What do the Church Fathers say about Colossians 2:14, a very interesting verse that can support eternal security and even limited atonement? Let me explain why this verse is so important.
NASB, Col. 2:14, “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.
KJV, Col. 2:14, “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.”
NAB, Col. 2:14, “obliterating the bond against us, with its legal claims, which was opposed to us, he also removed it from our midst, nailing it to the cross; (https://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0839/__P10L.HTM)
Sin Debt Cancelled and Limited Atonement
The question we need to ask is what is it that was ‘canceled’ (NASB), ‘blotted out’ (KJV), ‘obliterated’ (NAB)? If it is sin, then our sin is canceled at the cross. This would mean that it is not canceled when we get baptized, believe, or take communion, or take sacraments, etc. Notice what the verse says, “…having nailed it to the cross.” Furthermore, this would lend itself to the Reformed doctrine of limited atonement, which states that Christ only bore the sin of the elect and not every individual who ever lived (see 1 Sam. 3:14). After all, if he canceled the sin of everyone, then everyone must go to heaven because there is no sin to be held to their account on Judgment Day. Therefore, it makes sense to say that Jesus only bore the sin of the elect.
The Law Cancelled
On the other hand, if it is the law that is ‘canceled’ (NASB), ‘blotted out’ (KJV), ‘obliterated’ (NAB), then a different problem arises. Rom. 5:13 says, “…sin is not imputed when there is no law.” If it is the law that is done away with by Jesus at the cross, then there can be no sin reckoned to anyone’s account because ‘sin is not imputed when there is no law.’ This would mean no one would go to hell because there is no sin against them. But, if we propose that the Law is only canceled for the elect, and not everyone, then this also supports the Reformed doctrine of limited atonement.
Colossians 2:14 supports eternal security because if Jesus cancels the sin debt for the elect at the cross, and not when they do something like get baptized, take sacraments, or whatever, then it means all of their sins are removed – past, present, and future. It also means that Jesus bore the sin of the elect and that they are secure because all of their sins are removed. All of it!
Church Fathers on Colossians 2:14
So what do the church father say about Colossians 2:14? Here’s a summation of the table below regarding what the church fathers say is cancelled/blotted out.
The Law – Justin Martyr
Sin – Irenaeus, Hyppolytus, Origen, Augstine, Chrysostom, Jerome,
Bond of death – Leo the Great
Not clear – Terbullian, Rufinus, Sulpitius
Are the Church fathers consistent with each other? No, they’re not. There is no universal consensus, as so many Catholics and Eastern Orthodox assert. Furthermore, Col. 2:14 supports reformed theology, and the idea that it began in the 1600s is unfounded.
The Church Fathers and Colossians 2:14
Against Heresies, Book 5, Chapter 17,
“Blessed is the man to whom the Lord has not imputed sin;” pointing out thus that remission of sins which follows upon His advent, by which “He has destroyed the handwriting” of our debt, and “fastened it to the cross;” so that as by means of a tree we were made debtors to God, [so also] by means of a tree we may obtain the remission of our debt.”
Destroyed the handwriting of debt of sin
Justin Martyr (d. 165) & Irenaeus (d. 202)
Fragments from the Lost
writings of Irenaeus, 37
“Then again, Paul exhorts us “to present our bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” And again, “Let us offer the sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of the lips.” Now those oblations are not according to the law, the handwriting of which the Lord took away from the midst by canceling it; but they are according to the Spirit, for we must worship God “in spirit and in truth.”
Jesus cancelled the handwriting of “the law?”
“He who doeth sin is of the devil, inasmuch as the devil sinneth from the beginning. For unto this end was manifested the Son of God, to undo the works of the devil:” for He has “undone” them withal, by setting man free through baptism, the “handwriting
of death” having been “made a gift of” to him.” (https://ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf04.iii.viii.xix.html)
Baptism seems to set us
free from the “handwriting of death.”
