“See to it that nobody enslaves you with philosophy and foolish deception, which conform to human traditions and the way the world thinks and acts rather than Christ” (Colossians 2:8 CSB).
We can unlock the meaning and application of this important passage with the aid of three commentators. Our first commentator underscores the general validity of philosophical thought…
“…Paul himself was well trained in the philosophies of his day, even quoting them from time to time (cf. Acts 17:28; Titus 1:12). Paul successfully ‘reasoned’ with the philosophers on Mars Hill, even winning some to Christ (Acts 17:17, 34). Elsewhere he said a bishop should be able ‘to exhort and convict those who contradict’ (Titus 1:9) and that he was ‘appointed for defense of the Gospel’ (Phil. 1:17). Peter exhorted believers to ‘always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you’ (1 Peter 3:15). Indeed, Jesus said the great command is to love the Lord ‘with all your mind’ (Matt. 22:37).” (1)
So if philosophy is a valid discipline, what are we to make of Colossians 2:8? Well, our next expositor offers some valuable insight on this question…
“This verse has been used at times to teach that Christians should not study or read philosophy. This is not Paul’s meaning. Paul himself was adept at philosophy, evidenced by his interaction with the Stoic and Epicurean philosophers in Athens (Acts 17:1–34). Paul was warning the believers not to be taken in by any philosophy that does not conform to a proper knowledge of Christ.
The false teachers at Colosse had combined worldly philosophies with the gospel. These philosophies are spoken of by Paul as the basic principles of the world, which some have interpreted as ‘spirits’ or ‘angels’ who supposedly control a person’s life (Gal. 4:3, 9). It seems more likely that the term principles refers to the elementary rules and regulations that certain teachers were seeking to impose on believers according to the dictates of human philosophies. Paul’s strongest indictment against the heretics was that their teaching was not according to Christ, and thus they were not walking with Christ (vv. 6, 7).” (2)
Our final source helps us separate the good from the bad when it comes to the subject of philosophy…
“Paul writes against any philosophy of life based only on human ideas and experiences. Paul himself was a gifted philosopher, so he is not condemning philosophy. He is condemning teaching that credits humanity, not Christ, with being the answer to life’s problems. That approach becomes a false religion. There are many man-made approaches to life’s problems that totally disregard God. To resist heresy you must use your mind, keep your eyes on Christ, and study God’s Word.” (3)
(1) Geisler, N. L., & Howe, T. A. (1992). When critics ask : a popular handbook on Bible difficulties (pp. 487–488). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.
(2) Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (1999). Nelson’s new illustrated Bible commentary (p. 1565). Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.
(3) Life Application Study Bible NKJV Colossians 2:8 Copyright © 1988, 1989, 1991, 1993, 1996, 2004 by Tyndale House Publishers Inc., all rights reserved.