Religion Wiki

Part of a series on
The Bible
Biblical canon and books
Tanakh: Torah · Nevi'im · Ketuvim
Old Testament · New Testament ·
Hebrew Bible
Deuterocanon · Antilegomena
Chapters & verses
Apocrypha: Jewish · OT · NT
Development and authorship
Jewish Canon
Old Testament canon
New Testament canon
Mosaic authorship
Pauline epistles
Johannine works
Petrine epistles
Translations and manuscripts
Septuagint · Samaritan Pentateuch
Dead Sea scrolls  · Masoretic text
Targums · Peshitta
Vetus Latina · Vulgate
Gothic Bible · Luther Bible
English Bibles
Biblical studies
Dating the Bible
Biblical criticism
Higher criticism
Textual criticism
Canonical criticism
Novum Testamentum Graece
Documentary hypothesis
Synoptic problem
NT textual categories
Historicity (People)
Internal Consistency
Archeology · Artifacts
Science and the Bible
Hermeneutics · Pesher
Midrash · Pardes
Allegorical · Literalism
Inerrancy · Infallibility · Criticism
Islamic · Qur'anic · Gnostic
Judaism and Christianity
Biblical law in Judaism
Biblical law in Christianity

Antinomianism (from the Greek ἀντί, "against" + νόμος, "law"), or lawlessness (in the Greek Bible: ἀνομία,[1] "unlawful"), in theology, is the idea that members of a particular religious group are under no obligation to obey the laws of ethics or morality given forth by that religion, and that salvation is by predestination only.[2] Antinomianism is the polar opposite of legalism, the notion that obedience to a code of religious law earns salvation.

The term has become a point of contention among those opposed to religious authorities. Few groups or sects, outside of Christian Anarchism or Jewish anarchism, explicitly call themselves "antinomian", but the charge is often leveled by some Christian denominations against competing denominations, and for example, by the Jewish Encyclopedia against Paul of Tarsus,[3] see also Paul of Tarsus and Judaism.

The Latin term Sola fide ("[by] faith alone") refers to the foundational Protestant belief in salvation through faith alone, a concept preached intensely by Martin Luther, but who was also an outspoken critic of antinomianism, for example his Against the Antinomians (1539). See also Faith in Christianity.

Antinomianism in the Hebrew Bible

Throughout the Hebrew Bible, different covenants are described; two of them are the Davidic and the Mosaic. The Davidic adds an emphasis of God's unconditional commitment to the Mosaic's apparent emphasis on God's demands; however, both Moses and David describe the same eternal covenant, a covenant that was further expounded by Elijah, Isaiah, and the other prophets, who have to remind followers repeatedly of God's demands. It is stated in the Bible that certain powers will try to change (not expound) the Mosaic Law. For example, in speaking of the "Little horn" in Daniel 7 believed by many Biblical scholars to be Antiochus Epiphanes:

He shall speak words against the Most High, shall wear out the holy ones of the Most High, and shall attempt to change the sacred seasons and the law; and they shall be given into his power for a time, two times, and half a time.
Daniel 7:25 NRSV

Antinomianism in the Books of the Maccabees

The Books of the Maccabees describe the Maccabean revolt (165 BCE) against the Hellenization of the Jews by the Seleucid king Antiochus Epiphanes. For example:

Not long after this the king [Antiochus] sent an Athenian senator to force the Jews to abandon the customs of their ancestors and live no longer by the laws of God
2 Macc 6:1 (NRSV)


So they built a gymnasium in Jerusalem, according to Gentile custom, and removed the marks of circumcision, and abandoned the holy covenant. They joined with the Gentiles and sold themselves to do evil.
1 Macc 1:14-15 (NRSV)

See also Hellenistic Judaism.

Antinomianism in the New Testament

Icon of James the Just, whose judgment was adopted in the Apostolic Decree of Acts 15:19-29, c. 50 AD.

The first major dispute[4] over Christian antinomianism is recorded in Acts 15, called the Council of Jerusalem and dated to about 50 AD. The request to obey the Law is recorded in Acts 15:5:

But some believers who belonged to the sect of the Pharisees stood up and said, 'It is necessary for them to be circumcised and ordered to keep the law of Moses.'

The apostles and elders met at Jerusalem, and after a spirited discussion, their conclusion, later called the Apostolic Decree, possibly a major act of differentiation of the Church from its Jewish roots[5] (the first being the Rejection of Jesus[6]), was recorded in Acts 15:19:21:

Therefore I [James] have reached the decision that we should not trouble those Gentiles who are turning to God, but we should write to them to abstain only from things polluted by idols and from fornication and from whatever has been strangled and from blood. For in every city, for generations past, Moses has had those who proclaim him, for he has been read aloud every sabbath in the synagogues.

