“See to it that no one is making a captive of you through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the principles of the world, rather than according to Christ” (Colossians 2:8).
This passage warns us against succumbing to the Levitical system of Christianity. “Beware”, Paul starts off; “take care”, “make sure”; “see to it”; the verb is in the imperative so it is a strong warning. What we are to beware of is being made a captive. The verb here is a present active participle, meaning that it is something that is happening currently not necessarily something that happened in the past. Paul writes to Timothy in the same vein, hoping that God may rescue those who have gone astray after false doctrines “and they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him unto his will” (2 Timothy 2:26). Captivity speaks of bondage and gives the idea of a helpless and hopeless condition; it is so subtle that people do not know that they are being taken captive. Jesus, of course, came to set the captives free (Luke 4:18); this was His prophesied mission (Isaiah 61:1). But once freed, it is possible to slide once more back into captivity.
And how is this accomplished? Through “philosophy and empty deception”. Philosophy is love of wisdom and stands in contrast to love of God. Love of wisdom is self aggrandisement. “Empty” is the translation of the Greek adjective kenos and means hollowness and is synonymous with “vain”, signifying void of any result. James uses the same word to describe those who do not know that faith without works is useless (James 2:20). So this empty deceit produces nothing; it is hollow and incapable of holding anything of value, void of result and producing nothing profitable.
This worldly philosophy and empty deceit is consistent with the traditions of men, Paul writes; it is man centred, not God centred. And it should be emphasised that Paul is writing to, and of, Christians and it is Christians who are holding to these worldly traditions and philosophies. The “principles of the world” spoken of here are just that, world centred concepts that form a pattern of worldliness. We are meant to be dead to these Paul writes (Colossians 2:20). The Greek word translated as “elements” is stoicheion and means the fundamental starting point, or the first step in a series, the character of which is reflected in all that follows. Once this worldliness infects a Church, it manifests itself in many ways and comes to govern Church life and activity; in worship, liturgy and teaching. Fundamentally, it is not according to Christ and, having Satanic origins, its purpose is to “deceive you in persuasive words” (Colossians 2:4).
“Deceive” here is paralogizomai and comes from logizomai “to reason” and para meaning “amiss”; it is translated in the KJV as “beguiled” which is a better translation because it suggests the subtlety and cunning of the enemy.