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.

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