Did Paul teach worldly philosophy? No, this is what he said about philosophy.
Be careful that you don’t let anyone rob you through his philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the elements of the world, and not after Christ. (Col 2:8 WEB)
Paul is differentiating here between two philosophies, one that that is after Christ, and another that that is after the tradition of men, after the elements of the world. The latter is what worldly philosophy is about. Paul is warning people here to stay away from worldly philosophy, that is philosophy that’s not after Christ. Yes, there is a Christian philosophy that is based on what is revealed in the Scriptures. An example is salvation. Here are two verses that talk about salvation.
that if you will confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart, one believes unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. (Rom 10:9-10 WEB)
The doctrine of salvation is clearly deducted from this verse. This doctrine says that salvation is generated in an individual when they make him Lord by confessing or declaring Jesus as Lord, with the accompanying belief that God has raised him from the dead. Simple, direct, deduction from Scripture easily defines this doctrine. That is part of true Christian philosophy.
What is not in that simply stated doctrine of salvation is anything about the Trinity. There was a time when the Trinity was taught so vehemently that it was stated that the Trinity was more important than any other doctrine including salvation, while the word Trinity or its concept is clearly not present in those verses.
Romans 10:9 – 10 is sufficient for salvation. Making the Trinity part of this requirement is preaching another gospel. There is a section on the Trinity in the Table of Contents, for the philosophical basis of the Trinity you can start by looking at Philosophy in Christianity – Welcome Addition or Intrusion of Worldly Reasoning? – The Trinity’s Philosophical Basis.
The Trinity doctrine requires the assumption that God is triune, which is something nowhere stated as such. Because it is not stated or logically deducted, then accepting that statement as true is adding to scripture, which is forbidden by scripture.
You shall not add to the word which I command you, neither shall you take away from it, that you may keep the commandments of Yahweh your God which I command you. (Deu 4:2 WEB)
The Trinitarian argument includes the (a priori) assumption that you can assume God is triune because it is as obvious as one and one equals two. But it’s not obvious, everyone believes one and one equals two whereas only Trinitarians, a small fraction of people worldwide, make the claim to believe in a triune God. The vast majority of the world’s population does not believe in a triune God. There is no documentation in history that it was even a term before Tertullian penned the term “trinity” a century and a half after Christ. The scriptures call this kind of worldly philosophical construction foolishness or nonsense. (In this next verse the wisdom of this world is the philosophies of the world.)
The wisdom of this world is nonsense in God’s sight. That’s why Scripture says, “God catches the wise in their cleverness.” (1Co 3:19 GW)
Once you assume a triune God you can use inductive logic to build the case to support it. You can find verses that agree with (but not prove) the theory that God is a trinity. That is how inductive logic works. But you are starting with a false assumption. Nowhere in Scripture is it stated that God is triune. So, according to Scripture, it is nonsense.
With the Trinity, you have to use extra-biblical arguments and terms. For example, you have to use the unscriptural argument that Jesus had two wills. He had to have the will of God to never sin and he had to have the will of a man to be tempted to sin. There simply is no scripture to back that but the Trinity requires it because if Jesus is God and God cannot be tempted, then Jesus cannot be God because he was tempted. Jesus himself prayed:
saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” An angel from heaven appeared to him, strengthening him. Being in agony he prayed more earnestly. His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground. (Luk 22:42-44 WEB)
Jesus is clearly differentiating between his will and God’s here. He’s telling God the Father that he would rather not do this if there is any way not to. He really did not want to do this! He’s asking if there is any way out. He is saying that he is willing to go through the passion and death only if it is the will of God the Father and there is no other way.
He was sweating big drops of blood-like sweat! He was in agony! Jesus’s will was not to do this upcoming ordeal. I mean, who would want to? But he submitted to the will of the Father. In that, he is the ultimate example. And it clearly shows that his will was not the will of God, he asked the Father if there was any way to get out of it! But he chose to submit to the will of God and do it.
This shows that Jesus’ will was his will and God’s will was God’s will and while Jesus had his own will he decided to do what God wanted him to do. Jesus didn’t have the will of God, Jesus decided to submit to the will of God. Jesus didn’t have two wills.
