by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. (Col 2:14 ESV)
This verse is often taught that the nails driven were driven into the old Mosaic law. It is taught that the handwriting or the certificate is the written law of the Jewish law. It was this law that was nailed to the cross.
Unfortunately, this is an incorrect teaching. Under Roman law, when a criminal was imposed a sentence, a certificate was nailed to his cell or cross. In Mark 15:26, according to Roman law, an inscription was placed on His cross.
And the inscription of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.” (Mar 15:26 ESV)
The Jews wanted Him crucified for they accused him of blasphemy as Jesus claimed He was God which as we know, was truth. Yet, this claim meant nothing to the Romans and was not an executable offense under Roman law. Scripture states that the Jews brought Him before Pilate with the accusation of claiming to be a king. This was an offense under Roman law and this was the accusation they used to have Jesus put to death.
And they began to accuse him, saying, “We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that he himself is Christ, a king.” (Luk 23:2 ESV)
From then on Pilate sought to release him, but the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.” (Joh 19:12 ESV)
Under Roman law, Jews could implement and enforce Jewish law but they were forbidden from implementing capital punishment. They were required to seek Roman law in order to implement capital punishment. They knew that they could not seek capital punishment for Jesus declaring He was God. They had to seek capital punishment under Roman law. A charge of declaring one to be a king that opposes Caesar was an offence that was punishable by execution under Roman law.
Therefore, on the cross the inscription “The King of the Jews” was nailed to His cross declaring the crime He was charged with.
This now leads back to what law was against us? Colossians 2:13 makes clear that we were dead in our transgressions (sins) and the uncircumcision of our flesh. He forgave us of all our transgressions. Sin is an offense against the law.
When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, (Col 2:13 NASB)
Continuing with that sentence, Colossians 2:14 states “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. “ The certificate of debt is the penalty of breaking the law which is death. The certificate of debt is a legal document or bond (See Strong’s’ G5498) The debt consisted of decrees against us (the law) He has taken it out of the way. Jesus did not do away with the laws, He paid our penalty.
It has been taught that Christians are not under the law; the law was nailed to the cross. This teaching is correct; Christians are not under the law. Yet, the law was not nailed to the cross and therefore of no effect. I have not heard a Christian claim that since the law was done away with by being nailed to the cross that the prohibition of theft is now done away with. Adultery was a law and is still in effect. However, should a Christian walk out of their office knowingly taking a ream of paper for their home office or a box of pens, has committed the crime of theft. We are not free to steal, we are not free to lie, we are not free to commit adultery, we are not free dishonor our parents. These are all laws that are still in effect and to abide by these laws as well as others is a means to live a holy life. However, the penalty for breaking any of God’s laws has been paid for. The penalty for breaking the law has been nailed to the cross. Jesus, our Lord and Savior, paid the death penalty in our stead in order that we may live.
An understanding of the Roman law leads us to understand the use of the various Jewish writers’ use of the term “certificate of debt.”