Were the Ten Commandments nailed to the Cross?
A Deeper Look at Colossians 2:13-15
By Kelly McDonald, Jr.
In Colossians 2:13-15, Paul wrote, “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; 15 And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it.” (KJV, emphasis mine throughout)
Common Argument: Many people use these verses to say that Christ nailed the Law of God or the entire Old Testament to the cross, including the Sabbath.
Think it Through: If Christ nailed the Law to the cross, then why did the Apostles continue to observe it? (including the Sabbath – see Acts 13:13-48, 16:11-15, 17:1-4, 18:1-4; 20:16; I Cor. 5:6-8, Col. 2:15-17).
Short Answer: Our sin debt was nailed to the cross, not the law of God
Longer Answer: The Greek word for nomos is not used at all in the entire book of Colossians. If Paul were referring to any kind of law, the appropriate language would need to be used.
In this verse, the phrase “handwriting of ordinances” is the Greek phrase choriegraphon dogma. Choreigraphon means a signed bill of indebtedness. Dogma means a man-made decree. This phrase refers to the self-admitted decree of our sin debt.
This is reinforced by the fact that the phrase “blotting out” means to erase something that is written. The newest version of the NIV words Colossians 2:13-14 this way:
“13 When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.”
We can see that newer translations have more properly rendered this verse. The immediate context, verse 13, supplies us with vital information to properly interpret the verse. Clearly, the mention of being ‘dead in sin’ before salvation and then our sins being forgiven in verse 13 are connected to the bill of indebtedness in verse 14 are linked.
The word of God mentions that a record of our deeds are kept in heaven (Revelation 20:12, Hosea 13:12, Nehemiah 13:14, Psalm 109:14). Christ erased our sin debt by nailing it to the cross. He erased the record of our sins!
There is also a basis in the Old Testament for this interpretation. In Isaiah 43:25, Got said, “I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mind own sake, and will not remember thy sins.” (emphasis mine; see also Psalm 51:9). In the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the word translated as ‘blotted out’ is the same as the one used in Colossians 2:14-15. It means to smear out, wash out, or erase.
Revelation 12:10 explains that Satan is the accuser of the brethren. When we repent, our sins are blotted out of the books in Heaven, so that the powers and principalities of this world are put to an open shame! They are disarmed! Their accusations are rendered null and void. This should be very humbling to all of us.
There is also history to confirm this detail. Florentine Papyri No. 61, which dates to the mid-80s AD, has similar language to the passage from Colossians. In it, an Egyptian official named Septimus Vegetus presided over a trial where a man named Phibion owed wheat to someone else. The amount owed was written on a promissory note. At the end of the trial, Septimus admits Phibion deserves to be flogged, but released him from the punishment. He also takes the hand-written note of debt (called the choreigraphon) and cancelled it. In Colossians 2:14, the Greek word translated as forgive is charizomai; it is also used in this papyri in connection to releasing the man from punishment and the debt he owed (Papiri Greco-Egizii. Volume Primo. Papiri Fiorentini. Milan. 1906. pp113-116).
Because of our sin, we are owed the wages of death (Romans 6:23). Christ died for us (Rom. 5:9-20; I Peter 1:21-23). Christ paid it for us with His death. Thus, our sin debt and the subsequent punishment was nailed to the cross, not the Law of God. We are asked to continue to put to death the sinful desires within us (Col. 3:5; I Peter 2:24).
In Galatians 5:24, Paul wrote: “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” Now that we are saved, we don’t crucify the Law, but those things within us that cause us to transgress it.
Kelly McDonald, JR.
President of the Bible Sabbath Association (BSA)