A Modern Twist on a Challenging Text (Colossians 2)

Posted in Law and Grace

Peter was known for engaging his mouth before his brain from time to time, but he sure said a true mouthful when he declared in 2 Peter 3:16 that some of Paul’s writings are hard to understand. One passage that is especially confusing to people is Colossians Chapter Two, which talks about what Jesus nailed to his cross. People who are understandably confused by this passage tend to make a serious mistake, in that they conclude it was the Torah based on verse 14 or the items listed in verse 16 that were nailed to the cross. Not only is that interpretation incorrect, but it has several major unintended consequences that don’t square with the rest of Scripture.

For example, if it was God’s law that was against us in verse 14, does that mean that God made a mistake when he created his law? If Paul is stating that God did away with his law here, what does that imply about God’s statement in Psalm 89:34 when he says he will not alter the thing that comes out of his lips - that he was wrong, or worse yet, lied? Was Jesus wrong when he said in Matthew 5:17-18 that he did not come to do away with the law? No, we mustn’t interpret any of Paul’s difficult passages in a way that makes God and Jesus mistaken elsewhere. When dealing with a difficult passage, it must be interpreted in light of related passages that aren’t in doubt, and if there is anything crystal clear in Scripture, it is that God and Jesus are not mistaken liars.

Putting Colossians Two into modern day terms might help you better understand what Paul is really saying. Remember that Paul was writing to some of his Gentile converts who were being enticed and deceived (verses 4 and 8) by detractors. He explains how they are now changed through their baptism (verses 12 and 13), that Jesus paid their sin debt for them and was victorious over satan (verses 14 and 15), and the new believers should not let these men judge them (verse 16). Here is a similar story using a modern example.

Say that there are four drinking buddies who play cards as a foursome every Friday night, until one of them becomes converted into Christianity, and has decided to stop drinking, gambling, and dishonoring the Sabbath so he can focus on walking in faith through Jesus (vs 6 and 7). His other three friends aren’t going to be happy. They’ve lost their buddy, and their ability to play the cards that require a fourth hand. So they are going to beguile with enticing words (vs 4), even deceiving him if possible (vs 8). But the new Christian’s church family reminds him that he has risen with Christ through baptism (vs 12), put off the body of sin (vs 13), and that Jesus paid the sin debt for him (vs 14-15. Please links below for more on these verses). From this point onward, the new convert should not let these other three men judge him in respect to his drinking or Sabbath keeping (vs 16), but rather he should listen to the body of Christ (vs 17), his Christian friends.

If you leave out the items for which we shouldn’t be judged in verse 16 and the “is” inserted in verse 17 by the translators (at least in the King James Version), you are left with “let no man therefore judge you but the body of Christ.” That was the message Paul was conveying. He was most definitely not saying that God changed that which was unalterable, or that Jesus changed his mind somewhere between Matthew and Colossians. He was saying don’t let non-Christians try to tell you how to live your life. But if our new Christian's friends misunderstand the passage to think it means the law was done away with, then I guess they'd encourage the new believer to go ahead and keep drinking and gambling since God did away with his law and no longer cares what his people do.

This passage is just one of several that show how important it is that if you are in doubt about the meaning of a text, you need to let the full weight of Scripture be your guide. To do otherwise leaves you wide open to error from the father of lies.

More on Colossians Two, verses 14 - 15:

Here are several different renderings of this verse from various other versions of the Bible:
• “canceling the record that stood against us with its legal demand. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” (English Standard Version).
• “erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross.” (New Revised Standard Version).
• “having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.” (NIV)
• “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.” (New American Standard)

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For more articles that explain this passage in other ways, please see: