Antinomianism (from

In Christianity, an antinomian is one who takes the principle of salvation by faith and divine grace to the point of asserting that the saved are not bound to follow the Law of Moses.

The distinction between antinomian and other Christian views on moral law is that antinomians believe that obedience to the law is motivated by an internal principle flowing from belief rather than from any external compulsion.

The term antinomianism emerged soon after the Protestant Reformation (c.1517) and has historically been used as a pejorative against Christian thinkers or sects who carried their belief in justification by faith further than was customary. Antinomianism in modern times is commonly seen as the theological opposite to Legalism or Works righteousness, the notion that obedience to religious law earns salvation. This makes antinomianism an exaggeration ofjustification by faith alone.

Examples are Martin Luther’s critique of antinomianism and the Antinomian Controversy of the 17th century Massachusetts Bay Colony. The term originated in the 16th century, but the topic has its roots in Christian views on the old covenant extending back to the 1st century. It can also be extended to any individual who rejects a socially established morality. Few groups explicitly call themselves antinomian, other than Christian anarchists.


The term antinomianism is derived from the Greek ἀντί (anti “against”) + νόμος (nomos “law”).


Antinomianism has been a point of doctrinal contention in the history of Christianity, especially in Protestantism, given the Protestant belief in justification through faith alone versus justification on the basis of merit or good works or works of mercy. Most Protestants consider themselves saved without having to keep the commandments of the Mosaic Law as a whole; that is, their salvation does not depend upon keeping the Mosaic Law. However, salvific faith is generally seen as one that produces obedience, consistent with the Reformed formula, “We are justified by faith alone but not by a faith that is alone,” in contrast to rejecting moral constraint.

The term “antinomianism” was coined by Martin Luther during the Reformation to criticize extreme interpretations of the new Lutheran soteriology. In the 18th century, antinomianism was also severely attacked by John Wesley.

A general consensus has been historically reached as to which laws of the Old Testament Christians are still enjoined to keep. These moral laws, as opposed to civil or ceremonial laws, are derivative of what St. Paul refers to as the natural law (Rom. 2.14-15). Mosaic law has authority only insofar as it reflects the commands of Christ and the natural law. Christian sects and theologians who believe that they are freed from more moral constraint than is customary are often called “antinomian” by their critics. Thus, classic Methodist commentator Adam Clarke held, “The Gospel proclaims liberty from the ceremonial law, but binds you still faster under the moral law. To be freed from the ceremonial law is the Gospel liberty; to pretend freedom from the moral law is Antinomianism.” Contemporary Evangelical theologian J. I. Packer states that Antinomianism, “which means being anti-law, is a name for several views.”


The term antinomian came into use in the sixteenth century, but the doctrine itself can be traced in the teaching of earlier beliefs. Early Gnostic sects were accused of failure to follow the Mosaic Law in a manner that suggests the modern term “antinomian”. Most Gnostic sects did not accept the Old Testament moral law. For example, the Manichaeans held that their spiritual being was unaffected by the action of matter and regarded carnal sins as being, at worst, forms of bodily disease.

The Old Testament was absolutely rejected by most of the Gnostics. Even the so-called Judaeo-Christian Gnostics (Cerinthus), the Ebionites (Essenian) sect of the Pseudo-Clementine writings (the Elcesaites), take up an inconsistent attitude towards Jewish antiquity and the Old Testament. In this respect the opposition to Gnosticism led to a reactionary movement. If the growing Christian Church, in quite a different fashion from Paul, laid stress on the literal authority of the Old Testament, interpreted, it is true, allegorically; if it took up a much more friendly and definite attitude towards the Old Testament, and gave wider scope to the legal conception of religion, this must be in part ascribed to the involuntary reaction upon it of Gnosticism.

Marcion of Sinope was the founder of Marcionism which rejected the Hebrew Bible in its entirety. Marcion considered the God portrayed in the Bible to be a lesser deity, a demiurge, and he claimed that the law of Moses was contrived. Such deviations from the moral law were criticized by proto-orthodox rivals of the Gnostics, who ascribed various aberrant and licentious acts to them. A biblical example of such criticism can be found in Revelation 2:6–15, which criticizes the Nicolaitans, possibly an early Gnostic sect.

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