AskDefine | Define antinomian

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antinomian adj : relating to or influenced by antinomianism n : a follower of the doctrine of antinomianism

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From the αντί anti "against" + νόμος nomos “custom, law”.


, from antinomy
  1. One who maintains that, under the gospel dispensation, the moral law is of no use or obligation, but that faith alone is necessary to salvation. The sect of Antinomians originated with Johannes Agricola, in Germany, about the year 1535.


  1. Of or pertaining to the Antinomians; opposed to the doctrine that the moral law is obligatory.

See also

Extensive Definition

For the term in politics describing socialist movements, see Autonomism
Antinomianism (from the Greek αντι, "against" + νομος, "law"), or lawlessness (in the Greek Bible: ανομια, which is "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 as presented by religious authorities. Antinomianism is the polar opposite of legalism, the notion that obedience to a code of religious law is necessary for salvation.
The term has become a point of contention among those opposed to religious authorities. Few groups or sects explicitly call themselves "antinomian", but the charge is often leveled by some sects against competing sects.

Antinomianism in the Old Testament

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 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 end times:

Antinomianism in the New Testament

The first major dispute over Christian antinomianism is recorded in Bible verse |Acts|15, see also Council of Jerusalem. The request to obey the Law is recorded in Bible verse |Acts|15:5: The apostles and elders met at Jerusalem, and after a spirited discussion, their conclusion was recorded in Bible verse |Acts|15:19:21: Note that the Gentiles were not required to be circumcised or to obey the law of Moses, other than the four laws that were decreed. For the parallel in Judaism, see Noachide law and Circumcision controversy in early Christianity#Jewish background. Beginning with Augustine, many have seen a connection to Noahide Law, while some modern scholars reject the connection to Noahide Law (Bible verse |Genesis|9) and instead see Bible verse |Lev|17-18 as the basis. See also Old Testament Law directed at non-Jews.
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 Bible verse 2|Peter|3:16|NIV); 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, , and it is clear that some understood this to mean lawlessness (i.e not obeying Mosaic Law). For example, in Paul is accused of "persuading .. people to worship God in ways contrary to the law." In Bible verse |Acts|21:21 James the Just explained his situation to Paul:
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 which according to Strong's G5498 literally means "something written by hand" which is variously translated as "written code" or "record". However, within the context of the following verses, especially verse where Paul states that current behaviour is also free from "judgement", it appears more likely that Paul, or whoever wrote Colossians, is claiming the Law itself has been abolished. (Notice that even the NRSV speaks of "the record…with its legal demands", which may indicate a law code rather than a charge sheet.)
Some cite : "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.
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!".
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?"
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."
In , 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.(). 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." ()
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). Robert Badenas 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 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 : "…abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations…" (NIV). Another passage cited is , 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 (), 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 "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 (also known as the Old Testament) with the new covenant (the New Testament) in . 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, God will forgive people: "For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more"
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." . It clearly identifies the first covenant which is disappearing in . Of particular note are the "stone tables of the covenant" in Hebrews 9:4, referring directly to the Ten Commandments, which 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)
On the other hand, Paul also wrote or spoke in support of the law, for example: , , , , , , and preached about Ten Commandment topics such as idolatry: Bible verse 1|Corinthians|5:11, , , , , , , , .
The Catholic Encyclopedia article on Judaizers 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 (Bible verse 1|Corinthians|9:20). Thus he shortly after the Council of Jerusalem circumcised Timothy (), and he was in the very act of observing the Mosaic ritual when he was arrested at Jerusalem ( sqq.)."
The Jewish Encyclopedia article on Gentile: Gentiles May Not Be Taught the Torah notes the following reconciliation: "R. Emden, in a remarkable apology for Christianity contained in his appendix to "Seder 'Olam," 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 — which 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" although in many places Paul writes that he was an observant Jew, and that Christians should "uphold the Law" (). In , part of the "Incident at Antioch." 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., , Bible verse 1|Cor|6:9-10). In Bible verse 1|Corinthians|7:10-16|NIV 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 ().
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 (). 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 , , , 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. . 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 and . According to Alister McGrath, James was the leader of a Judaizing party that taught that Gentiles must obey the entire Mosaic Law.
The Torah prescribes the death penalty for desecrating the sabbath by working (Bible verse |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. Jesus criticized the Pharisees for this (). The Jewish Encyclopedia article on Jesus 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 the 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 a sabbath (). 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." There may be passages where the words of Jesus have been misinterpreted and were not really in contradiction with the Jewish law.
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus is sometimes portrayed as referring to people he sees as wicked with the term ergazomenoi tēn anomian () - e.g. Bible verse |Matthew|7:21-23, Bible verse |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. 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 () 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" (). A parallel verse to is .
Bible verse 1|John|3:4|NRSV 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 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 assists 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 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 , 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, 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 : "We found this fellow [Jesus] perverting the nation and destroying the law and the prophets". 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. Kindred to this latter view was the position of sundry sects of English fanatics during the Commonwealth, who denied that an elect person sinned, even when committing acts in themselves gross and evil.

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 (, cf. , and the typical Protestant rejection of the sacramental liturgy of the Roman church and its body of Canon law. Within Roman Catholicism itself, Blaise Pascal accused the Jesuits of antinomianism in his Lettres provinciales, charging that Jesuit casuistry undermined moral principles.

Charges by Luther against Agricola

Different from either of these was the antinomianism charged by Martin Luther against Johannes Agricola. According to the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article on Antinomians: "a term apparently coined by Luther to stigmatize Johannes Agricola and his following, indicating an interpretation of the anti-thesis between law and gospel, recurrent from the earliest times." Its starting-point was a dispute with Melanchthon in 1527 as to the relation between repentance and faith. Melanchthon urged that repentance must precede faith, and that knowledge of the moral law is needed to produce repentance. Agricola gave the initial place to faith, maintaining that repentance is the work, not of law, but of the gospel-given knowledge of the love of God. The resulting Antinomian controversy (the only one within the Lutheran body in Luther's lifetime) is not remarkable for the precision or the moderation of the combatants on either side. Agricola was apparently satisfied in conference with Luther and Melanchthon at Torgau, December 1527. His eighteen Positiones of 1537 revived the controversy and made it acute. Random as are some of his statements, he was consistent in two objects:
  1. In the interest of solifidian doctrine, to place the rejection of the Catholic doctrine of good works on a sure ground;
  2. In the interest of the New Testament, to find all needful guidance for Christian duty in its principles, if not in its precepts.

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 Fletcher's 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 activties 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.

Charges against Quakers

Quakers were charged with antinomianism due to their rejection of a graduate clergy and a clerical administrative structure, as well as the 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.

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." 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.
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, 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. Certain other groups that evolved out of Shīʿah belief, such as the Alawites and the Bektashis, 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 forbidden products like alcohol and pork, the non-wearing of the ḥijāb ("veil") by women, and assembling in gathering places called cemevis rather than in mosques.

The use of the antinomian idea in a secular context

seealso Anarchism
In his study of late 20th century western society the historian Eric Hobsbawm 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 as 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.



  • 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
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See also

antinomian in Welsh: Antinomiaeth
antinomian in Interlingua (International Auxiliary Language Association): Antinomianismo
antinomian in Norwegian: Antinomisme
antinomian in Polish: Antynomizm
antinomian in Russian: Антиномизм
antinomian in Finnish: Antinomismi
antinomian in Swedish: Antinomism
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