Myth Busters #5 – Was The Law Nailed To The Cross?

I mentioned in the last Myth Busters instalment (#4 – Tithing) that I would be writing another on the subject of the Law, or Torah, being nailed to the Cross. This is commonly taught by many preachers and really needs addressing because to say that the Law itself was nailed to the cross is totally incorrect.

I like to try to get to the root of false or wrong teaching. Often it involves a misunderstanding of either Hebrew culture of the first century, or a poor translation. This one comes under the latter.

However, to be fair, the mistranslation is rooted in a lack of basic understanding of the gospel and of what Y’shua (Jesus’ Hebrew name) achieved on the Cross.

As with the majority of incorrect teaching there is usually a single verse or paragraph that preachers cling to as evidence of their teaching being true. Mostly, these verses are taken out of context and a whole new doctrine is built upon them. This is very confusing for ordinary people like me who are trained by church etiquette to accept anything that the preacher says because, after all, they went to Bible college, and I didn’t.

Whilst it is true that I didn’t go to Bible college, I dispute that any preacher, teacher, or pastor has the monopoly on God’s teaching. We all have the Holy Spirit. And it is with the help of the Holy Spirit that I have come to understand this little conundrum that is prevalent in modern church thinking and teaching.

The premise which is taught is that because the Law, or Torah, was nailed to the Cross at the time of Y’shua’s crucifixion, that we no longer come under any of the said Law.

The foundation in scripture upon which theory is built appears in Paul’s letter to the Colossians. Here’s the NIV translation of the verses in question:

“When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all of sins, having cancelled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.” [Colossians 2:13-14 NIV]

All pretty straight forward, wouldn’t you agree? The NIV translators are clearly telling us that the written code, along with its regulations (by implication, the Law), was cancelled and then nailed to the Cross. The Law was, in other words removed and killed, along with Y’shua. That’s the way it reads to me. And to a great many pastors and teachers too. However, if you want to teach with confidence, you will have to get your facts very straight.

The NIV is what you might call a flaky translation. Many people love it because it is easy to read and brings great insights into texts previously mystified by the language of other translations like the King James Version. I, myself, until recent years would pick up the NIV out of choice. These days, if I am studying God’s word, I like to take a balanced approached by looking at other translations, as well. As result, I have discovered numerous shortcomings with the NIV translation. On occasions it is no big deal – the general sentiment of the text is carried without confusion. However, there are some places where the down to earth and everyday approach of the NIV misses some vital sentiment of the text, or, as in this case, fail to translate correctly and, as a results, carries a sentiment that is entirely incorrect and without foundation anywhere else in scripture.

With regard to the Law, it is best to read what Y’shua had to say on the matter. If His purpose was to cancel the Law, then surely He would have mentioned it? After all, He did talk about the Law extensively, and constantly told His disciples the purpose of His coming.

First, a little background to Torah, or the Law, just to dispel any myths that you might have already been taught. Let me stress here – I am no expert in Torah. All I know, I have learned from reading the Bible and asking the Holy Spirit to show me what particular passages mean. It has also helped since I began looking at scripture from the perspective of the Hebrew culture. You might ask why. I can only tell you that when I was seeking answers to some questions that I had carried around for nearly thirty years, it was God who steered me towards a different perspective, and one through which I started to see and understand the unanswered questions.

The word Torah literally means instruction. The word has several applications: It is applied to the law itself, and also to the first five books of the Tanakh (the Bible without the New Testament) in which the Law is written (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers & Deuteronomy). But Torah also means a way of life. Even today, the Hebrews who practice the false religion of Judaism, attempt by following the Law alone, to achieve Torah – that is a state of righteousness before God. Of course, we now know that it is impossible to attain righteousness through the observance of the Law – righteousness before God only comes through knowing and believing in His Son, Y’shua.

The Law was given to Moses during the forty year period that the Hebrews were in the wilderness between escaping Egypt and crossing the river Jordan into the Promised Land. Moses wrote down all that God spoke to him and showed him. This is the written Law. It was all to help the Hebrews in their relationship with God. None of it was to restrict them – it was all for lives of Holy living. Over the years since Moses, the Hebrews developed, from excessive study and debate, a spoken law, known as the Oral Traditions. These unwritten rules were tagged onto existing written Laws and involved a great deal of ceremony and tradition.

When Y’shua came, He attacked these Oral Traditions for placing both needless burdens upon the people who worshipped God, and the claims that righteousness could be achieved by observing the Oral Traditions alongside the Law. You will recall that Y’shua frequently started sentences with the phrase “You have heard it said…” before describing something from the Oral Traditions and then countering what it said with what God really meant by saying “But I say to you…”.

Y’shua’s early ministry was entirely devoted to telling the Hebrews that what they were being taught by the teachers of the Law wasn’t what God taught to Moses. He challenged the Pharisees and the Sadducees at every chance He got. If He was about to make the Law obsolete by nailing it to the Cross, do you think He would have bothered correcting them? No, I don’t think so either.

