This article is about biblical law within Christian Reconstructionism. For the Christian theo-political movement, see Christian Reconstructionism. For the meta-ethical theory, see divine command theory.

Theonomy, from theos (god) and nomos (law), is the idea that Mosaic law should be observed by modern societies.[1] Theonomists reject the traditional Reformed belief that the civil laws of the Mosaic Law are no longer applicable.[2] This idea is not to be confused with the idea of "theonomous ethics" proposed by Paul Tillich.[3]


Various theonomic authors have stated such goals as "the universal development of Biblical theocratic republics",[4] exclusion of non-Christians from voting and citizenship,[5] and the application of Biblical law by the state.[6] Under such a system of Biblical law, homosexual acts,[7] adultery, witchcraft, and blasphemy[8] would be punishable by death. Propagation of idolatry or "false religions" would be illegal[9] and could also be punished by the death penalty.[10][11] More recent theonomic writers such as Joel McDurmon, President of American Vision, have moved away from this position, stating that these death penalties are no longer binding in the new covenant.[12]

According to theonomist Greg Bahnsen, the laws of God are the standard which Christian voters and officials ought to pursue. Civil officials are also not constrained to literally enforce every Biblical law, such as one-time localized imperatives, certain administrative details, typological foreshadows, or those against envy and unbelief. "Rulers should enforce only those laws for which God revealed social sanctions to be imposed"[13]

Origin of modern theonomy

In the terminology of Christian Reconstructionism, theonomy is the idea that, in the Bible, God provides the basis of both personal and social ethics. In that context, the term is always used in antithesis to autonomy, which is the idea that Self provides the basis of ethics . Theonomic ethics asserts that the Bible has been given as the abiding standard for all human government — individual, family, church, and civil; and that Biblical Law must be incorporated into a Christian theory of Biblical ethics.

Theonomic ethics, to put it simply, represents a commitment to the necessity, sufficiency, and unity of Scripture. For an adequate and genuinely Christian ethic, we must have God's word, only God's word, and all of God's word. Nearly every critic of theonomic ethics will be found denying, in some way, one or more of these premises.
The Theonomic Antithesis to Other Law-Attitudes [14]

Critics see theonomy as a significant form of Dominion theology, which they define as a type of theocracy. Theonomy posits that the Biblical Law is applicable to civil law, and theonomists propose Biblical law as the standard by which the laws of nations may be measured, and to which they ought to be conformed.

Relation to Reformed theology

Theonomists reject the position of traditional Reformed theology that the civil and ceremonial laws of the Mosaic Law are no longer binding on Christians, though useful as guidance. Theonomists, on the other hand, argue that only the ceremonial laws are no longer applicable, and that the civil law code remains in effect in exhaustive detail. Further, theonomists argue that the case law found in the Old Testament is to be applied in a non-circumstantial way, rather than as particularly relevant to the circumstances of Israel.[2] Some in the modern Reformed churches are critical of this understanding,[15] while other Calvinists affirm Theonomy.[16]

See also


  1. English, Adam C. (2003). "Christian Reconstruction after Y2K". New Religious Movements and Religious Liberty in America. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press. pp. 113114.
  2. 1 2 Duncan, J. Ligon, III (October 15, 1994). Moses' Law for Modern Government. Annual national meeting of the Social Science History Association. Atlanta, GA. Archived from the original on 30 November 2012. Retrieved 23 August 2013.
  3. Neuhaus, Richard John (May 1990). "Why Wait for the Kingdom? The Theonomist Temptation". First Things. Retrieved 8 August 2013.
  4. Chilton, David, Paradise Restored: A Biblical Theology of Dominion, Appendix A
  5. North, Gary, Political Polytheism, p. 87
  6. Bahnsen, Greg, By This Standard: The Authority Of God's Law Today, pp. 346-347
  7. DeMar, Gary, Ruler of the Nations, p. 212
  8. North, Gary, Unconditional Surrender: God's Program for Victory, p. 118
  9. An Interview with Greg L. Bahnsen
  10. Rushdoony, R.J., The Institutes of Biblical Law, (Nutley, NJ: Craig Press, 1973), pp. 38–39.
  11. Schwertley, Brian M., "Political Polytheism"
  12. Joel McDurmon, The Bounds of Love (2016).
  13. Bahnsen, Greg L. By This Standard: The Authority of God's Law Today, p. 10. Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1985
  14. Bahnsen, Greg. "The Theonomic Antithesis to Other Law-Attitudes". Covenant Media Foundation. Retrieved 2008-11-27.
  15. See, for instance, Theonomy: A Reformed Critique published by the faculty of Westminster Theological Seminary and Westminster Seminary California. Also "The Westminster Confession of Faith: A Theonomic Document?" by Ligon Duncan.
  16. See Theonomic Ethics and the Westminster Confession by Kenneth Gentry, The New Puritanism: A Preliminary Assessment of Christian Reconstruction by Robert Bowman, Jr., Theonomy and the Westminster Confession by Martin Foulner, The Theonomic Precedent in the Theology of John Calvin by Christopher Strevel, and Calvinism and the Judicial Law of Moses by James Jordan, and The Theonomic Thesis in Confessional and Historical Perspective by Greg Bahnsen. Biblical Ethics and the Westminster Standards by Dr. W. Gary Crampton

Further reading

Primary sources by theonomists
Secondary sources and criticisms

External links

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