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Theonomy (from Greek theos "God" and nomos "law") is a hypothetical Christian form of government in which society is ruled by divine law.[1] Theonomists hold that divine law, particularly the judicial laws of the Old Testament, should be observed by modern societies.[2]

The precise definition of theonomy is the presumption that the Old Covenant judicial laws given to Israel have not been abrogated, and therefore all civil governments are morally obligated to enforce them (including the specific penalties). Theonomy holds that all civil governments must refrain from coercion if Scripture has not prescribed their intervention (the "regulative principle of the state").[3][4][5]

Theonomy is distinct from the "theonomous ethics" proposed by Paul Tillich.[6]


Thomas Aquinas held, "if a sovereign were to order these judicial precepts to be observed in his kingdom, he would not sin."[7] Some have mistakenly referred to that as "General Equity Theonomy"[8] but it is in fact distinct from theonomy insofar as Aquinas believed the specifics of the Old Testament judicial laws were no longer binding. He instead taught that the judicial precepts contained varying degrees of universal principles of justice that reflected natural law.[9]

In Christian reconstructionism, theonomy is the idea that God provides the basis of both personal and social ethics in the Bible. 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[10]

Some critics [who?] 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.


Various theonomic authors have stated such goals as "the universal development of Biblical theocratic republics,"[11]: 223–335  exclusion of non-Christians from voting and citizenship,[12]: 87  and the application of Biblical law by the state.[13]: 346–47  Under such a system of biblical law, homosexual acts,[14]: 212  adultery, witchcraft, and blasphemy[15]: 118  would be punishable by death. Propagation of idolatry or "false religions" would be illegal[16] and could also be punished by the death penalty.[17][18]

More recent theonomic writers such as Joel McDurmon, former President of American Vision, have moved away from this position, stating that these death penalties are no longer binding in the new covenant.[19] Former pastor and theonomy critic, JD Hall, who debated McDurmon in 2015,[20] has argued that abandoning Mosaic penologies such as the death penalty means that McDurmon and others who hold similar positions cannot be said to hold to theonomy in any meaningful way.[21]

According to the theonomist Greg Bahnsen, the laws of God are the standard which Christian voters and officials ought to pursue. The civil law given to the nation of Israel, it is stated, is continuously binding, although apart from what he considers to be surrounding cultural connotations specific to this nation itself.[13]

Relation to Reformed theology[edit]

Some in modern Reformed churches are critical of any relationship between the historical Reformed faith and theonomy,[22] but other Calvinists affirm that theonomy is consistent with the historic Reformed confessions.[23]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Jones, David W. (1 November 2013). An Introduction to Biblical Ethics. B&H Publishing Group. p. 209. ISBN 9781433680779.
  2. ^ English, Adam C. (2003). "Christian Reconstruction after Y2K". New Religious Movements and Religious Liberty in America. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press. pp. 113–114. Theonomy – A system of government characterized by being governed by divine law.
  3. ^ Bahnsen, Greg (April 1994). "What Is "Theonomy"? PE180 New Horizons". Archived from the original on 2020-11-12.
  4. ^ Bahnsen, Greg L. (1991). No other standard : theonomy and its critics (PDF). Tyler, Tex.: Institute for Christian Economics. pp. 19–29. ISBN 0-930464-56-7. OCLC 23690584.
  5. ^ Schwertley, Brian. "A Critique of a Critique of Theonomy: An Analysis of Matthew Winzer's Misrepresentations of Theonomy and the Confession of Faith" (PDF). p. 2.
  6. ^ Neuhaus, Richard John (May 1990). "Why Wait for the Kingdom? The Theonomist Temptation". First Things. Retrieved 8 August 2013.
  7. ^ Summa Theologica, I-II, q. 104, a. 3
  8. ^ Clausen, Mark A., Professor of History, Cedarville University "Theonomy in the Middle Ages". Paper presented at the 2005 annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, Marriott Wardman Park, Omni Shoreham, Washington Hilton, Washington, DC.
  9. ^ "The General Equity of the Judicial Law". Reformed Books Online. 2016-07-16. Retrieved 2021-04-09.
  10. ^ Bahnsen, Greg. "The Theonomic Antithesis to Other Law-Attitudes". Covenant Media Foundation. Retrieved 2008-11-27.
  11. ^ Chilton, David (1984). Paradise Restored: A Biblical Theology of Dominion. Dominion Press. ISBN 0-930462-52-1. Retrieved March 26, 2021.
  12. ^ North, Gary (1989). Political Polytheism. Institute for Christian Economics. ISBN 0-930464-32-X. Retrieved March 26, 2021.
  13. ^ a b Bahnsen, Greg (1985). By This Standard: The Authority Of God's Law Today. Institute for Christian Economics. ISBN 0-930464-06-0. Retrieved March 26, 2021.
  14. ^ DeMar, Gary (1987). Ruler of the Nations. Dominion Press. ISBN 978-0-93046219-2. Retrieved March 26, 2021.
  15. ^ North, Gary (1988). Unconditional Surrender: God's Program for Victory. Institute for Christian Economics. ISBN 0-930464-12-5.
  16. ^ "An Interview with Greg L. Bahnsen". Archived from the original on 2020-05-14. Retrieved 2007-12-12.
  17. ^ Rushdoony, R.J., 1973, The Institutes of Biblical Law, Nutley, NJ: Craig Press, pp. 38–39.
  18. ^ Schwertley, Brian M., "Political Polytheism" Archived 2013-05-15 at the Wayback Machine
  19. ^ Joel McDurmon, The Bounds of Love (2016).
  20. ^ The Theonomy Debate | Joel McDurmon vs. Jordan Hall
  21. ^ Hall, J.D., "On Joel McDurmon’s Abandonment of Theonomy"
  22. ^ 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.
  23. ^ 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[edit]

Primary sources by theonomists
Secondary sources and criticisms

External links[edit]