There is a keyword in Col 2:14 which often gets mistranslated: cheipographon. The word literally means “hand-written” from “cheiro” for hand and “graphon” for written. Here’s a rundown of typical translations:
KJV “handwriting of ordinances”
RSV, NAB “bond”
NIV “written code”
NASB “certificate of debt”
ESV “record of debt”
The TDNT itself is a little ambiguous on the meaning of the word and Liddell & Scott is not helpful. It merely lists “note of hand, bond, manuscript note” as the definition. NIV has by far the worst translation of the ones listed above. “Written code” brings to mind the Mosaic Law and other things that have nothing to do with what Paul is talking about. The confused translations result, I think, from the following phrase: “with its regulations” (NIV) or “with its legal demands” (ESV). These demands are NOT the demands of the Old Covenant Law, but the demands of a promissory note. cheirographon is a record of debt, like a credit card bill. It is this credit card bill or mortgage statement that was “nailed to the cross.” The “demands” or statuatory implications of the handwritten record are only those of debt, not those of the Mosaic Law. The NASB and the ESV do the best job in relating the real meaning of this word and making sense of the whole passage. Paul is talking about financial debt and using it as a metaphor for the debt we owed to God because of sin.
Paul’s Letter Carriers
I made a quick list today of the people who carried Paul’s letters. For some of the letters, it is not clear who carried them, but here’s my list anyway:
1. Romans – 16:1 – Phoebe
2. 1 Cor – 16:17 – Possibly Stephanas, Fortunatus, Achaicus
3. 2 Cor – unknown
4. Gal – unknown
5. Eph – Possibly Tychicus, cg. 2 Tim 4:12
6. Phlp – 2:25 – Epaphroditus
7. Col – 4:7,9 – Tychicus and Onesimus
8. Philm – 10 – Onesimus (on the same trip as the Colossians delivery)
9. 1 Thess – unknown
10. 2 Thess – unknown
11. 1 Tim – unknown
12. 2 Tim – unknown
13. Titus – unknown
14. Hebrews – unknown
I have really enjoyed Ben Witherington’s commentaries on the Pauline epistles, especially because of their intricate rhetorical analysis. Before reading Witherington, I had no idea that Paul was adhering to a rather strict structure for his letters. Hans Dieter Betz is the first scholar (that I can find) to publish a major commentary that dealt with these issues. Richard Longenecker in his Word Biblical Commentary (WBC), pp.cix-cx, on Galatians sums up what ancient sources to get to learn about Paul’s rhetorical structure:
1. Aristotle, Rhetoric
2. Cicero, De inventioneand De optimo genere oratorum
3. Quintillian Institutio Oratoria (I checked this one out last week. It’s four volumes!)
4. Anonymous, Rhetorica ad Herennium
Ancient examples of rhetoric:
1. Plato, Epistle 7
2. Isocrates, Antidosis
3. Demosthenes, De Corona
4. Cicero, Brutus
5. Libanius, Oratio 1
Structure of ancient Greco-Roman “forensic rhetoric”*, which is generally followed by Paul:
1. Exordium – Introduction: introduces speaker and topics
2. Narratio – Narration: statement of facts
3. Propositio – Proposition: states points of agreement and contention
4. Probatio – Confirmation: development of the argument
5. Refutatio – Refutation: rebuttal of the opponent
6. Peroratio – Conclusion: summarizes, evokes a sympathetic response
*”Foresic rhetoric” is speech techniques and patterns used in ancient law courts. A lawyer would follow this pattern when presenting his case. Kinda interesting how Paul’s letters do often sound rather, er, legal.
Reading Paul’s letters with this structure in mind keeps the reader aware of his surroundings and helps him follow the argument being made. It is easy to get lost in this structure if you’re not looking for it – kinda like driving on the right hand side of the road in England. Sort of.
Ravi Zacharias often recites this poem on Secularization
First dentistry was painless.
Then bicycles were chainless,
Carriages were horseless,
And many laws enforceless.
Next cookery was fireless,
Telegraphy was wireless,
Cigars were nicotineless,
And coffee caffeineless.
Soon oranges were seedless,
The putting green was weedless,
The college boy was hatless,
The proper diet fatless.
New motor roads are dustless,
The latest steel is rustless,
Our tennis courts are sodless,
Our new religion–godless.
-Arthur Guiterman, “Gaily the Troubadour”
Painfully accurate, isn’t it?