Marks of False Religion

A study of Colossians 2:8 in context with applications for today

by Sandy Simpson, 6/11/15


Colossians 2:8 See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.


In context Paul is especially addressing, though perhaps not to the exclusion of other false religion, what had become the false religion of the Pharisees and Jewish leadership.  There were many Jewish so-called “Christians” making the rounds among the fledgling early churches who were trying to get the Gentiles to come under the Law from which Christ had purchased their freedom.  John Gill states this case well in his commentary.


Ver. 8. Beware lest any man spoil you, &c.] Or despoil you; rob you of the rich treasure of the Gospel, strip you of your spiritual armour, take away from you the truths and doctrines of Christ, and divest you of your spiritual privileges and blessings; suggesting, that the false teachers were thieves and robbers, and men of prey: or drive and carry you away as spoils, as the innocent harmless sheep are drove, and carried away by wolves, and by the thief that comes to steal, to kill, and destroy; intimating, that such as these were the heretics of those times; wherefore it became them to be upon their guard, to watch, look out, and beware, lest they should be surprised by these deceitful workers, who lay in wait to deceive; were wolves in sheep’s clothing, who transformed themselves into the apostles of Christ; and therefore it became them to take heed, lest any man hurt them, be he ever so wise and learned, or be thought ever so good, religious, and sincere; since men of this cast put on such masks and false appearances, on purpose to beguile. The things by which they imposed upon weak minds are as follow, and therefore to be shunned, avoided, and rejected:


through philosophy: not right philosophy, or true wisdom, the knowledge of God, of the things of nature, of things natural, moral, and civil; which may be attained unto by the use of reason, and light of nature. The apostle does not mean to condemn all arts and sciences, as useless and hurtful, such as natural philosophy in its various branches, ethics, logic, rhetoric, &c. when kept within due bounds, and in their proper place and sphere; for with instances of these the Scriptures themselves abound; but he means that philosophy, or science, which is falsely so called, the false notions of philosophers; such as the eternity of matter, and of this world, the mortality of souls, the worshipping of demons and angels, &c. and also such principles in philosophy, which in themselves, and in the things of nature, are true, but, when applied to divine things, to things above nature, the mere effects of divine power and grace, and of pure revelation, are false; as that out of nothing, nothing can be made, which in the things of nature is true, but not to be applied to the God of nature, who has made the world out of nothing; as also that from a privation to an habit there is no return, which is naturally true, but not to be applied to supernatural things, and supernatural agency; witness the miracles of Christ, in restoring sight to the blind, life to the dead, &c. and therefore is not to be employed against the resurrection of the dead: philosophy may be useful as an handmaid; it is not to be a mistress in theological things; it may subserve, but not govern; it is not to be made use of as a judge, or rule in such matters; the natural man, on these principles, neither knows nor receives the things of the Spirit of God; judgment is not to be made and formed according to them; as of a trinity of persons in the Godhead; of the sonship of Christ, and his incarnation; of man’s redemption by him, of reconciliation and satisfaction by his blood and sacrifice, of the pardon of sin, of a sinner’s justification, of the resurrection of the dead, and such like articles of faith: that philosophy which is right, can only be a rule of judgment in things relating to it, and not in those which are out of its sphere: in a word, the apostle here condemns the philosophy of the Jews, and of the Gnostics; the former had introduced natural philosophy into the worship and service of God, and the things appertaining to their religion; and had made the tabernacle and temple, and the most holy place, and the things belonging thereunto, emblems and hieroglyphics of natural things; as of the sun, moon, and stars, and their influences, and of the four elements, and of moral virtue, &c. as appears from the writings of Josephus {r}, and Philo {s}; when they were types and representatives of spiritual things under the Gospel dispensation; and the latter had brought in the philosophy of Pythagoras and Plato, concerning abstinences, purgations, sacrifices, and ceremonies of worship, given to demons and angels: in short, the apostle’s meaning is, that philosophy is not to be mixed with the pure Gospel of Christ; it has always been fatal to it; witness the school of Pantaenus in Alexandria, in the early times of Christianity, by which the simplicity of the Gospel was greatly corrupted; and the race of schoolmen a few centuries ago, who introduced the philosophy of Aristotle, Averrois, and others, into all the subjects of divinity: to observe no more, such kind of philosophy is here meant, which may be truly called


vain deceit: that is, that which is vain and empty, and has no solid foundation, even in nature and reason itself; and which being applied to divine things and religious observances, is deceitful and delusory:


