3) Col 2:13–14: In this letter, Paul drew a sharp contrast between his readers’ unbelieving past and their new life in Christ.[1]

He asserted that they had been morally and spiritually dead due to their trespasses and sins.[2]

The phrase “un-circumcision of your flesh” reflects the Jewish view of gentiles as people outside of God’s covenant (Gen 17:12–14). Just like Adam, the Colossians were once alienated from God due to the effect of their sinful nature, which manifested itself in deliberate disobedience.[3]

As a result of union with Christ in his death, the physical un-circumcision of believing gentiles signifies neither spiritual death nor future condemnation. God gave us a spiritual circumcision,[4] one “not made with hands” (Deut 30:6; Col 2:11). Therefore, he has made us alive with the life Jesus received when he rose from the dead (Rom 6:1–11; 1 Cor 15:12–21).[5]

Note that Paul switched from “you” to “us,” saying, “He made you alive together with him, forgiving for us all our sins.” Thus, Paul included Jews who placed their faith in Christ in the same category as gentiles.[6]

All people need God’s forgiving grace, for everyone commits willful disobedience.[7]

When encountering the law of God, its author does not grade on a curve: 99.99% obedience counts as failure worthy of a death sentence (Gal 3:10–11).[8]

However, Christ gives us a clean slate, wiping out the “certificate (cheirographon) of death.” In the Greco-Roman era, this consisted of a promissory note penned in one’s own handwriting as a proof of indebtedness.[9]

Although the word used here occurs nowhere else in the New Testament, it appears frequently in Jewish literature.[10]

The term describes a heavenly record of people’s misdeeds, as depicted in this text (ca. 100 BC–70 AD):[11]

Then I looked, and I saw him with a scroll in his hand. He began to unroll it…I found that all my sins which I had done were written in it, those which I had done from my youth until this day. They were all written upon that scroll of mine without there being a false word in them.

If I did not go to visit a sick man or a widow, I found it written down as a shortcoming upon my manuscript. If I did not visit an orphan, it was found written down as a shortcoming on my scroll. A day on which I did not fast (or) pray in the time of prayer I found written down as a failing upon my scroll…

so that I threw myself upon my face and prayed before the Lord Almighty, “May thy mercy reach me and may thou wipe out my scroll because Thy mercy hath come to be in every place and hath filled every place.”[12]

According to the Mishnah, “[With God] all is given against a pledge and the net is cast over all living. The shop stands open and the shopkeeper gives credit and the account book lies open and the hand writes” (m. Avot 3:20).[13]

Paul used a similar metaphor in Philemon 19.[14]

Jesus took that certificate of debt, blotted out the record against us as if it were a papyrus note of financial obligation,[15] and nailed it to the tree (Gal 3:13–14, a quotation of Deut 21:23). Paul likely alluded to the act of Pontius Pilate, who affixed the charges against Jesus to his cross (John 19:19–22).[16]

God has forgiven all of our sins and utterly removed any sign of our indebtedness, for the tense of “having removed it” (airō) indicates permanent abolition (Mic 7:18–19).[17]

King David made this analogy, “According to how far [it is] from the east to the west, he (God) has made our sins far from us” (Ps 103:12). A person can travel to the northern or the southern ends of the earth, but one can never reach the end of the east or west.

As a result, any attempt to atone for our own sins through ritual or penance remains feebly inept and prevents us from receiving salvation (Gal 5:2–4).[18]

No longer do we live in bondage. Those who place their trust completely in Christ’s sacrifice to blot out our sins are free.[19]

Image via Wikimedia Commons

 

Read Col 2:13–14. What has Jesus done for us?  How should we respond to what he has accomplished? What do any attempts to atone for our sins or earn our salvation reveal about where we have placed our trust? Why can’t such faith save us?

 

 

 

Go to Delivered from this Body of Death

 

[Related posts include Passed from Death into Life (John 5:24–27); Redemption through Christ’s Blood (Eph 1:7–8); Delivered from this Body of Death (Rom 7:14–25); Set Free from Sin’s Dominion (Rom 8:1–14); Dead in Adam but Alive in Christ (1 Cor 15:20–23); and Ancient Literature]

 

[Click here to go to Chapter 10: The Tree of Life (Genesis 3:22–24)]

 

[1] O’Brien, Colossians, Philemon, 121.

[2] Bruce, The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians, 108.

[3] O’Brien, Colossians, Philemon, 121–2.

[4] Garland, Colossians and Philemon, 150.

[5] O’Brien, Colossians, Philemon, 123.

[6] Garland, Colossians and Philemon, 151.

[7] Bruce, The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians, 108.

[8] Garland, Colossians and Philemon, 151.

[9]Eduard Lohse, “χειρογραφον” (cheirographon), NIDOTTE, 9:435–6.

[10]Danker, et al., “χειρογραφον” (cheirographon), BDAG, 1083.

[11]Ben Witherington III, The Letters to Philemon, the Colossians, and the Ephesians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on the Captivity Epistles (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), 158.

[12]James H. Charlesworth, ed., “The Apocalypse of Zephaniah,” in OTP, Vol. 1 (New York: Doubleday, 1983), 7.1–8, http://web.archive.org/web/20100330084339/http://userpages.burgoyne.com/bdespain/progress/progzeph.htm.

[13]Student, Gil (ed.), “Ethics of the Fathers: Mishnah Tractate Avot,” http://www.angelfire.com/mt/talmud/avot.html#chap3.

[14] Witherington, The Letters to Philemon, the Colossians, and the Ephesians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on the Captivity Epistles, 158.

[15] O’Brien, Colossians, Philemon, 126.

[16] Witherington, The Letters to Philemon, the Colossians, and the Ephesians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on the Captivity Epistles, 158.

[17] O’Brien, Colossians, Philemon, 126. Per NA28, the verb is in the perfect tense. This indicates a past act with consequences extending through the present time into the future.

[18] Garland, Colossians and Philemon, 150.

[19] Bruce, The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians, 110.