This is a question in regard to Trinitarian, Protestant, reformed, baptist doctrine.

In Colossians 2:14 Paul states :

Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross; [KJV]

This I understand. God's writing (by the finger of God) on tables of stone, which was contrary to me (as born in Adam) was nailed to the cross and thus was taken 'out of the way'. The original states 'out of the midst of us' which I better understand for it alludes to the tree of life being present in the midst of the garden. With the removal of the commandments (which, like Paul, I found to be a 'ministration of death') Christ, himself, is in the midst.

But some versions translate χειρογραφον τοις δογμασιν [TR undisputed] - instead of 'handwriting of ordinances' as ' the certificate of debt consisting of decrees', or 'the record of the charges against us '.

By this addition (instead of 'the decree', they are adding 'the debt against that decreed') they are disputing that the decrees themselves are nailed to the cross, only the debts of transgressions against those decrees (they say) being so nailed.

This translation supports the idea that Christians, once converted, are to keep the law. Whereas many scriptures state that, for example 'we are dead to the law by the body of Christ'. In order to retain the law, this translation cannot allow the law to be nailed to the cross.

They must translate the text in such a way that something else (other than that which God wrote by hand) is nailed to the cross.

What mystifies me is the matter of 'handwriting'. These translations are saying that there existed, somewhere, a handwritten copy of all the sins and transgressions I ever committed. And that this handwritten copy of my sinful deeds was nailed to the cross - before I existed and before I had committed the deeds which were written (by hand).

The 'handwriting of ordinances' (written by the finger of God) I can understand being nailed to the cross, as it is a spiritual expression of the body of Jesus and what he represents in his death. It clearly expresses what was actually written down (on earth) and what was actually written by hand (the finger of God). And then sees that item, spiritually, involved in Christ's death.

But the idea of a handwritten copy of my own deeds is not clear.

Whose hand wrote it ?

Where was it kept, before being nailed ?

  • I think Moses wrote it (Romans 10:5), or at least all except the 10 Commandments summary which God wrote on stony material, symbolising the stony stubborn unbelief created by the covenant of works.) The contrast is with what is spoken by the personified righteousness of faith. Moses wrote the letter which kills because it condemns (See Romans 7:6, 2 Cor 3:3-18). See Gal 3:2-14 where what is written is contrasted with what is heard by faith, because it is spoken & received by faith into the heart, believed and confessed. & Deut 29:1-2 where Moses speaks (v2) of the Covenant of Grace (v1) Dec 27, 2020 at 21:27
  • @AndrewShanks So you are saying it is the law, itself, which is nailed to the cross . . . . .
    – Nigel J
    Dec 27, 2020 at 22:13
  • Yes, the law as it forms the principle part of the Covenant of Works. (But not as it forms the guidance for holiness for those under the Covenant of Grace.) I have said something about the law here at hermeneutics: hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/40135/… Dec 27, 2020 at 22:35
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    @What is heard by faith is the gospel. What is presented to the one who wishes to work and do religious deeds is the law. They that are crucified with Christ are dead to the law . . . . and they live unto God.
    – Nigel J
    Dec 27, 2020 at 22:39
  • Dear Nigel, very true. But please read the link above to get the idea of what I mean. Thanks. Dec 27, 2020 at 22:44

2 Answers 2


The word "cheirographon" (χειρόγραφον) appears only once in the Bible.

A literal translation is "handwriting", but that's not necessarily what it means in practical usage. (cf. "chairman" or "pineapple" or even "carpet" in English). Its meaning must be understood from other sources.

The Outline of Biblical Usage says that the word can mean:

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

Strong's says it can mean:

a manuscript (specially, a legal document or bond (figuratively))

Thayer's Greek Lexicon says:

specifically, 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 he returned at an appointed time (Tobit 5:3 Tobit 9:5; Plutarch, mor., p. 829 a. de vitand. aere al. 4, 3; Artemidorus Daldianus, oneir. 3, 40); metaphorically, applied in Colossians 2:14 ((where R. V. bond)) to the Mosaic law, which shews men to be chargeable with offences for which they must pay the penalty.

