Oct 27, 2012

Definite Atonement VII

Jesus paid it all,
All to Him I owe;
Sin had left a crimson stain,
He washed it white as snow.

This is a song which nearly all Christians, especially evangelicals, are familiar.  The author of the song, Elvina M. Hall (1865), no doubt recognized that the Bible represents sins as debts and that those debts were paid by the sinner's substitute, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Sin has put us in debt 

"And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors," Jesus taught us to pray.  (Matt. 6: 12)  Paul said that the "wages of sin is death."  (Rom. 6: 23)  Paul said:  "For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law."  (Gal. 5: 3)  When one violates the law of God, he is put in debt.  In Hebrews 2: 2 Paul said that "every transgression and disobedience received a just recompence of reward."   Violations of the law of God brings one into debt and the actual judgment upon sin is payback.  Jesus compared sins to debts in the following words from one of his parables.

"Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants. And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents. But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made. The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt."  (Matt. 18: 23-27)

Of course, sin is not literally a pecuniary debt.  It is only so by analogy.  Further, when sin is viewed as debt, it is often in the context of forensic indebtedness and not pecuniary debt.  A criminal, when he is judged and sentenced, becomes a debtor to the law and is forced to pay the criminal penalty.  And, when a criminal has paid the debt, either by fine or imprisonment, he is said to have "paid his debt" to society, or to the law and commonwealth.  A debt is an legal obligation. 

In Colossians 2:14 Paul wrote:

"...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."  (NASB)

The KJV translates the verse as follows:

"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." 

The KJV translation has caused some to wrongly assume that "the handwriting of ordinances" refers to the Mosaic law or to the old covenant and that Paul's meaning is that the old covenant and the law of Moses have been "canceled," "blotted out," or "erased."  This, however, is not the intended meaning of the apostle. 

There is little disagreement on the meaning of the Greek term exaleipho.  In the KJV this word is translated as "blot out" three times and "wipe away" two times.  The word "erase" would be good. The NASB translates as "canceled out."  This would not be the literal meaning of the word but is what, as we shall see, is what the apostle intends to convey.  The erasing of the "handwriting" or "certificate of debt" is for the purpose of effecting a cancelation.  In any blotting out, wiping away, or erasure, there is a removal of the writing that is on the document, or an expunging. 

According to scholars of the word, exaleipho "signifies to smear or plaster over and then it is used to denote the act by which a law or deed of obligation is cancelled...to expunge."

Lightfoot translates the words of the apostle thusly:

"then and there canceling the bond which stood valid against us (for it bore our own signature), the bond which engaged us to fulfill all the law of ordinances, which was our stern pitiless tyrant. Yes, this very bond Christ has put out of sight forever, nailing it to his cross and rending it with his body and killing it in his death."  (the foregoing citations are from preceptaustin.org - see here)

The aorist tense pictures a past completed action.  The blotting out has been accomplished by Christ on the cross. Paul pictures God as blotting out and totally erasing our certificate of debt (our sin debt).  Christ did not simply make it possible for a sinner's debt to be paid, but actually paid it.

THE CERTIFICATE OF DEBT: to kath hemon cheirographon

"Certificate of debt (5498) (cheirographon from cheir = hand + grapho = write) is literally handwriting or a handwritten document and then a written record of a debt such as a promissory note. A document is written in one's own hand as a proof of obligation, e.g., a note of indebtedness. The word means primarily a bond written by a person pledging himself to make certain payments.

Friberg writes that figuratively in the only NT use in Colossians 2:14 cheirographon refers not to the law itself, but to the record of charges (for breaking God's law), which stood against us and which God symbolically removed by "nailing it to the cross," handwritten account, record of debts (Friberg, T., Friberg, B., & Miller, N. F. Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament. Baker Academic)

Thayer writes that cheirographon means...

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

TDNT writes that in Colossians 2:14 cheirographon means

a “promissory note.” God cancels the bond that lies to our charge. This bond is not a compact with the devil, as in some patristic exegesis. It is the debt that we have incurred with God. The forgiveness of sins (Col 2:13-note) through identification with Christ in his vicarious death and resurrection means that this note is cancelled; God has set it aside and nailed it to the cross. (Kittel, G., Friedrich, G., & Bromiley, G. W. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. Eerdmans)

For example, in Philemon we find an "IOU" Paul writing

I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand, I will repay it (not to mention to you that you owe to me even your own self as well). (Philemon 1:19)

The idea is that of list of our crimes or moral debt before God, a debt no imperfect person can completely pay. But it can be taken out of the way, by payment from a perfect man, Jesus Christ.

