Certificate of debt consisting of decrees

Summary: The certificate of debt consisting of decrees is traditionally interpreted as the Law of Moses, concluding that Col. 2:14 teaches that the Law of Moses has been cancelled. However, many interpret it as the penalty for our sins, in terms of the Law, for reasons such as:

The word cheirographon (translated “certificate of debt” by the NASB), is used only here in the entire Bible.  Outside the Bible it consistently is a note of indebtedness written in one’s own hand as a proof of obligation.

Most translations renders it as the record of our sins that has been canceled; not the Law of Moses.

Verse 14 must be read with verse 13, which would define cheirographon as being “dead in your transgressions”.

Ephesians 2:15 should not be used to conclude that Colossians 2:14 refers to the Law of Moses because different things are cancelled in these two verses for two different purposes.

The deception, as described by the letter, is non-Jewish, indicated by the emphasis on the supernatural, the worship of angels and visions, on mystery and knowledge and on self-abasement and the severe treatment of the body.  Paul calls it a “philosophy” and a “self-made religion”.  A statement that the Law of Moses has been cancelled does not fit this context.

The Colossians still observed the Jewish holy days, but this does not mean that the deception included Jewish legalism.  The Colossians observed these days in a joyous, festive manner, while the Colossian false teachers preached “self-abasement” and “severe treatment of the body”.  It is therefore concluded that the Colossian deception criticized the believers for HOW they observed the Jewish special days (2:16).

Verse 15 refers to the “rulers and authorities” that have now been disarmed.  It is implied that they accused Christians before God, but since their guilt has been eliminated, these “rulers and authorities” are unable to accuse Christians.

The cheirographon, that “was hostile to us” (Col 2:14), refers to the “evils and troubles” that will come for breaking the covenant (Deut. 31:17-26).

2:14 having 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 cross.

The purpose here is to determine what this “certificate of debt consisting of decrees” is, that was “against us”, but that was “canceled out” by being “nailed … to the cross” (2:14).

Law of Moses – The KJV translation of this phrase is the “handwriting of ordinances”.  This sounds like the Law of Moses, which Moses wrote up by hand. Support for this interpretation includes the following:

The “handwriting of ordinances” “was hostile to us” (Col 2:14), while the Law of Moses served “as a witness against you” (Deut. 31:26).

Ephesians 2:15 is in many respects similar to Colossians 2:14, and in Ephesians “the Law of commandments” was abolished, which probably refers to the Law of Moses

For such reasons many people over the years concluded that Col. 2:14 teaches that the Law of Moses has been cancelled by the cross.

Translations differ – This phrase is translated very differently by other translations.  For instance:

Phillips calls it “the damning evidence of broken laws and commandments”.  If this translation is correct, this is not the Law of Moses.

The NIV reads, “the charge of our legal indebtedness”.  This also does not sound like the Law of Moses.  It sounds more like what we owe because we disobeyed the Law.

Importance – It is important to understand what this “certificate of debt consisting of decrees” (2:14) is because it helps to explain the nature of the Colossian deception.  If it refers to the Law of Moses, then it supports the view that the Colossian deception included Jewish legalism.

Greek – The transliterated Greek phrase translated as “certificate of debt consisting of decrees” by the NASB is Cheirographon tois Dogmasin:

  • Certificate of debt – cheirographon (G5498)
  • consisting of – tois (G3588)
  • decrees – dogmasin (G1378)

Proposed meaning – It is proposed here that the “certificate of debt consisting of decrees” (NASB) either refers to the record of our sins, and/or to the penalty we owe for such sins, according to the Law of God.  The evidence for this proposal is as follows:

Cheirographon

The word cheirographon is used only here in the entire Bible.  Literally it refers to something hand-written and the more literal translations simply render it as “the handwriting”, but outside the Bible and in the LXX (ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament) it is consistently used for a note of indebtedness written in one’s own hand as a proof of obligation.  For instance, in the Apocalypse of Elijah is found a description of an angel holding a book, explicitly called a cheirographon, in which the sins of the seer are recorded.  For this reason many translations use the word “debt” (NASB, NIV and others) or “bond” (RSV).

The Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown commentary defines ‘cheirographon’ as:

  1. A handwriting, what one has written by his own hand
  2. A note of hand or writing in which one acknowledges that money has either been deposited with him or lent to him by another, to be returned at the appointed time (Thayer’s).

For more information, refer to the “versebyversecommentary”-website. It states that this meaning is well-attested in both the Jewish and Greco-Roman world.

Translations

Secondly, most translations imply that the record of our sins has been canceled; not the Law of Moses.  It is really only the KJV and some other literal translations that allow one to identify it as the Law of Moses.  Other translations keep the cheirographon (something handwritten) and the dogmasin (decrees) apart as two separate concepts, interpreting the phrase “certificate of debt consisting of decrees” either as:

  • The record of our transgressions resulting from “disobeying the Law of Moses” (CEV); OR
  • The legal consequences or “legal demands” (RSV) of our transgressions.

See here for more a more detailed discussion of the alternative translations.

Context

Thirdly, the context implies that the record of our sins has been cancelled; not the Law of Moses.

Since the word ‘cheirographon’ occurs nowhere else in Scripture, the interpretation must be carefully guided by the context.  Theologians spend so much time on individual words and phrases, comparing it with similar words and phrases elsewhere, that they sometimes neglect the immediate context.  One of the fundamental assumptions of this website’s interpretation of Paul’s letters is that no one verse should be interpreted in isolation.  One has to allow the meaning of a verse to be determined by the surrounding verses in such a way that a series of verses will be telling a logical story and form a logical sequence.

The immediate context of the previous verse (2:13) defines the former condition of the Colossians as “dead in your transgressions”, but now the Father has “forgiven us all our transgressions” (2:13).  Since this is the immediate context, and since verse 14 starts with the word “having”, which is often used to indicate that what follows will elaborate on what was said before (2:2, 7, 12, 13), it is proposed that verses 13 and 14 form a unit and that verse 14 also deals with the forgiving of sin.  This would mean that the “certificate of debt” that was “against us … hostile to us” is explained by the statement that the Colossians previously were “dead in your transgressions” (2:13).  It would also mean that nailing the “certificate of debt” to the cross is a symbolic way of saying that the Father has “forgiven us all our transgressions” (2:13).

As discussed on the page that analyses 2:11-14, in the slightly wider context we note that the entire 2:9-14 forms a unit. To summarize:

The fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form” in Christ (2:9). Therefore “in Him you have been made complete” (2:10) through “circumcision made without hands” (2:11), by sharing in His death and resurrection through baptism (2:12) and through the forgiveness of “all our transgressions” (2:13).

Cancelling out of the Law of Moses does not fit this context because Christians are not made “complete” by cancelling a law. Cancelling the record of our sins, or cancelling the penalty we owe for our sins, according to the Law of God, most certainly fits this context.

Pagan nature of the deception

Fourthly, the nature of the Colossian “deception” (2:8), which was pagan and not Jewish, implies that 2:14 does not refer to the Law of Moses.

The pagan nature of the Colossian deception is seen in the following:

The frequent reference to “mystery” in this letter implies that it was similar to the mystery religions of that time (see discussion of 2:2), with its secrets that were only known by the initiates.

The emphasis on “wisdom and knowledge” in this letter implies that the deception placed particular emphases on “wisdom and knowledge”, which implies that the deception was related to the Gnosticism of that time.  The name Gnosticism is derived from the Greek word that means knowledge.

The deception included “self-abasement” (self-humiliation) and “severe treatment of the body” (2:23), including submission to decrees such as, “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch” (2:20-21).  The Law of Moses includes rules with respect to unclean food and the Jews added many rules for how food must be prepared, but the concept of “self-abasement” and “severe treatment of the body” went far beyond the Jewish rules.

