Sunday, October 17, 2010

Nailed To The Cross

In this post I would like to go over Colossians 2. Let's see what Armstrongism says was nailed to the cross, and let's see if that stands up to scrutiny.

Certain doctrines which Armstrongists defend vehemently as "true" depend heavily on a particular interpretation of specific verses. These verses were commonly referred to as "difficult scriptures" because they clearly said the opposite of what Herbert Armstrong taught and therefore they were difficult to understand without a heavy amount of "explanation." This week I have randomly chosen an article from one of the larger Armstrongist splinter groups that demonstrates fairly typical Armstrongists views on Colossians 2, and I will subject it to the As Bereans Did patented deep-inspection treatment. Shall we?


The first sentence sums up the claims.
"In their struggle to find a New Testament scripture that supports their misconception that God's law is "done away," antinomians point to Colossians 2:14 to "prove" that Christ nailed the law of God to the cross."
-Earl Henn, (Church of the Great God) Topical Studies, "Nailed to the Cross"
"In our struggle," he says. My struggle is understanding why I let authors like the one above influence me for so many years.
Antinomian? It is not likely the author is specifically referring to antinomians (people who believe there is no law in the New Covenant at all). No doubt he is referring to anyone who doesn't think as he does about the law. However, his ad hominem does not describe what most Christians believe (I JON. 3: 23). The "law-loving" author should be cautious not to break the law by bearing false witness.

Setting my petty squabble about his choice of words aside, the claim is that Jesus did not nail the law to the cross, but rather some other thing was nailed to the cross. What thing, then? We will see that this is "debt" or in other words "the penalty of the law". But does that hold up under scrutiny?


Let us continue on and see if this person can stand up to their own claims.
"The phrase "handwriting of requirements" is translated from the Greek phrase cheirographon tois dogmasin. Cheirographon means anything written by hand, but can more specifically apply to a legal document, bond, or note of debt. Dogmasin refers to decrees, laws, or ordinances, and in this context means a body of beliefs or practices that have become the guidelines governing a person's conduct or way of life. What Paul is saying is that, by His death, Christ has justified us—brought us into alignment with His Law—and wiped out the note of guilt or debt that we owed as a result of our sins."
-Earl Henn, (Church of the Great God) Topical Studies, "Nailed to the Cross"
Do you notice how, when the author puts the definitions of the Greek phrase into his own words, his summary doesn't really match the definition of the Greek words? Cheirographon means anything written and dogmasin means laws, but Jesus nailed guilt to the cross? I don't see the Greek word for guilt (aitia) in there anywhere.
I promise you that we will see the author's attempt to explain himself in just a bit, but I wanted to point this out before we get there.

So, ordinances means "the guidelines governing a person's conduct"? Christ nailed the "the guidelines governing a person's conduct" to the cross?? And this is supposed to convince us that the law was not nailed to the cross?
I can tell you because I spent decades as an Armstrongist that "the guidelines governing a person's conduct" is an exact definition for law as Armstrongism sees it.

Let's check his work and verify the definitions of handwriting and ordinances:

Strong's G5498 - "cheirographon"
Neuter of a compound of G5495 and G1125; something hand written (“chirograph”), that is, a manuscript (specifically a legal document or bond (figuratively)): - handwriting.
Thayer Definition:
1) a handwriting, what one has written by his own hand
2) a note of hand or writing in which one acknowledges that money has either been deposited with him or lent to him by another, to be returned at the appointed time

Total KJV Occurrences: 1 (COL. 2: 14).

Strong's G1378 - "dogma"
From the base of G1380; a law (civil, ceremonial or ecclesiastical): - decree, ordinance.
Thayer Definition:
1) doctrine, decree, ordinance
1a) of public decrees
1b) of the Roman Senate
1c) of rulers
2) the rules and requirements of the law of Moses; carrying a suggestion of severity and of threatened judgment
3) of certain decrees of the apostles relative to right living

Total KJV Occurrences: 5
decrees, 2
(ACT. 16:4, ACT. 17:7)
ordinances, 2
(EPH. 2:15, COL. 2:14)
decree, 1
(LUK. 2:1)

It says right there, "law of Moses." So the Greek phrase cheirographon tois dogmasin absolutely can mean "written law of Moses". And if "the guidelines governing a person's conduct" is how Armstrongism sees the law, maybe you see clearly why the verbal acrobatics are needed.


Let's dig a little deeper now. We don't want to abuse Strong's Concordance. Just because a word can be translated a certain way doesn't mean it should here.

The word "handwriting" can mean anything written, but specifically refers to a legal document, and can figuratively mean a note of deposit or debt. Does it refer to a law or does it refer to a note of debt? We would have to make that determination by context.

