Friday, February 28, 2014

Discipline in Christian Virtues


"The conscience is privy to all our secret thoughts and motives. It is therefore a more accurate and more formidable witness in the soul's courtroom than any external observer." [John MacArthur, The Vanishing Conscience]

"And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable." [Paul, Romans 12:2, NASB]

The concept of discipline carries with it the notion of self-control, restraint, and focus. I think of self-management. Virtue, on the other hand concerns moral excellence, honor, purity and worth. The third component, Christian, means something far more specific than contemporary culture acknowledges or even understands. The word Christian is first used in Acts 11:26 to describe the disciples of Christ. Hence, seeing that the word disciple and Christian refer to the same person according to Luke's record, the best way to understand what it means to be a Christian is to understand what it means to be a disciple. Louw Nida defines a Christian as "one who is identified as a believer in and follower of Christ." BDAG says that a Christian is one who is associated with Christ. But this NT interpreter must understand "associated with" in the same way the ancient Mediterranean culture would have understood association. For contemporary western audiences, it simply means a very light or loose connection with someone. For the ancient mindset, to be associated with someone was to be included in that group. And to belong to "any group" in NT culture was far more significant than most of us in contemporary times can understand. Suffice it to say that to be associated with Christ was an extremely significant status when Luke recorded his history of Acts.
In the ancient Church, to be a Christian was to be a disciple (in the ancient sense of disciple) of Jesus Christ. If C, then D. D, therefore C. It is a very straightforward Modus Ponens syllogism. The Modus Tollens form would look like: if C, then D. ~D, therefore ~C. In other words, if you are a Christian, you are a disciple of Christ. If you are not a disciple of Christ, you are not a Christian. Indeed, the argument is as forceful, logically speaking, as any argument can be. Using De Morgan's theorem we would say if a person is a Christian, then he is a disciple of Christ. One is either, a Christian and disciple of Christ or she is not a Christian, nor a disciple of Christ. The idea that there is a difference between being a Christian and being a disciple of Christ is entirely foreign to Scripture and to ancient, authentic Christianity. I say all that to say this: to describe virtues as Christian is to say something very specific.
What, then are some of the more basic virtues that Christians should exhibit? One of the more basic and most neglected of Christian virtues in the modern, visible Church is intellectual virtue. The intellectual sloth of a predominantly hedonistic and secular culture has had an embarrassing influence in the Christian community. The lack of introspection and self-examination, coupled with the lack of interest in the intellectual renovation commanded by Paul in his letter to the Roman Church is simply staggering.
I often wonder how many Christians actually devote serious consideration to thinking about their own salvation, their sanctification, their knowledge of Christian doctrine, and their ability to hold a conversation in a way that challenges unbelieving thought.
This brings me to the discipline of intellectual virtue. The Christian is to be transformed into the image of Christ daily. But this transformation is the distinct work of the Holy Spirit in application of God's word to the human mind, or, entire person. This is precisely Paul's point in Romans 12:2. The Greek word used in this instance is where we get our English word metamorphous. The Christian life is a life of radical transformation. When we think about the change from a caterpillar to a butterfly we begin to understand the radical nature of Christian transformation. If we understand Paul correctly, we understand that Christian transformation is dependent on the human intellect. Christians have no choice, if we are going to grow into the kind of servants that God intends, but to be heavily involved in renovating the intellect. The fact is that transformation into the image of Christ proceeds upon a transformed intellect. We are to be transformed by the renewed mind. The concept is that the renewed mind is new. In fact, the implication is that the new mind of the believer is superior. This new mind is to serve as through the transformation process by which we grow in knowledge, grace, and sanctification. What does this look like in the life of the believer, away from Sunday morning service, during the week, when we are living our lives out there, or here, in the world of darkness, in the world that offers us so much access, not only to sinful passions and pleasures, but to idle entertainment as well?
