DON’T TELL ME THAT! Martin Luther’s Antinomian Theses. Translated by Paul Strawn

Martin Luther asserted that the doctrines of the Law and the Gospel were the keys to the Holy Scriptures. He was also convinced that the proper distinction of the two was a mark of the Christian reading of God’s Word. Toward the end of his life, Luther had to deal with a controversy that went to the heart of this distinction, known as the Antinomian controversy. Over several years, his friend and colleague, John Agricola, distorted the proper distinction, particularly in the area of repentance. During the final years of the 1530s, Luther wrote six sets of theses for public disputations addressing the distortions present in Agricola’s position.

Agricola’s antinomianism, an ever-present human attitude, provides a beneficial foil for contemporary discussions of the proper employment of Law and Gospel in the Christian life. Paul Strawn introduces his project by suggesting that “there is a general uprising in the Church nowadays against any preaching, teaching, ministering and music which would involve the Holy Spirit, through the Word of God, convicting hearts of sin . . . ” (9). However, he adds that there is also a true joy that comes when God’s Word is properly used: “It is the joy that can only follow the confession of sin and the conviction, by means of the Holy Spirit working through the Word of God, that sin has been forgiven because of the atonement of Christ on the cross for that sin” (11).

Strawn has prepared a skillful and careful paraphrase of Luther’s theses, which flow in a conversational style. Using the Walch edition of the German translation of the Latin originals, Strawn’s English rendition of these important discussions by Martin Luther give a good “feel” for Luther’s concerns without being a wooden translation. For this fact alone, this work is worthy of purchase and continued study. American readers will appreciate the clarity and applicability of Luther’s ideas for contemporary congregational life.

Critical readers and Luther scholars may be dissatisfied with the lack of historical background, except as an “Afterword.” Since the six theses were presented over a period of several years, it would have been helpful to see the contextual development of Luther’s continuing concern with Agricola’s or his students’ antinomian position, although that was not the point of the project. Some historical background is available in volume 47 of the American Edition, which has a translation of Luther’s “Against the Antinomians” from 1539, a document unmentioned by Strawn. Timothy Wengert’s Law and Gospel: Philip Melanchthon’s Debate with John Agricola of Eisleben over poenitentia (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1997) is also very helpful in providing a broader historical setting for these theses. Basic background to the controversy is available in volume 4 of James Mackinnon’s Luther and the Reformation (New York: Russell & Russell, 1962, pages 161–179).

Helpful thematic sentences appear in bold font on almost every page of this book. These easy-to-read phrases provide a quick reading as well as speedy recovery or review of pertinent insights provided by Luther. In addition, after almost every one of the twelve chapters, Strawn has prepared over a half-dozen leading questions for discussion. These questions should be useful for Bible study and personal and devotional reflection on Luther’s teachings and the biblical basis for his concerns and comfort.

Knowing that these disputation theses were originally written almost five hundred years ago, the obvious contemporary relevance makes this study worthy of continuing scrutiny and congregational study. Antinomianism is never far from the church’s teaching and preaching. These noteworthy theses of Luther appear as timely for the twenty-first century as they were in the sixteenth century. For example, Luther’s harsh words, “Those who want to remove the Law from the Church are totally inexperienced people and deceivers of souls” (56), are just as relevant today.

Experienced theologians will undoubtedly still use the Weimar or Walch versions of these theses for their preparations. The full texts of the Latin theses are available in WA 391:334–358, along with the actual disputations in WA 391:359–584; 392:124–144 (soon to be available in English translation by Holger Sonntag along with historical background also from Lutheran Press at

This book will be much appreciated for its continuing usefulness as it is applied to contemporary life in congregational study groups and pastoral conferences. Parish pastors, interested students, or lay theologians will benefit from Strawn’s synopsis of Luther’s concerns. Congregation members and pastoral circuits will benefit from the devotional content of Luther’s theses, thanks to Paul Strawn’s pastoral sensibilities.