The deception included worshipping angels (2:18).  It placed much emphasis on supernaturalrulers and authorities”, which probably describe different classes of angels.  It received its information via “visions” (2:18), probably claimed to have been received via angels.  This emphasis on the supernatural is foreign to Judaism

Paul calls it a “philosophy” (2:8), a “self-made religion” (2:23), the “tradition of men” (2:8): mere “commandments and teachings of men” (2:22).  It therefore was not based on the Law of Moses.

The church in Paul’s days was threatened by corrupting influences both from the Jewish and the Gentiles worlds.  In Paul’s other letters one would often find a confrontation between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians over the Law of Moses, but the word “law” is not found even once in the entire letter to the Colossians.

The reference to circumcision in 2:11 does not mean that the Colossians were troubled by people trying to circumcise them, like in Galatians.  It is merely used as a symbol of initiation into the church.

2:16, referring to “a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day”, is the only direct mention in this letter of requirements from the Law of Moses.  On the basis of this verse commentators often assume that the deception in Colossae included a dispute over the Law of Moses.  But since this is the only clear reference to the Law of Moses in a sea of references to influences that are distinctly pagan in nature, and since the early church did, in fact, observe the Jewish holy days, and since the Jewish festivals were observed in a joyous, festive manner, while the Colossian false teachers preached “self-abasement” and “severe treatment of the body”, it is proposed below that the Colossian deception criticized the believers for HOW they observed the Jewish special days.

Therefore, while in Galatians the threat was Jewish legalism, in Colossians it was pagan in nature.  A statement that the Law of Moses has been cancelled does not fit this context.

Ephesians 2:15

Fifthly, Ephesians 2:15 should not be used to interpret Colossians 2:14.

Ephesians 2:15 is often used to confirm that Colossians 2:14 talks about the Law of Moses. In both verses something related to “decrees”, that was “hostile to us”, have been abolished by the death of Christ. However, in Ephesians “the Law of commandments” was abolished, which probably refers to the Law of Moses, while in Colossians “the record of the debt we owed” (CEB), was “canceled out”.  Furthermore, the purpose in the two verses is different.  In Ephesians the purpose was to break down “the dividing wall” between Jew and Gentile and make “the two into one new man”.  In Colossians the context indicates that our guilt was removed.  It would therefore not be reasonable to assume that Colossians teaches that the Law of Moses has been cancelled simply because Ephesians teaches that.  See here for a more detailed discussion of Ephesians 2:15.

Against us

The cheirographon “was hostile to us” (Col 2:14), while the Law of Moses served “as a witness against you” (Deut. 31:26), but the context of Deut. 31 is the “evils and troubles” that “will come upon them” (v17) for breaking the covenant (v16).  It may therefore be appropriate to interpret the cheirographon as the “evils and troubles” that are due to us for our sins.  “Our sins testify against us” (Is. 59:12; Jer. 14:7).

Conclusion

In summary, it is proposed here that the point of 2:14 is to say that our guilt has been abolished and annulled.  We still sin, but our guilt has been done away with.  This interpretation fits the context of the previous verses, which assure the Colossians that they have been made “complete” (2:10) because He has “forgiven us all our transgressions” (2:13).

To interpret verse 14 as saying that the Law of Moses has been cancelled would not fit the context because guilt is not removed by cancelling a law.  Such an interpretation would also not fit the wider context of the pagan nature of the Colossian deception.

To interpret verse 14 as saying that our guilt has been abolished also fits the context of the verses that will follow.

According to verse 15 He “disarmed the rulers and authorities” via the cross.  It will be argued that these “rulers and authorities” conducted a war of words and that they used the Christians’ guilt as their arms (weapons).  They accused the Christians before God, but in verse 14 Paul states that that guilt has been eliminated, “to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach” (1:22).  This eliminated the ability of these “rulers and authorities” to accuse Christians.

Verse 16 warns Christians not to allow people to judge them with respect to certain things.  Because the “rulers and authorities” have been disarmed, the Colossian Christian should not allow themselves to be judged and criticized by the Colossian deceivers.

