A term generally used to denote the opposition of certain Christian sects to the Law; that is, to the revelation of the Old Testa ment. The apostles were compelled, in response to the urging of Paul and his friends, to accept the doctrine of the non-binding character of the Law for heathen Christians (Acts, xv. 8), but Paul set up in addition a theory concerning the Law which not alone posits its complete abrogation in the period after Jesus, but also diametrically opposes the fundamental principles of Jewish (and Judaeæo-Christian) thought concerning it. The latter taught that the Law was the only means by which man could be justified before God, as may be seen by the early utterance: "God desired to justify Israel, and therefore He gave him many laws and commandments" (Mak. Mishnah); Paul declared that "by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight" (Rom. iii. 20, Gal. ii. 16). The Law, according to Paul, was calculated to multiply sin through the added opportunities for transgression which were afforded by its numerous precepts (Gal. iii. 19, Rom. v. 20). By reason of the Law, transgressions against it become positive disobedience to the divine will, and are felt as such; thus leading to the recognition of the true nature of sin (Rom. iii. 20, iv. 15, vii. 7). Being transgressions of divine commandments, transgression heaps up guilt upon guilt for man, who thus becomes subject to the rejection and the wrath of God, and to the "curse of the law" (Rom. iii. 19). Consequently this experience of the, Law leads man to despair of the possibility of attaining to righteousness by his own acts, and thus the full destructive power of sin stands revealed to him. Then the cry of agony goes up from him, calling aloud for salvation from the state of death into which sin has plunged him. In this sense the Law may be said to be the negative preparation for the New Testament dispensation of grace through Jesus. From the pedagogic character of the Law, Paul further deduces its transitory purpose; for with the appearance of Jesus, with whom the era of grace begins, it ceased, and must cease, because grace and Law are irreconcilable opposites.Paulinism and Pharisaism.
If it be asked how came it that Paul, the former Jew, the strict Pharisee, arrived at a conception of the Law so offensive to the Jewish standpoint, the reply must be made that he learned the art of destroying the Law by the Law, or, as the author of the Clementine writings has it, "ex lege discere quod nesciebat lex" ("Recognitiones," ii. 54), from his Pharisaic masters. It was altogether a practical motive which seems to have inspired Paul to attack the universal conception of justification through the Law, for he had been convinced, by his own strenuous endeavors, of the impossibility of complete obedience to it. Paul's conviction was prevalent in those days in many Pharisaic circles ("Monatsschrift," 1899, pp. 153, 154). His utterances with reference to the abrogation of the Law after Jesus had also some precedent, for there is no doubt that the assertions made by many rabbis concerning the abrogation of the sacrifices,
Pauline Antinomianism became the property of the Church only in a much restricted sense; namely, in its practical aspect, the non-binding nature of the Law. The reason for this is easily discerned. The Church had a very clear way out between Jewish nomianism and Paul's violent Antinomianism, by simply regarding the Jewish law as an imperfect, preparatory grade of revelation, which was to be fulfilled and completed in the higher Christian morality. Equally evident is the reason why Paul could not select this way. "He was too much of a Pharisee to distinguish critically between what was temporary and what was permanent, between the form and the contents of the Law; the Law was to him an inseparable whole of divine origin, which was either the sole and entire means to salvation or else the means, not to salvation, but to damnation (Pfleiderer, "Urchristenthum," 207). Paul was indeed too much of a Jew to draw the fullest consequences of his antinomistic doctrine, so that only through the artificial separation between Law and the promise to the forefathers, especially to Abraham, could he maintain a historical connection between Judaism and Christianity. The Gnostics developed Antinomianism more consistently. Regardless of their differences of opinion in other respects, they are all strictly antinomistic, and the opposition with them is no longer between Law and Gospel, but between the God of the Old Testament and that of the New Testament. They do not, like Paul, approach the topic historically, but from the side of their doctrine of dualism which originated in Platonism, or, properly speaking, in Parseeism. Hence the Gnostic view of the difference between the Supreme God and the World-Creator leads to the contrast of Redemption and Creation, as finding exposition in the New and Old Testaments respectively.Gnostic Elaborations.
