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Colossians 2:14  (King James Version)

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Topical Studies
<< Colossians 2:13   Colossians 2:15 >>

Colossians 2:11-15

In verses 11 through 14, Paul shows how Jesus Christ died to pay the penalty for our sins and now our past sins, brought about by conforming to the ways, practices, and philosophies of this world, are completely blotted out and nailed to His cross. He reminds them that Christ has completely conquered all of the evil spirits who continue to rule this present, evil world and who inspire the pagan philosophies that had so influenced the Colossian society: "Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it" (verse 15).

Earl L. Henn (1934-1997)
Are the Sabbath and Holy Days Done Away?

Colossians 2:14

In their struggle to find a New Testament scripture that supports their misconception that God's law is "done away," antinomians point to Colossians 2:14 to "prove" that Christ nailed the law of God to the cross. Proponents of such a teaching say that the "handwriting of requirements [ordinances, KJV]" refers to the law "that was against us." They further claim that Christ "took it out of the way" or abolished the law.

The phrase "handwriting of requirements" is translated from the Greek phrase cheirographon tois dogmasin. Cheirographon means anything written by hand, but can more specifically apply to a legal document, bond, or note of debt. Dogmasin refers to decrees, laws, or ordinances, and in this context means a body of beliefs or practices that have become the guidelines governing a person's conduct or way of life.

What Paul is saying is that, by His death, Christ has justified us—brought us into alignment with His Law—and wiped out the note of guilt or debt that we owed as a result of our sins. Before repentance, our lives had been governed by the standards and values of this present, evil world—the "decrees, laws and ordinances" of the society in which we lived. After repentance and acceptance of Christ, we embark on a new way of life and live by God's standards and values. Consequently, God wipes out the debt we acquired as a result of our sins and imputes righteousness to us.

Also notice that the phrase "handwriting of requirements" restates the phrase immediately before it. "Having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us" parallels "having forgiven you all trespasses." Thus, Paul could not be referring to the law itself but rather to the record of our transgression of that law—sin!

The last sentence in verse 14 reads: "And He has taken it out of the way..." In this sentence, the word "it" is a singular pronoun and refers back to the singular word "handwriting." "Requirements" could not be its antecedent because "requirements" is plural. So, some kind of handwriting—a note, a record, or a citation—was affixed to the cross.

Historically, only two objects were nailed to the stake of crucifixion: 1) the condemned person and 2) an inscription naming the crimes for which he was being punished. Thus, when Jesus was crucified, only His body and Pilate's inscription ("This is Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews"; see Matthew 27:37; Mark 15:26; Luke 23:38; John 19:19) were nailed to the cross. Normally, the inscription would be more accusative, saying something like, "This is Jesus of Nazareth, who rebelled against Caesar." Pilate's complimentary inscription replaced the customary note or record of guilt—the "handwriting of requirements" that would have been found nailed to the crosses of the two malefactors crucified with Him.

Just before He died, when the Father forsook Him (Matthew 27:46), our sins were symbolically nailed to the cross in His body. "Who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed" (I Peter 2:24). At the time of His crucifixion, Jesus Christ became sin for us. "For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him" (II Corinthians 5:21). Our note of debt that we owed God as a result of our sins is what was "taken out of the way" and "nailed . . . to the cross."

Earl L. Henn (1934-1997)
Was God's Law Nailed to the Cross?

What Are the 'Ordinances' of Colossians 2:14 and Ephesians 2:15?

To begin, it should be understood that the word "ordinances" in these passages does not refer to God's laws. It is translated from the Greek word dogma and refers generally to opinions, judgments, and decrees. Such ordinances could be public decrees by government officials or religious decrees by religious officials. We should, however, treat these two verses separately because they deal with different subjects.

Colossians 2:14 should be seen in its context, specifically with the preceding verse:

And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. (verses 13-14)

The New King James version has rendered dogma as "requirements," a perfectly justifiable translation. The phrase "handwriting of requirements," however, begs an explanation. Its basic meaning is "a written statement of obligation," much like a traffic citation, which lists the laws that its recipient broke. Thus, it is a record of wrongdoing or guilt. We can verify this by seeing that the clause in which it appears restates the one just before it: "having forgiven you all trespasses." What Paul is telling these Colossians is that the sacrifice of Jesus Christ has "wiped out" all record of their guilt in breaking God's law. That is good news!

Christ came to pay the penalty for all our sins. Accepting His sacrifice releases us from the penalty of death incurred through our sin and cleanses our conscience from all guilt (Ephesians 1:7; Hebrews 9:14; I John 1:7; 2:2). God says that when He forgives our sins, He removes it "as far as east is from the west" (Psalm 103:12). This truly is "tak[ing] it out of the way"!

Ephesians 2:15 uses dogma in a different way, and again, we need to see the context of Paul's argument:

For He Himself is our peace, who has made both [Jew and Gentile] one, and has broken down the middle wall of division between us, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. (Verses 14-16)

Paul himself defines what this "law of commandments contained in ordinances" is; it is "the enmity"—which he mentions twice (verses 15-16)—between Jews and Gentiles (see verses 11-12). He also calls it "the middle wall of division" in verse 14. Whatever "the law of commandments contained in ordinances" is, it causes hatred and division. This rules out right away that it refers to God's law, for it, Paul writes in Romans 7:12, "is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good."

We can solve our dilemma with one passage from Jesus' own mouth, speaking to the scribes and Pharisees of His day:

Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition? . . . Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition. Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: . . . "And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men."

These "commandments of men" were the restrictive pharisaical decrees burdening the Jews and those among the Gentiles who desired to worship God. These human ordinances—additions by men to what God revealed in the Old Testament—contributed to feelings of prejudice, animosity, suspicion, and separation between the Jews and Gentiles who were being called into God's church. These ordinances acted as a "middle wall of division." However, Jesus abolished that barrier through His supreme sacrifice: "For He Himself is our peace" (Ephesians 2:14).

In Paul's day, many newly-begotten Christians continued to suffer from the burden of their former teachings. Some converted Jews found it difficult to forget and change that deeply-ingrained part of their lives. It affected even someone as converted as the apostle Peter (see Galatians 2:11-12). Paul explains to the Ephesians, mostly Gentiles, that Christians comprise an entirely new community that is not dependent at all upon the manmade laws and regulations of their former religions, but only upon what God had revealed: "Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone" (Ephesians 2:19-20).

Christ abolished the Talmudic traditions—all of which were yokes of bondage (Galatians 5:1; Matthew 23:4)—as necessary for salvation. Jesus, however, did not do away with any part of God's law. In fact, He made it possible for both Jew and Gentile to become spiritual Israelites, the children of God (Galatians 3:26-29; 6:16), so they might live together in freedom within His perfect law (James 1:25). He says in Matthew 5:17, "Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill."

Yes, to fulfill, to observe, to keep, and by doing so, He set us a perfect example as to how we ought to live. We are "to walk just as He walked" (I John 2:6). The apostle Peter writes that Christ left "us an example, that you should follow His steps" (I Peter 2:21). Paul says, "Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ" (I Corinthians 11:1).

God's law is good and for our benefit: "You shall therefore keep His statutes and His commandments, which I command you today, that it may go well with you and with your children after you, and that you may prolong your days in the land which the LORD your God is giving you for all time" (Deuteronomy 4:40).

Jesus Christ did indeed do away with the unnecessary and unprofitable requirements of men, but the law of God is binding on us more than ever. We are to keep it in the Spirit as well as the letter. Even so, the benefits of keeping God's laws are wonderful and many. Jesus says, "If you know these things, happy are you if you do them" (John 13:17).

Additional Reading:
Are the Sabbath and Holy Days Done Away?
Was God's Law Nailed to the Cross?
The Covenants, Grace and Law (Part 6)

Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Colossians 2:14:

Galatians 4:9-10
Colossians 2:14
Colossians 2:16-17
Hebrews 9:27


<< Colossians 2:13   Colossians 2:15 >>

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