Note that the Gentiles were not required to be circumcised, but were required to obey the four beginning requirements to be part of the larger congregation. This passage shows that James set out a preliminary list of commands which Gentiles should obey. The remainder of the commandments would follow as they studied "Moses" in the Synagogues. If Gentiles did not follow this reduced requirement, they risked being put out of the Synagogue and missing out on a Torah education. See Leviticus 17 and 20. Each of the four requirements are actual requirements found in the Mosaic law. It is a common mistake to assume that these requirements are not part of the Mosaic Law. The problem presented at the Jerusalem Council was that there were some who were troubling the gentile converts by instructing them that they needed to be circumcised in order to be converted and receive salvation, see Legalism (theology). This is not so, but that does not mean that this council has negated the law (see 1 John 3:4, Psalm 119, Matthew 7:22-23). For the parallel in Judaism, see Noahide laws and Jewish background to the circumcision controversy in early Christianity. Beginning with Augustine,[7] many have seen a connection to Noahide Law, while some modern scholars[8] reject the connection to Noahide Law (Genesis 9) and instead see Lev 17-18 as the basis. See also Old Testament Law directed at non-Jews and Leviticus 18.

Pauline passages supporting antinomianism

Artist depiction of Saint Paul Writing His Epistles, 16th century (Blaffer Foundation Collection, Houston, Texas). Most scholars think Paul actually dictated his letters to a secretary.[9]

Paul of Tarsus, in his Letters, claims several times that believers are saved by the unearned grace of God, not by good works, "lest anyone should boast", and placed a priority on orthodoxy (right belief) before orthopraxy (right practice). The soteriology of Paul's statements in this matter has always been a matter of dispute (for example, see 2 Peter 3:16); the ancient gnostics interpreted Paul to be referring to the manner in which embarking on a path to enlightenment ultimately leads to enlightenment, which was their idea of what constituted salvation. In what has become the modern Protestant orthodoxy, however, this is interpreted as a reference to salvation simply by trusting Christ. See also New Perspective on Paul.

Paul used the term freedom in Christ, for example, Galatians 2:4, and it is clear that some understood this to mean lawlessness (i.e not obeying Mosaic Law). For example, in Acts 18:12-16 Paul is accused of "persuading .. people to worship God in ways contrary to the law." In Acts 21:21 James the Just explained his situation to Paul:

They have been told about you that you teach all the Jews living among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, and that you tell them not to circumcise their children or observe the customs.

Colossians 2:13-14 is sometimes presented as proof of Paul's antinomistic views. For example, the NIV translates these verses: "...he forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross." However, the NRSV translates this same verse as: "...he forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross." This latter translation makes it sound as though it is a record of trespasses, rather than the Law itself, that was "nailed to the cross." The interpretation partly hinges on the original Greek word χειρόγραφον which according to Strong's G5498[10] literally means "something written by hand" which is variously translated as "written code" or "record", as in a record of debt.

2 Corinthians 3:7-17 say "Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life. But if the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not stedfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance; which glory was to be done away: How shall not the ministration of the spirit be rather glorious? For if the ministration of condemnation be glory, much more doth the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory. For even that which was made glorious had no glory in this respect, by reason of the glory that excelleth. For if that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious. Seeing then that we have such hope, we use great plainness of speech: And not as Moses, which put a veil over his face, that the children of Israel could not stedfastly look to the end of that which is abolished: But their minds were blinded: for until this day remaineth the same vail untaken away in the reading of the old testament; which vail is done away in Christ.

Some cite Acts 13:39: "Through him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses." But this is more about Justification (theology) than antinomianism.

Romans 6 states twice that believers are not under the law: Romans 6:14 "For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace" and Romans 6:15 "What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!".

Galatians 3:1-5 describes the Galatians as "foolish" for relying on being observant to the Law: "You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard?"

Galatians 3:23-25 says that the purpose of the Law was to lead people to Christ, once people believe in Christ, they are no longer under the Law: "Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law."

Christians believe that Jesus is the mediator of the New Covenant (see Hebrews 8:6). Depicted is his famous Sermon on the Mount in which he commented on the Law. Some scholars (see Antithesis of the Law) consider this to be an antitype of the proclamation of the Ten Commandments or Mosaic Covenant by Moses from the Biblical Mount Sinai.

In Galatians 4:21-31, Paul compares the old covenant with the New Covenant, see also Supersessionism. In this comparison, he equates each covenant with a woman, using the wives of Abraham as examples. The old covenant is equated with the slave woman, Hagar, and the new covenant is equated with the free woman Sarah.(Galatians 4:22-26). He concludes this example by saying that we are not children of the slave woman, but children of the free woman. In other words, we are not under the old covenant, we are under the new covenant. "But what does the Scripture say? 'Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman's son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman's son.' Therefore, brothers, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman." (Galatians 4:30-31)

Romans 10:4 is also sometimes translated: "Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes." (NIV) The key word here is telos (see also Strong's G5056).[11] Robert Badenas[12] argues that telos is correctly translated as goal, not end, so that Christ is the goal of the Law. Andy Gaus' version of the New Testament[13] translates this verse as: "Christ is what the law aims at: for every believer to be on the right side of [God's] justice."

