According to the King James Version of the Bible, God erased the “handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:14 KJV). Another translation refers to eliminating the “record that stood against us with its legal demands” (NRSV). Some see this statement in Colossians as a reference to the abrogation of the Mosaic Law—the “handwriting of ordinances” being that which appeared on stones at Sinai and consisted of “legal demands” for Israel. Yet, both the context of Colossians and first-century Jewish theology disqualify reading the “handwriting” as the Torah. Instead, what God nailed to the cross was the heavenly record of debt that humanity had accumulated through its sins; Jesus’ death obliterates the debt of sin, not the Law of Moses.

In first-century Jewish thought, committing sins put people in debt to God. Therefore, to expunge sin, humans needed a way to pay down their sin-debts. According to the New Testament writers, this is where Jesus comes in. Specifically, the Messiah gives his life as a ransom payment to God. Yeshua declares, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve; and to give his life as a ransom (λύτρον; lutron) for many” (Matt 20:28 // Mk 10:45). In other words, Jesus presents his own life as a ransom payment in exchange for the lives of those who have sinned. Jesus’ self-appellation, “Son of Man,” recalls Daniel’s vision of “one like a son of man” (כבר אנשׁ; kevar enash; Dan 7:14) appearing in heaven as God’s “court sat in judgment, and books (ספרין; siphrin) were opened” (Dan 7:10). When Jesus gives his life as a ransom payment to God, the Son of Man dissolves the record of debt in these heavenly books.

Equipped with this ancient Jewish background of sin-debt, the claim in Colossians 2:14 makes more sense. The original Greek says that Jesus’ death cancelled the “χειρόγραφον” that was against us. This word also appears in the earlier Book of Tobit (c. 200 BCE), where it refers to a written financial bond or record of debt. When Tobit tells his son Tobias to collect money that he left with another man twenty years prior, Tobit states, “He gave me his bond (χειρόγραφον) and I gave him my bond…. And now twenty years have passed since I left the money in trust. So now, my son… get back the money” (Tob 5:3; cf. 9:5). It is this kind of written bill that God “erased” by “nailing it to the cross” (Col 2:14). But the cross-affixed document does not detail earthly indebtedness; it is a record of sin-debts written in heaven. With its cancellation, the debt of sin dies with Jesus. The immediate context of Colossians explicates the point: “You who were dead in your sins… God made alive with him, having forgiven us all our sins by erasing the record of debt that was against us” (Col 2:13-14). As Paul puts it, “The wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23), but God eliminates the record of sin-debt when Jesus dies on the cross.  

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55 COMMENTS

  1. The book of Hebrews is a good reference to sin-debts that you speak of here in this article. Jesus is greater than Moses. Heb.3:3 Jesus becomes a merciful & faithful high priest, who was tempted & able to help those who are being tempted so he make atonement for sins of all people. Heb:2:17-18. He's 7:19 the law made nothing perfect, vs22 Jesus is perfection & becomes the guarantee of a better covenant .Heb 8:13 By calling this covenant new, he has made the first law absolute & what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear. Heb.9 Christ is the mediator of the new covenant,His blood is purer, more unblemished than that of goats, sheep & calves & only He can take away sins. He's 10:10. So how I see it, the new covenant, allows for more people to be included for forgiveness of sins as God has made better plans for all who believe & remain faithful to Him.We are to please God, not men.Where people went to the temple for Priests to sacrifice for atonement of sins, now our bodies have become the temple as we become living sacrifices, pleasing & acceptable to God. We can worship anywhere & we can pray anywhere for help, guidance ,strength & forgiveness. We also can come together to worship as one body of people, in Christ Jesus, our mediator through which we can boldly approach the throne of God for all our needs, help, strength & forgiveness. Basically, we have been given more flexibility & opportunities in being a faithful, humble servant of God, because of Christ's sacrifice & addition of the new covenant have we not?
    • Thank you for your comments and question, Judy. Insofar as Jesus in Hebrews is a "once for all" sacrifice for sin whose priestly functionality can be accessed from any geographical location, yes, there is perhaps more flexibility in the avenue for atonement. Though, Jesus did not inaugurate this change; instead, the temple's destruction in 70 forced the change, and the writer of Hebrews proposes that Jesus' sacrifice fills the gap left by the temple's absence. Thanks for studying with us.
  2. Hi, Dr. Schaser! Wonderful topic to remind us of what Jesus did for us! Your interpretation of this verse sounds more plausible than the abolition of the Mosaic Law. If it is something that "stood against us" or is "contrary to us", would that be similar to "legal charges" made against us in our modern times if we broke a secular law? If we broke a secular law, and someone pays the fine, the legal charge would be dismissed, but not the law (please correct me, if I'm wrong). So, then the Mosaic law continues as valid and standing, but our record of sin-debt is abolished because of the cross (as you said). Can this misinterpretation of the text be due to other verses such as Romans 6:14? Hope you reply!
    • Thank you for your comments and question, Jasmine. Yes, verses like Rom 6:14 are often misinterpreted to mean that the Law has been abolished. But for Paul the problem to be defeated is sin, not Law. Your analogy to legal charges in a modern court is both appropriate and helpful. Thanks for studying with us.