The full assurance of the fullness of God’s forgiveness is the core of Paul’s answer to those in Colossae that were trying to attain perfection (2:10) by the “severe treatment of the body” (2:23) according to the “decrees” (2:20) of the false teachers.  Even for us today the memory of our sins can create in us a sense of incompleteness.  The solution, according to Paul, is to accepts that our own efforts cannot compensate for our mistakes, but to accept that, through the cross, God the Father has blotted out our sins and granted us full forgiveness.

Colossians Table of Contents

Back to 2:11-14

Translations of cheirographon

Summary: The phrase translated by the NASB as “certificate of debt consisting of decrees” is cheirographon tois dogmasin.  Sixteen translations of this phrase were analyzed and categorized into four groups.  One example from each group is briefly discussed in this summary:

The KJV translates the phrase as “handwriting of ordinances”, which may be interpreted as the Law of Moses.

The NASB translates the phrase as “certificate of debt consisting of decrees”. A possible interpretation of this is that “decrees” refer to the penalties for sins as prescribed by Law and that the “certificate of debt” refers to those penalties that becomes a person’s “certificate of debt” because of the sins committed by that person.

The English Standard Version translates the phrase as “record of debt … with its legal demands”.  The “record of debt” may be understood as the record of our sins.  The “legal demands” may be understood as the penalties for such sins as prescribed by the law.

The CEV translates the phrase as “the charges that were against us for disobeying the Law of Moses”.  This does not require much interpretation.

In conclusion, it is essentially only the KJV that may be interpreted as saying that the Law of Moses has been cancelled.  Most translations either say that the record of our sins or the penalties for our sins has been cancelled.

Discussion

The purpose of this page is to show that the majority of the translations imply that the record of our sins has been cancelled; not the Law of Moses.

The “certificate of debt consisting of decrees” in transliterated Greek is:

  • cheirographon – Strong G5498 – “certificate of debt
  • tois – G3588 – “consisting of
  • dogmasin G1378 – “decrees” – the plural form for ‘dogma’.

A major question is what Paul meant by ‘tois’.  While the NASB translates tois as “consisting of“, an interlinear Bible available on internet translates it simply as “to”.  To understand what it could mean, 14 translations have been analyzed. These translations were clustered into four groups:

The KJV is an example from the first group. It reads “handwriting of ordinances”. In this translation the “handwriting”  (cheirographon) describes the “ordinances” (dogmasin).       Cheirographon and dogmasin are thereby merged into a single concept, which can be stated as something like ‘handwritten ordinances’, which can be interpreted as the Law of Moses, which Moses wrote by hand in a book. With this interpretation 2:14 means that the Law of Moses was cancelled by the cross. Similar translations include:

KJV, KJ21, BRG, AKJV “handwriting of ordinances”
NKJV – “handwriting of requirements”
YLT – “handwriting in the ordinances”

The NASB is an example from the second group. It reads “the certificate of debt consisting of decrees”. This is similar to the first group in that the entire phrase is rendered as a single concept, but, compared to the first group, the relationship between the two main words is reversed. The “decrees” (dogmasin) now describes the “certificate of debt” (cheirographon).       While the first group of translations identifies “decrees” as the main concept, the current group identifies the “certificate of debt” as the main concept.

One option is to interpret “the certificate of debt consisting of decrees” as the Law of Moses, but that does not seem quite logical. A more likely alternative is to interpret this as the penalties that we owe in terms of the Law of God for the sins we committed.  To explain: God gave to Moses “judgments which thou shalt set before them” (Ex. 21:1 KJV). For instance, if somebody murders one of his parents, or even curses them, shall be put to death (Ex. 21:15, 17).  “Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, (v24). The sins, and the judgment for these sins, are laid out in these verses. These are decrees, and the collection of all such decrees that applies to a person is his “certificate of debt”.  Similar translations include:

ASV: “the bond written in ordinances”
AMP “the certificate of debt consisting of legal demands”

The English Standard Version is an example of the third group, which includes less literal translations. It reads “record of debt … with its legal demands”. This translation keeps the “record of debt” (cheirographon) and the “legal demands” (dogmasin) apart as two separate concepts, and makes the “decrees” (“legal demands”) the consequences of the “record of debt”.

