Originally posted at a biblical perspective in December 2007; Reposted from December 2009:
Previously: is the old covenant obsolete? part three
When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. Col 2:13-14
In order to understand this passage correctly, we have to know: what is the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us? That is what has been nailed to the cross. Is it, as some say, the Torah of God, His definition of right and wrong, His instruction in His paths of righteous living, His teaching of His ways, that way of walking which is worthy of His name?
What has been nailed to the cross must be:
- a certificate of debt, and
- decrees in opposition to us and hostile to us.
The phrase, “certificate of debt,” in the Greek, is chirograph. It simply means, something hand-written. But in the culture in which Paul and the Colossians lived, chirographs were nailed to the execution stakes along with the criminal who was being executed. It was the list of his crimes, which explained why he was being executed. This happened to Jesus, but since Pilate could not determine what His transgression was, he nailed this certificate of debt above His head: “The King of the Jews.” Chirographs were also posted at the door of a jail cell when a prisoner was jailed. In this way any jailer or magistrate could determine the transgression of the law for which the prisoner was in chains.
The word “debt” found in verse 14 above is not actually in the Greek (other translations insert “requirements,” but that is not in the Greek either). But the translators inserted “debt,” first of all knowing the culture, that chirographs accompanied those who were imprisoned or who were condemned to die. But also Paul makes the context clear, because in verse 13 he says that we had died (as if we had been executed on an execution stake) in our transgressions, which are crimes against the law, or Torah. Another way of putting what Paul is saying in verse 13, is that we had died because of our crimes against the law.
He puts the same idea another way in Galatians:
I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. Gal 2:20
In the spiritual sense, before we came to Christ, we were executed on the execution stake — we were dead — because of our transgressions, our crimes against the Torah, since the wages of sin, which is breaking Torah, is death. That is the state that Christ found us in. He then canceled out our certificate of debt, our chirograph, which was the list of our transgressions. This list of our sins is what was hostile to us. This indictment, this guilty verdict, this finding that we had in fact sinned, was the decree against us. Jesus Christ took this chirograph out the way, and nailed it itself to His cross.
When we are baptized in Him, we identify with His death, burial, and resurrection. I have been crucified with Christ, I have been raised from spiritual death, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. (Hallelujah! I made myself happy writing this!)
Nowhere in the Old or New Testaments can we find theological support that it is the Torah itself — God’s perfect Law — which has been nailed to the cross; but rather it is the chirograph of our transgressions against Torah which has been taken out of the way!
Now the Greek word which the Hebrew Septuagint translators used to translate torah, is nomos. This word is found throughout the New Testament to mean, the Torah of God. If it was Paul’s intention to say that the Torah had been nailed to the cross, then why did he not say, “… having canceled out the nomos consisting of decrees against us.” Instead he said, “… having canceled out the chirograph consisting of decrees against us;” because it was not his intention to communicate that the Torah had been nailed to the cross, but the record of our violation of it, our chirograph, which had been nailed to the cross!
Is not the God we serve worthy of praise, thanksgiving, and honor! Now perhaps it is easier to see why eternal life in Jesus Christ is such a pure gift of grace, completely unable to be earned by our own works!