The Revelation: Chapter 21:1 (the new heaven and new earth, part 1)

lion-dove-lamb-yeshuaJust because I so love these last two chapters of the Revelation, we’re going to go verse by verse.

(Rev. 21:1 ESV) Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.

Now, there are basically two interpretations of “the new heaven and new earth.” One is found in the Christian Courier, a popular Church of Christ website —

This environment of the saved is simply heaven. Paul wrote that our citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3:20). The apostle also said that we have one hope, and that our hope is in heaven (Eph. 4:4; Col. 1:5).

In every respect, heaven will be characterized by newness. It is a place never before inhabited by Christians. It is the first time the saved, in a glorified state, will be in the very presence of God — face to face (cf. 1 Jn. 3:2; Rev. 22:4). This new state, where sin and death are no more, will be the eternal abode of the saved when the Lord returns, and the living are caught up with the redeemed of all ages to be with the Lord forever (cf. 1 Thes. 4:13-18).

I think most Christians agree. But I don’t. Rather, I lean toward a position found not only in N. T. Wright, but taught by many Restoration leaders of the 19th and 20th Centuries, including Alexander Campbell, David Lipscomb, G. C. Brewer, and Moses Lard. It surprising that a doctrine taught by such influential leaders has been nearly forgotten — until we were reminded of it by an Anglican bishop (Wright).

The Courier makes a couple of serious exegetical errors. First, there’s nothing about what the OT says on the subject. I don’t know why we so insist on using just one edge of a two-edged sword!

The obvious reference is to Gen 1, describing the creation of “the heavens and the earth.” Is God replacing the old with new, or is he making the old new? Well, the Revelator says,

(Rev. 21:5a ESV)  5 And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” 

That sounds like he’s renewing what’s become old. Lenski explains it nicely —

When some consider the flight, going away, passing away of the old an annihilation and the new a creation like that of Genesis 1, ex nihilo, they come into conflict with Rom. 8:20–23 and with our present passage. The newness of the heaven and of the earth shall be like our own. We shall be the same persons and have the same body and the same soul that we now have; but these made entirely new. Our newness begins with regeneration. Already this the Scriptures call a creation of God, Eph. 2:10; 4:24, so that we are καινὴ κτίσις, “a new creation,” 2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15. After body and soul are glorified, we shall be new-created, indeed. The same will be true with regard to the new heaven and the new earth. This is more than an analogy, for man is the creature for whom the first heaven and the first earth were created, and if he is made new by creative acts without first having been annihilated, he the head of all this creation, shall God annihilate heaven and earth and create ex nihilo another heaven and earth? Combine what is here said with Rom. 8, and the answer is plain

R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. John’s Revelation, (Columbus, OH: Lutheran Book Concern, 1935), 614–615.

Just as Christians are each made a “new creation” (2 Cor 5:17; Gal 6:15), our present heavens and earth will be made new — not by annihilation followed by a new creation from nothing but by transforming what has already been made.

The Greek word for new neos means wholly new. But the “new” in Rev 21 and in “new creation” is kainos, meaning made new again. Thayer’s explains, “νέος [neos] denotes the new primarily in reference to time, the young, recent; καινός [kainos] denotes the new primarily in reference to quality, the fresh, unworn.” Hence, we also find that the “new covenant” of Jer 31:31 and the several NT passages referring to it use kainos, because the new covenant does not destroy the promises previously made by God. Indeed, Paul argues in Gal 3 and Rom 4 that we are saved by faith because God promised this to Abraham.

See also this thoughtful article from Bobby Valentine.

Rom 8:18-21

Next, as Lenski urges, we really need to consider Paul’s description of the afterlife in Rom 8. Then we’ll consider the contrary arguments made by the Christian Courier.

(Rom. 8:18-19 ESV)  18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.  19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 

Paul anthropomorphises (I’ve been waiting since 10th grade English class to use that word) the Creation — treating it as a person, indeed, as a woman in childbirth (as we’ll see). And the Creation is expectantly awaiting the “revealing” of the sons of God. What is that?

To me, it’s a plain reference to —

(Dan. 12:2-3 ESV) And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.  3 And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.

— a favorite passage of Paul’s.  It’s easy to see how Paul might imagine the “glory that is to be revealed in us” based on this passage. Compare —

(Phil. 2:14-15 NIV) 14 Do everything without grumbling or arguing,  15 so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky

So Paul, based on Daniel, foresees a day when the saved will be resurrected and be revealed in star-like glory. We are already new creations, but our full glory as such will only be revealed when Jesus returns and we arise from our graves, with transformed bodies.

Now, this is something for which the Creation “waits” (Rom 8:19) — which tells us that the Creation won’t be destroyed before we receive our transformed, star-like, glorious bodies. You can’t wait for what you’ll never see.

(Rom. 8:20-21 ESV)  20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope  21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.

We are next told that the Creation will be “set free from its bondage to corruption.” This doesn’t sound like “destroyed.” Indeed, the Creation will obtain the same freedom as that enjoyed by the children of God! We’ll be transformed into glory — as will the Creation!

