What is meant by “handwriting of ordinances”?


What is meant by the "handwriting of ordinances" that Paul says was against "us" (including himself along with his audience)? Was the church at Colosse Jewish, Gentile or both?


Colosse is located in the area that we now know as Turkey. The city was located in a valley about 100 miles east of Ephesus. The population in this area was predominately Gentile and we would expect the church to reflect this as well. Notice that Paul, in speaking of the Christians in Colosse, said, "When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh ..." (Colossians 2:13). This would indicate that most, if not all, of the Christians in Colosse were Gentiles.

Paul wrote several letters from his prison in Rome, including Ephesians and Colossians. These letters were delivered by the same person. They both contain similar statements:

"having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross" (Colossians 2:14).

"having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace" (Ephesians 2:15).

"The law of commandments contained in ordinances" is the same thing as "the handwriting of requirements." The Greek word cheirographon means a written report, in particular, an agreement or a note of indebtedness. "Requirements" (or "ordinances" in Ephesians) is the same Greek word, domasin, which means decrees or edicts. It is referring to the Laws of the Old Testament. In Colossians Paul is alluding to the fact that Moses' Law was similar to a certificate of indebtedness. It charged people with sin, but it was unable to bring a solution to sin.

"I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died; and this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me; for sin, taking an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me" (Romans 7:9-11).

The Old Law is aptly referred to as handwritten because when Moses first received the law, he wrote it out for the people. "Then Moses came and recounted to the people all the words of the LORD and all the ordinances; and all the people answered with one voice and said, "All the words which the LORD has spoken we will do!" Moses wrote down all the words of the LORD" (Exodus 24:3-4). Even the Ten Commandments, the prelude to the Law, were initially written by God on tablets of stone. "When He had finished speaking with him upon Mount Sinai, He gave Moses the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written by the finger of God" (Exodus 31:18). The Law of Moses was not an oral tradition passed down through the generations. It was a handwritten code of law.

Because the Law condemned sin, and everyone sins, the Law could be seen as hostile to anyone trying to follow it. When some Jews insisted that the Gentile Christians had to keep the Law of Moses, Peter argued, "Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?" (Acts 15:10). In Ephesians, Paul points out that the Law also caused hostilities because it was given to only one nation, Israel. "Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called "Uncircumcision" by the so-called "Circumcision," which is performed in the flesh by human hands -- remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world" (Ephesians 2:11-12). Thus, the law was a benefit to neither the Jews nor the Gentiles. That is why Paul said "us" in Colossians 2:14.

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