Colossians 2:8

Take heed lest there shall be any one that maketh spoil of you through his philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. Mark -

I. THE NATURE OF THE PHILOSOPHY HERE CONDEMNED. It is philosophy inseparably connected with "vain deceit." There is a philosophy which is highly serviceable to religion, as it is the noblest exercise of our rational faculties; but there is a philosophy prejudicial to religion, because it sets up the wisdom of man in opposition to the wisdom of God.

1. The apostle refers to the Judaeo. Gnostics who regarded Christianity mainly as a philosophy - that is, as a search after speculative truth, and not as a revelation of Christ and a life of faith and love in him. The apostle claims for the gospel that it is thus "the wisdom of God."

2. He refers to the speculative result of such a philosophy. It tends to "vain deceit;" it is hollow, sophistical, disappointing, misleading. It is the "science falsely so called" which "puffs up" and cannot edify. It always tends to undermine man's faith in the Word of God.

II. THE ORIGIN OF THIS PHILOSOPHY. "After the tradition of men." It had its source in mere human speculation, and could not appeal to inspired books. Our Lord condemned the Pharisaic attachment to traditions (Matthew 15:2, 3, 6; Mark 7:8, 9). This later mystical tendency was strong in its traditions, which it reserved for the exclusive use of the initiated.

III. THE SUBJECT MATTER OF THIS PHILOSOPHY. "After the rudiments of the world." This seems to point to ritualistic observances worthy only of children, but not adapted to grown men. They belonged "to the world" - to the sphere of external and visible things. These rudiments were "beggarly elements," done away in Christ.


1. It had not Christ for its Author; for it followed "the tradition of men."

2. It had not Christ for its Subject; for it displaced him to make way for ritualistic ordinances and angelic mediators. No philosophy is worthy of the name that cannot find a place for him who is the highest Wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:30).

V. THE DANGERS OF THIS PHILOSOPHY. "Take heed lest there shall be any one that maketh spoil of you." It would have an enslaving effect, tartly by its ritualistic drudgeries and partly by its false teaching. There are worse losses than the loss of property or even children. This false philosophy would involve:

1. The loss of Christian liberty. (Galatians 5:1.)

2. The loss of much of the good seed sown in Christian hearts. (Matthew 13:19.)

3. The loss of what Christians had wrought. (2 John 10.)

4. The loss of first love. (Revelation 2:1.)

5. The loss of the joys of salvation. (Psalm 51:12.) - T.C.

Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit.
See to it, says Paul, lest there be some one — I do not say more, you can guess my meaning — to carry you off as his spoil (not take spoil from you). The expression grasps powerfully the essence of the proselytizing spirit; the proselytizing spoil is the person proselytized. He aims at doing this through that which is at once in its arrogant claims a high philosophy, and in its miserable reality an empty deceit; a philosophy, artful, moulded in accordance with an esoteric system, pervaded by five fatal deficiencies.

I. It is merely TRADITIONAL, and, therefore, of precarious truth.

II. It is HUMAN, and, therefore, deficient in authority.

III. It is ELEMENTARY, belonging to the "outworn creed," to the rudiments of religion, and, therefore, unfitted for Christian manhood.

IV. It is MATERIAL, not connected with the soul's true home and centre, but with the palpable and external, and is, therefore, deficient in spirituality.

V. And being all this, assuredly, and as matter of fact, it is NOT AFTER CHRIST.

(Bp. Alexander.)The false teachers aimed at making the Colossians their prey, carrying them off body and soul. They had been rescued from the bondage of darkness; they had been transferred to the kingdom of light; they had been settled there as free citizens (Colossians 1:12, 13); and now there was a danger that they should fall into a state worse than their former slavery, that they should be carried off as so much booty (Comp. 2 Timothy 3:6).

(Bp. Lightfoot.)