“Futility” is the same word translated “vanity” throughout Ecclesiastes. “Bondage” refers to slavery. “Corruption” is used by Paul in 1 Cor 15:42 and :50 to refer to perishability — mortality. Hence, the Creation was subjected to vanity (futility) but will be set free from slavery to mortality/perishability — and will instead obtain freedom from slavery to mortality and enjoy the glory of the sons of God — who will be immortal.

Paul is declaring that the Creation will be rendered imperishable by God — just like God’s children. After all, we’re going to need a place to live.

(Rom. 8:22-23 ESV)  22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.  23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 

In other words, Jesus was resurrected with a new body, leaving his grave empty, and he is the first of God’s children to undergo resurrection.

(1 Cor. 15:20 ESV)  20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 

(Phil. 3:20-21 ESV) 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,  21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.

When we are saved, we receive the Spirit, we are regenerated, and we become new creations — because the process of transforming us to become like Jesus has begun. But it won’t be completed until the general resurrection.

Meanwhile, the rest of the Creation is anticipating the general resurrection, because not only will the children of God be revealed in their new, glorious bodies, but the Creation itself will, like us, become imperishable.

Now, this will require a change in the laws of physics, because entropy has to be ended. On the earth, entropy (the tendency of things to become more and more disorganized) is sometimes locally reversed by the power of the sun. In heaven, God himself will be our sun (Rev 21:23), and doubtlessly the reverser of entropy.

PS — I’m well aware of 2 Pet 3 as well as the arguments made by the Christian Courier. But we have to cover some additional ground before we get there.

Leave a Reply

  1. And now our scientists tell us of the very low, deep sounds of the universe. Kinda, sorta, coulda be like “GROANINGS” My, oh my, do tell.

  2. Jay, I’m hoping you will address John 14:3 as well, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.” That kind of language doesn’t seem well-suited to the idea of a transformed heaven and earth.

  3. There are so many things wrong in what you have said.

    Just as Christians are each made a “new creation” (2 Cor 5:17; Gal 6:15), our present heavens and earth will be made new — not by annihilation followed by a new creation from nothing but by transforming what has already been made.

    The Greek word for new neos means wholly new. But the “new” in Rev 21 and in “new creation” is kainos, meaning made new again.

    In Pauls explanation we as Christians whether alive or dead at the time of Jesus, second comming. we are promised a totaly new body, not just a paint job, and oil change of the old one.
    The same promise extends to our suroundings new, not repaired . you mention the Greek neos meaning “wholly new” and kainos meaning “made new again”
    If we see “wholly new” as something that has never been, and “made new again” as something that once was but has been destroyed, and replaced, we might have a better understanding of the new heaven and new earth. since the human body, and both heaven, and earth, have previously existed, it seems to me any way, they would fall under the definition of kainos, “made new again.”

    2Pe 3:10 But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.
    2Pe 3:11 Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, ——–.
    sure don’t sound like an overhaul job would fix this.

    If I were to trade my 1986 ford pickup,(which I would never do) for a brand new 2016 F-150. The only connection between the two is the name “Ford pickup” so I would get something totally new, but called the same. kainos, “made new again.”
    I know there will be some one say, I had rather have a Dodge, or Chevrolet, but that is not the point. the point is we will trade the old in for the new, old bodies for new, old heaven and earth for new.

  4. The Courier makes a couple of serious exegetical errors. First, there’s nothing about what the OT says on the subject. I don’t know why we so insist on using just one edge of a two-edged sword! I am not going to get into the “serious exegetical errors” but I remember reading Robert Shank’s Until: The Coming of Messiah and His Kingdom and being stunned by how much reference he had to the Old Testament. Simple answer, why we so insist, because Colossians 2:14 says so, and that is probably a serious exegetical error, too.

  5. Lowry H,

    Col 2:14 doesn’t say what you think it says.

    (Col. 2:13-14 KJV) 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;

    The KJV translation is from 1611, and we’ve learned a lot about koine Greek in the last 400 years. Hence, the ESV (along with most other modern translations) reads,

    (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.

    That is, God’s record of our sins was nailed to the cross, not the OT.

    For more detail, the best discussion I’ve come across is from Bobby Valentine at http://stonedcampbelldisciple.com/2008/07/16/what-was-nailed-the-cross/. Bobby writes,

    Paul says that the cheirograph was nailed the cross. This word is a Pauline hapax and never occurs 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 VGNT lexicon published in 1930 defines the Greek as,

    properly “written with the hand,” “a signature,” is very common in the sense of “a written agreement,” or more technically “a certificate of debt,” “a bond.”

    So, yes, relying on Col 2:14 as translated in 1611 is indeed a serious exegetical error. We’ve known for over 100 years that the KJV translation is erroneous, and yet countless of our preachers have not bothered to check the KJV text against a translation or a commentary written after the 19th Century — and so the error persists.

    Worse yet, even as rendered by the KJV, it’s only the “ordinances” or statutes that are nailed to the cross. The vast majority of the OT is made up of prophecy, history, proverbs, narrative, history … all sorts of things other than ordinances. To claim that “ordinances” = OT has never been justified by the text.

