Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world…
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.
Parallel VersesKJV: Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.