Using this translation the entire phrase can be understood as referring to two things; firstly the record of our sins and secondly the penalties for such sins as prescribed by the law. This is similar to the second option for the second group of translations.  Similar translations include:

NIV: “the charge of our legal indebtedness
CEB “the record of the debt we owed, with its requirements that worked against us”
ISV – “the charges that were brought against us, along with their obligations that were hostile to us
RSV – “the bond which stood against us with its legal demands

The CEV is an example of the fourth group, which also includes less literal translations.       It reads “the charges that were against us for disobeying the Law of Moses”. This translation also keeps the “certificate of debt” and the “decrees” as two separate concepts, but reverses the cause-effect relationship by describing the decrees as the legal basis for the charges against us (the “certificate of debt). In this translation the “decrees”: may refer to the Law of Moses, but then Col. 2:14 means that it is the “charges that were against us for disobeying the Law of Moses” that were cancelled; not the law of Moses.  Similar translations include:

Phillips – “the damning evidence of broken laws and commandments
CJB – “the bill of charges against us. Because of the regulations, it stood as a testimony against us
ERV – “Because we broke God’s laws, we owed a debt—a debt that listed all the rules we failed to follow.”
EXB – “the ·record, ·which listed all the rules we failed to follow
GOD’S WORD® – “the charges that were brought against us by the written laws God had established

To conclude, all the less literal translations analyzed above imply that the record of our sins has been canceled; not the Law of Moses. Of the four groups it is only the first that implies that the Law of Moses has been cancelled.

Most translations, interpreting “handwriting” (cheirographon) as the record of our debt, keep the word “ordinances” separate from the record of our debt. The translations either say that:

  • The “ordinances” refer to the Law of Moses and that the “handwriting” (our transgressions) results from “disobeying the Law of Moses” (CEV); or that
  • The “ordinances” refer to the consequences or “legal demands” (RSV) of our transgressions (the “handwriting”).

Both concepts are true and the main message remains the same, namely that all our sins are forgiven. What God destroyed on the cross, according to Col. 2:14, was not the Law of Moses or the legal basis for the charges against us, but the written record of our sins. By destroying the record of sins, God removed the possibility of a charge ever being made again against those who have been forgiven.

Colossians Table of Contents

Back to Certificate of debt consisting of decrees

Colossians 2:11-14

Summary:  The Colossians deception, which was similar to the pagan mystery religions, claimed that Christians are incomplete and that they need something outside of Christ to be made complete.  To oppose this error Paul emphasized two main principles in the letter to the Colossians.  The first point is made by 2:9, namely that nothing exists outside Christ.  The second point is made in 2:10, namely that, in a trust-relationship with Christ, Christians are already complete.

Verses 11 to 14 elaborate on the second principle, explaining that Christians are already complete because their guilt has been removed.  Verse 11 uses circumcision as symbol to say that their guilt—their “body of the flesh”—has been cut off.  Verse 12 uses baptism as symbol to say that their guilt has been washed away.  Verse 13 describes their previous condition of guilt as “dead in your transgressions” and the removal of their guilt as “made … alive … having forgiven us all our transgressions”.  Verse 14 describes the guilt of their previous existence as a “certificate of debt” which has been cancelled by God the Father by nailing it to the cross.  Verses 10 to 14 therefore form a unit with a single message, and must be read together.

Christians are free from guilt, but not free from sin.  However, since they are free from guilt, they strive to become worthy citizens of the “kingdom of His beloved Son” (1:13), which is also free from sin.

2:11 and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; 2:12 having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. 2:13 When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He (the Father) made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, 2:14 having 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 cross.

Verses 11 to 13 should be read as a unit.

