Elements has many meanings and they are all rooted in philosophy and pagan religion. The text highlighted in yellow is slightly Christian related as in it’s mentioned in the Bible. Not as a valid Christian teaching but to bring across a certain point in a way the pagans understood. And mostly ridiculing their concepts. The teachings on elements varied trough time. Below a short summary of those pagan concepts. They should only be studied to understand the background of the word “element” and with that the background of the verse. Obviously it includes pagan teachings but also Jewish teachings that God never ordained. I think it’s safe to assume we can add parts of Christianity to the list too; which is not 100% free from flaws either. Simply put Peter states that (being in) Christ gives absolute freedom; all other teachings equals inferiority, lies and bondage. At His second coming all false doctrines will be ‘burned’ away by the truth a.k.a. the Fiery Law. Teachings about the elements include:

According to G. Bornkamm Col 2:23 can “hardly be translated with any certainty” (Aufsätze I, 151; similarly E. Schweizer, Col [Eng. tr., 1982] 168: “almost impossible to translate”). It is clear, however, that the deutero-Pauline author — quite in the theological tradition of Paul — wants to expose the real roots of the cult of asceticism (on the worship of cosmic elements, → στοιχεῖον 3) and thus of all religions based on cultic self-redemption. The term τιμή may even have been a “catchword from the false teachings” in Colossae (E. Lohse, Col and Phlm [Hermeneia] 124; one cannot determine with any certainty whether τιμή here is additionally a t.t. for deification within the mystery cults; cf. Bornkamm, Aufsätze I, 151; Lohse 127; cf. R. Reitzenstein, Hellenistic Mystery-Religions [1978] 320–22). In any case, the form of honor sought in physical asceticism ultimately serves — admittedly unconsciously — the satisfaction of the flesh and thus leads to dishonor (an idea at least distantly related to Rom 1:21ff., → ἀτιμία 3), for asceticism as a sacrilegious means of control over God and as unadmitted self-idolatry denies God the honor due him. Not to honor God means to dishonor oneself. E. Lohmeyer thus speaks justifiably of Col 2:23 as the “ironic response” to the Colossian philosophy (Col [KEK] 129)
Horst Robert Balz and Gerhard Schneider, Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament, Translation of: Exegetisches Worterbuch zum Neuen Testament., 3:359 (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1990-c1993).


The phrase “with fervent heat” is from the single word καυσούμενα, which comes from a verb meaning to “be consumed by heat, burn up.”41 This word is “a medical term used of the heat of fever,” and “denotes a violent consuming heat.”42 The word is directly connected with the phrase “shall melt,” a translation of the single word λυθήσεται. The verb means “to loose, untie,” “set free,” “destroy, bring to an end, abolish, do away with,”43 and also “to dissolve.”44 Does not this word, in connection with the “fervent heat,” and the “great noise” communicate the same thought as that of nuclear fission?
Bibliotheca Sacra  : A Quarterly Published by Dallas Theological Seminary., 364 (Dallas TX: Dallas Theological Seminary, 1996, c1955-1995).

→ The nuclear fission concept was unknown at that time, but obviously an inspired writer can pass down knowledge not of himself. That said I think there is another much more obvious explanation. The ancient Jews were enslaved by the law. (The letter of the law kills). Not really the God made parts of the Law but the hundreds of manmade additions to “improve” God’s Law. The bolded words easily support such a view. Loose/untie/set free mean being released from the heavy yoke of the enslaving law. Destroy/end/do away put an end to the enslaving law which simply means liberation. Jesus task was to liberate mankind. Pay mankind's redemption. Start the age of grace. And more similar highly positive terms. He did a good job nearly 2000 years ago. But mankind still doesn’t get it. Constant wars. Many pagans. And Christianity is divided in many denominations. Total lack of unity. Jesus has a lot of work ahead. Destroying the earth also gives Scriptural problems. Jesus is going to rule the earth for a 1000 years until all enemies are submitted we should ask ourselves who is going to be submitted if all all bad people persisted when the earth passed away (by nuclear fission) at His second coming. I don’t know know how long a earth wide nuclear strike will take but likely it’s much closer to a 1000 hours or even minutes than a 1000 years.


στοιχεῖον, ου, τό   stoicheion   foundation, element*

1. Occurrences in the NT — 2. Hellenistic usage — 3. The Pauline corpus  — 4. 2 Pet 3:10, 12 — 5. Heb 5:12

Lit.: BAGD s.v. — H. D. Betz, Gal (Hermeneia) 204f., 215–17. — J. Blinzler, “Lexikalisches zu dem Terminus τὰ στοιχεῖα τοῦ κόσμου bei Paulus,” SPCIC 1961 (AnBib 17 / 18, 1963) II, 429–43. — G. Delling, TDNT VII, 670–87. — J. Gnilka, Col (HTKNT, 1980) 121–27, 156f. — E. Lohse, Col and Phlm (Hermeneia) 96–99, 122f. — W. Schwabe, “Mischung” und “Element” im Griechischen bis Platon (Archiv für Begriffsgeschichte 3, 1980) 254–61. — E. Schweizer, “Die Elemente der Welt,” idem, Beiträge zur Theologie des NT (1970) 147–63. — idem, “Slaves of the Elements and Worshippers of Angels: Gal 4:3, 9 and Col 2:8, 18, 20, ” JBL 107 (1988) 455–68. — P. Vielhauer, “Gesetzesdienst und Stoicheiadienst im Galaterbrief,” FS Käsemann 543–55. — For further bibliography see TWNT X, 1271f.

1. Στοιχεῖον occurs 4 times in the Pauline corpus, twice in 2 Peter, and once in Hebrews, always pl.

2. Στοιχεῖον refers to “that which belongs to a series,” in linguistic theory the individual constituent parts of a syllable or word, its “smallest constituent parts,” in music the individual tone. This leads to the meanings “principles of something” (Xenophon Mem. ii.1.1; Plutarch Lib. Educ. 16 [Moralia 12c]) and “principles of a science or art” (of music: Plato Tht. 206b; of mathematics: Euclid Elementa).

This expression played a significant role in the cosmology of antiquity. Plato was already familiar with the designation, later common in Stoic philosophy, of the four (Empedoclean) “[proto-]elements of the cosmos” (earth, water, air, and fire) as στοιχεῖα (cf. Ti. 48b; Zeno of Citium (apud Diogenes Laertius vii.136f.); similarly Philo Her. 140; Philo Cher. 127). The celestial bodies also belong to the realm of the elements (Philo Spec. Leg.. ii.255; Wis 13:2), though they were probably called στοιχεῖα only after the NT (Blinzler 432ff.; Delling 681–83; cf., however, Lohse 99 n.41). Philo (Spec. Leg. 255f.; Philo Vit. Cont.. 3–5: differentiation between cults of the elements and of the celestial bodies!) and Wis 13:1–11, among others, already show that the elements were worshipped in Hellenistic syncretism; just how far their deification went, however, is unclear (cf. Delling 673–75, 676–81).

3. It is much disputed whether the στοιχεῖα τοῦ κόσμου (Gal 4:3, 9) are to be understood within this syncretistic context, and resolution of the question depends on whether Paul has picked up a catchword used by his Galatian adversaries. If this is the case, then the false teachers demonstrate not only a Judaizing tendency (cf. 5:1–4), but also a Hellenistic syncretistic tendency that included worship of the cosmic elements, esp. observance (4:10) of special dates and festivals (cf. Schweizer, “Elemente” 162).