And, yes, there are problems with translations and other Trinitarian issues that I cover in other articles and so forth. But the Trinity is only made possible with the use of worldly philosophical methods. The two wills’ deviation from scripture is one of the biggest examples of using philosophy to say scripture says something it does not say. And it’s an example of the nonsense that 1 Cor 3:19 above is talking about.
Seminarians are often required to take years of philosophical coursework that includes worldly philosophy, especially Platonism in various forms. This, of course, started in Catholic seminaries but continued as denominations started their own seminaries. Here is one Baptist philosophy professor’s take on the importance of philosophy.
“philosophy plays a key role in our spiritual formation unto Christ…As followers of Jesus, we too are to cultivate moral and intellectual virtue…
Rightly considered, philosophy moves us to worship. It changes us in dramatic ways. Last semester I taught metaphysics. This is a hard-hitting class probing the depths of reality. We explored the ontology of material and abstract objects, space, time, causation, substance, and more. As the students quickly learned, and as Shakespeare so aptly puts it through the mouth of Hamlet, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy” (Hamlet 1.5). The world is enchanted. It is deeply mysterious and God-permeated. It is beautiful in its elegance, simplicity, complexity, diversity, and unity. It reflects a master artist who lovingly creates and sustains all reality. Reflection on that which God has made moves me, and it moves my students. This is as it should be. All truths discovered, all knowledge gained, point to and illuminate the divine…Philosophy, rightly understood, is a servant, or handmaiden, to theology.”
Where is the word of God in the professor’s comments above? Let’s see, he emphasizes the importance of cultivating moral and intellectual virtue. He shows how metaphysics can probe the depths of reality, and the importance of probing the philosophical realities of both material and abstract objects like space, time, and causation. He quotes Shakespeare in building a case that through the use of philosophy, we have access to “all truth discovered, all knowledge gained” to show that philosophy is the servant or handmaiden to theology. But to answer my question as to where is the word of God in his comments, it isn’t there. He makes no reference to Scripture in his argument there.
The professor talks about abstract concepts. I can tell you that the problem with abstraction is that it can get complicated. What is abstraction, you say?
Abstraction in philosophy is the process of forming a concept by identifying common features among a group of individuals, or by ignoring unique aspects of these individuals. The notion of abstraction is important to understanding some philosophical controversies surrounding empiricism and the problem of universals.
Does that sound like it’s making it simpler or more complicated? Abstraction can be a useful process in science, and you probably use it all the time without thinking about it when you analyze things. But we are talking about abstraction in the natural world where we have some understanding of how things work. Philosophy and theology use abstraction to figure out how things work in the spiritual world, and we don’t know that much about the spiritual world. Assuming this spiritual world works like the natural world is a mistake. That’s the mistake the Sadducees made when they thought that people got married here now on earth so they must get married after the resurrection. We have this doctrine and warning in Deuteronomy.
“The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law. (Deu 29:29 ESV)
Anytime that you try to find common elements between different things you are abstracting. So, it has a noble goal. You do abstraction to find common elements to analyze and make conclusions about how things work. It works in the natural world somewhat. But we just read above that the spiritual world has secrets that belong to the Lord alone.
Abstraction can make things more complicated. Look at this.
But I am afraid that somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve in his craftiness, so your minds might be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he who comes preaches another Jesus, whom we didn’t preach, or if you receive a different spirit, which you didn’t receive, or a different “good news”, which you didn’t accept, you put up with that well enough. (2Co 11:3-4 WEB)
The problem with looking at abstract concepts, the meanings of things and the implications of those things, and so forth, and so on is that it can lead you astray from the simplicity of the message. That doesn’t mean that when you’re trying to translate you don’t look at those things. But it does mean that in the middle of all these disputes over all these issues in the denominations are arguments about the meanings of words, and phrases, and so forth.
Remind them of these things, charging them in the sight of the Lord, that they don’t argue about words, to no profit, to the subverting of those who hear. (2Ti 2:14 WEB)
For example, what does the word logos mean, what does the word mean when it’s used in the genitive case, etc. can be helpful questions when you’re really trying to determine what the message is via the holy spirit. But if you’re not careful, you can get hung up on them. And you can get the conclusion wrong.