Verses 11 through 17 are one continuous idea. Since they clearly speak of the law, then law is IMHO the better choice for the handwriting than debt.
Now, to be fair, I will grant that it could mean both debt and law at the same time. However, in practice, I cannot see how it can be only debt and not law.

The law incurs debt (GAL. 5: 1-4). I freely grant that Jesus did indeed pay that debt. Legalists argue this so stringently because they want desperately to believe that, "He paid the debt, but He didn't touch the law." But to say it has to be debt but cannot be law doesn't fit the facts. Especially since Galatians 5: 1-4 shows that legalism incurs debt and removes grace. If there is law, then there is the means of incurring more debt.

Think about this with me now.
This one glorious act by Jesus disarmed His enemies (v. 15). Once and for all time. So to say that He triumphed in paying the debt, but He left the means of incurring more debt - the very weapon of the enemy against us - seems to me quite irrational. Would that not be a very short-lived triumph if only days after the debt was paid, more debt was incurred?

So, I hope you can agree with me that it could be law and debt, but not debt alone.


"Handwriting of ordinances" is a phrase. Legalists want to focus your attention on "handwriting" and tell you all about how cheirographon means a note of debt. They'll cry a river about how I am wrong and how I don't understand .. because I tell you about the rest of the phrase. But they are splitting up the phrase, which is never proper.

The phrase is "cheirographon dogma" -- "handwriting of ordinances". We cannot split this phrase up and hide away half of it. What does Paul say the handwriting was? Ordinances! Look at Ephesians 2: 15, the same word "ordinances" [dogma] is used there, and in the exact same way:

(EPH. 2: 15) 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

We saw how the word "ordinances" refers to a legal decree, and can specifically refer to the Law of Moses. The very first definition of the word is "law," precisely what our generous author would have us believe it is not. So we are to believe that Paul, under inspiration from God, chose a phrase which in every way indicates law but that is exactly what it does not mean? What's it supposed to mean then? Sin? Funny, I don't see anything in there to indicate that. Just like the Greek word for debt isn't in there, the Greek word for sin isn't in there either.

I want to emphasize something very critical now. Please pay close attention here.
The author would have you believe 'debt' was nailed to the cross but not the law. Ephesians 2: 15 tells us something was abolished, and that act united Jew and Gentile. I ask you, was 'debt' the thing that separated Jew from Gentile? The answer is no. The law separated Jew from Gentile. Now, if debt alone is removed, can it make one new man from the two? The answer is no. If we remove the debt, but not the law, then the legal separation remains; the two are not made one at all. However, if the debt and the law are removed, then a new man can be made from the two, and peace is made. Therefore, removing debt alone cannot satisfy the whole verse.

The author would have us focus so closely on ways to define "choreographon" that we pay no attention to what the point of the abolishing even was. That point was unity!

This author is making this verse say something that it doesn't say so that you can get something from it that isn't there. Why the intentional misleading? Why the incredibly fast and loose interpretation of the words? If it's so plain and so true, why do we have to mangle it first and rearrange it and redefine words before we can get the "plain truth" from it?


Ready for even more wrangling?
"The last sentence in verse 14 reads: 'And He has taken it out of the way...' In this sentence, the word 'it' is a singular pronoun and refers back to the singular word 'handwriting.' 'Requirements' could not be its antecedent because 'requirements' is plural."
-Earl Henn, (Church of the Great God) Topical Studies, "Nailed to the Cross"
Technically speaking, what he says here is correct. "It" does refer to "handwriting." Unfortunately, it isn't that simple. I'll try to explain why.

His claim is that "it" does not refer to "ordinances" but only to "handwriting". To put it another way, he is trying to separate the phrase again. Trying to put distance between handwriting and ordinances. Why? Well, isn't it obvious? Because he fears ordinances can mean law. He is trying to say that only the handwriting was nailed, and by doing this he hopes to prevent any chance of ordinances/law being nailed to the cross. 
If only handwriting is nailed, while ordinances is not nailed, then it doesn't matter how we define ordinances. Neither law nor debt are nailed. It defeats itself.

Perhaps this man hasn't thought through what he's saying. Let me break this down further for you to make it easier to spot why it can't work this way

The author says that "it" refers to handwriting. We must ask, what is "handwriting" then?
Is "handwriting" a piece of paper only, or the alphabet? Or does it also include the list of things written upon it? Yes, it includes what was written! So what is written? It is the ordinances!

