Antinomianism and the Problem of Matthew 5:17-19

Theology is a lot like everything else in at least one regard: there really is nothing new under the sun. There are no new heresies, there just old ones that have been repackaged and sold to the historically ignorant majority of professing Christians. The latest repackaged heresy that seems to be growing in popularity is antinomianism. It seems that Watchman Nee has been traded out for Joseph Prince, but the underlying doctrine is still the same.

Perhaps the biggest problem with antinomianism is that it is so hard to define! This reality confronted William Young when he attempted to define antinomianism for The Encyclopedia of Christianity, because, as he wrote:

“…there may be a discrepancy between the avowed profession of a writer and the implications of the fundamental principles of his teaching. A person can develop a system that makes the law null and void and yet deny that he is doing so.”

Frankly, Young was right that, “Antinomianism . . . may prove to be more a matter of tendency and motive than a fixed dogmatic position.” There are certain commonalities, however, in the writing and thought of those who have this “antinomian tendency”; the tend to write things like:

  1. The law is made void by grace. Justification by faith alone renders good works unnecessary.
  2. Repentance isn’t produced by the law, but only by the gospel.
  3. Obedience to the law isn’t required of justified persons, since good works are unnecessary.
  4. Repentance is completely unnecessary for Christians.

I could continue such a list indefinitely, given the source I have to draw from, but I’d like to point out the fatal flaw in such antinomian thinking: they can’t consistently handle Matthew 5:17-19.

Here’s the text:

Μὴ νομίσητε ὅτι ἦλθον καταλῦσαι τὸν νόμον ἢ τοὺς προφήτας· οὐκ ἦλθον καταλῦσαι ἀλλὰ πληρῶσαι.  ἀμὴν γὰρ λέγω ὑμῖν· ἕως ἂν παρέλθῃ ὁ οὐρανὸς καὶ ἡ γῆ, ἰῶτα ἓν ἢ μία κεραία οὐ μὴ παρέλθῃ ἀπὸ τοῦ νόμου, ἕως ἂν πάντα γένηται. ὃς ἐὰν οὖν λύσῃ μίαν τῶν ἐντολῶν τούτων τῶν ἐλαχίστων καὶ διδάξῃ οὕτως τοὺς ἀνθρώπους, ἐλάχιστος κληθήσεται ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ τῶν οὐρανῶν· ὃς δ᾿ ἂν ποιήσῃ καὶ διδάξῃ, οὗτος μέγας κληθήσεται ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ τῶν οὐρανῶν.

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have not come to abolish these things but to confirm/establish them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth pass away not the smallest letter or stroke of a letter will pass from the law until everything takes place. So anyone who breaks one of the least of these commands and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever obeys them and teaches others to do so will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”

Do you see how this passage sounds the death knell for antinomianism? If not, check back in tomorrow for a positive exegesis of the passage!

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"I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naïve." (Romans 16:17-18) Please read "The Comments Policy."

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