26 July 2010

A Primer on Antinomianism

by Phil Johnson

ntinomianism is one of those theological terms that is notoriously hard to pin down. It has an admittedly sinister sound, and when many people hear the term, they think it speaks of wantonly advocating sin ("Why not do evil that good may come?"—Romans 3:8). Indeed that kind of extreme antinomianism exists. It was the doctrine of Rasputin, for example.

But in normal theological discourse the term antinomianism usually refers to theoretical antinomianism. Theoretical antinomians don't necessarily advocate extreme libertinism (or practical antinomianism). In fact, a great many theoretical antinomians are known for their advocacy of holiness. (And conversely, many who adhere to "Holiness doctrine" and various other perfectionist schemes are also theoretical antinomians.)

In totally non-technical terms, antinomianism is simply the view that Christians are not bound by any of the precepts of Moses' law—moral, civil, ceremonial, or otherwise.

The Reformers saw three proper uses of the moral precepts of Moses' law. Here's a summary from Article VI of the Lutheran Formula of Concord (the "Epitome," or short form):

"The Law has been given to men for three reasons: 1) to maintain external discipline against unruly and disobedient men, 2) to lead men to a knowledge of their sin, 3) after they are reborn, and although the flesh still inheres in them, to give them on that account a definite rule according to which they should pattern and regulate their entire life."

In other words, the "third use of the law" makes the law's moral standards the rule by which the faithful must order their conduct. In this sense, the moral strictures of the law remain binding on Christians, even though we are "not under the law" in the Pauline sense—i.e., not dependent on our own obedience for any part of our justification. (By the way, the entire Formula of Concord's Article VI is a brilliant refutation of antinomianism, and well worth reading.)

Calvin said the third use of the law is "the principle use." He wrote,

The third use of the Law (being also the principal use, and more closely connected with its proper end) has respect to believers in whose hearts the Spirit of God already flourishes and reigns. For although the Law is written and engraven on their hearts by the finger of God, that is, although they are so influenced and actuated by the Spirit, that they desire to obey God, there are two ways in which they still profit in the Law. For it is the best instrument for enabling them daily to learn with greater truth and certainty what that will of the Lord is which they aspire to follow, and to confirm them in this knowledge; just as a servant who desires with all his soul to approve himself to his master, must still observe, and be careful to ascertain his master's dispositions, that he may comport himself in accommodation to them. Let none of us deem ourselves exempt from this necessity, for none have as yet attained to such a degree of wisdom, as that they may not, by the daily instruction of the Law, advance to a purer knowledge of the Divine will. Then, because we need not doctrine merely, but exhortation also, the servant of God will derive this further advantage from the Law: by frequently meditating upon it, he will be excited to obedience, and confirmed in it, and so drawn away from the slippery paths of sin. In this way must the saints press onward . . .

Antinomianism, in essence, is a denial of the third use of the law, claiming that the moral law is not binding on Christians.

There are at least three major strains of theoretical antinomianism:

1. Hyper-Calvinistic antinomianism: Advocates of this view and variations thereof include Tobias Crisp and William Huntington, both 18th-century English preachers. (Some would dispute whether Crisp really fits in this category; I think he does.) They insisted that grace eliminates the moral law as a rule of life.

Hyper-Calvinism places emphasis on God's decretive will at the expense of His preceptive will. Hyper-Calvinists suggest that God's real character is to be discerned from His secret decrees, rather than from actual His commandments and precepts. If God really wanted people to obey this or that commandment, He is sovereign and could have brought it about by His sovereign decree. Since He didn't, it cannot be what He really desires. So the seriousness of the law as an expression of God's will is naturally downplayed by hyper-Calvinism, making most hyper-Calvinists susceptible to antinomianism.

Thus hyper-Calvinistic antinomians deny that the moral law applies in any way to believers, because grace (in their view) is totally incompatible with any law. Furthermore, they deny that the moral law applies to unregenerate people, too—because the unregenerate are not able to obey it.

Nineteenth-century British hypers were notoriously prone to theoretical antinomianism (see Iain Murray, Spurgeon & Hyper-Calvinism, p. 68, n. 1). They concluded that since sinners are unable to obey the moral law, it is wrong to preach that they are obligated to do so. Obviously, if moral inability excuses a sinner from the duty to believe, then on the same grounds he or she can be under no obligation to obey the Ten Commandments, either.

(Iain Murray's excellent book includes an appendix titled "The Injury Done by Hyper-Calvinism and Antinomianism—Words of Witness from Spurgeon"—taken from one of Spurgeon's New Park Street sermons. I happen to have that very sermon on line as part of The Spurgeon Archive. It's "The Minister's Farewell," and to read the bit Murray quotes, do a search for the words "the true minister of Christ"—and start reading at that point.)

This hyper-Calvinistic brand of antinomianism is far more common in England than in the US, but it is not unknown among the "Gospel Standard" people on this side of the Atlantic.

2. Dispensationalist Antinomianism: The idea here is that the relevance of the law was confined entirely to the Mosaic dispensation. The whole law has been abrogated in this dispensation of grace. All passages with a legal emphasis, such as the Sermon on the Mount, are assigned to other dispensations.

This type of antinomianism is found in differing degrees. Lewis Sperry Chafer's book Grace is the classic statement of the view. Charles Ryrie advocates a modified (softened) version of Chafer's view, but he still would fall in the dispensational antinomian category. Zane Hodges, on the other hand, went miles further than Chafer, and he devised a novel, radical antinomianism that deserves a category of its own:

3. No-lordship antinomianism: Those who hold this view make sanctification an optional aspect of the believer's experience. This view (like the other two) makes a hard-line dichotomy between law and grace, treating the two as utterly incompatible. (It is closely related to dispensationalist antinomianism, using the same fundamental rationale—but pushing antinomianism to much further extremes.)

This version of antinomianism suggests that if salvation is by grace through faith, then nothing can possibly be viewed as essential to salvation if it involves the believer's obedience, or surrender, or submission to Christ's lordship—or anything more than a notional "assent." In this view, sanctification itself is seen as legal in character and is therefore regarded as an optional, purely elective, aspect of the Christian experience.

This is what the "lordship salvation" controversy was about a few years ago. Zane Hodges would be the most extreme advocate of this brand of antinomianism. Jody Dillow has tried (in vain, I think) to give this view some academic respectability with his book Reign of the Servant Kings.

Here's a classic sample of modern antinomianism from Bob George's booklet "A Closer Look at Law & Grace." Bob George has combined dispensationalist antinomianism and deeper-life passivity into his own designer variety of antinomianism. But note how plainly he states the antinomian agenda:
The purpose of the law is to show us our need for salvation and then point us to Christ. Once it has done this, the law serves no other purpose.

That's about as blatant a statement of antinomianism as you'll find anywhere. It is a straightforward denial of the third use of the law. It is also a significant departure from the historic evangelical perspective.

Someone will no doubt ask, "Doesn't Scripture itself set grace and law against one another? Doesn't the biblical idea of grace eliminate law?"

While it is true that Scripture never mingles grace and works as grounds for justification, it is not the case that grace rules out law altogether, or vice versa. Paul's whole point in Galatians is that the proper uses of the Law are all compatible with grace. In fact, the true purposes of the law are all gracious. Law only impinges on grace when the sinners own legal works are seen as means of salvation or as instruments of justification.

And when Paul says we are "not under law," he's speaking about our relationship to the law with regard to our justification (cf. Galatians 5:4).

Finally, here are some definitions of antinomianism from some standard theological dictionaries:

1. From Walter A. Elwell, ed., Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1984), p. 57:

[Antinomianism] refers to the doctrine that it is not necessary for Christians to preach and/or obey the moral law of the OT.

2. From Baker's Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1960), 48:

ANTINOMIANISM. The word comes from the Greek anti, against, and nomos, law, and signifies opposition to law. It refers to the doctrine that the moral law is not binding upon Christians as a rule of life.

And here's a bonus, from John MacArthur's Faith Works (p. 95):

In short, antinomianism is the belief that allows for justification without sanctification.
    Antinomianism makes obedience [to the moral law] elective. While most antinomians strongly counsel Christians to obey (and even urge them to obey), they do not believe obedience is a necessary consequence of true faith . . .. And that is what makes no-lordship theology antinomian.

Phil's signature


Ben said...

I've tended to believe, not that the OT moral law doesn't apply, but that it is impossible to reliably tell which OT laws are moral from the OT alone. The only clear way to tell if a law is moral seems to be if it is repeated in the NT. Are there any OT laws that are clearly moral that are not repeated in the NT?