The transformation of the Christian life begins with a new emphasis upon training the Christian intellect. The discipline of intellectual virtue with the Christian involves, first and foremost, a passionate desire to know and love God with your entire being. This places the Christian in a position of needing to understand God's revelation of Himself to His Church. The Psalmist tells us that he has treasured God's word in his heart so that he might not sin against him. (Ps. 119:11) The KJV leads one to believe this means memorizing Scripture. It does not. The Psalmist is elevating God's word to a place of highest treasure and deepest regard. God's Word must be the most precious thing for the Christian because it is the only key to understanding the one God we are supposed to know and love. Jesus Christ is the Word made Flesh. (Jn. 1:14) To know God is to know Scripture and to know Scripture is to know God. A lack of enthusiasm for bible study is a sure sign that one's heart is not interested in God at all. How many Christians show amazing interest in programs at their respective Church, but very little interest in personal bible study? It is a sad state of affairs when Christians are more informed on the personal lives of modern celebrities than they are of Christ, of Paul, of Moses and others in the sacred text.
We are ending the second month of 2014. We have ten months remaining. Where are you in your study of Scripture? Most of us established goals when the year began. We established new goals at work, goals for the gym, goals for our diet, goals for many things that we consider important in our lives. As a Christian, what kind of goals did you set for 2014? Have you examined your heart and the sin that still plagues you and established goals for how you will mortify those deeds of the body in 2014? Have you enlisted an accountability partner who is not afraid to call you out when they see you slipping (and you will slip)? We all slip. I slip every day in one way, or another. The battle to mortify the deeds of the flesh is the most intense battle you will ever fight. It is exhausting! Unless you give the discipline of intellectual virtue more attention, you are destined never to make much, if any progress in sanctification. Christians are called to live a holy life. We are called to be different. Christ does not redeem us to wanton pleasure. He calls us away from the hedonism we see in most cultures around this globe.
Now is the time for you to examine your week in light of your Christian walk. Do you spend more time with modern entertainment than you do in Scripture? Do you invest more money in soccer or hunting or fishing or golf than you do knowing Christ? I once told a young man that he needed to invest in a Bible program that, at the time, ran around $200. He was amazed that I would make such a recommendation. However, I already knew this young man was an avid golfer. I knew he was about to purchase a set of clubs than would cost nearly five times that amount. What does it say about us when we are willing to spend large amounts of money on hobbies on the one hand and on the other, we recoil at making similar investments in our ability to know and understand the God we claim to love?
Not only must we be diligent and willing to make investments in tools that can help us understand God better, we must be willing to do the really hard part: deliberate. We must spend more time attempting to understand Scripture than anything else we do. The desire to understand God's word so that it will change us has to be our greatest desire. Paul tells us that word of God performs its work in those of us who believe. (1 Thess. 2:13) The word of God is on a mission. The purpose for knowing Scripture is not knowledge. It is not to formulate arguments. It isn't even so that we can teach and preach. The purpose for knowing Scripture is sanctification. The reason we desire to know Scripture is because we desire to be like Christ. The only way we can ever have the mind of Christ is by understanding the divine revelation that is Scripture.

