Beware of Being Cheated by Philosophy and Empty Deceit - Page 1 of 2 (series: Lessons on Colossians)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

Tom Lowe

IVA1. Beware of being cheated by philosophy and empty deceit (Col 2:8)
• “Special Notes” and “Scripture” follow associated verses.
• NIV Bible is used throughout unless noted otherwise.

Colossians 2:8 (NIV)

See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces{a] of this world rather than on Christ.


We live in a marvelous universe. Wherever we look―whether we look upon ourselves or beyond ourselves―we see a thousand things that invite our study and examination. The more thoroughly we study and examine them, the more thoroughly we are convinced that there is an eternal Creator behind all creation. These things did not “just happen.”

In the glorious lights of the heavens above us, we can see the shadow of God’s divine countenance. When we look around us and see God’s goodness to His creatures, we recognize immediately God’s manifold goodness. No wonder the psalmist thundered out, “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God!”

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them” (Psalm 19:1-3).

To the Romans, Paul said, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse” (Romans 1:18-20).

Perfect harmony can be found between God and man if man will rely fully and entirely upon the truth of God. God created man after such a fashion that no man can be happy; no man can be at peace nor enjoy life fully until he is in the right relationship with His Creator―Almighty God.

To accept wrong belief and gross error in the light of clear Scripture is certainly against reason. To read the account of creation in the Word of God, to read of the origin of man and the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross for remission of sin―and then to manufacture one’s own beliefs about these clearly stated facts is certainly unreasonable: but to read the Word of God with an open mind and an open heart and then say, “I do not believe it,” is not only unreasonable―it also is against nature! God created man so that it is natural for him to feel his need of one greater than himself. Regardless of where we go on this earth, we will find that men worship some kind of god―even in heathen lands where they have never heard the gospel and know nothing of the truth.


(2:8) See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces{a] of this world rather than on Christ.

See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy. Paul now issues a stern warning against the heretics (false teachers). “See to it,” he says, “that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy.” The apostle is providing us with a vivid picture of the false teachers that lived along-side the true followers of Jesus Christ. These heretics are akin to men-stealers (kidnappers) and slave traders carrying away the people of a conquered nation. The false teachers did not go out and win the lost, no more than the cultists do today. They “kidnapped” converts from churches! To Paul, it was amazing as well as a tragic thing that men who had been liberated (Colossians 1:12-14), could contemplate submitting themselves to a new and disastrous slavery.

How is it possible for false teachers to capture people? The answer is simple: These “captives” are ignorant of the Word of God.” They become fascinated by the Philosophy and empty delusion of the false teachers. (This is not to say that all philosophy is wrong, because there is a Christian philosophy of life. The word simply means “to love wisdom.”) When a person does not know the doctrines of the Christian faith, he can easily be captured by false religions.

Paul, of course, is not expressing his resentment of philosophy in general; but rather, his resentment of that false piety masquerading as philosophy which amounted to the Colossian heresy. He describes it as being “hollow and deceptive philosophy” and “according to human tradition” that is passed along by hearsay from one man to another, and “the elemental spiritual forces{a] of this world.”

Someone who heard the apostle speak that day might want to know “why this philosophy of the false teachers is hollow and deceptive?” We can find several reasons for that in this verse: To begin with, it is the tradition of men and not the truth of God’s Word. The word tradition means “that which is handed down”; and there is a true Christian tradition (1 Cor. 15:3{b]; 2 Thess. 2:15{c]; 3:6; 2 Tim. 2:2). The important thing about any teaching is its origin: Did it come from God or from man? The religious leaders in our Lord’s day had their traditions and were very zealous to obey them and protect them (Matthew 15:1-20). Even the Apostle Paul, before he met the Lord, was “exceedingly zealous of the traditions” (Galatians 1:14{d]).

The false teachers’ traditions were “hollow and deceptive” for another reason: they involved “the rudiments of the world.” The Greek word translated rudiments basically means “one of a row or series.” It had several meanings attached to it: (1) the elementary sounds or letters, the ABCs; (2) the basic elements of the universe, as 2 Peter 3:10-12; (3) the basic elements of knowledge, the ABCs of some system, as in Hebrews 5:12. But in ancient Greece, this word also meant “the elemental spirits of the universe, the angels that influenced the heavenly bodies.” It was one of the words in the vocabulary of the religious astrology of that day.

If a new Christian from a distant mission field were to visit many of our churches, he would probably be astonished at the ideas and practices we have that cannot be supported by God’s Word. Our man-made practices are usually more important to us than the God-given doctrines of the Scriptures! While it is not wrong to have traditions that remind us of our Godly heritage, we must be careful not to make these traditions equal to the Word of God.

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