Many who say the OT laws are still binding on Christians seem to choose different subsets of the laws as moral. One group may try to apply laws against tattoos, while another group applies parts of the sabbath law, and a third believes children must be baptized as a sign of the new covenant.

So in practice I never modify my behavior solely because of an OT law. I will take a moral principle from the NT and look to the OT for practical help in implementing that principle in my life. Would a view like this be considered antinomian? If so what specific moral laws am I missing and what basis do you use to conclude that those specific laws are moral?

Phil Johnson said...

Eric: "Are there any OT laws that are clearly moral that are not repeated in the NT?"

There's no explicit command against bestiality in the NT.

John said...

Good post.

I grew up under the influence of hyper-Calvinist antinomianism. The theological works at home consisted of William Huntington, John Gill, Gilbert Beebe, etc... We were part of an extreme group of Primitive Baptists. From what I have seen, most (but certainly not all) Primitive Baptists in the U.S. perfectly fit your definition. When I read Murray's description of the Strict or Particular Baptists encountered by Pink and Spurgeon, it sounds very familiar.

As ironic as it may sound, I felt liberated when I realized the error in it. And though they seem so different on the surface, there's not so much difference between the hyper-Calvinist version and the no-Lordship version.

I should add that I was first taught the balance between God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility by a very balanced and Biblical Primitive Baptist pastor.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your piercing insight there, Phil.

Seriously though, I'm as confused as Eric.

If the Law is supposed to instruct us in the way we ought to behave as Christians, then my Sabbatarian mates could make a compelling case for all us 'Sunday Keepers' being destined to have our posteriors roasted, if you think about it. If the Mosaic Law is there to show us what we should do, then the Holy Spirit should convict us of our need to keep the Sabbath, surely.

If we're not being changed to do so, and the nature of God's law is not causing that conviction in us, then isn't it logical to assume that the Holy Spirit isn't at work within? And if that is the case, based on Romans 8:9, couldn't you argue that those of us who continually and openly break the Sabbath do not, in fact, belong to Christ?

I'm ultra confused about all this. I would've thought that a cursory reading of Galatians 5 and Hebrews 9 (specifically v. 15) would reasonably lead us to conclude that the Mosaic law (being part of the old covenant or 'circumcision') has no relevance for a Christian who has entered into the new covenant through the blood of Christ and is changed now by the Holy Spirit and the will of God written on our heart!

I don't know the answer but I'd love to hear any suggestions.

Sorry about the lengthy post, but I really am a bit lost.

Jacob said...

Thanks Phil, this was interesting and helpful!

DJP said...

Archival note: we once had a discussion of the meaning of the term.

Jenel said...

Much of one's outlook depends on their view of systematic theology. Covenant theology sees a level continuity between Old Covenant and New Covenant, and often places the Old equal or above the New. Classical Dispensationalism (was exclusive PB for 12 years '81 t0 '93) is discontinuous between Old and New, though either starting the New in Acts or in the Millenium and leans heavily toward Antinomianism (not being GTY in that catergory). New Covenant Theology see a raised plane, superceding (without erasing) of the Old. Probably best expressed in Douglas Moo's modified Lutheran piece in Zondervan's (not a fan of) 5 Views of Law & Gospel. Jeremiah speaks of in the New Covenant the Holy Spirit writing His Law on our heart. We are in this Gospel Age in-lawed to the Lord Jesus Christ not to the type/shadow of Moses as in Hebrews or the Mount of Transfiguration, where the Father declares that we now are to hear His Son. Since bestialiality would not be loving God the Creator, and loving His Bride, lover of one wife, and numerous admonishments against sexual immorality in the NT it is obvious forbidden, since in the case of Israel with a mixture of regenerate (remmant) and unregenerate elements (not all Israel is truly Israel) it had to be explicitly stated. BTW good to see you Phil, at T4G briefly during the ACE room forum where Lignon was tap dancing around his and Al Mohler's involvement in the Manhattan Declaration. Hope your back is healing from surgery, my back might get their soon, have 20%VA disability! By His Grace & Mercy in Christ Jesus. David Burkhardt

Berean Wife said...

I have an honest question. It appears that there should be at least one other division of "antinomianism" which would be those who feel the commands Jesus gave, especially in the Sermon on the Mount, is a greater Law than Moses, Jesus is the perfect and greater Law giver and that we are under the New Covenant not the Old Covenant.

Otherwise where do you place preachers such as Charles Leiter, Jim McClarity, Tim Conway, D.A. Carson?

Also where do we get a Scriptural basis for the Law of Moses being divided into Moral, Civil, and Ceremonial laws? What is the Sabbath? Does it not fit all categories?

The study of the place of the Law of Moses has been very interesting to me lately so I'm still working through all this.

Berean Wife

VcdeChagn said...

This is what the "lordship salvation" controversy was about a few years ago. Zane Hodges would be the most extreme advocate of this brand of antinomianism. Jody Dillow has tried to give this view some academic respectability with his book Reign of the Servant Kings.

As a parenthetical comment, I searched high and low for this book and was so disappointed when I found it and read part of it. I never finished it because it was a waste of my time :(

Anyone want a copy (or two, my mom had one as well and she was as disappointed as I was)?

Also where do we get a Scriptural basis for the Law of Moses being divided into Moral, Civil, and Ceremonial laws? What is the Sabbath? Does it not fit all categories?

This is the hard one for me. We have some scriptural basis for stopping sacrifices (Hebr 7:26-27) and eating different kinds of food (Acts 10) and probably other sorts of things.

But I don't know how to divide between moral and civil law as precisely as some people do.

So I try to rely upon the words of Christ to the lawyer in Luke 10 and believe that the whole of the Law and the Prophets is contained in the Sh'ma and Love your neighbor.

greglong said...

Berean Wife asked exactly the question I was going to ask.

While quotes from the Lutheran Concord and John Calvin are helpful, the question still remains...

Where is the biblical evidence for the tripartite division of the OT Law?

Mary Elizabeth Tyler said...

I have a friend who is a devotee of Zane Hodges and Charles Ryrie. I have tried with little or no success to convince him of Lordship salvation. Even tried to convince him to read The Gospel According to Jesus, by John MacArthur.

To me he believes in, and is promoting a false gospel. People are actually accusing God of being a liar. God explicitly tells us in Scripture that: "...***I*** will put my spirit within you, and ***cause*** you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them (Eze 36:27)." To deny this is to call God a liar in my judgment.

Obedience is not optional to our Christian walk, and God Himself does the work of sanctification in and through us. A changed life must be a result of the new birth or it is nothing more than the dead faith the devils possess.

I have often wondered what Zane Hodges and Charles Ryrie thought of the command in Scripture to examine our faith?

Martin Luther said something to the effect that we are saved by faith alone, but not by a faith that is alone. He meant that repentance, obedience and a surrendered life to Christ's Lordship are essential to real faith.

Thanks for this excellent article, Phil. I will definitely send it to my friend.

James Scott Bell said...

and hyper-Calvinists agree with Arminians that inability automatically cancels responsibility.

Not sure where this is coming from, Phil. Arminian theology is the great purveyor of human responsibility. It does not teach any canceling of responsibility with regard to sin, thus I don't see any possible agreement with hyper-Calvinism on that point (which seems an odd point indeed).

I am on the Lordship side of things (yea MacArthur!), yet also on the discontinuity side re: OT law. It's hard to read Hebrews and come away with continuity; also difficult to devise a hermeneutic which allows us to determine which OT laws remain binding and which do not. The more legitimate position, IMO, is to look at the Law of Christ (Gal. 6:2) and where it touches the OT, using the latter then for further explication. Capital punishment would be an example (Ro 13 and Gen. 9, etc.)

But I am open to further discussion on these points.

Anonymous said...

Phil, you say there is no explicit law against bestiality in the NT. While no explicit law exists, we do find other factors that leave no doubt.

1. Christ defined marriage as between a man and woman exclusively.

2. Sex within the marriage bed alone is called pure.

3. Sexual immorality is anything that violates the above.

So on that basis, I have NT authority to condemn bestiality and I don't have to get into theory about which OT commands apply and which don't.

Eric said...

Johnny D,

I would guess that Phil is referring to oft-heard Arminian criticism of Calvinism that if reprobate man has an inability to truly turn to God on his own, then he can't be held responsible for that inability.

John said...

Oh, man, I was looking for the sixth star on this post. Outstanding.

Eric said...

The last Eric comment is a different Eric than the first Eric comment, to clear up any confusion. Perhaps one of us should take on a different handle!

mikeb said...

