Studies in Colossians and Thessalonians
5. Colossians 2:14 and the "Handwriting of Requirements"
Christ “wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us…having nailed it to the cross” (Colossians 2:14, NKJ). What kind of requirements are being discussed?
The Greek word for “handwriting” is cheirographon, used in common Greek for a document written in one’s own hand as legal proof of indebtedness. Some modern translations call it a bond of indebtedness.
Christ wiped out a note of debt. What kind of debts did Christ cancel? He canceled our spiritual debts, our sins, our transgressions of God’s law, and this is what the note of debt refers to. In his crucifixion, Christ symbolically nailed our note of debt to his cross because his sacrifice paid our debts. 1 Peter 2:24 uses a similar analogy.
The Greek word for “requirements” (KJV “ordinances”) is dogmasin, a form of the word dogma, which is used only five times in the New Testament. Dogma can refer to decrees of Caesar (Luke 2:1, Acts 17:7) or apostolic decrees (Acts 16:4). In other writings of that era, dogma could also refer to the commandments of God (3 Maccabees 1:3, Josephus, Against Apion 1, 42) or the commandments of Jesus (Barnabas 1:6, Ignatius to the Magnesians 13:1).
Commentators generally agree that dogma in Colossians 2:14 refers to God’s laws. That makes the most sense in the context, because our spiritual debts have come from breaking God’s laws. However, some commentators have erred in saying that God’s laws have been against us and were nailed to the cross.
The meaning becomes more clear if we notice that cheirographon is singular and dogmasin is plural. It is the cheirographon, the note of debt, that “was [singular] against us, which was [singular] contrary to us. And He has taken it [singular] out of the way, having nailed it [singular] to the cross.” The last part of verse 14 is about the handwriting, not the requirements.
God’s laws are not against us. It is the note of debt, our sin, that has been against us. The validity of the laws is not in question here; the fact that we incur a debt if we fail to keep the requirements implies that Paul is referring to laws that are valid.
Author: Michael Morrison, PhD