By Kelly McDonald, Jr.
In Colossians 2:13-15, Paul wrote, “13 And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses; 14 Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross; 15 And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it.” (KJV, emphasis mine throughout)
Common Argument: Many people use these verses to say that Christ nailed the Law of God or the entire Old Testament to the cross, including the Sabbath.
Think it Through: If Christ nailed the Law to the cross, then why did the Apostles continue to observe it? (including the Sabbath – see Acts 13:13-48, 16:11-15, 17:1-4, 18:1-4; 20:16; I Cor. 5:6-8, Col. 2:15-17).
Short Answer: Our sin debt was nailed to the cross, not the law of God
Longer Answer: The Greek word translated as law is nomos; it is not used at all in the entire book of Colossians. If Paul were referring to any kind of law, the appropriate language would need to be used. What is Paul really saying?
One way to learn the proper meaning of a verse is to look at the verses before and after it. In verse 13, Paul discussed 1) being dead in sin and 2) being made alive in Christ after the forgiving of our sins. Clearly, the mention of being ‘dead in sin’ before salvation in verse 13 is connected to whatever was nailed to the cross in verse 14.
In verse 13, the Greek word translated as forgiven is charisamenos, and it can mean forgive (as in sin), pardon, or to forgive a debt.
In verse 14, the Greek word translated as ‘blotting out’ is exaleipsas. It means to erase something that is written. This same Greek word is used in Acts 3:19 to repentance and having our sins erased: “Repent ye therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out…” (ASV). This word is also used in the Greek translation of the old testament, called the Septuagint in Isaiah 43:25: “I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mind own sake, and will not remember thy sins” (KJV, emphasis mine; see also Psalm 51:9).
In verse 14, the Greek words translated as “handwriting of ordinances” are cheirographon tois dogmasin. Cheirographon means a signed bill of indebtedness. Dogmasin means a decree (of man-made origin). With this foundation we can better understand Colossians 2:13-15.
The word of God mentions that a record of our deeds are kept in heaven (Revelation 20:12, Hosea 13:12, Nehemiah 13:14, Psalm 109:14). This includes our sins. A bill of indebtedness for our sins was created by our life outside of covenant with God. As Paul wrote: “For the wages of sin is death; but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). We were owed the payment death because of our sins. No good deeds we could have accumulated would outweigh the sin we lived in and the payment of that sin, which is death.
Christ died for us (Rom. 5:9-20; I Peter 1:21-23). He erased the record of our sins and nailed it to the cross when He died on it. Thus, our sin debt and the subsequent punishment was nailed to the cross, not the Law of God. We are asked to continue to put to death the sinful desires within us (Col. 3:5; I Peter 2:24). Because He paid the price, we have eternal life (John 3:15-17).
In Galatians 5:24, Paul wrote: “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” Now that we are saved, we don’t crucify the Law of God, but those things within us that cause us to transgress it.
The newest version of the NIV words Colossians 2:13-14 this way: “13 When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.”
In Colossians 2:15, Paul finished this section by saying, “And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it.”
Revelation 12:10 explains that Satan is the accuser of the brethren. When we repent, our sins are blotted out of the books in Heaven, so that the powers and principalities of this world are put to an open shame! They are disarmed! Their accusations are rendered null and void. This should be very humbling to all of us.
Kelly McDonald, Jr.
President of the Bible Sabbath Association (BSA)