Philosophy in Vain

Colossians 2:8

“Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.”

The word philosophy has a huge variety of definitions in Webster’s dictionary online. In its broadest sense, the word can refer to “all learning exclusive of technical precepts and practical arts”. However, the definition which is probably most exclusive to the term is “a search for a general understanding of values and reality by chiefly speculative rather than observational means”. As such, it is often thought of as an unbiblical concept because its ideas exist within the the speculations of the human mind. In taking such a view, critics of philosophy would quote Colossians 2:8, which says:

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.

The Reformer John Calvin was not a man to entertain what he saw as anti-biblical ideas. Yet, in his commentary on this verse, he points out that Paul is not criticizing every form of philosophy, but only certain kinds. Indeed, he shows that the verse itself qualifies what type of philosophy Paul is referring to. He suggests that one could read the first phrase of the verse as: “Beware of [that kind of] philosophy which is nothing else than vain deceit”.

God expects us to use our brains and our intelligence. The important thing is to exercise discernment as to what is empty deceit and what is wholesome and useful.

 Prayer: Help us, Father, to test what we learn through the filter of Your word, taking captive every thought, so that we may bring glory to You. Amen.

Ref: Calvin, J. Commentary on Colossians, < https://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/calcom42.v.iii.iii.html >, accessed 3/30/2018. Image: Public Domain.