The Corinthian gospel is full of corrections about things that the Corinthians didn’t get right. Paul wrote 2 Cor 11:3-4 in response to other men who had come as apostles and were teaching different things than he and the original apostles. That’s what he is talking about when he talks about people receiving a different spirit or different “good news”(gospel).
The problem with abstraction, the problem with using the worldly methods of philosophy is that they lead you to analysis and conclusions beyond the scope of the Scriptures.
Worldly Philosophy Leads to Disagreements
A basic tenet of philosophy, believe it or not, is that philosophers tend not to agree whereas as Christians, we are called to all agree and unite in one mind under Christ.
Now I beg you, brothers, through the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfected together in the same mind and in the same judgment. (1Co 1:10 WEB)
Do you see what that verse is saying? We are supposed to have the same mind and the same judgment. We’re not supposed to disagree.
Look at this about how much philosophers agree. Here’s what one philosopher said about it.
So one reason philosophers never seem to agree is that we’re not supposed to agree! Our job is to disagree, to a very substantial degree, because in that way, we do our best to test whether the theories before us are true.
We see this phenomenon in the numerous disagreements in the numerous traditions that have sprung up throughout the course of the history of Christianity.
The Relationship Between Theology and Philosophy
Theology and philosophy are not synonymous, but they are related. The Encyclopedia Britannica talks about this relationship in one of its articles. Theology, according to Britannica is a philosophically oriented discipline of religious speculation and apologetics.
Do you see how theology is partially defined there as religious speculation? Speculation involves making assumptions about something and then testing out the theory. Scripture itself says not to make assumptions, and to not add or subtract to what has been revealed to us. We believe that those books that we call Scripture are not speculative. Instead, they reveal to us what God’s word and will is. The whole idea of theology as religious speculation opposes the purpose of Scripture which is to help us understand the word and will of God.
So, we have a dichotomy. The simple truth is that the apostles warned believers to avoid all worldly wisdom and philosophy. Yet we find that the training of so many ministers worldwide is philosophically based on a number of worldly philosophies. In fact, philosophy has been integrated into theological teaching at every level of Christian education including seminary.
As I wrote in Philosophy in Christianity – Welcome Addition or Intrusion of Worldly Reasoning? – The Trinity’s Philosophical Basis world philosophical methods were originally rejected by the apostles, then initially after the apostles they were grudgingly used to counter the attacks on Christianity by philosophers, and this use increased to the point where philosophies like Platonism and other world philosophies were embraced as essential to the understanding and practice of Christianity.
Now philosophy is promoted in one Christian education system after another.
“A Christian has a specific interest in and responsibility to study philosophy… Since all truth is God’s truth, and since philosophy is a quest for truth, then philosophy will contribute to our understanding of God and his world. Furthermore, history shows that philosophical arguments and concepts have played a large and important role in the development of Christian theology… While not all theologians agree on the value or appropriateness of these arguments, all admit that some knowledge of philosophical roots is necessary to the understanding of Christian theology.”
I agree that “some knowledge of philosophical roots is necessary to the understanding of Christian theology.” The very fact that I’ve written this article on the place of philosophy in Christianity is an example of that.
The problem comes from believing that all philosophical methods are useful. As believers, we accept that Scripture is a message from God to us. The Thessalonians accepted that what the Apostles were teaching was the word of God.
For this cause we also thank God without ceasing, that, when you received from us the word of the message of God, you accepted it not as the word of men, but, as it is in truth, the word of God, which also works in you who believe. (1Th 2:13 WEB)
Paul here writes that his and the other apostles’ epistles contain the word of God. I accept this statement as a message from God via the apostle Paul. I don’t want to disagree with you or anyone else about it.
Philosophy wants you to challenge that statement, and not just accept it. It wants you to explore its limits, so to speak, to find out more than what the simple message is. As Nicholas D Smith above explains world philosophical methods want us to find disagreements about what this means. The word of God doesn’t want us to find disagreements about what this means. Yahweh wants us to accept his word, not add to it, subtract from it, or argue about it, but just to accept it. It is good news, accept it as such.
The philosophical arguments that are discussed above that have played this “large and important role” start with the incarnation, the deity of Christ, and the Trinity which we know were never part of original Christianity. It includes the lack of agreement on modes of baptism, transubstantiation, and a host of other issues that all came after original Christianity.