To all the antinomians reading this, go and study Matt. 5:17,18. "Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished."

As to the tripartite law, it is implied throughout scripture. When Paul mentions "the Law written" on the Gentiles heart, he is speaking of the moral law. No one would think he is implying the Levitical/ceremonial (priestly) law was written on a Gentile's heart. Paul also speaks in Galations about the law being "our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith." Why would Paul say the ceremonial or judicial law, only known by the Jews at the time, drive Gentiles to Christ? These are just a few examples of numerous texts where you see a division in the types of law used in the Bible.

Johnny, antinomianism is rampant in Arminian (at least modern day arminianism) churches today. Simply take a look at what passes out there for "christian" art, culture, tatoos, music, movies, etc, etc.

donsands said...

Wow. A lot of solid food there to eat. Nice spiritual protein.

Zane Hodges says a believer can become an unbeliever, and so he will be an unbelieving in the Gospel saved believer.

Christians are dead to the Law. The Law can not bring us under condemnation, ever.

The law is a mirror, and though we may not no we have a dirty face, when we look in the mirror we see the dirt, and so can wash the dirt.

The law is also the strength of sin.
You shall not covet, makes me covet.

The law can not save, never could.

Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord, and ever since Noah, salvation has been the same: By grace alone, through faith alone.


Phil Johnson said...

greglong: "Where is the biblical evidence for the tripartite division of the OT Law? "

I'm neither attached to the threefold division nor put off by it. One thing is clear, however: the backbone of the law consists of moral precepts. These are timeless principles that reflect God's own character. They are immutable rules by which God has always governed humanity. They are laws that were written on the human conscience ages before they were inscribed on tablets of stone, and they apply to all men of all ages.

It is clear that the law's moral standard was in force even before Moses brought the tablets of stone down from Sinai--because the whole reason God drove the Canaanites from the land was that they violated His moral statutes: "Whoever does these things is an abomination to the LORD. And because of these abominations the LORD your God is driving them out before you" (Deuteronomy 18:12). The fact that God judged the Canaanites for moral abominations is sufficient to prove that God's moral law was binding before Sinai, and there's no reason to deem it abrogated now.

Moreover, bestiality was one of the specific reasons the Canaanites were driven from the land (Leviticus 18:23-24), so it's clear that bestiality was a moral abomination before Moses' law ever said so, and therefore there is no need to construct some precarious ladder of logic in order to declare bestiality immoral on NT principles alone.

As for the threefold division, I think it is often misunderstood. Moral, civil, and ceremonial precepts are categories that may (and do at times) overlap. I don't know of anyone who says it's possible to draw hard lines and neatly categorize every precept of Moses' law as one or the other exclusively. I sometimes think people who try to reject the category "moral law" do so because they think this is a neat way to avoid Sabbatarianism. That has never made any sense to me. I'm not a Sabbatarian, but I don't have to deny that there are eternal precepts in the law in order to make sure no one classifies the Sabbath restrictions as "moral law."

Phil Johnson said...

The NT does clearly recognize different categories of law, even though it doesn't expressly outline the common threefold division. The book of Hebrews teaches (and Colossians 2:17 expressly says) that the temporary features of the Old Testament priesthood and sacrificial system that prefigured Christ and pointed to Him no longer apply to us, because we live under a New and better Covenant.

Yet the framework--the core and the backbone--of Moses' law consisted of those eternal moral principles. And the New Testament just as clearly teaches that the moral precepts of the law are still in force (cf. Ephesians 6:1-2)--at least in this sense: they define for us what righteousness looks like. In the words of Romans 8:4, this is "the righteous requirement of the law"--the moral law. It's the same law Paul says is engraved on the conscience of every human being.

There's no question that when Adam fell, it marred our innate understanding of God and His law. The fall left us with a sinful desire to suppress what we do know of God and His righteousness. Paul describes this in Romans 2:15: "When Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires . . .. They show [that] the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them."

So that same moral aspect of the law is what God engraves once again (in a clearer way) on the new heart He implants in every regenerate sinner. In fact, this is the central promise of the New Covenant. Jeremiah 31:33: "I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts." Believers have a new nature and new desires, with a fresh engraving of God's moral law.

If someone needs a proof-text using that precise expression ("moral law"), I can't help you. But it seems clear enough that a certain subset of Moses' law is eternal. It was in force and used as a standard by which to judge the Canaanites before the Ten Commandments were given, and it is now written on our hearts afresh under the New Covenant. Whether you call it "moral law" or something different matters not to me; just don't try to argue that Scripture doesn't recognize that there is such a law, and that it's binding on us.

James Scott Bell said...

mikeb, I fully assent to those facts. But I would explicitly deny they represent Arminian theology. They represent, rather, a complete repudiation of it. That's getting off the subject, however. True Arminian theology teaches unregenerate man's responsibility for his own sin.

Phil Johnson said...

Johnny Dialectic: "Not sure where this is coming from, Phil. Arminian theology is the great purveyor of human responsibility."

Yeah, I said that in a less-than-clear way. Perhaps I should have added "or vice versa." On second thought, I'll reword that whole sentence to make the point clearer. Give me a half hour or so to take care of some other priorities, and then I'll fix it.

Here's what I'm saying: Both Arminians and hyper-Calvinists argue that inability and responsibility are inherently incompatible--i.e., you can't be responsible for something you're unable to do.

From that faulty presupposition, Arminians conclude that because the gospel makes faith our duty, sinners must be able (i.e., prevenient grace gives them the ability) to summon faith--or not--via their own free-will choice.

From the same faulty presupposition, many hyper-Calvinists reason that it can't possibly be the duty of sinners to believe, because (their wills being enslaved to sin) they have no ability to do so.

Same presupposition, radically different conclusions. But both are wrong because the presupposition is wrong.

Phil Johnson said...

Johnny Dialectic:

On second thought, I deleted the whole clause that took a backhand slap at Arminianism. It didn't really add anything to the point I was making. We'll give you a break from having to defend your Arminianism today.

Berean Wife said...

Mike B.,

I have no issue with:

Matthew 5:17-18 (ESV) 17 “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.
18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.

But surely you must agree that some of the Law has passed away?

What is a jot or tittle or smallest letter or stroke?


Eating pork or shellfish?

So if we can agree that some portions of the Law and the Prophets have passed away then in order for this Scripture to not be contradictory it must mean that all is accomplished. Christ did accomplish all He set out to do. He fulfilled the Law.

I agree we can find divisions of the Law and different Laws throughout Scripture. But can we assume that the 10 Commandments are the same as the Law written on our hearts?

Which is the moral law?

The Law of Moses

The 10 Commandments

The Law of God

The Law of Christ

Maybe this is the sum of the Law written on our heart and not the perceived moral portions of the Law of Moses:

Matthew 22:37-40 (ESV)
37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.
38 This is the great and first commandment.
39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

Just my humble attempt to understand from much study.

Berean Wife

Steve Talas said...


My thanks for your work on providing the primer, it's valuable certainly to me to have a better understanding of the historical and theological context.

Having come from an Open Brethren backround here in the UK and then embracing the Doctrines of Grace, the issue of the role of the Law is one that has caused me real difficulty, It's only recently that comments from individuals like James R White, John MacArthur and yourself that the penny is beggining to drop.

I confess I carry my fair load of old school dispensational mental baggage.

What has started to cause me to question and rethink my understanding is to put myself in the place of a a first century gentile convert, redeemed out of a morally perverse environment. Surely the questions that I would be would asking are; What does righteousness look like? What does Godly behaviour and sanctified living look like?

What am I going to look to?

Yes there are maybe some epistles out there already but by in large even I in good old dispensational days knew that the Bible of the early Church was primarily the Septuagint OT?

So what am I looking at? To what will I turn to? Where am I going to get my understanding of how I can live and glorify God in my daily life and demonstrate before men the change that God has wrought im me?

Surely I'm looking at the moral aspect of the Law to get answers to those questions?

Berean Wife said...

Phil Johnson,

How does the adherence to the 10 Commandments fit in with your understanding of Antinomianism?

From most of what I have read lately the modern usage of the term Antinomian is:

The label Antinomian = Not following the 10 Commandments, specifically the Sabbath. Despite the NT lawfulness and holiness in a person's life.

So where does a preacher that says we are not bound by the 10 Commandments fit?

Berean Wife

James Scott Bell said...

Phil, you are a gentleman. Many thanks!

Charles Churchill said...