The virtue of the Christian intellect involves having the mind of or thinking like Christ. The Christian intellect must cast off the propensity to think only in temporal terms. It must be disciplined to equip itself with the thoughts of God Himself. Christians must discipline their lives and minds to turn from entertainment, from selfish ambition, from pride, from intellectual lust, to having the mind that was in Christ. We must put away intellectual sloth. We must avoid the foolishness of secular philosophy with its unrestrained speculations and idolatry of mind as well as the laziness that is fostered in the concept of cheap grace. The Christian intellect should be exercised daily, should be familiar with critical thinking, know and understand how to use logic for God's glory, and it should be intimately familiar with the history, background, and content of Scripture. What do you know about Scripture? Do you know the books of the Bible? What do you know about the history of the Bible, the languages of the Bible, the people of the Bible? If God means anything to you at all, you need to know these things and much more. Christians are commanded to love the Lord with our entire being and that includes the intellect.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Innate Antipathy in Unbelieving Thought

In his project with J.P. Moreland, “Philosophical Foundations For A Christian Worldview, William Lane Craig gives us a glimpse into his philosophy on the capabilities of the unregenerate mind. Apparently Craig believes there is no innate antipathy in unbelieving thought. Craig writes, “The fact that there is tremendous interest among unbelieving students in hearing a rational presentation and defense of the gospel, and some will be ready to respond with truth in Christ.”[1] You see Craig is displaying a specific philosophy regarding the nature of the unregenerate mind. In order for Craig’s statement to be true, the unregenerate mind must be in a condition of neutrality as it relates to God and His divine truth. The best approach to examine Craig’s statement is to turn to Scripture and allow Scripture to inform our philosophy in this case. We will perform a critical analysis of Craig’s philosophy regarding the nature of the unregenerate mind by examining it in light of the divine Scripture.

The apostle Paul explains in Romans 8:6-8 that the mind that is set on the flesh, which the unregenerate mind surely is, is hostile toward God. What does Paul mean “hostile toward God?” The Greek lexicon tells us that the word χθρα means a state of enmity, or to be an enemy. It is to have ill will, or hatred for someone. It described the state between Russia and the USA during the cold war, or any two warring countries as far as that goes.

The same apostle Paul informs the Galatian Churches in Gal. 5:17  that the fleshly state or mindset or worldview sets its desires against the things that are spiritual and the spiritual mindset or worldview sets its desires against the fleshly or unregenerate worldview. The antithesis could not be more axiomatic. The apostle Paul reveals a view, a philosophy if you like, that informs his readers that he sees the unregenerate worldview and mindset as fundamentally hostile toward God. The contrast between how the regenerate and unregenerate think could not be more obvious in Paul’s theology. Does Paul think that the unregenerate worldview is really the product of a lack of rational argumentation and evidence? Is the unregenerate intellect really the product of the intellect itself or is it something beyond the intellect that does in fact affect the unregenerate mindset?

Our third truth, once again given through the beloved apostle Paul, is that the unregenerate mind is in such a state that it rejects the things of the Spirit of God. In fact, Paul tells us in 1 Cor. 2:14 that the unregenerate worldview holds spiritual matters in utter contempt and considers them moronic at best. The Greek word moria is where we get our word moron. It is this word Paul uses to describe the unregenerate intellect’s contempt for spiritual matters.

Another example of the unregenerate mindset is located in Romans 3:10-18. Paul tells the Roman Church that unregenerate men do not understand, do not seek God, are altogether useless, and that there is no fear of God before them. If the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge, and there is no fear of God within them, then it logically follows that they have no interest in true knowledge and wisdom. Adding to this state is the state Paul described two chapters earlier to the same Church. Romans one tells us explicitly that God has given the unregnerate man all the information and evidence he needs. God has made Himself known to them and has given them an inexcusable amount of evidence all around them. Truly, the knowledge of God is inescapable for the unbeliever.

Another place where Paul gives us a glimpse into the mindset of the unregenerate is located in 2 Cor. 4:4 where he is clear and adamant that the unregenerate mind has been blinded so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ. Moving back a few sentences, Paul refers to the same state existing among the Jews, telling us their minds were hardened and that until his very day the veil remains. (1 Cor. 3:14) Another example is given by Paul to the Philippian Church in Phil. 3:18-19 where Paul describes men whose minds are set on earthly things as enemies of the cross, whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is their shame.

Robert Duncan Culver writes, "In Pauline literature acts of sin proceed from a sinful heart. Paul's figures for this sin at the center are 'the sin,' 'the body of sin,' 'our old man,' 'this body of death,' 'flesh,' 'the body of sin and death,' and 'the carnal mind.' All are figurative expressions for the sinful 'heart' which in turn is a figure for the center of man's rational being."[2] Clearly Paul's anthropology and hamartiology have not been affected by Greek philosophy. The fountainhead of Paul's philosophy, in you insist on calling it that, is divine revelation. He anchors his view of man and sin in Adam, in creation, and moves from there. Absent from Paul's language is anything remotely resembling the philosophy of Aristotle, Plato, or Socrates.

