"See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ." (Col 2:8)
The word “philosophy” comes from the Greek word “philosophia,” meaning “philosophy,” and referring specifically here to “Jewish sophistry” (Strongs).
The words “empty deception” come from the Greek words “kenos” meaning “vain or empty” and “apate” meaning “delusion: - deceit (-ful, -fulness), deceivableness (-ving).” (Strongs).
Both the philosophy and empty deceit he warned against are according to the tradition of men and the elementary principles of the world.
Tradition of Men
The expression “tradition of men” comes from the Greek words “paradosis” and “anthropos.” The word “paradosis” means “a precept; specifically the Jewish traditionary law: - ordinance, tradition.”(Strongs). And “anthropos” simply means “man” or “human being.” (Strongs). Therefore the expression “the tradition of men” refers to those precepts, ordinances, and traditions that are taught by men, including those that come from Jewish law.
One obvious example of such traditions of men that Paul was warning against was that of those who taught Gentile Christians they must be circumcised according to the Law in order to be saved. Such teachers were endeavoring to keep up the law of Moses in conjunction with the gospel of Christ. But there are many other examples. These days, men teach the self-help gospel, which is all about how you can be a more successful businessman, how to be better at whatever you do. They teach as if success and prosperity in this life are the main purpose of the gospel. And there are other examples. Whenever men require that Gentile Christians keep up Jewish customs, such as feasts, ceremonies, rites, or other traditional practices, these are also traditions of men.
The Elementary Principles of the World
The philosophy and empty deceit Paul warned us to guard against is also according to the elementary principles of the world. The term “elementary principles” comes from the Greek word “stoicheion” meaning “element, principle, or rudiment.” (Strongs). The philosophy and empty deceit are deadly, because that are after the manner of worldly principles or rudimentary concepts of this world.
Paul used this same Greek word again in Col 2:20, when he said, “If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, ‘Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!’ (which all refer to things destined to perish with use)--in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence.” (Col 2:20-23)
Therefore, Paul was specifically warning against submitting to decrees such as “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!” These are basic principles after the manner of the commandments and teachings of men. For example, if anyone tells you that you must not taste a certain food, because it is unclean, that is a lie, since Jesus declared all foods clean. Beware of such people. Or for example, the way Catholic priests wear a veil when elevating the monstrance (gold receptacle for displaying the communion host) and hold the veil in such a manner that their hands do not touch the monstrance. Such teachings might have the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but they don’t make you holy. Those things are of no value against fleshly indulgence.
Jesus taught against teaching and keeping the traditions of men. He said: "’Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men.’ He was also saying to them, ‘You are experts at setting aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition. For Moses said, “Honor your father and your mother”; and, “He who speaks evil of father or mother, is to be put to death”; but you say, “If a man says to his father or his mother, whatever I have that would help you is Corban (that is to say, given to God),” you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or his mother; thus invalidating the word of God by your tradition which you have handed down; and you do many things such as that.’" (Mar 7:8-13)
God commands us to put to death the flesh, and war against fleshly indulgence like anger, lust, gluttony, sexual immorality, and hatred. But these basic principles after the manner of the commandments and teachings of men have no value in this matter. In fact, they contradict and conflict with the commandments of God.
Reality in Christ
On the other hand, the commandments of God that teach us what sin is and warn us against it are definitely valid and helpful to us. Likewise, the commandments of God that teach us what kind of character and lifestyle God requires of His holy people are still valid and helpful to us. So are the Scriptures that teach us the will of God. These are found throughout the Bible, and are profitable for children of God, not only the ones found in the New Testament, but also in the Old Testament.
Here are some examples: God hates cross-dressing (Dt 22:5). God hates divorce (Mal 2:16). God requires us to tithe (Mal 3:10). God hates idolatry (Ex 20:4). God hates jewelry (Ex 33:3-6). You must not get tattoos (Lev 19:28). Homosexuality and bestiality are abominations to God (Lev 18:22-23; 20:13,15). God still expects us to keep His Sabbath day holy (Ex 20:8). Obedience is better than sacrifice (1 Sam 15:22). You must not rely on your own understanding (Pr 3:5). It is good to give thanks to the Lord and praise His name (Ps 92:1). And there are many more like this. Notice that none of these are basic principles after the manner of the commandments and teachings of men. Neither are they rudiments of the world. They are commandments of God, not empty deception or philosophy.
Paul said that the philosophy and empty deceit he warned against are "not according to Christ" (Col 2:8). That is key! "For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form," (Col 2:9). All the fullness of the Godhead dwells in bodily form in the Lord Jesus. We are complete in Him. We are circumcised in Him. We are whole in Him. Reality is found in Him (Col 2:17). While priests, mediators, the tabernacle, the temple, its furnishings, sacrifices and rituals were all shadows of things to come, He is the actual substance of those shadows. He is our High Priest, He is our Mediator, He is our dwelling place and He dwells in us, He is our perfect sacrifice, the sinless Lamb of God. Life is found in Him! Live for Him.
The highest purpose of the Bible is to reveal the character of God. And His will remains the same throughout the ages. It is not limited to one covenant or dispensation. So find out what pleases the Lord and do it (Eph 5:10). Let’s get back to obeying the whole Bible and avoid man-made traditions.
Finally, in the many divine revelations of heaven and hell that I have posted on Eternal Destinations, the message in these revelations typically refers to the ways of God that are found throughout the Bible. Let's keep the ways of God according to Scripture. Let us prepare in holiness for the return of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is coming right away! The call is going out today, "Sinner, come home!" Repent and believe the gospel, for the Kingdom of God is near.
Attribution notice: Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Greek word definitions from Strong's Concordance.
Author's note: If you enjoyed this article, I recommend, Restored Truth, The Cost of Discipleship, Sins That Will Keep You From Heaven, Pope Frances Supports Homosexuality, Remember the Eternal Law of God, Is Tithing Required?, Godly Attire and Adornment -- Seven Divine Revelations, Carrying Your Cross or Cross Dressing?, The Straight and Narrow Path, Striving to Enter the Kingdom of God, The Top Ten Things Jesus Taught, Separation from the World, The Rise of Antichrists, The Self-Help Gospel, What's Wrong with the Prosperity Gospel, and Ask for the Ancient Paths. You may access my complete blog directory at "Writing for the Master."
Do You Want to Know Him?
If you want to know Jesus personally, you can. It all begins when you repent and believe in Jesus. Do you know what God's Word, the Bible says?
“Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’” (Mar 1:14b-15). He preached that we must repent and believe.
Please see my explanation of this in my post called "Do You Want to Know Jesus?"
Len Lacroix is the founder of Doulos Missions International. He was based in Eastern Europe for four years, making disciples, as well as helping leaders to be more effective at making disciples who multiply, developing leaders who multiply, with the ultimate goal of planting churches that multiply. His ministry is now based in the United States with the same goal of helping fulfill the Great Commission. www.dmiworld.org.