Also cited is Ephesians 2:15: "…abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations…" (NIV). Another passage cited is Romans 7:1-7, especially Romans 7:4 "So, my brothers, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit to God." and Romans 7:6 "But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code."

In Paul's Epistle to the Hebrews (Hebrews 7:11-28), which most scholars don't think was actually written by Paul, it is written that under the Old Testament Law, priests had to be from the tribe of Levi, Aaron and his sons. (See Exodus 29:8-9 "Bring his sons and dress them in tunics and put headbands on them. Then tie sashes on Aaron and his sons. The priesthood is theirs by a lasting ordinance. In this way you shall ordain Aaron and his sons.") It is pointed out that Jesus was from the tribe of Judah, and thus Jesus could not be a priest under the Old Testament Law, as Jesus is not a descendant of Aaron. It states that the Law had to change for Jesus to be the High Priest: "For when there is a change of the priesthood, there must also be a change of the law." (Hebrews 7:12)

It then compares the first covenant (made with Israel, as recorded in the Old Testament) with the new covenant in Hebrews 8-9. In Hebrews 8:6-7: "But the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, and it is founded on better promises. For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another." It goes on to say that the problem with the first covenant was with the people who were supposed to keep it, and that in the new covenant: "I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people." Hebrews 8:10

It is written that the first covenant was obsolete, and would soon disappear: "By calling this covenant "new," he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear." Hebrews 8:13. It clearly identifies the first covenant which is disappearing in Hebrews 9:1-5. Of particular note are the "stone tables of the covenant" in Hebrews 9:4, referring directly to the Ten Commandments, which however most Christians believe are still valid. "Now the first covenant had regulations for worship and also an earthly sanctuary. A tabernacle was set up. In its first room were the lampstand, the table and the consecrated bread; this was called the Holy Place. Behind the second curtain was a room called the Most Holy Place, which had the golden altar of incense and the gold-covered ark of the covenant. This ark contained the gold jar of manna, Aaron's staff that had budded, and the stone tablets of the covenant. Above the ark were the cherubim of the Glory, overshadowing the atonement cover." (Hebrews 9:1-5)

Pauline passages opposing antinomianism

On the other hand, Paul also wrote or spoke in support of the law, for example: Romans 2:12–16, 3:31, 7:12, 8:7–8, Galatians 5:3, Acts 24:14, 25:8 and preached about Ten Commandment topics such as idolatry: 1 Corinthians 5:11, 6:9–10, 10:7, 10:14, Galatians 5:19–21, Ephesians 5:5, Colossians 3:5, Acts 17:16–21, 19:23–41.

Theological views

The Catholic Encyclopedia article on Judaizers[14] notes: "Paul, on the other hand, not only did not object to the observance of the Mosaic Law, as long as it did not interfere with the liberty of the Gentiles, but he conformed to its prescriptions when occasion required (1 Corinthians 9:20). Thus he shortly after the Council of Jerusalem circumcised Timothy (Acts 16:1-3), and he was in the very act of observing the Mosaic ritual when he was arrested at Jerusalem (21:26 sqq.)."

The Jewish Encyclopedia article on Gentile: Gentiles May Not Be Taught the Torah[15] notes the following reconciliation: "R. Emden, in a remarkable apology for Christianity contained in his appendix to "Seder 'Olam,"[16] gives it as his opinion that the original intention of Jesus, and especially of Paul, was to convert only the Gentiles to the seven moral laws of Noah and to let the Jews follow the Mosaic law—this explains the apparent contradictions in the New Testament regarding the laws of Moses and the Sabbath."

The Tübingen school of historians founded by F. C. Baur holds that in Early Christianity, there was conflict between Pauline Christianity and the Jerusalem Church led by James the Just, Simon Peter, and John the Apostle, the so-called "Jewish Christians" or "Pillars of the Church"[17] although in many places Paul writes that he was an observant Jew, and that Christians should "uphold the Law" (Romans 3:31). In Galatians 2:14, part of the Incident at Antioch,[18] Paul publicly accused Peter of judaizing. Even so, he does go on to say that sins remain sins, and upholds by several examples the kind of behaviour that the church should not tolerate (e.g., Galatians 5:19-21, 1 Cor 6:9-10). In 1 Corinthians 7:10-16 he cites Jesus' teaching on divorce ("not I but the Lord") and does not reject it, but goes on to proclaim his own teaching ("I, not the Lord"), an extended counsel regarding a specific situation which some interpret as not in conflict with what the Lord said. However, this may mean he received direct knowledge of what the Lord wanted him to teach through the Holy Ghost (Galatians 2:6-10).

Paul versus James

The Epistle of James, in contrast, states that our good works justify before men, our faith after salvation, and we are to obey the Law of God, that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone, that faith without works is dead (James 2:14–26). Historically, the presence of this statement has been difficult for Protestants to reconcile with their belief in salvation by faith alone. Martin Luther even suggested that the Epistle might be a forgery, and relegated it to an appendix in his Bible (although he later came to accept its canonicity, see also Antilegomena). Though this may be interpreted through the word "justified." It speaks that faith in Jesus Christ is the first step and that faith is justified through good works, he goes on to say that without spreading your love and faith, it is dead. Works are the evidence of faith. It's not faith and works; it's faith that works. See also Law and Gospel, article on James 2:20,[19] Romans 2:6, Ephesians 2:8-10, Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification.

