Handwriting of Ordinances – Colossians 2:14

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“Having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.”

  • Colossians 2:14, NKJV

The Difficulty:

  1. Some people think it means Jesus nailed the law of God, that is, the Ten Commandments, to the cross.
  2. Some think therefore the Ten Commandments, along with the Sabbath, is no longer valid

The Questions:

What the handwriting of requirements that was against us?

What does it mean that it was” taken out of the way”, or “nailed to the cross?” These views and questions are understandable, on the face of the text.

But let us apply our usual principle: Let Scripture interpret itself.

Background

  1. Colosse was a Gentile city in Asia Minor, in present-day Turkey. The Colossian church was largely made up of Gentiles. These false teachers were Jews who came and insisted that Jewish customs and practices were binding on the Gentiles who had converted to Christianity. Scholars refer to these false teachers as Judaizers.
  2. The context of this passage is one in which Paul is responding to false teachings coming into the church at Colosse while he was absent.

Now this I say lest anyone should deceive you with persuasive words. For though I am absent in the flesh, yet I am with you in spirit…”

Again in verse 8:

Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.

Paul is clearly worried that people are introducing mere human traditions, rather than the Moral Law of God.

  1. In v. 11 – 13 Paul uses circumcision as an analogy. It represent the circumcision of the heart, that is, conversion. It also symbolized forgiveness from sin. Baptism also symbolized a resurrection from death to sin and into a new life.

Within the Text

  1. Paul is still dealing with this removal of , but he is interested in the guilt that comes from not keeping the ceremonial law or ordinances. In a sense, the Gentiles were guilty because they did not follow these requirements of the Jewish ordinances: sacrifices, festival days, and circumcision. This is the “handwriting of ordinances.”
  1. This is not the first time we see a law “that was against us” in the Bible:
    1. In 2:14 – the “handwriting of ordinances” is a direct allusion to Deuteronomy 31: 24 – 26.

After leading the Israelites through the desert for 40yrs Moses is giving his farewell address before handing over to Joshua. He records all the laws, regulations, penalties, sacrifices, feasts and ceremonies in a “book of the law”.

The Bile says:

24 So it was, when Moses had completed writing the words of this law in a book, when they were finished, 25 that Moses commanded the Levites, who bore the ark of the covenant of the Lord, saying: 26 “Take this Book of the Law, and put it beside the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, that it may be there as a witness against you;

So Moses made them put this book beside the Ark of the Covenant. It was not the Moral Law of God, which lasts forever. That Moral Law, The Ten Commandments, was contained inside in the Holy of Holies (Exodus 25:16, Hebrews 9:3,4).

The ceremonial laws on sacrifices and feasts however were a witness to Israel that there was a greater law within that they were breaking, and to set the penalty requirements for violating that law.

These requirements included ritual washings, stoning to death, animal sacrifices, and the festivals and ceremonies in which they were performed.

This is what was nailed to the cross in Colossians 2:14. NOT THE TEN COMMANDMENTS.

This understanding also clarifies v. 15 – 17. In v 16 some translations use the word “holidays”, others “holy days”, and others say “Sabbaths”. The plural “Sabbaths” are feast days and festivals mentioned in the book of the law, for example in Leviticus 23, not the weekly Sabbath of the Ten Commandments.

In the context of the passage as we have seen, “Nailing to the cross” simply means he has made you innocent of them through his sacrifice. This book of ceremonies, festivals and punishments… this “handwriting of ordinances”, was merely a shadow of the true sacrifice which was to come, which bore the punishment for all our sins.

That sacrifice has now come, and we do not have to keep the old ceremonies. The text simply means that Christ has absolved us of the guilt that would have come from the ceremonial laws, by dying to meet their requirements. Christ is the new witness, and He still reminds us of the Moral Law in Matthew 5:17, 18:

17 “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. 18 For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.

My name is Agana-Nsiire Agana. For explanations to other Bible passages please visit www.provingallthings.org

Until next time, keep studying. Prove all things, and hold fast what is good!

mm
Agana-Nsiire Agana is a theologian, communicator and writer. His passion is for communicating eternal truth in a contemporary context which is influenced by postmodern, secular thought. The gospel, though unchanging, can and should be expressed in terms of the challenges, philosophy and language of the present day.