Finally, from a philosophical point of view, Craig operates on an unproven and in my opinion, a mistaken assumption. He uses the phrase "rational presentation and defense of the gospel." Craig seems to think their is such a thing as neutrality in human reason. However, what makes a view reasonable in terms of unbelieving thought is not at all without controversy even though Craig seems to indicate that he thinks it is. The philosophers spend large amounts of time arguing to the contrary. There is no agreed upon criteria accepted by these young students at university by which the gospel might be tested and deemed acceptable in their eyes, as if such an approach is morally acceptable within Christian theism to begin with.

Craig's philosophy is contrary to a clear biblical theology regarding the nature of fallen man as well as the nature of sin. In addition, he begs the question of criteria in his view that all these students measure knowledge or true beliefs by the same standard. They do not. The unregenerate worldview is opposed to Christian theism from end to end. The two have a radically different metaphysic, epistemology, and ethic. Only divine revelation is capable of bridging the gap to make contact between the two possible.





[1] William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations For A Christian Worldview (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 5.
[2] Robert Duncan Culver, Systematic Theology (Great Britain, Christian Focus Publications, 2005), 361

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Elder as Apologist


(And Why Young Men Should Listen Attentively)

In his letter to Titus, the apostle Paul lays out his qualifications for elders within the newly founded Christian group. Apparently Paul had left Titus in Crete for the specific task of appointing elders in every community. Hence, the idea of a plurality of elders is present in the Church from its inception. It follows that the need for the role of an elder would naturally lead to the need for some criteria around the qualifications for the person entering that office. In Titus 1:6-9, Paul lays out these criteria. In addition, he lays out the reason for the role of elders in the community in vv. 10-11.

In this post, I want to focus your attention on those responsibilities of the elder that are apologetic in nature and point you to Paul’s philosophy on how and why a godly elder must be a good apologist. What is the one skill, according to Paul, and hence, to the Holy Spirit, in which godly elders must demonstrate proficiency in order to carry out the two basic duties of 1) exhorting in sound doctrine, and 2) refuting those that contradict Christian truth? If you listen to some academicians, especially from the growing field of Christian apologetics, even in conservative circles, you may be tempted to begin with something like, “training in philosophy.” While I am not opposed to the elder having some training in philosophy that would not be the answer that Paul provides young Titus in this pericope. It is the field of theology, not human philosophy, to which we must turn in order to find the answer to the question I posed above. And it is precisely this question that Paul was concerned to treat in Titus 1:9-11.

The final qualification of an elder as far as Paul was concerned was his that he be entirely given over to and devoted to the faithful word which is in accord with “the teaching.” This phrase appears in Romans 16:17 where Paul warns the Roman Christians to keep on eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to “the teaching.” It appears again in 2 John 10 where John warns the Christians that they are not to receive anyone into their home if they do not bring “this teaching” with them. This teaching is a reference to “the teaching of Christ” in the previous verse. It seems clear that Paul was referring to the teaching, or the faith that has come to us through the revelation of Jesus Christ. It is to this teaching that the elder must demonstrate an uncompromising and unwavering devotion. So much for the empty and foolish notions propagated by many that doctrine is no important or worse, irrelevant in the life of the Christian. Paul would have taken such men to the metaphorical woodshed.

The reason the elder must be devoted to, immersed in, and absorbed with the faithful word which is according to the teaching is given in vv. 10-11. Paul says “For there are 1) many rebellious men, 2) empty talkers, and 3) deceivers present in the Church.” Because there are contradictory views and opposing teachers to which the Christian community will undoubtedly gain exposure, they must be equipped to see these false teachings and teachers for what they really are: ministers of Satan. You see, it isn’t just atheism, agnosticism, and skepticism that the Christian must engage in his/her defense of Christian theism. It is the religious heretic, the Muslim, the moralist, the deist, and others that are much greater in number that Christians must learn to skillfully refute. For Paul, this was especially true of the contradicting Jews of his day. This is because they were the most likely, of all religions, to be the ones the Church would have to refute.

