In its primary sense, as denoting the first principles or constituents of things, it is used in 2Pe 3:10: "The elements shall be dissolved." In a secondary sense it denotes the first principles of any art or science. In this sense it is used in Ga 4:3,9; Col 2:8,20, where the expressions, "elements of the world," "week and beggarly elements," denote that state of religious knowledge existing among the Jews before the coming of Christ, the rudiments of religious teaching. They are "of the world," because they are made up of types which appeal to the senses. They are "weak," because insufficient; and "beggarly," or "poor," because they are dry and barren, not being accompanied by an outpouring of spiritual gifts and graces, as the gospel is.
(Ga 4:9): "weak and beggarly" rudiments; the elementary symbols of the law, powerless to justify, in contrast to the justifying power of faith (Ga 3:24; Heb 7:18); beggarly, in contrast with the riches of the believer's inheritance in Christ (Eph 1:18). The child (Ga 4:1-3) under the law is "weak," not having attained manhood. "beggarly," not having attained the inheritance.
?????????, 'rudiments, first steps.'
1. Applied to children at the 'commencement' of their training; and to the law as the 'early' way of God's dealing with Israel; but now called 'beggarly' because it has lost its glory through the failure of man, and the introduction of Christ Himself. Ga 4:3,9. The word, with a similar meaning, is translated 'rudiments' in Col 2:8,20, and 'principles' in Heb 5:12.
ELEMENTS, ????????, the elements or first principles of any art, whence the subsequent parts proceed. The elements or first principles of the Christian doctrine, Heb 5:12. St. Paul calls the ceremonial ordinances of the Mosaic law, "worldly elements," Ga 4:3; Col 2:8,20; "weak and beggarly elements," Ga 4:9. Elements, as containing the rudiments of the knowledge of Christ, to which knowledge the law, as a pedagogue, Ga 3:24, was intended, by means of those ordinances, to bring the Jews; worldly, as consisting in outward worldly institutions, Heb 9:1; weak and beggarly, when considered in themselves, and set up in opposition to the great realities to which they were designed to lead. But, in Col 2:8, the elements or rudiments of the world are so closely connected with philosophy and vain deceit, or an empty and deceitful philosophy, that they must be understood there to include the dogmas of Pagan philosophy; to which, no doubt, many of the Colossians were in their unconverted state attached, and of which the Judaizing teachers, who also were probably themselves infected with them, took advantage to withdraw the Colossian converts from the purity of the Gospel, and from Christ their living head. And from the general tenor of this chapter, and particularly from verses 18-23, it appears, that these philosophical dogmas, against which the Apostle cautioned his converts, were partly Platonic, and partly Pythagorean; the former teaching the worship of angels, or demons, as mediators between God and man; the latter enjoining such abstinence from particular kinds of meats and drinks, and such severe mortifications of the body, as God had not commanded.