The common element is not whether it was written by hand (and 2000 years ago they didn't have typewriters or laser printers, so how else could it be written), but that it refers to a legal document.

In English we have "writ of execution", which is a legal order issued by a court. The word "writ" literally means "written", but that it is written is irrelevant to the meaning, and in fact it could be machine-printed from digital data on a computer.

The obvious conclusion is that "cheirographon" should be understood as meaning "IOU" or "certificate of debt". There is no justification to attaching significance to the individual parts of the word.

Saying that it was "nailed to the cross" is simply a metaphor. The idea is that in being literally nailed to the cross, Jesus took that IOU and paid it for you. By no means does it mean that you can now continue to take money from the moneylender without incurring new debt.

  • After posting this, I just realized that this is the "in universe" Christianity.SE site, whereas my answer is more suited for the "out of universe" Hermaneutics.SE site. If you downvote it for any other reason, please leave a comment. Dec 25, 2020 at 16:43
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    So it is assumed that I would have to read Tobit and Plutarch to know what Paul means by 'handwritten'. But if I spend my time reading my bible, then the emphasis of 'written by hand' (to me) emphasises the 'finger of God' (the actual manipulation by the Creator) graving on stone without the need of tools (like a chisel).
    – Nigel J
    Dec 25, 2020 at 23:27
  • 2
    @NigelJ "I would have to read Tobit and Plutarch to know what Paul means". No, you can decide to take the word of Thayer et al. that contemporaries of Paul used that word with that meaning. Consider, 2000 years from now, would people use their own judgement and think that a "chairman" is a person that gets down on hands and knees so that someone else can sit on him, or would they spend a long time researching various ancient books to see how the word was used at that time, or would they simply look in a standard 21st century English usage reference book? Dec 25, 2020 at 23:39
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    'Handwritten' means handwritten. Rather than use quill and ink on parchment, rather than use hammer and chisel on stone, Jesus wrote with his finger on the ground when they brought a woman to him to accuse her. And God wrote with his finger on stone . . . . by hand. (And probably, both wrote something similar, as many suppose.) 'Handwritten' in the more modern sense is against the background of all writing being mechanical.
    – Nigel J
    Dec 25, 2020 at 23:40
  • 2
    @NigelJ, right, I didn't answer the question as asked. But as I said, I didn't notice until after I'd posted it that I had somehow confused myself and wrote this as an objective Hermeneutics.SE answer, not as any specific denomination's doctrinal answer. Dec 25, 2020 at 23:51

Here is information from a Baptist source:

Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Sermon no. 2605 preached on 14 October 1883, entitled: Death and its Sentence Abolished: “And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses; blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross.” Colossians 2:13-14 (KJV)

First, Spurgeon deals with what the Lord has done for all of us who believe in Him – He has removed our inward spiritual death. Only the spiritual man knows what spiritual things are, for they have to be spiritually discerned. The great reason why men reject the Gospel (even learned professors) is because they are not born again, because they have not received the life of God into their souls. On page 4 he expands upon how God, by His grace, has made believers to live in Christ. Paul says that God has quickened us together with Christ, and by this he means, first, that we have been quickened mystically by Christ’s resurrection. Then Spurgeon deals with the removal of the handwriting that was against us. Here are a few quotes (emphasis mine):

Handwriting, especially in legal matters, is generally more accurate than mere speech. And there is, against every ungodly man, something written with the finger of God, which he cannot deny, for it is absolutely true. Handwriting also abides. The old Latin proverb says, “Litera scripta manet,” that which is written remains... There is, against every unconverted man, a handwriting which will remain and which will be brought up against him at the great Day of Judgment. It is not a mere baseless rumour floating about, but something tangible which will last and which cannot be removed except by the almighty power of God.