    Frankly, this is a mistake I made in my early teaching, because I assumed that my Bible education from the church of my childhood was sound. I just assumed that OT was “nailed to the cross” as the preachers told me. When I learned to the contrary, I had to re-write some of my blog posts. It was an humbling experience but it taught me a valuable lesson.

  6. Alan,

    It’s a very fair question, which routinely comes up in these conversations.

    First, I think you for asking rather than telling. After all, regardless of what John 14:3 says, Rom 8 and Rev 20-21 still say what they say. The question is not which passage is right but how to reconcile the passages.

    NT Wright (and others) take the tentative view (few are doctrinaire on these questions) that there is “life after death” followed by “life after life after death,” as he teaches in his marvelous Surprised by Hope. Hence, in his view, we may well have an existence in heaven awaiting the resurrection. If so, problem solved.

    My view is it seems just altogether too odd to be in heaven in a disembodied state until Jesus returns, to then be re-embodied at the resurrection, and then live in heaven and earth rejoined in the NHNE. Not impossible, but inelegant. And I find our God to be an elegant God. (I’m speaking in the language of my undergraduate training as a mathematicians. We mathematicians like our truths elegant. We see the character of God written all over mathematics.)

    So what would be a more elegant interpretation that doesn’t contradict the scriptures? Well, plainly according both to scripture and science, God lives outside of time — that is, time as experienced in our universe. This is a corollary of the general theory of relativity, which tells us that time was created in the Big Bang and is part of the fabric of the universe arising out of the Big Bang. Therefore, God is outside time. I’d say “before” time but that’s not the best way to think of it. He is bigger and exists in a higher dimension than our four-dimensional space-time continuum. Or perhaps entirely outside dimensionality altogether. Who knows?

    Now, that being the case, it’s entirely possible that Jesus is saying to the thief on the cross that he will die, pass into the hands of God (outside time) and go straight to the general resurrection, placing him in Paradise that same day (as experienced by the thief on the cross, not those left behind).

    “Paradise” refers to a blissful garden. The Jews thought of the NHNE as a restoration of Eden. Hence, Rev 20-21 speaks of the Tree of Life being in the NHNE. That is, “Paradise” = NHNE.

    One advantage of this is that it’s not entirely clear that Jesus himself went from the cross to Paradise. After all, he was paying the price for our sins. Many theologians believe he went to hell during this time. Others place him in heaven — but how does he pay for our sins in heaven?

    The question quickly becomes very difficult, because we tend to think of Jesus as dead or “asleep” in the euphemism of the day. But if the thief’s “soul” went to heaven that day, then so did Jesus’ soul — or else the thief wasn’t with Jesus in Paradise that same day — by traditional reckoning.

    But according to my theory (and it’s a theory only), the thief passed into the hands of God, who immediately transported him to the general resurrection, so he could be with Jesus immediately after his death (as he experienced his own death).

    That rather neatly avoids having to know where Jesus was for his days in the grave — if anywhere. After all, he may have skipped over to his resurrection just as the rest of us will skip to ours (according to my theory). Or he may have suffered whatever the atonement required for whatever time was required. We aren’t told.

    Perhaps he experienced a time of separation from God between his death and resurrection — surely more painful that mere fire and sulfur. It rather depends on your preference in atonement theory, and that’s far too big a topic for a comment. But unless Jesus died and spend a couple of days in Paradise before his resurrection, the traditional reading of John 14:3 doesn’t really work.

  7. “But according to my theory (and it’s a theory only), the thief passed into the hands of God, who immediately transported him to the general resurrection, so he could be with Jesus immediately after his death (as he experienced his own death).”

    It seems I read where Jesus said to Mary he had not been to the Father yet. after the stone had been rolled away. and unless I do not understand scripture,( as you have accused another reader.) In the day of “the general resurrection” (whatever that means.) Jesus will preside over said “general resurrection”. So we know Jesus (at death) did not travel directly to God’s hands , because he told Mary he had not been there yet, and it was the third day after his death.
    As you said your theory, is only your theory, and in my opinion one that has not been thought out fully.

  8. Jay,
    Your own comment is not saying what you want it to either, notice.

    “Col 2:14 doesn’t say what you think it says.

    (Col. 2:13-14 KJV) 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;

    The KJV translation is from 1611, and we’ve learned a lot about koine Greek in the last 400 years. Hence, the ESV (along with most other modern translations) reads,

    (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.

    That is, God’s record of our sins was nailed to the cross, not the OT.

    Take a very good look at this again. Verse is saying the very same thing in both translations, unless you pull out just the words that you want and use them out of context. Verse 13 in both, the text in brackets, I have not learned how to bold or change fonts, identify that, our sins were nailed to the cross as explained in the last part of 14.
    Here is where the error comes in.
    In verse 14 KJV says, “Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way”.
    In verse 14 ESV says, “debt that stood against us with its legal demands”.
    Handwriting of ordinances KJV and the ESV its legal demands are identical objects! Both have been nailed to the cross.

    Now you are placing all blame upon the KJV for being different than what you now believe, but KJV is not the only translation which portrays this concept. I could have if I had not quit using Logos pulled up many more references on this verse, but e-sword contains a representation.