after the tradition of men; either of the Gentiles, who had their traditions in religion; or of the Jews, called the traditions of the elders, and of the fathers, which the Pharisees were fond of, by which they transgressed the commandments of God; which the apostle was brought up in, and was zealous of formerly, but now was delivered from, and rightly condemned as idle, trifling, and pernicious:


after the rudiments of the world, or "the elements of the world"; not the four elements of earth, air, fire, and water; or the worship of the sun, moon, and stars, &c. among the idolatrous Gentiles, but the ceremonial laws of the Jews; see # Ga 4:8,9; which were that to them in religion, as the A B C, or letters, are in grammar, the elements and rudiments of it; and though these were to them, when children, useful, but now under the Gospel dispensation are weak, beggarly, and useless, and not to be attended to:


and not after Christ; what he has taught and prescribed, the doctrines and commandments of Christ, the treasures of wisdom and knowledge which are in him; and therefore all such vain and deceitful philosophy, human traditions, and worldly rudiments, are to be rejected; Christ and his Gospel, the revelation he has made, are the standard of doctrine and worship; he only is to be heard and attended to, and whatever it contrary thereunto is to be guarded against. (John Gill’s Expositor, emphasis mine)


Application for Today




Paul contrasts the true Gospel that Jesus Christ had revealed to him and commissioned him to preach with the vain philosophies of men. 


Colossians 2:4 I say this so that no one will delude you with persuasive argument.


The Jewish leaders and Gentile philosophers were, many times, able to convince people with their high sounding arguments.  This is one mark of false religion.  When those who call themselves believers, in particular, do not stick to the wisdom of the written Word and the revelation given to the prophets, Apostles and the churches by Jesus Christ, they go “off the map” and begin to weave their own religion that serves their worldview and personal purposes.  The use of clever words and arguments often appeals to those who deem themselves intellectual but who have deluded themselves because they have actually never learned biblical discernment.  This is why it is so critical for the leadership of churches to bring the Lord’s flock to maturity so that they can distinguish between what is right and what is wrong.


Hebrews 5:14  But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.

Ephesians 4:11-14  It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fulness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.


To bring Christians to maturity was the goal of Paul through the true Gospel and sound doctrine so that they would no longer be babies who could be blown all over the place by false teachers.  Yet today the norm in many churches and denominations is for the winds of doctrine to be allowed to blow people every which way because of the leadership’s low regard for discernment, which they have learned at the hands of the very false teachers who teach that discernment is evil as a way to cover their philosophies.  The hirelings of today would rather read trendy books with radical ideas of “Christianity” than study their Bibles.  Many have fallen so low as to get up in the pulpit and read directly from the sermons of false teachers verbatim from web sites like rather than do the work they were hired to do in preparing sermons by the study of God’s Word and inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  This practice has been encouraged by people like Rick Warren who have a devious agenda they are trying to accomplish.


Paul repeats his admonition again from verse four. Any time you see things repeated in Scripture in the same few verses, it is for added emphasis. We are the ones responsible to make sure that no one takes us a prisoner through empty, hollow, deceptive ideas. We must guard ourselves in the faith. Later on we read in Colossians:


Colossians. 4:2 Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.


Peter says we must remain on guard against men who try to carry Christians away from sound doctrine.


2 Peter 3:17 Therefore, dear friends, since you already know this, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position.


Our security is based on believing in Jesus Christ and living in obedience to Him.  If our belief system is compromised what kind of security do we have then?  We are the ones who are responsible to continue in Christ and not allow ourselves to be brainwashed by heretics.


Here is another modern example of unbiblical teachings to avoid.  I need to warn you again about the false teachings of Daniel Kikawa, YWAM, Richard Twiss, and many others of the World Christian Gathering of Indigenous People movement (WCGIP) or First Nation’s Movement that is coming on strong here in the Pacific islands and elsewhere in the two-thirds world via Youth With A Mission (YWAM). Why am I warning you specifically about this group? Because they are trying to take indigenous peoples, especially Christians, captive through “deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.” This is a perfect example of what we are studying. Daniel Kikawa’s book “Perpetuated in Righteousness” and Don Richardson’s rewritten book “Eternity in Their Hearts”are two of the guiding books of this movement. But these books are unbiblical—in fact, they are blasphemous because they are endorsing cultures making up their own mythologies about their former “supreme beings”, and going back to worshipping them in the name of the true God, claiming they have always known God. They use one verse, Romans 1:20 and ignore the context.


Romans 1:20-32 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is for ever praised. Amen. Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion. Furthermore, since they did not think it worth while to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practise them.


