“Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.”
Paul turns his guns of polemic assault against a certain kind of philosophy, a philosophy that carries religious assumptions.
Does the negative reference to philosophy here condemn all philosophy? Does the Bible disparage the study of Plato, Socrates, Descartes, Spinoza, or Kant? The Bible nowhere condemns philosophy as such.
Paul uses “philosophy” here in the context of human viewpoint in religion. Philosophy here is a system of religion. The term here berates religious philosophy. The Bible challenges the pretensions of philosophy to address issues beyond the finite. Philosophy is limited to the faculty of the human mind. This is not a polemic against all philosophy but against the philosophy that seeks to undermine Christianity. A philosophy that seeks to enable us to understand the world and the principles underlying it is a noble exercise. The story of philosophy is a story of a pendulum whereby one philosophy contradicts another in perpetuity. It is a tale of discarded hypotheses. What philosophy cannot define, the Word of God makes clear. Apart from the Bible, no philosopher today knows more about ultimate reality than the Greek philosophers before Christ.
This is the only occurrence of the word “philosophy” in the New Testament. It is noteworthy that there is only one occurrence in the New Testament since the Greeks viewed this as their highest pursuit. Plato used this word for the love of knowledge and wisdom. Greek thought used philosophy for the systematic treatment of a subject, investigation into life. In the New Testament, it came to mean human wisdom in contrast to revealed truth (the Bible).
“Philosophy” is the battlefield for the turf of the Christian life. Philosophy pursues reality. Our philosophy of life determines our course of living. If we are off here, we are off everywhere. What we believe is our base of operation for our lives.
From what philosophy are you operating, the Devil’s, or God’s? The Devil’s philosophy is humanism, postmodernism, subjectivism, rationalism, empiricism, naturalism, false religions, etc. The military handbook for God’s war on Satan is the Word of God. The Christian soldier must be well trained, or he/she will become a casualty of war. We do not send people to war with two days of training! We must understand the spiritual equivalent to field operations, air support, and how to retreat, for example. If we do not understand God’s system of war, we will suffer defeat in the spiritual war (Eph. 6:11-17). Human techniques will not sustain us in a war of spiritual forces. If we do not go with God’s system of operations, Satan will take us captive in the spiritual war. Either we use God’s system or our own (or Satan’s).
Two systems of Gnostic philosophy challenged the Colossian Christians:
1) Stoicism: Stoicism seeks an indifferent attitude. No matter what situation a person may face, he detaches himself from it, whether it is prosperity or poverty. He holds all desire in check. He is not elevated by good fortune or cast down by misfortune. Circumstances are irrelevant to this person. The person is greater than the situation.
2) Epicureanism: There is no certainty in truth. Life is capricious. There is no purpose. Therefore, it is useless to deny self. Their philosophy was, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”
All philosophies of the world operate on assumptions (presuppositions, belief systems).
A philosophy that presupposes a religious position is a false philosophy. Most philosophers concede that they cannot find ultimate reality. All philosophies make assumptions about how to find reality. These assumptions are belief systems.
Christianity is no more a belief system than philosophy itself (rationalism) or even science (empiricism). Science operates with the assumption that all reality must root in the physical world. However, if there is something beyond the physical (metaphysical), then that assumption falls to the ground as an incomplete system. Christianity operates on a belief system (presupposition). That premise is God has spoken to us in a revelation (the Bible). Since it is impossible to understand all reality because of the finite human mind, we cannot find truth by finite means. We must find truth by infinite means–the Word of God.
The Christian is isolated on the battlefield of life. We are on our own. No one else can live the Christian life for us. Our pastor cannot live that life for us. Our closest friends cannot do it. It is up to us. The believer must draw resources from the Word of God he has placed into his mind to counteract assaults upon his faith.