All three verses describe what happened to the Colossians when they became Christians:

Their conversion is described by verse 11 using circumcision as a symbol.  The Colossians, being Gentiles (1:27), have never been physically circumcised.  This verse therefore says that they have been circumcised “without hands”, which is “circumcision … which is of the heart”, resulting in a new heart and a new relationship with God through Christ (Rom. 2:28-29; Phil. 3:3).  (See Circumcision without hands for more detail.)

Verse 12 describes their conversion by saying that they were symbolically buried with Christ through baptism, and symbolically raised up (made alive) with Christ.

Verse 13 then describes their conversion by combining terminology of the previous two verses.  It combines the circumcision symbolism from verse 11 and the “made … alive” symbolism from verse 12, but then also gives a literal explanation, namely “having forgiven us all our transgressions”.

Verses 11 to 13 are therefore a unit, describing what happened to the Colossians at their conversion.

Realm transfer in chapter 1

2:11-14 are discussed as together because they convey a single message, namely that Christians have been transferred from the realm of guilt to freedom from guilt.  Chapter 1 already referred to this realm transfer:

 “the Father … rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (1:12-14).

This verse contrasts their previous and current conditions.  Since Christians “have … the forgiveness of sins”, the “domain of darkness” is the Realm of Guilt.

This following verse also contrasts their previous and current conditions, and again the point is that they have been freed from guilt:

although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach” (1:21-22)

Their former condition, of being “alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds”, is the realm of guilt.  They were “transferred” (1:13) out of “the domain of darkness” (1:13) by being “reconciled” (1:22) to become “holy and blameless and beyond reproach”.  This is what 1:13 calls the “kingdom of His beloved Son”.  They have “the forgiveness of sins” (1:14); their guilt has been removed.

Verse 22 mentions something which is absent in 1:13-14, namely the Means of transfer, which is “in His fleshly body through death”.

Realm transfer in 2:11-13

Using different symbols and terminology, 2:11-13 also describe the transfer:

  • From the “domain of darkness” and guilt (1:13)
  • To the “kingdom of His beloved Son” (1:13), where they have “forgiveness of sins” (1:14).

The realm of guilt is described by verse 11 as the “body of the flesh”.  Verse 13, using the circumcision terminology from verse 11, describes it as “the uncircumcision of your flesh” and explains it as to be “dead in your transgressions”.

They have been transferred out of the realm of guilt by “in Him” (2:11).  This is explained by verse 12, switching the symbolism from circumcision to baptism, as being “raised up with Him”.  This verse therefore indicates a strong link between Christ’s death and the transfer to the guilt-free realm.  Verse 13, which continues the circumcision metaphor from verse 11, describes their transfer out of the realm of guilt as being “made … alive together with Him” (2:13).  This means that the Means of transfer was Christ’s death and resurrection.

The “kingdom of His beloved Son” (1:13), where they have “forgiveness of sins” (1:14), is described as “forgiven us all our transgressions” (2:13).

Theologians sometimes make things more complex than they are.  Sometimes they focus so much on detail that they lose focus of the overall message.  Verses 11 to 13 use circumcision and baptism simply as symbols of the transfer to the realm where Christians are free of guilt.  These verses do not define circumcision or baptism and should never be analyzed in isolation.  Circumcision was the initiation into the Old Covenant and baptism the initiation into the New Covenant.  For that reason Paul here uses these as symbols for the initiation into the realm where Christians are free of guilt.

Realm transfer in 2:14

Verse 14 uses different symbolism, but the message is the same as in 2:11-13.  This verse describes the realm of guilt as a “certificate of debt consisting of decrees”.  Many interpret this as a reference to the Law of Moses, but on Certificate of debt consisting of decrees it is shown that the “certificate of debt consisting of decrees”, which has been “nailed it to the cross”, refers to the record of our sins and the penalty due to us, according to God’s Law.