It should be noted that James also wrote: For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For he who said, "Do not commit adultery," also said, "Do not murder." If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker. James 2:10-11. This makes it clear that people who want to keep the Old Testament Law must keep all of the Law. This is also stated in Deuteronomy 4:2 and Deuteronomy 28. According to Alister McGrath, James was the leader of a Judaizing party that taught that Gentiles must obey the entire Mosaic Law.[20] See also Circumcision controversy in early Christianity#Jewish background. For the critique of partial observance of the law, see Cafeteria Christianity.

The Ten Commandments on a monument on the grounds of the Texas State Capitol. The third non-indented commandment listed is "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy".

Jesus and antinomianism

The Torah prescribes the death penalty for desecrating Sabbath by working (Exodus 31:14-17). To avoid any possibility of breaking the Torah commands, the Pharisees formulated strict interpretations and numerous traditions which they treated as laws, see Halakha. According to the Christians, Jesus criticized the Pharisees for this (Mark 7:7-9). The Jewish Encyclopedia article on Jesus[21] notes: "Jesus, however, does not appear to have taken into account the fact that the Halakah was at this period just becoming crystallized, and that much variation existed as to its definite form; the disputes of Bet Hillel and Bet Shammai were occurring about the time of his maturity." In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus's disciples were picking grain for food on Sabbath (Mark 2:23-28). When the Pharisees challenged Jesus over this, he pointed to Biblical precedent and declared that "the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath". Some claim Jesus rejected complete adherence to the Torah, see also The Fig Tree. Most scholars hold that Jesus did not reject the law, but directed that it should be obeyed in context. e.g., E. P. Sanders notes, "No substantial conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees with regard to Sabbath, food, and purity laws .... The church took some while to come to the position that the Sabbath need not be kept, and it is hard to think that Jesus explicitly said so."[22] There may be passages where the words of Jesus have been misinterpreted and were not really in contradiction with the Jewish law.[23]

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus is sometimes portrayed as referring to people he sees as wicked with the term ergazomenoi tēn anomian (ἐργαζόμενοι τὴν ἀνομἰαν) - e.g. Matthew 7:21-23, Matthew 13:40-43. Due to this negative context the term has almost always been translated as evildoers, though it literally means "workers of lawlessness".[24] Lawlessness, in Hebrew, would directly imply Torahlessness. In other words, Matthew appears to present Jesus as equating wickedness with encouraging antinomianism. Scholars view Matthew as having been written by or for a Jewish audience, the so-called Jewish Christians. Several scholars argue that Matthew artificially lessened a claimed rejection of Jewish law so as not to alienate Matthew's intended audience. However, Jesus called for full adherence to the commandments (Matthew 5:19-21) He declared: "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them" (Matthew 5:17). A parallel verse to Matthew 7:21 is James 1:22.

See also Expounding of the Law, Great Commission, Hyperdispensationalism

1 John 3:4 states: "Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness."

Antinomianism among Christians

In the case of Christianity, the controversy arises out of the doctrine of grace, the forgiveness of sins and atonement by faith in Jesus Christ; Christians being released, in important particulars, from conformity to the Old Testament polity as a whole, a real difficulty attended the settlement of the limits and the immediate authority of the remainder, known vaguely as the moral law, see also Cafeteria Christianity. If God forgives sins, what exactly is the disadvantage in sinning, or the reward or purpose of obedience?

Multiple issues

There are several issues that are addressed by the charge of antinomianism. The charge may represent the fear that a given theological position does not lead to the edification of the believer or assist him in leading a regenerate life. Doctrines that tend to erode the authority of the church and its right to prescribe religious practices for the faithful are often condemned as antinomian. The charge is also brought against those whose teachings are perceived as hostile to government and established authority and the rule of law.

Charges of antinomianism against early Christians

St Paul's doctrine of justification by faith has been accused of leading to immoral licence. In Acts 6:13-14 Saint Stephen is accused by "false witnesses" of speaking against the law. The first people accused of antinomianism were found, apparently, in Gnosticism; various aberrant and licentious acts were ascribed to these by their orthodox enemies. In the Revelation 2:6–15, the New Testament speaks of Nicolaitanes, who are traditionally identified with a Gnostic sect, in terms that suggest the charge of antinomianism might be appropriate. In the Apostolic Constitutions, verse 6.19,[25] Simon Magus is accused of antinomianism, though traditionally he is accused of Simony. We have few independent records of actual Gnostic teachings, but they seem to have approached the question in two ways: Marcionites, named by Clement of Alexandria Antitactae (revolters against the Demiurge), held the Old Testament economy to be throughout tainted by its source; but they are not accused of licentiousness. For example, Marcion's version of Luke 23:2: "We found this fellow [Jesus] perverting the nation and destroying the law and the prophets".[26] Manichaeans, again, holding their spiritual being to be unaffected by the action of matter, regarded carnal sins as being, at worst, forms of bodily disease.