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  3. Excellent article Prof. So true. If I may add, Paul could not have referred to the Torah because the Colossians non-jewish Christ followers were never under the Torah. Yeahua’s “job” on the cross was simply to forgive sins, cancellation of debt, etc. I mean Paul practiced Torah after Yeshua’s death.
    • There is only Torah with laws for Jews and others pertaining to sojourners living within the Israelite community. There is no such thing as the 10 words being “active” and the sacrifices being done away with. Paul approached the Levitical altar and offered burnt offerings after the death of Yeshua.
  4. Praise the Lord! Absolutely! Why would the Torah be nailed to the cross when according to Galatians 3:24 it is what brought us to Yeshua in the first place.
  5. Jesus gave us 2 more commandments.Alwaysput God first and love your neighbor as you would yourself.If we follow those 2 commandments then the 10 commandments.Law of Moses will be followed automatically. I believe those laws had to come 1st as a guide of morals
  6. I understand the handwritten law to be the laws given to Moses that he wrote down, certainly not the Ten Commandments written by God himself! The laws written by Moses described the sacrifices that had to be made; Jesus the Lamb that was slain once and for all did awaywithsacrifices.
    • I agrees. The 10 Commandments (Moral Law) defines or identifies the ways in which humans can transgress against God. The laws of sacrifices were given as a means for reconciliation with God, when the moral law was broken. It was a shadow pointing to Christ, the Lamb of God.
  7. Well, I know that you are not Christians running this outfit, but I do want to register my appreciation for the evenhanded way in which you present various passages from the Christian scriptures. I think that kind of objectivity requires taking care on your part. Thanks!
  8. The law handed over to Moses is for us at the beginning but Jesus Christ was slain on the cross for atoment of our sins.Ten commandment was giving first but the law of Christ says love thy God with all thy mind and second your neighbor as thy self.
    • Olatokun kehinde The 10 commandments first are to last longer than earth and heaven. The 1-4 are how to love our Father 5-10 to love our neighbours,Rom;7:12 The law is hoy the commandment holy, and just, and good.4:15 Where there is no law there is no transgression
  9. Thanks slot Bro. Nicholas for this great insight. I knew well that Jesus came not to abolish the Law...But this Colossians text, according to translations was hard for me to connect with the rest of scripture..... Good work Doc ,only God can repay you for standing for truth..Shalom
  10. The problem is caused by not understanding the book of Hebrews which was all about warning about the imminent destruction of the Temple in 70 AD and Yeshua being a better priest to be approached as the Levitical priesthood was about to end. Paul offered sacrifices ‘cause the Temple existed.
    • Interesting article, but still a number of gaps exist though, like Gal 2:21. Plus the lack of any record that the church of Acts actively observed ceremonial and sacficial laws. Acts 15 has clear guidance on this matter and the contents of the letter to the gentile church are captured

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