Now, in order to preserve and protect the flock, the Church needed elders who were entirely devoted to the faithful word, which is according to the teaching. This skill, according to Paul was sufficient to the task of doing two things: exhorting the Christian in sound or healthy doctrine and refuting false teachers that contradicted the teaching. Regrettably for many young men, philosophy is well on its way to displacing theology as the discipline to be studied. Skilled philosophers are replacing theologians and exegetes at an alarming rate among pastors, elders, and especially in the academy.

The results so far have been disastrous. One prominent Christian philosopher writes, “If the Christian worldview can be restored to a place of prominence and respect at the university, it will have a leavening effect throughout society. If we change the university, we change our culture through those who shape the culture.”[1] Clearly, Craig has elevated philosophy to a place far beyond any NT writer. Jesus informed His followers and closest disciples that the world would hate them, slander them, and manufacture lies against them, all for His name’s sake. Craig’s idea appears to be a complete reversal of Jesus’ own words. Paul is oblivious to the need for sophisticated training in philosophy and Greek rhetoric. He has a completely different idea in mind. Paul places Scripture, the teaching of Christ at the center of the skillset necessary for the elder to engage in the refutation of those who contradict the truths of Christian theism. And this by no means indicates that Paul has an anti-philosophical bias. It simply means that Paul understands the relationship between theology and philosophy far better than Plato, Aquinas, or Craig. The biblical elder would do well to follow recognize Paul’s emphasis on sound theology and its place in developing the necessary skills to be an effective and biblically sound defender of Christian dogma.

According to Paul, elders are in fact obligated not only to exhort the Christian community in sound doctrine, but they also have a responsibility to refute men who contradict the teachings of Christian theism. The Greek word ἐλέγχω, which means to state that someone has done wrong, with the implication that there is adequate proof of such wrongdoing—‘to rebuke, to reproach, rebuke, reproach.’[2] BDAG defines the word “to bring a person to the point of recognizing wrongdoing, convict, convince someone of something, point something out to someone.[3] The sense is that the elder must possess the skills to be able to clearly demonstrate that a particular teaching is in fact wrong. The key question we are concerned with is how the elder in question should go about acquiring this skill. Is this skill in rhetoric, philosophy, reason, theology, or what?

Paul could not be more vivid in his direction. The hina clause in v. 9 provides a clear indication that the purpose for which the elder should be devoted to the faithful word, which is in accordance with “the teaching” is so that he can exhort believers and refute the opponents. The Scripture is sufficient not only for refuting the atheist, the agnostic, and the skeptic, but it is sufficient for refuting any and all opponents of Christian theism. Hence, before he is anything else, the elder must be an able devotee of the faithful word.

Regrettably, young men, entering the ministry, are being duped by modern philosophers that seem to be more familiar with Aristotle, than with Paul, and hold Socrates in higher regard than they do Solomon. Men like William Lane Craig elevate the role of philosophy in Christian ministry and leave misleading impressions on the minds of young men entering ministry with statements like this: “One of the awesome tasks of Christian philosophers is to help turn the contemporary intellectual tide in such a way as to foster a sociocultural milieu in which Christian faith can be regarded as an intellectually credible option for thinking men and women.”[4] In stark contrast to this, young men entering the ministry would do well to read Paul:

            Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach aChrist crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness,
            but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.[5]

Contrary to Craig and others, Christian theology is still the foundation upon which any philosophy must rest. Without the magisterial role of biblical theology, modern philosophy will only find a way, in its contumacious and haughty ways, to squeeze out sound theology, replacing it with humanistic philosophy, autonomous reason, and unrestrained conjecture of all stripes. The place of the elder is to refute the opponents of Christ, to be sure. But he does so as an exegete, as a theologian, as a lover of biblical theology first and foremost. Paul often exhorted believers to be absorbed in Scripture, to be devoted to truth, to pursue the true knowledge that only comes through faith in Christ. Nowhere did he ever exhort us to be absorbed with Aristotle’s Metaphysics, or the works of Plato. Philosophy has its place, mostly because it is unavoidable. But that place is in service to a sound biblical theology and only to a sound biblical theology.