More likely Paul uses this term, known to him from (Stoic) popular philosophy, on his own initiative to designate collectively both the Jewish Torah, which the false teachers understood as a path to salvation and advised the Galatians to follow at least in part (5:3), and the previous Gentile piety of the Galatians (4:3f., 8f.). He considered both to be manifestations of that power presently enslaving human beings (4:3, 5, 8f.), a power that nonetheless appears “beggarly” compared to the υἱοθεσία (v. 5); such power was the basis of human religious existence before Christ (Delling 685; cf. Vielhauer).

In contrast, the mention of the elemental spirits in Col 2:8, 20 undoubtedly does make use of the terminology of the false teachers in Colossae, in whose mystery-oriented (? — cf. v. 18) φιλοσοφία such spirits might have played a significant role. This philosophy amplified the traditional Christian message with its own παράδοσις (v. 8) and regarded these spirits as powers capable of preventing a person from attaining the fullness of salvation (cf. v. 9), if that person did not submit to them by following certain religious practices (such as worship of angels, partial renunciation of food, etc.: vv. 16–18; cf. the neo-Pythagorean text in Diels, Fragmente I, 448, l. 33–451, l. 19; Schweizer, “Elemente” 160ff.). Over against these assertions the author of Colossians, using Pauline formulations (cf. v. 20 [“if with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the universe”] with Rom 7:4, 6; Gal 2:19), emphasizes the invalidity of such regulations generated by worship of στοιχεῖα for the Christian who is removed from that world.

4. According to Stoic doctrine the elements will perish in the final conflagration (Diogenes Laertius vii.134). 2 Pet 3:10, 12 uses this image to portray the apocalyptic events on the “[judgment] day of the Lord.”

5. Heb 5:12 (cf. 6:1) speaks of the “first principles (στοιχεῖα τῆς ἀρχῆς) of God’s word,” i.e., of Christianity (cf. O. Michel, Heb [KEK] 235f.), which the letter’s recipients need to learn anew; the reference is to the repetition of catechism instruction.
Horst Robert Balz and Gerhard Schneider, Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament, Translation of: Exegetisches Worterbuch zum Neuen Testament., 3:277-278 (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1990-c1993).



 A. Outside the New Testament.

Since the most important senses of the word (1–4) occur contemporaneously in lit. and are presumed to be familiar, one cannot follow the semasiological development simply from the sequence of examples.1 In and of itself στοιχεῖον means “what belongs to a series,” as στοῖχος denotes the “series” to which an individual person or thing belongs, → stoicevw 666, 30 ff. with n. 1.

1. στοιχεῖον means the “length of a shadow”2 by which time is calculated, from Aristoph. Eccl., 652 (c. 390 b.c.) to Luc. Gallus, 9; Saturnalia, 17 etc. In extant texts3 apart from Phot., s.v. there is always ref. to the hour of the δεῖπνον, also Eubulus Fr., 119, 7 (CAF, II, 206), cf. Poll. Onom., VI, 44: τῇ σκιᾷ δʼ ἐτεκμαίροντο τὸν καιρὸν τῆς ἐπὶ τὸ δεῖπνον ὁδοῦ, ἣν καὶ στοιχεῖον ἐκάλουν. This is still presupposed as customary in the 4th cent. a.d.;4 Schol. on Luc. Gallus, 9 and Saturnalia, 175 speak of it as outdated, but they see a ref. to man’s shadow → n. 3.

2. Linguistically in Plat. and the theoreticians before him6 στοιχεῖον, as distinct from γράμμα (→ I, 761, 37 ff.), refers to the sound which is in a series with others, “part of a syllable or word,”7 so in the fairly early Crat., 393d, 424b–d, 433a, 434a–b etc. Only occasionally does it mean “basic word” as distinct from words added, 422a–b. In the later Theaet. στοιχεῖον is esp. the original part of a word considered in relation to the syllable as the combination (συλλαβή) of letters, 202e–204a, again not as an isolated element but as one in a series, cf. Polit., 278b–d. The meaning “part of a word” is the chief one in Plat. (but → 673, 6 ff.; 679, 3 ff.), though naturally the ref. can also be to the written letter, Polit., 277e; Resp., III, 402a. Sounds are the final elements ἐξ ὧν σύγκειται ἡ φωνὴ καὶ εἰς ἃ διαιρεῖται ἔσχατα, Aristot. Metaph., 4, 3, p. 1014a, 28 f. In Philo, as in most ancient grammar, the main ref. is to spoken parts of words differentiated as silent and vocal, Rer. Div. Her., 210; Agric., 136; also semi-vocal, Congr., 150. Vowels are the best and have most power, Leg. All., I, 14 cf. Sacr. AC., 74. The δύναμις of letters is discussed in Artemid. Oneirocr., III, 66 (p. 195, 18). Thus the question is asked why A is the first letter, Plut. Quaest. Conv., IX, 2, 2 (II, 737e–738a); esp. instructive is the larger fr. of an ancient grammar P. Osl., II, 13 (2nd cent. a.d.) which deals with the doctrine of letters.8 The divine logos comes between the cosmic elements so that they cannot destroy one another just as the vocal elements in words come between the silent ones, Philo Plant., 10. Abr., 81 also ref. primarily to the sound when it says that in the change of name from Abram to Abraham only one letter is doubled in sound, cf. on Sarah Mut. Nom., 61 and 77; Aet. Mund., 113 ref. to the written letters. Letters9 also play a role in Egypt. administration; the districts of Alexandria are named after the first 5 letters (Flacc., 55) and the records of the property office are arranged alphabetically, BGU, III, 959, 2 (2nd cent. a.d.). The use of numbers for letters is the basis of the combination of the two in gematria, which was so beloved in antiquity, → I, 461, 29 ff. Thus for Cl. Al. the 10 commandments (10 == I) refer to Jesus, Strom., VI, 145, 7; Paed., III, 89, 1, cf. the harp with 10 strings (Ps. 33:2), Paed., II, 43, 3. The no. of Abraham’s servants (Gn. 14:14) pts. to the cross (T == 300) and the name of Jesus (I == 10, H == 8), Strom., VI, 84, 3.10 Letters understood as sounds are esp. important in the gnosis of Marcus, Hipp. Ref., VI, 42, 4–52, 11:11 The 7 heavens constantly sound forth the 7 vowels; their echo becomes the creator of earthly existence, 48, 2 f. The elements from which this world is made are generated from the sound of a letter which rings forth in the upper world, 43, 2 etc. The sense “letter” often merges into that of “element” here. Finally—apart from the mysteriously powerful combinations of letters in a regular order, Preis. Zaub., II, 17a; 19a; 33 a fever amulet (all pap. 3rd cent. a.d.); 36, 115–133; 39 (both 4th cent. a.d.) etc.—the seven vowels are important in magic in constantly shifting arrangements in the Same context, e.g., in pap. of the 3rd–5th cent. a.d., II, 7, 476; 9, 3; 10, 43–49 (all 7 vowels in 7 different arrangements); 19a, 17–28; Ostrakon 2 (2nd cent. a.d., the magic words here consist mostly of collections of vowels).12 This explains the popularity of the name of Yahweh13 (Ι αω Diod. S., 1, 94, 2) in mag. formulae, Preis. Zaub., II, 7, 750 (3rd cent. a.d.); II, 12, 103 and 463 (100 a.d.); II, 19a, 21 f. (3rd cent a.d.)14 or on amulets, e.g., in the arrangement Ι αω αω ω, II, 7, 220 (3rd cent. a.d.); further material CIJ, I, 514 and 673 f. (3rd cent. a.d.), 679 and 717.