    (ASV) having blotted out the bond written in ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us: and he hath taken it out that way, nailing it to the cross;
    (BBE) Having put an end to the handwriting of the law which was against us, taking it out of the way by nailing it to his cross;
    (DRB) Blotting out the handwriting of the decree that was against us, which was contrary to us. And he hath taken the same out of the way, fastening it to the cross.
    (ESV) by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.
    (GNB) he canceled the unfavorable record of our debts with its binding rules and did away with it completely by nailing it to the cross.
    (GW) He did this by erasing the charges that were brought against us by the written laws God had established. He took the charges away by nailing them to the cross.
    (ISV) having erased the charges that were brought against us, along with their obligations that were hostile to us. He took those charges away when he nailed them to the cross.
    (LEB) having destroyed the certificate of indebtedness in ordinances against us, which was hostile to us, and removed it out of the way by nailing it to the cross.
    (LITV) blotting out the handwriting in the ordinances against us, which was contrary to us, even He has taken it out of the midst, nailing it to the cross;
    (RV) having blotted out the bond written in ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us: and he hath taken it out of the way, nailing it to the cross;
    (YLT) having blotted out the handwriting in the ordinances that is against us, that was contrary to us, and he hath taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross;
    Even the modern KJV which I understood was to be tested against newer documents rather than just to make easier to read, has continued the same thought.
    (MKJV) blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and has taken it out of the way, nailing it to the cross.

    There is only these two translations that have obliterated the thoughts of the others on this concept.
    (CEV) God wiped out the charges that were against us for disobeying the Law of Moses. He took them away and nailed them to the cross.
    (ERV) Because we broke God’s laws, we owed a debt–a debt that listed all the rules we failed to follow. But God forgave us of that debt. He took it away and nailed it to the cross.

    All this has brought me to another conclusion. What is said in other places in NT about (ordinances)? The search I performed in e-sword reviled the following.
    Eph 2:11-20 ESV Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— (12) remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. (13) But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. (14) For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility (15) by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, (16) and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. (17) And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. (18) For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. (19) So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, (20) built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone,

    When I read verse 14-16 in ESV I understand it to be in direct contradiction to your statement.
    “Frankly, this is a mistake I made in my early teaching, because I assumed that my Bible education from the church of my childhood was sound. I just assumed that OT was “nailed to the cross” as the preachers told me. When I learned to the contrary, I had to re-write some of my blog posts. It was an humbling experience but it taught me a valuable lesson.”
    You surely must have access to more convincing data than what I have found, Can you clarify this concept for us?

  9. Larry, if you want to italicize a word or any part of what you’re writing to this blog, you can do so by typing “” in front of the item to be italicized and “” at the end of what should be italicized, and the same with bold face using a b instead of i.

  10. But what I wrote didn’t pass the censors somehow. It’s that should be in front and at the end. (I wonder if this will be legible when it gets printed). What it did in the first note was just omit the instruction and leave the quotes, which wouldn’t tell anyone anything.

  11. If anyone is curious to know how to italicize or bold-face in WordPress, please send me your e-mail address and I’ll send you an e-mail to explain. It’s obvious it can’t be done in WordPress. Unless Jay knows a way to get it actually in a form that can be read. Word Press just accepts the instruction rather than printing the instruction.

  12. The Orthodox Church has an old teaching called the Harrowing of Hell. This is the idea that during His physical death that Jesus did actually go into the nether regions and preach to the spirits in prison. They celebrate this on Friday of Passion Week in a very neat sounding ceremony. At the end of this time Jesus takes captivity captive and empties Hades of the OT saints.

    I know history isn’t the grand decider of truth. But it does give us insight into what ancient Christians believed. And it may help us realize that some of our beliefs aren’t simply modern misunderstandings of scripture.

  13. Larry (Part 1),

    Let’s begin by recalling where the discussion began. I criticized the Christian Courier for ignoring the OT roots of Rev 21:1, esp Gen 1:1-2. This conclusion was questioned by a reader, citing Col 2:14. But there is no imaginable interpretation of Col 2:14 that makes it says that the OT has been nailed to the cross. Nor does any translation ever say such a thing. The KJV refers to “ordinances” being nailed to the cross, and “ordinances” means statutes, and is a reference to the rules of the Law of Moses, which is NOT close to being the entirety of the OT.

    Even if Col 2:14 refers to the Law of Moses, it is not referring to Gen 1:1-2. The Greek for “ordinances” is dogma, defined in BDAG as,

    a formal statement concerning rules or regulations that are to be observed

    So the notion that we shouldn’t use the OT to better understand the Revelation is badly uninformed, and Col 2:14 offers no support for such a claim. In fact, it’s a direct contradiction of —

    (2 Tim. 3:16-17 ESV) 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

    After all, Paul’s reference to “Scripture” was primarily if not entirely to the OT.

    Therefore, I stand behind my statement,

    “Frankly, this is a mistake I made in my early teaching, because I assumed that my Bible education from the church of my childhood was sound. I just assumed that OT was “nailed to the cross” as the preachers told me. When I learned to the contrary, I had to re-write some of my blog posts. It was an humbling experience but it taught me a valuable lesson.”