It's a phrase. You can't just separate it like he's doing. It's a whole unit. What sense would it make to refer to a paper only apart from what was written on that paper, or to written-words only apart from the paper they were written upon? Are you going to nail ink to the cross? So claiming that "it" can only refer to "handwriting" (the paper) but not "ordinances" (what was written on the paper) makes no sense, does it? No, it doesn't.

So "it" does indeed refer to the handwriting, as I said earlier. But "it" must by necessity also refer to ordinances, contrary to what the author claims.

Thus far, he has had to wrangle and contort, redefine and redirect, contradict and reason into a hole in order to make a point that it can't be law. Yet after all this needless distraction and complication we have achieved nothing, and find ourselves right back at our first problem: "ordinances" is either "laws" (if we go with the definition of the words and the context of the chapter) or it is "debt" (if we go with this guy's interpretation).
I suggest you check the Categories Page or the FAQ for more evidence that it really does mean law.

Who is the one struggling again?


Here is where we completely blow all context out the window. A story will be woven about the Ascetic community in Corinth.
"Because the converted Colossians were learning how to enjoy life as God intended, the people in the ascetic community began to look down on them and condemn them."
-Earl Henn, (Church of the Great God) Topical Studies, "Nailed to the Cross"
Really? Proof, please! I don't see that coming from Paul.

Were there ascetics in Collosae at that time? Yes! We can see in verse 21 that there certainly was a presence of this type of philosophy in the area. Colossae was on an important trade route from Ephasus on the Mediterranean Sea to the the Middle East. I am not doubting the presence of philosophers. This is about something else entirely.

I want you to be made aware of what is going on here.
What the author is about to do is a time-honored trick within Adventism/Armstrongism. He is going to redirect the entire setting, and replace it with a different reality. If Paul isn't talking about law, then he has to be talking about something, and this is his attempt to explain what that is. He is about to weave you a tale about how Paul was warning the Christians - not against falling from grace by turning to law and the debt that comes from this - but against the scorn of the philosophers in the region. He wants you to believe that Paul was concerned with the Christian converts being teased by their old friends for their unusual practices.

This particular author has chosen the Ascetics as his antagonists. Does the author offer anything at all to back up his claim? No. Nothing. Not even a reference to a trusted third party's writings. If you ask other Armstrongists however, some will tell us that it wasn't the ascetics but the stoics. Again, proof please!
"Paul explains in verse 16 why they need not be bothered by the attitude of the Colossian society toward their practices and way of life in the church. To paraphrase, 'Do not worry about what the people in the community think about your enjoyment of eating good food, drinking wine, and joyously celebrating the Sabbath and the festivals. Christ has conquered the world and all of its rulers, so we do not need to be concerned about what the world thinks about us.'"
-Earl Henn, (Church of the Great God) Topical Studies, "Nailed to the Cross"
To listen to the author one would get the impression that ascetics (or stoics, or whatever the story du jour is) were a terrible problem for these fun-loving Christians in Colossae. One would think Colossae was virtually populated entirely with ill-tempered ascetics.
Christianity was considered a superstition and a threat to the unity of the empire. Within a few short years their very lives would be in danger for His name's sake. One would think Rome was virtually populated entirely with ill-tempered Romans.
Given that, what sense would it make that Paul should care about a little teasing from the philosophers? It's fine advice and everything. I'm not saying that Paul wanted us to worry about what other people think of our Christianity. But given the totality of the evidence and context, is this really the best explanation? Is Colossians speaking of ascetics and teasing? I don't think it is.

The Greeks didn't need Christians to eat and drink or have peculiar practices in order to look down on them. The Christian philosophy is what they disliked. The very nature of the cross of Christ was the issue.

(I COR. 1: 23) but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness

Paul mentions "food and drink" in verse 16. In the author's mind, the Colossians were happy law keepers. It can't mean they were being judged for disregarding the law. So, then it must be about ascetics teasing them for eating and drinking, keeping kosher and observing certain days.
I'll admit the reasoning is logical. If we can't take Paul at face value, then something must explain it. Problem is the premise is barely supportable.

So, if the author is wrong, then what is Paul talking about?
Paul's warnings aren't about being teased by ascetics, but rather the dangers of letting anyone "deceive you with persuasive words" (v. 4). So Paul is not talking about teasing here, but deception! And Paul is not talking about ascetics here, but legalists!

There is a warning against vain philosophy. There is also a warning against paganism. However let us never forget there is a warning against the teachings of the group Paul calls "the circumcision" who are the converted Jews who went around relentlessly pestering Paul and testing God by preaching a false gospel of circumcision and law-keeping. It is clear that verses 11 through 17 are referring to these ones in particular.

