Olvin, a Christian brother from Nicaragua, recently visited the Bible Answer Stand Ministry website (in late November 2005) to read an article and he made the following inquiry regarding subject matter, which has troubled him for nearly 17 long years. Olvin writes:
Hi Brother Craig,
By reading your article about faith and reason, I realized you could help me understand better the relationship between philosophy and faith. I am a Protestant studying in a Catholic university, which I am very concerned about because of some philosophy courses I am taking. In this regard, my real consternation is, 'the need of philosophy to our faith.' By taking these philosophy courses (my minor), will I have deep consequences affecting my religion and life?
Take your time to write the answer to my question which for 17 years I have not answered it by myself. If my point is not clearly stated, please let me know brother. After reading your article, I realized you could help enlighten my mind because of your knowledge, education, and experience. I feel confident that you will be help me grasp and understand the underlying foundation and premises for the philosophy classes, which I am being exposed to during my education here at the university.
I hope you find this email as important as it is to me.
Contemporary secular philosophy courses are universally taught in accredited college-level academic curriculum by PhD college professors. In 387 BC, the Greek philosopher Plato inculcated his supporters by forming his casual discipline known as ‘the academy.’ Following in Plato’s footsteps, succeeding academies eventually formed the basis for modern day institutions of higher learning. When the Romans conquered Greece Platonism and other forms of Greek philosophy that had flourished slowly declined in popularity.
Shortly before the birth of Christ, a movement known as Neoplatonism was being taught in Alexandria, Egypt. It was at this time that the influence of Greek philosophy would reach its diabolical arm into the teachings of God’s covenant people Israel, as certain Jewish rabbi’s, led by the renowned Jewish teacher-philosopher named Philo, began merging the Old Testament Hebrew Scriptures with concepts borrowed from Plato’s theory of form and matter. Later, from the second century onward, this influence would result in impermeable doctrinal corruption throughout the Christian church.
Like other philosophers, Philo sought to find the ‘mystic revelations,’ which were allegedly revealed to sages and wise men of the day. Because of their secret knowledge (gnosis) and wisdom (sophia), philosophers believed they were set apart from ordinary people. All philosophies at this time (and ever since), originate with man’s pride. Philosophy is the means by which a person possessing innate intellectual capability can display his or her knowledge and thereby appear as ‘wiser’ than others. Many believed that philosophers possesses wisdom and knowledge powers that rival that of a ‘god.’
The lure of philosophy in education and the reason it remains in academic curriculum today is no different than when it was first discovered, long before the time of Plato in the Garden of Eden. It was here the Serpent deceived the woman by tempting her and her husband Adam to sin, offering both of them a form of ‘higher knowledge.’ Although the Bible does not give us all of the details, from the clears text, we know the devil offered the first man and his wife a form of new enlightenment, promising this fruit was the “knowledge” that would cause them to discern “good from evil.”
L Genesis 3:4-7 "You won't die!" the serpent hissed. 5 God knows that your eyes will be opened when you eat it. You will become just like God, knowing everything, both good and evil." 6 The woman was convinced. The fruit looked so fresh and delicious, and it would make her so wise! So, she ate some of the fruit. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her. Then he ate it, too. 7 At that moment, their eyes were opened, and they suddenly felt shame at their nakedness. So they strung fig leaves together around their hips to cover themselves. New Living Translation
The phrase spoken by the serpent in Genesis 3:5, “You will become just like God, knowing everything…” is no different in concept than what Greek philosophy offers. It is a temptation to sin, to disregard God and His commandments, and lean upon human wisdom thru secular knowledge.
At the time Jesus and his chosen apostles came on the scene, the Jewish Sanhedrin and the Sadducees had already been deeply philosophically indoctrinated thru their studies in Philonic Judaism, which was a mystical technique devised for interpreting the Old Testament scriptures, particularly the Pentateuch. Much like fraternal orders, such as the Freemasons, the Sadducees were easily drawn toward the pseudo-light of philosophy, because it elevated their status, believing they were amongst the elite few to whom their ‘higher’ esoteric meaning of scripture was divulged.
