tumultuous doctrinal discord of the first century church fostered by similar controversies on genealogies, which were summarily denounced by the apostle Paul.

". . .you may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. These promote controversies rather than God's work-which is by faith." (1 Tim 1:3-5 NIV)

They operate under the general tag "The two houses of Israel". It is a doctrine that may appeal to the flesh for the few, but scripturally and spiritually, it misses the mark. It is a very slick doctrine that initially seems quite convincing to some. As usual, there are varying shades of this teaching but for the sake of brevity, I want to deal not so much with minutia and detail as with the big picture of this doctrine.

It seems they are attempting to distort Galatians 3:29 by inverting it. Presumably they would rather have it read, "If you are Abraham's seed, then you belong to Christ and are heirs according to the promise". Just the opposite of what they propose is in fact the case. By becoming a Christian, we become the seed of Abraham regardless of our ethnic background. It is the faith connection to Abraham that is relevant, not the fleshly connection. Whether you are a Jew or a Gentile, your redemption is solely defined in Jesus the Messiah. It is only the nature of the believer's heritage of faith and truth that is defined in Abraham.

It was Jesus who first minimized the merits of a fleshly connection to Abraham when some of his Jewish detractors declared themselves to be Abraham's seed. Jesus responded, "If ye were Abraham's children, you would do the works of Abraham. . . . . Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad." (John 8:39,56) Abraham, through the eye of faith, saw and accepted the coming Messiah but they were rejecting Him. They were indeed the seed of his body but not of his faith.

Why does Paul feel the need to make the statement "If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed" to the Ephesians? He is simply explaining to this predominately Gentile congregation, the centrality of Christ for obtaining eternal life while preserving the fact that there is a heritage to be acquired for all Christians through the covenant (not the genes) of Abraham.

The real question before us is one of birthright - in the Kingdom Of God. Is it after the flesh or after the spirit? Clearly, it is after the spirit and not after the flesh. The apostle John reminds the church of this by stating emphatically, "The flesh profits nothing". (John 6:63) In this case, I emphasize the phrase "Kingdom of God" not to be construed with the term "Israel" because there is obviously a national birthright for the Jewish people after the flesh that relates to their promised homeland, an issue that I will address later.

The term birthright has been defined as "that to which one is entitled by reason of birth, especially the first-born." The Kingdom of God under the New Covenant seems well defined in the parables of Jesus as being that nation or body of people who believe on Him. From this we must conclude that our access to the riches of a Hebraic heritage through the covenant of Abraham is a birthright after the spirit, secured through faith in Yeshua the Messiah (Jesus).

Jesus explained the process of entry or birthing into this new (spiritual) economy of God to a man named Nicodemus, a Jewish leader. He said to him,

"Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see [or enter] the kingdom of God." (John 3:3)

Nicodemus was a person of physical Abrahamic ancestry. As such, he was a member of the initial concept of the "Kingdom of God":

And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel. (Exodus 19:6)

However, this alone could not assure Nicodemus of being a kinsman in this new and expanding dynamic of the kingdom of God. Therefore, it was necessary that Nicodemus be born again of the spirit through a new step of faith, so as to remain in the kingdom of God. He needed a re-birthing for validation to eternal life. Being of Jewish birth did not and does not ensure nor even enhance a person's acceptance for participation in the Messianic birthright of the kingdom of God. Jesus leaves no room for doubt "Nicodemus, you must be born again!"

Nicodemus was confronted with a decision that would profoundly affect his kingdom status. Would he remain in the "green olive tree" (Jeremiah 11:16) by re-birth through faith in the Messiah, or would he become a broken off branch through unbelief? There was no option- You must be born again. His ethnic origins were of no consequence except that he was first in line to hear the messianic gospel. (Romans 1:16)

On the contrary, most gentile Christians would not question why spiritual rebirth was required for entrance into the Kingdom of God, but have little insight into the accompanying birthright in Abraham they have simultaneous acquired. "Birthright" gives a person legitimate access to and specific definitions of one's natural inheritance. It is no less so in the Kingdom of God. That is what a birthright does! The question should arise in Christians, "to what exactly, do we as believers have as a 'right' in Abraham resulting from spiritual rebirth? I will give a glimpse into that question later. My point here is; "If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise" and not the other way around. Believers become the heirs of a birthright in Abraham through Christ by spiritual rebirth not fleshly linage.

