2 Corinthians 10:5

Bringing into Captivity Every Thought

Casting Down Imaginations

By Grantley Morris

bible interpretation

For in-depth examination of 2 Corinthians 10:5 we should first take a step back and set the scene.

Trying to control thoughts, observed Charles H. Spurgeon, is like trying to fight off a swarm of bees with a sword. This analogy is both brilliant and worrying because not only would a sword be totally useless, it would send the bees into an even greater frenzy and make them even more determined to attack whoever is wielding it.

A physical sword is what the King James Version of the Bible would call a carnal weapon (1 Corinthians 10:4). The natural thing to do in the presence of a swarm of bees is to try to fight them off physically. If, in the midst of an attack, someone shouted, “It’s better not to fight them!” it would take great faith in that person to stop doing what every natural instinct screams we must do to save ourselves.

Faith – specifically faith in Jesus – is a spiritual weapon. Jesus tells us to stop trying to save ourselves and trust him alone to make us acceptable to the Holy Lord. When we are terrified that our thoughts infuriate God, however, it takes great faith to stop trying to fight the thoughts (to cease putting our faith in carnal weapons instead of in Jesus) and solely trust Jesus’ ability to make us holy in God’s eyes, regardless of what atrocious thoughts race through our minds.

To stop offending God by trying to save ourselves, we must avoid the heresy of supposing our thought life determines our spiritual destiny. If we never in our lives think a bad thought we have still sinned in other ways and are spiritually dammed without Jesus. By trusting Jesus, however, we are safe, regardless of our thoughts, because he, not our thoughts, is our Savior.

It seems atrociously unfair that the harder we try to control our thoughts, the more the very act of trying sends those thoughts into an attacking frenzy. Nevertheless, the counter-productive nature of such effort conforms to spiritual reality:

    Romans 9:30-32  . . . the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it. Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. . . .

    Luke 17:33 Whoever tries to keep his life will lose it . . .

    2 Corinthians 10:4 The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world.
    (Emphasis mine.)

People end up plagued by unwanted thoughts because they fear their thoughts, and God’s way is faith, not fear – resting in the finished work of Christ, not frantically trying to save ourselves.

Anyone tormented by fear has my deep compassion. We cannot flick a switch and turn off fear. Nevertheless, fear will only worsen the problem because fear is not God’s way:

    2 Timothy 1:7 For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. (KJV)

    1 John 4:18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

Fear, not thoughts, is the enemy. Faith, not works, is the solution.

    Romans 1:17 For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”

    Galatians 2:16 know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.

    Ephesians 2:8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith . . .

    Philippians 3:9  . . . not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.
    (Emphasis mine.)

Faith is not a feeling. You can have stupendous faith and still be flooded with fear and doubt. In fact, since anyone can believe when not assaulted by fear and doubt, holding on in the midst of horrific fear and doubt demonstrates far superior faith.

Saving faith is choosing to give up trying to save yourself and continually returning to the fact that your salvation has been secured by Christ, no matter how incessantly everything within you screams the opposite.

In the midst of great pressure, it is human to keep losing one’s grip on faith and to let fear and doubt dominate and frantically resort to human effort. Whenever you realize you have slipped from faith, simply return once again to trusting Jesus for your salvation, no matter how condemned you feel. Jesus is your Savior – not you, nor your thought life, nor any human attempt to remove sin from your life. And Jesus is more than enough.

bible worries

For everyone tempted to inflame unwanted thoughts by trying to fight them, rather than just resting in the finished work of Christ, an accurate understanding of 2 Corinthians 10:5 is of the pivotal importance, since a superficial reading of “casting down imaginations  . . . and bringing into captivity every thought . . .” (King James Version) is confusing. For this reason, the last half of the previous webpage, is a recent addition, citing key theological authorities and providing a careful investigation of the meaning of this verse.

The exegesis of 2 Corinthians 10:5 provided there is superior to what you will find below and renders it superfluous. The following is an excessively thorough follow-up, quoting an enormous range of top Bible scholars, both current and from previous eras, and of different theological persuasions. It proves, a ridiculous number of times, the truth meticulously and convincingly expounded in the previous webpage.

Though not particularly long, the rest of this webpage took much effort to compile. So it hurts to trash my hard work by emphasizing that it is virtually useless – as well as boring. Nevertheless, compassion compels me to stress that if you are disturbed by unwanted thoughts, there is so much you desperately need to know, but it is found in the next webpage and subsequent ones, not in the text below.

