Don’t Ephesians 2:15 and Colossians 2:14 teach us that Christ nailed God’s law to the cross so that we do not have to obey it anymore?
Ephesians 2:15 reads that Christ has “abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances…”
Colossians 2:14 reads that Christ has “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.” The Authorized Version says that Christ “[blotted] out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us…”
In a letter of the Letter Answering Department of the Worldwide Church of God, the following comments were made regarding Colossians 2:14:
“The ‘handwriting of requirements’… simply refers to the debt each of us owes for our sins (Rom 6:23; I John 3:4). Our individual, personal sins separated us from God and demanded the death penalty (Isa. 59:2). This debt of sin is what Paul said was ‘against us’ and ‘contrary to us’ (Col. 2:14), because it would prevent us from being in God’s Kingdom.”
In an earlier and much more comprehensive letter, discussing Colossians 2:14 and Ephesians 2:15, the Worldwide Church of God wrote the following:
“… the word ‘ordinances’ in these passages does not refer to God’s law. It is translated from the Greek word ‘dogma’ and relates to human laws and decrees–the ‘commandments and doctrines of men’ (Col. 2:22). These human ordinances included both the restrictive pharisaical decrees burdening the Jews and the ascetic, oppressive ordinances of ‘touch not, taste not’ bound on the gentiles of Colossae.
“Both sets of human ordinances contributed to feelings of prejudice, animosity, suspicion, and separation between the Jews and gentiles who were being called into God’s Church. These ordinances acted as a ‘middle wall of partition.’ But, Jesus abolished that barrier through His supreme sacrifice: ‘For he [Christ] is our peace, who hath made both [Jew and gentile] one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us’ (Eph. 2:14).
“In Paul’s day, many newly-begotten Christians continued to suffer from the burden of their former teachings. For example, at the Temple there was a literal wall which separated the court of the gentiles from that of the Jews. Death was the penalty for any gentile who dared to pass it. Some converted Jews found it difficult to forget and change that deeply-ingrained part of their lives. It affected even Peter. See Galatians 2:11-12.
“On the other hand, the gentiles were under the sway and influence of pagan philosophers, with their restrictive rules. Colossae was known for its ascetic society. The pagans judged their Christian neighbors for their freedom in eating the various meats ordained by God [food from clean animals], for drinking wine, and for keeping the weekly and annual Sabbaths in the joyous manner prescribed by God. Ascetics were taught that they could receive release from their guilt by doing penance—through abstinence, fasting, and their self-inflicted punishment.
“All such practices had no spiritual power or benefit, and Paul spoke out against these human standards and judgments: ‘Beware lest any man spoil you through [human] philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ’ (Col. 2:8). Christ came to pay the penalty for all our sins–to release us from the penalty of death incurred through sin and to cleanse our conscience from all guilt.
“Christ abolished the ascetic ordinances of the gentile philosophers as well as the Talmudic traditions, which all were yokes in bondage… He made it possible for both Jew and gentile to become spiritual Israelites, the children of God (Gal.3:26-29), so they might live together in freedom within His perfect law (Jas. 1:25)…”
In our free booklet, “Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians – How to Understand It,” we offer further explanations as to the meaning of the biblical passages in Ephesians 2:15 and Colossians 2:14. When discussing Ephesians 2:14-17, we state the following:
“… the Greek word is the same in Ephesians 2:15 and Colossians 2:14, and should be consistently translated. In both passages, Paul uses the word ‘ordinances.’ This word does not refer in any way to the Ten Commandments or the statutes and judgments defining and magnifying the Ten Commandments. Sin is defined as the transgression of the law. Christ said He did not come to abolish the law. He said that if we want to enter into life, we have to keep the commandments, and James said that if we break one of the commandments, we are guilty of having broken all of them.
“‘The law of commandments contained in ordinances’ in Ephesians 2:15 and the ‘handwriting of ordinances’ in Colossians 2:14 is not a reference to the Ten Commandments. The Greek word for ‘ordinance’ is ‘dogma’ and refers to a ‘decree.’ In Luke 2:1, it is used to describe a decree of Emperor Augustus; Acts 17:7 refers to decrees of Caesar; and in Acts 16:4, it describes the decrees issued by the apostles regarding decisions made during the ministerial conference in Acts 15. In Colossians 2:20, Paul says that the Gentiles in Colossi were still subject to ordinances or decrees (in Greek, ‘dogmatizomai’; the New King James Bible says, ‘requirements’), which were, in that case, based on ‘the commandments and doctrines of men’ (verse 22).