Here is something I wrote to a friend a while back about the law and about the message of Galatians (which is often portrayed as belittling the law or of setting the law against grace):

Galatians is not saying that the law is worthless. Nowhere in Galatians will you hear Paul say that they law has no value to us today.
What Paul is trying to make very clear is that law cannot make you a son of God. The law cannot allow you to inherit with Abraham.

All the Jews knew that Abraham was one with whom God made the covenant and all along in their sinfulness they tried to make God's covenant with Abraham to be by something other than faith.
Some claimed that anyone who was of the bloodline of Abraham was a partaker of the covenant and could inherit with Abraham, but if this was true, then why wasn't Ishamel a part of the covenant. Why not Esau? Why not the children that Abraham had by Keturah? But still some believed that blood was what made the promise to be of effect.
Some claimed that it was the keeping of the law given on Sinai that made a man righteous and allowed him to inherit with Abraham. Note the wording, "made a man righteous". And these were the people that Paul was addressing in Galatians. Paul tells them that if the law given at Sinai is what lets you partake of the inheritance of Abraham, then how did Abraham partake of it, for that law and that covenant was not made for 400 more years.
Paul basically lays it out very clearly for them, inheritance is not by the law.
Before we go any further, you have to understand this one thing. The law cannot make anyone righteous. Period. Even if a man could keep the entire law, it would not "make" him righteous. All the law can do is reveal whether someone is righteous or not. The law is like a ruler or a tape measure. Imagine if a man needs a board to be 7 feet long and he only has a 6 foot long board. His tape measure is the law of God. He can measure that board all day long and the law will not make his board any longer. And conversely, if his board was already 7 feet long, he would not say that the tape measure made it so. In this same way, Jesus Christ was not "made" righteous by the law, but rather being God, he already was righteous and the law revealed him to be so.

Charles Churchill said...

But regarding the usefulness of the law, Paul goes on to say this:

Gal 3:21 Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law.

And this is very important. Paul is saying that the law is not against the promise of God. If it was even possible for a law to make a man righteous, then this law would have done it. The law is not evil, it rather instructs us how to live as the Sons of God. It does not give us the power to do so, that is by the Spirit of God. It does not condemn us to hell when we fail to live by it, for if we have been crucified with Christ, then the penalty of the law has already fallen upon us. (Galatians 2:19-21) This is what Paul means when he says that Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law.

Charles Churchill said...

(continued again)
So here's one more thought on Galatians that helped me immensely when my church was going through it.
I've already mentioned that inheritance and sonship are not by the law, but I want to expand on that thought.
One of the things that Galatians (and all of scripture) deals with is the idea of whose household you are a part of. Understand that when people talked about inheriting with Abraham, and when Paul talks about being the sons of God and heirs with Christ, that he means actual sons.
So when the Judaizers were trying to achieve sonship by the law, you have to understand how ridiculous it looked from God's point of view. Think of it this way, let's say that I start working for a small business, and I become impressed by the owner of the business, to the point that I become obsessed with the idea of him adopting me. Now, let's say that this is my plan. I tell myself that if I keep the laws of the company completely, that it will earn me sonship with the man. Understand what I'm saying. I'm not saying that I'm hoping to impress the man, so he will look favorably on me and adopt me, what I'm trying to do is to earn the position of being his son, by the fact of keeping all his rules. This is what the Judaizers were doing. They believed that they could go to God as if with a legal document showing they had kept the law and God would have to say, "yep, everything seems to be in order. You're my sons now."
But here is the other part of the analogy that we forget. If for some reason that man did look favorably upon me, and choose of his own grace to adopt me as his son, I would be a fool to believe that the laws of his household did not apply to me. This is why the law of God still holds. One of the purposes of the law was to instruct the children of God how to love God and how to love their neighbor as themselves. This aspect of the law does not pass away.

mikeb said...

Berean Wife, I think you misinterpret Matt. 5:17 ff. The context is that Jesus disciples were likely thinking He had come to replace the Law, to abolish it. He corrects this potential misunderstanding early in His ministry by telling them He is not coming to abolish it but to fulfill it. All has not been accomplished yet, as "when heaven and earth pass away" refers to the present world ceasing to exist. Jesus neither gives a new law or modifies an old one, but explains the point of the Law (Carson, Matthew, EBC). Now Christ has fully accomplished the fulfillment of the ceremonial aspect of the Law, as many NT verses show.

Phil Johnson said...

Berean Wife: "How does the adherence to the 10 Commandments fit in with your understanding of Antinomianism?"

The Ten Commandments are a summary of the moral law. The only one of the Ten that any credible person would seriously dispute is the Fourth Commandment, regarding the Sabbath.

The question of whether and in what sense the Fourth Commandment is a moral precept is complex. I preached a series on the Ten Commandments a few years ago. You can download all those messages freely here. The message on the Fourth Commandment will give my answer to your question in detail.

In short, I think the Fourth Commandment does contain a moral principle involving rest from our labors. (That same principle appears in a different light, where it shines even more prominently, in the gospel.) But the specific OT restrictions regarding the seventh day were ceremonial observances (Colossians 2:16).

As I said above, I'm no Sabbatarian. But I am extremely wary of the kind of non-sabbatarianism that tries to make its case by treating the moral law as something fluid, temporary, mutable, or non-existent. I do regard that kind of thinking as a virulent kind of antinomianism. But it's not accurate to say all non-sabbatarians are antinomian.

BTW, if I understand Calvin, his view of the Sabbath was similar to mine. (But I don't want to have that debate here in this comment-thread.)

St. Lee said...

(I hope I am not getting too far off track here by commenting on a comment about something Phil has already amended - my apologies if it is)

mikeb said
"Johnny, antinomianism is rampant in Arminian (at least modern day arminianism) churches today. Simply take a look at what passes out there for "christian" art, culture, tatoos, music, movies, etc, etc."

I think this is only true of what might commonly be called Arminianism today, but which substitutes "eternal security" for the fifth point in place of the original "you can lose your salvation." Personally, I see this as much more dangerous to a false convert than either Calvinism or classic Arminianism.

Unknown said...

Your comment "This hyper-Calvinistic brand of antinomianism is far more common in England than in the US, but it is not unknown among the "Gospel Standard" people on this side of the Atlantic" makes me sad for England because it is rampant here in the US -- in fact, it dominates here on Long Island. It lives without notice in charismatic circles where the "leading of the spirit" (small “s” since we don't know what spirit it is) dominates. Since they are throwing off the guidance of the WORD of GOD by going extra-biblical with yabba-dabba-doo among other 'gifts' (and, yes, I HAVE a word of knowledge for them - BIBLE!), they throw off the moral law too. They throw off church membership - they throw off everything but the "five-fold ministry" and listening to the rambling legalism of a pastor/ minister/ prophet/ shepherd of the house. They proclaim “we are not under law but under grace” and without any tether, they are “led by the spirit”. The GOSPEL is lost too. It is about me-me-me. Songs about me-me-me. I am sad for the MISLED of the spirit.
What holds it all together? Having a narcissist pastor, in fact, please check this out:

Berean Wife said...

Mike B.,

There are quite a few with the interpretation I shared. I'm not trying to argue a point just to gain understanding. I guess it depends on how you interpret "will pass from the Law".

Phil Johnson,

Thank you for the response.

I have listened to your series in the past few months.

"But it's not accurate to say all non-sabbatarians are antinomian."

Thanks that explains alot. Although many would lump non-sabbatarians into the Antinomian Camp.

Berean Wife

Andrew Suttles said...

I come from an IFB/Dispy background and I find it interesting that those that want to cast away all Scriptural moral norms tend to be the most legalistic in practice. I agree with the brother that the moral law actually provides liberty when you've lived in that mindset.

I'm glad Phil refereed to the 10 Commandments as a *summary* of the moral law. What is morally right and wrong does not change from time period to time period - they are as immutable as the character of God. They exist in Creation as much as gravity and time exist. The law was summarized for Israel on Mt. Sinai and then put in a box for sacrificial blood to be sprinkled on. They are written on the hearts of believers who have the Holy Spirit. Jesus summarized them again in Matthew 22.

I wonder if anyone on this discussion has read Marrow of Modern Divinity. IMHO it does a great job of walking the middle ground between the extremes of legalism and antinomianism.

Halcyon said...


Excellent words (in the post and comments), but there is one question lingering in the air that needs to be addressed (perhaps in a future post):

How do we make a distinction between what OT laws (individual laws) are and are not applicable for believers today without sliding into either ditch of antinomianism or legalism?