This isn't some light thing the author is doing.
He, being closely related to "the circumcision", wants you to forget all about that and concentrate on some other group. Just like he wanted you to forget all about ordinances meaning law, so he gave that a new definition.
He wants you to forget that the circumcision went around teaching what the author teaches. He doesn't want you to think Paul could be talking about him, so he tells you Paul is talking about someone else - someone Paul doesn't even specifically mention.
The author is clearly attempting to "deceive you with persuasive words."

The implications aren't small. This is something we need to tread very carefully with, and the author is playing fast and loose with it.

Do you want a better understanding on what Paul is saying here? Then read Romans 14. Colossians 11: 17-22 and Romans 14 go together like chocolate and peanut butter. They are perfect compliments.

What Paul is saying here in Colossians 2 has nothing to do with Greek philosophers teasing people for observing the Sabbath and drinking wine. It is about not turning from the Gospel of grace to the false pride and frustrated failure of legalism... or anything else for that matter.

One more thing... Armstrongists will tell you that Romans 14 is speaking about philosophers, too. I just thought I should mention that. *sigh*


Now get this:
"In verse 17, Paul mentions that the Sabbath and holy days are "shadows," symbols or types, of future events in the plan of God. The Sabbath is a type of the Millennium when Jesus Christ and the saints will rule the world for a thousand years. The holy days symbolize various steps in the plan of God and remind us annually of God's great purpose in creating mankind."
-Earl Henn, (Church of the Great God) Topical Studies, "Nailed to the Cross"
Earlier the author was getting out Strong's Concordance and trying to wrangle over definitions and plurality. Well, this time there's no word study. The author simply asserts that shadow means "to foreshadow."

Strong's G4639 - "skia"
Apparently a primary word; “shade” or a shadow (literally or figuratively [darkness of error or an adumbration]): - shadow.
Thayer Definition:
1) shadow
1a) shade caused by the interception of light
1b) an image cast by an object and representing the form of that object
1c) a sketch, outline, adumbration
Part of Speech: noun feminine

Total KJV Occurrences: 7
shadow, 7
MAT. 4:16, MAR. 4:32, LUK. 1:79, ACT. 5:15, COL. 2:17, HEB. 8:5, HEB. 10:1

Interesting fact: "skia" (shadow) is never synonymous with "foreshadow" in the New Testament. An important detail to know, wouldn't you say?
The law didn't foreshadow Christ. It is a shadow of Christ. The law was given 1,400 years before Christ. At the time it was given the Christ was "to come." But the law didn't foreshadow Him; it was a shadow He cast. The Message translation nails it: "All those things are mere shadows cast before what was to come; the substance is Christ."

(HEB. 8: 5a) [the temple priests] who serve the copy and shadow [skia] of the heavenly things
(HEB. 10: 1a) For the law, having a shadow [skia] of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things

Foreshadow is simply not a valid translation (maybe that's why it's not translated this way). What's more, the author makes the claim that the weekly Sabbath foreshadows the Millennium, and the Holy Days foreshadow the "various steps in the plan of God" which any Armstrongist will call "the 7,000-year plan." What does this verse say? "But the substance is of Christ" (v. 17). Not the Millennium. Christ!

The Old Covenant pointed a rebellious people in the direction of His righteousness until the fullness of time came for our Savior's first coming. When He came, the fullness of the Godhead came. We no longer need the shadow when we have such unspeakable fullness!

To round this out, what do some commentaries say? I love how Barnes Notes puts it, "All that they [the law] signified is of or in Christ." Adam Clarke's commentary says this, "The word shadow is often used to express any thing imperfect or unsubstantial; while the term body was used in the opposite sense, and expressed any thing substantial, solid, and firm." So, in this detail we see something interesting - the fullness is not "the body of Christ," in other words His church. No. The fullness is Christ. "Body" does not refer to the church. The body (substance) casts the shadow. This is a completely separate metaphor than saying, "we are the body of Christ." Don't get me wrong; we are the body of Christ. But this verse uses "body" in a different sense. Christ is being directly referred to here.

Back in 1997, David Albert wrote a book titled "Difficult Scriptures" that dives deep into most of these topics in a manner that is very easy for anyone from an Armstrongist background to understand. Did the author know about this book? I don't know. I doubt it. If he did, I would sadly report that he ignored everything and barreled ahead with something demonstrably incorrect. Once again, this is not the kind of "authority" I would trust my salvation with.


Let's move on to one final bit of oddness in this study. Referencing verse 16, the author says this:
"Paul tells the Colossians that they should not let any man judge them or call them into question about these things but rather let the church make those judgments."
-Earl Henn, (Church of the Great God) Topical Studies, "Nailed to the Cross"
Paul says that? In which Bible?
Paul says "let no man judge you," not "let the church judge you rather than philosophers." How can this person possibly justify his interpretation which is clearly - once again - in violation of what Paul said?