    Again, the LAW OF MOSES does not equal the OLD TESTAMENT. As I pointed out in my earlier comment, there’s quite a lot in the OT that is not the Law of Moses. “the law of commandments expressed in ordinances” in Eph 2:15 is NOT a reference to the entirety of the OT. It’s a reference to a subset of the OT: being the Law of Moses. And so equating “Old Testament” = “Law of Moses” remains a serious exegetical fallacy.

  14. Larry (Part 2),

    Now that we know that Col 2:14 does not according to any translation ever say that the OT was nailed to the cross, we can fairly ask what it does say. But my original comments were in response to a false interpretation of Col 2:14. I was talking about Rev 21:1.

    I referenced Bobby Valentine’s excellent post on this topic, which gave the historical background for the better understanding of cheirographon (which is the Greek word translated “record of debt” (ESV) or “handwriting” (KJV), NOT “ordinances”). You offered no response to Bobby’s excellent research, and I’ll not repeat that. He’s right.

    James D. G. Dunn is one of the premier living Pauline scholars alive today. He reaches the same conclusion as Bobby —

    The fourth metaphor is quite different again. It is drawn from the legal world. Χειρόγραφον, only here in the New Testament, meant literally a document written by the person responsible, a holograph, so “receipt,” as in its only occurrence in the LXX (Tob. 5:3 and 9:5). But here it has the further sense of “a certificate of indebtedness, bond,” as in Testament of Job 11:11 and Life of Aesop 122 (in A.-M. Denis, Concordance Grecque des Pseudepigraphes d’Ancien Testament [Louvain-la-Neuve: Institut Orientaliste, 1987] 875 and 908; see further MM). The metaphor is probably adapted to the earlier Jewish idea of a heavenly book of the living (Exod. 32:32–33; Ps. 69:28; Dan. 12:1; Rev. 3:5) as developed in apocalyptic circles into that of books wherein deeds of good and evil were recorded with a view to the final judgment (Dan. 7:10?; 1 Enoch 89:61–64, 70–71; 108:7; Apocalypse of Zephaniah 7:1–8; Testament of Abraham (A) 12:7–18; 13:9–14; (B) 10:7–11:7; 2 Enoch 53:2–3; Rev. 20:12). In Apocalypse of Zephaniah 3:6–9 and Apocalypse of Paul 17, chirographum (= χειρόγραφον) itself is used for these heavenly books (M. R. James, The Apocryphal New Testament [Oxford: Clarendon, 1924] 534; E. Lohse, TDNT 9.435 n. 2; Sappington 100–108, 216–17). This is most obviously the background of thought here, with καθʼ ἡμῶν (“against us”) confirming that the document in question was one of condemnation, that is, presumably the record of their “transgressions” (repeated for emphasis in the following relative clause), “which was opposed, hostile (ὑπεναντίον, another Pauline hapax) to us.”

    James D. G. Dunn, The Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle: William B. Eerdmans Publishing; Paternoster Press, 1996), 164–165 (boldface is mine).

    This is a passage about grace, about the record of our sins being nailed to the cross. It is not necessary that Eph 2:15 say the same thing for Col 2:14 to say what the Greek scholars say it says. The historical and literary context shade the meaning of dogma (“ordinances”) as Dunn explains —

    Quite what the intervening and awkward τοῖς δόγμασιν adds to the picture is not so clear. However, in the context the δόγματα must be formal “decrees or ordinances or regulations” (BAGD s.v. δόγμα 1; NDIEC 4.146), “binding statutes” (Lohse, Colossians and Philemon 109), “legal demands” (RSV/NRSV, REB). They presumably, therefore, refer to that which constituted the record of transgression as condemnatory (“against us,” “hostile to us”). That is, they must refer to the divinely decreed ordering of cosmos and society and judgment consequent upon such behavior. The thought, in other words, is close to that of Rom. 1:32. In Hellenistic Judaism these “decrees, regulations” were, not surprisingly, the law, the commandments of Moses (3 Macc. 1:3; Philo, Legum allegoriae 1:55; De gigantibus 52; Josephus, Contra Apionem 1:42). Thus, although τὸ καθʼ ἡμῶν χειρόγραφον itself cannot be identified with the law as such (as by Abbott 255; Wright, Colossians and Philemon 112; the otherwise unarticulated dative, τοῖς δόγμασιν, leaves the precise relationship obscure), behind it lie the decrees of the law giving the χειρόγραφον its condemnatory force (pace Weiss, “Law” 310–12; cf. the clearer formulation in Eph. 2:15, the only other occurrence of δόγμα in the Pauline corpus). At all events this probably alludes to the halakhic rulings about to be denounced in 2:16, 21–22, which includes talk of “judgment” (2:16) and uses the verbal equivalent (δογματίζω in 2:20; Lightfoot 185; Dibelius, Kolosser, Epheser, Philemon 32; Schweizer, Colossians 150–51; Gnilka, Kolosserbrief 139; Sappington 218–20; Yates, Colossians 48; cf. N. Walter, EDNT 1.340; Aletti, Épître aux Colossiens 179).

    James D. G. Dunn, The Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle: William B. Eerdmans Publishing; Paternoster Press, 1996), 165.

