Pinecrest Bible Training Center

John 12:24 Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone.

Beginning in 2008 the vision and bible school that God so graciously gave Wade Taylor beginning in 1968 came to an abrupt end, falling into the ground and dying.-

We now wait for God to raise up and bring forth His seed of promise in another, that the vision fail not.

Fall 1978
Autonomy, Heteronomy, and Theonomy

Steve Wilbur
Teacher at Pinecrest Bible Training Center

These three Greek words, autonomy, heteronomy, and Theonomy, at first sight seem formidable. But we are using them as a practical means of conveying a captivating set of spiritual ideas—“The words that I speak unto you they are spiritual and they are life” (John 6:63). These three words accomplish this in a most compact and penetrating way.


The word is derived from two Greek words, autos meaning self, and nomos, meaning law. In the beginning God created Adam an autonomous being. This was his divine constitution; the Creator made him so. Adam was given no graven tables of stone as was Moses, neither did he have a book of law as the lawyers of Jesus’ day. He did not need it. The law of “man-ness” was within. That is, he became a structure called man, the pattern emanating from the mind of God being realized.

We can see that the law of “man-ness” was inside Adam as the genetic code is inside a seed. When we plant a seed we don’t bury a set of instructions beside it, neither do we recite an elaborate list of do’s and don’ts to it, it just grows—autonomously. Here we catch a vision of that which naturally and normally unfolds—it works from the inside out. The seed contains within itself the power to manifest as a mature plant one day.

The Scriptures clearly picture man’s autonomous character. In Genesis 2:7 God names Adam, but in Genesis 2:19, God brings the creatures to man and Adam names them. The operation of the internal law enabled Adam to do this. Accordingly, in Genesis 2:23 he names Woman.

Had man’s law of being been outside himself, he would have amounted to a sort of robot—unthinking, unfeeling, uncreative until he received an input or a command from an outside source.

So we see each item of creation constituted like man—called into being as an existing structure and set in its order by God. Adam in the image of God endowed with free will, invested with dominion over all creation, is standing at the head of all other orders of created beings.

It would be wonderful if we could leave matters as they now stand, an entire creation happily whirring away, each element obeying its internal principles as given by God. It is at this point that the tragic element enters the moral and spiritual universe man had learned to call home. In a moral test, the weak link in man’s constitution is exposed. It is that autonomous existence is only safe and harmonious as long as the obedience implicit in the Creator-creature relationship is maintained. The autonomous life on Adam was his source of light. John 1:4: “In him was life; and the life was the light of men.” “And God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life” (Genesis 2:7). God life was Adam’s life. When in rebellion, man disobeyed the commandment, his light went out (Matthew 6:23b). The command itself was in accord with it. The external objective demand of God was in perfect harmony with Adam’s fundamental need—life.

This event—the fall—revealed the fact that autonomous life can be turned against the One who made it. Satan’s history in Scripture revelation confirms this fact. From the moment man sinned Adam’s spiritual light was extinguished; at this time, Adamic life veered off the tract of God’s structured purpose, on a wild career that has dragged all humanity through the long dark night of sin called history. History’s main events are underscored with the red pencil of horror—continual conflict periodically breaking out in war. So, personal autonomy, detached from its source, deteriorates into rebellion, selfish individualism, anarchy. Autonomy, originally meant for good, finally becomes a word with bad connotations.


This word, heteronomy, derives from two Greek words, heteros meaning foreign, and nomos, meaning law. Man, as he is known from the dawn of history is observed to be one who preys on his fellow human beings. Human nature is all too easily brutalized. This continual drift toward social breakdown necessitates control. At this point the external law enters. Since man seems bereft of internal discipline of self-control, he must be ruled. The law is applied from without—“super-imposed.” It is “law upon” man.

The coming of the law from outside (heteronomy) will be exemplified for us by the Mosaic Law. Though it was given to Israel by the disposition of angels, its end point is carefully described in the Bible. The end from man’s (psychological) view point is summed up by Peter in Acts 15:10: “which neither we nor our fathers were able to bear” referring to the Law of Moses in verse 5. This poignant statement from man’s existential depths reveals dramatically the unsatisfactoriness of the arrangement typically known as “Law.” Some further solution must be sought from man’s experiential standpoint.

Not only is man dissatisfied with a kind of existence under the order of heteronomy, but amazingly enough, God, the author of the law, is also dissatisfied. The drive to correct this disrupted fellowship with His creature, man, originates deep in God. “And the Lord God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou?”

The Mosaic Law’s insufficiency in God’s eyes is demonstrated in His evaluation of it in Hebrews 7:19: “For the law made nothing perfect.” Again in Hebrews 8:7, 8: “For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second. For finding fault with them he said, Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.” A new covenant—a new arrangement. Words fail to express the delight we experience at the good news of the approach of the “new,” for all religious forms ultimately wind up in a relation characterized by heteronomy—laboriously struggling to fulfill a binding law we instinctively feel is alien to us.


This is the word we use to express the new relation. You can see at a glance it is composed of “God” and “law” –God law. The Holy Spirit through the new covenant teaches us that what the world was waiting for was not a written law—not even a religious law; we were waiting to receive the Spirit of the Son of God in our hearts crying, Abba, Father. “He has qualified even me as a minister of the new covenant, which is not a written but a spiritual covenant. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Corinthians 3:6 Williams Translation).

Let us now compare and contrast the realities symbolized by these three forms. The obvious beauty of Autonomy is its inwardness—its integrated nature. Like Samson, it does not exhibit muscles, it is possessed of a mysterious strength; that was the source of the Philistines’ fascination with him. We instinctively admire a horse more than a motorcar, since his power apparatus cannot be detached without destroying his integrity as a horse.

On the debit side however, though God vivified man with the breath of Life—that resultant life found it possible to exist without a sense of God somewhere outside the Manifest Presence (Genesis 3:9). This represents from God’s view point a fallible life-form, failing of God’s intent.

Heteronomy (the Law) on the other hand exists as a brittle, objective reality, unchanging in it s moral grandeur. “Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just, and good” (Romans 7:12). “For we know that the law is spiritual” (Romans 7:14a). And frustrating. Because it is outside man. Paul expresses ultimate frustration in chapter seven of Romans. Confucius provides a similar frustration for the Chinese, in a like situation as Romans 7:24: “O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me . . .” They are bequeathed an ethic minus the inner dynamic—the enablement (grace) to be and to do. But Romans eight opens with the dominant paean of praise of the new creation man who finds realized in himself the Law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus. This note of triumph is echoed and re-echoed in the Prophets and the New Testament. No longer does the perfect objective tantalize us from without. No longer are we reduced to merely our own fallible selves, bankrupt of power to be.

At this point of ultimate existential crisis, Christ comes in, bringing in His Person all the longed for perfections of the “Law.” “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets; I am not come to destroy but to fulfill.” Thus, He marries His infallibility with our fallibility. His Wisdom with our dull stupidity and His Freedom with our parochial imprisonment in “our” time and “our” space. What emerges from this cataclysmic encounter of the human with the divine is nothing less than a new creation. 2 Corinthians 5:17, the essence of “Christian,” “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27).

Here we have the blending of opposites: the Inner (Autonomy) and the Outer (Heteronomy) in a new state of being that is (according to Scripture and history) satisfying both to God and His Man. Here is an Autonomy thinking, feeling, and willing Theonomously. The new Autonomy is deeply and permanently imbued with the sense of the Divine. It lives and moves and has its being in God. Its standard measure is set forth in an oft neglected verse of Scripture that immediately follows an oft quoted one: “And all things are of God.”

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