The problem was that the early Christian philosophers didn’t stick to the rules of Scripture but allowed all worldly philosophical methods including inductive reasoning and making assumptions using a priori statements. Deductive reasoning can provide a reasonable conclusion. But a basic principle of logic is that in inductive logic “the premises are intended to provide compelling but not conclusive reasons for the conclusion.” Because the secret things belong to the Lord (Deut 29:29) inductive logic is unreliable for spiritual matters. Reasoning about spiritual matters is talking about absolute truths. It’s not enough just to find compelling arguments about how things might work. That’s a rabbit hole that we clearly want to stay out of.
While worldly philosophies are certainly in opposition to scriptural teachings in many cases, it’s important to acknowledge that there are elements of philosophy that are crucial to being able to reason out of the Scriptures. One element is logic, in particular, deductive reasoning. Notice in the following verse that Paul “reasoned” out of the Scriptures.
Paul, as was his custom, went in to them, and for three Sabbath days reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and demonstrating that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.” (Act 17:2-3 WEB)
This verse is saying that Paul used deductive logic to prove that Jesus is the Christ.
Deductive logic or reasoning is the reasoning process where the premises provide conclusive reasons or proof of the conclusion. There is certainty there. On the other side is inductive reasoning which is the process where premises provide compelling, but not conclusive, reasons for believing that supposition. Evolution is an inductive and compelling argument, but it is not conclusive. The Trinity, likewise, is an inductive compelling argument that has persuaded many people. Trinitarian logic is not only inconclusive but looking at some of its premises shows that they make no sense. (How can Jesus be God when God cannot be tempted, but Jesus was tempted in all points like we are? Logically he cannot.) We want to be able to logically conclude from Scripture the things we believe. We want to be logical and use deductive reasoning as Paul did.
As scriptural Christians, we want to stick to what the word teaches and leave out the assumptions and inductive reasoning that are inherent in so many Christian philosophies. But, make no mistake, we want to be like Paul and be a good reasoner of Scripture.
I show in this website where the embracing of different worldly philosophies and theologies marks a divergence from the traditions of the apostles which we are charged to follow to this day.
So then, brothers, stand firm, and hold the traditions which you were taught by us, whether by word, or by letter. (2Th 2:15 WEB)
And, furthermore, we are charged to be ready to give an answer to anyone who challenges us for the reasons for our faith.
But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts; and always be ready to give an answer to everyone who asks you a reason concerning the hope that is in you, with humility and fear: (1Pe 3:15 WEB)
So, we definitely want to reason from the Scriptures. We need to use good logic and sound deductive reasoning. But abstraction, Platonism, inductive reasonings, and a priori statements compromise true Christianity
The conclusion is that the philosophy that is the basis for so much denominational training in the seminaries, and then correspondingly from the pulpit is not scriptural.
Be careful that you don’t let anyone rob you through his philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the elements of the world, and not after Christ. (Col 2:8 WEB)
Don’t let anyone rob you, stick to the word of God for your beliefs. If your church has a worldly philosophy in its tradition, then find one that sticks to the word of God and stays away from that worldly philosophical trap. Diligently search for the truth.
I love those who love me. Those who seek me diligently will find me. (Pro 8:17 WEB)
 Why do priests study philosophy? https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/41885/why-do-priests-study-philosophy#:~:text=Despite%20this%2C%20seminarians%20are%20required,study%20pastoral%20ministry%20or%20theology.
 Three Reasons Why I Teach Philosophy at a Seminary, Paul M Gould, https://www.equip.org/articles/three-reasons-why-i-teach-philosophy-at-a-seminary/
 New World Encyclopedia, Abstraction, https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Abstraction#:~:text=Abstraction%20in%20philosophy%20is%20the,and%20the%20problem%20of%20universals.
 Why can’t philosophers agree?, Nicholas D Smith, https://askphilosophers.org/question/1122#:~:text=So%20one%20reason%20philosophers%20never,theories%20before%20us%20are%20true.
 Britannica, theology, https://www.britannica.com/topic/theology
 Introduction to Philosophy, A Christian Perspective, Norman L Geisler and Paul D Feinberg, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, 1980, P. 20-22
Mark William Smith © copyright 2023 last revised 9/15/2023