Monday, February 20, 2012

Colossians 2:14 in Song

Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross (Col. 2:14, KJV)
erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross. (Col. 2:14, NRSV)
I grew up hearing that this meant that the Law of Moses, or maybe even the Old Testament (which usually amounted to the same thing, for those from whom I heard this), was nailed to the cross by Jesus, and that's how we know we don't have to follow the laws in the Pentateuch.

I understand that the exact referent of 'handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us' is still debated by NT scholars, some of whom do hold that this refers to the Law (not the OT). However, the interpretation of this passage in the sense that the handwriting of ordinances is some type of IOU makes so much sense to me, especially in context (v. 13--"having forgiven us all our transgressions"!), that I don't really see why there is debate. What Jesus nailed to the cross was our sin, the debt laid against us, our 'bill' before God, the 'handwriting of ordinances' condemning us because of our sin.

It seems to me that our song writers, anyway, may have so understood the passage. The verb 'to nail' appears in the Bible in the KJV and NRSV only in this passage, increasing the likelihood that the following two well-known hymns were written with this passage in mind. Granted, Spafford and Breck may have simply been reflecting on Jesus himself being nailed to the cross, and his bearing our sin, but the thought and the very wording agree so well with Col. 2:14 that they may also have relied on it.

My sin--oh the bliss of this glorious thought,
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more.
Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord, oh, my soul!
Second stanza of "It Is Well With My Soul," written by Horatio Spafford (1873)

There was One Who was willing to die in my stead,
That a soul so unworthy might live;
And the path to the cross He was willing to tread,
All the sins of my life to forgive.
They are nailed to the cross! They are nailed to the cross!
Oh, how much He was willing to bear!
With what anguish and loss Jesus went to the cross,
But He carried my sins with Him there.
First stanza and refrain of "Nailed to the Cross," written by Carrie E. Breck (1899)

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