3. From sound as the original part of a word στοιχεῖον probably came to be transf. to the cosmos15 in place of ἀρχή → I, 480, 1 ff.

a. In antiquity the doctrine of the 4 elements is traced back to Empedocles, who develops it in his work On Nature.16 He does not use στοιχεῖον for these elements but enumerates them or speaks of them in the neut. plur. (“these”); only occasionally do we find a collective word like “roots,” Fr., 6, 1 (Diels, I, 311, 15). In the mythical form of his cosmology Emped. can describe original matter—elsewhere sun, earth, heaven and sea, Fr., 22, 2 (Diels, I, 320, 19), cf. earth, sea, air, ether, Fr., 38, 3 f. (I, 329, 1 f.)—by divine names, Fr., 6 (I, 311, 15 ff.),17 and he calls love and strife the powers which unite and divide them, Fr., 17, 7 f. (I, 316, 1 f.); 26, 5 f. (I, 323, 3 f.); 20, 2–5 (I, 318, 9 ff.); 21, 7 f. (I, 320, 2 f.). But this is hardly more than a form of expression. The four are eternal and incorruptible, Fr., 17, 30–35 (I, 317, 11 ff.), cf. Fr., 12 (I, 313, 27 f.), 15 (I, 314, 10 ff.). Apart from them there is nothing, and from the constant fluctuation of their admixture proceed all the visible things (δῆλα) that were and are and will be, plants, animals, men, and even the gods, Fr., 21, 9–14 (I, 320, 4 ff.); 23, 6–10 (I, 321, 15 ff.); 26, 1–4 (I, 322, 17 ff.): “For I became at once boy, girl, plant, bird and … fish,” Fr., 117 (I, 359, 1 f.). Thus, properly speaking, there is neither birth nor death but only mixing and the changing of what is mixed, Fr., 8 (I, 312, 7 ff.), cf. 9 (I, 312, 12 ff.). Since man consists of the same four as the rest he can know them; with the earthly material in him he knows the earth, with the water he sees water etc., Fr., 109 (I, 351, 20 ff.). How extensive was the influence of the statements of Emped.—with much alteration and popularisation—may be seen again and again right up to the def. of Hesych., s.v.: στοιχεῖον· πᾶν τὸ ἄτμητον καὶ ἀμερές, s.v. στοιχεῖα: πῦρ, ὕδωρ, γῆ καὶ ἀήρ, ἀφʼ ὧν τὰ σώματα, and Suid., s.v.: στοιχεῖόν ἐστιν, ἐξ οὗ πρώτου γίνεται τὰ γινόμενα καὶ εἰς ὃ ἔσχατον ἀναλύεται. τὰ δὴ δʼ στοιχεῖα εἶναι ὁμοῦ τὴν ἄποιον οὐσίαν, τὴν ὕλην κτλ.

b. Plato18 does not use στοιχεῖον for the four cosmic elements, Tim., 56b cf. 48b–c, but he has the word in the cosmology of Tim. for an “original constituent” (57c) which is not perceptible, 56b.19 For the elements he either speaks of the four or the like (32b–c; 49b; 82c) or of the four γένη, 53a; 78a; 82a, cf. Ps.-Plat., (→ n. 59) Epin., 984c. Acc. to Plato the four elements can change into one another: water hardens into earth, melts (τηκόμενον) into air, heated air becomes fire etc.; in this cycle becoming takes place. Tim., 49b–c cf. 56d–e. etc. Behind the visible is an invisible and formless entity which cannot be called fire, water etc. (51a) but appears in different forms in the four; this is the “nurse of becoming,” 52d. Before the ordering of the universe the four separated themselves from this in a provisional state, and only God then gave them their true form, 53a–b. He then created from them the world, which He alone can dissolve, 32b–c. Later Plato mythically describes the fashioning of man from the four, cf. esp. Tim., 73e; 74c; 78b. He logically regards sickness as a result of changes in the right relationship of the four γένη in the body (στάσεις, 82a), which he then discusses in detail. Plato did not invent this use of the doctrine of the basic elements. Its medical importance may be seen from Gal.’s work περὶ τῶν καθʼ Ἱπποκράτην στοιχείων20 and also from its actual use in teaching on health.21 The ἀρχαί of man, blood and seed, consist of the elements but in different mixtures. The seed has more οὐσία of fire and air, the blood more of the other two elements, Gal. De Sanitate Tuenda I, 2, 2–4 (CMG, V, 4, 2). Health is the συμμετρία τῶν στοιχείων, I, 5, 12. The doctor’s task is to promote the right admixture, VI, 3, 40 f. For Aristot. the four elements were heat and cold (the ποιητικά), dryness and moisture (the παθητικά), Meteor., IV, 1, p. 378b, 10–13. These proceed from undivided ὕλη, Gen. Corr., II, 1, p. 329a, 24–26, and from them come fire, water etc., p. 329a, 33–35, the ἁπλᾶ σώματα, II, 3, p. 330b, 1–32. The properties of the elements are united in these, p. 331a, 3–6. They arise out of one another (II, 4, p. 331a, 7 f.) and change into one another (a, 26–30), so that there is a cycle (p. 331b, 2 f.).