The context of Rom. 1:20 is that the knowledge of God was corrupted in ALL Gentile cultures. They all had supreme beings, in fact, always a supreme father and mother patterned after the false religion they developed at Babel which included the worship of Nimrod and Semiramis. But the Bible is clear that the supreme beings of the nations are not the LORD God, as in the case of Amen (Amon) of Egypt (Jer. 46:25), Hadad of the Arameans (1 Kings 20:28), Marduk of Babylon (Dan. 3:16-18), and many other "detestable" gods (Lev. 18:30; Deut. 7:25, 7:26, 12:31, 18:9, 20:18, 27:15, 29:17, 32:16; 1 Kings 11:5, 11:7, 14:24; 2 Kings 16:3, 21:2, 21:11, 23:13, 23:24; 2 Chron. 15:8, 28:3, 33:2, 34:33, 36:14; Ezra 9:1, 9:11; Prov. 21:27, 28:9; Isaiah 1:13; Jer. 4:1, 7:30, 16:18, 32:35; Ezekiel 5:9, 5:11, 11:18, 11:21, 12:16, 14:6; Malachi 2:11).


2 Peter 2:18-21 For they mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of sinful human nature, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity—for a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him. If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning.

Titus 1:9-14 9  He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it. For there are many rebellious people, mere talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision group. They must be silenced, because they are ruining whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach—and that for the sake of dishonest gain. Even one of their own prophets has said, "Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons." This testimony is true. Therefore, rebuke them sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith and will pay no attention to Jewish myths or to the commands of those who reject the truth.


By teaching these ideas, the WCGIP is bringing people who have just come out of unbelief back into slavery to false gods (2 Peter 2:18-21), and teaching things they ought not to teach (Titus 1:9-14). As those in Paul's day were spreading Jewish myths, today the WCGIP is spreading Gentile myths instead of the true Gospel. So “see to it that no one takes you captive” in this and other deceptive ideas that are being spread around the world by a number of groups, including the New Apostolic Reformation and Emerging Church. If you want more information on these false theologies, use the following URLs for research:


My organization is called the Apologetics Coordination Team or ACT for short, meaning we are taking our words into action and confronting these false ideas and false teachers directly in the churches. Please be a person who stands for the truth wherever God has put you! (Sandy Simpson, Colossians Study)


There are many more examples I could give of the philosophies of men that are corrupting the teaching of the written Word.  Movements such as the Emergent Church, Word of Faith, New Apostolic Reformation, WCGIP, and others are leading Christians astray and are going to end up shipwrecking the faith of those who listen to them and change their paradigm.


1 Timothy 1:19  holding on to faith and a good conscience. Some have rejected these and so have shipwrecked their faith.


“Empty Deception”


All deception is empty of real biblical truth.  It leaves people empty as well.  That is why there is a famine of the Word today just as there was in the time of Amos.


Amos 8:11  "The days are coming," declares the Sovereign LORD, "when I will send a famine through the land—not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the LORD.


Empty deception is vain deceit.  All is vanity with deception that does not help anyone, in fact hinders people from having a true relationship with the Lord.  I like how the KJV uses the word “vanity” over and over.


Psalms 119:37  Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity; and quicken thou me in thy way.

2 Peter 2:18  For when they speak great swelling words of vanity, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through much wantonness, those that were clean escaped from them who live in error.

Psalms 12:2  They speak vanity every one with his neighbour: with flattering lips and with a double heart do they speak.


The ideas of men, their philosophies, alleged “revelations”, false visions and imaginations of their sinful minds are vain and deceitful.


Jeremiah 14:14  Then the LORD said to me, "The prophets are prophesying lies in my name. I have not sent them or appointed them or spoken to them. They are prophesying to you false visions, divinations, idolatries and the delusions of their own minds.


This description of false prophets from the Lord to Jeremiah is just as relevant today as it was then.  The marks of a false prophet, or false teacher for that matter, are false visions, divinations, idolatries and delusions.  They are empty of truth but if people give them credence they can become a stumbling block and ultimately a faith destroyer.


2 Timothy 2:18b    and they destroy the faith of some.


There is so much empty deception today it would be impossible to detail in one article.  This is one reason I have my ACT site; to detail the vain deceit of many organizations and individuals and catalog it as long as there is no repentance from those ideas and practices so that others can avoid the pitfalls of people who try to hide what they have done and said over time.  A good example of the continuance of empty deception are the reported instances in apostate churches of the appearance of “glory clouds”, fire, angel feathers, angel footprints, gems, gold teeth, gold dust, slain in the spirit, Reiki, contemplative prayer, meditative trance states, wild manifestations and other things that are obviously not from God but are being use by the enemy to legitimize the “ministries” of a plethora of false teachers out there and get people to stop their God-given reasoning and discernment process and give themselves over fully to the enemy’s collaborators.  These are things that degrade a person’s belief system until they are shipwrecked and destroyed.  Oh, you say, it is impossible for your very faith to be meddled with by the enemy and false teachers.  Then why did Paul say that false teachers can shipwreck and destroy “the faith” of some?


