The first-century Christians lived in a world dominated by Greco-Roman values and ideals. On the one hand, there were the comforts and luxuries of the Roman way of life, regarded by many as something to be envied. On the other hand, the intellectual circle of the day was abuzz not only with the philosophical ideas of Plato and Aristotle but also with those of the newer schools, such as the Epicureans and the Stoics. When the apostle Paul came to Athens on his second missionary tour, he was confronted by Epicurean and Stoic philosophers who felt that they were superior to “this chatterer,” Paul.—Acts 17:18.
It is not hard, therefore, to understand why some among the early Christians were drawn to the pretentious ways and life-styles of the people around them. (2 Timothy 4:10) Those who were part and parcel of the system seemed to enjoy many benefits and advantages, and the choices they made appeared to be sound. The world seemed to have something valuable to offer that the dedicated Christian way of life did not. However, the apostle Paul warned: “Look out: perhaps there may be someone who will carry you off as his prey through the philosophy and empty deception according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary things of the world and not according to Christ.” (Colossians 2:8) Why did Paul say that?
Paul sounded that warning because he sensed a real danger lurking behind the thinking of those attracted by the world. His use of the term “philosophy and empty deception” is especially significant. The word “philosophy” literally means “the love and pursuit of wisdom.” That in itself may be beneficial. In fact, the Bible, particularly in the book of Proverbs, encourages the pursuit of the right kind of knowledge and wisdom. (Proverbs 1:1-7; 3:13-18) Paul, however, coupled “philosophy” with “empty deception.” In other words, Paul viewed the wisdom that the world had to offer as empty and deceptive. Like an inflated balloon, it had the appearance of solidity, but there was no substance to it. It would certainly be futile, even disastrous, to base one’s choice of right and wrong on something as insubstantial as “the philosophy and empty deception” of the world.