Does Paul Condemn Philosophy?
by Brian Chilton
Philosophy is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as “the study of ideas about knowledge, truth, the nature and meaning of life… a discipline comprising as its core logic, aesthetics, ethics, metaphysics, and epistemology” (Merriam-Webster). Some have taken a negative outlook on philosophy. It has been noted that even some secular universities are dumping their classic philosophy programs (see the show “Why are Secular Universities Closing Philosophical Programs?” on Redeeming Truth Radio found here). However, one’s claim that “philosophy is meaningless” is in itself a philosophical claim. But what about Christians? Some Christians have criticized the use of philosophy due to Paul’s statement against philosophy in Colossians 2:8. Yet, Christianity teaches is knowledgeable, is based on truth, defines the nature and meaning of life, holds great logic, teaches aesthetics, ethics, metaphysics, and epistemology. Paul himself gives lessons in most of the previously mentioned systems. So, does Paul refute himself? Or is there a problem with the way many interpret Colossians 2:8? So, the question must be asked: does Paul really criticize the use of philosophy? In this article, Paul’s statement in Colossians 2:8 will be exegetically examined and in its proper context and the article will answer whether Paul really condemns philosophy after all.
Paul writes, “Don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers of this world, rather than from Christ” (Colossians 2:8). Already from the text, philosophy in and of itself is not the problem. To understand the teaching, one must examine the entire context. Paul was dealing with some problems in the church of Colossae.
Problem: Lack of Focus on Truth
Back in Colossians 1:28-29, Paul writes that his goal in the letter was to “tell others about Christ, warning everyone with all the wisdom God has given us” (Colossians 1:28). Paul was himself presenting a philosophy to the people of Colossae. Paul was proclaiming the truth of Christ and the truth (or philosophy) that comes pertaining to the person and work of Jesus Christ. That is why, Paul writes, that he “work(s) and struggle(s) so hard, depending on Christ’s mighty power that works within me” (Colossians 1:29). Therefore, Paul points the Colossians back to the historical Jesus of history and reminds them of His reality and the truth that is based upon Christ.
Problem: False Teachers
Paul’s main issue was to strengthen believers so that they would know the truth and, therefore, would not be taken by falsehood. Paul was using apologetics to show them the truth. Paul reminded them of what they knew to be true and warned them against individuals who would try to “deceive” them by using “well-crafted arguments” (Colossians 2:4). Here is the point: Paul was warning the Christians of Colossae not to be fooled and taken away by clever arguments and falsehoods. But in order to do so, they must “continue to follow him” (Colossians 2:6) and must “Let your roots grow down into him, and let you lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness” (Colossians 2:6-7). Again, they must be grounded in what is real. They must be grounded in reality. Therefore, they must be grounded in truth.
Putting it All Together
When one understands the problem of false teachers and that many Christians were being led away by falsehood, one can clearly find that Paul does NOT condemn philosophy. Paul condemns bad philosophy. There are several principles that can be extracted from this passage of Scripture, but we’ll focus on just three…