Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Old Testament Was Not Nailed To The Cross

A popular phrase among Christians when describing the entire Bible is that “The OT is the NT concealed, and the NT is the OT revealed.”

Acknowledging this phrase means that one admits s/he is interpreting how the NT relates to the OT.

It means in some ways the OT & NT are the same, but in other ways “the two covenants,” as they are sometimes called, are different.

10 years ago, I believed and taught the word covenant was a better translation than the word testament, but now I realize how this contributed to my legalism back then.

By legalism, I mean a sincere attempt to keep all of God's commandments, but that unintentionally obligates God to save me, because I have kept all His commandments (in the NT). I  now realize that my previous interpretation of how the OT & NT relate was that the NT was basically "Old Testament Light."

Of course, keeping "all the commandments of God" even if only in the NT, is impossible, and so must be reduced to a handful of "steps" and especially  "acts of worship" that must be repeated perfectly every Sunday.

I believe that there are two major assumptions that contribute to this way of thinking.

One is that we are "under contract" with God and the second is that The Old Testament was nailed to the cross.

The OT was not "nailed to the cross" (Col. 2:14), so that the NT could be kept the exact same way with fewer laws to keep.

What was nailed to the cross was our sins or the record of our debt of sin to God. This is what the "handwriting of ordinances" and "written code" means. These phrases do not refer to the OT.

I believe translating the word "testament" as "covenant" is one reason some believe 5 steps and 5 acts must be kept meticulously in order to sustain this forgiveness, but that this actually hinders God's grace through an attempt to keep all of God's commandments in the NT.

The problem with translating the word as covenant instead of testament is primarily because of how we understand the word covenant.

A covenant, today, is defined as a contract between two parties where both parties are obligated to keep the agreement and cannot change its terms.

Notice that: "between two parties... where both are obligated..."

God is never obligated to man.

I think, God, based on His character/integrity/goodness, extends grace and mercy by revealing the truth about sin and its harmfulness to man.

God offers mankind a way out through His Son, but not by reducing the OT down to a handful of "new" laws that must be kept ritualistically in the same way as the OT, nor especially through the modern concept of being "bound" or "under" a legal obligation to worship without hand clapping, instruments, adding food to the Lord's Table, etc. 

According to
"The Greek word διαθηκη (diatheke), usually translated “covenant” in English versions of the Bible, is a legal term denoting a formal and legally binding declaration of benefits to be given by one party to another, with or without conditions attached. In secular contexts it was most often used of a “last will and testament.” In the Greek version of the Old Testament διαθηκη was used as the ordinary rendering for the Hebrew word ברית."

"ברית (berith) is also translated 'covenant' in English versions, but, like διαθηκη, it also refers to legal dispositions or pledges which may or may not have the character of an “agreement.” Sometimes a ברית is more in the nature of a one-sided promise or grant."

"When English readers see the word “covenant” in the Bible, it is important to bear this in mind, because the true sense is often missed if readers suppose that the word must refer to a reciprocal “agreement” or “contract.” The issue is important because misunderstandings along this line can have some serious consequences for theology."
The distinction between the two words covenant and testament can reveal a harmful mindset that can develop from thinking one has all the truth revealed in the "contract" and that it can be kept perfectly and that to the point of obligating God! It may cause someone to interpret how the NT reveals the OT by insisting that 5 Acts of Worship must be repeated every Sunday or the "contract" is void. 

Viewing God's Last Will & Testament through Christ as an obligatory, everlasting contract/covenant causes one to practice the NT the same way the OT was practiced with fewer laws. Instead of hundreds of laws in Leviticus, they practice the same “5” Acts of Worship. Instead of being a descendant of Abraham, they practice “5” steps from sinner to saint.

No exceptions allowed.


The main reason I think people interpret testament as covenant is based on a misinterpretation of Colossians 2:14.

Basically, it is an interpretation that creates a highly modified OT out of the NT, and the same ritual behaviors are repeated in an attempt to remain righteous which law-keeping can never do.

I took the following excerpt from one of Jay Guin's articles at One in Jesus.

It begins with Guin quoting Col. 2:14 in the ESV and NIV followed by comments from Bobby Valentine on what the word for "handwriting of ordinances, written code" (usually interpreted as the entire OT) is and means.

Paul is NOT saying that the Old Testament was nailed to the cross.

Guin writes,

"And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross" (Col 2:13-14, ESV).

The ESV gets this translation right, but the NIV bungles it —

"... having canceled 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 (Col. 2:14).

This Greek is well-explained by Bobby Valentine —
"... Paul says that the cheirograph was nailed the cross. This word is a Pauline hapax and never occurs again in the NT. In the 19th century the word turned up in the sands of Egypt inscribed on papyri. Adolf Deissmann in his epoch making book Light from the Ancient East demonstrates that the term refers to an I.O.U., a certificate of debt incurred by a person (cf. pp. 331-334)."

"Historical context is a cardinal rule in biblical interpretation. In Jewish apocalyptic there was an idea that there existed a book of records that kept track of our evil deeds. This book, like the mortgage (an I.O.U.) at the bank, provided powerful leverage with less than friendly spirit beings called principalities, powers, angels and the like. This book is mentioned often in Jewish literature of the time (1 Enoch 89.61-64; 108.7; Testament of Abraham 12.7-18; 13.9-14; and many other places)."

"Enoch, for example, tells how he heard the words “write down every destruction {sin} … so that this may become testimony for me against them.” We have an IOU that stands against us and that IOU is our own sin debt. It is that sin that the malignant powers hold over us. The Law of Moses wasn’t nailed to the cross. Rather, it was our I.O.U.’s to God, the record of our indebtedness to him."

"God forgave our trespasses. It’s just that simple. And he did this by bringing us into Jesus — in whom the fullness of deity dwells — and resurrecting us with him and circumcising our hearts (through the Spirit) when we were baptized."
Understanding the difference between a testament and covenant and that the OT was not what was nailed to the cross explains a lot for me concerning the interpretation that I was taught in seminary (preaching school) when I first learned the Bible.

That was 15 years ago.

I have since earned a B.A. and M.A. in Biblical Studies and studied my way out of this harmful legalism. Truth has not changed. I have grown in knowledge of it.

I do not pretend anymore that I learned all there was to learn about Christianity in the first two years after becoming a Christian. Many do and that is evident, because 15 years later, they are still repeating the same things that were learned 15 years ago.

I hope that I have explained my points well enough that they benefit you if you have similar desires to escape legalism's bondage, but have simply never heard these things before.

Not only are they liberating as truth always is. They help me understand why I believed what I did 10 years ago, why others still believe it, and especially why they insist on practicing "5 Acts" in "worship services" with absolutely no changes allowed.

I think that there is a better way that in no way compromises God's truth.

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