I ask this because atheists use this issue as a ridiculous cudgel from time to time: "If you're such a literalist, then what about all those OT dietary laws or laws about slavery?" etc., etc.

Perhaps it would be beneficial to deal with this in the near future (or point to where you've already dealt with it).

David said...

Crisp and Huntington make the mistake like many appear to confuse the forensic aspect of justification as compared to true grace, versus cheap. Second, British hypers' belief that "the unregenerate are not able to obey it" hearkens back to a key thesis point of Pelagius against Augustine. Why would God command me to do something, says Pelagius, if he had not already given me the power to do it? And vice versa.

Aaron said...

Berean wife:

The issue, IMHO, is pretty simple on the outset but it becomes difficult in some of the specifics. I think we'd all agree that much of the Mosaic law is underpinned by God's everlasting moral nature. Most of the time we can discern which laws are still applicable because we have NT reiteration or additional evidence within the OT. For example, we know murder is wrong. There's plenty of evidence in both the NT and the OT. Phil also mentioned bestiality.

But it becomes a little more tricky when evaluating other parts of the Mosaic law which are not clearly ceremonial and don't have much commentary from which to draw in the rest of Scripture. For example, Lev 19:28 prohibits tattoos. Some would argue that it's clearly a moral law and still applies. Others would say it was part of a larger context prohibiting pagan rituals and therefore, doesn't apply. Still others would say the verse doesn't apply to us today but draw on other principles to generally discourage them.

So if we then believe in #2 or #3 then are we antinomian?

Personally, I find myself leaning (but not altogether convinced) that we are not at all bound by the Mosaic law but we are bound by the moral law, some of which we can distinguish from the Mosaic law. It's a fine line and as I said, I'm still open on the issue and don't consider myself to be antinomian.

greglong said...

ALL of the laws in the Mosaic Code were moral commands that reflected the moral character of God and His desire for holiness in His covenant people.

I am interested in the question Halcyon asked. How does your view practically work itself out as far as which commands we should obey and which ones we should not?

I do not believe we are under any part of the Mosaic Law. As a code, it has been fulfilled and done away with.

But I am not an antinomian, as I believe we are under the Law of Christ. Obviously there is some relationship between the Mosaic Law and the Law of Christ because they both have their source in God and reflect the moral character of God.

greglong said...

2 Cor 3:4-18

4 Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. 5 Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, 6 who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

7 Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses' face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, 8 will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? 9 For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. 10 Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it. 11 For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory.

12 Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, 13 not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end. 14 But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. 15 Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. 16 But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

ReturningKing.com said...

As a dispensational antinomian, and one who genuinely loves Dr. MacArthur, I must respectfully disagree that atinomianism is "the belief that allows for justification without sanctification." While it may well be that for some, that is certainly not a valid definition of my position. I fully understand sanctification as not only the result of justification, but the evidence of it. However, I also understand Galatians to be making a much simpler, plainer and more direct argument than Calvin did.

The law of the spirit of life has set me free from the law of sin and death (Rom 8:2). Just as laws in Oklahoma and Texas are similar - and many are the same – they none-the-less each hold their own authority for those whom they are over. When you change states you change laws. (Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbahm's illustration, not my own) Likewise, Heb. 7 notes “when there is a change of the priesthood, there must also be a change of the law.” Furthermore, James notes that the Law is one: if you break one command you’ve broken them all. Like a fractured windshield, no one can separate out the various components. It all goes, or it all stays.

9 of the 10 commandments are specified in the New Testament. The Sabbath is not. I know no one who keeps the Sabbath; including, I'd venture a guess, Calvin himself.

Anonymous said...

Mikeb, your interpretation of Matt 5:17ff is off and badly.

1. Jesus specifically said that the law doesn't change until it is all fulfilled. Which part of the law was left unfulfilled by Christ? Since the NT makes it clear that large portions of it are explicitly done away with, I would be very interested in hearing your explanation of that contradiction.

2. Jesus did not give the correct interpretation of the law. That view is so easily demonstrated to be false. For example, an eye for an eye was really supposed to mean turn the other cheek?

On the contrary, the Jews had the law given to them by God which they were to obey and follow. With the coming of Christ, the new covenant, and the greater message (superior prophet), believers would now be under the law of Christ, laid out initially in the sermon on the mount.

Anonymous said...

Phil, I don't have any problem with appealing to a moral law. Such a thing logically and biblically had to exist. As a preacher though, we can't appeal to theory or the unknown. As believers under the law of Christ, we must be able to appeal to the NT as the final authority in all matters of truth and conduct.

The 10 commandments cannot be them. They might have been the moral law during the Old Covenant.

Something cannot be the moral law of God and be changable. The 10 commandments were given as a whole set. To change one law written in stone is to change the set. It would be much more accurate to say the principles behind the 10 commandments reflect the law of God maybe, minus the sabbath law of course.

Anonymous said...

I meant to include this, but I think John Reisinger gives the best explanation on this issue:


On the issue of law/grace continuity/discontinuity, New Covenant theology is light years ahead of the rest in exegesis, imo.

mikeb said...

James Kine:
IT is not just my interpretation. You can read more in the reference I gave.

Large portions do not equate to the whole thing! Many people confuse this text because they do not understand the difference between fulfill and abrogate or abolish. Christ fulfilled the law perfectly. Yet this does not mean we are to throw away the law and ignore it's principles in our walk.

Are you saying "heaven and earth have passed away"? Because that is when Christ says we can do away with the smallest stroke of the Law. Who is Christ responding to when He says "Do not think..."? And what were they thinking?

Also, check out verse 19, "Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven."

Are you annulling one of commandments (commandments as in the Law, not just the 10)?

Anonymous said...

Mikeb, you miss the point. Doing away with ANY of the law could only have happened if it was all fulfilled. In fulfilling the Old Covenant, Christ was therefore able to introduce his superior law.

You didn't answer the other questions. Do you really teach that the true meaning of eye for an eye was really to turn the other cheek? Interestingly enough, the eye for an eye laws could be called civil if one believed the 3part division. Why is Christ repeating a civil law?

Christ did not say that the law exists until heaven and earth passes away. He said it exists until he fulfills it. The universe will collapse upon itself before Christ fails to fulfill it.

The sermon on the mount wasn't the Talmud of Jesus. He wasn't Moses' greatest commentator. No, Moses anticipated a superior prophet with a superior message in Deut 18. Christ was that prophet with a greater message/law.

So I am not ridiculing or trashing the OC law. It stands as God's law for his people until Christ came.

Mike Riccardi said...

I really appreciate the time spent on the post as well as all the comments discussing it. The topic of the relation of the Law to the believer is one that's interested me since I became a Christian, and should, I believe, interest every Christian, as it's relevant to how it is we are to go about living our Christian life in a way that's pleasing to our Lord (2Cor 5:9).

One text that is, I think, of particular importance in the discussion is Romans 7:1-6. I think that text shows that the Law is powerless to effect our sanctification as well as our justification. I don't think we never read our Old Testament, but Romans 7:4 and 7:6 teach that the Law is not the decisive factor in our fruit-bearing and Christian service. Instead it's our union with Christ.

Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God. ... But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter.

What makes these two verses interesting for this conversation is the two purpose clauses: "in order that we might bear fruit for God," and "so that we serve in newness of the Spirit." This passage is treating not just our justification, but our sanctification, how we bear fruit and serve in our Christian life.

And Paul says here that in order to bear fruit, and in order to serve rightly, we had to (1) die to the Law, and (2) be released from the Law. That means: just as the Law was powerless to produce our justification, so is it powerless to produce our sanctification.

So then, where is the power? Paul says that the immediate purpose for which we were made to die to the Law is so that we would be joined to another as if in marriage. The power for progressing in holiness in the Christian life comes not from the Law but from our union with Christ. We were joined to Him so that we would bear fruit for God. That means that it is a relationship with Christ, not my relationship with the Law, that is decisive in my becoming increasingly holy. I am to look to Him, not a list, for the strength to fight the fight for holiness.

Ferguson Clan said...

Your post dealt with the view of the morel law as it applies to believers, but what of non-believers?

If a person is apposed to the use of the morel law in evangelism, is that still defined as Antinomianism? I.E. The morel law is not applicable to non-believers and believers alike.

mikeb said...

James Kline:

It's interesting you say...

On the issue of law/grace continuity/discontinuity, New Covenant theology is light years ahead of the rest in exegesis, imo.

When NCT is heavily dependent on D.A. Carson's interpretation of Matt. 5:17-18, who's position I summarized above and you disagreed with. NCT does not understand Matt. 17 the same way you do.