    Hence, God’s law, expressed in the Law of Moses, is why there is a record of debt that is against us and that was nailed to the cross.

    In the English, in some translations, it might seem that the “ordinances” were nailed to the cross, but Dunn says this is not the Greek —

    This is important, since the act of redemption on the cross under this imagery effects a wiping out of the χειρόγραφον [cheirongraphon = record of debts]. The verb ἐξαλείφω is the natural one to use in the context, since it denotes the erasure of an entry in a book, and is so used in several of the above contexts (Exod. 32:32–33; Ps. 69:28; 1 Enoch 108:3; Apocalypse of Zephaniah 7:8 [chirographum as the object]; Testament of Abraham [E] 11:10; Rev. 3:5). The expunging of the record confirms that none of these transgressions is any longer held “against us.” That does not mean, however, that the underlying decrees or regulations cease to have force, that is, that the law no longer functions as God’s yardstick of right and judgment; there is no contradiction here with Rom. 2:12–16. It is simply that the record of the transgressions has been erased—another way of saying “he forgave us all our transgressions” (cf. Martin, Colossians and Philemon 83–85; for a review of the range of interpretations see Aletti, Épître aux Colossiens 179–81).

    James D. G. Dunn, The Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle: William B. Eerdmans Publishing; Paternoster Press, 1996), 165–166.

    So that’s the meaning of Col 2:14, which doesn’t contradict Eph 2:15. It just doesn’t say the same thing.

  15. Larry (Part III),

    The fact that Eph 2:15 uses dogma (ordinances) does not mean that the entire verse means the same thing as Col 2:14. It might be the same, but it’s just a one-word correspondence. But I agree that there is overlapping concepts here, although Paul is coming at the Law from different directions in the two passages.

    (Eph. 2:14-16 ESV) 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.

    I suppose a very literal reading of this passage would be that the Law of Moses has been repealed. That would not remotely mean that the OLD TESTAMENT has been nailed to the cross, if so. But it also would contradict Jesus’ words in —

    (Matt. 5:17-19 ESV) 17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”

    And the fact that Paul often cites the Law of Moses as authority for his conclusions. So we immediately see that this calls for something more subtle than “the Old Testament has been repealed” or even “the Law of Moses has been repealed.” So we turn to the commentaries —

    F.F. Bruce has always been a favorite commentators in the Churches of Christ, and I think for good reason,

    It is not the law as a revelation of the character and will of God that has been done away with in Christ. In that sense of the term the question and answer of Rom. 3:31 remain valid: “Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.” The righteousness required by the law of God is realized more fully by the inward enabling of the Spirit—in Jew and Gentile alike—than was possible under the old covenant. But the law as a written code, threatening death instead of imparting life, is done away with in Christ, as Paul argues in 2 Cor. 3:6–15. And when the law in that sense is done away with, the barrier between Jews and Gentiles is removed; Jewish particularism and Gentile exclusion are things of the past. In another place Paul describes how even one commandment of the law, brought to the conscious attention of a man or woman, can constitute an instrument by which sin gains a foothold, so that the result attained is the opposite of what the commandment enjoins (Rom. 7:7–11). In speaking here of the law, “it is as a code of manifold precepts, expressed in definite ordinances, that he declares it to have been annulled” (J. A. Robinson).

    F. F. Bruce, The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1984), 298–299.

    Bruce argues that Paul is saying the Law as written code, apart for the enabling work of the Spirit, that is done away. Not the will of God, but the obligation to conform to this will apart from the Spirit. I think that’s exactly right. But let’s see what others says.

    Why does Paul qualify the noun “law” with the phrase “with its commands and regulations”? It is historically anachronistic to divide the law into moral and ceremonial categories; Paul would not have been thinking in such terms. However, if the dividing wall points metaphorically to the temple barrier, then the law of commandments in ordinances might also speak to those decrees in particular that limit Jew/Gentile interaction, namely circumcision (mentioned in 2:11) and food laws (see Gal 2:12–13) and even Sabbath (as in Rom 14:5–6). These rites which create barriers between Jew and Gentile do not qualify as the covenants of the promise (2:12). Again, Paul claims to the Galatians that if the Gentile men among them get circumcised, then they are obliged the keep the entire law (Gal 5:3). Less likely is the possibility that the term “regulations” does not go with commandments, but is contrasted to them. Thus Paul would be arguing that in Christ’s ordinances, the law of the commandments has been annulled, similar to his argument in 2 Cor 3:7–18, which contrasts the written code and the ministry of the Spirit.

    In any case, what is clear is that the law no longer has the power to divide. Moreover, Christ’s purpose is to make something new from what were once two. This new thing is his body, the church, which now has access in Christ to God the Father through the Spirit. The cross is not only the place where believers’ sins are forgiven, but also the place where something new is created. The new creation is not simply a new individual, but a new entity—Christ’s body, the church. As noted above, this new entity can be described as God’s household and God’s temple where his Spirit dwells. This amazing reality is especially poignant to Paul, because he wears chains testifying to its truthfulness. In the next chapter Paul puts his own situation into perspective, given the surpassing greatness of the reality he and all believers share in Christ through the Spirit to God the Father.