Cheirographon then described a note or bond written by hand thus obligating the writer to fulfill the debt that is written out. In other words it is analogous to an "IOU" signed by hand and obligating the signer to repay the debt. Paul's idea seems to be that the sins of mankind had piled up a list of "I.O.U.'s" so large that they could never be repaid. Paul uses cheirographon not as the law itself, but as the record of charges for breaking God's law and which therefore stood against us.

Men were in debt to God because of their sins and they knew it. There was a self-confessed indictment against them, a charge-list which, as it were, they themselves had signed and admitted as accurate. The debt was impossible to pay, but God dealt with it; he had blotted it out and cancelled the bond by nailing it to the cross. This is a vivid way of saying that because Christ was nailed to the cross, our debt has been completely forgiven." 

Jesus completely obliterated and wiped out our "certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us". When someone had a debt in ancient times and it was paid off, they would write "Tetelestai" on the certificate of debt. Tetelestai meant PAID IN FULL and is the same word Jesus uttered ("It is finished") just before He died (Jn 19:30). When the Jews nailed Jesus to the cross they drove the nails into their own law. The old covenant was made obsolete by the blood of the new covenant."  (see here)

CONSISTING OF DECREES AGAINST US AND WHICH WAS HOSTILE TO US: kath hemon...tois dogmasin o en hupenantion hemin:

this note with its legal decrees and demands which was in force and stood against us (hostile to us) (Amp)

God wiped out the charges that were against us for disobeying the Law of Moses (CEV)

Against us (kath' hemon) in the sense that we could not keep these decrees. The "certificate of debt" signifies a claim of unpaid debt but "against us" indicates that it therefore signifies a debt warranting punishment. This hand writing was against us and contrary to us for it threatened our eternal ruin."  (ibid)

HE HAS TAKEN THEM OUT OF THE WAY HAVING NAILED IT TO THE CROSS: kai auto erken ek tou mesou proselosas (AAPMSN) auto to stauro:

This [note with its regulations, decrees, and demands] He set aside and cleared completely out of our way by nailing it to [His] cross. (Amp)

fastening it to the cross (DRB)

The perfect tense speaks of a completed action in the past with present effects and thus signifies that Jesus' once for all death on the cross in the past has produced a permanent, eternally efficacious effect, specifically in regard to the removal of the bond that once was against us. The debt is permanently removed and cannot be presented against us again! This truth also helps one understand how it is that he is "complete in Christ" and protects one from persuasive arguments and empty philosophy. John uses airo with a similar meaning in in his first epistle writing.

Eadie writes:

The idea of the apostle is, that when Christ was nailed to the cross, the condemning power of the law was nailed along with Him, and died with Him— “Now we are delivered from the law, that being dead in which we were held.” Ro 7:6-note. In other words, God exempts sinners from the sentence which they merit, through the sufferings and death of Jesus. The implied doctrine is, that the guilt of men was borne by Christ when He died—was laid on Him by that God who by this method took the handwriting out of the way. Jesus bore the sentence of the handwriting in Himself, and God now remits its penalty; having forgiven you all your trespasses, inasmuch as He has blotted out the hostile handwriting and taken it out of the way, for He nailed it to the cross of His Son. (Colossians 2:14, 15 In Depth Commentary)

This is what Colossians 2 is all about. The law of God has declared us spiritually bankrupt. But our great debt has been completely removed. It has been paid in full by Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary. We are free. The only thing we owe now is an eternal debt of thanks and praise to our wonderful Lord. — Mart De Haan" (ibid)

Now, if Jesus paid the debt in full for those sinners for whom he died, how can it be taught that Christ paid the debt for every sinner?  If this were so, then every sinner would be saved.  Here is definite atonement.  Will God collect the debt twice?  First from Christ and then from the sinner?  This is what those who believe in universal atonement must accept as a consequence of their doctrine.  Does Jesus suffer the penalty for the sins of a man and then send that man to Hell to pay the penalty?  Would that not be a kind of double payment or double jeopardy?

Jesus is said to have ransomed and redeemed sinners by his death.  He did not simply make the redemption and ransoming of sinners possble but actually redeemed and ransomed.  In redeeming and ransoming, a price is paid to effect release.  Christ paid that price and therefore, all for whom he died must be set free. 

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