Colossians 2:8 :- 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.

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    Many of the Christian heresies developed as a result of trying to merge Christianity with Greek and other non-Christian philosophies.
    – Perry Webb
    Jun 6, 2020 at 17:41
  • @Perry, is there anything distinctly known as Christian-philosophies and non-Christian philosophies? Jun 6, 2020 at 18:48
  • An example is 1 Cor. 15 where Paul battled the Greek philosophy that there wasn't a bodily resurrection.
    – Perry Webb
    Jun 7, 2020 at 0:00
  • Everyone has a philosophy. It can be good or bad depending on what one bases one's beliefs.
    – Perry Webb
    Jun 7, 2020 at 0:07
  • See sophistry.
    – Lucian
    Jun 7, 2020 at 3:38

2 Answers 2


First, some brief background.

The ancient Greco-Roman philosophy was dominated by towering figures such as Plato, Aristotle, Epicurious, Epimenides, Zeno, and others. They founded several philosophical schools like the Peripatetic school, Cynicism, Stoicism, Epicureanism, metaphysics, Atomism and Monism, etc. All these were swirling around the intellectual atmosphere in major centres such as Athens, Rome, Alexandra and others.

Most of these philosophies made quite definite statements about anthropology (the nature of man), theology (the nature of God) and cosmology (the order of the world); all were polytheistic. A central feature of many (not all) was "eudaimonia", often called the "well lived life" or "the blessed life" and frequently asserted the fundamental goodness of mankind.

Toward the end of the first century there arose numerous attempts at Christian syncretism (trying to merge Greek philosophy with Christianity) which famously resulted in several notorious heresies:

  • Gnosticism which said that only spiritual things are good and the body is evil. This resulted in the belief that Jesus did not die because he did not have a real human body, or perhaps only appeared to have one, or perhaps borrowed one, etc. This philosophy produced the Nag Hammadi trove of documents. One branch of Gnosticism is Valentinianism.
  • Marcionism: the God of Jesus was a different God from that in the OT.
  • Montanism had similarities to some forms of Gnosticism by asserting that God is unknowable except through special (and personal) revelations from the Holy Spirit
  • Docetism also had similarities to some types of Gnosticism by asserting that Jesus was pure spirit and His body was an allusion. Thus Jesus' death was also an allusion.

There are many more. These ideas produced some important documents such as the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Peter, the Gospel of Barnabas, and many more. These are all part of the NT pseudepigrapha.

Paul's Attitude to Philosophy

Paul, judging by his quotes from Greek philosophers (eg, Acts 17:27, 28), was clearly aware of their teaching, and occasionally used this in his preaching. However, his attitude to their teachings is quite clear:

  • 1 Cor 1:25, "For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom." In v23 he makes clear that Christianity has no appeal to the people generally because they call it "foolishness".
  • 1 Cor 1:30, "It is because of Him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God: our righteousness, holiness, and redemption." That is Paul regarded divine wisdom of much greater value that human wisdom.
  • It was presumably his rather poor results in Athens, meeting the Greek thinkers on the Areopagus (Acts 17:32-34) that he left for Corinth (Acts 18:1) with a new approach described in 1 Cor 2:1, 2, "When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified."
  • Col 2:8, "See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, which are based on human tradition and the spiritual forces of the world rather than on Christ." See also Rom 1:18-22.

Philosophy in its pure form is supposed to be objective in its pursuit for truth. As such it is not against the Bible or anything. It places a premium on pure logic. Some philosophers definitely and some specific philosophies (teachings) could contradict the Bible but abstract philosophy itself cannot.

Overall, I'm rather positive about what happened in Acts 17 on both sides. The Greeks were most advanced in philosophy. Yet they didn't dismiss Paul's preaching on Jesus at the market (Agora). Furthermore, they took him to the famous Mars' Hill (Areopagas) to continue to engage Paul more exclusively and seriously.

The Greek philosophers, by nature, were interested in this new idea from Paul. They were respectful.

Acts 17:19 they said to him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20 You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we would like to know what they mean.” 21(All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.)

Paul even pointed out their ignorance in worshiping idols.

Acts 17:30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.

Still, at the end of the chapter:

Acts 17:32 When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.” 33 At that, Paul left the Council. 34 Some of the people became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others.

Overall, it was a positive encounter with some positive results.

In Colossians 2:8, Paul targets believers then and now: Don't be misled by human philosophies that contradict Christ as mentioned by Perry in the comment:

Many of the Christian heresies developed as a result of trying to merge Christianity with Greek and other non-Christian philosophies

Dottard is right in his answer in that the encounter left some bitter taste in Paul's mouth concerning the vain glories of human philosophies.

When Paul refers to philosophy is he sharing his experience from Acts 17:18?
Ans: Probably somewhat due to the bitter aftertaste.

But make no mistake about it: Paul was an intellectual powerhouse. He was not avoiding philosophies; he just didn't think there was much point to it compared with knowing Christ and the Cross.

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