He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. Colossians 2:15 ESV
Triumphing over – In the past few days, and over the last month or so, we have explored the meaning of the cross from a Hebrew perspective. Despite the popular claim that “Jesus” died on the cross for the forgiveness of sin, we find that the biblical text says something else. It says that forgiveness (atonement) has been available since before the foundation of the world although its full extent and deeper meaning has been progressively revealed to us over time. We also found that the cross is not a place of sin sacrifice but rather the manifestation of God’s redemptive work in the defeat of the consequences of sin, that is, the death of death. The cross demonstrates that God uses the tool of the enemy to overturn even the greatest threat of the enemy and in so doing establishes a kingdom like no other – an eternal and imperishable presence of the Lord of life.
Our investigation dealt with the mistake of reading the apparent future tense claims of New Testament passages as if they describe Greek static states rather than Hebrew dynamic processes. We didn’t examine all the passages but we saw enough to recognize that the claims that such-and-such will happen does not imply that it is not already present in its nascent form. This is particularly important in order to understand that the Bible is one book, not two testaments.
Finally we noticed that Yeshua Himself doesn’t point to the cross as a place of atonement. Instead, He directs us to Moses’ use of the nes as a symbol of God’s triumph over the pagan threat of death and He clearly states that His mission was to establish His rightful place as King in the eternal Kingdom. Since one of the key principles of biblical exegesis is that the Bible interprets the Bible (i.e., we look at other scriptures in order to understand a particular text), Yeshua’s claims have enormous weight in settling the question about the cross.
And then there is Paul. So much of Paul’s emphasis seems rooted in the cross, but perhaps Paul’s Jewish rabbinic perspective has been lost in our penchant to read into Paul what later Christian theology proposed. This verse in Colossians is a prime example. From an evangelical theological point of view, we are apt to claim that this verse is about Jesus’ triumph over sin. As my faithful antagonist says, “It looks like both atonement and the defeat of the demonic powers were accomplished by the cross.” But is this what the verse says? What is the object of the Greek verb thriambeuo (translated “to triumph over”)? Does this verse claim that Yeshua’s victory is over sin?
Let’s consider the opening verb (“having disarmed the powers”). Apekdyomai comes from two Greek words literally meaning “to strip away from.” According to this passage (verses 13-15), Yeshua stripped away (disarmed) the power of rulers and authorities in a publicly observable manner. They were put to shame, and in a Hebrew world, that means public shame, something that can be seen. This is not about invisible demonic forces. How would anyone know that they have been shamed? Where am I to look to see their crestfallen countenances? If rulers and authorities have been disarmed, what was taken from them? Certainly not their claims or superiority! What was taken from them is the ultimate basis of their power, that is, the threat of death! If a man does not fear to die because he is assured that the King of glory has granted him eternal life, is there any ruler or authority on earth that can compel his obedience? When Yeshua removed the consequence of sin, he stripped every earthly power of its ultimate threat. The triumph is His victory over the one thing that holds all unredeemed men captive – not sin but death. This triumph is public because the resurrection is a real, historical fact.
It seems so obvious when we look at the text. There is no mention of the cross, no mention of forgiveness of sin, no mention of demonic powers. Ah, but you object. The NIV translates this verse as “triumphing over them by the cross.” A quick review of the Nestle-Aland 27th edition of the Greek New Testament reveals no such wording in the text or in any alternate fragment of the text. In other words, those words “by the cross” have been added to the translation. The NIV makes a marginal note, “Or them in him,” but the marginal note is the correct reading, not an alternate. The NIV has deliberately altered the text, not on the basis of a possible alternate translation but on the basis of a theological bias for which there is no textual justification.
No wonder we think Jesus died on the cross for the forgiveness of sin. That’s what Christian theologians want us to think. What a mess! Of course, this raises an important question. If the text doesn’t contain “the cross,” why did the NIV translators feel it necessary to add these words?
So, why did Yeshua die on the cross? Paul does not say anything about atonement or forgiveness in this verse. He says that the supposed power of public rulers and authorities has been stripped away from them. And how do you suppose that happened?
Topical Index: cross, triumph, thriambeuo, disarm, apekdyomai, death, Colossians 2:15