Philosophy, taken in its simplest acceptation, is only a higher degree of good sense, which, not pretending to know all things, desires to have a thorough knowledge of those objects, the knowledge of which has been placed within our reach. It sets no value on names and appearances; prejudice is not the basis of any of its judgments; neither number nor time has the effect of transforming error into truth. It believes not, denies not, affirms not, at hazard, or on slight grounds. Not trusting to a first look, it searches for differences under resemblances, and resemblances under differences; alternately uniting what the vulgar separate, and separating what they unite. While all facts are isolated to the inattentive eye, they are connected and linked together by the eye of philosophy, which does what it can to trace the chain which unites them. In every case fixing on what is essential, and throwing aside what is merely accidental, it comes at last to recognize a common nature, a common principle, a common origin, in objects which seemed at first to have nothing in common. It thus reduces the innumerable facts of the moral and physical world to a small number of ideas, and these to a smaller number still, always gravitating towards the unity which it will never reach, but to which a mysterious power constrains it always to aspire. To say all in one word, philosophy differs from vulgar reason, in applying itself to penetrate from the exterior of things or their envelope, to their principle, or at least to the idea which explains the greatest number of possible facts, and before which it is constrained to stop as if out of breath. When shall it stop? What is its legitimate sphere? This question is of more importance than any other. Philosophy does not gain more honour by extending its search, than by recognizing its limits. It reigns in this apparent dethronement. It is its glory to know how to restrict itself, just as in the domain of morality it is the glory of the will to stop in proper time and make an effort upon itself. But in order to know what it is able and what unable to do, it takes account of its processes and instruments, compares its means with its end, and not being able to place all its greatness in knowledge finds part of it in confessing its ignorance, and so to speak, in knowing certainly that it does not know. St. Paul did not repudiate this philosophy, and could have no intention to repudiate it. He knew as well as we, that in matters of religion, and even of revealed religion, there may be either a good or a bad philosophy, but that at all events there is philosophy. We cannot condemn philosophy without condemning ourselves to silence on the subject of religion which presupposes it, and guides it, and would create it if it did not previously exist. Accordingly St. Paul has not condemned it; and when he warns his disciples against a science "falsely so called," his words imply the existence of a science that is true. Now philosophy is a part of science, or rather is itself the science of science. Nor, moreover, could he have condemned it, without condemning himself who has made such happy and frequent use of it. It were vain to deny that the writings of St. Paul and of St. John are full of the highest philosophy. Let us be understood. We do not say full of sublime truth, but of that philosophy which we have endeavoured to characterize, which rises from appearances to reality, from accident to essence, from the particular to the general, from variable facts to immutable principles.

(A. Vinet, D. D.)

The apostle does not condemn "philosophy" absolutely: the philosophy and vain deceit of this passage corresponds to what he says in 1 Timothy 6:20. But though it is not condemned it is disparaged by the connection in which it is placed. The term was doubtless used by the false teachers to describe their system. Though essentially Greek as a name and an idea it had found its way into Jewish circles. Philo used it in speaking of the Hebrew religion and Mosaic law, and also of Essenism, which was probably the progenitor of the Colossian heresy. So, too, Josephus speaks of three Jewish sects as philosophies. It should be remembered also, that in this later age, owing to Roman influence, the term was used to describe practical not less than speculative systems, so that it would cover the ascetic life as well as the mystic theosophy of the Colossian heretics. Hence the apostle is here flinging back at these false teachers a favourite term of their own — "their vaunted philosophy, which is hollow and misleading." The word, indeed, could claim a truly noble origin; for it is said to have arisen out of the humility of who called himself "a lover of wisdom." In such a sense the term would entirely accord with the spirit and teaching of St. Paul; for it bore testimony to the insufficiency of the human intellect and the need of a revelation. But in his age it had come to be associated generally with the idea of subtle dialectics and profitless speculation; while in this particular instance it was combined with a mystic cosmogony and angelology which contributed a fresh element of danger. As contrasted with the power and fulness and certainty of revelation, all such philosophy was foolishness (1 Corinthians 1:20). It is worth observing that this word, which to the Greeks denoted the highest effort of the intellect, occurs here alone in St. Paul, just as he uses "virtue," which was their term to express the highest moral excellence, in a single passage only (Philippians 4:8). The reason is much the same in both cases. The gospel had deposed the terms as inadequate to the higher standard, whether of knowledge or of practice, which it had introduced. The attitude of the fathers towards philosophy while it was a living thing was various. Clement, who was followed in the main by the earlier Alexandrines, regards Greek philosophy not only as a preliminary training for the gospel, but even as in some sense a covenant given by God to the Greeks. Others, who were the great majority, and of whom may be taken as an extreme type, set their forces directly against it, seeing in it only the parent of all heretical teaching. St. Paul's speech at Athens, on the only occasion when he is known to have been brought into direct personal contact with Greek philosophers (Acts 17:18), shows that his sympathies would have been at least as much with Clement's representations as with Tertullian's.