The details below are for those who insist on going to extremes by reading excessive quantities of quotes from Bible scholars, confirming the previous webpage over and over and over. I warn, however, that studying it will ultimately prove a futile exercise. As touched on in the previous webpage and explained in greater depth in subsequent webpages, the emphatic insistence of all the angels in heaven and all the theologians on earth will not give peace of mind to someone suffering from anxiety (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), since raw faith, not worry, is God’s way.

Your precious time is better served by immediately skipping to the Conclusion. Alternatively, just scroll down, letting your eye slide quickly over it, read the conclusion and then click the link at the bottom to locate the next important webpage in this series.

But first, if you have not already read it, click here to read the previous webpage.

bible interpretation

Since the following has direct quotes from a wide range of sources from different eras and countries, you will find diverse stylistic and spelling conventions.

2 Corinthians 10:5, “. . .  bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ,” (KJV) has nothing to do with controlling unwanted thoughts that pop into the mind. The context itself gives a strong clue:

    New International Version:

      2 Corinthians 10:5 We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

To better match my own writing style, I seldom quote the King James Version but I will this time, specifically because the old English is unexpectedly confusing:

    Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ

In King James English, imagination can mean an evil scheme or fanciful opinion (Examples.)

The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible states that the word imagination “in the older English versions . . . is a source of misconception to the modern reader, since it ordinarily has the obsolete sense of ‘plotting or devising evil’ rather than the current sense of ‘the power of freely forming mental images,’ a concept entirely unfamiliar to the ancient Hebrews, who were not given to fantasy and who conceived of mental activity primarily in terms of preparation for action . . .”

The Wycliffe Bible Encyclopedia says, “The verb ‘to imagine’ in KJV has the meaning of ‘purpose, scheme, contrive’ ” and it says the meaning in 2 Corinthians 10:5 is “calculation, reasoning, reflection, reasoning power.”

In its article on imagine, The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible says, “In all cases the older Eng. of the term meaning ‘the plotting’ or ‘scheming’ of a wicked design against either God or His anointed servants is implied.”

The International Standard Encyclopedia (Fully Revised), states the King James Version “sometimes uses ‘imagination’ in the obsolete sense of ‘stubbornness’ and cites as examples:

    Deuteronomy 29:19 And it come to pass, when he heareth the words of this curse, that he bless himself in his heart, saying, I shall have peace, though I walk in the imagination of mine heart, to add drunkenness to thirst:

    Jeremiah 7:24 But they hearkened not, nor inclined their ear, but walked in the counsels and in the imagination of their evil heart, and went backward, and not forward.

    (I have italicized the relevant word.)

Even the New King James Version clarifies the meaning of imagination in 1 Corinthians 10:5:

    casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God . . .

Likewise, the King James 2000 Bible:

    Casting down arguments, and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God . . .

Here it is in various other Bible versions:

    New American Standard Bible

      We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God . . .

    Revised Standard Version

      We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle to the knowledge of God . . .

    Amplified Bible

      [Inasmuch as we] refute arguments and theories and reasonings and every proud and lofty thing that sets itself up against the [true] knowledge of God . . .

    Expanded Bible

      and every proud thing [pretension; exalted opinion; high thing] that raises itself against the knowledge of God. . . .

    J.B. Phillips New Testament

      Our battle is to bring down every deceptive fantasy and every imposing defence that men erect against the true knowledge of God. . . .

    The Voice

      We are demolishing arguments and ideas, every high-and-mighty philosophy that pits itself against the knowledge of the one true God. . . .

    Weymouth New Testament

      For we overthrow arrogant ‘reckonings,’ and every stronghold that towers high in defiance of the knowledge of God . . .

    GOD’S WORD® Translation

      and all their intellectual arrogance that oppose the knowledge of God . . .

    New International Reader’s Version

      I destroy every claim and every reason that keeps people from knowing God. . . .

If you want even more, here are 28 More Translations

Rarely is a Bible translation predominately the work of single scholar. Usually each version is the combined efforts of a team of dedicated, highly regarded experts. So the above, plus all those in the link (a total of 39 Bible versions) are the consensus of the world’s best scholars; the accumulated skills of an enormous number of leading theologians, some of whom are now deceased and some still living.

The first part of the verse is clearly not referring to flippant thoughts but to strongly held beliefs – to world views, mindsets, ways of thinking, belief systems, doctrines – that were opposed to biblical truth. Examples encountered in New Testament times included polytheism, idol worship, salvation by works, reliance upon animal sacrifice, and Gnosticism. Paul would not flit from discussing this to addressing something completely different in the next breath. He is clearly referring to the same thing when he mentions “thoughts” in the next part of the verse.

Commenting on imaginations, Exell & Spence-Jones say, “rather, disputations, or reasonings”.