If you open your Bible to Matthew chapter five, you will see what Y’shua’s approach to the Law actually was. On this occasion, the NIV actually manages to translate it correctly. However, it is our understanding of a single word that often causes a problem for us. Here’s how the NIV renders the passage in question:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them.” [Matthew 5:17 NIV]

It is the word fulfil that can cause problems. Our modern understanding of the word doesn’t completely stack up with the sentiment of what Y’shua was saying. Let me explain.

Y’shua was a Hebrew and would have spoken Hebrew. It is true that the earliest scrolls which contain Matthew’s gospel are written in Greek. Greek was the common written language of the Roman Empire, and so writing important documents, such as a gospel, was always done in Greek. However, on the day when Y’shua sat on the hillside, we know He was talking to His disciples, all of whom were also Hebrews. It follows that He would have spoken to them in Hebrew. Greek was not the common spoken language, only the written one. There is also some evidence from the Roman historian, Josephus, that Matthew originally wrote his gospel in Hebrew and that it was later translated into Greek.

The trouble that all translators face is if there isn’t a directly corresponding word in the language that they are translating into, something can sometimes get lost, even when using the word with the closest meaning. Assuming that Y’shua was speaking in Hebrew, it is likely that the word He used (which we see as fulfil) was mala, which literally means to fill or be full of, but in its everyday use, meant to accomplish or to confirm.

It is also worth noting that when Y’shua was referring to the Prophets, He wasn’t speaking of the individual prophets but of the collective works of the prophets, which was a book complied under the name Nevi’im in Hebrew.

With that in mind, perhaps a more accurate translation, or paraphrase, might be:

“Do not start thinking that I am here to do away with the books of Torah or Nevi’im. I have not come to get rid of them, but rather to accomplish their purposes and confirm their truths.”

I think it is important to remember that Y’shua is described as ‘the Word made flesh‘ by the apostle John. This means that Y’shua is the total embodiment of everything that God taught to Moses in the wilderness, as well as the person to whom all of the prophets were pointing to when they described the future Messiah. The text from Matthew supports this. Y’shua was telling everyone, from the very outset of His earthly ministry, that God had sent Him to show them that achieving Torah is possible, if you do it God’s way, and not man’s. Y’shua lived according to the true Spirit in which God gave the Law; He accomplished everything in the Law and confirmed it all to be true.

He didn’t come to finish it off or to do away with it. He clearly didn’t intend to abolish it. Interestingly enough, the word in the Greek manuscripts of Matthew is pleroo, which can mean fulfil, but it is also used to mean a full accomplishment.

With that brief detour into where Y’shua stood on the Law, we can now return to the text in Colossians and apply what Y’shua said to see if we have a match.

“When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all of sins, having cancelled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.” [Colossians 2:13-14 NIV]

Clearly there is a problem. We know the problem is not with what Y’shua said. So, it must be with what is written. I am sure that we can rule out Paul misunderstanding the situation. That leaves the translation. Let’s take a look at some other translations for the purposes of comparison. If it wasn’t the actual Law that was nailed to the Cross, what exactly was it?

“And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, 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.” [New King James Version]

“You were dead because of your sins, that is, because of your “foreskin”, your old nature. But God made you alive along with the Messiah by forgiving you all your sins. He wiped away the bill of charges against us. Because of the regulations, it stood as a testimony against us; but He removed it by nailing it to the execution stake.” [Complete Jewish Bible]

“You were dead in sins, and your sinful desires were not yet cut away. Then He gave you a share in the very life of Christ, for He forgave all your sins, and blotted out the charges proved against you, the list of His commandments which you had not obeyed. He took this list of sins and destroyed it by nailing it to Christ’s cross.” [The Living Bible (paraphrase)]

Well, there’s a different perspective straight away.

Let us be very clear about all of this. In the physical world, there were only two things actually nailed to the Cross that are confirmed by scripture. One was Christ Himself. The other was the sign above His head. Ordinarily, under Roman custom, when someone was executed by crucifixion, a sign was nailed above their head which stated their name and their crime. Pilate insisted (John 19) that it should state ‘Jesus of Nazareth, The King of the Jews’ in three languages. He could have insisted that it said that He was an agitator of Caesar, for that is what the priests had said of Him. But Pilate knew He was innocent and wanted the record to state that to be the case.

That is what happened in the physical world.

What, however, was nailed to the Cross in the spiritual realm was actually all of our charge sheets. The list of everything we have ever done which breaks God’s Law. I don’t know about you, but the list God had against me must have been very, very long. Thankfully, because of His great mercy, He nailed my list (and everyone else’s) to the Cross. Y’shua became our sin. His body took the punishment that was due to us. Our charge sheets for everything we did wrong in the past, and everything offence we will commit against God in the future, were all nailed to the Cross that day nearly two thousand years ago. Y’shua was innocent of all crimes against God. He lived His life exactly as Torah said He should. That is why He said He came to fully accomplish the Law. If He wasn’t able to achieve that, He wouldn’t have been able to die in our place.

The Law wasn’t nailed to the Cross…only the list of every single time we broke that Law. Praise be to God!

The question of whether we are still subjected to the Law will be covered in the next instalment of Myth Busters.

Shalom.

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