2:4 I say this so that no one will deceive you through arguments 1 that sound reasonable. 2
2:8 Be careful not to allow anyone to captivate you 3 through an empty, deceitful philosophy 4 that is according to human traditions and the elemental spirits 5 of the world, and not according to Christ.
1 tn BDAG 812 s.v. πιθανολογία states, “persuasive speech, art of persuasion (so Pla., Theaet. 162e) in an unfavorable sense in its only occurrence in our lit. ἐν πιθανολογίᾳ by specious arguments Col 2:4 (cp. PLips 40 III, 7 διὰ πιθανολογίας).”
2 sn Paul’s point is that even though the arguments seem to make sense (sound reasonable), they are in the end false. Paul is not here arguing against the study of philosophy or serious thinking per se, but is arguing against the uncritical adoption of a philosophy that is at odds with a proper view of Christ and the ethics of the Christian life.
3 tn The Greek construction here is somewhat difficult and can be literally rendered “Be careful, lest someone shall be the one who takes you captive.”
4 tn The Greek reads τῆς φιλοσοφίας καὶ κενῆς ἀπάτης (th" filosofia" kai kenh" apath"). The two nouns φιλοσοφίας and κενῆς are joined by one article and probably form a hendiadys. Thus the second noun was taken as modifying the first, as the translation shows.
5 tn The phrase κατὰ τὰ στοιχεῖα τοῦ κόσμου (kata ta stoiceia tou kosmou) is difficult to translate because of problems surrounding the precise meaning of στοιχεῖα in this context. Originally it referred to the letters of the alphabet, with the idea at its root of “things in a row”; see C. Vaughn, “Colossians,” EBC 11:198. M. J. Harris (Colossians and Philemon [EGGNT], 93) outlines three probable options: (1) the material elements which comprise the physical world; (2) the elementary teachings of the world (so NEB, NASB, NIV); (3) the elemental spirits of the world (so NEB, RSV). The first option is highly unlikely because Paul is not concerned here with the physical elements, e.g., carbon or nitrogen. The last two options are both possible. Though the Gnostic-like heresy at Colossae would undoubtedly have been regarded by Paul as an “elementary teaching” at best, because the idea of “spirits” played such a role in Gnostic thought, he may very well have had in mind elemental spirits that operated in the world or controlled the world (i.e., under God’s authority and permission).