Philo used Plato’s philosophy with the Hebrew Scriptures to redefine and completely distort the account of Creation in Genesis. He used Plato’s concepts of the ‘Demiurge’ to describe the way that Elohim created matter and reason, not by His own doing alone, but thru the agency of ‘intermediary’ forms of the ‘Divine Logos’ as His ‘luminary’ instruments of creation.
Philo’s doctrine became the crude beginning to what would later developed in the Christian church theology, whereby the nature of Jesus the Christ was dramatically distorted, and he was assigned the role of, ‘the Preincarnate Logos,” (instead of his true identity as the son of God, the man Christ Jesus 1 Timothy 2:5). Following the death of the last apostle, the early church’s lengthy exposure to the religious and secular influence Neoplatonism, opened the door for false teachers, who were given elevated status as the, ‘church fathers.’ These included men like Origen, Tertullian, Irenaeus, and others, who embraced in their writings and church dogma the teachings of Philo’s multiple intermediaries.
From the second thru third centuries, creeds evolved from this toxic mix of scripture and Greek philosophy, until it became the basis for the Roman Catholic Church’s theology and Christology expressed as the ‘triune’ nature of God, changing His role as the, “one’ God of Scriptures, into, ‘three Persons in One Godhead.’
Because of its complexity, (which can never be logically comprehended), the average person is very intimidated and will shy away from discussions that include Platonic or Neo-Platonic dialogue. In this regard, it should not be surprising to the serious student of Scripture to note the similarities in origin and apprehension to the Christian doctrines of the Trinity and the Preincarnate Christ.
One popular Christian radio talk show host accentuates his adoration of the Trinity by claiming it is so divinely ‘mysterious’ that it is impossible to ‘comprehend’ the Triune nature of the eternal Godhead. His claim alleges that God’s Tri-personal nature can only be, “apprehended,” when the believer accepts and embraces it solely by faith. Go figure. For more info on this topic, see the following link: Greek Philosophy and the Trinity
Philosophy is often divided into four main branches:
1. Ethical philosophy = secular guesswork about morality & moral choices.
2. Epistemic philosophy = based solely in conjecture, it is man’s hypothesis on the origin of the earth & its inhabitants & is today it is founded in Darwin’s theory of evolution (i.e. – Origin of Species’).
3. Metaphysical philosophy = speculation on the definitive reality of life after (meta) or apart from the physical (‘physics’) world of matter.
4. Aesthetics = philosophic views about the intrinsic value of outward beauty.
Plato’s philosophy can be summarized as little more than a theory on the relevance of form and matter, as it pertains to mankind’s esoteric quest for ‘higher learning.’ The word ‘Platonism’ describes Plato and his philosophic ideas, especially his theory that both material substance (morphe) and individual examples of human character are identifiable, only because of their universal connection to some ambiguous, mysterious, intangible ‘form’ (i.e. – morphe, or outward appearance) or an ‘idea’ (i.e. – logos, or thought). How stupid is that? Let me break it down even simpler:
L PLATO SIMPLIFIED = The only reason and the only way that you can recognize the ‘meaning’ behind and/or the inspiration (motives, motivation) for a person’s outward behavior (their words & actions), is by understanding to his or her common association with an ethereal (i.e. – enigmatic, mysterious, inexplicable) form or thought. This is just plain weird.
L PLATO SIMPLIFIED MORE = The only way to comprehend why people act or speak a certain way is by watching reruns of ‘The Twilight Zone.’
To normal, logical, God-fearing human beings, Plato is best depicted in what is coined, “a space cadet.” Plato and his disciples are like those to whom the apostle Paul refers in his letter to Timothy:
L 2 Timothy 3:7b …they are forever inquiring and getting information, but are never able to arrive at a recognition and knowledge of the Truth. Amplified Bible
Plato considered ethics as the premier form of knowledge, calling attention to the intellectual starting point of virtue by identifying virtue with wisdom. In essence, he alleges human wisdom to be the ultimate form of morality; this is idolatry in its most disgusting appearance. It is man worshipping himself thru his own knowledge. In his treatise, ‘The Republic,’ Plato put himself in place of God, envisioning all of humanity imprisoned in unreality, awaiting the philosopher that would eventually attain for them true reality via his mystic knowledge. This guy sounds like another Bhaghwan Shree Rajneesh!
