~THE LAW IN COLOSSIANS~

Part 2
by
Dr. Sidney L. Davis, Jr.

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;

15  And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it.

16  Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the Sabbath days:

17  Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.

 

WHAT EXACTLY WAS NAILED TO THE CROSS?

Seventh-day Adventists save the Sabbath by a new interpretation of Colossians 2:14 that is slightly different than that of our evangelical Christian brethren:

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.

SDAs admit with the rest of Christendom that the handwriting of ordinances"; represents the Law. BUT what we do that is new is to model the Law by offering a very unique application. We divide the Law into two monolithic divisions called moral law and ceremonial  law. We say that the handwriting of ordinances represents the ceremonial law and that it is the ceremonial law that was nailed to the cross. The "moral" law is the Ten Commandments and since the Sabbath is a part of the Ten Commandments, it cant be nailed to the cross. Consequently then on the strength of this argument the term Sabbath days must refer to the ceremonial Sabbaths.

What we have done here is to ignore linguistics in favor of theological assumptions. These theological assumptions are so strong that they blind us to the reality of the linguistics, or they blind us to the literal interpretation of what the words themselves actually mean in the text.

The theological premise of this whole argument rests on the meaning of the phrase "the handwriting of ordinances".

If you are going to build a house, you have to build it on a solid , secure and level foundation. You have to run a plumb line and then lay the square against the line. If the foundation is not level, you will get a crack in the  foundation. If it is not built on a secure foundation, when an earthquake or a shaking comes, it is going to fall. If it is not built on a solid foundation, if it is built on  sand, when the rains come it is going to be washed away, washed up. Well brethren I think you are going to find that our theological interpretation can not stand up. It has a BIG crack in it.

Its being shaken right down to its theological foundations and its all washed up. If we cannot come to terms with this, we have only to look at our denominational cousins in the Worldwide Churches of God (WCG) to see what potentially we are facing.

I will repeat that. The theological premise of this whole argument rests on the meaning of the phrase the handwriting of ordinances. Can we substantiate from the Bible that this is a reference to the ceremonial law? The assumption is since Moses wrote the Mosaic law in a book along with all the ordinances including the feasts, then it was the Mosaic law or the ceremonial law that was done away with and nailed to the cross, not the Ten Commandment law or moral law which God wrote with his own hand on stone.

This type of imagery is very effective. Something that is written on stone you cant erase, it is permanent where as something writing in ink or in a book is temporary. Since the Sabbath is written in stone, this proves the permanence of the Sabbath and that consequently Sabbath days in the text cannot mean the Sabbath.

This presentation is entitled: The Law in Colossians.

The first point to be made in this connection is that

although the Greek word for law "nomos" occurs 197 times in the Greek Testament, in the book of Colossians  the word for law "nomos" DOES NOT OCCUR in Colossians even once. Not one time to do we find this word there at all.

I think we are already beginning to see
a crack in the foundation.

On what basis do we say that the phrase handwriting of ordinances is a reference to the Law or to the ceremonial law in particular?

Would you like to know WHY Adventists believe this?

In order to answer this, I am going to have to give you a little lesson in Greek.

The Greek phrase for handwriting of ordinances is cheirographon tois dogmasin. Tois dogmasin is also rendered as dogma and it is this word upon which we build a case for the word ordinances to refer to the Mosaic law.

The second point.

"tois dogmasin" is a Greek word. How can we prove that this word "tois dogmasin" means the Law or has a specific reference to the ceremonial law when the Torah is written in Hebrew?

 

What we have to do is to go to the Bible that was used by the Greek speaking Jews and the one that Paul used when he preached. If Paul is going to use a Greek term that means the Law or the ceremonial law, then we should be able to find this term that he used for the Law in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures called the Septuagint (LXX).

Paul, as the Pharisee that he was, would not use a term meaning law that was foreign to his vocabulary. He was not speaking in a vacuum. For Paul, a Jew of the Jews, a Pharisee of the Pharisees, to speak of the Law, he naturally would have a frame of reference from which he would be speaking. The frame of reference being of course the Torah Itself.

Well I did a search in the Septuagint for this word "dogma" and I think that you will be real interested in what I found

I FOUND NOTHING.

The word dogma does not appear not one time in the Septuagint Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, NOT ONCE.

 

Well brethren I think I feel like a song that Jerry Lee Lewis wrote. Theres a whole lotta shakin going on  here. I dont think our theological position has very much to stand on.

The Greek word for law "nomos" does not appear in the Greek text of Colossians, and the word we interpret to mean the Law "dogma"  is not found in the Greek translation of the Torah, the Pentateuch. 

I mean it is not there!!

Not even in the whole Greek Translation of the TaNaK is this term dogma  found!

What we must now realize is that whatever Paul has a reference to in the phrase handwriting of ordinances or cheirographon tois dogmasin is not anything having to do with the Law of God whether it is moral or ceremonial.

What then does the phrase handwriting or ordinances or cheirographon tois dogmasin mean if it does not mean or is not a reference to the ceremonial law?

If we can read the Colossian text (Col.2:14) in harmony with the previous verses the meaning becomes apparent in Pauls use of three metaphors:  circumcision, baptism and handwriting of ordinances

10  And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power:

11  In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ:

11  In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ:

12  Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.

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 [the middle], nailing it to his cross;

Metaphors are a figure of speech which makes an implied comparison between things which are not literally alike. They are usually figures of speech that have no meaning outside of the culture to which the metaphor belongs.