(d. 235 AD)
Fragments of Hippolytus
On Daniel, 15
“Behold the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world!” And in like manner Gabriel says: “To blot out transgressions, and make reconciliation for sins.” But who has blotted out our transgressions? Paul the apostle teaches us, saying, “He is our peace who made both one;” and then, “Blotting out the handwriting of sins that was against us.” (https://ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf05.iii.iv.i.x.ii.html)
Jesus blotted out the handwriting of sins against us
(d. 253) commentary on the Gospel of John, Book 6
“We have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but for those of the whole world,” since He is the Saviour of all men, especially of them that believe, who blotted out the written bond that was against us by His own blood, and took it out of the way, so that not even a trace, not even of our blotted-out sins, might still be found, and nailed it to His cross…”
Blotted out our sins at the cross
Chapter 49 [XXX.]—An Objection of the Pelagians.
“Our body, therefore, is dead because of sin, but Christ’s body only died without sin, in order that, having poured out His blood without fault, “the bonds” which contain the register of all faults “might be blotted out,” by which they who now believe in Him were formerly held as debtors by the devil.” (https://ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf105.x.iv.xlix.html)
Blotted out the bonds
Expositions on the Psalms
“Thou hast been humbled, and hast humbled others: Thou hast been wounded, and hast wounded others: for Thy blood, as it was shed to blot the handwriting of sins,
could not but wound him. For what was the ground of his pride, except the bond which he held against us.”
Botted out the handwriting of sins
Homilies on Colossians, Homily 6, vv.
“Having forgiven us all our trespasses; having blotted out the bond written in ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us: and he hath taken it out of the way, nailing it to the Cross; having put off from himself the principalities and the powers, He made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it.” “Having forgiven us,” he saith, “all our trespasses,” those which produced that deadness. What then? Did He allow them to remain? No, He even wiped them out; He did not scratch them out merely; so that they could not be seen. “In doctrines” [ordinances], he saith. What doctrines? The Faith. It is enough to believe. He hath not set works against works, but works against faith. And what next? Blotting out is an advance upon remission; again he saith, “And hath taken it out of the way.” Nor yet even so did He preserve it, but rent it even in sunder, “by nailing it to His Cross.” “Having put off from himself the principalities and the powers, He made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it.” Nowhere has he spoken in so lofty a strain. (https://ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf113.iv.iv.vi.html)
Blotting out is an advance on remission… it is taken away
Homilies on the Gospel of John, John
“Since Christ not only did not publish our transgressions, but did not put us the transgressors in mind of them, nor say, “in such and such things hast thou offended,” but remitted and
blotted out the handwriting, not reckoning our offenses, as Paul hath also declared.” (https://ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf114.iv.xli.html)
Blotted out the handwritting, not reckoning our offenses
Life and Works of Rufinus (d. 239) with Jerome’s
(d. 420) Apology Against Rufinus.
“He destroyed the hand-writing which was against us, nailing it to His cross, and led away principalities and powers, triumphing over them in Himself.” (https://ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf203.vi.xiii.xvi.html)
Letter19 to Oceanus.
“Can it be that when our whole being is dead with Christ and when all the sins noted down in the old “handwriting” are blotted out, the one word “wife” alone lives on?” (https://ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf206.v.LXIX.html)
Blotting out the sins
Severus, Vincet of Lerins
“…led them away openly; and all of us who were liable to death and bound by the debt of the handwriting that could not be paid, He freed, by taking it away out of the midst and affixing it to His cross for a trophy.” (https://ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf211.iv.iii.iii.iii.html)
Leo the Great, Gregory the Great (d. 461), to Monks of Palestine
“For as the original chains of our captivity could not be loosed, unless a man of our race and of our nature appeared who was not under the prejudice of the old debt, and who with his untainted blood might blot out the bond of death.” (https://ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf212.ii.iv.cxviii.html)
Bond of death
Gregory the Great (II) (d. 731), Ephraim
“…the King came forth to us Who blotted out our bills, and wrote another bill in His own Name that He might be our debtor.”
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