COLOSSIANS 2:8 BDC: Is it wrong for Christians to study “philosophy”?

Reasoning From the Scriptures

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EDWARD D. ANDREWS (AS in Criminal Justice, BS in Religion, MA in Biblical Studies, and MDiv in Theology) is CEO and President of Christian Publishing House. He has authored over 140 books. Andrews is the Chief Translator of the Updated American Standard Version (UASV).

Colossians 2:8 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy[1] and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary things of the world and not according to Christ.

What is philosophy? Philosophy is the critical examination (clarification [What does this mean?], justification [Is it true?], and evaluation [What is its significance and value?]) of our basic beliefs (Fundamental beliefs that underlie our thinking [Presuppositions]) concerning reality, knowledge and truth, and our personal and social values. Socrates said that philosophy is simply “examining life.” The Greek word philosophia means, literally, “love of wisdom.” Wisdom is actually applied knowledge. The English Standard Version reads,

Colossians 2:8 English Standard Version (ESV)

See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. (Bold, underline, and italicize added.)

Why did Paul say that? Certainly, Paul, one of the most learned Christians of all time would be an example that philosophy itself is not intrinsically wrong. Moreover, under inspiration he prayed that Christians be filled with knowledge. True, Paul was warning of the danger behind the thinking of those alienated from God. If we look at a couple of interpretive translations, it will become clearer. The NIV reads, “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy” and the NET Bible reads, “Be careful not to allow anyone to captivate you through an empty, deceitful philosophy …” In other words, there is nothing wrong with philosophy (i.e., love of wisdom), but we should be wary of hollow, deceptive, or empty philosophy. The tool of philosophy itself can be beneficial. In fact, the Bible, especially in the book of Proverbs, encourages the love of and the pursuit of knowledge and wisdom. (Pro. 1:1-7; 3:13-18) Let us define and note some of the general characteristics of philosophy and to compare and contrast philosophy with other disciplines, as well as why it is important to study philosophy and to develop a “philosophic mindset.” Again, philosophy is the love and pursuit of wisdom as well as the critical examination of beliefs.

  • The Importance of Philosophy in General
    • Philosophical Mindset: An attitude or approach to life that involves critical examination of beliefs to ascertain what they mean, if they are true, and what value they have.
  1. The more we understand life, the more meaningful it becomes and ultimately the more we enjoy it.
  2. Philosophy helps us to define and clarify what others and we believe.
  3. By arguing through a problem, we are forced to understand it better.
  • Bad Argumentation: emotional squabble or fight, attacking the person, to be avoided. The purpose in this is to win.
  • Good Argumentation: rational and offering reasons for the beliefs we hold. It’s not personal, we are attacking the issue. We encourage people to argue their reasons. The purpose in this is to find the truth.
  1. Philosophy helps us to formulate comprehensive systems of beliefs where our knowledge can be categorized and examined.
  • Worldview: an explanation that contains our fundamental beliefs, as well as the means by which we understand and evaluate reality, as well as the application of that view into our lives.
  1. Internal Consistency: Are there any contradictions in my worldview?
  2. External Comprehensiveness: Can my worldview account for new knowledge and beliefs outside of it?
  3. Correspondence: Do the beliefs in my worldview cohere together and mutually support one another.
  4. Philosophy has practical value for our everyday life.
  5. Your ultimate meaning in life determines your goals; these determine your everyday decisions.
  • “Define life backward but live it forwards.” – Soren Kierkegaard (1831-1855)
  • “The quality of my life is largely dependent on the daily choices I make.” – Author unknown.
  1. Our moral system is based on a particular ethical view; we make moral choices daily.
  2. Philosophy helps us to understand other points of view and other presuppositions.
  3. Philosophy rids us of prejudice and poor reasoning; we are more critical of what we see, read and hear.
  • The Importance of Philosophy for Christians:
  1. Twofold purpose for philosophy
  • The Construction of a Christian Worldview
  1. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed, rightly handling[2] the word of truth. – 2 Tim. 2:15 (UASV)
  • To Refute Contrary Views
  1. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ, – 2 Cor. 10;5 (UASV)
  2. We need to be aware of vain and deceptive philosophy. (Col 2:8 often misunderstood)
  3. See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary things of the world and not according to Christ. – Col 2:8 (UASV)
  4. See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. – Col 2:8 (ESV)
  5. See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ. – Col 2:8 (NIV)
  6. Be careful not to allow anyone to captivate you through an empty, deceitful philosophy that is according to human traditions and the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. – Col 2:8 (NET)
  7. Scripture praises the use of our mind.
  8. True, “without faith it is impossible to please him” (Heb. 11:6), but receiving “the word with all eagerness,[3] examining the Scriptures daily” is noble. – Ac 17:11 (UASV)
  9. We are commanded to “love the Lord[4] your God with your whole heart and with your whole soul and with your whole mind.’[5] – Matt. 22:37 (UASV)
  10. … always being prepared to make a defense[6] to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, – 1 Pet 3:15 (UASV)
  11. Theology
  • Systematic Theology
  • Theological Concepts
  • Avoid Contradictions
  1. Apologetics
  • Shows attacks are false
  • Show that the attack are not necessarily true
  • Produce strong arguments for Christianity
  1. Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith that was once for all delivered to the holy ones. – Jude 3, UASV
  2. And according to Paul’s custom, he went to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you is the Christ.” Acts 17:2-3, UASV
  3. … always being prepared to make a defense[7] to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect; – 1 Pet 3:15 (UASV)
  4. And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks. – Acts 18:4, (UASV)
  5. And he entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God. – Acts 19:8, (UASV)
  6. Polemics
  • Keeps Christianity internally pure from heretical and unorthodox teachings

