Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Big Time Heavy Theology Alert - "Antinomy"

I'm sorta kidding about "big time heavy theology".

Really what I want to say in this article is quite simple.

It's just that it's so far above our way of thinking that it's...well, it's from the mind of God.

We accept it as true, even though it boggles our minds. It goes against the grain of our Earthbound logic, as we sometimes understand logic.

Logic Is Good

I'm not at all knocking logic. Logic is a wonderful gift from God.

In fact, what I'm going to lay out in a moment is actually quite logical. It's just that logic doesn't require truth, and so we rationalize untrue things all the time.

For example, look at the following syllogism:

1. All zebras are green [premise 1].
2. That animal over there is a zebra [premise 2].
3. Therefore that animal over there is green [conclusion].

That is PERFECTLY logical...really. But it's not TRUE. That was Spock's problem.

So in order to use logic rightly, we ought to begin with TRUE premises. And there are no truer premises than those that come from the Word of God RIGHTLY DIVIDED.

Sidenote: I say "rightly divided" because Scripture can be wildly taken out of context, applied "logically", and yet end in the ridiculous. Something stupid like combining "Judas hanged himself" with "Go thou and do likewise" (Humorous, but I'm only slightly exaggerating the abuses some use of this kind of "logic").

God's Ways and Thoughts

One of the most important Scriptures we should know as humans comes from Isaiah 55:8,9. Here it is:

"For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways," declares the LORD. "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts."

Do you have a pet? Or have you ever had a pet?

We have a wiener dog. He is not the brightest dog on the Planet (we say he's nothing but love), but let's assume for a moment that he is the smartest of all dogs.

Do you think that if I tried to explain to him why we're leaving him on a Sunday morning to go to church that he would understand that? And not be so unhappy to see us leave, but rejoice that we are going to fellowship and hear the Word of God?

Ridiculous, isn't it?

Why? Because our ways are higher than his, and our thoughts are higher than his. I can't even ease his mind, because all he "knows" is that he wants us to be home with him. Well, also he "knows" we love him. And he's pretty happy with that, especially when we come back home.

Now, if you think that is an extreme illustration of God's ways and thoughts being higher than ours, you're wrong. Infinitely wrong. God's ways and thoughts are so much higher than ours that we can't even comprehend how much higher they are!

And yet He has condescended to reveal some of His ways and thoughts to us, in ways that we can actually understand and react to them.

But here's the beginning of the point of this article: Some of what God reveals to us appears to contradict itself, but yet He declares that it is true.

Which leads to our direct subject, the concept of the Antinomy.

What Is An Antinomy?

Before defining the concept of an antinomy, I want to make a rather bold statement:

Until you understand the concept of "antinomy", there is much of Scripture that will elude you or confuse you.

But when you understand the concept of "antinomy", Scriptures that you never understood will shine with truth in a way that glorifies the Lord Whose ways and thoughts are higher than ours.

Here's an informal working definition of Antinomy for our purposes here:

An Antinomy exists when we have TWO TRUTHS from Scripture that APPEAR to contradict themselves, yet BOTH ARE TRUE for the simple reason that GOD'S WORD DECLARES THEM TO BE TRUE.

We see illustrations of this in the natural world. A pan of water is water, but clouds are water. To the ignorant that would appear as a contradiction, but we know both are true.

On a psychological level, we may say Hitler was a monster of evil, yet a nephew of his may say he is a loving doting Uncle. Apparent contradiction, yet both may be true (I don't know if Hitler even had a nephew).

No illustration does justice to a biblical antinomy, however, since no level of truth rises to the level of biblical truth in it's absoluteness.

Although there are several antinomies in Scripture, I will use one as an example.

God's Love For All As An Antinomy

The question of whether God loves all men or just some has been a long-standing controversy.

And like many controversies, I believe the problem is in a lack of understanding of the concept of Antinomy.

And so the result of the controversy is almost invariably a twisting of Scriptures to fit one view or the other.

1. The "God Loves Everybody" school reasons, "John 3:16 says God loved the world, the world means everybody, and 'God is love', isn't He, and that settles it."

Well, I believe that does settle it, but this school of thought often has difficulty, then, in explaining God's wrath, eternal punishment, and hatred. They usually end up in blaming "free will", when the truth is that if every person was left to their own "free will" they would continue in their rejection of God, all the way to the Lake of Fire.

2. The "God Does NOT Love Everybody" school reasons, "God couldn't love everybody and still send them to Hell. Does not Scripture say that God hates the wicked? That God hated Esau, but loved Jacob?"

