Colossians 2:8—Does this verse mean Christians should not study philosophy?
Problem: Paul warned here, “Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit.” Does this mean that Christians should not study philosophy? If so, then why did God give us a mind and command us to think (Matt. 22:37) and reason (1 Peter 3:15)?
Solution: First of all, the Bible is no more against philosophy than it is against religion. It is not against philosophy, but against vain philosophy, which Paul calls “empty deceit” (v. 8). Likewise, the Bible is not opposed to religion, but only against vain religion (cf. James 1:26–27).
Further, Paul is not speaking about philosophy in general, but about a particular philosophy, usually understood as an early form of Gnosticism. This is indicated by his use of the definite article (in Greek), which should be translated “the philosophy” or “this philosophy.” So Paul was referring to this particular gnostic-like philosophy that had invaded the church in Colosse and involved legalism, mysticism, and asceticism (cf. Col. 2) and not to all philosophy.
What is more, Paul himself was well trained in the philosophies of his day, even quoting them from time to time (cf. Acts 17:28; Titus 1:12). Paul successfully “reasoned” with the philosophers on Mars Hill, even winning some to Christ (Acts 17:17, 34). Elsewhere he said a bishop should be able “to exhort and convict those who contradict” (Titus 1:9) and that he was “appointed for defense of the Gospel” (Phil. 1:17). Peter exhorted believers to “always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15). Indeed, Jesus said the great command is to love the Lord “with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37).
Finally, God places no premium on ignorance. In fact, He knows we cannot “beware of philosophy” unless we are aware of it. No one would go to a doctor who did not study sickness. But, herein lies the danger. The Christian should approach the false philosophies of the world the way a medical researcher approaches the AIDS virus. The scientist should study them objectively and carefully to find out what is wrong with them, but not subjectively and personally so that he or she catches the “disease.”
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This excerpt is from When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992). © 2014 Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Click here to purchase this book.