John Gill says of imaginations, “Or ‘reasonings’; the carnal reasonings of the minds of natural men against God, his providences and purposes, against Christ, and the methods of salvation, and every truth of the Gospel; which are all disproved, silenced, and confounded, by the preaching of the word, which though reckoned the foolishness and weakness of God, appears to be wiser and stronger than men; and whereby the wisdom of the wise is destroyed, and the understanding of the prudent brought to nothing: . . .”

Says Henry Alford of this portion of the verse, “. . . . ‘the pride of the Greeks, and force of sophistries and logical arguments:’ – but not only these: – every towering conceit according to the flesh is also included.”

Bored? Skip to the Conclusion

Likewise, Adam Clarke comments, “Reasonings or opinions. The Greek philosophers valued themselves especially on their ethic systems, in which their reasonings appeared to be very profound and conclusive; but they were obliged to assume principles which were either such as did not exist, or were false in themselves, as the whole of their mythologic system most evidently was: truly, from what remains of them we see that their metaphysics were generally bombast; and as to their philosophy, it was in general good for nothing. When the apostles came against their gods many and their lords many with the One Supreme and Eternal Being, they were confounded, scattered, annihilated; when they came against their various modes of purifying the mind – their sacrificial and mediatorial system, with the Lord Jesus Christ, his agony and bloody sweat, his cross and passion, his death and burial, and his glorious resurrection and ascension, they sunk before them, and appeared to be what they really were, as dust upon the balance, and lighter than vanity. . . . Even the pretendedly sublime doctrines, for instance, of Plato, Aristotle, and the Stoics in general, fell before the simple preaching of Christ crucified. . . . Clark defines the knowledge of God as “The doctrine of the unity and eternity of the Divine nature, which was opposed by the plurality of their idols, and the generation of their gods, and their men-made deities.” He continues, “It is amazing how feeble a resistance heathenism made, by argument or reasoning, against the doctrine of the Gospel! . . .”

John Wesley in his Notes, says on this verse, “Destroying all vain reasonings, and every high thing which exalteth itself – as a wall or rampart – against the knowledge of God, and bringing every thought – or, rather, faculty of the mind – into captivity to the obedience of Christ – Those evil reasonings [note that word] are destroyed. . . .”

Geoffrey B. Wilson writes about this verse, “The warfare in not carnal, for the stronghold that Paul is engaged in demolishing are not the persons of the unbelieving but the sinful reasonings – ‘the refuge of lies’ – by which they seek to fortify themselves against the knowledge of God.

J. H. Bernard also prefers reasonings as a more accurate expression for what this verse focuses on. He writes in his commentary, “ . . . casting down as if they were centres of the enemy’s force, reasonings (St. Paul . . . ever regards the Gospel as a revelation, not a body of doctrine that could be reasoned out by man for himself by first principles . . .)”

Comments Christian Friedrich Kling, “Casting down reasonings and every lofty thing which is erected against the knowledge of God. – as the first and most prominent of these strong holds, he [Paul] mentions . . . intellectual bulwarks . . . fixed conclusions of human (Hellenistic [Greek] or Judaistic [Jewish]) philosophy, in direct opposition to the Christian faith. . . . Our English word ‘imaginations’ is hardly the proper word here. The idea is rather ‘reasonings.’ It refers to theoretic subtilties or argumentations.”

Kling goes on to speak of “. . . every kind of human greatness which could be made use of in such a warfare; according to Osiander, wisdom, eloquence, power, righteousness, honor, wealth . . . the darkness of human wisdom . . .”

Writing about this passage, Murray J. Harris says, “What are these fortified positons that crumble before the weapons of the Spirit? Fanciful human sophistry and intellectual pretensions, or as Paul expresses it in 1 Corinthians 3:19, ‘the wisdom of this world.’ ”

Jamieson, Fausset & Brown comment, “Such were the high towers of Judaic self-righteousness, philosophic speculations, and rhetorical sophistries, the ‘knowledge’ so much prized by many, which opposed the ‘knowledge of God’ at Corinth. True knowledge makes men humble. Where self is exalted God is not known.” Geoffrey B. Wilson likes this quote so much that he cites it word for word in his commentary.

William Barclay says about this Scripture, “Paul . . . says he is equipped to deal with and to destroy all the plausible cleverness of human wisdom and human pride.”

R. V. G. Tasker comments on this verse: “The languages used by Paul would seem to refer especially to the subtle philosophical arguments, the cunning devise, and the relentless cruelty with which these godless opinions are given expression. . . . One of the most astonishing and undeniable arguments for the truth of the Christian religion, and for the omnipotence of God, is the fact that, when faced with the gospel, which is a scandal to the human intellect and folly to proud, unregenerate men, some of the most subtle of human intellects have been led to render submission to the Savior.”