Timothy Maschke
Concordia University Wisconsin
Mequon, WI

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  1. Jack August 23, 2013

    On the article on Antinomianism.

    Consider what is the Etymological root source of the word Antinomian. It’s a Hebraic term used by Jesus Christ in the Epistles as a heinous sin. (Matthew. 7:23) “I never knew you; depart from me you that work‚ (Greek Strong # 458) ANTINOMIAN.”

    Let us peel off the theological bark and shine the spot light on this dogma to learn the bare truth of what Antinomianism is in the Greek Epistles (Strong # 458 Antanomia) what it really means. Greek Strong # 458 Antanomia i.e. Anomia, meaning Antinomian i.e. Antinomianism. As Jesus and others spoke about Antinomianism again occurs 16 times in the Epistles all as a public rebuke of sinful wickedness.

    Just look at one verse (Matthew. 7: 21-23) Who are those that find themselves expelled by Jesus.? ? ? Who are these people? ? ? The Antinomians being talked about here that call Jesus “Lord” and even do good works in His name. These are church Antinomians involved in church activities. They expect to inherit eternal salvation, nevertheless find themselves expelled by Jesus from salvation.

    The Greek word Anomia, in Greek one can use a singular “A” prefix letter to abbreviate for “no,” “not,” “without” and “ANTI.” “A” prefix letter attached to a Greek word gives the word a negative meaning, same as “A” prefix letter attached to English words as Amoral, Atheist, etc. The disposition exhibit in the meaning of this word is that those who consider themselves as antinomian are against IE anarchists of God’s Law, Scripture Law is the (Greek Strong’s # 3551 NOMOS.) Antinomianism is antithetical to God’s scripture sovereignty.

    (Lev. 4:2) express this reprimanded sin as “Against the Commandments of Yahweh.” or Anti-commandments. The Torah (Hebrew Strong’s # 8451) meaning scripture Law, is interchangeable with the (Greek Strong’s # 3551 NOMOS) and the Greek NOMOS, is the word used by the translators of the Septuagint to translate the Hebrew word Torah. As used in (Hosea. 8:1) “They transgressed My covenant and transgressed against My law.” As Hosea express, Against Yahweh Covenant and Torah, is coined by the word Antinomian.

    “Antinomian” has been alternative form of expression for over two millennia meaning against the scripture Lawgiver and His Law. It’s from the term in the Epistles {Greek Strong # 458 Antanomia i.e. Anomia.} (Heb. 1:9) “Love righteousness and hate (G Strong # 458) ANTINOMIAN.”

  2. Jack August 23, 2016

    On this article on Antinomianism.

    The etymological development of the term Antinomian is the antonym to the Greek word Nomos [Strong’s Greek # 355] meaning Law, which in the Septuagint Greek Bible is appropriate for the Hebrew term Torah [Strong’s # H8451,] signifying God’s scriptural laws. Its Hebrew equivalent in the OT writings is the word Torah. The word Antinomian is translated Against Law, or lawlessness in the NT. This term in the NT is often used in ecclesiastical literature to indicate a context of heresy, apostasy, sacrilege, heretical doctrine or heretic and Martin Luther also called Antinomians “false brethren” – in short, one who is lawless, or against the God’s Law. The use of the word Lawless (Antinomian) or (Anomos) in the NT specifically indicates iniquity, transgressor, sinful, one who lives apart from the God’s Law.
    [A book that provided an extensive list of these reference books on this subject matter and reach the same agreement that the word Antinomianism derived from Anomian definition, it is appropriately name “ANTINOMIANISM.” By Mark Jones.]

    Being against the God’s Law or Lawless can mean different things to differ people in a theological context. The best focus is to discover its original meaning and the clearest biblical understanding. No biblical writing can be divorced from a Hebraic understanding. The Christian writings define all scripture as God-breathed and useful for correction, etc., which includes the complete OT writings. In referring to Law, the NT understanding was that of the Hebrew writers and majority audience of the first century.