Antinomian Controversies in Lutheranism

During the Reformation, antinomianism was for many years a menace to Lutheran soteriology, threatening to alter the Lutheran doctrines of Law and Gospel, of the redemption, the means of grace, repentance, faith, justification, and sanctification .[27]

The Lutheran Church benefited from these controversies by becoming more exact in distinguishing between Law and Gospel and justification and sanctification. Martin Luther developed 258 theses during his six antinomian disputations, which continue to provide doctrinal guidance to Lutherans today.[27]

First Antinomian Controversy

As early as 1525, Johannes Agricola, in his commentary on Luke, advanced his idea that the law was a futile attempt of God to work the restoration of mankind. He maintained that while non-Christians were still held to the Mosaic law, Christians were entirely free from it, being under the gospel alone. He viewed sin as a malady or impurity rather than an offense rendering the sinner guilty and damnable before God. Instead, the sinner was the subject of God's pity rather than of his wrath. To Agricola, the purpose of repentance was to abstain from evil rather than the contrition of a guilty conscience. The law had no role in repentance, which came about after one came to faith and was caused by the knowledge of the love of God alone.[27]

In contrast, Philipp Melanchthon urged that repentance must precede faith, and that knowledge of the moral law is needed to produce repentance. He later wrote in the Augsburg Confession, that repentance had two parts. "One is contrition, that is, terrors smiting the conscience through the knowledge of sin; the other is faith, which is born of the Gospel, or of absolution, and believes that for Christ's sake, sins are forgiven, comforts the conscience, and delivers it from terrors."[28]

Shortly after Melanchthon drew up the 1527 Articles of Visitation in June, Agricola began to be aggressive toward him, but Martin Luther succeeded in smoothing out the difficulty at Torgau in December 1527. However, Agricola did not actually change his ideas, and later on depicted Luther as disagreeing with him. After Agricola moved to Wittenberg, he still maintained that while the law must be used in the courthouse, it must not be used in the church, and that repentance comes from hearing the good news only and does not precede but rather follows faith. He continued to disseminate this doctrine in books, despite receiving various warnings from Luther.[27]

Luther, with reluctance and great anguish of his soul, at last saw himself constrained to hold public disputations against antinomianism and its promoters in 1538 and 1539. Agricola apparently yielded, and Luther's book Against the Antinomians (1539)[29] was to serve as Agricola's recantation. This was the first use of the term Antinomian.[30][31] But the conflict flared up again, and Agricola even sued Luther, alleging that Luther had slandered him in his disputations, Against the Antinomians, and in his On the Councils and Churches (1539). But before the case could be brought to trial, Agricola, though he had bound himself to remain at Wittenberg, left the city and moved to Berlin, where he had been offered a position as preacher to the court. After his arrival there he made peace with the Saxons acknowledged his “error,” and gradually conformed his doctrine to that which he had before opposed and assailed, though still employing such terms as gospel and repentance in a different manner.[27]

Second Antinomian Controversy

The antinomian doctrine, however was not eliminated, as Melanchthon's views shifted with age. Melanchthon and those that agreed with him, called Philippists were checked by the Gnesio-Lutherans in the Second Antinomian Controversy during the Augsburg Interim. The Philippists ascribed to the Gospel alone the ability work repentance to the exclusion of the law. They blurred the distinction between Law and Gospel by considering the Gospel itself to be a moral law. They did not identify Christ's fulfillment of the law with the commandments humans are expected to follow.[27]

As a result of this, antinomianism is dealt with in the last confession of faith of the Book of Concord. The Formula of Concord rejects antinominism in the fifth article, On the Law and the Gospel[32] and in the sixth article, On the Third Use of the Law.[33]

Charges against Calvinists

From the latter part of the 17th century, charges of antinomianism were frequently directed against Calvinists, on the ground of their disparagement of "deadly doing" and of "legal preaching." The virulent controversy between Arminian and Calvinistic Methodists produced as its ablest outcome on the Arminian side Fletcher's Five Checks to Antinomianism (1771–75).

Charges against other groups

Other Protestant groups that have been so accused include the Anabaptists and Mennonites. In the history of American Puritanism, Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson were accused of antinomian teachings by the Puritan leadership of Massachusetts.

Theological charges of antinomianism typically imply that the opponent's doctrine leads to various sorts of licentiousness, and imply that the antinomian chooses his theology in order to further a career of dissipation. The conspicuous austerity of life among surviving groups of Anabaptists or Calvinists suggests that these accusations are often, or even mostly, made for rhetorical effect. It is true, however, that certain Antinomian groups were radicalised by historical events and came to sympathize with the activities of Levellers and other forms of resistance against the burgeoning of capitalism, the enclosure of the commons and the slave trade (see The Many-Headed Hydra, by Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker). The persecution of such groups by the establishment in the form of conservative Puritans is best exemplified in the punishment meted out to the preacher James Naylor, who was subjected to 310 lashes and branded on the forehead before having his tongue pierced by a hot poker. He had preached against enclosure and the slave trade.[34]

The Ranters of 17th century England were one of the most out-right antinomian sects in the History of Christianity.