Paul's Antinomianism seems to have exercised most influence upon the Gnostic Marcion (who taught in Rome about 150), whose dualism, unlike that of other Gnostics, is not the cause, but the result, of his pronounced Antinomianism (Harnack, "Dogmengeschichte," iii. 256). Marcion proceeds from the strong Pauline antitheses: Law and Gospel, wrath and grace, works and faith, flesh and spirit, sin and righteousness, death and life; and as these opposites seem irreconcilable, he arrives at the dualistic doctrine of the just and angry God of the Old Testament, and of the God of the Gospels who is only love and mercy. Besides Marcion, his contemporary Tatian (came to Rome about 172) must be mentioned (compare Hilgenfeld, "Ketzergeschichte," p. 384). His dualism of the demiurge of the Old Testament and of the Supreme God of the New Testament is likewise an offshoot of Pauline Antinomianism. He differs from Marcion only in that he does not conceive the relation between the demiurge and God as a hostile one (Kurtz, "Lehrbuch der Kirchengeschichte," i. 79).
The influence exerted by Antinomianism on the conduct of life proved to be of a twofold nature; while Marcion and Tatian were led by it to extreme asceticism, with the Gnostics it resulted in libertine practises which contributed not a little to their ultimate downfall. Especially notorious in this regard were the Nikolaitans, the Simonians, the Carpocratians, and the Prodicians, to which must be added the Pseudo-Basilidians.
Joel ("Blicke in die Religionsgeschichte," i. 28, Breslau, 1880) says: "We claim that the antinomistic (and antinational) movement in Christianity originated among the Hellenistic Jews already in the days of Philo, and that its representatives were thus uninfluenced by Christianity." The interesting passage in Philo ("De Migratione Abrahami," xvi. 450), showing plainly that the allegorical system of interpretation had long before led to Antinomianism, reads as follows: "For there are those who, while taking the letter of the laws as a symbol of spiritual things, lay all the stress upon the latter, but neglect the former. I am inclined to blame them for their levity, inasmuch as they ought to pay regard to both the accurate investigation of the things hidden and the faithful observance of those laws which are manifestly stated. These men, however, conduct themselves as if they lived alone in a desert, or as if they were souls without connection with the body, as if they had no knowledge of the existence of a city, village, or house, or of any intercourse of men; they disregard everything that is pleasing to the majority, aiming only at the plain, naked truth by itself. Yet Holy Scripture warns such men not to despise a good reputation, nor to disregard any of the customs which holy men, of greater wisdom than any of our time, have established. For we are far from thinking that because the Sabbath is inwardly a lesson to teach us the power of the Uncreated and the inactivity of the things created, we should therefore have the laws of the Sabbath abrogated and so light a fire, till the land, carry burdens, or bring suits before the court and give judgment, or demand the restoration of deposits, or exact the payment ofdebts, or do other things permitted only on other days not sacred. Nor should we, because the festivals are the symbolic expression of spiritual joy and of the thanksgiving we owe to God, abolish the annual festival convocations. Nor does it follow because the rite of circumcision is an emblem of the excision of pleasures and passions, and of the refutation of that impious opinion according to which the mind considers itself able to produce by its own power, that we are to annul the law which has been given regarding circumcision. . . . We take heed of the laws given in plain words in order to more clearly understand those things of which the laws are the symbols, and thus we shall escape blame and accusation from men in general." M. Friedlaender goes further still and considers the Minim to have been Jewish Gnostics of antinomistic views. See his "Der Vorchristliche Jüdische Gnosticismus," pp. 67-123. His opinion is not shared by Bacher ("R. E. J." 1899, pp. 38 et seq.). It would seem, however, that the life and teaching of Elisha ben Abuyah place him in the same category with the Hellenistic antinomians to whom Paul and Apollos belonged.