    Some Christian interpretation of the word Antinomian lawless is that it indicates a breach of morality generally…a breach of a “moral law.” But a serious search of the word God’s Law/Torah in the OT provides clear proof that there was a specific Law being referred to, namely the Instruction given to the Israelites on Mt. Sinai. In every way, the OT refers to this Law as eternal, good, easy, accessible, and life-giving. The setting of the NT gospels was the Jewish world in which there was no other understanding of this term. It was a corporate document between God and Israel national constitution and also a personal moral law for every individual.

    Any interpretation of the term Nomos [Strong’s Greek # 355] meaning Law, in the NT must be informed by its context in the first century Jewish world and its writers. Any conclusions drawn outside of this context are not exegesis, (the original understanding in the context of the original writers and audience), but eisegesis, (applying a later culture’s understanding outside of its original context). Removing our biblical approach away from the writings’ original meaning and context alters our understanding away from the authenticity of scriptural authority and creates a foreigner belief structure. The clarity of scripture is important as our sole guide, for the Bible teaches not to add to or subtract from any word of God’s Instruction (insert reference) a command which specifically refers to God’s Law. Any creed that purports to add to or subtract from the veracity of the consistent biblical instruction is in violation of the scriptures.
    [Recommended reading on this subject matter is the book “Restoring Abrahamic Faith” by Professor James D. Tabor. And “YHWH exists” by Jodel Onstott.]

    The idea of a moral code apart from an understandable written scriptural Instruction / Torah / God’s Law is not biblical. The terms of the Law and its specifics frame God’s definition of what morality is to Him, not to any other authority. Within it, He names the rights guaranteed to those who enter into its terms. Rights, such as things we have come to think of as inalienable rights today, are defined clearly in the Law of God so there is no room for abrogation or their dismissal. The scriptural inalienable rights of freedom of chose, equality, the right to bear arms. equal justice, freedom from oppression, freedom of expression, listen to God’s instructions on creating a limited government system. limited taxation, the inalienable right to your own land, the creed to resist tyranny. The God’s Law guarantees its participants their rights. To have no Law other than one that is not clearly defined is to allow for morality to be defined individually by each person according to only their understanding. In this way, it embraces the original rebellion of the evil generation that was destroyed in the Flood in Noah’s day because of opting to do “what was right in their own eyes.” To not define Law in the terms He already gave is to take away our own rights guaranteed by Him and His clear instruction of how to morally be in right standing.
    [Recommended viewing on this subject matter is the DVD film “The Isaiah 9: 10 Judgment.”]

    Clearly stated in the text is that His Instruction is not a perverse moral code that cannot be participated in by flawed mortals, but is required to be a relationship issuing from the heart…His and ours…joined with instruction in the path of His morality. (insert verses about with all your heart mind and soul, about their not being too difficult, what is right and what is good). His law is never to be abused but is to be understood in the twin expression of What is Right and What is Good.

    Humans recognize the necessity for national laws. Without them, societies would descend into chaos and anarchy and be preyed upon by tyrants. The hearts of the citizens have to preserve a desire to have an upright society, or the laws will be changed over time because heart and action are divided from each other. The rule of law is central to the protection of a population from injustice and being manipulated by the unscrupulous. But the hearts of the people have to value law and its intent, or it will eventually reflect the compromises and not preserve its original intent and function.

    God states that his Law is eternal. The terms are eternal, and hearts that joined with His intention of a protective relationship and a People who reflect His priorities are the center of His Law. The beauty of God’s Law is its function as a national covenant and an individual one. It is the framework of a relationship and a lifestyle of people participating with God in this agreement. It frames protective and ennobling parameters rather than being misunderstood to be a monolith of legalistic dictates. Explore what scripture says about itself first, before applying external interpretations.
    [Recommended reading on this subject matter is a 12 page narrative on the web name “Anti Judaism” by distinguish author David Hulme. On]


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