When does God forbid us from practicing philosophy?


Please read Colossians 2:8 and then please explain how the fathers of the Orthodox Church could study philosophy. For example, Saint John the Golden tongue studied philosophy in Athens? When was he inspired by God and when was he inspired by philosophy? I am interested in your opinion because I am writing a theological paper on the Apostle Paul’s forbidding of studying philosophy.

Philosophy when translated directly from the Greek language literally means “the love of wisdom, or knowledge”. Unfortunately, many so called “philosophers” over the years, have not had a love for “true wisdom”, the wisdom that comes from God.

To begin, I would like to paste the quote that you made reference to, in its context.

For I want you to know what a great conflict I have for you and those at Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh, that their hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love, and to all riches of the full assurance of the understanding, to the full knowledge of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ; in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. And I say this that not anyone should beguile you with enticing words. For though I am absent in the flesh, yet I am with you in the spirit, rejoicing and beholding your order and the steadfastness of your faith in Christ. Therefore as you 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. Beware lest anyone rob you through philosophy and vain deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the elements 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 2:1-10)

The Apostle Paul writes this letter to the church, to the Colossians who were being attacked by the heretical teachings of Gnosticism. This heresy of Gnosticism was a mixture of Christian teaching and Greek, pagan philosophy. Let’s make a list of what Paul has to say about “philosophy” (in the context of the heretical teaching of Gnosticism).

  • In Jesus Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom (sophia) and knowledge (gnosis). Paul says this because the Gnostic “believers” claimed to have a special form of wisdom and hidden knowledge about God that others did not have (regular Christians). Paul explains that we have all wisdom and knowledge in Jesus Christ.
  • What Paul calls “philosophy” in verse 8 is the same thing that he calls “enticing words” in verse 4.
  • The teachers of Gnosticism were using “enticing words” to deceive the people. They were teaching the traditions of men and the the elements of the world instead of teaching Jesus Christ. This type of philosophy is useless when it comes to having a genuine relationship with God, even though they received honor and glory from men for their “wisdom”. They did not believe that the revelation of God in the Holy Scriptures was enough for them even though the wisdom of the Scriptures was far superior to the wisdom of these mere men.

Based on the analysis, we can say that any for of “wisdom” or “philosophy” that tries to explain divine things while contradicting the Word of God, is useless, and must be avoided at all costs. This warning is still valid today and maybe even more relevant to us. When Paul wrote the following to the church in Rome, he had those very “philosophers” in mind (the above mentioned).

For the wrath of God is revealed from Heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because the thing which may be known of God is clearly revealed within them, for God revealed it to them. For the unseen things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being realized by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, for them to be without excuse. Because, knowing God, they did not glorify Him as God, neither were thankful. But they became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man, and birds, and four-footed animals, and creeping things. (Romans 1:18-23)

The Corinthian church was also exposed to the heretical teachings of the “philosophers” of the day so Paul had to write to them as well and share the following:

For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and I will set aside the understanding of the perceiving ones.” Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the lawyer of this world? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world by wisdom did not know God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save those who believe. For the Jews ask for a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block, and to the Greeks foolishness. (I Corinthians 1:19-23)

The world, with all of its “wisdom”, “philosophies”, and “philosophers” still does not know God because it does not recognize God in the flesh in the person of Jesus Christ, the true wisdom of God. The people of antiquity, relied on philosophy because they wanted to know God. Many of the Greeks who turned to philosophy to find God, did so because they were dissatisfied with the Greek religions. Finding God is the essence of human existence. We can find God and true wisdom in the person of Jesus Christ. It is sad that many, of that day and age, tried Jesus Christ and then wanted to mix Him up with the philosophical teachings of that time as well. It was so bad back then, that Paul even had to write to his beloved disciple, Timothy, and warn him about the danger.

O Timothy, guard the Deposit, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of falsely-named science, which some professing have erred concerning the faith. Grace be with you. Amen. (I Timothy 6:20-21)

As far as some of the church fathers studying Greek philosophy, yes, that is true, they did. Philosophy was a mandatory subject in schools during that time. The good news is that they chose to serve Jesus Christ, in whom they found true wisdom. They preached Jesus Christ through the Word of God as divine revelation. Another reason that they studied Greek philosophy back then was to be equipped to do battle with those who were teaching Gnosticism and trying to destroy the true faith in Jesus Christ.