Bored? Skip to the Conclusion

Charles Hodge in his commentary on 2 Corinthians 10:5 defines what the King James Version calls “imaginations” as “the opinions, or convictions of those who set themselves against and the deductions of their own reason against the truth of God.” Note how he is referring to something carefully thought out and adhered to, not to some random thought.

As examples of such thinking Hodge cites 1 Corinthians 1:17-31, which refers to “the wisdom of the world” – the scholars and philosophers who pooh-pooh the Gospel message that forgiveness is available through the cross of Christ. As another example he cites Romans 1:21-23:

    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.

He defines the next expression in 2 Corinthians 10:5 (every high thing – KJV) as “every thing which the pride of human reason exalts against the knowledge of God; i.e. the revelation of himself which God has made in the gospel.” He then cites 1 Corinthians 3:18-20. In quoting it, I’ll add the next verse, which further clarifies that it is referring not one’s own thought but the firmly held opinions of others:

    Do not deceive yourselves. If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a “fool” so that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”; and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.” So then, no more boasting about men! . . .

Hodge then goes on to say, “The conflict to which the apostle here refers is that between . . . the wisdom of God and the wisdom of the world. When the gospel was first proclaimed it found itself in conflict with all the forms of religion and philosophy then prevailing among men. To the wise of this world the gospel appeared as foolishness. It was, however, the wisdom and power of God. This conflict then begun has continued ever since . . . Men of science and philosophers are as confident in their conclusions, and as much disposed to exalt themselves, or their opinions against God as ever. . . . The instructive lesson the apostle designs here to inculcate is, that this warfare must not be conducted on the part of the advocates of the gospel, with carnal weapons. They must not rely upon their own resources and attempt to overcome their enemies by argument. . . . This would make it a human conflict on both sides. It would be human reason against human reason . . . The faith which he [Paul] laboured to secure was not to be founded on . . . arguments addressed to the understanding but on the testimony of God. . . . It is the indispensable condition of salvation that our understanding [note that word] should be brought into captivity . . . We must renounce dependence on our own understanding and submit implicitly, as obedient children, to the teaching of Christ.”

On Casting down imaginations, Joseph Benson says, “literally, demolishing reasonings, namely, such as were fallacious and sophistical, by which vain men endeavoured to controvert, disprove, or even expose to contempt and ridicule, the doctrine of the gospel, and the whole Christian system. For the reasonings which the apostle speaks of, and says they threw down, were not the candid reasonings of those who attentively considered the evidences of the gospel, but the sophisms of the Greek philosophers, and the false reasonings of the statesmen, and all others who, from bad dispositions, opposed the gospel by argument and sophistry. . . .” Benson defines every thought as “Every proud and haughty notion of the mind of man”.

Also commenting on Casting down imaginations, Albert Barnes writes, “The word is probably used here in the sense of device, and refers to all the plans of a wicked world; the various systems of false philosophy; and the reasonings of the enemies of the gospel. The various systems of false philosophy were so intrenched that they might be called the stronghold of the enemies of God. The foes of Christianity pretend to a great deal of reason, and rely on that in resisting the gospel.”

William Burkitt puts it, “. . .  reasonings, and proud conceits, and particularly unbelief, in which sinners fortify themselves against the convictions of the word, disdaining to submit themselves to the abasing, humble, and self-denying way of the gospel.”

Daniel Whedon saw this verse as referring to “proud systems of Paganism and Judaism”.

Writes Philip Schaff, “The reference here is to the pride of human reason, which takes upon itself to judge of things supernatural and spiritual on purely natural principles. This was working perilously in the church of Corinth; but, says the apostle, the weapons of our warfare are able to cast all that to the ground . . .” About every high thing, Barnes comments, “Every exalted opinion respecting the dignity and purity of human nature; all the pride of the human heart and of the understanding. All this is opposed to the knowledge of God, and all exalts itself into a vain self-confidence. People entertain vain and unfounded opinions respecting their own excellency, and they feel that they do not need the provisions of the gospel and are unwilling to submit to God.”

And on bringing into captivity Barnes adds, “The idea is, that all the strongholds of paganism, and pride, and sin would be demolished . . . Every power of thought in the pagan world; all the systems of philosophy and all forms of opinion among people; all the purposes of the soul; all the powers of reason, memory, judgment, fancy in an individual, were all to come under the laws of Christ, All doctrines were to be in accordance with his will; philosophy should no longer control them, but they should be subject to the will of Christ. All the plans of life should be controlled by the will of Christ, and formed and executed under his control – as captives are led by a conqueror. . . . The strongholds of philosophy, paganism, and sin should be demolished, and all the opinions, plans, and purposes of the world should become subject to the all-conquering Redeemer.”

