Was the Law Nailed to the Cross?

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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law, including the commandments written on stone (2 Cor 3:7), was taken out of the way, nailed to the cross, and is no longer in force as a law in any of its parts…It was taken out of the way when Jesus Christ was nailed to the cross [This is a very graphic way of saying that the obstacle to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.

  1. 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?
  2. Why were Gentiles required to keep commands from the Torah to be part of the covenant community in Acts 15:19-21?
  3. 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.

0 Responses

  1. Matt, I sure enjoy and appreciate all the time and thought you put into this site — I have been challenged and ecouraged by you much in the short time I have known you. Thanks.

    Having said that, allow me to “weigh in” here.
    You asked, “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?”
    I believe it was because that is what he was used to and because he was unaware of the fact that he no longer needed to do so. Which is why God had to miracuously intervene and force Peter to see that what was unclean before no longer was. It took the same amount of time for Peter to start practicing what he preached 10 years ealier when he declared that the promise of God was to all who were afar off. Remember that for the same ten years he was keeping kosher, he was also refusing to obey the Lord’s command of preaching the gospel to every creature / all nations. Peter was simply clouded in his thinking along such lines.

    You also asked, “Why were Gentiles required to keep commands from the Torah to be part of the covenant community in Acts 15:19-21?”
    I don’t think they were. Keep in mind that these things were not just forbidden by the Law of Moses. For example, even Noah was told about the sinfulness of eating blood and that was before God gave the Law through Moses (Gen. 9:3,4). Also, before the Law of Moses was given, God created the institution of marriage as the only place for legitimate physical intimacy between a husband and wife, thus making fornication sinful (Gen. 2).

    Lastly, you asked, “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?)”
    Because they wanted to. Perhaps they too were unaware that that first covenant was already made obsolete and soon to disappear — Heb. 8:13. 😉

  2. Hank,

    I don’t think it is any coincidence that the rules given for the Gentiles in Acts 15 is an exact list of the things God required of them under the law of Moses. I think you hit the nail on the head when you said they did so because they wanted to. I am not saying the old covenant continued. It was made obsolete. The problem is when we say that then we conclude that every aspect of life and practice under that law had to come to an end. But that is not what we see in the NT with Jewish Christians. We see them continue to practice parts of the law, not because it was still a valid covenant but because that was their heritage and they wanted to. It was a special identity and place they had shared with God for thousands of years and they kept practicing many parts of it….not for salvation but because that is what they had known for so long. So we have made a false leap when we correctly say that the law was obsolete but then incorrectly conclude that means all Jewish Christians had to stop practicing all parts of the law and their Jewish heritage. The Jewish Christians did not check their Jewish identity at the door. It was part of who they were. The old covenant can be made obsolete and Jewish Christians still keep things like the Sabbath. We have this problem of thinking if something doesn’t lead to salvation then it has to stop.

    The second thing is that much of what is written against the law in the NT is actually written to Jewish Christians who were depending on the law rather than depending on Christ. So we hear people depending on the law being rebuked and so we assume that any practice of anything in the Torah must be off limits and should have been nailed to the cross. But that is not what Paul is saying. Paul and the author of Hebrews are reminding people not to put their trust in the law but in Christ. And by the way, that was nothing new. Even in the OT they were not to put their faith in works righteousness but in a God who wants mercy over sacrifice and acknowledgment of himself over burnt offerings. So when we hear the law condemned in the NT it is actually often a condemnation of those who have misapplied the law to put their faith in it rather than Christ.

  3. Hi Matt, followed a link here from Soliloquy of a Stranger – just wanted to say hello and that those snowflakes are making my eyes go buggy! 🙂

    I’m intrigued by your thoughts…on a couple of things.

    1) May I kindly say that you are the first Emergent that I have found that seems to have a solid foundation? (I cringe when I say that…I mean it as a compliment…)

    2) Regarding the Law – wow – I have had some fascinating conversations with solid Christian friends who have recently become Torah observant. Following their in-depth readings of scripture, they have come to the conclusion that God still wants His people to follow His original rules. They know that salvation does not come from the following of the Law; but they consider that BLESSING does. Some practical applications – they don’t eat pork, they celebrate the festivals (for the purpose of worship and learning about Yahweh.)

    Right now, I personally neither reject nor accept this – I’m just listening. It is interesting to me that the more research you do, you find that God’s original laws had many practical and healthful benefits.

    Blessings to you –

  4. Holly,

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences. Just a couple of thoughts. I think Paul was all about encouraging Jews to continue in many positive aspects of their heritage. He was not vocally in favor of the Gentiles doing that (except for when he shared with Gentiles the rules laid down at the Jerusalem council in Acts 15). I would not personally advice non-Jews to keep components of the law. I don’t think that is warranted. I am glad to hear that at least those you speak of at least they don’t see it as needing Jesus + law in order to be saved.

  5. Matt, I think we’re on the same page now (at least, for the most part). I agree that people are wrong when they think that just because the old law had become obsolete, that it then became sinful if and/or when they continued practicing any aspect of it. Surely they ought not slay sacrificial lambs as believing Jews, but to observe the sabbath, to circumcise their children, and to pass on pork was entirely up to them. My main point in all of this is that they could have been just as pleasing to God whether they continued such practices or not. They had no obligation either way.
    And that they would have been just as wrong to believe and teach that they couln’t keep kosher as to believe and teach that they had to — once the law was nailed to the cross ERR……made obsolete.

  6. Matt, don’t you just love the 2nd verse of “It is well with my soul?” 😉

    Great thoughts and I have agreed with this for a number of years…

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