    Lynn H. Cohick, Ephesians, New Covenant Commentary Series, (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2010), 78–79. This is to much the same effect.

    Some commentaries speak of the ceremonial law vs. the moral law, but recent scholarship, beginning with the seminal work of EP Sanders, challenges this view as a matter of history, and the better scholarship no longer takes “law” to mean “ceremonial law.” Rather, it’s more “law” as mere law rather than relationship found in the Spirit and a God-transformed heart.

    Paul now shows that this coming together of Jew and Gentile in the one family is achieved—as is almost everything else in his theology—through the cross of Jesus the Messiah. This has brought the pagans close in, from being far away (verse 13). It has torn down the barrier that used to stand between the two families (verse 14). It has abolished the Jewish law, the Torah—not in the sense that God didn’t give it in the first place, but in the sense that the Jewish law had, as one of its main first-century uses, the keeping apart of Jew and Gentile (verse 15). The hostility that had existed between the two groups has itself been killed on the cross (verse 16). Paul probably didn’t have in mind the way in which Herod and Pilate became friends at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion (Luke 23:12), but that little story makes the point well.

    The point of it all, as he says in verse 15, was to create a single new humanity in place of the two. Today’s church may no longer face the question of the integration of Jew and Gentile into a single family, though there are places where that is still a major issue. But we face, quite urgently, the question which Paul would insist on as a major priority. If our churches are still divided in any way along racial or cultural lines, he would say that our gospel, our very grasp of the meaning of Jesus’ death, is called into question. How long will it be before those who claim to follow Jesus, not least those who claim also to love Paul’s thinking, come to terms with the demands he actually makes?

    Tom Wright, Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon, (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2004), 27–28 (bold is mine).

    The following from Paul and the Faithfulness of God should be read in full. It’s worth the price of the entire book. I’ll just repeat the most critical language re Eph 2:14 —

    1. Easily the most important place to start is with Paul’s ringing affirmation that Torah was and remained the God-given law, holy and just and good. Nothing he says about those functions of Torah which some have labelled ‘negative’ detract from this. The mention of angels assisting in the giving of Torah, or of its being given through a ‘mediator’, in no way suggest that Torah is less than fully God-given and Godintended. What is more, Paul saw Torah not simply as a set of commands, but as a narrative: the story of creation and covenant, of Adam and Abraham, focused particularly on Exodus and finally articulated in the covenantal warnings and promises at the end of Deuteronomy. All this Paul fully affirmed as divine in origin, positive in intent, and fulfilled (albeit in unexpected ways) through the gospel.

    2. … There may be some systems in which lawgivers tone down the ideal standards to fit people’s capabilities, but Israel’s Torah was not like that. That is why it already contained provision for sin in terms of repentance and the sacrificial system; which is why, as we saw, someone like Paul could say of his former self what Luke says of Zechariah and Elizabeth: ‘blameless’. But this did not mean that the law would then cease to condemn Israel as a whole; or that, when it did so, it was acting outside the will of the God who had given it. …

    7. All those who believe are now demarcated as the true Torah-keeping people, in other words, the people of the renewed covenant. Torah, as now redefined around Messiah and spirit, retains its community-shaping and community-defining function. This then produces new paradoxes: neither circumcision nor uncircumcision matters, since what matters is ‘keeping God’s commandments’! But, with this new-covenant redefinition, we find the characteristically Pauline rejection of any attempt to go on defining the covenant community by ‘works of Torah’ in the earlier sense (4 above). Once again, there are two reasons. First, if Torah-works such as circumcision and food laws defined the new covenant people, that would perpetuate the Jew/Gentile division which has now been overcome in the Messiah and spirit. ‘The law of commandments and ordinances’ functioned like a wall to keep the pagans out, but it is now demolished [Eph 2:14f]. Second, even within the apparent safety of an Israel living within the ‘fence’ of Torah, there was no way through to the new covenant. Torah merely brought wrath, by revealing the Adamic sin which had not been dealt with.

    8. This leads to Paul’s remarkable developed statements about the way in which Messiah-people do in fact keep Torah. They ‘fulfil its decrees’. Torah is actually upheld through Messiah-faith. Again and again Paul speaks of the work of the spirit as enabling people to fulfil Torah in a way previously impossible. This appears to go beyond the ‘faith’ spoken of in point (6) above, and into the transformation not only of the heart but of the entire life.

    N. T. Wright, Paul and the Faithfulness of God, Christian Origins and the Question of God, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2013), 4:1036–1037.

    Now, notice that these commentators are all thinking along the same lines. It’s not a traditional (Reformation) reading in which the Law is bad and repealed. Rather, the Law is good, but we can’t obey without having our hearts transformed by the Spirit, which we receive by faith in Jesus. Therefore, those with faith in Jesus are, by grace, considered obedient and also enabled to better obey. And the Law itself is filtered, fulfilled, and re-interpreted in light of Jesus and his resurrection.

    It’s not as simple as the “ceremonial law” being repealed and the moral law being maintained. The NT never really says this. Rather, through the death and resurrection of Jesus, we see that the portions of the Law designed to separate Jews from Gentiles are obsolete because all with faith in Jesus are Israel. Hence, the boundary marker is faith in Jesus, not circumcision, etc.