Blotting  out the handwriting of ordinances against us is actually a legal term whose meaning and application is from the system of jurisprudence or law used in the Greco-Roman legal system. It is legal terminology of antiquity understood by the Greek speaking Jews and Gentiles with reference to a specific legal act.

That this phrase blotting out the handwriting of ordinances against us is a legal metaphor is supported by the phrase that follows which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way.  This phrase is better translated as:

"He has taken it out of the midst" (Green’s Literal Translation and The Berry’s Interlinear Greek-English New Testament). The word translated "way" in the KJV is from the Greek word "mesos" and it means "the middle".

 

Lexicon for Strong's Number 3369!

3319  mesos {mes’-os}

from 3326; ; adj 

AV-midst 41, among 6, from among + 1537 5, midnight + 3571 2, misc 5; 61 

1) middle 
2) the midst 
3) in the midst of, amongst 

 

Concordance for Strong's Number 3319!

Here are 2 instances of verses containing Strong's number 3319. 

Revelation 1:13 And in the midst <3319> of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle.

Acts 17:22 Then Paul stood in the midst <3319> of Mars’ hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious.

Paul uses legal terminology as a metaphor to show how God in Christ has legally dealt with our sins. I like the way the Dr. Samuele Bacchiocchi puts it in THE SABBATH IN THE NEW TESTAMENT, p.111:

"Recent studies have shed light on the meaning of cheirographon which occurs only once in the Scripture (Col.2:14). Its usage in apocalyptic literature indicates the cheirographon is the "record book of sins" or a "certificate of sin-indebtedness"  but not the moral or ceremonial law.  This view is supported also by the clause "and this he has removed out of the middle" (2:14). "The middle" was the position occupied at the center of the court or assembly by the accusing witness. In the context of Colossians, the accusing witness is the "record-book of sins" which God in Christ has erased and removed out of the court........

 

 

......."we conclude then that the document nailed to the Cross is not the law in general or the Sabbath in particular, but rather the record of our sins. Any attempt to read into it a reference to the Sabbath, or to any other Old Testament ordinance, is unwarranted, gratuitous fantasy."

I think the theological foundation upon which we have nullified the holy days is all washed up brethren. How then did we ever come to an understanding of this text that as we have seen can not stand up to critical Scriptural examination?

What we have done is accepted an inherited medieval interpretation of this text that is based upon a anti-Judaic theology of contempt. This teaching of contempt is from the Spirit of the Nicean Council of 325 AD exemplified in the Emperor Constantine's remarks.  The Nicean Council of 325 AD you will recall,  is the one that changed or substituted the Passover for Easter and the Sabbath for Sunday. Now let us again examine the metaphors of the Colossian text.

10  And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power:

11  In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ:

12  Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.

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[the middle], nailing it to his cross;

You notice here that Paul refers to circumcision and baptism in showing how this represents the cleansing, the forgiveness of our sin. Having discussed forgiveness, in verse 14, he goes a step further showing the completeness of Gods forgiveness by nailing to the cross, erasing, canceling, making null and void, even the record of our sin. Not just forgiving us but making it a non issue. Dr. Samuele Bacchiocchi, PhD, stated in a recent radio interview its even better than hitting the delete button on a computer.

In other words, this cheirographon, the handwritten document has to be understood in context. The context is a whole theological discussion of Paul when he tries to help the Colossians that were being mislead by heretics.  These false teachers taught them that they had to call for the help of  principalities and powers, of the angels (v.20). Paul is saying in effect Why do you feel so insecure? Why are you trying to seek salvation by submitting to these nonsensical rules and regulations? Dont you know? Dont you realize that God and Christ have forgiven you (v13), and yes more than that, He has even canceled, erased, made null and void, nailed to the cross the record of your sin, so you dont have anything to worry about.

How in this context could Paul be speaking against the law or any part of the law as being done away with? We are not forgiven by having the law done away with. The abolishing of the law does not make humans sinless, does it? Sin was in the world before the law was given at Sinai according to Romans 5:13, and death reigned in the world from Adam to Moses because of sin (Romans 5:12,14) how can doing away with the law guarantee our forgiveness?

NAILING IT TO HIS CROSS

 

A document of debt was canceled anciently by a literal "nailing"  of it.  Paul here seems to be alluding to a custom of antiquity to cancel bonds, or antiquate edicts and decrees, by driving a nail through them, so that they could not be legible any more and so made completely worthless. It was the ancient way of "canceling checks" or "canceling debts" to indicate that they were either paid in full or that they had become "null and void".

Now  Paul says "Let no one judge you"

COLOSSIANS 2:16 Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the Sabbath days:
17  Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.

In verse 16, Paul comes to the primary point he wants to make. He tells the Colossians not to let anyone judge them in eating or drinking, or in the observance of  festivals, new moons, or Sabbaths.

This passage is widely misunderstood because most scholars begin with the assumption that the Sabbath, New Moons, and Holy Days mentioned in verse 16 are among the false teachings Paul is combating. They assume that the Gentile Colossians were not keeping these days, but the heretics (oriental asceticists who are usually mis-labeled as Jewish Gnostics ) were trying to force them to observe them.

Two points discredit this theory. 

Part 3 continued

 

Copyright May 31, 1998  by Sidney L. Davis, Jr. All rights reserved. This article may be published or reprinted freely as long as it is reproduced as is.

 

HOME