(Bp. Lightfoot.)

I. TRUE PHILOSOPHY IS NOT CONDEMNED BY ST. PAUL. We cannot under stand this concerning any branch or the whole body, lest God be called into judgment. For philosophy is the offspring of right reason; and this light of reason is infused into the mind by God. We, therefore, judge not the discipline of the Platenists, etc., to be true philosophy, but the principles of every one which agree with truth and morals. The errors of theologians do not pertain to theology, nor do those of philosophers and philosophy. These we are free to condemn, but not truth discovered by natural reason.

II. WHAT KIND OF PHILOSOPHY IS EXCLUDED BY THE APOSTLE. That which is vain and deceitful, viz., the product of reason carried beyond its bounds. Philosophy is to be listened to when it pronounces about things subject to itself, but when it would determine concerning the worship of God and salvation, etc., which are beyond the grasp of reason and depend wholly on revelation, it brings nothing solid or true. St. Paul alleges the cause of this in 1 Corinthians 2:14. As animals can judge very well concerning things which relate to sense, yet cannot judge of human affairs, neither can men pronounce by natural light respecting heavenly doctrine, although they may determine by it what is good and right in human concerns. This was the error of the false teachers who, in speculating about the method of approach to God and of redemption, went beyond the declarations which God had made on these matters.


1. Its abuse.(1) When it attempts to deduce the fundamentals of religion from its own principles. These principles may be true, but there cannot be elicited from them what is to be determined respecting the Trinity, e.g., which is to be deduced from higher principles, viz., the will of God revealed in His Word.(2) When it opposes its own principles which are true in the order of nature to theological principles which are above the order of nature. Thus it is true that out of nothing, nothing can be made; but philosophers err when they think they can hence conclude against creation which the Scriptures teach as done not by virtue of natural causes, but by the power of God.(3) When it obtrudes for legitimate conclusions its errors drawn sometimes by false consequences from true premises.

2. Its uses.(1) For the clear understanding of many passages of Scripture. Although the principles of our religion are derived from God, yet there are many examples and illustrations which cannot be understood without the aid of human literature. Its references to the heavenly bodies require the knowledge of astronomy; to animals, of natural history, etc.(2) For discriminating between and treating religious controversies; for appreciating the coherence and mutual establishment of heavenly doctrine, and for determining what is consistent and inconsistent with them. Our faith ascends above reason, but not irrationally. I believe the resurrection, because reason proves the doctrine to be delivered in the Bible. I do not believe in purgatory because reason can collect it from no part of Scripture according to the rules of sound logic. This use of reason in sacred things God approves and requires (Ephesians 5:17; Ephesians 4:14; 1 Thessalonians 5:21; Acts 17:11).(3) For the instruction of those who have not yet embraced Christ, and for resistance if they should oppose religion. He who has lived in darkness is not to be drawn directly into the sunlight lest he should be overpowered rather than enlightened; so they, who have been educated in paganism are first to be awakened by reasons drawn from natural light (Acts 17:24). And then it is to be employed as a rampart and weapon against opponents. Julian the apostate said "We are caught by our own wings" when he saw the philosophers routed by the Christians through the advantages of philosophy.(4) For Christian education, since the mind is prepared and rendered more acute by philosophical studies, and our discourses on sacred things are much enriched by the good sayings of philosophers.(5) For the delight of hearers. As Clemens says, "The truth which is sought from Scripture is as necessary to the life as bread; but that which is sought from other instruction is as sauce And sweetmeats."

(Bp. Davenant.)


1. The good thing — "philosophy." Etymologically it means love of wisdom, but in modern use it stands for a system of knowledge. When applied to any particular department of knowledge, it stands for the collection of general laws or principles under which all the subordinate phenomena of facts relating to that subject are comprehended. It is a good thing because —(1) Christ's spirit is good. Christ's spirit is a love of truth, a desire to find out the first principles or reason of things; a desire to penetrate all phenomena and to enter in and study that invisible region where all the hidden forces of the universe are at work.(2) Its process is good — observation, comparison, generalization. Such a process is soul-quickening, invigorating, and ennobling.(3) Its results are good. All the arts that bless and adorn the civilized world are but ideas reached by philosophy.