    We see through Jesus that our atonement was accomplished on the cross, eliminating the need for animal sacrifice for forgiveness. But now, just as Jesus sacrificed himself for us, we sacrifice ourselves for him.

    The moral law survives in the sense that the Spirit teaches us to love our neighbors and each other (Rom 13!).

    The Law, therefore, as seen through the cross and the resurrection, remains vitally important. It as not “nailed to the cross.” What was nailed to the cross is our damnation because we cannot comply with Deu 10:16. We cannot circumcise our own hearts. But God will circumcise our hearts by the Spirit — and that allows him to treat us as obedient to the Law without the Law damning us. Thus, the old ordinances are abolished as ordinances. They continue as expressions of God’s will (when read in light of the cross and the resurrection), which we satisfy by grace and God’s work in us through the Spirit.

  16. Sometime the scripture is its own best commentary. Gal.3 “Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor,” Now this doesn’t mean that the tutor should be thrown out, but rather that its purpose has been fulfilled in the form of Christ. But as seen in Acts and the eunuch they still referenced the Word of God in the OT as a reference for Christ. The Law itself though laid down types for the NT, Temple a form for the temples (man), the priest (Levite-certain men/ Melchizedek- all men), the sacrifice (perfect-Jesus/ living-man), etc.

  17. I have a soft spot in my heart for a lot of the Orthodox church teachings. Its different from our western views in some aspects. One thing that might be a worthwhile study is the difference in sola scriptura as the Reformers understood it and the idea of SOLO scriptura as it is practiced by many people today.

  18. David,

    I’ve found Orthodox teachings on many subjects, such at the atonement and the nature of sin, very helpful — and studying their thinking is a great way to get outside the Catholic/Protestant mindset. I greatly disagree on some points, such as icons and monasticism. And having to stand throughout the worship service. And their overly close ties to secular powers and association with nationalism. But there is much to be learned in many areas.

  19. Jay,
    As I sort through some of the conversations we have had lately, I really am dumbfounded by your description from your childhood teachers and preachers . You stated.
    “Frankly, this is a mistake I made in my early teaching, because I assumed that my Bible education from the church of my childhood was sound. I just assumed that OT was “nailed to the cross” as the preachers told me. When I learned to the contrary, I had to re-write some of my blog posts. It was an humbling experience but it taught me a valuable lesson.”
    I really had not drawn the conclusion that anyone could ever have been taught or believed that the whole of the OT could have been (nailed to the cross) as you have described. I am older than you and probably listened to more preachers than you did in childhood, but until encountering your interpretation I had never encountered such a story. Yes, there was much teaching that the OT rules and regulations (The Law, also described as The Law of Moses) was nailed to the cross. Referring to the concept that it was not binding upon us as Christians. That Christ had established his rules to guide our lives, and that many of the OT concepts were reproduced in his instructions, but the rituals and worship instructions were abolished. But, listening to your interpretation of the nailing of the OT to the cross, means that all the history of the creation, the fall of man, the communication which God did with the Patriarchs, the flood etc. would be removed as teaching tools from history. I am sure that your teachers and preachers taught from these records. Do you really believe that there are people not teaching those OT concepts today? Would that mean that they start at the NT and refuse to accept that the OT had any information to offer to help us know about God. God is not even in center stage of The NT. Therefore, men today would be ignorant in relationship to God and history.

    What have I missed in attempting to understand what is meant by attaching the whole OT to the cross? At this time that appears to me to be a straw man to shoot at.

  20. Larry,

    Go back to the beginning of this thread to the question posed by Lowry Hershey. http://oneinjesus.info/2016/03/the-revelation-chapter-211-the-new-heaven-and-new-earth/#comment-168718 In context, he was declaring the OT (not the Law of Moses) nailed to the cross. I criticized the Christian Courier for ignoring Gen 1 in its interpretation, which is part of the Books of the Law, but hardly the Law of Moses per se.

    So I’m glad your experience is not the same as mine, but I was taught that the OT, not just the Law of Moses, was nailed to the cross, and Hershey obviously had been taught the same.

    And while I graduated from Lipscomb, I leaned next to nothing about the OT while there. I took a course that covered Early Hebrew History, but it was just history. The notion that Deuteronomy might have something to say to contemporary Christianity was utterly foreign to me until about 10 years ago (I’m 61).

  21. Maybe my comment blew it.
    What I was trying to underscore was that when I read “”Until”” I did not realize how much OT we skip over and ignore, primarily because of our understanding of Colossians 2:14. And I appreciate the discussion about that verse.

  22. Sometimes these discussions get beyond my ability to follow the point of the article, but doesn’t Col. 2:14 just refer to our sins, not what law that was, or is, or will be in place?

    I always understood this to mean that Christ sacrificed himself for all our sins, if we seek him daily?

  23. The context of Col.2:14 has to do with the “requirements of the law” which was in contrast to those thing that could be practiced in vs.16 without condemnation. In fact if there is any verse against the RP it is vs.20. The OT wasn’t obliterated, but not a requirement. Jesus was an is the requirement.