In yesterday’s post we looked at the prior verses (Col 2:6-7) where Paul focused on a positive depiction of believers and their faithfulness. Here, he transitions to warn against false teaching. “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. For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power.” (Col 2:8-10)
Jesus came to set captives free (Luke 4:18), not to leave people in spiritual chains. Paul personally dealt with sin seeking to make him captive (Rom 7:23), yet fought against every evil thought to make it captive to Christ (2 Cor 10:5). What could take the Colossians or any of us captive? Paul mentions “philosophy,” which he means in a very specific sense.
In this context, Paul is condemning philosophy which is based on explicitly anti-Christian principles. Earlier in the passage he warned “lest anyone should deceive you with persuasive words” (Col 2:4), referring to the kind of arguments as “deceptive”, using a Greek term which implies trickery or cheating. Critical thinking isn’t the problem, but self-deluding, worldly philosophical “tricks” are the problem (2 Tim 3:7). The false teachers of Colossae are using these kinds of attacks against Christ.
The NASB version of verse 8 says, “See to it that there is no one who takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception in accordance with human tradition, in accordance with the elementary principles of the world, rather than in accordance with Christ.” Paul refers to “empty deception”, which would include hollow rhetoric or outright lies. “Elementary principles,” in this context, is a reference to the basic assumptions we use in our thinking (Gal 4:3). If a person starts from a blatantly anti-spiritual standpoint, they are going to come to anti-spiritual conclusions. This, again, reminds us that fallen human wisdom can be at odds with Christ’s teachings.
Paul also refers to “human tradition,” reminding the reader that simply because an idea is preferred, or historical, does not make it true. The phrase in Greek is paradosin tōn anthrōpōn. This implies the laws, rules, or handed-down regulations of humanity. Paul wants the Colossians—and all believers—to focus on truth, and on Christ, not on trickery and human preference.
Looking at the next two verses requires going back to the beginning of the passage we discussed yesterday. “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving…For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power.” (Col 2:6-7, 9-10)
We can “walk in Him established in the faith” because “in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily”. Jesus was physically human while also fully divine. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:1, 14).
The “whole fullness of deity” dwells in Jesus, meaning He is both entirely man and entirely God. Paul now links that “filling” to the way Christ relates to Christian believers: “and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power” (Col 2:10). Jesus serves as the connection between the believer and God the Father. He is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), the only way of salvation (Acts 4:12). The Colossian believers had been “filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding” (Col 1:9).
Paul also re-emphasizes the supremacy of Jesus. Christ has the authority to forgive sins (Matt 9:6), to heal, and to cast out demons. All authority on heaven and earth has been given to Him (Matt 28:18). All human authority has been appointed by God and is under His jurisdiction (Rom 13:1–2). Christ is “far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come” (Eph 1:21).
No matter what worldly wisdom says, Jesus Christ is the ONLY way to the father. Faith in Him alone gives us His righteous covering over our sins. “Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil 2:9-11)
I’m reminded of the hymn, There is a fountain filled with blood, drawn from Immanuel’s veins; And sinners, plunged beneath that flood, lose all their guilty stains.