Consider this, the word birthright is mentioned only eight times in the scriptures, mostly relating to the stories of Jacob and Esau (Genesis 25 and 27) and of Joseph and his brothers (1 Chronicles 5). But these biblical events clearly establish the concept of what in known as "birthright of the firstborn". Jesus was the firstborn of his earthly mother. (Luke 2:7) He was also the "firstborn" son of the heavenly father. As the firstborn, Jesus possessed a birthright of which we become co-heirs.

Now if we are children, then we are heirs-heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory (Romans 8:17)

Jesus enjoyed all of the privileges of his firstborn son status (Colossians1: 15) Since Christians become His brothers and sisters through spiritual rebirth; we share in our Lord's inheritance. The question arises "What does Christ inherit?" Certainly not salvation, he committed no sin from which to be saved. The nature of our co-heritage with Jesus is reflected in His possession of a particular worldview, a unique worship system (feast day celebrations etc.), and a distinct concept of family, social and religious life as taught to Him from the Torah. Secondly, Jesus will inherit a throne of kingship to reign as King over the eternal, physical kingdom of God on the earth.

He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: (Luke 1:32)

As a result of spiritual rebirth through the death of Jesus, we become fellow participants with Him in the content of that inheritance;

"To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne". (Revelations 3:21)

And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth. (Rev 5:10)

BIRTHRIGHT - That to which one is entitled by reason of birth.

The concept of "spiritual rebirth" is well documented in scripture. It is either directly or indirectly taught some sixteen times in the New Testament. One of the more familiar is:

'For in him we live and move and have our being.' As some of your own poets have said, 'We are his offspring.' (Acts 17:28)

It is through the "born again" process that we are counted as His "firstborn" offspring. Believers, whether Jew or Gentile, are considered "firstborn" because of their brotherhood with Jesus. It is not the result of our brotherhood with Abraham through Ephraim.

For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. (Romans 8:29)

That the members of the born again body of Christ are considered firstborn through him is made clear by the writer of the book of Hebrews when he addresses them in the following manner;

To the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. (Hebrews 12:23)

To be a "joint heir" with Christ requires "firstborn" birthright status for all believers. It is because of the birthright principle that accompanies the firstborn that the apostle Paul had no qualms in saying to the Roman congregation that they were joint heirs with Christ. All that is needed now is to examine the nature of that birthright and the process by which it is obtained. The apostle Paul, gives us a very good account:

Remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. (Ephesians 2:12-13)

Make no mistake about it! Our adoption as Christian believers into the commonwealth of Israel, concurrent with initial salvation was a blood bought possession. Jesus died not only to save humanity from sin but also to gain for us a heritage in Abraham through whom the "commonwealth of Israel" was produced. This heritage from Abraham has been brought to us by a birthright acquired through faith in Jesus the Messiah, not through DNA or a genetic connection to Abraham. From this birthright, we obtain spiritual citizenship in the commonwealth of Israel, perpetuated through the eternal kingdom that was produced by the Messiah in the spirit. The nature of this Abrahamic heritage properly shapes, our world view, our concept of destiny, our worship system, our political views, our civic responsibilities, our domestic life our personal conduct and last but not least, our understanding of the eternal God himself. For more detail in this regard, I refer the reader to the classic work by Dr. Marvin Wilson "Our Father Abraham - Jewish Roots of the Christian faith."

"For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith." (Romans 4:13)

God chose Abraham to be the father (or progenitor) of the faith of all those (both Jew and Gentile) who would inherit the earth. (Matthew 5:5)

"Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all, (Rom 4:16)

In this instance "the father of us all" meant both the Italians and the Jews [or any other nationalities of people existing in the congregation at Rome]. The Italian saints of that church could not even remotely have had DNA from Abraham in them, as some would contend, for numerous reasons that time and space does not permit in this newsletter.

The concept of a heritage in Abraham is simply not limited to, nor enhanced by, being his natural seed. It was entirely a result of the spiritual re-birth as Jesus explained to Nicodemus and something that was also universal, as he would later expound on in public discourse.

