Articles addressing Scriptural concepts that are misunderstood by many Believers today.
Often times, when speaking to someone who doesn’t follow Torah, they get confused as to why some of us would want to keep it. “The Law is bondage,” they say. “Jesus died to fulfill it, which means we don’t have to do it anymore,” is a very common response. Then they quote Paul who, let’s face it, wrote some very difficult and confusing writings. Usually it’s a quote from Romans or Galatians, saying we’re “under grace and not law.” But what is perhaps the most common response of all is, “Christ nailed the law to His cross, so it isn’t in effect anymore.” But how do they arrive at this conclusion?
I will first quickly state that this writing, though brief, will cover a couple of different topics, all centered on Colossians 2.
Colossians 2:13-14, “13When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, 14having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the stake.”
I’m going to derail us for a moment and explain why I choose to use “stake” in place of “cross.” Simply put, there is no reason to believe a “cross” was used. The word in Greek, stauros CAN mean cross, but was seldom used that way in ancient Greek. Its first definition is stake or stave.
Consider John 3:14: “14″As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up.”
This is a reference to Numbers 21:8-9, where Moses was given a command regarding an infestation of serpents. Moses placed a bronze serpent on a “standard.” This word for “standard” is also translated as banner or flag. A flag is not placed on a cross, it is placed on a pole. That is why some translations (NIV, ESV, KJV, etc) simply translate the word as “pole,” because the implication is that it is a flagpole. The bronze serpent was attached to a “flagpole” of sorts, and was “lifted up” in the wilderness. In the same way, Yeshua our Messiah was “hanged on a stake” and “lifted up” before all present.
Many will cite that crucifixion, a common punishment in Rome, was always done on a cross. While it is true it was sometimes done on a cross, it was not always. Early “church” history indicates that “Saint Andrew” was crucified on an ‘X’ and not a ‘T’ as they claim Messiah was. It is also said of “Saint Peter” that he was crucified upside-down. Now these stories may or may not be true, but they do offer some evidence that would show crucifixion did not always occur the same way.
What about the scars? His hands and feet, right? That’s plural, so a nail must have passed through His hands and feet, meaning his hands would be out in a cross shape. However, there is no indication of this. Everyone agrees his feet were both impaled by one nail, why not both of His hands the same? Both arms raised above His head and one nail through both hands.
Regardless of all that, it was well-known that the “cross” was a pagan symbol long before Rome existed. Going back to Babylon and Egypt we find crosses all over the place. A common example of this is the “cross” with the “loop” at the top used in Egypt. This cross symbol, called “ankh” in Egyptian, is called the “key of life,” and is dated back to more than 1500 years BEFORE Yeshua’s death on the stake. Lastly, back to the Greek. The word, stauros, is used 27 times in the Greek Gospels and Apostolic Writings. Every time it is used it is translated as “cross.” However, classical Greek writers such as Homer, Herodotus and Thucydides used the word stauros in their writings only to indicate an upright stake, not a cross (See Thayer’s Greek Lexicon). The word is derived from Strong’s #G2476, histemi, meaning “to stand up, to set in balance, to make firm.” No indication here of a “cross” bar, or symbol of a cross in either stauros or histemi. In fact, in every case where “cross” is used in Scripture it could (and should) be substituted with stake.
In fact, 19th Century Bible scholar E.W. Bullinger stated that it was his belief that stauros never meant two beams placed across one another at any angle, "but always of one piece alone ... There is nothing [of the word stauros] in the Greek of the N.T. even to imply two pieces of timber." You can click here to check out Appendix 162 in Bullinger's The Companion Bible, which details this belief. This point is backed up by the statement Bullinger recorded by Dean John Burgon,who stated that "the invention of it [the cross] in pre-Christian times, and the 'invention' of its use in later times, are truths of which we need to be reminded in the present day. The evidence is thus complete, that the Lord was put to death on an upright stake, and not on two pieces of timber placed in any manner."
In the same appendix, Bullinger notes that in the Catacombs of Rome, the depictions of the death of Messiah are shown with Messiah affixed to an upright stake, and not a cross. Simply put, prior to Constantine, the cross was NEVER a symbol used by Believers. After 315, Constantine adopted the the cross (and the Chi-Rho symbol) as the symbol of his army. It was during this period (and the council of Nicaea which followed in 325) when the "Cross" gained notoriety as a symbol of the Messiah. However, as noted above, it already existed as a pagan symbol for over a thousand years. Not only this, but the Chi-Rho was a symbol used more than 200 years before Yeshua; even appearing on coins from about 230 BCE during the empire of Ptolemy III Euergetes of Egypt.