Aristotle’s rotten fruit doesn’t fall too far from Plato’s ethereal nonsense tree, although his system of logic formed the basis for the science of logic, which is noteworthy and has justifiable merit. His theory of deductive inference was a process for drawing conclusions from accepted premises by means of logical reasoning. His theory is represented by the syllogism, which is a deductive argument that utilizes two premises and a conclusion, and a set of rules for scientific method.
Aristotle considered the science of natural bodies, physics, as the first in the order of studies, and the science of mind (nous) or intelligence (logos) to be the second. He believed the principles of ‘knowledge’ (i.e. – Greek = gnosis; Latin = science) are the only logical explanation for the origins of all things existing. Again, without God in his equations, Aristotle was forced to explain the behavior of mankind and the reason for human existence (i.e. – human ‘being’) using only the observations, hypothesis, and conclusions derived from nature. At best, the ‘mysterious knowledge’ that provides the only hope and explanation he desires, can never be found apart from the Almighty.
L Ephesians 3:9-12 I was chosen to explain to everyone this plan, which God, the Creator of all things, had kept secret from the beginning. 10 God's purpose was to show his wisdom in all its rich variety to all the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms. They will see this when Jews and Gentiles are joined together in his church. 11 This was his plan from all eternity, and it has now been carried out through Christ Jesus our Lord. 12 Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come fearlessly into God's presence, assured of his glad welcome. New Living Translation
Neoplatonism flourished throughout the Roman Empire in the First Century and this was especially the case in Rome. Rome was the seat for government and a hub for international travel; it was also just a short distance from Athens, the religious and philosophic center of the Mediterranean (apart from Alexandria of course). In the apostle Paul’s letter to the church at Rome, he seems to be addressing the influences of Greek philosophy, notably Aristotle:
L Romans 1:18-22 But God shows his anger from heaven against all sinful, wicked people who push the truth away from themselves. 19 For the truth about God is known to them instinctively. God has put this knowledge in their hearts. 20 From the time the world was created, people have seen the earth, sky, and all that God made. They can clearly see his invisible qualities — his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse whatsoever for not knowing God. 21 Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn't worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. The result was that their minds became dark and confused. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became utter fools instead. New Living Translation
I could elaborate for the rest of my life on all the various philosophies and philosophers throughout time, but I have achieved in this brief presentation what I hope will illustrate the futility of using man’s theory to explain our human existence, values, and morality. Jesus hits the proverbial nail on the head in his words to the Pharisees, who, although not steeped in Philonic Judaism’s use of philosophy, were motivated by the same type of pride that governs the philosopher:
Luke 16:14-15 Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, were listening to all these things and were scoffing at Him. And He said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God. New American Standard Bible - Updated Edition
Little is written in the New Testament scriptures concerning the effects of Neoplatonism in the churches, albeit that would not have been the focal point of any of the epistles, with the exception of Paul’s epistle to the Colossian church. The doctrinal corruption associated with Plato’s use of form, matter, and the logos did not take hold until the second century, but gained its greatest momentum in the fourth and fifth centuries.
Colossians 2:8 is one key verse than has been the object of scholarly dispute for centuries, mainly because most so-called scholars will not set aside their affinity for preformed doctrines, including viewing Christ as the, ‘Preincarnate Logos.’ This verse however, will be increasingly scrutinized in the years ahead, as more and more believers have access to study tools and Bible software.
L Colossians 2:8 Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. King James Version
Paul’s epistle to the Colossians contains exhortations about apparent Judaizers, which were trying to employ their use of the Law. This has led many to assume that his isolated use of the term, “philosophy,” in the text does not have bearing with respect to Gnosticism. However, the doctrinal bias of most Christian scholars has blinded them to look in the direction of Philonic Judaism’s influence, as mentioned earlier. Strong’s says the Greek word, “philosophia,” as used in Colossians 2:8 refers to, “philosophy, i.e. (specifically) Jewish sophistry,” a form of philosophy still practiced today.
Further evidence that Greek philosophers were making inroads into the Jewish synagogues is found the Greek meaning and applications of the word translated in Colossians 2:8, “the rudiments,” of the world. Of this word, The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament © 1992 by AMG International, Inc. Revised Edition, 1993 says:
“rudiments” = NT:4747 stoicheía; the meaning is, “the basic parts, rudiments, elements, or components of something. Among the ancient Greek philosophers, it designated the four basic and essential elements of which the universe consisted, namely, earth, water, air, and fire.”