- Expanding the Kingdom -

"Therefore say I unto you, the kingdom of God shall be taken from you, [Israel- all twelve tribes] and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof." (Matthew 21:43)

This scripture may seem to smack of what has been dubbed "replacement theology," meaning the church has replaced Israel in totality and that the unbelieving Jews were utterly rejected with the coming of Jesus and the New Covenant. I reject, in large part, the conventional concept of replacement theology. However, there is an element of truth in it to be considered. Even though this doctrine has come to be fiercely rejected and completely denounced by so many, the baby must not be thrown out with the bath water. I believe there is a case to be made for a well-founded principle residing in the flawed doctrine of Replacement Theology. It is a principle that repudiates the concept of "Christian Ephraimism" or the idea of required Jewish DNA for acceptance in the Kingdom of God. Those promoting this "Ephraim" idea are in chorus with those who take an extremely hard line against the concept of "Replacement" theology. It has helped foster their newfound definitions of "continuation" theology. Continuation theology is the opposite of "Replacement" theology. It contends that the Church did not replace Israel and therefore the Jews continue to be a covenant people before God. "Continuation theology" is not new but with these people it has taken on a whole new dimension of the flesh. This theological position taken to its extreme concludes that the DNA of Abraham through Ephraim continued to be inseminated into every nation and is the basis for conviction to salvation through Christ. They are supposedly the "lost" sheep in the earth that God seeks. The bottom line of "Christian Ephraimism" is that now all Christians are genetic Jews or Israelites.

I am a staunch supporter of the nation of Israel and a proponent of her prophetic right to existence and perpetuation (continuation theology). I believe the Jewish people [the natural seed of Abraham] are a continuing covenant people for whom God has destiny. How then, you may ask, can I give any hint of space for considering a positive aspect to "replacement" theology? The aspect of it that becomes acceptable is this; if Jesus is to be believed, it is quite obvious that someone replaced Israel as being the "Kingdom of God." If unbelieving Israel were not replaced as the Kingdom of God, they continue today as constituting both Israel and the Kingdom of God. Now, if that were the case, such a scenario would legitimize the contentions of Christian Ephraimism. But such is not the case.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal 3:28)

It was Jesus who notified the Jewish leadership of His day that the "Kingdom" would be taken from them" and given to another. It was not an idle threat. It was not uttered for the purposes of shock value. It was a statement of fact and as true today as it was then. In a very real sense, it was groundwork being laid by Jesus for the prophetic fulfillment of a Biblical strategy to bring the Jewish people back into the obedience of faith. God said of Israel,

"They have moved me to jealousy with that which is not God; they have provoked me to anger with their vanities: and I will move them to jealousy with those which are not a people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation." (Deuteronomy 32:21)

On a similar occasion Jesus said to the Jewish religious leaders in Israel,

"Behold, your house is left unto you desolate" [deserted, lifeless NIV] (Matthew 23:38).

Yashua made this statement as he overlooked Jerusalem weeping. As a result, the nation of Israel eventually became desolate and spiritually void through their national rejection of Jesus, the living Messiah. Consequently, they were relieved of the "kingdom" status they had been promised and had so long enjoyed (Exodus 19:6). The Apostle Paul describes the mechanics of these circumstances in his book to the Romans:

That is, they which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed. (Romans 9:8

Paul states quite clearly that the believers in Messiah replaced or were "counted for" [as 'instead of'] the unbelieving natural seed. You can't get much clearer than that! One must confess that this is at least a concept of "replacement." Paul informs us unequivocally that Gentile believers in Messiah were "wild" branches grafted into the natural olive tree replacing the unbelieving branches that were broken off of the living tree of Israel. (Romans 11:19) The living tree, into which the branch grafting process is being performed, is the continuing Kingdom of God. (Romans 11: 17-19)

The words of the Apostle Paul to the Roman congregation had a duel address. He must let the Jews in Rome know that their Jewish lineage did not give them the upper hand while letting the Romans know that their gentile lineage was in no way a hindrance or limitation.

