Basics of Theonomy Defined

Basics of Theonomy Defined

Very often when people first come across the word “theonomy” the boogeyman pops into their minds. Thoughts of “we are not under law but under grace” abound, as if Jesus contradicts Paul when He said “If you love me, keep my commandments” and in the great commission, “go ye therefore and teach all nations…teaching them to observe ALL things whatsoever I have commanded you…”. Grace does not make the moral law void. Paul said in Romans “Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.”

Why is it that there is such a fear of “theonomy” which when broken down means theos (God’s) nomos (law)? Because there has been much gross misrepresentation from those who detest the thought of the theonomic boogeyman breaking into their autonomous lives. Did not Paul also tell us in II Corinthians to bring every thought captive to the obedience of Christ?

Greg Bahnsen rightly said in No Other Standard, “The job of responding to the critics of theonomic ethics would be much easier if one did not need, first, to hack through a jungle of rhetorical overgrowth.” So this is my task today, to cut through the jungle of rhetorical overgrowth. Not by addressing each and every misrepresentation but by laying down a basic summary of what a confessional approach to theonomy is. You will see how God’s moral law builds upon itself pointing to the two greatest commandments to “Love God” and “Love your neighbor” on which all of the law and the prophets hang.

1. All of God’s law-word is binding unless explicitly or implicitly abrogated, rescinded, modified or changed by God in the Scriptures. The moral character of God is expressed in the moral law of God. God is immutable therefore His moral character is immutable.

2. The two greatest commandments “love God” and “love man” summarize the Decalogue. Love God = the first four commandments Love man = the last six commandments (WSC Q. 42. What is the sum of the Ten Commandments? A. The sum of the Ten Commandments is, to love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our strength, and with all our mind; and our neighbor as ourselves.)

3. The Decalogue (10 commandments) is a summary of the moral law. (WSC Q. 41. Wherein is the moral law summarily comprehended? A. The moral law is summarily comprehended in the Ten Commandments.)

4. The Decalogue is further defined in, and applied by, using the “general equity” of the case laws (civil laws). You would not know that bestiality or marriage to your mother was a violation of God’s law by the Decalogue alone. These moral laws give further definition to the 10 commandments in their principle use. (WCF 19.4. To them also, as a body politic, he gave sundry judicial laws, which expired together with the State of that people; not obliging any other now, further than the general equity thereof may require. (Exod 21:1-23:19; Gen 49:10; 1 Pet 2:13-14; 1 Cor 9:8-10)

5. The ceremonial law (restorative law) was the “gospel in figures” that pointed to the coming Messiah and His substitutionary work as the final sacrifice, once and for all His elect. These laws are no longer observed in its types and shadows but are now observed in Christ.

6. God’s law-word is to be the standard by which we govern and live in every area of life.

Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:17-19 KJV


But we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully; Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, For whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine According to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which was committed to my trust. I Timothy 1:8-11 KJV


Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen. Matthew 28:19,20 KJV

I pray that after reading this you would have a good grasp on what theonomy is and that even if you disagree, that you would help eradicate the boogeyman that so often pops up.

Grace and peace in Christ our King!

Jason Sanchez
Jason is a sinner saved by grace, an ambassador of Christ, husband to Misty and a father of seven children seeking to glorify God by bringing every thought captive to the obedience of Christ in every area of life.
  • csabygod

    With many, I think it is both fear and hatred. What’s perplexing and sad, is when God’s people express these same sentiments. The only issue I take, and not much of one at that, is the division of the tables. Which we me have discussed once. The 5th Commandment is, at the very least, a bridge between the two, since all legitimate human authority is delegated by God. So that obedience to parental, ecclesiastical and civil authority is to reflect our submission to God’s sovereign rule over and through human authority.

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