Anonymous said...

Mike, it is just Kime, not Kine or Kline.

1. You did not accurately state Carson's view.
2. Even if you think you did, NCT does not depend on it.
3. I am quite familiar with the CT take on NCT. To call it accurate would be to call Obama the second coming of Reagan.

You will better understand the CT/NCT debate when you understand how both groups can appeal to the 2ndLBCF.

I see you are pursuing an advanced degree. You might want to read primary sources first.

F Whittenburg said...

I did a bible study several years ago on the difference between law and grace found here and explains my form of antinomism:


It is about a 15 min. read and answers many of the questions about law and grace brought up here. I used much scripture and explain the difference between the Abrahamic / Christian Faith covenant and the Mosaic Covenant. I underlined the special parts of the scripture, but please read the whole scripture presented and not just the underlined parts to keep the scripture in it's proper context.

I also don't believe the Mosaic Law is divided into moral and cerimonial because Paul taught in (2 Corinthians 3:2-18 KJV)that the "law" which is abolished was "written and engraven in stone", which WAS the Ten Commandments, not the cerimonial law. The reason being is because the Holy Spirit creates inside the born again believer the very character that the Mosaic Law demanded from the outside.

You can take a man and clean him up and put him on the front row at church, you can teach him God's law, surround him with accountability partners, disciple him in good works, teach him he has a forgiver in Jesus, but you have not actually set this man "free", you have just put this man in a "holy cage".
That is what the proverb about the swine returning to wallowing in the mud after being cleaned up was explaining. This proverb isn't talking about losing salvation, it was showing that unless the swine in changed into a "new creature" like the Christian (born of the Spirit) has been then the swine will go back to doing swine things.
The reason the Holy Law isn't needed to govern the Christian from the outside is because the Holy Spirit takes over that job on the inside.

Walk in the Spirit and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh (Galatians 5:16 KJV)

We thru the Spirit mortify the deeds of the body (Romans 8:13 KJV)

Trying to obey God's law without the Holy Spirit to provide the power to live a Godly life is what Paul wrestled with in Romans 7:14-25 KJV.

Paul then turns this whole sanctification process over to the power of the Holy Spirit in Romans chapter 8 and gets the victory over sin that his weak flesh could never do!

After Paul experineced this amazing truth, he then rebuked the Galatians for doing the very same thing!

Are you so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are you made perfect by the flesh? (Galatians 3:3 KJV).

Now for anyone that hasn't been born again then they still need to be governed from the outside by the law and it is still in full force and effect on them until heaven and earth pass away.

Thank you to the Pyro team for addressing this topic. It has been a stumbling stone for years.

In His Service,
F Whittenburg

F Whittenburg said...

The Law vs. Grace study link didn't come thru completely on the last post, it explains antinomium doctrine in much detail.


In His Service,
F Whittenburg

F Whittenburg said...

I am sorry, team pyro, I must not be doing something right, my research link will not post so if I am in error even posting that bible study info, then please forgive me and delete this post. If you do want to see this information on what I see as the correct view on antinomusim try going to my webpage. All my bible studies are free for use and download.

http:// www.christiannewbirth.com/10commandments explained.html

and click on the "Ten Commandments Explained!.PDF

I apologize again for not listing the link right in the previous posts.

F Whittenburg

mikeb said...

James Kime (forgive the misspelling of your name in previous comments):

1. You did not accurately state Carson's view.

How do you figure? I'm not writing a research paper here, and there is a limit on this comment section, but for your benefit, I will quote various sentences from D.A. Carson, Matthew, EBC, p. 145, that apply. Regarding Matt 5:18, Carson says:

That leave's the duration of the OT's authority. The two "until" clauses answer this. The first --"until heaven and earth disappear" -- simply means "until the end of the age": i.e., not quite never, but "never, as as the present world order persists."

I'm pretty sure the end of the present world has not happened yet. Continuing on...

The second -- "until everything is accomplished" -- is more difficult. Some take it to be the equivalent of the first (cf. Sand, pp.36-39). But it is more subtle than that. The word panta ("all things" or "everything" has no antecedent. Contrary to Sand (p. 38), Hill, Bultmann, Grundemann, and Zahn, the word cannot very easily refer to all the demands of the law that must be "accomplished", because (1) the word "law" almost certainly refers here to all Scripture and not just its commands -- but even if that were not so, v.17 has shown that even imperatival law is prophetic; (2) the word genetai ("is accomplished") must here be rendered "happen," "come to pass" (i.e. accomplished" in that sense, not in the sense of obeying a law:cf. Meir, Law, pp.53f.; Banks, Jesus, pp. 215ff.)

Hence panta ("everything") is best understood to refer to everything in the law, considered under the law's prophetic function -- viz., until all these things have taken place as prophesied. This is not simply pointing to the cross (Davies, "Matthew 5:17,18," pp. 60ff.;Schaltter), nor simply to the end of the age (Schniewind).

Carson goes on to say v.18d "simply means the entire divine purpose prophesied in Scripture must take place; not one jot or tittle will fail to its fulfillment."

It appears that many want to make the word "fulfill" (v.17) or "accomplished" (v.18) stretch further than was intended. James, unless you are a full Preterist, you can not believe we have reached the complete fulfillment of the law, which, according to Carson, would mean everything prophesied in Scripture has occurred. Now you can try and argue "the eye for an eye" point if you like, but I prefer to deal with the text. Plus in Matt. 5:38 Christ dealt specifically with your argument.

2. Even if you think you did, NCT does not depend on it.

Does Fred Zaspel's view of Matt. 5:17-18 depend on Carson's exegesis or not? Is Zaspel not a prominent figure in New Covenant Theology?

3. I am quite familiar with the CT take on NCT. To call it accurate would be to call Obama the second coming of Reagan.

You must be responding to someone else here, as I've never said CT had an accurate view on NCT, nor implied it. I don't consider my views CT either.

mikeb said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bobby Grow said...

There were Antinomists too; like Richard Sibbes and John Cotton, they weren't against the "Law," per se, but against the "precisianism" and brow-beating that Puritans engaged in like William Perkins or Ames.

They don't really fit any of the categories I've seen provided here.

Andrew Suttles said...

I agree with the brother that said we are not bound by the Mosaic law (as a system or as a covenant of works), but rather we are under the moral law (which I believe is the same as the law of Christ).

Under the Old Dispensation, this is the law that was written by the finger of God and placed under the mercy seat - the very definition of righteousness according to Jesus (Luke 18). It s written on the heart of the believer (heb 8, Jer 31). What is morally right/wrong is right/wrong for all time - including the sin of working our servants 7 days per week with no rest for their bodies.

Just because Jesus fulfilled the righteous demands on our behalf - freeing us from its curse - does not mean there is not such thing as right/wrong anymore - it means we are no longer legally transgressors and therefore free from its chains of death.

Andrew Suttles said...

Bro Riccardi, et al -

I don't think anyone is arguing that the law sanctifies the believer - the Holy Spirit does that. BUT, as long as we are in our flesh, the old man will try to deceive our hearts into sin. Can our minds know what is pleasing to God so that we do not grieve the Holy Spirit?

As regards the law and evangelism - to the lost man, the law is his judge. It condemns him. Just as Christ pointed the Rich young ruler to the law as a mirror to show his sin, we show sinners they are under condemnation. Once we are born again, we are no longer under the condemnation of the law, but we should walk in the Spirit (which we are NOT doing if we are violating the Law of Christ/Moral Law written on heart).

Pierre Saikaley said...

Ferguson Clan:


Anonymous said...

Mike, I will leave you to try and further understand Carson and Zaspel. I cannot possibly do that here for you.

You said, "James, unless you are a full Preterist, you can not believe we have reached the complete fulfillment of the law, which, according to Carson, would mean everything prophesied in Scripture has occurred."

I am not a preterist by any definition. I do believe that the OC law has been completed, fulfilled, and replaced with Christ's law. Each time Jesus said, "...but I say to you...", he modified in some way the OC law.

This is why I brought up the eye for an eye passage. Jesus did not correctly interpret that text against pharisaical tradition. He changed the law.

You say you prefer to deal with the text yet dodged that.

Jesus didn't wow the crowd because he could interpret Moses. They were astounded at his authority for changing the law. Only the promised prophet could do that (Deut 18).

mikeb said...


I do believe that the OC law has been completed, fulfilled, and replaced with Christ's law.

Okay, so don't deal with what Carson's view is, and just restate your position? It's nice that you "believe" that, but I'm not seeing a convincing argument explaining the "abolish", "fulfill" and "accomplished" verbs in Matt. 5:17-18.