Young men, keep your philosophy on the tight leash of Greek, Hebrew, Exegesis, and the Systematics. If you do not have the time or the appreciation and respect for God’s word to acquire skill in the languages and in the systematics, you have no business pouring yourself into philosophy, that is, if full time ministry is your aspiration. If you are going to stand before God’s people and speak in God’s name, you must get your priorities straight. Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle were not servants of our Lord. Know Paul in the original language. Know Moses in the original language. And if you have time, perhaps a critical reading of Aristotle and Plato might be beneficial.










[1] William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations For A Christian Worldview, (Downers Grove, Ill Intervarsity Press, 2003), 2.
[2] Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 435.
[3] William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 315.
[4] William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations For A Christian Worldview (Downers Grove, Ill Intervarsity Press, 2003) 2.
[5] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), 1 Co 1:20–24.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Christian and Philosophy


Βλέπετε μή τις ὑμᾶς ἔσται συλαγωγῶν διὰ τῆς φιλοσοφίας καὶ κενῆς ἀπάτης κατὰ τὴν παράδοσιν τῶν ἀνθρώπων, κατὰ τὰ στοιχεῖα τοῦ κόσμου καὶ οὐ κατὰ Χριστόν· Be on guard that no one will take you captive through philosophy and foolish deception according to the tradition of men, according to the rudimentary principles of the world and not according to Christ.

A handful of manuscripts transpose ὑμᾶς ἔσται. Other than that, there are no textual critical issues to treat.

The Greek word φιλοσοφίας is a hapax legonomenon appearing only here in the New Testament. It is interesting that of all the available philosophical material and teachings during his day, Paul never once called upon philosophy in service of the gospel. That does not mean I take Paul here to be condemning philosophy in general. Rather, I only wish to humble philosophy and those philosophers that seem to think the discipline indispensable to Christian ministry and especially Christian apologetics. Apparently, the authors of the New Testament did not find much value in philosophy for the purposes of preaching the gospel, instructing the saints, making disciples, and defending the faith.

Βλέπετε in this context clearly means that the Colossian believers are to watch so that no one takes them captive. Jesus used this form in Matthew 24:4 when he warned His disciples about deception. Paul used it in Eph. 5:15 when he commanded the Ephesian believers to “be careful” how they conduct themselves in daily life. Paul used this term to warn the Philippian believes to “beware” of the dogs and the circumcision and evil workers. The verb is an imperative, which enhances the serious nature of the apostle’s direction. The command in this instance is in the present tense, which calls for the continual process of always watching out for anyone that might introduce false teachings with persuasive rhetoric.

συλαγωγῶν, the verb sylalageō is rare, found only here in biblical Greek, and means “kidnap” or better “carry off as booty.”[1] The idea is that these false teachers or false teachings had the same effect of carrying off booty, wherein in this case, the booty was the mind, heart, and soul of the believer.

Contrary to contemporary trends in the Christian Church, false theologies and false philosophies not only can be, they are in fact legitimate perils for the human soul. I fully recognize that to the majority of uncritical, postmodern Christians, this assessment is simply alarmist and a gross exaggeration from an old-fashioned dogmatist. But to the apostle Paul, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the warning was in his day and is in our day, enormously relevant. It vividly expresses the danger that the readers may be “carried off as plunder” by an alien and fundamentally anti-Christian form of teaching.[2] 
I am reminded of Jesus’ warning to Peter that Satan wanted to sift him as wheat and of Peter’s warning to his audience that Satan prowls around like a roaming lion seeking to devour us.

διὰ τῆς φιλοσοφίας καὶ κενῆς ἀπάτης. This construction can be translated “by means of philosophy and empty deception.” The TSKS construction indicates that the characteristics of this particular philosophy was that it was the sort of teaching that was summed up as being foolish, or stupid deception. The construction then, with the article subject and the conjunction indicates that the author intended to keep the two concepts of philosophy and foolish deception attached to one another. The article is (naturally) omitted with the second of two phrases in apposition with the second of two phrases in apposition connected by καὶ.[3] The kind of philosophy that Paul has in mind is not philosophy itself. It is the philosophy that is constructed upon false teachings by false teachers. It is human philosophy built upon human autonomous human reason. It is foolish and deceptive because it is not according to truth. It rests not upon the principles of Christ, but the principles of men.