2. The counterfeit. There is a false philosophy, a miserable imitation of the true.(1) It is deceptive, "vain deceit." It is mere fiction, guesses, castles in the air. Its light, such as it is, is a mere ignis fatuus rising out of the muddy marshes of a vain imagination.(2) It is ill founded "after the tradition," etc. It has its origin in mere human guesses, and the rough undigested elements of a mere worldly knowledge. It is built on crudities.(3) It is anti-Christian — "not after Christ." Not after the subject, style, and spirit of His teaching.

II. THE COUNTERFEIT OF A GOOD THING IS DANGEROUS. What thousands in all ages have been made a prey of by counterfeit philosophy! They have been plundered and borne away into confusion and ruin by wrong ideas of God, the universe, and man and his nature, obligations, and destiny. "Beware" of it.

1. It has many forms. It appears —

(1)In natural sciences.

(2)In ontological theories.

(3)In theological creeds.

(4)In ethical enactments.

2. It has fascinating aspects. It often comes in the stateliness of the scholar, in the force of the reasoner, in the grandeur of the rhetorician, in the sublimity of the poet.

3. It works insidiously. It instils its errors quietly; and silently as the laws of nature they often work out their own ends.

(D. Thomas, D. D.)

It is known —


II. BY ITS PURELY HUMAN ORIGIN. "After the tradition of men."

1. The human mind is limited.

2. All human knowledge is imperfect. "If any man think that he knoweth anything, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know."

III. BY ITS UNDUE EXALTATION OF ELEMENTARY PRINCIPLES. "After the rudiments of the world." A true philosophy, while starting necessarily with elementary principles, conducts to increasing knowledge and spiritual exaltation and liberty. A false philosophy fetters the mind by exaggerating the importance of first principles and insisting on their eternal obligation.

IV. BY ITS CHRISTLESSNESS. "And not after Christ."

V. BY ITS DESTRUCTIVE INFLUENCE. "Spoil you" — not strip off, but carry away as spoil (Genesis 14:12-16). Man is never so grievously despoiled as when his soul is robbed by error. "The thief cometh not," etc. (John 10:10).


1. Because it is seductive in its pretensions.

2. Because it is baneful in its effect.

(G. Barlow.)

I. THE POISON. "Take heed" implies a real, not an hypothetical danger. Paul is not crying "wolf." "Any one," i.e., somebody; as if he had said, "I name no names — it is not the persons, but the principles I fight against — but you know whom I mean." "Maketh spoil of you." He sees the converts taken prisoners, and led away with a cord round their necks, like the strings of captives on the Assyrian monuments. He had spoken in chap. Colossians 1:13 of the conqueror who had translated them; now he fears lest a robber horde, making a raid upon the peaceful colonists in their happy new homes, may sweep them again into bondage. The cord whose fatal noose will be tightened round them if they do not take care is "philosophy and vain deceit." If Paul had been writing in English he would have put philosophy in inverted commas, to show that he was quoting the heretical teachers' own name for their system. For true love of wisdom neither Paul nor Paul's Master have anything but praise. The thing spoken of here has no resemblance, except in name, to what the Greeks in their better days called philosophy, and nothing warrants the representation that Christianity is antagonistic to it.

1. "Empty deceit" describes this system. It is like a bladder full of wind. Its lofty pretension is that it is a love of wisdom, but if we look at it closely it is a fraud.

2. It is "after the traditions of men."(1) It is significant that the expression is a word of Christ's (Mark 7:8). The portentous and smothering under growth of such traditions is preserved in the Talmud, where for thousands of pages we get nothing but Rabbi So-and-so said this, but Rabbi So-and-so said that, until we feel stifled, and long for one Divine word to still all the babble. The oriental element in the heresy, on the other hand, prided itself on a hidden teaching too sacred to be entrusted to books, and was passed hem lip to lip in some close conclave. The fact that all this had no higher source than man's imaginings, seems to Paul the condemnation of the whole system. His theory is that in Christ every man has the full truth. What an absurd descent then to "turn away from Him that speaketh from heaven" to human voices and thoughts.(2) These special forms of tradition trouble no man now. But the tendency to give heed to human teachers, and to suffer them to come between us and Christ is deep in us all. There is at one extreme the man who believes in no revelation, but pays his teacher a deference as absolute as that which he regards superstition when rendered to Christ. At the other are the Christians who will not let Christ and the Scripture speak unless the Church be present at the interview, like a jailer, with a bunch of man-made creeds jingling at its belt.

