From the Comments: The Connection of the Church with Israel, Part 4 (Is the Law Hung on the Cross?)

graftedolivetreeOne of the most commonly cited verses in Church of Christ theology is —

(Col 2:13-14 ESV) 13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses,  14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.

The ESV gets this translation right, but the NIV bungles it –

(Col 2:14 NIV) having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.

This is a key proof text in the argument that we aren’t “bound by the Old Testament” and therefore should be “New Testament Christians.” But the current version of the NIV is a bad translation, and the ESV gets it right.

The Greek is well-explained by Bobby Valentine –

Paul says that the cheirograph was nailed the cross. This word is a Pauline hapax and never occues again in the NT. In the 19th century the word turned up in the sands of Egypt inscribed on papyri. Adolf Deissmann in his epoch making book Light from the Ancient East demonstrates that the term refers to an I.O.U., a certificate of debt incurred by a person (cf. pp. 331-334).

Historical context is a cardinal rule in biblical interpretation. In Jewish apocalyptic there was an idea that there existed a book of records that kept track of our evil deeds. This book, like the mortgage (an I.O.U.) at the bank, provided powerful leverage with less than friendly spirit beings called principalities, powers, angels and the like. This book is mentioned often in Jewish literature of the time (1 Enoch 89.61-64; 108.7; Testament of Abraham 12.7-18; 13.9-14; and many other places). Enoch, for example, tells how he heard the words “write down every destruction {sin} … so that this may become testimony for me against them.” We have an IOU that stands against us and that IOU is our own sin debt. It is that sin that the malignant powers hold over us.

The premier koine Greek dictionary, BDAG, defines χειρόγραφον (cheirographon) as “a hand-written document, specif. a certificate of indebtedness, account, record of debts.” Thayer’s defines the word “a note of hand, or writing in which one acknowledges that money has either been deposited with him or lent to him by another, to he returned at an appointed time.”

In short, the insistence of Church of Christ authors on misusing this verse, despite the presence of many better translations, such as the ESV, NASB, NET, and even the original NIV — as well as the consensus views of the major koine Greek dictionaries — is indefensible.

The Law of Moses wasn’t nailed to the cross. Rather, it was our I.O.U.’s to God, the record of our indebtedness to him. God forgave our trespasses. It’s just that simple. And he did this by bringing us into Jesus — in whom the fullness of deity dwells — and resurrecting us with him and circumcising our hearts (through the Spirit) when we were baptized.

And it should be obvious that the Law has not been nailed to the cross, in that we are still bound by “Love your neighbor” as well as “Love the Lord your God.” How does this work? We’re getting there.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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