What is meant, in our text, by “the handwriting of ordinances that was against us”? I cannot give all the meaning in a word, but does it not mean, first, that the moral law, which we have broken, has written out a curse against us? Each of the Ten Commandments has, as it were, united with the rest to draw up an indictment against us. The first commandment says, “He has broken me.” The second cries, “He has broken me.” The third, “He has broken me,” and the whole ten together have laid the same charge against each one of us. That is the handwriting of the law condemning every man of woman born while he remains in a state of nature.

Conscience writes, “You have sinned. You have done the things which you ought not to have done and you have left undone the things which you ought to have done.” And if conscience be permitted to write in its own bold text-hand, it sets down this terrible message, “You are lost, ruined, and undone. The wrath of God has gone out against you.” This is “the handwriting of ordinances” which is in every part of God’s creation, though, alas, many are unable or unwilling to read it.

Spurgeon has identified the moral law, the Ten Commandments, as “the handwriting of ordinances that was against us” that was nailed to the cross. Moses was told to put the testimony in the ark (Exodus 25:21) and it was the finger of God that inscribed his covenant on the tablets of the Testimony, the tablets of stone (Exodus 31:18). God himself wrote out those words a second time, after Moses broke the first tablets (Exodus 34:1). We are no longer under the ordinances written by God on those stone tablets – they were nailed to the cross. Believers are now under the New Covenant, not the Old, a constant theme in Paul’s writings.

Then Spurgeon goes on to say “He nailed up all the sins of His people and all that could be laid to their charge.”

You have sinned against Him [God] and it is all down in black and white in the handwriting that is against you. First, He has taken that handwriting and He has blotted it out, as our text says, “blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us.” The Greek original has the meaning of smearing over or expunging the handwriting, so as to make it illegible as a document to be produced against us. With His own atoning blood, the Lord Jesus Christ has discharged all our debt. As believers in Him, there is nothing whatever due from us to the justice of Almighty God, for Christ has paid it all... Just as Christ was fastened to the tree by those dreadful Roman nails, so has He nailed up all the sins of His people and all that could be laid to their charge. First, He blotted it out. Then He took it out of the way, and finally, He nailed it up to his cross, and there it is still, its accusing and condemning power forever gone... He has blotted out the handwriting that was against you and put it away, “nailing it to his cross.”
Source: https://www.spurgeongems.org/sermon/chs2605.pdf

It is true that for the believer who has been buried with Christ in his baptism, who is dead in their sins and who has been quickened together with him, all their trespasses have been forgiven. (Colossians 2:13). But to then translate Colossians 2:14 to say that “the record of debt” (ESV) or “the certificate of debt” (NAS) has been cancelled and nailed to the cross could be used by some to imply that the Mosaic Law and the Ten Commandments are still valid. Indeed, some denominations still insist on the keeping of the Law in one form or another. Perhaps those Bible translations that have changed “the handwriting of ordinances” to “cancelled the certificate of debt” use ‘Dynamic Equivalence’.

There is a subtle difference between saying the handwritten ordinance of God have been nailed to the cross and saying the record of our debts have been nailed to the cross. I wonder what else has been altered by those translations that use ‘Dynamic Equivalence’ techniques.

Source: https://biblehub.com/colossians/2-14.htm

  • 1
    Spurgeon is saying (draw up an indictment) that it is not the law as such that is nailed. He is saying that the 'indictment' as a consequence of law is that which is nailed. So, where, I ask, is that handwritten indictment ? ? [But the information is useful and thus up-voted +1]
    – Nigel J
    Dec 28, 2020 at 20:33
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    Indeed, that last partial quote from his sermon seems to infer that all our debts were nailed to the cross, not the Law itself. However, it would have been wrong not to include that paragraph. Yet the second paragraph quoted says the handwriting of ordinances means first the moral law, the Ten Commandments.
    – Lesley
    Dec 29, 2020 at 8:37

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