This idea has been widely spread among Reformed believers through the writings of A.W. Pink in his famous book The Sovereignty of God (a great book overall, by the way). Pink argues that John 3:16, "God so loved the world...", is referring merely to "the world of the Elect".

Pink's argument, in my opinion, is a truly pathetic piece of biblical interpretation, which begins with a premise (God simply couldn't love the wicked), and concludes with a twisting of John 3:16 which is monumental. Hardly a more simple and clear statement could be made than that God loves the world, and therefore sent His Son.

Why would Pink engage in such twisting of Scripture?

Simple. He did not "get" the concept of Antinomy. He reasoned that the hatred and wrath of God could not co-exist with His love.

But His ways and thoughts are higher than ours and we have to ask TWO honest questions:

1. Does Scripture SEEM to say that God loves everyone? I believe the answer is a clear, "Yes". God IS love. That's a reference to His essence. He could not deny His essence.

That's how in Ezekiel 33:11 we can read, "Say to them, `As I live!' declares the Lord GOD, `I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live."

If God did not love the wicked, it would make no sense for Him to NOT delight in their death.

Do you see how an understanding of Antinomy can open up your understanding of Scriptures? (This is just one of MANY examples, which space does not permit relating here).

2. Does Scripture SEEM to say that God Hates The Wicked? If we're honest, we have to say, "Yes".

But that's illogical, you cry!

No, it only SEEMS to be a contradiction, but both statements are true. Why? Because God has declared them to be true in His Word!

Puny little man, as J. Vernon McGee used to say, thinks he HAS to figure it out by his own LIMITED thoughts. He must reconcile the two truths by denying one of them, and twisting the other.

This is arrogance of the highest variety, and a denial of the pretty-darn-clear Word of God.

God's Justice And an Illustration

We might finally ask, then, "How can God send someone to the Lake of Fire if He loves them?

We have to admit we simply cannot FULLY understand this.

But that doesn't mean that we can't SOMEWHAT understand it, if we understand two seemingly unrelated concepts, Justice and Love.

When a human Judge in a court sentences someone to be hanged for a crime, he is exercising Justice. The criminal, we say, *deserves* to be hung by the neck until dead.

But suppose the criminal is the wife of the Judge, or his son or daughter, whom he loves dearly? Does the Judge abandon his LOVE...or his JUSTICE?

Neither, if He is a good Judge.

He is quite capable of sentencing his loved one to the gallows, with sobs of grief, tears in his eyes, but doing right.

How much more the infinite Creator of the Universe cannot deny Himself as the God Who is Love, who loved the whole world and whose love prompted Him to send His Son, Who in turn declared, "If ANYONE will come to Me, I will in no way cast him out", and wept over the Israelites who rejected Him.


Anonymous said...

Hello sir, you say in point 2, " Does Scripture SEEM to say that God Hates The Wicked? If we're honest, we have to say, "Yes".

But that's illogical, you cry!

No, it only SEEMS to be a contradiction, but both statements are true. Why? Because God has declared them to be true in His Word!

Puny little man, as J. Vernon McGee used to say, thinks he HAS to figure it out by his own LIMITED thoughts. He must reconcile the two truths by denying one of them, and twisting the other.

This is arrogance of the highest variety, and a denial of the pretty-darn-clear Word of God."

Please let me know where this concept is implied in his word. Truthfully, I see this as a minor issue. There are far heavier teachings to deal with, but I found it interesting that you provided a scripture to proof text point 1 , but you didn't for point 2.

Also, you stated that one of the most important scriptures for all Christians to learn is the "higher than our ways.." scripture. You did not provide context for this quotation. I'm not suggesting that if you had provided context then your point would've been voided. What I am suggesting is that you provide context for all teachings just as you said yourself at the beginning.

I love your blog. I am trying emulate your style in some ways in my own blog. However, I disagree with your premise (unstated) that scripture appears to contradict itself. The New Testament writers new what they were writing about and did not seem to see contradiction in their teachings. My guess is that if we were to understand the scriptures in context, we would not see any seemingly contradictions at all.

Rick Lannoye said...

So, let's see if I'm following you here.

When we read in the Bible that God intends to torture billions of people with fire, forever, we're not supposed to use our brains to question whether or not this is true?

Even though that same Bible, in other places, says that God made our brains, with the clear implication that we use them?

And even though in yet other parts of the Bible, God is said to be all about the relief of human suffering, not the direct cause of the very worst sort imaginable?