κατὰ τὴν παράδοσιν τῶν ἀνθρώπων. This prepositional phrase is translated “according to the tradition of men.” What is clear is that the description is pejorative: the “philosophy” is the product of mere human speculation and does not put its adherents in touch with divine truth.[4] One is reminded of Jesus’ scathing rebuke of the religious leaders of His environment, for they continually nullified the Word of God because of their human tradition. The idea is that authority has shifted from God to man. Rather than relying on God’s self-authenticating revelation for knowledge and understanding of truth, men rely on their own rational abilities and from autonomous human reason, they construct traditions based principally on human conjecture and philosophical speculation. In the end, finite human speculation is lauded as intellectually superior to and far more plausible than the assertions of Christian theism, which are based on the self-authenticating divine revelation of the ontological Triune God.

κατὰ τὰ στοιχεῖα τοῦ κόσμου, according to the principles (spirits) of the world. This is admittedly a difficult text to interpret. The prevailing view, however, is that stoicheia here means elementary principles or basic principles of the world as opposed to spirits. This word was generally not used to denote spirits until after NT times. The argument is complex and beyond the scope of this blog. Suffice it to say, we have good evidence for landing on “principles” as oppose to spirits. Louw-Nida defines it as basic principles which underlie the nature of something—‘basic principles, elementary concepts.[5]

These are, or this is a philosophy that rests upon the basic or elementary principles of men. The word appears 7 times in the GNT. Peter uses it to refer to the elements of the physical earth. Elsewhere, it refers to basic elements or principles of a system of belief. This points to the fact that the fundamental principles of worldly thought are antithetical to the basic principles and concepts of Christian theism. The philosophical system of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle are by nature, antithetical to the Philosophy of Christ. For example, when worldly philosophers establish parameters for justification of knowledge, those parameters are not going to rest upon Christian principles. In fact, they will be quite the contrary. The principles of worldly philosophy will be obviously hostile to the principles of Christian theism. Indeed, the deficiency witnessed in popular apologetic methods today is due to the wholesale failure on their part to recognize the basic antithetical components of worldly philosophy and their failure to take the appropriate steps to challenge it from the outset of the discussion.

καὶ οὐ κατὰ Χριστόν, and not according to Christ. There is nothing wrong with philosophy per se. However, the problem with philosophy is that it is not philosophy until someone opens their mouth or uses their mind. And the minute we begin to think, the problems of philosophy surround us. Philosophy is a web of beliefs based on basic presuppositions. A distinctly Christian philosophy holds that God created all that is, that He is the source of all knowledge, and that human morality is indelibly connected to His moral nature and attributes. The implications of such a philosophy are sweeping. This places man in the position of being entirely dependent on God in all things. The consequences are that man cannot discover any truth about reality, he cannot know anything whatever apart from God. Moreover, whatever he calls right and wrong must find its source in the moral nature of a holy God. The promise of the serpent echos still today in the ears of unregenerate men and regenerate men alike. «You can be like God.» Men, from nearly the beginning of his existence has wanted to know and to be like God. He has wanted to know and to live independently from God. Every version of the non-Christian worldview, in one way or another, is nothing more than the vain and futile attempt of men trying to live out the promise of the serpent and be just like God. These philosophies in Colosae were no different.





[1] Ben Witherington III, The Letters to Philemon, the Colossians, and the Ephesians : a Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on the Captivity Epistles (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2007), 154.
[2] Douglas J. Moo, The Letters to the Colossians and to Philemon, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 2008), 185.
[3] BDF, A Greek Grammar of the New Testament (Chicago, Ill: University of Chicago Press, 1961), 145.
[4] Douglas J. Moo, The Letters to the Colossians and to Philemon, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 2008), 187.
[5] Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 587.

The Bully Pulpit and a Culture of Intimidation

On the one side, we have the Christian community, and on the other side, we have the pagan community. The Christian community is made...