c. The Stoa distinguishes a passive (first matter) and a causal element (the logos materially considered), the eternal and imperishable ἀρχαί, from the four στοιχεῖα, the passive elements of earth and water and the active elements of air and fire, Nemesius De Natura Hominis, 5 (MPG, 40 [1863], 625B).22 These perish in the cosmic conflagration, Diog. L., VII, 134, just as they arose from fire as the first element in the sequence air-water-earth, Chrysipp. in Stob. Ecl., I, 129, 3–23. Through the changing of the elements23 the cosmos arises, and from their mixture come plants, animals etc., Diog. L., VII, 142.24 Later Stoicism takes up the thought of the constant changing of the elements into one another (earth-water-air-ether25 and vice versa from “above” to “below”), Epict. Fr., 8, and it adds a hortatory thought: Death is nothing terrible—it takes man whence he came to friends and relatives, the στοιχεῖα. What was fire in man goes back to fire etc:, Epict. Diss., III, 13, 14 f.26 M. Ant. plays on this thought continually. If the change is not bad for the elements (VI, 17, 1); why should change and dissolving be so for man? κατὰ φύσιν γάρ· οὐδὲν δὲ κακὸν κατὰ φύσιν, II, 17, 4, cf. VIII, 18, 2; IV, 5; M. Ant. can sometimes use for dying ἀναλύεσθαι εἰς τὰ στοιχεῖα, “to dissolve into the elements,” IV, 32, 3. Nothings perishes, just as nothing comes from nothing, IV, 4, 3.27 Everything will return to the cosmic basis (λόγος), X, 7, 5. To reflect constantly on the interchange of the elements and to consider the course of the stars washes away the filth of earthly life, VII, 47, cf. Epict. Fr., 8. For traditional assessments of the world of sense are conventional. In fact only the στοιχεῖα exist, M. Ant., VII, 31, 4 on the basis of Democr. Fr., 125 (Diels, II, 168, 6), where we find ἄτομα. How widespread was the doctrine of the elements, esp. in its application to man, may be seen in the ironical account of a young man who denies his parents φύσει λέγων γεγονέναι τὰ πάντα καὶ τὴν τῶν στοιχείων σύγκρασιν αἰτίαν εἶναι γενέσεως, οὐχὶ τοὺς πατέρας Alciphr. Ep., II, 38, 2.28 It may also be seen in the concept that all men are brothers for this reason, Schol. on Luc. Pergr. Mort., 13:29 κοινὸν ἅπασι τὰ κοσμικὰ στοιχεῖα, ἐξ ὧν καὶ συνιστάμεθα. The difference between slaves and free men is also relativised by it: Animas servorum et corpora nostra materia constare putat paribusque elementis, Juv., 14, 16 f.30 Neo-Pythagoreanism finally unites the animal kingdom to man in a kind of ἀδελφότης through sharing the same elements and the mixture of them, Iambl. Vit. Pyth., 108 cf. 169.31 Dio Chrys. Or., 40, 35–39 uses the thought of the harmony of the elements in his call for political unity; without this harmony the elements, which are ἄφθαρτα and θεῖα, would perish.32 40, 36 and 38 f. ref. to the order in the course of the stars, though these are clearly distinguished from the στοιχεῖα. What Dio Chrys. says theoretically about the elements here in a traditional form, though for a hortatory purpose, he seeks to put in the form of a myth about the four horses of Zeus33 in 36, 42–46; these are related to Helios (the swiftest), Hera (the slower air), and Poseidon and Hestia (the motionless). But the doctrine of the elements cannot all be put in this myth. Thus 36, 51 speaks of the changing of the elements, and Dio Chrys. combines the myth with other metaphors and mythical statements. The one that fits in best is that of Zeus as the one who steers the fiery chariot of the starry heaven, 36, 42–44. When Dio Chrys. speaks of a corresponding Persian cult in 36, 41, he is referring to specific facts of religious history.34 But in the main it seems that his hortatory purpose evokes the myth rather than any religious worship in his own world.35 Around the birth of Christ we see in allegorising a mixture of the rationalising of myth and religious statements about nature;36 both Philo and the Apologists obviously play on this. In his interpretation of Homer, Heracl. imports the current doctrine of the elements into poetry.37 When Hom. Il., 20, 67 f. speaks of the fight between Apollo and Poseidon he has in view the στοιχεῖα of fire and water, Heracl. Hom. All., 7; Zeus and Hera are ether and air (the softest element), 15 on Il., 1, 55; cf. Cic. Nat. Deor., II, 66. Hom. presupposed the doctrine of Anaxag. when he said in Il., 7, 99: You may all become water and earth, Heracl. Hom. All., 22, cf. Sext. Emp. Math., X, 314. Emped. Fr., 6 (→ 672, 14) follows the Homeric allegory, Heracl. Hom. All., 24 etc. The elements are not yet personified here; the old view of the gods is rather demythologised, cf. on Hom. Ps.-Luc. De Astrologia, 22; also 21 and 10–20.38

d. In Alexandrian39 Judaism the concept of brotherhood on the basis of the elements is adopted: Antiochus IV Epiphanes is chided because he torments the Jews who are men as he is ἐκ τῶν αὐτῶν γεγονότας στοιχείων, 4 Macc. 12:13. Philo uses the idea very gen. as abasis of intrahuman relations in ethics, Spec. Leg., I, 294. He takes up the Stoic principle that man shares the same elements of which the world consists, Decal., 31; Op. Mund., 146, cf. Aet. Mund., 29, and that he gives these back to it, Rer. Div. Her., 282—nothing disappears into non-being, every creature returns to its origin, Spec. Leg., I, 266. But he deviates decisively from the Stoic view when he says that man’s νοῦς is formed from an imperishable στοιχεῖον, Deus Imm., 46, cf. Rer. Div. Her., 283. In exhortation Philo in his allegorical interpretation of Nu. 19:17 refers to the mean elements of which man is composed; this is a warning against presumption, Spec. Leg., I, 264 f. The idea of the changing of the elements40 which gives them immortality (Aet. Mund., 109) enables him to explain the miracles of the age of Moses: μεταβαλὼν τὰ στοιχεῖα God brought manna out of the air, Vit. Mos., II, 267; κατὰ τὴν τῶν στοιχείων φύσει μεταβολήν air changed into fire (on Lv. 9:24), Vit. Mos., II, 154. He clings fundamentally to God’s sovereignty; of this he says with ref. to the miracles of Moses that God gave Moses a share in it, so that the element obeyed him when he altered its mode of operation, ἀλλάττον ἣν εἶχε δύναμιν, Vit. Mos., I, 156. Miracles of punishment are called τῶν στοιχείων νεωτερισμός, “the tumult of the elements,” I, 216; II, 65. Philo expressly rejects the worship of the elements by equation with gods (Demeter, Poseidon etc.), cf. Wis. 13:2; the στοιχεῖα are matter without soul,41 subject to God, Vit. Cont., 3 f. They are properly connected with religion in the Jewish cultus; the altar of incense is appointed for thanksgiving for the four elements; the materials used in the incense offering (Ex. 30:34 f.) symbolise the elements, Rer. Div. Her., 197 and 226; the curtains before the holy of holies, which are made of four materials, serve the same function: the four elements of which the universe is created are used as a sanctuary for the Father and Governor of the universe; hence the temple is a reflection of the cosmos, Vit. Mos., II, 88; Congr., 117. We also find a cosmological interpretation of the building of the temple in Jos. Bell., 5, 213; Ant., 3, 183, cf. also Cl. Al. Strom., V, 32, 3 for the curtain with a ref. to God’s revelation. If Judaism can adopt some of the principles of Gk. cosmology, it emphatically attributes to God the εἰδέναι σύστασιν κόσμου καὶ ἐνέργειαν στοιχείων etc., which He teaches through His σοφία, Wis. 7:17, 21; στοιχεῖον occurs in the LXX only at Wis. 7:17; 19:18; 4 Macc. 12:13. In Corp. Herm., III there is an open attempt, perhaps contemporary with Philo,42 to combine notions from the Stoic and Platonic doctrine of the elements with the biblical creation story;43 textual resemblances may be seen esp. 1–3. Primary stress falls on the idea that God is the beginning and end of all cosmic occurrence. By divine power there first existed fine (hence material) pneuma, then arose sacred light, and the elements crystallised (ἐπάγη III, 1), though they were not as yet differentiated. Then the lighter elements rose up, while the heavier ones became a base (ἐθεμελιώθη); heaven appeared in 7 circles, the stars and the upper world with their gods, III, 2. Through his own δύναμις each god brought forth what he was charged to do,44 animals and plants, and finally they (the gods, plur. as in Gn. 1:26?) caused men to arise, who were to contemplate the encircling course of the heavenly gods and the working of φύσις, III, 3. Men finally go back εἰς ταὐτό from which they arose. Through the gods there will then be brought about the renewal of the passing world, III, 4. If these gods are plainly subject to God, it is they who truly work in the elements.45

