Antinomianism is the opposition to and negation of traditional law. This has come down into Christianity as one who takes the principle of salvation by faith and grace to the point of asserting that those saved are not bound by the Torah. It is a characteristic of Gnosticism and it had a basic belief that it was “opposite the law.” That is where Christianity received the idea that a Christian was “free from the law” and you will see how many Gnostic ideals were absorbed into Christianity. So, you can see how some of the statements by Paul were interpreted by some as “anti-law” and picked up by some as being Gnostic and “anti-Torah” in nature.
Tendencies to deny the practical commandments or at least denying them appeared in different periods and for different reasons. In Hellenistic Egypt and in the later Middle Ages, the substitution of symbolic or allegorical meanings for the literal meaning of the Torah tended to undermine the strict observance of the Torah by reinventing it allegorically. The Church Fathers (non-Jewish leaders in the second and third centuries) considered the Tanak and their laws as only allegory, foretelling and preparing for the coming of the “founder of Christianity.”
So, lets talk about this. In the majority of Christianity, what is the role of the “old testament” as they call it? It is “shadows” of things to come, and “pictures” and “stories” of the Messiah who was coming. Now, it is true that the Scriptures are full of these “pictures” but if you say that is all you get from it, then you have missed its value. You will be misinterpreting all those pictures and shadows. Christian Gnostics of the second through the fourth centuries contrasted the God of the Tanak, who they considered the “lower power” and an evil Creator (the “Demiurge”), to the “most high and good God” (The Supreme Power)
With the rise of Reformation, Protestantism struggled with the idea of giving binding sanction to part of the Torah, but this tendency was soon defeated as a “Judaizing heresy.” So, antinomianism is “against” or “opposed” to the law and we have found that the Church Fathers considered the Tanak to be an allegory. Now, allegory had its place, but they took too far. One of the hardest people to talk to is one who wants to allegorize, or spiritualize, everything. The rabbi’s would look at Scripture literally, and they would look at what alludes to that verse, interpretations of that verse and its deeper, mystical levels. That is called “Pardes” which is an acronym for Peshat (literal); Remez (allusions to other Scriptures); Drash (interpretations of it); Sowd (mystery/hidden meanings). The “deeper meaning” or Sowd level does not take away form the literal level (Peshat). When you put all these together, you will have a balanced approach to interpreting the Scripture.
The next area we want to talk about is Hellenism. This is one of the things that Paul is accused of. Was he Hellenistic or Traditional (as a Pharisee)? We have talked about Hellenism before but this is important to understand because it will apply to what Paul taught, or didn’t teach. Martin Hengel from the Institute for Ancient Judaism and Hellenistic Religion says, “Let’s start with Paul’s origins. It must be stressed quite emphatically against a current trend in scholarship which seeks to see Paul exclusively as a Hellenistic Diaspora Jew, that in his own testimony in his letters that he is a Pharisee connected to Jewish Palestine stands in the foreground. Jerusalem seems to be more important than anywhere else to Paul. Only from Luke do we learn that he came from Tarsus, the capitol of Cilicia and that he was a citizen of both Tarsus and Rome. Paul, the author of his letters, no longer thinks his past is worth mentioning. It seems to him to be much more remote than his time as a Pharisee in Palestine.”
This next quote is from the Encyclopedia of the Jewish Religion on Hellenism, “The form of Greek civilization that spread through the Near East and Mediterranean lands after the conquest of Alexander the Great (356-323 B.C.) and persisted well into the period of the Roman Empire. The history of Hellenism in general is the absorption of oriental elements by the Greek culture and the diffusion of these new forms. The history of Jewish Hellenism is concerned with the impact of Hellenistic civilization on Judaism after Alexander’s conquests. Palestine was under Greek rule and Judea was surrounded by an increasing number of Hellenized, Gentile cities and the countries of the Diaspora; Egypt, Syria and Asia Minor. Hellenization made rapid progress outside Palestine and Greek became the language of the Jews and in the third century BC the Jews of Egypt were already using a Greek translation of the Bible, the Septuagint (LXX). In Palestine, the radical tendencies of Hellenizing groups, such as the Tobiads (pro-Hellenistic, Jewish faction in Ammon in the pre-Maccabean period-see “Tobiads” in Wikipedia), and powerful support by the Seleucid rulers, finally led to the uprising led by the Maccabees. After the Maccabean victory Palestinian Jewry was strong enough to absorb Greek influences without danger of being engulfed by Hellenism. Towards the end of the Second Temple and Mishnaic period, material life was primarily Hellenistic. Synagogue architecture and decorations, tomb inscriptions in Greek for example in Beit Shearim, and the arts. Many Greek words entered into the Hebrew and Aramaic vocabulary were designations of major Jewish institutions and liturgical practices. For example, the Sanhedrin. At the same time the Rabbi’s opposed to closely an acquaintance with and study of the Greek culture. The upper classes, however, adopted a thoroughly Hellenistic lifestyle of life, which was often assimilationist. In the Diaspora, the influence of Hellenism was naturally much stronger.” The article goes on, but you get the idea.
Now we are going to talk about a man named Marcion. Paul is accused of putting forth the doctrines that would later be known as the heresy of Marcion, so it is important to know who Marcion was and what he believed. Needless to day, Paul did not put forth doctrines associated with the Marcionic heresy, but we will show you why people have associated Paul with them. There is an article you can get on the Internet called “The Ghost of Marcion” by Daniel Botkin. This is an excellent source for information on this. We will be quoting from some it it as we talk about Marcion here. Marcion was born in 85 AD in Sinope, Tureky. He was the son of a Bishop and arrived in Rome in 140 AD and he fell under Gnosticism.
First of all, we don’t have any of the writings of Marcion, but there is a document that was done by one of the Church Fathers called “Against Marcion” and Marcion was labeled as a heretic. The Marcion Heresy extended all the way up to the fifth century and so it was around for quite a long time. Marcion taught that the entire Old Testament should be rejected because it belonged to an evil, inferior God and not the God revealed by “Jesus.” What we are talking about is Antinomianism. He was anti-Jewish and rejected any New Testament writing that appeared to be favorable to the Jews and Jewish practices. Keeping the Torah was seen as invalid. He started the trend that “if it doesn’t fit the theory, excise it as spurious or an interpolaton (to alter by insertion of new material)” (Smith’s Bible Dictionary, P 53). It also goes on to say that by the time he edited the Scriptures, his Bible consisted of Luke’s book, minus the Jewish elements, and ten of Paul’s epistles. He didn’t even keep all of Paul. Marcian taught that Paul was the only apostle that could be trusted. Marcion’s anti-Jewish/pro-Paul churches spread through-out the Roman empire and became a major threat to the faith. According to historians, the Marcion heresy continued to spread until it finally died in the fifth century AD. The influence of Marcion is thought to be the reason that in today’s Christianity that there is an over emphasis on the writings of Paul. Paul’s writings constitute 5 % of the Bible, but yet the majority of messages in the churches come from the letters of Paul. Books in Christianity about certain subjects, like marriage and divorce, children also come from his writings. Paul is the foundation that is used. Marcion’s most influential writing is called “Antithesis” which consisted of contrasting statements arranged to prove the incompatibility of the Torah with grace. There is no copy of Antithesis in existence, all we know about it is from people who opposed him.
In Part 3, we will pick up here and begin talking about a man named Tertullian, who opposed Marcion in a writing called “Against Marcion.”