Charges against Quakers

Quakers were charged with antinomianism due to their rejection of a graduate clergy and a clerical administrative structure, as well as their privileging of the Spirit (as revealed by the Inner Light of God within each person) over the Scriptures. They also rejected civil legal authorities and their laws (such as the paying of tithes to the State church and the swearing of oaths) when they were seen as inconsistent with the promptings of the Inner Light of God. See also Christian anarchism.

Charges by Catholics against Protestants

Roman Catholicism tends to charge Protestantism with antinomianism, based in part on the distinctively Protestant doctrine of sola fide, salvation by faith alone, which Luther derived from his translation of Romans 3:28,[35] and the typical Protestant rejection of the sacramental liturgy of the Roman church and its body of Canon law.

Charges against Jesuits

Blaise Pascal accused the Jesuits of antinomianism in his Lettres provinciales, charging that Jesuit casuistry undermined moral principles.

Antinomianism in Buddhism

Among Buddhists there are three main types of 'antinomianism' which may act as a gloss for 'left-handed attainment' (Sanskrit: Vamachara): naturalist/spontaneous antinomianism, ritualist/philosophical antinomianism, and empirical antinomianism. There may also be those who subscribe to all or some combination of these three types.

Naturalist antinomians believe that enlightened beings may spontaneously break monastic codes of conduct while living out a natural state of enlightenened mind. Another view is that an enlightened mind responds to circumstances based on Buddhist morality, rather than the legalism of the monastic codes, and that the "break" is not therefore spontaneous. There are tales of Buddhist masters throughout history who perform acts that appear to be bizarre or immoral, known in English as 'crazy wisdom' (Tibetan: yeshe chölwa).

Ritualist antinomians, such as some Tantric Buddhists, may break codes of conduct in specific religious rituals designed to teach non-duality or some other philosophical concept. They may, for example, have sex during a religious rite (refer Panchamakara; Ganachakra) or perform some other ritual inversion of a rule, while such acts would be unacceptable to them outside the ritual context.

Empirical antinomians may break or disregard traditional ethical or moral rules that they believe are unconducive to the individual's contemplative life. They view such codification as having arisen in specific historical-cultural contexts and, as such, not always supportive of Buddhist training. Thus the individual and the community must test and verify which rules promote or hinder enlightenment.

Antinomianism in Islam

In Islam, the law—which applies not only to religion, but also to areas such as politics, banking, and sexuality—is called sharīʿah (شريعة), and it is traditionally organized around four primary sources:

  1. the Qurʾān, which is Islam's central religious text;
  2. the sunnah, which refers to actions practised during the time of the prophet Muḥammad, and is often thought to include the ḥadīth, or recorded words and deeds of Muḥammad;
  3. ijmāʿ, which is the consensus of the ʿulamāʾ, or class of Islamic scholars, on points of practice;
  4. qiyās, which—in Sunnī Islam—is a kind of analogical reasoning conducted by the ʿulamāʾ upon specific laws that have arisen through appeal to the first three sources; in Shīʿah Islam, ʿaql ("reason") is used in place of qiyās

Actions, behaviors, or beliefs that are considered to violate any or all of these four sources—primarily in matters of religion—can be termed "antinomian". Depending on the action, behavior, or belief in question, a number of different terms can be used to convey the sense of "antinomian": shirk ("association of another being with God"); bidʿah ("innovation"); kufr ("disbelief"); ḥarām ("forbidden"); etc.

As an example, the 10th-century Sufi mystic Manṣūr al-Ḥallāj was executed for shirk for, among other things, his statement ana al-Ḥaqq (أنا الحق), meaning "I am the Truth" and, by implication—as al-Ḥaqq ("the Truth") is one of the 99 names of God in Islamic tradition—"I am God."[36] Another individual who has often been termed antinomian is Ibn al-ʿArabi, a 12th–13th century scholar and mystic whose doctrine of waḥdat al-wujūd ("unity of being") has sometimes been interpreted as being pantheistic, and thus shirk.[37]

Apart from individuals, entire groups of Muslims have also been called antinomian. One of these groups is the Ismāʿīlī Shīʿīs, who have always had strong millenarian tendencies arising partly from persecution directed at them by Sunnīs. Influenced to a certain extent by Gnosticism,[38] the Ismāʿīlīs developed a number of beliefs and practices—such as their belief in the imāmah and an esoteric exegesis of the Qurʾān—that were different enough from Sunnī orthodoxy for them to be condemned as shirk and, hence, to be seen as antinomian.[39] Certain other groups that evolved out of Shīʿah belief, such as the Alawites[40] and the Bektashis,[41] have also been considered antinomian. The Bektashis, particularly, have many practices that are especially antinomian in the context of Islam, such as the consumption of alcohol, the non-wearing of the ḥijāb ("veil") by women, and assembling in gathering places called cemevis rather than in mosques.[42]