What then? What Israel sought so earnestly it did not obtain, but the elect did. The others were hardened, (Romans 11:7)

The remnant or elect, to which Paul refers, consisted of that nucleus of Jews who did believe on the Messiah. Gentile believers were grafted into the messianic olive tree of the kingdom of God by coming into fellowship and common faith with the Jewish remnant who believed in Jesus as Messiah

The green olive tree was so severely pruned however, that many mistake the enormous amount of broken off branches for a continuing tree. In fact the messianic olive tree had so few branches left that one could loose sight of its very existence and question its survival (typical of severe pruning). That would have required the creation of a new olive tree or another Kingdom of God. Such was not the case.

Nevertheless, a vibrant Kingdom of God in Israel did survive as a result of the remnant of Jews who were of Abrahamic like faith and accepted Jesus as their Messiah. These followers of Jesus constituted that continuing, living olive tree. They are the ones to whom the Kingdom of God through spiritual rebirth was extended.

It is possible to get so involved with genealogy and questions about who is "Israel" that one loses sight of the "Kingdom of God". There is a difference. Jesus said the "Kingdom" would be taken from national Israel, not their identity of being Israel. Israel is the natural seed of Abraham. The Kingdom of God has no certain ethnic makeup. The distinctive of the Jewish people as being Israel was not taken away from those broken off branches but their identity of being the "Kingdom of God" was indeed transferred to "whoever will" come to faith or believe in Jesus as Messiah (Jew or Gentile).

When the bulk of the nation of Israel lost their status of being the habitation of God, they ceased to be His Kingdom. However, as I have shown, the Kingdom of God continued in the earth preserved and represented by the remnant of Jews who did believe on Messiah and Gentile who would soon follow.

So, what is the bottom line? God's Kingdom has been expanded beyond the Jewish nation to the "whosoever will" believers in Messiah [the church]. It has no ethnic requirement. The Jews will not be grafted into themselves. They are and will be grafted into the Kingdom of God, which had been their former state of being. We should now pray for an accelerated restoration or "grafting in" of the Jewish people into their original "Kingdom" status through their acceptance of Messiah.

After all, if you were cut out of an olive tree that is wild by nature, and contrary to nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more readily will these, the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree! (Romans 11:24)

If the unbelieving Jews were a continuing "living" olive tree, as some contend, they would not need grafted into something they are already. The broken off olive branches, who lost their initial Kingdom of God status, must be grafted back into the living olive tree by a spiritual rebirth through Messiah (Jesus) if they are to retain their birthright, as explained to Nicodemus. So, whether Jew or Gentile let no man deceive you into believing that ethnicity or genealogical connection have any consequence in the Kingdom of God or to the right of inheritance. The operative word here is "birthright". Birthright in the Kingdom is through Jesus and Him alone. Jews and Gentiles alike must be grafted into the green olive tree of the Kingdom of God through spiritual re-birth.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16-17)

Let There Be No Confusion

From a Biblical standpoint, the population of earth is divided into two distinct fleshly groups, Jews and Gentiles. If one is not a Jew* (descendant of Abraham), that person is a Gentile or a member of the goyim (all other nationalities). It's just that simple! How the Jew and Gentile respectively, fit into the prophetic outworking of the earthly plan of God at the end of the age is fascinating to many, and a myriad of doctrinal scenarios have been postulated by Bible expositors. We have theories ranging from Replacement theology (the church has replaced the Jews) to British Israelism (Britain and the U.S. are God's chosen) to Christian Ephraimism (Every Christian has a genetic (Jewish) connection to Jesus through Ephraim, the second son of Joseph.) Many are caught up in these various camps of dogmatic persuasion and the details of each tend to be very complex. Even if some element of these hypothetical ideas were true, they represent an exercise of "majoring in minors" and beg the "so what?" question. Their importance pales in the light of the statement of Jesus to Nicodemus, "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God". Salvation is not accessed nor even accompanied by special privilege, merit or bloodline, and neither is our covenantal birthright in Abraham. Both are seized by faith and worked out by faith in Jesus the Messiah. It is a birthright extended to those who are born again!

"The flesh profits nothing." (John 6:63)

* I use the term "Jew" generically as meaning all of the natural linage of Abraham. In truth, very few of the Jewish people actually know from which tribe they are a descendant.

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