“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” (Colossians 2:8 NET).
We can define the “…elementary principles originating in this world” (Voice) with a look at the identifying characteristics embedded within the passage quoted above.
The first defining feature involves a lack of substance. Biblical translators have used phrases like worthless (GNT), senseless (CEV), or wrong and shallow (TLB) to express the meaning of this idea. Any principle or philosophy that is empty, vain, hollow, or devoid of truth would fall into this category.
The next characteristic is deceit. In the original language of this passage, “deceit” involves “that which gives a false impression, whether by appearance, statement or influence” (1) The Amplified Bible inserts the phrase “pseudo-intellectual babble” to help communicate the meaning of this idea for the benefit of 21st century audiences.
This is followed by a reference to “elemental spirits” (NET), “men’s ideas of the nature of the world” (Phillips), or “human traditions and the way the world thinks and acts rather than Christ” (CEB). This concept is linked to the philosophies, opinions, values, worldviews, societal attitudes, and belief systems that characterize the world as it is and reject the God of the Scriptures. This cautionary message is so important that a similar warning will reappear later in verse twenty.
Finally, such teachings and beliefs are “not according to Christ.” One scholar associates this phrase with someone who bases his or her decisions purely upon human reasoning, experience, or speculation. (2) Another commentary adds, “Philosophy is the love of wisdom, but if one loves wisdom that is not Christ (the Sum of all wisdom, Col_2:3), he loves an empty idol. Such a one will be ‘always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth’ (2Ti_3:7).” (3)
Since our beliefs serve as the foundation for the decisions we make, its important to examine them for the underlying presence of these negative characteristics. For example, if human beings represent the ultimate moral authority in the universe, then concepts like justice, legality, and fair treatment are solely defined by the group or individual. On the other hand, those precepts find their source and authority in the God of the Scriptures if He truly exists.
Therefore as Colossians 2:8 cautions us, “Don’t let anyone fool you by using senseless arguments. These arguments may sound wise, but they are only human teachings. They come from the powers of this world and not from Christ” (CEV).
(1) G539 apate deceit
(2) Dr. Bob Utley. Free Bible Commentary, Colossians 2:8-15 Copyright © 2014 Bible Lessons International http://www.freebiblecommentary.org/new_testament_studies/VOL08/VOL08A_02.html
(3) Bible Knowledge Commentary, note on Colossians 2:8, pg. 677