3. It is "after the rudiments of the world."(1) Rudiments means the letters of the alphabet, and hence "elements, first principles," the A, B, C, of a science. They boasted of mysterious doctrines for the initiated, of which the plain truths Paul preached were but "milk for babes." Paul retorts that the true mystery is the Word he preached, and that the poverty-stricken elements were in that swelling inanity which called itself wisdom and was not. He brands it as rudiments of "the world," which is worse, as belonging to the outward and material, and not to the higher region of the spiritual, where Christian thought ought to dwell. Its use in Galatians 4:3, points to a similar meaning here. He regards it as a retrogression to childish things, and as a pitiable descent to a lower sphere.(2) The forms which were urged on the Colossians are long since antiquated, but the tendency to turn Christianity into ceremonial is running with a powerful current to-day. But enlisting the senses as allies of the spirit in worship is risky work. The theory that such aids make a ladder, by which the soul may ascend to God, is perilously apt to be confuted by experience, which finds that the soul is quite as likely to go down the ladder as up. Stained windows are lovely, and white windows are "barnlike"; but perhaps if the object is to get light these solemn purples and glowing yellows are rather in the way. A lesson for the day is Paul's principle here, that a Christianity making much of ceremonies is a retrogression.

4. Paul sums up his indictment in one damning clause — "not after Christ." He is neither its origin, substance, rule, nor standard.

II. THE ANTIDOTE (vers. 9-10).

1. These words may be a reason for the warning, "take heed for;" or they may be a reason for the exclusion of Christless teaching. Anything not after Christ is ipso facto wrong. "In Him" is placed with emphasis at the beginning, and implies "nowhere else." "Dwelleth," i.e., has its permanent abode. "All the fulness of the Godhead," i.e., the whole unbounded attributes of Deity. "Bodily" points to the incarnation, and is an advance on Colossians 1:19. So we are pointed to the glorified humanity of Christ as the abode now and for ever of all the fulness of the Divine nature which is thereby brought very near to us. This truth shivers all the dreams about angel-mediators, and brands as folly every attempt to learn God anywhere but in Him.

2. If He be the sole temple of Deity why go anywhere else to see or possess God? "In Him ye are full," which sets forth their living incorporation in Christ, and consequent participation in His fulness. Every one may enter into that union by continuous faith. All the fulness of God is in Him, that from Him it may pass to us. According to our need it will vary itself, being to each what the moment most requires — wisdom, or strength, or beauty, or patience.

3. The process of receiving all the Divine fulness is a continuous one. We can but be approximating to the possession of the infinite treasure, and since the treasure is infinite, and we can indefnitely grow in capacity of receiving God, there must be an eternal continuance of the filling, and an eternal increase of the measure of what fills us. The indwelling Christ will "enlarge the place of His habitation," as the walls stretch and the roof soars. He will fill the greater house with the light of His presence and the fragrance of His name.

4. From such thoughts Paul would have us draw the conclusion — how foolish it must be to go to any other source for the supply of our needs. Christ is "the Head of all princi pality," etc. Why then go to the ministers when we have access to the King? Why leave the fountain of living water for the broken cisterns?

(A. Maclaren, D. D.)

Astronomers tell us that the light of the sun is pure white light, but when it comes in contact with the atmosphere of our earth it becomes discoloured, simply because the medium through which it passes is impure. So it is with the light of heaven when it passes through the traditions of men.

(S. H. Leary, D. C. L.)

is not to be adulterated with the chalk of human opinions.

(S. H. Leary, D. C. L.)

Of the works of a famous alchymist of the thirteenth century, it is said that, "whoever would read his book to find out the secret would employ all his labour in vain." All the gold makers who have written upon their favourite mystery are in the like predicament, no one can comprehend what the secret is which they pretend to divulge. May we not shrewdly guess that if they had any secret to tell they would put it in intelligible language, and that their pompous and involved sentences are only a screen for their utter ignorance of the matter? When we hear preachers talking of Divine things in a style savouring more of metaphysical subtlety than of gospel plainness; when the seeking sinner cannot find out the way of salvation because of their philosophical jargon, may we not with justice suspect that the preacher does not know the gospel, and conceals his culpable ignorance behind the veil of rhetorical magniloquence? Surely if the man understood a matter so important to all his hearers as the way of salvation, he would feel constrained to tell it out in words which all might comprehend.

(C. H. Spurgeon.)

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