We're not arguing if the Mosaic law is binding to a Christian here, as any serious Christian knows it's not. We're discussing in what way the law (which is the whole OT), applies to the life of a Christian.

This is why I brought up the eye for an eye passage. Jesus did not correctly interpret that text against pharisaical tradition. He changed the law.

You say you prefer to deal with the text yet dodged that.

As I said before, there is no need to "deal with" the eye for an eye statement for you, as Christ did it already in Matt. Jesus is the fulfillment of the law, and a part of the Trinity who "wrote" the law, so of course he will be modifying it for those under the New Covenant. This does not equate to doing away with it. Which of the 10 commandments are you willing to do away with? Which strokes of the OT are you willing to erase?

greglong said...

Mike, which of the OT laws should we follow and which should we not?

DJP said...

Greg: all of them.

< victory dance >

mikeb said...

Greg, have you not read...

"what matters is the keeping of the commandments of God." (1 Cr 7:19)

"By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, "I have come to know Him," and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; (1 Jo. 2:3,4)

"For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome." (1 Jo. 5:3)

"So the dragon was enraged with the woman, and went off to make war with the rest of her children, who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus." (Rev. 12:17)

"Here is the perseverance of the saints who keep the commandments of God and [fn] their faith in Jesus." (Rev. 14:12)

greglong said...

Guys, I'm just dumb enough that that is going to require further explanation. I don't know about you, but I haven't offered any animal sacrifices lately.

Of course we have to obey God's commandments, as revealed in the Law of Christ in the NT.

Andrew Suttles said...

The eye for an eye thing is a good example why we need to keep the threefold division of the law in our mind. The law given to Israel was not strictly of a religious nature. Israel was a nation and had to be ruled by laws, like any nation. Living in the US, I'm subject to FAR MORE laws than any Israelite ever did.

"eye for an eye", taken in its OC context, is a sentencing guidline for a judge. Do you think it would be ethical for a judge to sentence a man to pay $6.00 for killing another? No? God taught Israelite judges here that the sentence must fit the crime - not too heavy, not too light.

The law was perverted in Israel when people decided that this gave them personal permission to take revenge on their brothers. Wrong! Jesus is teaching that if one treats you poorly or talks badly about you behind your back (or whatever), your responsibility is to shrug it off - not repay evil for evil! This is a guidance for personal conduct! Jesus is not saying that a just sentence by a a government authority is no longer ethical.

Protoprotestant said...

While I certainly appreciate the historical treatment of the different antinomian categories, I think a better argument can be made.

The traditional 3-fold division cannot be found in the NT. Nowhere is the Mosaic law treated in this way. It is a unit, which has passed. Casting the argument in these terms I think can lead to a distraction.

The mistake comes when we equate the 'moral law' with the Decalogue. I think the NT views law in a different way. We are to be followers of the law of Christ. No longer under tutelage, we certainly can learn principles from the past, but the FORM of law in the NT, is to Love God and Love Neighbour. The details are not spelled out, because in Redemptive-History, we're in the age of maturity and we're not supposed to be in need of the detailed code required by Israel in order to maintain the Theocratic pre-messianic typology.

It's not the kind of hard list some might want, but I think this helps some of Paul's seemingly nebulous statements make sense.

This also harmonizes with the clear NT abrogation of the Sabbath, which was typological and has been fulfilled.

As far the rest of the Decalogue and things like beastiality, sure we don't ignore the OT. Not at all, but it's not the FORM which governs the Church. We can also learn from the entire Mosaic Covenant, but no one is advocating we bring it ALL forward. But the way the NT treats it, it's all or nothing.

Thanks for the helpful post!

John A.

Anonymous said...

Mike, as a NCT, I can also preach the full force of those texts but recognize with the rest of the NT truth that they are referring to the commands as given by Christ and the apostles. Why do you assign them to mean OT laws? That creates contradiction and frustration.

Regarding the eye for an eye text, I know Jesus "dealt" with it as you say. I am asking you to look at how he dealt with it. He changed it.

Btw, you may not be a covenantist, but when I mentioned NCT, you reference some CT blog as a critique of it. I never accused you of being a covenantist, I simply said they can't be trusted in their critiques.

mikeb said...


Guys, I'm just dumb enough that that is going to require further explanation. I don't know about you, but I haven't offered any animal sacrifices lately.

That's good, seeing as you're likely not Jewish and bound to the Mosaic covenant, and if you're a Christian Christ has offered one sacrifice for your sins forever, Heb. 10:12. Also, even if you were Jewish the temple is no longer there to sacrifice at.

Of course we have to obey God's commandments, as revealed in the Law of Christ in the NT.

You answer your own question here then. Why must we provide you with a rulebook when God has done so already? Some parts of the OT law (=the Law and the Prophets) have been completed and are done away with in terms of their application, others will not be completed until the "end of the age." Matt. 5:17-18.

Andrew Suttles said...

PP Said "The traditional 3-fold division cannot be found in the NT."

I don't think it needs to be. Isn't it obvious that laws about having a handrail around a roof top or about how a judge is to settle disputes regarding incidents involving cattle (etc) are national/civil in character? Isn't it obvious that a sacrificial system is religious in nature? Isn't it obvious that lying is a moral issue?

Certainly you recognize a difference between the law written with the finger of God on tables placed under the mercy seat and those precepts and statutes which are subservient to it.

> PP said, "The mistake comes when we equate the 'moral law' with the Decalogue."

I agree, but I don't think Phil is doing that. The decalogue is not THE moral law, but rather a summary of the moral law. In other words, what is right/wrong is as eternal as God's nature itself. It is built into the universe (and written onto our conscience) just as certainly as the law of gravity.

This moral law may be codified in different ways during different dispensations, but it is universal and unchanging in its substance.

PP said, "We are to be followers of the law of Christ."

I agree, but I disagree that Christ invented new morals. Rather, He codified the moral law in a way that is even more clear - as a guide for NC believers, sure, but more directly to show the Pharisees their hypocrisy in believing they fulfilled the righteousness of God.

PP said, "This also harmonizes with the clear NT abrogation of the Sabbath, which was typological and has been fulfilled."

The Sabbath governs physical rest from labor. Do you think it would be a sin for a slave owner in the old south to work his slaves 7 days per week without rest?

greglong said...

Mikeb said:

Some parts of the OT law (=the Law and the Prophets) have been completed and are done away with in terms of their application, others will not be completed until the "end of the age." Matt. 5:17-18.

Hence my question. Can you tell me which parts "have been completed and are done away with in terms of their application," and which parts "will not be completed until 'the end of the age?'"

Protoprotestant said...


I wouldn't even say the Decalogue is a summary of the moral law. I would say it was a preamble to the Mosaic Covenant. Is there overlap? Sure.

As far as the Sabbath, are you then arguing for the principle of one day in seven?

That's not the command as laid out in the Decalogue. It specifically calls for the seventh day.

I don't like the slaveowner argument. But let's take it in terms of an employer today...yes it would be wrong to work someone seven days straight in most cases. But I would argue it's not from the principle of Sabbath. I would look at it in a different way. Sabbath of course would not apply at all to someone who is not a believer. Sabbath was Covenantal, not applicable to the Edomites or Babylonians.

I didn't say Christ invented a new law. This is the moral law which was in effect before Moses and after its abrogation.

Good questions. There are some good discussions happening here.

John A.

mikeb said...

greg, you seriously want me to list every commandment in the OT and tell you which category if fits in?

No thanks. I suggest you dive into the Word and do it for yourself if you think it's necessary to list each one.

greglong said...

How about you just give me some examples?

Anonymous said...

Andrew, all of the commands in the OC were moral by nature.

Greg, you have entered into a futile exercise. What you are asking cannot be done. No one has the right to change ANY of ANY part of the OC unless it has all been fulfilled. Since Jesus did in fact (and the apostles) change it, then the law was brought to its completion. Our current mandates are all those laws specified in the NT.

greglong said...

James, I completely agree with you.

Andrew Suttles said...

PP said, "I wouldn't even say the Decalogue is a summary of the moral law. I would say it was a preamble to the Mosaic Covenant."

I agree it was the preamble, but it was more than that in that it was the law placed under the mercy seat on which the blood was sprinkled. Jesus used it as a summary of righteous in Luke 18.

pp said, "As far as the Sabbath, are you then arguing for the principle of one day in seven? That's not the command as laid out in the Decalogue. It specifically calls for the seventh day."


pp said, "Sabbath was Covenantal, not applicable to the Edomites or Babylonians."