e. It is by no means obvious that the elements are understood as beings when religious modes of speech are used.46 The “Hephaestus” called στοιχεῖον in Orph. Hymn., 66, 4 (→ 683, 12 ff.) is “unwearying fire”; he “inhabits the bodies of mortals” (66, 1 and 9), naturally as the basic element permeating all things → 673, 35 ff. Nektanebo uses the element (→ n. 31) of water in magic, destroying images of enemies in a dish of water. The mariners of the song in Preis. Zaub., II, 29 (3rd cent. a.d.) command the winds and the kingdoms of the sea, but they pray to the Lord of these and call the seas His kingdoms. The hymn to the sun god used in Preis. Zaub., I, 4, 436–441, 1957–1962 (4th cent. a.d.); P. Lond., I, 122, 74–81 (4th cent. a.d.) describes him (in good Stoic fashion) as unwearying fire, the one who generates and dissolves all things, from whom the elements (στοιχεῖα) have come forth which turn the world acc. to his laws. Here the god Helios is personal,47 but not the elements. On the other hand there are early signs that using religious terms for the elements will dedivinise the world. Thus comedy mocks: When “Epicharmus says the gods are winds, waters, sun, fire and stars,” I prefer to think “the only gods useful to us are silver and gold,” Menand. Fr., 614, 1–4 (Koerte). An important religious pt. is that the one redeemed by Isis is no longer subject to the power of the elements: Isis is elementorum omnium domina, Apul. Met., XI, 5, 1; they must obey her, tibi … serviunt elementa, XI, 25, 3. They are not said to be divine forces.48

f. In relation to the NT the ref. to the elements in 2nd cent. Chr. writings are not without importance. Herm. v., 3, 13, 3 is aware that the world is sustained by the four elements. The express repudiation of worship of these basic materials, found already in Aristid. Apol., 3–6, shows how important the doctrine of the elements was at the time. That man, too, cannot be divine is shown by the fact (Aristid. Apol., 7 etc.) that he consists of the four elements as well as soul and spirit, and that he will be destroyed by them—a popular usage (→ n. 31) found only with ref. to fire, water etc. Just. Dial., 62, 2 combines the fact that man consists of the elements with the concept of creation; Gn. 1:26 (plur.) is said, not to the elements, but to the Logos, 62, 1. Tatian attacks the worship of deified elements in an allegorical interpretation of myths, Or. Graec., 21, 3, cf. Aristid. Apol., 7, 4: σέβονται … τὰ φθαρτὰ στοιχεῖα. Athenag. Suppl., 10, 3 f. rejects the charge of atheism, pointing to the host of angels and ministers whom God has set over the elements acc. to Chr. belief. Christians do not fall down to the weak and beggarly elements (cf. Gl. 4:9), nor do they worship air and matter, 16. 2 f. If the elements were gods, these gods would arise out of matter (Emped. Fr., 6 [Diels, I, 311, 15 ff.]) and acc. to the Stoic doctrine of the cosmic conflagration they would perish with the basic materials, Athenag., 22, 1 and 3. One cannot see God in the elements, their orders and movements, but only through the λόγος; they are nothing without the rule of God’s providence and they do not move without the Creator, 22, 6–8. In a lively polemic Cl. Al. Prot., 64 f. attacks the deification of the elements which Cl. alleges that philosophers took from eastern religions.49 The elements were created by the one God, 65, 4 (on Gl. 4:9), cf. Strom., I, 50, 6; 52, 2–4 (on Col. 2:8), who made their discord harmony, Prot., 5, 1. Yet the idea that the elements are changeable—God changes them, Cl. Al. Ecl. Proph., 18, 2—and that they will one day perish50 is in agreement with Chr. teaching, Strom., I, 52, 3; Prot., 78, 4 (on Mt. 24:35 etc.); Strom., V, 104, 5. Cl. is again following pagan ideas when he says in Strom., V, 106, 4 that the journey of the soul after death leads through the four elements,51 or when in De Providentia Fr., 42 (GCS, 17, 221, 1 f.) he describes death as a dissolution of bodies by the change of elements in death. This is ordained by God, just as the elements, by God’s direction, are controlled by those co-ordinated with them (cf. Athenag. Suppl., 10, 4), Strom., VI, 148, 2. That the doctrine of the elements is assumed to be known in popular writing may be seen from its use in Act. Thom. 165: The four soldiers who lead Judas to the place of execution and then put him to death remind him of the four elements from which he came; ἐκ τῶν τεσσάρων στοιχείων ἐγενόμην or ἐκ τεσσάρων εἰμί Act. Thom. 141 adopts (→ n. 31) popular usage: σὺ κατάπαυσον τὸ στοιχεῖον τοῦτο. For the Marcionite Apelles the body of Christ is not composed of the Stoic elements (→ 673, 32 ff.) but of the Aristotelian elements (→ 673, 25 ff.) as preparatory stages of the basic human materials (which are higher for Apelles, cf. Tert. De Carne Christi [CSEL, 70] 6, 3; 8, 4). In death Christ restored to each element its property, warmness to warmth etc., and thus put off the body of flesh, Epiph. Haer., 44, 2, 8 cf. Hipp. Ref., VII, 38, 3 and 5. For the role of στοιχεῖα in Gnosticism cf. Hipp. Ref., VI, 9, 5; VI, 53, 1; X, 12, 1 with the appropriate contexts.52

4. Not just letters and the elements are the “smallest parts which stand in relation with others” and to which that which is composed of them can be traced back. The same applies to notes in music, Bacchius Isagoge, II, 67,53 points in a line, Iambl. In Nicomachi Arithmeticam Introductionem, 80, one in the world of numbers, ibid., 36; Philo Rer. Div. Her., 190.54 στοιχεῖον thus comes to mean more gen., with no thought of a series, “foundation”: στοιχεῖον παιδείας ἐστὶ τὸ ἀφορᾶν πρὸς τὸ θεῖον, Cornut. Theol. Graec., 14 (p. 15, 17 f.); also the “rudimentary,” e.g., in the care of infants, Plat. Leg., VII, 790c. “Part of a word” may be mentioned in this connection → 671, 6 ff. If letters are the basis of speech and their knowledge that of instruction, στοιχεῖον can soon come to mean “what is basic or primary,” cf. Plat. Theaet., 206a–b, or “the elementary details” in musical education. The plur. is the more common στοιχεῖα πρῶτα καὶ μέγιστα χρηστῆς πολιτείας Isoc. Or., 2, 16 (the additions show that the use is older than c. 370 b.c.); στοιχεῖα μὲν ταῦτʼ ἐστὶ τῆς ὅλης τέχνης (transf. sense), Nicolaus Fr., I, 30 (CAF, III, 384); Euclid wrote about the στοιχεῖα (“first principles”) of mathematics.55 The στοιχεῖα of mathematical and other proofs are called the “first” among many, Aristot. Metaph., 4, 3, p. 1014a, 36–b, 1. Artemid. Oneirocr., I, 2 (p. 4, 25–5, 5) describes as the “basic phenomena” of dreams which predict the future, and which may thus be interpreted, the six στοιχεῖα φύσις, νόμος, ἔθος, τέχνη, ὀνόματα, χρόνος, IV, 2 (esp. p. 203 f.), cf. I, 3 (p. 9 f.). The idea of the four elements plainly influences the statement in Porphyr. Marc., 24 that four “basic realities” (στοιχεῖα) must be established in man’s relation to God, πίστις, ἀλήθεια, ἔρως, ἐλπίς.56

