I had a friend throw Colossians 2:8 at me the other day. We were having a conversation and he was trying to correct what he thought was a flaw in my current spiritual path. He saw me as too open to the post-modern philosophies of the day and that this was allowing me to let too much “doubt” in and made my categories of truth too fluid – not so black and white. He wanted to talk about truth and knowing, concepts he seemed to have a great deal at stake with. As he tried to reckon with me he would accuse me of “not knowing my own mind” and other equally dualistic things. Several times he attempted to make philosophy the whipping boy and explain to me why my current trajectory seemed dangerous to him, and what the truth, and how I’m going astray… I appreciate him as a friend and I am truly certain that what he was saying to me was out of genuine love.
Colossians 2:8 says, “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ,” which on the surface seems to bolster his claim. But there is more to this than meets the eye. First of all – who memorizes this verse and then whips it out in a conversation about epistemology? It’s important to allow the scripture to shape us and form us into the image of Christ. It’s also important not to shape the scripture into what we want it to be and then use it as a blunt instrument to beat others into submission.
The passage warns us to not let anyone take us captive through philosophy. English gets us into all kinds of trouble here because what my friend was doing is saying essentially, “post-modernity is just the philosophy of the day and you are too into it – it’s making you fuzzy on what truth is, what knowledge is,” which makes sense if you read the text from a black and white framework and don’t know Greek. But the word philosophy in the Greek is the word “philo-sophia.” Philo is love, Sophia is wisdom. Literally the word means love of wisdom. Obviously we need to research more to understand the context. In this context, the lectionaries I consulted taught me this means, “used either of zeal for or skill in any art or science, any branch of knowledge.”
The verse isn’t warning against use of modern/post-modern or any other philosophical system. The verse is actually saying, “Don’t let anyone take you captive through love of knowledge – or love of their knowledge system.” It’s warning us against people who want to divide the field by saying, “I’m right and you are wrong…you need to capitulate or I’m leaving.”
So I feel a little better after having worked through Colossians 2:8 with an open mind. It gives us a really great warning. When you feel right (and feel superior because you think you are right), and then you divide the field because of your right-ness, you are being held captive by a belief system which has nothing to do with love, peace, and joy – it has nothing to do with faith. Post-modernity isn’t evil, it’s not God & it’s not faith, but it’s just a way of working with the world we live in. We can take it or leave it. We can learn to understand it and allow it to help us know God better – but we don’t follow it, we follow Jesus. By the same token – those who attack it with modernist epistemologies must be careful not to be held captive by modernity. More insidious is that they must not be held captive by dualistic thought. Jesus was not a dualistic thinker. He always destroyed dualisms and healed them when he could.
Here’s hoping that God heals my friend. Here’s hoping that he will one day grow beyond the dualisms and the knowledge-system based need to divide the field. Here’s hoping that we can all, with Jesus, transcend our own belief systems and experience truth, hope, peace…and maybe even love.