The use of the antinomian idea in a secular context

In his study of late-20th-century western society the historian Eric Hobsbawm[43] stated that there was a new fusion of "demotic and antinomian" characteristics that made the period distinct, and appeared to be likely to extend into the future. He did so without any particular focus on religion. He had started his academic life before World War II and is now and has always been a Marxist, and continued to see an historian's work as identifying causes of change. For him there is now a readiness by the mass of people to have little sense of obligation to obey any set of rules that they consider arbitrary, or even just constraining, whatever its source. This may be facilitated by one or more of several changes. These include: the tendency to live outside settled communities; the growth of enough wealth for most people to have a wide choice of styles of living; and a popularised assumption that individual freedom is an unqualified good.

George Orwell was a frequent user of “antinomian” in a secular (and always approving) sense. In his 1940 essay on Henry Miller, “Inside the Whale”, the word appears several times, including one in which he calls A. E. Housman a writer in “a blasphemous, antinomian, ‘cynical’ strain”, meaning defiant of arbitrary societal rules.

See also


  1. ἀνομία
  2. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition, 2000.
  3. Jewish Encyclopedia: Saul of Tarsus: Antinomianism and Jew-Hatred
  4. In Acts 6:13-14 Saint Stephen is accused by "false witnesses" of speaking against the law, presumably a minor dispute.
  5. Jewish Encyclopedia: Baptism: "According to rabbinical teachings, which dominated even during the existence of the Temple (Pes. viii. 8), Baptism, next to circumcision and sacrifice, was an absolutely necessary condition to be fulfilled by a proselyte to Judaism (Yeb. 46b, 47b; Ker. 9a; 'Ab. Zarah 57a; Shab. 135a; Yer. Kid. iii. 14, 64d). Circumcision, however, was much more important, and, like baptism, was called a "seal" (Schlatter, "Die Kirche Jerusalems," 1898, p. 70). But as circumcision was discarded by Christianity, and the sacrifices had ceased, Baptism remained the sole condition for initiation into religious life. The next ceremony, adopted shortly after the others, was the imposition of hands, which, it is known, was the usage of the Jews at the ordination of a rabbi. Anointing with oil, which at first also accompanied the act of Baptism, and was analogous to the anointment of priests among the Jews, was not a necessary condition."
  6. McGrath, Alister E., Christianity: An Introduction, Blackwell Publishing,(2006), ISBN 1405108991, Page 174: "In effect, they [Jewish Christians] seemed to regard Christianity as an affirmation of every aspect of contemporary Judaism, with the addition of one extra belief — that Jesus was the Messiah. Unless males were circumcised, they could not be saved (Acts 15:1)."
  7. Contra Faust, 32.13
  8. For example: Joseph Fitzmyer, The Acts of the Apostles (The Anchor Yale Bible Commentaries), Yale University Press (December 2, 1998), ISBN 0300139829, chapter V
  9. Harris, Stephen L., Understanding the Bible. Palo Alto: Mayfield. 1985. p. 316-320. Harris cites Galatians 6:11, Romans 16:22, Colossians 4:18, 2 Thessalonians 3:17, Philemon 19. Joseph Barber Lightfoot in his Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians writes: "At this point [Galatians 6:11] the apostle takes the pen from his amanuensis, and the concluding paragraph is written with his own hand. From the time when letters began to be forged in his name (2 Thessalonians 2:2; 2 Thessalonians 3:17) it seems to have been his practice to close with a few words in his own handwriting, as a precaution against such forgeries... In the present case he writes a whole paragraph, summing up the main lessons of the epistle in terse, eager, disjointed sentences. He writes it, too, in large, bold characters (Gr. pelikois grammasin), that his handwriting may reflect the energy and determination of his soul."
  10. Strong's G5498
  11. Strong's G5056
  12. Bandas, Robert. Christ the End of the Law, Romans 10.4 in Pauline Perspective, 1985, ISBN 0905774930
  13. Unvarnished New Testament, 1991, ISBN 0933999992
  14. Catholic Encyclopedia: Judaizers
  15. Gentile: Gentiles May Not Be Taught the Torah
  16. Emden, R. "Appendix to "Seder 'Olam," pp. 32b-34b, Hamburg, 1752
  17. Catholic Encyclopedia: St. James the Less: "Then we lose sight of James till St. Paul, three years after his conversion (A.D. 37), went up to Jerusalem. ... On the same occasion, the "pillars" of the Church, James, Peter, and John "gave to me (Paul) and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the Gentiles, and they unto the circumcision" (Galatians 2:9)."
  18. Catholic Encyclopedia: Judaizers see section titled: "THE INCIDENT AT ANTIOCH"
  19. James 2:20
  20. McGrath, Alister E., Christianity: An Introduction. Blackwell Publishing (2006). ISBN 1405108991, page 174: "Paul notes the emergence of a Judaizing party in the region — that is, a group within the church which insisted that Gentile believers should obey every aspect of the law of Moses, including the need to be circumcised. According to Paul [reference is made to Galatians, but no specific verse is given], the leading force behind this party was James ... the brother of Jesus ..."
  21. Jewish Encyclopedia: Jesus
  22. E. P. Sanders, Jesus and Judaism, 1985 SCM Press ISBN 0-334-02091-3, pages 264-9.
  23. Jewish Encyclopedia: New Testament: Misunderstood Passages
  24. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature Bauer, Gingrich, Danker; Young's Literal Translation: "ye who are working lawlessness"; NASB: "You who practice lawlessness"; NKJV: "you who practice lawlessness"
  25. ANF07. Fathers of the Third and Fourth Centuries: Lactantius, Venantius, Asterius, Victorinus, Dionysius, Apostolic Teaching and Constitutions, Homily
  26. "Epiphanius: Panarion". Archived from the original on 2009-10-25. 
  27. 27.0 27.1 27.2 27.3 27.4 27.5 Augustus Lawrence Graebner. “Antinomianism.” Lutheran Cyclopedia. New York: Scribner, 1899. p. 18
  28. Augsburg Confession, Article XII: Of Repentance
  29. [1]
  30. Antinomianism
  31. New Advent: Antinomianism
  32. See the Epitome of the Formula of Concord, article five, Law and Gospel
  33. See the Epitome of the Formula of Concord, article six, On the Third Use of the Law
  34. John Winthrop
  35. "History of the Christian Church, book 7, chapter 4". ; Philip Schaff's The Protestant Spirit of Luther’s Version: "The most important example of dogmatic influence in Luther’s version is the famous interpolation of the word alone in Rom. 3:28 (allein durch den Glauben), by which he intended to emphasize his solifidian doctrine of justification, on the plea that the German idiom required the insertion for the sake of clearness. But he thereby brought Paul into direct verbal conflict with James, who says (James 2:24), "by works a man is justified, and not only by faith" ("nicht durch den Glauben allein"). It is well known that Luther deemed it impossible to harmonize the two apostles in this article, and characterized the Epistle of James as an "epistle of straw," because it had no evangelical character ("keine evangelische Art")."
  36. Pratt 72
  37. Chittick 79
  38. See, for example, "Isma'ilism" at Encyclopaedia of the Orient.
  39. Daftary 47; Clarence-Smith 56
  40. Bar-Asher & Kofsky, 67 ff.
  41. Schimmel 338
  42. Weir "Differences Between Bektashism and Islamic Orthodoxy"
  43. Age of Extremes, 1992