The author's view, once again, doesn't make any sense. How is someone who is not a Christian supposed to judge a Christian where doctrine is concerned? They can't! Jesus alone is our judge. You cannot hope to stop them from teasing you; a dying Savior is foolishness to them. It's absurd to claim that this is what Paul is referring to.

What on earth happened to letting the Bible interpret the Bible? Why can't people just let this chapter just say what it says? Why does the author tell us what we plainly read here is wrong and a "struggle" when obviously he must contort every detail, ignore plain verses, creatively redefine words, and invent a whole back-story in order to make it say what he says it should?

In my view, basically, this is ideological prejudice. They would rather rewrite the Bible than consider their fundamental assumptions may be wrong. (One Armstrongist minister, Fred Coulter, literally did rewrite portions of the Bible. Of course he says he was merely, "restoring God's truth.")
I am willing to consider that the author is right. In fact I lived it for decades. But when I finally considered that I might be wrong in that, and just let the Bible say what it says, I stopped thinking the author's argument are all that convincing.


What can we conclude? We can conclude that the Holy Spirit guided Paul to write what he wrote, and that is all God intended to be there. No wrangling necessary. We can conclude that the Ten Commandments formed the foundation of the Old Covenant that Old Covenant was abolished at Christ's death, and the letter of the old law no longer applies even while the Spirit of the law remains. We can conclude that Jesus saves us by His grace and we do not need to observe food laws and days and months and seasons in order to follow Him. And we do not need to listen to anyone who says we are condemned unless we do these superficial, physical things. Christ alone is our judge, and He resides in us by faith.

Given the weight of the evidence here and throughout the New Testament, it becomes compelling that the Old Covenant law was indeed nailed to the cross and taken away - along with the record of our sins. Debt and law were both nailed. It had to all be taken away because it was all against us. Jesus, however, instituted the fullness of the law. He removed the letter of the law so the Spirit of the law could shine through clearly. And what does He command?

(I JON. 3: 23) And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment.

They preach a fraction of the Old Covenant law; a cherry-picked subset. We preach "Him of whom Moses in the law, and also the prophets, wrote— Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph" (JON. 1: 45b).

(ISA. 45: 21-25) 21 Tell and bring forth your case; yes, let them take counsel together. Who has declared this from ancient time? Who has told it from that time? Have not I, the LORD? And there is no other God besides Me, a just God and a Savior; there is none besides Me. 22 “Look to Me, and be saved, all you ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other. 23 I have sworn by Myself; the word has gone out of My mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, that to Me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall take an oath.
24 He shall say, ‘Surely in the LORD I have righteousness and strength. To Him men shall come, and all shall be ashamed who are incensed against Him. 25 In the LORD all the descendants of Israel shall be justified, and shall glory.’”

It is important that you understand; Everything on this blog is based on the current understanding of each author. Never take anyone's word for it, always prove it for yourself, it is your responsibility. You cannot ride someone else's coattail into the Kingdom. ; )
Acts 17:11


xHWA said...

Like a credit card, law-keeping incurs debt. Jesus paid our debt. Legalists claim, "But we still must keep the law" (which they don't keep).

What sense does it make that Jesus would give us a credit card, we rack up an incalculable amount of debt, He pays it off, and then He says, "I want you to keep using this credit card, or you're in deep trouble!"
It makes NO sense!

Every time a law is broken, debt piles up. What sense does it make that Jesus would pay the debt but leave the ability to get into debt again? Not only leaving the credit card lying around, but supposedly commanding us to use it?
It makes NO sense!

So He pays our debt, we rack up more, and He pays that, and we rack up more, and He pays that too, etc.?
God is a God of curing diseases, not masking symptoms.

xHWA said...

On 10-25-2010 at roughly noon I made an alteration to this post in the section about "law of ordinances." So, if you haven't read this since before that time, please read it again.

It occurred to me that ├╝ber-legalists were not convinced, and I hadn't made the point strongly enough. I added a reference to Ephesians 2 and reworded a few things so that when they say I don't understand cheirographon, their bias will be evident to you.

xHWA said...

In his article "Is All Animal flesh Good for Food?", Herbert Armstrong taught that the,
"ceremonial, ritualistic, or sacrificial laws," were, "later abolished at the crucifixion of Christ."

That should settle that, right? Who are his followers to argue with their Apostle?
-Herbert Armstrong, Plain Truth magazine, Feb. 1958, p. 10