Colossians 2:14 says, “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.” The traditional interpretation of this verse is that the Law of Moses was what was nailed to the cross. Here is how David Lipscomb explained it,
“The whole of the Mosaic law, including the commandments written on stone (2 Cor 3:7), was taken out of the way, nailed to the cross, and is no longer in force as a law in any of its parts…It was taken out of the way when Jesus Christ was nailed to the cross [This is a very graphic way of saying that the obstacle to forgiveness which lay in the law–in the justice of God of which the law is an embodiment–ws removed by the death of Christ. Practically the nails which fastened to the cross the hands and feet of Jesus, and thus slew him, pieced and invalidated the law which pronounced the just condemnation of sinners.” (GAC on Colossians, 281-282).
There are two key words here that are used here and only here in all the New Testament. The first is what the NIV translates “written code.” Witherington and Wright both point out that this word is used in extra-biblical literature to speak of a book in heaven that has in it a record of all our wrong doings. This word is never used of the law in scripture, ever. The second word is “nailed.” This is its only used in the entire New Testament. In no other place do we have anything said about the law being nailed to the cross. Nowhere in this passage does Paul say the law. The word “written code” can also be translated “certificate of debt” which Paul says “stood against us.” Paul is saying that Jesus went to the cross, taking our indebtedness upon himself due to sin that was evidenced by a list of our sins that stood against us and by all rights should keep us from having a relationship with God and keep us out of the covenant community. Jesus took on his role as spiritual accountant by paying off the debt we owed and balancing the books to show our debt was zeroed out through his death on the cross.
Still not convinced? Here are some questions to consider.
- If the law was nailed to the cross at the time of Jesus death on the cross why was Peter still keeping kosher laws up through Acts 10, years after Jesus’ death?
- Why were Gentiles required to keep commands from the Torah to be part of the covenant community in Acts 15:19-21?
- Why were Jews still keeping holy days and the Sabbath even after Jesus’ death? (Acts 13:14,27, 42-44; 16:13; 17:2; 18:4; Col 2:16?)
I am obviously not proposing that we all go back to be followers of the law. I am pointing out that this is the wrong text to use when talking about what happened to the law following the death of Christ.