But wouldn't you agree with me that the Sabbath was given at Creation, not invented at Mt Sinai. See Ex 16, for example.

pp said, "I didn't say Christ invented a new law. This is the moral law which was in effect before Moses and after its abrogation."

Can you elaborate on this. I think you are saying something really good here, but I want to understand it clearly.

pp said, "There are some good discussions happening here."

I agree. I really appreciate the charitable attitude from all the brothers here.

Andrew Suttles said...

James -

I'm not sure what you mean by saying all the commands in the OC were moral. All law is not inherently moral. There are laws in America today that are not moral and Israel had laws, concerning which, I can find no more impetus - mixing material types or eating pork, for instance.

Protoprotestant said...


Thanks for your response.

I will grant the Decalogue is certainly moral, but I emphasize it's Covenantal form nature, hence my preamble language. I'll even go with preamble-summary....but not of 'The' moral law, rather the Mosaic Covenant. As to the standard of righteousness in Luke 18, yes, it laid out in summary the moral requirements for the Covenant context. Like I said, there's considerable overlap...the Decalogue reveals something of the character of God and thus the eternal moral law, but I would argue the Covenantal nature of the document placed in redemptive history demonstrates its non-normative nature for today.

We could also talk about the typological Covenant of Works, an additional layer of the Mosaic law, but not everyone is going to accept that category......

The Sabbath was certainly pre-mosaic. You are right to quote Ex. 16. Yet again there are multi-layered developments. On the one hand we have circumcision with Abraham, then re-iterated and included with Moses, and yet the NT treats them as separate covenants....and yet not inseparable. I would argue it is the same with Sabbath. The NT identifies is a typological and fulfilled in Christ. On the one hand it was around before Moses...so we can talk about Moses and Abraham in different categories, but in another sense we can lump them all together as the Old Testament. Sometimes it's OT vs. NT.

Sometimes it's Abraham contrasted with Moses.

Sometimes it's continuity between Abraham, Moses, and the NT.

Sometimes it's Abraham/NT vs. Moses.

I don't want to anchor on just one of those points and then build everything on top of the assumption. There's interplay and development.

I totally understand wanting to keep Sabbath. I used to be the Isaiah 58 variety, which to me was the only way if you were going to do it. But I couldn't reconcile it with the NT and I was forced to re-examine the whole issue.

There's an Eternal Law of God never given to us in codified form per se. He reveals it to us in Covenantal context. Adam as the NT argues had some kind of law in the garden. I don't accept he had the Decalogue. He may have had something like the Decalogue, but not that form. It's also problematic because I believe Eden to be a works-arrangement which is precisely the point of the task of the 2nd Adam. Unless some want to argue the Decalgoue is also part of a works arrangement, it seems problematic. I realize of course some reject the whole works construction in Eden, but then I think we run into problems with the typology of the 2nd Adam.

That said, I would argue the Decalogue is part of a multi-layered covenant, one aspect of it indeed being a typological works arrangement.

When we come to the NT, we have the Law of Christ referenced which seems to be the Love commadments. On one level this is quite in opposition to the form of the Decalogue/Mosaic code....on another level it's quite in harmony. On the one hand Moses taught Love God and love neighbour, on the other it did not tell us to love our enemy in the way the NT does.....continuity and contrast...all pointing to something else.

All these laws point to the eternal law of God....or as the NT calls it, the law of Christ.

Sorry, that was quick, but I wanted to respond. We can press further if you like.......

Thanks for the interaction. It's helpful.

John A.

Protoprotestant said...


With regard to the Sabbath, I would also add or argue the point you made in the last post to James. Is Sabbath, the keeping of one day in seven something that's intrinsically moral, something in the fabric of the universe that reveals the character of God?

In others words is it commanded because it is good?

Or is it good, because it is commanded.

So like dietary laws and the burning of incense...these things were good because they were commanded and thus the command can be rescinded when the purpose has been served.

I don't see Sabbath as being the same as not killing or lying, idolatry etc...Those things are definitely commanded because they are good.

Sabbath like all typological commands serves a temporary purpose, moral while God commands it, but then once the typology has been fulfilled, it is no longer binding or in terms of Redemptive History can actually be a bad thing...that is to turn back to it.

Just a thought,

John A.

Andrew Suttles said...

PP -

Thanks for taking the time to post a well thought-out response.

I agree that the Ten Commandments, in the form they are given, are Covenantal. I see them as having two roles in that covenant: 1) as a covenant of works for the nation of Israel (not for individuals as in the Garden of Eden), and 2) a redemptive purpose in convicting men of sin.

I understand what you mean about the covenant nature of the decalogue making it non-normative for today, but I'm just not positive that there are not uses of 'law' in the NT that refer to the decalogue as convicting men of sin - I John 3:4 or Rom 3:19.

When you say the eternal law of God is the same as the law of Christ - that rings true to me. You sound very similar to what I've read in Marrow of Modern Divinity. Have you read that? Is there anything you've read that you find helpful on this issue?

As regarding the Sabbath, I don't know what to tell you. I can't disagree with you, I must admit. I was raised a Scofieldian, so I've never recognized any day any different than any other (in practice). My problem is that if I see the Decalogue as moral, and if the ten words stand together, there must be an eternal moral element to the 4th commandment as well. I'm grasping at sraws, I admit, to appeal to the morality of rest, but its all I have. I readily admit the abrogation of the ceremonial aspect of the day. I only meant to point out that the Sabbath was not a day for worship, but a day for rest. I think Calvin was helpful on this when I last read him, I need to consult him again.

Thanks for your interaction. I look forward to checking out your blog.

Protoprotestant said...


Excellent. I wasn't sure if I'd push too far in bringing in the works principle for Israel as a nation. In Reformed circles today, it would seem that only the Klineans argue that position...and then get charged with being dispensationalists. But as you apparently know from the Marrow....it's the Covenant Theology of the Puritan era. Today's monocovenantalism reflects 19th century Hodge and Dabney more than the olde fellows.

That said, of course in the end, what does the Bible say? I don't want to be a slave to a tradition or system.

Speaking of systems, I too was raised with CI Scofield and a large dose of Hal Lindsey. That's all I knew growing up.

Later, when I became a Christian, I did go full bore "Reformed and Proud!" including the Sabbath and all that.

I still appreciate much of the Reformed way, but....it has its problems and dark sides as well.

The Point-Counterpoint series...Five Views on the Law is one of the handiest little books I have on my shelf. Very profitable book I recommed to everyone. You get each of the positions laid out and each side interacts.

I agree pretty strongly with the position laid out by Douglas Moo. He calls it the modified Lutheran view, but it's really a great argument for the Redemptive-Historical view of the law. He uses the Law-Gospel categories but rejects the traditional Lutheran way of interpreting them. He instead argues in the NT most of the time they represent phases in Redemptive-History.

If you view the Sabbath as eternally moral...then absolutely, you're conscience bound to keep it.

That's an interesting point that I've heard a few others make....the idea of 'rest' being an eternal category and then viewing the 'worship' aspect as being typological...

Of course that doesn't mean we don't have to worship. It just means we're not bound to the seventh day.

Have you read anyone else who argues that? I would be most interested.

Great exchange. Very encouraging and not a little challenging as well.


John A.

PreacherBill said...


PreacherBill said...

I wasn't 'bleh'ing one in particular.

just bleh.

Andrew Suttles said...

Woa there, Preacher Bill. Don't get all riled up and fall out of yer rockin' chair.

Andrew Suttles said...

PP (Brother John)

You've challenged me as well.

Regarding the covenant of works for national Israel, I've come to that conclusion from reading Deuteronomy and noting phrases like "in the land". I noted a pattern where blessing/curse were closely tied to national blessing/curse much more so than individual. I've not read Kline - perhaps I need to. I've read AW Pink and he makes this argument (I think). Pink quotes Fairbairn, if I remember right.

Regarding the count/counterpoint book, I saw it recently at my local used bookstore - I passed it up and now its gone. I'll look for it again.

Regarding the Sabbath, I cannot refute you. When I read it, it speaks to rest - God resting from creation, Christ rested after purchasing our redemption, we rest in the completed work of Christ. As I said, I'm grasping at straws to keep the whole 10 laws together as one unit morally. My position is not very strong or mature - I need to think on it some more.

Thank you too for the interaction and I've enjoyed looking over your blog, as well.

Paul said...

Wow. This post and comments following (especially Phil's) is a huuuge encouragement to me. There is still sanity upon the earth.