Sorry, but once you say, "you can't understand the 'real truth' until you shut your brain off," is the most direct route to deception!

I've actually written an entire book on this topic--"Hell? No! Why You Can Be Certain There's No Such Place As Hell," (for anyone interested, you can get a free ecopy of my book at my website:, but if I may, let me share one of the many points I make in it.

If one is willing to look, there's substantial evidence contained in the gospels to show that Jesus opposed the idea of Hell. For example, in Luke 9:51-56, is a story about his great disappointment with his disciples when they actually suggested imploring God to rain FIRE on a village just because they had rejected him. His response: "You don't know what spirit is inspiring this kind of talk!" Presumably, it was NOT the Holy Spirit. He went on, trying to explain how he had come to save, heal and relieve suffering, not be the CAUSE of it.

So it only stands to reason that this same Jesus, who was appalled at the very idea of burning a few people, for a few horrific minutes until they were dead, could never, ever burn BILLIONS of people for an ETERNITY!

True, there are a few statements that made their way into the gospels which place Hell on Jesus lips, but these adulterations came along many decades after his death, most likely due to the Church filling up with Greeks who imported their belief in Hades with them when they converted.

So the real reason why many parts of the Bible contradict each other is because they actually do!

Revol said...

Very well written Terry.

It may be a minor issue for JBtreece but it seems very major to me. John 3:16 was only one example.

Anyway, what can be more major than the heart of the doctrine of salvation, (John 3:16)?

You explained well in the following quote.

"Until you understand the concept of "antinomy", there is much of Scripture that will elude you or confuse you."

As for Rick Lannoye, I will pray.

Michael D Kaster

Terry Rayburn said...


You wrote, "Please let me know where this concept is implied in his word. Truthfully, I see this as a minor issue. There are far heavier teachings to deal with, but I found it interesting that you provided a scripture to proof text point 1 , but you didn't for point 2."

Not sure which concept you mean. If you mean the fact that God "hates the wicked", I might direct you to Psalm 11:5, "The LORD tests the righteous, But the wicked and the one who loves violence His soul hates."

That also is a proof text for Point 2.

You wrote, "Also, you stated that one of the most important scriptures for all Christians to learn is the "higher than our ways.." scripture. You did not provide context for this quotation."

Not sure what "context" is needed. The simple point is that we can't expect to fully understand all of God's thoughts and ways.

You wrote, "...I disagree with your premise (unstated) that scripture appears to contradict itself."

The key word is "appears". I certainly don't think it actually contradicts itself.

But any simple observer will notice many places where it APPEARS to contradict itself.

For example, how can we have free will to choose, yet God has determined all things from before the foundation of the Earth.

On the surface that makes no sense. It appears to be contradictory. Yet both are true.

Is man responsible for his sin, or is he bound to sin by his nature inherited from Adam? That would SEEM to be a contradiction, yet both are true.

There are many other examples. And again, I'm not saying that they truly contradict each other. Yet we fool ourselves if we think we really understand the ramifications of both being true.

We accept it, because God's Word says it.

Terry Rayburn said...


I'll take your word for it that you like to use your brain.

So consider this.

Just consider...

IF, and I'm only saying IF for sake of argument, God had inspired the Bible word-for-word in the original languages...

and IF everything written in the Bible were both TRUE and ESSENTIALLY PRESERVED in it's current state...

and IF one could only truly believe it if it were "revealed by divine revelation" [a redundancy, I know] only to true born-again believers in Jesus Christ...

then all your use of your brain would be useless if you don't build on the foundation that the Word of God is inspired and true...

even the parts about eternal punishment in the Lake of Fire.

Now you may reject the above premises, but of course if it wasn't revealed to YOU by divine revelation, then all your brain power is wasted on the subject.

In fact, it becomes laughable, literally ("He who sits in the heavens laughs..." Psalm 2:4).

Our brains and our reason are gifts from God, capable of reasoning from all kinds of premises. But your premises are false, namely that the Bible contains error, based on the working of your brain.

That's not "odd". That's the norm for those who are not born again by the Spirit of God. Jesus told Nicodemus that a person can't even SEE the Kingdom of God unless they are born again.

And so what you need is to believe the simple gospel that Jesus died for your sins, was buried, and rose again on the third day, and that if you change your mind about your sin, and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ (in essence, believe His Word), then you will be saved.

Till then, you DON'T believe His Word. In fact, you contradict it, elevating your brain above His revelation.

