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Theonomy, from 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, including the judicial laws of the Old Testament, should be observed by modern societies.[2] Note that theonomy is distinct from the "theonomous ethics" proposed by Paul Tillich.[3]


Thomas Aquinas held that "if a sovereign were to order these judicial precepts to be observed in his kingdom, he would not sin."[4] Although Aquinas believed the specifics of the Old Testament judicial laws were no longer binding, he taught that the judicial precepts contained universal principles of justice that reflected natural law, a view on government known as "General Equity Theonomy".[5]

In the later terminology of 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[6]

Some 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.


Various theonomic authors have stated such goals as "the universal development of Biblical theocratic republics,"[7] exclusion of non-Christians from voting and citizenship,[8] and the application of Biblical law by the state.[9] Under such a system of biblical law, homosexual acts,[10] adultery, witchcraft, and blasphemy[11] would be punishable by death. Propagation of idolatry or "false religions" would be illegal[12] and could also be punished by the death penalty.[13][14] 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.[15] Polemicist and theonomy critic, JD Hall, who debated McDurmon in 2015,[16] 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.[17]

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."[18]

Relation to Reformed theology[edit]

Some in the modern Reformed churches are critical of any relationship between the historical Reformed faith and theonomy,[19] while other Calvinists affirm that theonomy is consistent with historic Reformed confessions.[20]

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. ^ Neuhaus, Richard John (May 1990). "Why Wait for the Kingdom? The Theonomist Temptation". First Things. Retrieved 8 August 2013.
  4. ^ Summa Theologica, I-II, q. 104, a. 3
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ Bahnsen, Greg. "The Theonomic Antithesis to Other Law-Attitudes". Covenant Media Foundation. Retrieved 2008-11-27.
  7. ^ Chilton, David, Paradise Restored: A Biblical Theology of Dominion, Appendix A Archived 2012-07-08 at
  8. ^ North, Gary, Political Polytheism, p. 87
  9. ^ Bahnsen, Greg, By This Standard: The Authority Of God's Law Today, pp. 346-347
  10. ^ DeMar, Gary, Ruler of the Nations, p. 212
  11. ^ North, Gary, Unconditional Surrender: God's Program for Victory, p. 118
  12. ^ An Interview with Greg L. Bahnsen
  13. ^ Rushdoony, R.J., The Institutes of Biblical Law, (Nutley, NJ: Craig Press, 1973), pp. 38–39.
  14. ^ Schwertley, Brian M., "Political Polytheism"
  15. ^ Joel McDurmon, The Bounds of Love (2016).
  16. ^ The Theonomy Debate | Joel McDurmon vs. Jordan Hall
  17. ^ Hall, J.D., "On Joel McDurmon’s Abandonment of Theonomy"
  18. ^ Bahnsen, Greg L. By This Standard: The Authority of God's Law Today, p. 10. Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1985
  19. ^ 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.
  20. ^ 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
  • Bahnsen, Greg (2002) [1977]. Theonomy in Christian Ethics (3rd ed.). Nacogdoches, TX: Covenant Media Press. ISBN 978-0-87552-111-4.
  • ——— (1985). By This Standard: The Authority of God's Law Today. Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics. ISBN 978-0-930464-06-6.
  • ——— (1991). No Other Standard: Theonomy and Its Critics. Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics.
  • ———; Gentry, Kenneth (1989). House Divided: The Breakup of Dispensational Theology. Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics.
  • ——— (1994). "What is 'Theonomy'". New Horizons (April, 1994).
  • Einwechter, William (1995). Ethics and God's Law: An Introduction to Theonomy. Mill Hall, PA: Preston/Speed Publications.
  • ——— (2010). Walking in the Law of the Lord: An Introduction to the Biblical Ethics of Theonomy. Stevens, PA: Darash Press.
  • Clauson, Marc A. (2006). A History of the Idea of "God’s Law" (Theonomy): Its Origins, Development and Place in Political and Legal Thought. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press.
  • Gentry, Kenneth (1993). God's Law in the Modern World. Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed.
  • ——— (2006). Covenantal Theonomy: A Response to T. David Gordon and Klinean Covenantalism. Nacogdoches, TX: Covenant Media Foundation.
  • Jordan, James B (1984). The Law of the Covenant: An Exposition of Exodus 21–23. Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics.
  • North, Gary (1990). Tools of Dominion: The Case Laws of Exodus 21–23. Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics.
  • North, Gary, ed. (1991). Theonomy: An Informed Response. Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics.
  • Rushdoony, R.J. (1973). Institutes of Biblical Law. Nutley, NJ: Craig Press.
  • ——— (1978). The Politics of Guilt and Pity. Fairfax, VA: Thoburn Press.
  • Ritchie, Daniel F.N. (2008). A Conquered Kingdom: Biblical Civil Government. Saintfield, Northern Ireland: Reformed Worldview Books.
  • Halbrook, Stephen C. (2014). God is Just: A Defense of the Old Testament Civil Laws. Theonomy Resources Media. ISBN 978-1-31215874-0.
  • Halbrook, Steve C., "Proof that Modern Theonomy Advocates the Historic Understanding of the Judicial Law" (Theonomy Resources, 2015). Retrieved March 13, 2015.
Secondary sources and criticisms

External links[edit]