Chapter and verse divisions sometimes distort the meaning of the text.  In the original text there are no chapter and verse divisions.  If we add the last part of verse 13 to the first part of verse 14 we have:

having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees” (2:13-14)

The immediate context therefore also implies that the “certificate of debt consisting of decrees” refers to “all our transgressions” (2:13).  Verse 14 therefore also describes the transfer from the realm of guilt to freedom from guilt.

The Means of transfer in verse 14 is clear, since it says that the “certificate of debt consisting of decrees” has been “nailed … to the cross”.

2:11-14 explains 2:10

2:11-14 expands on the concept in 2:10 that Christians “have been made complete” “in Him”.  The entire letter to the Colossians can perhaps be summarized by two concepts.  The first is stated by 2:9, but is also mentioned throughout the letter, namely that everything is in Christ; nothing exists outside Christ:

All the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form” in Christ (2:9).  In Christ “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (2:3).  “All things have been created through Him and for Him” (1:16).  “He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together” (1:17).  He has the first place in everything (1:18).  “It was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him” (1:19).  Through Him God reconciles all things to Himself (1:20).

Notice the word “all” in these examples, which excludes the possibility of anything existing outside of Christ.

The second main thought is stated by 2:10, namely that Christians are already complete in Christ; they do not need something else to make them complete.  It is this point on which Paul elaborates in the current verses by saying that they have been “circumcised … without hands” (2:11), “buried with Him”, “raised up with Him” (2:12), “made … alive” (2:13) and “forgiven” (2:13).  This is also the point of their “certificate of their debt” has been nailed to the cross.

These two main concepts can be described as:

  1. Christ all-inclusiveness
  2. The Christian’s completeness

The second concept is dependent on the first: Since nothing exists outside Christ, Christians are complete if they are “in Him”. This dependence is indicated by phrases such as “in Him” and “with Him”:

“… present every man complete in Christ” (1:28) “in Him you have been made complete … … in Him you were also circumcised … having been buried with Him in baptism … raised up with Him … made you alive together with Him ” (2:10-13).

In Him” means to be in a trust-relationship with Him.

Since 2:11-13 explains 2:10, and since the Christian’s completeness in 2:10 is dependent on Christ’s all-inclusiveness in 2:9, the entire 2:9-14 should be read together.

Colossian deception

But the question remains, why does Paul emphasize the transfer from the “domain of darkness” to freedom from guilt?  It is proposed that Paul put so much emphasis on the completion of Christians because the Colossian deception claimed that Christians are incomplete.  It is further proposed that Paul put so much emphasis on the all-inclusiveness of Christ because the Colossian deception claimed that Christians need something outside of Christ to make them complete.

As proposed before, the frequent mention of the word “mystery” in Colossians (1:26, 27; 2:2; 4:3), and the description of Christ as the mystery of God (2:2) indicates that the Colossians deception was related to the pagan mystery religions.  In these ancient mystery religions secret knowledge was imparted to the initiates via an initiation rite.  For that reason Paul uses the Biblical initiation rites, namely circumcision under the old covenant and baptism under the new, as part of his description of how Christians were made “complete” in Christ.

God the Father

It is perhaps appropriate to point out that verse 13 reads “He made you alive together with Him”.  The Means of transfer is Christ’s death, but it is “God the Father” (3:17; 1:2, 3) that “circumcised” Christians “with a circumcision made without hands” (2:11), that “buried” them “with Him in baptism”, and also raised them up with Him (2:12), that made them “alive together with Him” (2:13), that forgave “us all our transgressions” (2:13) and that “canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees” (2:14) by nailing “it to the cross” (2:14).

Freedom from guilt

To conclude, note that Christians are free from guilt, but not free from sin.  Christians have been transferred to a realm where they have been “forgiven” their “transgressions”.  The Lord said, referring to the new covenant:

Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more” (Hebr. 10:17)

Since we are free from guilt—“holy and blameless and beyond reproach” (1:22)—we need to strive that our deeds must also become consistent with the “kingdom of His beloved Son” (1:13), which is also free from sin.

Colossians Table of Contents

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