“We see, then, that the word for ordinances or decrees was never used to describe laws that were given directly by God.
“Vincent’s Word Studies explains that the ‘ordinances’ or decrees identify the nature of the ‘law of commandments’ mentioned in Ephesians 2:15, stating: ‘The middle wall of partition, the enmity, was dissolved by the abolition of the law of commandments. Law is general, and its contents are defined by commandments, special injunctions, which injunctions in turn were formulated in definite decrees. Render the entire passage [in Ephesians 2:14-15]: brake [sic] down the middle-wall of partition, even the enmity, by abolishing in His flesh the law of commandments contained in ordinances.’…
“Paul is not talking about ANY law, which God gave the people. Rather, he is talking about human laws, commandments and decrees.
“These laws or ordinances included restrictive pharisaical decrees—inventions and traditions of men—as well as ascetic oppressive ordinances of Gentile philosophers. In both cases, following these ordinances leads to sin, as they are contrary to the law of God.
“Christ said about the man-made rules of Judaism that people did away with the commandments of God in order to follow their own traditions (Mark 7:7-13)… In addition, Paul told the Gentiles that they violated God’s laws by adhering to the practices taught by their philosophers, which were ’empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles [or rudiments, Authorized Version] of the world, and not according to Christ’ (Colossians 2:8, New King James Version).
“Paul also said in Colossians 2:14 that Christ blotted out the handwriting of ordinances, that was against us, and nailed it to the cross. Paul is referring to a ‘handwriting’ containing sins we committed by following decrees, traditions and philosophies of man—contrary to the Word of God. In the Greek, the phrase for ‘handwriting’ means literally, ‘certificate or acknowledgment of debt in the handwriting of the debtor.’ The phrase ‘of ordinances’ or ‘decrees’ [in ‘handwriting of ordinances’ in Colossians 2:14] should be translated as ‘in’ or ‘consisting in’ ordinances or decrees (compare Vincent’s Word Studies and the Jamieson, Fausset and Brown commentary).
“Paul is referring to the fact that Christ blotted out the handwriting in-or consisting in-ordinances which was against us. This wording indicates the basis for the certificate of debt-we incurred it because we kept man’s ordinances, which were contrary to God’s law. But through Christ’s death, we obtained forgiveness of our sins-He took the certificate of debt out of the way and nailed it to the cross, thereby abolishing, nullifying, and extinguishing it (Colossians 2:14). Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Bible explains: ‘It is said that there is an allusion here to the ancient method by which a bond or obligation was cancelled, by driving a nail through it, and affixing it to a post.’
“In the same way, Paul is saying in Ephesians 2:15 that Christ abolished in His flesh, and through His death, the ‘law of commandments contained in human decrees or dogma,’ which were contrary to the Law of God. As he states in verse 14, these human laws had not only created enmity between God and man, but also between Jews and Gentiles. This was even compounded by the fact that in Old Testament times, God did not call the ‘uncircumcised’ Gentiles, in general, to the truth (see again Ephesians 2:11-13).
“In perhaps alluding to the wall, which separated the court of the Gentiles from the court of the Israelites in the Temple, Paul compared the human traditions and rules with a ‘middle wall of partition’ (Ephesians 2:14). But Jesus Christ broke down and abolished that barrier through His supreme sacrifice. We also recall that the veil of the temple was torn from top to bottom when Jesus died—indicating that all true Christians have direct access to the Father in heaven. We read that in God’s Church-the BODY of Christ—there is no longer Jew nor Gentile, but they are all one in Christ (Galatians 3:26-29).
“Through Christ’s death, we were reconciled to the Father (Ephesians 2:16; Colossians 1:19-20). Christ is our peace (Ephesians 2:14), who has made true Christians—of Jewish and Gentile origin—ONE in Him (same verse), ‘as to create in Himself one new man from the two [Jew and Gentile], thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity’ (Ephesians 2:15-16, New King James Bible)…”
Ephesians 2:15 and Colossians 2:14 do NOT teach that Christ nailed God’s spiritual Law to the cross. But they DO teach that He nullified any human laws and traditions which lead to sin, as they are contrary to God’s Word, and He nailed our record of sins to the cross, as we obtain God’s forgiveness upon our genuine repentance and acceptance of Christ’s Sacrifice.
Lead Writer: Norbert Link