Antinomianism

ANTINOMIANISM (ăn'tī-nō'mĭ-ăn-ĭsm Gr. anti, against; nomos, law). The view that the oral law does not apply to Christians, who are under the law of grace. Because salvation does not come through works but through grace, it is held, moral effort can be discounted. Paul found that this kind of heresy had crept into the church (1Cor.5.1-1Cor.5.13-1Cor.6.1-1Cor.6.20). Others had chosen to misrepresent his own teaching on grace (Rom.3.8), and he pointed out the absurdity of the charge (Rom.6.1, Rom.6.15). From the first century to our own day, some individuals or groups have sought to combine the spiritual life with moral license, but Scripture leaves no doubt that the new life in Christ means death to the old evil desires (Gal.5.24).——JDD


(Gr. anti, “against”; nomos, “law”). While Luther was apparently the first to use the term “Antinomian” in his controversy with Johann Agricola* to describe the rejection of the moral law as a relevant part of Christian experience, Antinomianism clearly goes back to the time of the NT. Paul refutes the suggestion that the doctrine of justification by faith alone leaves room for persistence in sin, and frequently in the NT Epistles the view that the Gospel condones licentiousness is forthrightly condemned. Such counterattacks make it evident that antinomian views were current in the apostolic age. It is probably wise not to apply the title “antinomian” to the Gnostic heresies whose libertinism was based not on any supposed implications of the doctrine of justification by faith alone, but on a philosophical view of matter as intriniscally evil. Omitting these, there are two main forms of antinomian rejection of the law. Some Antinomians, like Agricola, maintain that the moral law is not needed to bring the sinner to repentance. This runs counter to Paul's experience and teaching (Rom. 7:7; Gal. 3:24). Others who accept the pedagogic use of the law, to convince the sinner of his sin and lead him to Christ, insist that the moral law has no place in the life of the believer, who is not under the law but under grace, and so not bound by the law as the rule for Christian living. Some of the English Puritans, notably Tobias Crisp and John Saltmarsh, held this view. The Brethren movement, consistent with the teaching of J.N. Darby* on the sharply contrasted dispensations of law and grace, is antinomian in the same sense. This form of Antinomianism seems to arise from a misunderstanding of the teaching of Paul who, while he utterly rejected the law as means of salvation, nevertheless affirmed the continuing validity of the law for the Christian (Rom. 3:31; 8:4).

For the protracted antinomian controversy in England between 1690-1700, see P. Toon, Emergence of Hyper-Calvinism (1967), chap. 3.


ANTINOMIANISM ăn’ tĭ nō’ mĭən, ăn’ tĭ nō mĭən ĭzm (from Gr. ἀντί, G505, against; νόμος, G3795, law). A theology which interprets Paul’s teaching on law and grace (Rom 7:8) to mean that the Christian is so wholly in grace that he is in no sense under the law. In this original form, antinomianism arose within the NT period, as is evident from Paul’s reaction to it (Gal 5:13 ff.). Antinomianism was endorsed by some of the Gnostics in the Early Church, by some sectarians in the Middle Ages, and at the time of the Reformation by Anabaptists who appealed to Luther’s emphasis on salvation by grace apart from works. It appeared later in certain sects in England, and is still advocated by some sectarian groups in the U.S.

The original understanding of law and grace as taught by Paul was transformed over the centuries into a distinctive theology whose chief characteristic stems from its elimination of the Pauline tension between law and grace in the life of the believer. This elimination was accomplished by ignoring the temporal process in which salvation was accomplished in Christ and realized in the sinner’s life. Christ’s gracious action for the sinner was viewed as making the sinner perfect in Christ, so that the sins of the believer are no longer to be regarded as his, but those of his “old nature” now dead and gone.

On this view of the sinner’s status in Christ, justification sometimes came to be regarded as an event in eternity—which makes the cross not so much a decisive, historical act of divine love as a mere disclosure of an eternal love. At other times justification came to be regarded as an event that occurred within the resurrection, with the consequence that the believer did not at the time of his conversion become justified and set on the road of sanctification, but merely came at that point to know that he is, and was long since, free from the law and in the grace of Christ.

Although springing from a different theological motif, the denial of all obligatory force to Biblical moral law places the “New Morality” in the category of antinomianism.