philosophySee 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. (Colossians 2:8)

On its face, these words of Paul to the church at Colossae appear to denigrate philosophy.  For that reason, this verse has been one of the favorite verses by anti-intellectuals and those opposed to the study of philosophy.  Philosophy, they say, is the not just worthless, but dangerous to the Christian faith.  This would be a gross misreading of the text, however.  We must pay attention to the qualifications Paul made concerning his indictment of philosophy.

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. (Colossians 2:8)

Paul qualified the kind of philosophy he had in mind: that which is according to human tradition and the elemental spirits of the world.  He was opposed to humanistic philosophy.  Philosophy can be divided into two categories.  Category 1 are the tools for clear thinking.  These tools undergird all rational thought and are required by Christians to comprehend divine revelation.  Knowledge of these tools helps us to think better.  This was not Paul’s concern.  Paul was concerned with the second category of philosophy: the application of those tools to create a system of thought.  Even here, Paul wasn’t concerned about building a system of thought per se, but building a system of thought that is based in humanistic thinking rather than God’s truth.  We are well aware of many philosophies that contradict the truth and divine revelation.  This is due to a misapplication or misuse of the principles of philosophy.  This is what Paul is warning against.

Paul is not prohibiting the study of philosophy.  Indeed, to avoid being taken captive by humanistic philosophy one must know true philosophy.  Indeed, our knowledge of philosophy can even aid us in exposing the errors of bad philosophy.  As C. S. Lewis noted, “Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered.”

Keep it in context….

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