“Traditions of Men”


Mankind has always been enamored with works religion.  They believe that if they set up enough traditions and customs and laws they can create a perfect society and save themselves.  This is why Jesus spent most of his time on earth in His first Incarnation telling the religious leadership of Israel that they were hypocrites.


Matthew 23:13  "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.

Matthew 23:15  "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.

Matthew 23:23  "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practised the latter, without neglecting the former.

Matthew 23:25  "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.

Matthew 23:27  "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean.

Matthew 23:29  "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous.


This is why the teaching of the WCGIP is so evil.  They teach that God created all the cultures of the world and put customs in them so that they would retain the knowledge and true worship of God.  But cultures are the inventions of men.


Mark 7:8-9  You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men." And he said to them: "You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!


God did not send out the nations from Babel, by confusing their languages, with the true knowledge of Himself.  They had already abandoned God in favor of polytheism and the worship of the created things.  God then gave them over to their delusions and traditions and they no longer knew God.


Galatians 4:8 Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods.
1 Corinthians 1:21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.
1 John 3:1 How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.
Romans 1:28 Furthermore, since they did not think it worth while to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done.
1 Thessalonians 4:5 ...not in passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God...
Ephesians 2:12-13 ...remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.
2 Thessalonians 1:8 He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus


Without the Gospel message those who rely on the blasphemous message of the WCGIP, Don Richardson, Daniel Kikawa, Richard Twiss and a whole host of others, are relying on the traditions of men which are false mythologies, empty deception and vain philosophies.


“Elementary Principles of this World”


When I reread this passage, even though I know that this was originally addressing the “the ceremonial laws of the Jews; which were that to them in religion, as the A B C, or letters, are in grammar, the elements and rudiments of it; and though these were to them, when children, useful, but now under the Gospel dispensation are weak, beggarly, and useless, and not to be attended to” I thought immediately of how the mystical has entered many churches, just as it entered Judaism.  Mystical experiences are pedaled by many false teachers these days including New Age practices gleaned from the occult which rely on the elements of the world.   The minutia of this world includes many things but also includes the paranormal and demonism.  We see a lot of manipulation of the beings thrown to this earth in the lives of people, including alleged “Christians”, these days. God gave the Gentiles over to a worldly mindset, as opposed to what Don Richardson teaches where he claims God put “eternity in their hearts”, making his arguments sound high minded.  


Ecclesiastes 3:11 He hath made every thing beautiful in his time: also he hath set the world in their heart, so that no man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end. (KJV)


I wrote an article on this subject showing that what God put in the hearts of men was a worldly mindset, a focus on the temporal, therefore they cannot understand spiritual things without the written Word enlightened by the Holy Spirit Who works from within born again Christians.  When men teach people to cherish temporal earthly carnal things rather than spiritual things they are simply appealing to the sinful nature of man.  They have incorporated the teachings of eastern mysticism, in particular, which focus on the “cosmos” as entirely inhabited by Divinity, which is pantheism.  Pantheism has invaded the churches from the false religions of the world. 


Romans 12:2  Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.


“Rather than according to Christ”


Much of the hoopla of the modern churches is done according to culture and the world instead of “according to Christ”.  Marketing principles are used to lure people to church, worldly music is employed to make churches look like they are culturally “hip”, conveniences are added to the church grounds to satisfy “felt needs”, programs and materials are used from sources that have not been investigated as to their doctrinal suitability, women are accepted into head leadership roles, gays are accepted as part of the body of Christ, members are not challenged as to their lifestyle choices or reminded that they are to be a witness for Christ by how they conduct themselves, bigger and bigger churches are built which negate personal contact and accountability, speakers are invited to the churches and their materials offered for sale without regard to their teachings, all manner of manifestations are allowed as a result of the import of “slain in the spirit” from the occult and New Age practices, and on and on it goes. 


Philippians 1:27  Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel

Proverbs 20:11  Even a child is known by his actions, by whether his conduct is pure and right.

Proverbs 21:8  The way of the guilty is devious, but the conduct of the innocent is upright.

Matthew 5:13-16  "You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. "You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.




Christians, in order to remain faithful, need to take seriously the repeated admonitions of the Apostles to stay true to Jesus Christ, the Gospel and sound doctrine.  This is the only way to protect ourselves from the wolves who continue to invade the churches.


Matthew 7:15  "Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.