Elsewhere in the New Testament, the only word cognate (relative) associated with the Greek word, “philosophia,” as used in Colossians 2:8 is found in Acts 17:17. The context of Acts 17 shows that the apostle Paul was amongst Jews and Jewish proselytes before his speech (on Mars Hill) near the Areopagus.
L Acts 17:16-19 While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was deeply troubled by all the idols he saw everywhere in the city. 17 He went to the synagogue to debate with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and he spoke daily in the public square to all who happened to be there. 18 He also had a debate with some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers. When he told them about Jesus and his resurrection, they said, "This babbler has picked up some strange ideas.” Others said, “He's pushing some foreign religion.” 19 Then they took him to the Council of Philosophers. "Come and tell us more about this new religion," they said. New Living Translation
As you can see from the context, these sects of philosophy are not mentioned in a favorable light, and this would be reinforcement for the precept taught in Colossians 2:8, exhorting Christians not to be deceived by manmade philosophy. Below, I have pasted some excerpts taken from The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament © 1992 by AMG International, Inc. Revised Edition, 1993; these quotes are descriptions of the philosophic sects of the Epicureans and Stoics in Athens, who were undoubtedly in some way or another affected by the ancient philosophy of Plato and Aristotle:
L STOIC = Stoïkón NT:4770 a Stoic, a person who belonged to a sect of heathen philosophers which was founded by Zeno, a Cypriot philosopher ( 336-264 B.C.). He taught that men should be free from passion, and submit without complaint to unavoidable situations. The name came from the stoá (NT: 4745), a porch on which Zeno taught in Athens (300 B.C.). The Stoics generally taught that it is virtue alone that renders men happy, that the ills of life are but fancied evils, and that a wise man will not to be moved with either joy or grief. In their practice, they displayed much patience and were very strict in their regard to moral virtue. They held justice in high regard, sometimes taking it upon themselves to enact it. They were very insensitive to others, expecting others to patiently endure their faults. The best-known Stoics are Seneca, Epictetus, and the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius. Some Stoics met Paul in Athens (Acts 17:18). The Stoics were pantheistic and believed that sometime after death the soul was reabsorbed into the cosmic whole.
L EPICUREAN = Epikoúreios - NT: 1946; an Epicurean, a follower of Epicurus, the Athenian philosopher (Acts 17:18). The Epicureans were a sect of Gentile philosophers founded by Epicurus, 342-271 B.C., who was born on the island of Samos. They were in high repute in Athens during Paul's time (Acts 17:18). Their doctrines held that the world came into being and will be dissolved by chance or by the effect of mechanical causes moved by chance; all events happen by chance or are occasioned by mechanical causes; the soul dies with the body; there is no future retribution; man's chief happiness lies in pleasure or bodily ease. This philosophy obtained a wide popularity in Asia Minor and Rome as well as in the city and land of its originator. It derided the mythology of the ancients but proposed nothing better. It created a frame of mind hostile to all religion, particularly to the serious doctrines of the gospel.
In summary I have pasted ther Amplified Bible translation of Colossians 2:8, which
‘amplifies,’ the Greek meaning and application of key words discussed in the expose.
L Colossians 2:8 See to it that no one carries you off as spoil or makes you yourselves captive by his so-called philosophy and intellectualism and vain deceit (idle fancies and plain nonsense), following human tradition (men's ideas of the material rather than the spiritual world), just crude notions following the rudimentary and elemental teachings of the universe and disregarding [the teachings of] Christ (the Messiah). Amplified Bible
For Olvin, thank you for your patience in waiting so long, as I did my research, deciding on which elements to use that would be succinct and informative. Most of all, I thank my God thru His son Jesus the Christ, for providing me with the physical stamina and ability beyond my own abilities and chronic pain to complete another work for His kingdom. Also, special thanks to all my beloved brothers and sisters, who are so diligently praying for my wife and I. Lastly, to my precious wife Pam, I give my deepest thanks, for she has sacrificed so much for the sake of the body of Christ.
With love always in Jesus~
1 Peter 3:15 Always be ready to give a logical defense to anyone who asks you to account for the hope that is in you, but do it courteously and respectfully.