All this to say, the "cross" is not only a symbol we should NOT use, but it was also not the device used to impale our Messiah.
Now then, back to the original point of this writing. We read Colossians 2 earlier, so let’s examine it alongside some other Scriptures. The key phrase that causes a problem in verse 14 is “…having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us, He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the stake.” So in order, we’ll look at these words. First, there is “certificate of debt.” The word used is cheirographon, literally meaning “handwriting.” This word is used only ONCE in all of Scripture, and it is in Colossians 2. The background to this word is “legal note, bond, or receipt.” It showed that a debt was owed from one party to another. Next is the word for “decrees” which is dogmasin. It is where we get our English word “dogma.” This word is never used to describe Yahweh’s Torah in all of its uses in the Greek Writings. In most cases it used as “decree,” such as the decree that went forth from Caesar.
The last word to look at is hupenantion, which means literally “opposite, adverse or hostile.” It is used only one other time (Hebrews 10:27) and is translated “adversaries.” It means to oppose or be against. So, Yeshua nailed the “certificate of what we owe,” consisting of the “decrees” that “oppose” us, to His stake. But what “decrees” are opposite us? Many say the Torah is the “writing of decrees” against us, but this is not the case. If that were the case, why did Paul not simply say, “Having canceled the nomos (Law) that was contrary to us, nailing it to His stake?” That is not what he was saying. The “decrees” against us are the penalties for our sins.
Romans 6:23, “for the opsonia (wages/payment) of sin is death; but the gift of Elohim is eternal life through Yeshua Messiah our Master.”
We all have sinned (Romans 3:23) and broken Yahweh’s Torah (sin is the breaking of the Torah, 1 John 3:4). Therefore, we all owe a payment of death. We have a “certificate of debt” written against us, and that debt is our own sin. That is why in Colossians 2:13, one verse before the one in question, Paul reminds us “When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions.” He says this to draw a parallel between “all our transgressions,” and the “handwritings against us.”
2 Corinthians 5:21, “21He made Him who knew no sin, to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of Elohim in Him.”
Romans 6:6-7, “6knowing this, that our old self was crucified with [Him], in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; 7for he who has died is freed from sin.”
Yeshua, according 2 Corinthians 5, was made sin to take our penalty. Most Believers know this very well. According to Romans 6 only once one has “died” is he free from sin. We are all “bound” by the “law of sin and death.” This law is the requirement to die as a result of sin. It is the law that entered in because of sin from Adam.
Romans 5:12, “12Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned.”
The “writings” against us are our own sins that were written against us because we sinned. When Yeshua died, He “became sin,” (2 Cor. 5) for us, meaning He took those “writings” on Himself. He died the death we ALL deserve, because we all sinned. Now, since the debt has been paid (by being nailed to His stake), we are able to live with/in Him (Romans 6:11). Remember, too, that the Torah was not written to be “contrary” to man, but rather to bless him in his obedience. As a quick parallel, remember that the physical is used to teach the Spiritual.
I won’t include the entire section here, but read the whole chapter of Numbers 5, especially paying attention to verse 11-31. In order for this to make sense, I suggest you take a moment to read it and then finish this article.
In Numbers 5:11-31, the “Laws of jealousy” are outlined. Verse 23 says that the priest is to “write the curses on a scroll, and wash them into the water of bitterness” that was in the cup the woman had to drink. These were LITERALLY “handwritings” against the woman.
Remember what Yeshua said in Matthew 26 (as well as Mark 14 and Luke 22)? He prayed that “this cup” would be removed from Him, if it were possible. What cup would that be, if not the “cup of bitterness” containing the “handwritings” against all of us? Consider Isaiah 53, which tells us Yahweh “laid upon Him the iniquity of us all.” “He Himself bore the sin of many,” so that “by His wounding” we would be healed.
See also the article Picking & Choosing for a brief discussion and (hopefully) a satisfactory explanation of the "moral, civil, and ceremonial law" idea, as well as the common "picking and choosing" argument.
Colossians 2 has been misinterpreted by so many people on so many occasions. However, what should be gleaned from it is the same that should be gleaned from much of Paul’s writings as well as the gospel. Yeshua our Messiah died, taking away the penalty that we all owe. We all have sinned, we all deserve death (the Second Death). But because Elohim loved the world, He sent His Son to pay the price for us (John 3:16). I pray this writing has blessed you and assisted you in your own study. Be Berean. Shalom.