  1. Evangelism
  • Helps to understand other worldviews and how to tailor the evangelistic message.
  • Seven reasons why the study of philosophy is important for Christians
  • Philosophy is an aid in the task of apologetics
  • Philosophy aids the church in the task of polemics
  • Philosophy is a central expression of the image of God in use
  • Philosophy permeates systematic theology and serves as its handmaid
  • Philosophy can facilitate the spiritual discipline of study
  • Philosophy can enhance the boldness and self-image of the Christian community
  • Philosophy is essential for the task of integration
  • Four reasons why some Christians are hostile to philosophy
  • The claim that human depravity has made the mind so darkened that the noetic effects of sin render the human intellect incapable of knowing truth.
  • It is claimed that faith and reason are hostile to each other, and whatever is if reason cannot be of faith.
  • Some cite Colossians 2:8 as evidence against philosophy.
  • Some cite 1 Corinthians 1-2 as evidence against philosophy. This is where Paul reminds his readers of the wisdom of the world and reminds him that he did not visit them with words of wisdom.

  • Three misconceptions of philosophy’s purposes
  • It is not the purpose of philosophy to compete with science.
  • It is not the purpose of philosophy to compete with theology.
  • It is not the purpose of philosophy actively to promote individual or social change.
  • Three ways philosophical examination is practical
  • Add to the breadth of your studies
  • In-depth philosophical studies will gain intellectual freedom
  • Critical evaluation and less for granted

Again, there is nothing wrong with philosophy (i.e., the love and pursuit of wisdom as well as the critical examination of beliefs), but we should be wary of hollow, deceptive, or empty philosophy.

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[1] The NIV reads, “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy” and the NET Bible reads, “Be careful not to allow anyone to captivate you through an empty, deceitful philosophy …” In other words, there is nothing wrong with philosophy (i.e., love of wisdom), but we should be weary of hollow, deceptive, or empty philosophy.

[2] Or accurately handling the word of truth; correctly teaching the word of truth

[3] Or with all readiness of mind. The Greek word prothumias means that one is eager, ready, mentally prepared to engage in some activity.

[4] This is a reference to the Father, I.e., Jehovah of the Old Testament

[5] A quotation from Deuteronomy 6:5

[6] Or argument; or explanation

[7] Or argument; or explanation

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