As this evil world, approaching the 21st century, plunges deeper into lawlessness , religion seems to offer no solutions. In fact, most religions today teach the absence of law. Although they do not condone murder, stealing or adultery, when they are confronted with the Ten Commandments, they will usually brush them off as being part of an “old law,” done away in the New Testament.
Some will admit that Christ kept the Ten Commandments, but once He died, the law was then done away—because, like His body, the law was nailed to the cross. The verse they use to support this belief is Colossians 2:14: “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” (Col. 2:14).
An irrefutable fact about this scripture is that something was nailed to the cross. And it was something “contrary to us,” something that hurt us.
But this could not be referring toGod’s law—since God’s law is not “against us.” Notice that the same writer of this misunderstood verse in Colossians also wrote:“Wherefore the law isholy , and the commandment holy, and just , and good ”(Rom. 7:12). Many other scriptures convey a similar message (IJohn 5:3; Ps. 119).
And many forget Christ’s own words:“Think not that I am come to destroy the law , or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, [not ‘till Iam nailed to the cross’] one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled”(Matt. 5:17-18). The law of God is eternal.
So what was nailed to the cross?
“Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us…” (Col. 2:14). Christ didn’t blot out the law but rather the handwriting of ordinances.
What are these ordinances Paul is talking about? This phrase is perhaps what makes this verse so confusing. It reads simpler in the Greek. The word ordinances just means “law.” And what kind of law is it? Look at the context:
“Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances. (Touch not; taste not; handle not; Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men” (vv. 20-22). “Touch not; taste not; handle not” does not refer to God’s law. If Paul meant the Ten Commandments, he would have referred to them specifically as he did in Romans 13:8-10. And “touch not; taste not; handle not” cannot refer to the sacrificial law, since the priests had a great portion of meat—thus having to taste, handle and slaughter the animals. Neither can these ordinances be about the festivals commanded in the Old Testament to be observed forever—since peopleate and drankvigorously and joyfully! These ordinances are “the commandments and doctrines of men” (v. 22).
Paul condemns those who are “subject” to man’s ordinances. So did Jesus Christ: “Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. [Paul used almost the exact wording!] For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men”(Mark 7:7-8).
What was Paul referring to that is “contrary to us” in Colossians 2:14? Not God’s law; that is there for our joy! These commandments and doctrines of men are contrary to us because they cause us to reject the only law that will ever give us true bliss!
Now that we know which ordinances Paul is referring to, we must understand that it was not these actual man-made ordinances being done away, since men have been teaching false doctrines of their own for centuries. We must study the word “handwriting.”
The Greek Lexicon by Parkhurst defines the word: “A bond, note of hand…a sort of note under man’s hand whereby he obliges himself to the payment of any debt.”It refers to a note of debt or guilt. Putting this together with what we know of the word “ordinances” (that they are man’s), the entire phrase “handwriting of ordinances” in the Greek means, “a note of guilt from keeping man’s law.” If we obey man’s law rather than God’s, we are obviously guilty of breaking God’s eternal law—and that is sin (I John 3:4). Sin has a penalty of death (Rom. 6:23). This penalty must be paid; God will not compromise! The note of guilt—our sins—needs to be “taken out of the way.” And what does that? Originally, our death would have paid that note of guilt, but Jesus Christ came in the flesh and, on the cross, paid the penalty for all who will accept it.
The penalty of breaking GOD’Slaw was paid, blotted out, nailed to the cross. Christ was made sin for us (II Cor. 5:21). IPeter 2:24 states, “Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree , that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.” The penalty of our sin was nailed to the tree. And sin is the “transgression of the law”(I John 3:4). If the law was done away, there would be no sin for which the penalty should be paid! There wouldn’t be a note of guilt! No record of our sins that would need to be blotted out!
Only two things were nailed to the stake at Golgotha:1) the physical body of Jesus Christ and 2) the “note of guilt”—the record of our sins which Christ paid for Himself by sacrificing His life.
All of this makes perfect sense when we consider the context in which Paul was writing to the Colossians. While in jail, Paul wrote this epistle as a warning to those in Colosse and Laodicea about men who were trying to change doctrines and deceive God’s people (Col. 2:1, 4; 4:15-16). He mainly warned them against following men and urged them to hold fast to their true foundation—Jesus Christ. “Rooted and built up in him , and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving. Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ” (Col. 2:7-8). “Rudiments of the world” can be translated “ruling spirits of the universe.” These self-righteous, false ministers were trying to turn people from God’s ordinances to man’s—which was, in reality, the worshiping of demons. Though this worship seemed like real humility (v. 18), it was in fact of the devil.
And Paul was warning them to get founded in Christ and what they had been taught through Him. Approaching verse 14, Paul drew comparisons with the conversion process and Christ. He showed how they were circumcised spiritually (v. 11) and how they were spiritually buried with Him at baptism(v. 12).
Now notice the next two verses: “And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses ; 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 ” (vv. 13-14). The subject is forgiveness of sin. Forgiveness (v. 13) is the blotting out of the penalty of sin (v. 14).
With this understanding, let’s reread the verse using all the definitions discussed above: “Blotting out the note of guilt or debt that needs to be paid for keeping man’s doctrines and laws (rather than God’s) which are against us, contrary to us, and Jesus Christ took this record of our sins out of the way by dying in our stead, nailing it to His cross.”
Paul was trying to get the Colossians’ focus off men and onto the sacrifice of Christ—who paid the penalty of our sins against God’s law. By using the phrase“handwriting of ordinances,” he showed the guilt incurred by rejecting God’s law for man’s.
Colossians 2:14 does not throw away God’s law, but rather supports it—perhaps why so many try to twist its true meaning!
Let’s be thankful that none of God’s laws were blotted out. These laws produce happiness in our lives, protect our families, guard our relations with others and God and cause us the most supreme joy and prosperity when we submit to them.