No contest, my friend.

Terry Rayburn said...


Thanks amigo. Always good to hear from you.

Puritan Lad said...

Not saying that I necessarily agree with Pink's interpretation of John 3:16, but there is clear biblical exegetical support for interpreting the "world" as "the world of the Elect". This is clear in several place such as 2 Corinthians 5:9 and 1 John 2:2. Pink may be stretching to apply this exactly in John 3:16, but it's hardly fair to write this off as "a truly pathetic piece of biblical interpretation" without explaining why this is.

The Doctrine of God's love is a complex doctrine, but one thing is for sure. God does not love the entire world (without exception) with redeeming love. The love that God had for Jacob was not given to Esau.

Terry Rayburn said...

Puritan Lad (love that name),

Puritan Lad,

1. I don't think you meant 2 Cor. 5:9 which reads,

"Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him."

2. As to 1 John 2:2, it may be clear to you that "world" refers to the elect, but 19th Century Scottish Calvinist Presbyterian Robert Jamieson writes the following, also quoting Luther:

His propitiation extends as widely as sin extends: see on 2Pe 2:1, "denying the Lord that bought them." "The whole world" cannot be restricted to the believing portion of the world (compare 1Jo 4:14; and "the whole world," 1Jo 5:19). "Thou, too, art part of the world, so that thine heart cannot deceive itself and think, The Lord died for Peter and Paul, but not for me" [Luther]. (Commentary, Jamieson, Fausett & Brown)

Nor is it all that clear to me, although I firmly believe in Particular Redemption.

God rescue us from feeling like we HAVE to take a firm stand on every passage of Scripture, especially if only because our "school of theology" says so (and please don't take my point as the stupid Emergent view that we can't really know any truth for certain).

"Propitiation" is not as simple as first meets the eye (it only appears two times in the NT -- along with two more occurences of a similar Gk word). It's quite a different concept than "redemption", which is the actual purchasing of the elect out of the market of sin.

Usually all such terms are carelessly thrown under the general English term "died for", which has little meaning if not defined.

(Drives me crazy to hear two Christians fruitlessly arguing over who Jesus "died for", without ever bothering to define biblically what "died for" means -- e.g., "paid for sins", "redeemed", "propitiated", "made provision for", "effectively saved", etc., etc.)

3. But even if 1 John 2:2 was referring only to the elect, the context is one of EXTENT.

That is, "not just us Apostles, not just us Jews, not just us Middle Easterers, and so forth, but ALL the elect around the world."

But John 3:16 has nothing of the context of geographical or ethnic EXTENT. It's a paranthtical expression of the character of God Himself as Love.

The twisting required to deny that ends up with the silly notion of "God SO loved the world (except he didn't love, say, 90% of it)..."

4. You wrote, "The Doctrine of God's love is a complex doctrine, but one thing is for sure. God does not love the entire world (without exception) with redeeming love. The love that God had for Jacob was not given to Esau."

Agreed :)


Puritan Lad said...

Oops. I meant 2 Corinthians 5:19.

"that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation." (2 Corinthians 5:19)

Perhaps the "propitiation" in 1 John 2:2 is debatable, but in the above passage, using the world in s universal sense would clearly result in universal salation.

I agree with your handling of 1 John 2:2, in which all of the elect from every nation is defined by "the world". It is also supported by a passage in John's gospel.

“He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.” (John 11:51-52)



Phil said...

Many people see 2Cor5v19 as meaning exactly what it says in an objective sense, including "moderate Calvinists". God has reconciled the whole world to himself, that is "the gospel", "the message of reconcilation"; but righteousness is not reckoned unto folks until they believe it.

I've thought of it like this, taking the analogy of forgiveness and reconcilation between offender and offended. The offended acting out of love will forgive unconditionally from his heart, such that he doesn't hold the offence against the offender as concerning his openness towards him. He doesn't hold a grudge.

At the same time, concerning their outward relationship, unless the offender appreciates the forgiving heart of the offended, that forgiveness (and that manifesting of love which would go with it) is not reckoned towards the offender in such a way as their outward relationship lines up with the heart of the offended. Not because the offended holds something against the offender and his love is actively withheld from him, but because the offended's love's sincere and as yet, it's not "received" and thus reciprocated. It's just the nature of love.

So the world has been reconciled (the message of reconcilation)...and the right response to that is to take it for what it is personally with a glad heart ("be reconciled to God").

Puritan Lad said...