5. A connection between elements and stars57 arises from the fact that stars are composed of fire, the chief and finest element (also called ether), so traditionally Emped. etc.; Plut. Plac. Phil., II, 13 (II, 888d–f); Stob. Ecl., I, 201–204. “A star, says Poseidonios, is a divine body, consisting of ether, luminous and fiery,” Stob. Ecl., I, 206, 19–21. Acc. to Philo Op. Mund. the stars are made of the finest matter. Acc. to Som., I, 135 each star is supposed (λέγεται) to be the purest νοῦς. In ancient thinking there is no necessary contradiction here, since the intellectual can be thought of only in material form. Acc. to Corp. Herm., X, 18 fire is the body of νοῦς, and acc. to ancient tradition God is for Heracl. the eternal periodic fire. Stob. Ecl., I, 35, 7, for Democr. νοῦς … ἐν πυρὶ σφαιροειδεῖ, I, 34, 19, for Pos. thinking and fiery pneuma moving acc. to its will, I, 34, 26 f., and for the Stoics the purest part of ether, Diog. L., VII, 139. The view that the stars have souls is expressly rejected by the pro-Socratics, e.g., Anaxag. acc. to Plat. Ap., 26d; Plat. ascribes deity to the stars only in the mythical language of the Tim.: θεοὶ θεῶν, 41a; τὸ θεῖον, 40a; θεοί, 40c; the earth, too, is one of these heavenly gods. Plat. speaks of a διανοεῖσθαι of the stars in 40a (and of the processes of thought of the universe in 90c),58 but only with ref. to the course they take, not in a personal sense. They are called visible gods in Tim., 40d (θεοὶ ὁρατοὶ καὶ γεννητοί), and there is an even fuller statement in Ps.-Plat.59 Epin., 984d; 985d (cf. the continuation). The steadfastness of their course (982d) shows that God has given them souls (983b). In a way which is obviously intentional Aristot. uses only60 θεῖος for the heavenly bodies, Cael., II, 12, p. 292b, 32.61. That this does not imply deification may be seen from the designation of the stars as σώματα θεῖα in Ps.-Aristot. Mund., 2, p. 391b, 16; 392a, 30; cf. the wholly astronomical description of the cosmic movements which are directed by God, 6, p. 399a, etc.62 The Stoics differentiate the cosmos, stars and earth from God as the νοῦς which is “wholly above” in the ether, as the imperishable primal fire, Stob. Ecl., I, 38, 1–3. The former are evolved and perishable gods, Plut. Stoic. Rep., 38 (II, 1052a).63 How widespread was the use of “gods” in this connection may be seen from the statement handed down in Diog. L., VIII, 27, namely, that for Pythagoreanism the sun, moon and stars were gods because warmth, which is the author of life, preponderated in them, cf. 28: “Everything that shares in warmth is alive.” Finally the stars are visible gods for Neo-platonism too, in distinction from the νοητοὶ θεοί whose image is the cosmos, Plot. Enn., II, 9, 8; cf. V, 1, 4, and to whom the visible gods are subordinate. More precisely, the visible gods are hound up with the stars like the radiance round each star, III, 5, 6. The stars are no more eternal than earthly creatures; they simply last longer, II, 1, 1. The applying of religious terms to the stars64 is naturally connected with the fact that antiquity was inclined in part to think that the stars as well as the sun and moon influenced earthly events, esp. the weather, growth etc.65 That this idea was not connected with worship of the stars is shown by Philo, who radically rejects such worship as a confusion of creature and Creator, Abr., 69; Migr. Abr., 181,66 but who is still convinced that the 7 planets produce growth and ripening on earth, Op. Mund., 113.67 He also thinks the Pleiades influence seasonal events: μεγάλων ἀγαθῶν αἴτιαι γίνονται πᾶσι, ibid., 115.68 In gen. Philo can say that earthly things depend on heavenly things acc. to a natural συμπάθεια, 117, cf. Abr., 69; v. Sext. Emp. Math., IX, 79 f.; Moses apparently affirmed the συμπάθεια τοῦ παντός, Migr. Abr., 180, → V, 935, n. 3. On the other hand Philo disputes the dependence of human fate on the stars (181),69 as did later Plot., who devoted a tractate to the theme: εἰ ποιεῖ τὰ ἄστρα, concluding that they indicate but do not cause the acts of men, Enn., II, 3.70 The starry world takes on special significance in doctrines of redemption which include an ascent of the soul after death (the idea is old;71 Celsus in Orig. Cels., VI, 21 refers to Plat., cf. Phaedr., 248a in context). This ascent through the courses of the planets—so a symbolical depiction in the Mithras cult72—leads from the sphere of Saturn by way of those of Venus, Jupiter, Mercury, Mars and the moon to that of the sun, Orig. Cels., VI, 22.73

One must refer to these passages because in later antiquity στοιχεῖον can come to mean “star” or “constellation.”74 Specifically astrological examples leave open the possibility that it reached this sense by way of “sign” (στοιχεῖον == “sign of destiny”).75 A certain connection between basic materials and stars (as factors influencing man’s life) may be seen in Vett. Val., for whom the 4 elements with the planets76 replace the ancient gods; he adjures his pupil Marcus by them, VII, 5 (p. 293, 25–27).77 With this belief is combined a fatalism which destroys religion. Prayer and sacrifice are useless, V, 9 (p. 220, 28–30). He calls the elements στοιχεῖα in VII, 5 (p. 293, 27), cf. ἀθάνατα στοιχεῖα in IX, 7 ((p. 343, 33 f.). But in his fairly full astrological discussions he does not use στοιχεῖον for star etc. (2nd cent. a.d.). On the other hand Just. assumes this is familiar: “heavenly body,” Apol., II, 5, 2; Dial., 23, 3. Tat. Or. Graec., 9 f first uses it in a polemical context in which he rejects belief in the dependence of man’s destiny on the stars. Hipp. Comm. in Danielem, I, 8 (GCS, 1, 1, p. 15, 5) (204 a.d.) calls the sun and moon στοιχεῖα, and Theophil. Autol., II, 15 cf. I, 6 speaks of the course of the στοιχεῖα. The known instances are not before 100 a.d.78 Later we have Diog. L., VI, 102:79 τὰ δώδεκα στοιχεῖα “signs of the zodiac,”80 Manetho, IV, 624: ταῦτά τοι οὐρανίων ἄστρων στοιχεῖα τέτυκται,81 and Preis. Zaub., I, 4, 1303: The Bear is addressed as στοιχεῖον ἄφθαρτον (MS 4th cent. a.d.). C. 190 a.d. Polycrates calls Philip and John στοιχεῖα μεγάλα, “important stars,” Euseb. Hist. Eccl., III, 31, 3 == V, 24, 2. A horoscope in P. Lond., I, 120, written after rather than before 100 a.d., is thus far the oldest instance of the astronomical or astrological use of στοιχεῖον, στοιχείῳ Διός, line 60 f. It is not obvious from the texts that the stars were regarded as beings in the NT age.82 If one consults the account of the Bab. doctrine of the stars in Diod. S., 2, 30 f., there is ref. to the judicial (→ n. 93) or governing office of some stars, and 30, 7 speaks of a superiority over other stars (τούτων κυρίους εἶναι φασι), but the main pt. is that the gods decide events in heaven (30, 1) and that the planets declare the will of the gods: ἑρμηνεύοντες τοῖς ἀνθρώποις τὴν τῶν θεῶν ἔννοιαν, 30, 4. Clearly the gods are above the stars here and distinct from them by nature. If some of the physical and mental processes of man are traced back to the 7 planets (Stob. Ecl., I, 77 f.), the ref. is obviously to the influence of impersonal powers on man. In Plot. there is a clear distinction between heavenly bodies and the related deities → 680, 16 f.