  • Badenas, Robert. Christ the End of the Law, Romans 10.4 in Pauline Perspective 1985 ISBN 0-905774-93-0 argues that telos is correctly translated as goal, not end, so that Christ is the goal of the Law, end of the law would be antinomianism.
  • Bar-Asher, Me'ir Mikha'el and Kofsky, Aryeh. The Nuṣayrī-ʿAlawī Religion: An Enquiry into its Theology and Liturgy. Leiden: Koninklijke Brill NV, 2002. ISBN 90-04-12552-3.
  • J. H. Blunt Dict. of Doct. and Hist. Theol. (1872)
  • Chittick, William C. The Sufi Path of Knowledge: Ibn Al-Arabi's Metaphysics of Imagination. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1989. ISBN 0-88706-885-5.
  • Clarence-Smith, W.G. Islam and the Abolition of Slavery. London: C. Hurst & Co. (Publishers) Ltd, 2006. ISBN 1-85065-708-4.
  • Daftary, Farhad; ed. Mediaeval Ismaʿili History and Thought. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996. ISBN 0-521-45140-X.
  • Dunn, James D.G. Jesus, Paul and the Law 1990 ISBN 0-664-25095-5
  • Encyclopaedia of the Orient. "Isma'ilism". Retrieved 10 October 2006.
  • Freedman, David Noel, editor. (1998). Anchor Bible Dictionary, article on Antinomianism by Hall, Robert W., ISBN 0385193513
  • J. C. L. Gieseler, Ch. Hist. (New York ed. 1868, vol. iv.)
  • G. Kawerau, in A. Hauck's Realencyklopadie (1896)
  • Pratt, Douglas. The Challenge of Islam: Encounters in Interfaith Dialogue. Aldershot, Hampshire: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2005. ISBN 0-7546-5122-3.
  • Riess, in I. Goschler's Dict. Encyclop. de la théol. cath. (1858)
  • Schimmel, Annemarie. Mystical Dimensions of Islam. ISBN 0-8078-1271-4.
  • Weir, Anthony. "Differences Between Bektashism and Islamic Orthodoxy" in The Bektashi Order of Dervishes. Retrieved 10 October 2006.
  • This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.
  • Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker. The Many-Headed Hydra. Beacon Press, Boston, 2000

External links

cy:Antinomiaeth ia:Antinomianismo no:Antinomisme ru:Антиномизм fi:Antinomismi sv:Antinomism