True, which is why I am a John Owen "high calvinist". In my view, the phrase "not counting their trespasses against them" being applied to the world is the death blow to the moderate calvinist interpretation of that passage.

Phil said...

Without wanting to fight, you, mate, I think I see that like I suggested. The price is paid and the folks are bought - that's where the *objective* non-imputation is.

I use to be "5point calvinist", but I think I was closing the loop on the rest of the "points" with a contraction scripture doesn't make. At the least, there should have been "antinomy"(?), but I tend to think now the whole question is framed in an Augustinian paradigm anyway(?).

I also don't see what objective good news a limited atonement-ist has to believe, *logically-speaking*. (Even though they think it's their doctrine that is objective). At the end of the day, surely the only way one knows they are elect and thus atoned for is if they have some measure of the correct doctrines/works commitment to law that tells them they have "faith". And that's despite the fact that new covenant faith is death to the law.

I'll button my lip now!

Puritan Lad said...

Limited atonement is good news because the atonement actually saves sinners. In that sense, limited atonement is the only option short of universalism. Any "atonement" that doesn't actually provide salvation is no atonement at all. Arminian atonement isn't good news, but rather good advice. Hebrews 9:12 tells us that Christ has "with his own blood secured eternal redemption". Clearly, that is only for the elect.

I don't think it is necessary to add "doctrines/works commitment to law" to the ordo salutis. However, the law remains a rule of life for those who are redeemed, not as a means of justification, but because Christ is Lord. It is safe to say that those who continually practive lawlessness are not saved (Matthew 7:21-23).

Phil said...

Knew you'd say the first part...

As to the law bit, I'll just say that justification by faith means death to the law - we're not under it as a rule of life, i.e. "regulative", relational thing. Law is against us that way. Trying to do it that way is "service in the old way of the written code". The only way to actually bear genuine fruit to God - the essence of what the law demanded, is by his life in us which works out totally apart from the rule of law. "Service in the new way of the Spirit", as sons, not slaves.

Ike said...

This is a good post. JI Packer uses "antinomy" in his classic book "Sovereignty Of God....Human Responsibility". So it's a credible approach to understanding Scripture. Although John Piper doesn't think so........ I'm not sure where I stand on this issue??

Anonymous said...

I'm on board with the idea of what seem to be contradictions in the Bible, and even in our knowledge of the character and personality of God. And FROM the human vantage point, they ARE contradictions -- is that fair to say? It seems that God and his nature exist in the extremes. And I suppose I'll not fully comprehend those things while on earth.

My question then follows: If it indeed is the case that God's ways and thoughts are so far above ours that we see contradiction where there is truth, what is our next step? How do we practically live out our faith? And the more difficult question, maybe, how do we practically go about sharing the good news with others who are even more entrenched in modern thought?

It seems to me that so much of Christianity today rides on intellectualism and logic, and on judging Christianity and the Bible from and against the culture in which we're currently living. There must exist a truth that is truth for all time -- and the assumption for many today is that we are living in it. It's interesting, though, because I know we're not the first culture to believe we can evaluate all existence before and after us from where we stand.

Do we place too much emphasis on knowledge? And not enough on faith? Or Obedience? Experience of God in our lives?

Derek Ashton said...


This is a very well written post. I've been exploring these same issues at my site for the last 20 months or so, and I think you've hit the nail on the head.

In our day of postmodern uncertainty, some Christians want to deny that there is anything incomprehensible or uncertain in God's revelation of Himself. Such thinking will only lead us backwards. The concept of Biblical antinomy or paradox is a natural outgrowth of a firm belief in the inerrancy/sufficiency of Scripture, painted on the realistic backdrop of God's transcendent greatness/wisdom and man's totally depraved/fallen nature. When I saw the willingness of certain prominent Calvinists to embrace all sides of Biblical paradoxes, I was won over to the (more or less) Reformed view. Unfortunately, some in the Reformed tradition seem to believe the whole thing stands or falls on one side of the tension - such as the issue of God's love and hatred which you have capably discussed here.

Thanks again for the great post!

Grace & peace,
Derek Ashton

Derek Ashton said...


A follow up on your comment in the post that A.W. Pink "didn't get antinomy." What's odd is, he did get it. But he didn't apply it where it needed to be applied. Follow this link to find him affirming the concept and applying it to another issue:

Scroll down to the last few paragraphs to see Pink's strong use of antinomy.

Somehow Pink was blind to the ways this concept apply to God's love for the (whole) world, which makes me ask myself, "What am I blind to?"

Derek Ashton