In the astronomical part of Eth. En. 72–82 Uriel is the leader of the heavenly lights in 72:1 etc., and there is ref. to leaders of the stars in 72:3. 82:11–14 sketches a whole hierarchical system in the stellar world. The stars etc. rule in heaven and are leaders for day and night, 75:3. The detailed description of the course of the sun in 72:4–37; 75:4 is technical. The dominion of the heavenly bodies may be seen in their influence on seasonal events in nature (82:16–20),83 esp. the divisions of the year (82:11), the ref. being to the calendar, which is regulated acc. to Jub. 6:23–37 and is seen to be of religious importance (82:4–7). The teaching which Uriel gives En. does not relate to the independent religious significance of the heavenly bodies or their leader, nor to any personal connection with man, but to their “courses” or “laws,” 80:6; 79:1f., cf. also 33:3f. The view that the heavenly bodies are gods is a sign of the utter confusion of the end-time, 80:7. It is God who gives the sun its path, 83:11. The disobedience for which some stars are punished in 18:13–16 (cf. 21:3–6) consists quite simply in their failure to come forth in their time, 18:15.

6. The later presence of the idea of stellar spirits84 may be seen, however, from the use of στοιχεῖον for this and then more gen. for “a spiritual being.” Thus στοιχεῖον is used alongside δαίμων (→ II, 3, 20 ff.) and πνεῦμα (→ VI, 339, 16 ff.) in Test. Sol.85 8:1 f.; 18:1 f. 8:4 ref. to stars to which these στοιχεῖα belong, which are described as gods.86


B. In the New Testament.87

1. In the Pauline corpus στοιχεῖον is used three times in the expression στοιχεῖα τοῦ κόσμου at Gl. 4:3; Col. 2:8, 20, and the meaning is essentially the same at Gl. 4:9. Outside the NT, as one would expect, the combination means primarily the “four elements,” so Philo Aet. Mund., 109 for the constantly changing and hence immortal “elements.” Popular use may be seen in Sib., 8, 337 f. and cf. 2, 206 f. and 3, 80 f., which give evidence of biblical influence, the elements being emptied of life in eschatological judgment. In Orph. Hymn., 5, 2–4 κόσμου στοιχεῖον ἄριστον ref. ὑψιφανὴς Αἰθήρ as the “basic material” of which the stars are made; cf. 66, 4–6, where Hephaestus (fire) is lauded as κόσμοιο μέρος, στοιχεῖον ἀμεμφές and equated with ether and the stars, which consist of it → 679, 19 ff. P. Osl., II, 13, Col. III, 7–1488 (2nd cent. a.d.) says of the τοῦ σύμπαντος κόσμου στοιχεῖα as the “basic materials” of the world that everything consists (συνεστάναι) of them and will be dissolved (τὴν ἀνάλυσιν ἀναλαμβάνειν) in them. Grammar takes this to be a familiar usage and thus employs it as an analogy for understanding speech. The syllable consists (συνεστάναι) of στοιχεῖα and is broken up into them (ἀναλύεσθαι), ibid., lines 3–6. The grammarian Heliodor. says that letters are called by some στοιχεῖα … ἐκ μεταφορᾶς τῶν κοσμικῶν στοιχείων (as these by their admixture give rise to our bodies, so …).89 Materially κοσμικὰ στοιχεῖα (→ 674, 20 f.) has the same sense in Ps.-Callisth., I, 1, 3; it ref. to the water and earth90 Nektanebo uses in analogy-magic. The statement in 13, 1 that Alexander’s birth has κοσμικῶν στοιχείων σημείωσίν τινα91 bears an obvious ref. to the accompanying phenomena described in 12, 9, namely, lightning, thunder and earthquake, so that the whole cosmos was moved. It is thus speaking of the “cosmic elements.”92 In Preis. Zaub., II, 39. 18–20 (4th cent. a.d.) there is ref. not only to the 12 στοιχεῖα τοῦ οὐρανοῦ (the signs of the zodiac) but also to the 24 στοιχεῖα τοῦ κόσμου;93 this is a special usage.

If στοιχεῖον in Galatians and Colossians is to be understood in the light of usage outside the NT, the most obvious sense is “element.” According to the widespread ideas sketched → 673, 32 ff. a man of NT days would take στοιχεῖα τοῦ κόσμου to refer to the “basic materials” of which everything in the cosmos, including man, is composed. Even in the 2nd century, when the sense “star” began to develop, exegesis still interpreted στοιχεῖον in Gl. and Col., not astrologically, but for the most part94 cosmologically. Only the context of Gl. or Col. can yield any other sense.

2. Among the στοιχεῖα τοῦ κόσμου in Gl. 4 is on the one side the Torah95 with its statutes (4:3–5: the ref. is by no means to the cultic provisions alone), and then on the other side the world of false gods whom the recipients once served, 4:8f.96 The expression στοιχεῖα τοῦ κόσμου thus draws attention to something common to Jewish and pagan religion → II, 899, 19 ff. In both—this thought is obviously decisive in the context of 4:1–11—men lived in bondage to the στοιχεῖα. The inclusion of the Torah in the στοιχεῖα makes it improbable that the reference is literally to original materials,97 and it certainly cannot be to the stars.98 To speak of spiritual forces99 is a forced solution which conflicts with the linguistic findings and is hardly in accord with the context.100 Furthermore there is nothing to show that the term στοιχεῖα the cosmic elements, the stars, or related spirits etc., played any particular role in the Galatian churches.101 It seems that Paul himself102 contributed103 the phrase στοιχεῖα τοῦ κόσμου in both Gl. and Col. It is naturally used in a negative sense, as may be seen from Gl. 4:9. Gl. 4:1–11 is controlled by a series of parallel antitheses: minor-son, slave-heir, bondage-ransom. V. 4 is a conspicuous turning-point. What was before this belonged to the past world and hence to the στοιχεῖα τοῦ κόσμου. These are weak στοιχεῖα (4:9)—here Paul says of the Torah the same as in R. 8:3 → I, 493, 25 ff.; IV, 1075, 3 ff. One may ask whether ἀσθενῆ καὶ πτωχά do not expound the gen. τοῦ κόσμου.104 At any rate the two negative terms are a comprehensive judgment on all pre-Christian religion. Paul is here using his initial expression—στοιχεῖα τοῦ κόσμου—in a new way.105 But in so doing he is obviously building on thoughts common to his age. στοιχεῖα τοῦ κόσμου denotes that whereon the existence of this world rests, that which constitutes man’s being → n. 97. Paul uses it in a transferred sense for that whereon man’s existence rested before Christ even and precisely in preChristian religion, that which is weak and impotent, that which enslaves man instead of freeing him.

3. Fundamentally the use of στοιχεῖον in Col. 2 is to be regarded as independent of the use in Gl. 4.106 In the context of Col. 2:6–3:4 κατὰ τὰ στοιχεῖα τοῦ κόσμου in 2:8 is parallel to κατὰ τὴν παράδοσιν τῶν ἀνθρώπων and in antithesis to κατὰ Χριστόν. The expression is thus a value judgment. According to vv. 12–15 the Χριστός of 2:8 is Christ’s saving work in the crucifixion and resurrection, whose significance for Christians is denoted by the σύν in 2:12, 20 and 3:1. 2:20–3:3 is framed by the ἀπεθάνετε in 2:20 (εἰ, as is actually the case) and 3:3 (γάρ), to which συνηγέρθητε in 3:1 is an antithetical parallel, cf. the antithesis ἐν κόσμῳ 2:20—ἄνω 3:1f. This ἐν κόσμῳ obviously takes up the second genitive in ἀπὸ τῶν στοιχείων τοῦ κόσμου → IV, 1067, 29 f.; the genitive is thus be taken qualitatively. The religious ordinances (2:20 → II, 231, 22 ff.) are human traditions (2:8) and they are thus στοιχεῖα τοῦ κόσμου, inadequate bearers of man’s being. The negative use of the expression is again no indication that it was a phrase in the Colossian heresy107 or denoted a special aspect of this.108 It is used in general rejection of this error, → 30, 17 ff. In Col. 2, then, Paul can use the same expression as in Gl. 4. For the reference is again to religion before and outside Christ, and the same judgment falls on this. At best it is only a shadow of the fulfilment (2:17), and in fact it proves to be a deception when the one who believes in Christ thinks his existence can be supported by its ordinances (2:8) even though the fulness of God’s power is at work in Christ alone, 2:9 → VI, 303, 24 ff. By dying with Christ the Christian is indeed set free from this delusion, 2:20 → IV, 1075, 43 ff.109 Cf. on the one side Gl. 6:14, which refers to the circumcision demanded by the Torah, which is set among the στοιχεῖα τοῦ κόσμου by Gl. 4:3, and on the other side R. 7:6, which says that by dying with Christ the Christian is freed from the grip of the Law. We thus have here a distinctive circle of ideas or a specific usage which links the sayings about the στοιχεῖα in Gl. and Col. with the other Pauline letters. The best translation seems to be: “the elements of the world.”

