Is the Law Nailed to the Cross?


Paul wrote to the Colossians:

13 And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses,
14  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.
15  Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it.
Colossians 2:13-15 NKJV

Various Christian Bible commentators are of the opinion that the ‘handwriting of requirements that was against us’, referred to the ‘Tora’, or the first five books of the Bible. They perceive the Law of Moses as a heavy burden of demands and commandments that was ‘wiped out’ by Christ’s death on the cross. Others conclude that the Ten Commandments, written by God’s finger on tablets of stone, are therefore no longer valid.

The question is did Paul mean to say that God’s Torah was nailed to the cross and is therefore no longer valid. If he did then he contradicts Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:17 where Jesus explicitly says that He did NOT come to destroy the Law or the Prophets. The Greek word translated with ‘destroy’, literally means that it no longer functions and is no longer valid or binding.

To understand what Paul really meant in his letter to the Colossians, we need to look more closely at the Greek word ‘handwriting’.

The ‘cheirographon’

The word for handwriting that Paul used in this text is the Greek word ‘cheirographon’. A ‘cheirographon’ is a handwritten official document.

We find an example of a handwritten official document in Deuteronomy 24:1-4 referring to a written certificate of divorce. This certificate describes the agreement that has been reached and is signed. In order to make the divorce official, a scribe was hired to write up the certificate of divorce, which was then signed by both parties involved. Mark 10:4 also refers to a certificate of divorce.

The word ‘cheirographon’, was also used for a handwritten acknowledgement or note of debt, something like an I.O.U. When the debt was paid in full, the ‘cheirographon’, was invalidated by piercing it with something sharp like a nail.

A ‘cheirographon’, was also used in the case of the crucifixion or punishment of a criminal. All the charges of which the person had been found guilty (frequently a whole list) were written on a piece of parchment and nailed to the cross on which the person convicted of those crimes would be crucified. Everyone could then see why he was hanging there and what he had done to deserve such a cruel punishment. This written indictment or accusation was called a ‘titlos’, in Latin. John used the word ‘titlos’, to describe the accusations that were hung on the cross on which Jesus hung (John 19:19). It was written in three different languages (John 19:20).

The accusation against Jesus was extraordinary: ‘King of the Jews’!

And the inscription of His accusation was written above: THE KING OF THE JEWS.” (Mark 15:26).

It was the list of things of which the person was accused and found guilty that was nailed to the cross. Their crimes were listed and displayed. The list was a description of the things in which someone had broken the law, not the law itself.

Paul used this example to make it clear to us that the list of crimes, the handwriting of requirements that was against us, was nailed to the cross with Christ. Every accusation against us, has been paid for and dealt with and can no longer be used against us. Jesus has wiped out the things of which we are guilty and for which we should have been severely punished.  He did not wipe out the law or the Torah. He wiped out our guilt.

Accusation and guilt

Many believers struggle with feelings of guilt or shame about things that they have done in the past. It is important to confess our sin (to tell God and to tell someone who will hold us accountable), and to make reparation for any damage we have caused. Zacchaeus was willing to pay back the money he had cheated and extorted when he abused his position as chief tax collector (Luke 19:8). He was even prepared to pay back four times the amount, which was a lot more than his legal obligation. According to Torah, he had to pay back the full amount plus twenty percent (Lev 6:3-5).

When we confess our sin to God, He places all of our guilt on Jesus (Isaiah 53:6). That means that we acknowledge what happened, and our responsibility for it. But the accusation against us, which demands that WE be punished, has been nailed to the cross with Him and is therefore no longer valid for us (Col 2:14).

This means that the devil and powers and principalities no longer have any legal basis to accuse us. In Colossians 2:15 Paul says that they have been disarmed. Their chief weapon against us is the fact that we are guilty. It is not the law, but the fact that we are guilty of breaking the law that the devil uses against us. Even though we are guilty, and deserving of punishment, the list of our crimes has been completely wiped out and is no longer legally valid. The devil has no legal right any longer to demand our death or punishment.

There is a simple but effective technique to remind yourself of this amazing truth. When the devil keeps on accusing you of things that you have already confessed and dealt with, make a list of them. Then use a sharp object to pierce every item on your list. As you do so, take time to pray and thank the Father that all these crimes and trespasses are nailed to the cross with Christ, and everything that stands against us (is contrary to us) is no longer valid. The devil has no basis any longer to keep accusing us, and we resist his every attack in the name of Jesus our Lord who paid for our freedom (1 Peter 5:6-11). Then destroy the list completely.

Each of those accusations is no longer legal or valid and therefore no longer has a right to influence us. People often feel bad about themselves because they feel guilty. Feelings of recurring guilt are dangerous because when we feel ashamed of ourselves it makes it difficult for us to come close to God. This can result in a kind of paralysis. When the Holy Spirit convicts us of something we have done wrong, He always brings us back to Christ, so that we can confess what we have done and be forgiven and changed. He is the Comforter and Helper who guides us to take responsibility for what we have done to sort out the things from our past. He never accuses us and leaves us feeling guilty and hopeless and ashamed. He is always specific about what we did wrong and what we need to do now, instead of vague feelings of guilt and powerlessness. He helps us not just to come closer to God but to run to God, desperate for and confident in His forgiveness. He doesn’t play with our emotions, or keep us hanging on a line. When we deal with the sin with the help of the Holy Spirit, it always brings us closer to God and guilt and shame are replaced by peace and joy.