4. In 2 Pt. 3:10, 12 the only possible meaning is obviously “elements” (→ 673, 32 ff.) or “stars” (→ 681, 10 ff.). The former is suggested (→ III, 644, 16 ff.; V, 515, n. 136) by the use of terms found in the widespread doctrine of the elements, e.g., λύεσθαι (Plat. Tim., 56e; 57b) and τήκεσθαι110 (→ 673, 10 f.) It is supported by the adoption of the Stoic idea of a cosmic conflagration in which the other elements will dissolve into the primal element of fire.111 The use of “dissolution of the elements” for the destruction of the world, which is adequate in itself, is elucidated in 3:10 by a description of the overthrow of the main parts of the visible world consisting of the highest and lowest elements; for this reason the earth does not need to be mentioned again in 3:12. It is improbable that the οὐρανοί as the vault of heaven are being differentiated from the stars (στοιχεῖα) which belong to it.112

5. The meaning in Hb. 5:12 is clearly “first principles” (→ 679, 2 ff.) with a slightly derogatory nuance: τὰ στοιχεῖα, “mere rudiments,” “ABC” (→ I, 646, 1 ff.; IV, 138, 22 ff.). The idea of first principles is strengthened, or brought to expression, by τῆς ἀρχῆς, cf. the rhetorical amplitude of Isocrates → 679, 8 f.
Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vols. 5-9 edited by Gerhard Friedrich. Vol. 10 compiled by Ronald Pitkin., ed. Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey William Bromiley and Gerhard Friedrich, electronic ed., 7:670-687 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964-c1976).


In addition to the heavens passing away, the “elements” (στοιχεία) will also dissolve. Some have taken this to mean the heavenly bodies (see ASV, margin); others relate it to the so-called “four elements” of fire, air, earth, and water;38 and still others say the precise meaning of the term cannot be determined. Vincent said this word is derived from στοι̂χος, a row, and meaning originally one of a row or series; hence a component or element. Here the word of course is used in the physical sense, meaning the parts of which this system of things is composed. Some take it as meaning the heavenly bodies, but the term is too late and technical in that sense.


The darkening of the sun and the ensanguining of the moon and the falling of the stars in our text, have a like significance .

The mention of the fig-tree appears to be due wholly to Isa. 34:4, and to have no connection with Matt. 24:32 and its parallels. ὄλυνθος = τὸ μὴ πεπεμμένον σῦκον (Hesychius). The figure in ἀπεχωρίσθη … ἑλισσόμενον is that of a papyrus rent in two, whereupon the divided portions curl and form a roll on either side. With this clause we might compare 2 Pet. 3:10, οἱ οὐρανοὶ ῥοιζηδὸν παρελεύσονται, though the thought is here different. An excellent parallel appears in Sibyll. iii. 82, οὐρανὸν ἑλίξῃ, καθʼ ἅπερ βιβλίον εἰλεῖται. Cf. 8:233, 413. In the O.T. the heavens are said to be “shaken” and “rent” (קרע): cf. Isa. 13:13, 63:19; Hagg. 2:6, 21.
R.H. Charles, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Revelation of St John, 1:181 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark International, 1920).


Καὶ τότε χηρεύσει στοιχεῖα πρόπαντα τὰ κόσμου,

Ἀήρ, γαῖα θάλασσα, φάος, πόλος, ἠματα, νύκτες.

(3) The heavenly bodies, sun, moon, and stars. In this sense ότιοχεῖα is used by Justin, Apol. ii. 5; Trypho, 23; Theoph. Ant. i. 4, 5, 6, ii. 15, 35; Athenag. Suppl. 16, and many Greek Fathers. In the Letter of polycrates, Eus. H. E. iii. 31, 2, στιυχεῦα means “stars of the Church”; see note of Valesius in Heinichen. Hence the Latin Fathers not uncommonly called the stars elementa. Isa. 34:4 was quoted by the Rabbis to show that the stars will perish at the end of the world; see Gfrörer, Jahrhundert des Heils, ii. 274. This is the most probable sense here (Bengel, Alford, Plumptre). The run of the sentence distinguishes the heavens and the elements (stars) from the earth and the works that are therein.

In Test. Levi, 4, there is a passage which Spitta (adopting a conjectural emendation of Schrapp’s) quotes thus— τοῦ πυρὸς καταπτήσσοντσος καὶ πάσης κτίσεως καυσουμένης καὶ τῶν ἀοράτων πνευμάτων τηκομένων Hence Spitta (followed by Kühl and von Soden) maintains that St. Peter means by στοιχεῖα not the stars, but the spirits, which were regarded as inhabiting and animating them. The same explanation of στοιχεια in Gal. 4:3, 9; Col. 2:8, is given by Ritschl, Everling, Diels (Elementum, Teubner, 1899; reviewed by A. Deissmann in Theol. Literaturzeitung, Jan. 5, 1901). There was such a belief (see Enoch 60:12, 69:22) among both Jews and Gentiles. But Mr. Sinker’s text of the Testamenta has κλονουμένης not καυσουμέης, and that careful scholar notices no variant. Nor, if we put on one side the disputed passages in the pauline Epistle’s, is any instance of this peculiar use of στοιχεῖον quoted. It is not possible to find the star-spirits in the words of 2 Peter, though they may very well be meant by the ἀόρατα πνεύματα of Levi. Possibly the words of Levi may be a reminiscence of the present passage.

καυσούμενα. Καῦαος means a peculiar kind of fever, and καυσοιῦσθαι is used by medical writers of those who suffer from that special complaint. It is obvious that this sense will not suit the present passage, but καυσοῦσθαι does not appear to be used in any other. It seems highly probable that καυσούμενα does not belong to καυσοῦσθαι at all, but is merely a vulgarism for καυσόμενα. In later Greek the middle future constantly assumes the Doric form; thus we find νευσοῦμαι, πνευσοῦμαι, πλευσοῦμαι, πιοῦμαι, πευσυμαι. In 2 Clem. 7:5 we have παθοῦμαι. Φευξοῦμαι is commonly used even by the classics. See Lobeck, Phrynichus, p. 30; Rutherford, New phrynichus, p. 91; Moeris, πίομαι: Cobet, Nouae Lectiones, p. 617; Veitch, καίω.

κατακαήσεται. Here again the text is corrupt. See Introduction, p. 213.

ἔργα are opera naturae et artis (Bengel).
Charles Bigg, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistles of St. Peter and St. Jude, 296 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark International, 1901).