Citing Chrysostom (c. 349 – 407 A.D.), Christian Friedrich Kling writes, “Carnal weapons are wealth, fame, worldly power, fluency of speech, severity, circumventive arts, flatteries and hypocrisies. . . . That which is lofty is also proud, established. Here it stands for all opposition to the word of God, to Christ, to repentance and to faith; inasmuch as men are ashamed of the humble requirements and the cross of Christ, ridicule the duties of self-denial, and resist the progress of Christ’s kingdom with all their subtility and power. – Reason is one of the noblest of God’s gifts, but when it is abused, when it sets itself against God’s word, and claims to be the supreme judge and arbiter in matters of faith, etc., it must be rejected.”

Quoting W. F. Besser (1816-1884), Kling says, “In the eye of the world, carnal weapons are mighty, and the spiritual weapons of the Church (the word of God, preaching, faith, confessions, patience and spiritual gifts) are of no consequence; but in God’s sight, carnal weapons are powerless and vain, and those which come from the holy armory, where David obtained his equipments (Ps. xviii. 35, 36), are mighty. What bulwarks has the god of this world erected to keep men in their wicked ways! The idolatrous systems of heathen nations, the self-righteous prejudices of the Jew, the philosophic arrogance of the Greek, the civil grandeur of the Roman, the haughty power of the world, the whole manner of life sanctioned by ancestral usages and deeply rooted popular prejudices, strongly fortified errors of heretics, – these are the strongholds which the Church has had to storm, with no other weapons than the trumpet of the Gospel and the sword of the Spirit.”

Says F. F. Bruce about this verse, “These ‘strongholds’ are the arguments and designs which present an obstacle to the knowledge of God unfolded in the gospel, whether they are calculated to pervert the true gospel of divine grace and replace it by another form of teaching which brings the souls of men into bondage, or to destroy Paul’s apostolic status . . . the prisoners of war in this campaign are the thoughts or devises . . . which rebel against the knowledge of God . . .”

Geoffrey B. Wilson puts in his commentary, “Such a deliverance from the proud ramparts of ‘autonomous’ reason has the supremely positive purpose of bringing ‘every intention of the mind’ (Alford) into subjection to the obedience of Christ without which there can be no true knowledge of God.”

The Greek word commonly translated thought in 1 Corinthians 10:5, is noema. The famous Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Kittel – TDNT) defines noema in the specific verse we are examining as “human devises against the Christian knowledge of God which the warrior Paul, as in the occupation of a captured fortress, takes captive and forces into obedient subjection in Christ.” It adds in a footnote that “A purely intellectual view of  . . . [noema] does not do justice to the context which suggests the activity of the will . . .”

Bored? Skip to the Conclusion

Matthew Poole states that what the King James Version calls imaginations means reasonings, and about every high thing he writes, “every height of reasoning, that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God. The great troublers of this church of Corinth were the heathen philosophers, and such as had sucked in their principles; with whose notions, which were conclusions drawn from reason not sanctified and subdued to the will of God, divers doctrines of faith would not agree. St. Paul tells them, that the gospel, (which was the great weapon of his warfare), through the power of God, was mighty to pull down the strong holds which unbelief had in the carnal understanding of men, to overthrow their reasonings, the heights of them, which exalted themselves against the doctrine of faith; and to bring . . . every thought, or counsel into a captivity to the obedience of Christ: so as whatsoever was revealed by the apostles from the Spirit of God, men readily agreed and yielded obedience to; whatever their thoughts or reasonings about it were, they gave credit to it; not because it appeared rational to them . . . Thus our nohmata, [Poole’s way of transliterating the plural of the Greek word noema, often translated thought in this verse] thoughts, counsels, reasonings, deliberations, conclusions, all the product of our understanding, is brought into a captivity to the obedience of Christ; and reason itself, which is the governess and mistress of the soul of man, is made a captive to revelation. . . .”

Gill explains bringing into captivity every thought this way: “carrying captive the whole understanding”.

And Henry Alford writes, “ . . . leading captive every intent of the mind (not ’thought’ as A.V. [KJV] : not intellectual subjection here, but that of the will, is intended) . . .”

Jamieson, Fausset & Brown prefer the expression “mental intents” to the English rendering thoughts.

Commenting on every thought, Exell & Spence-Jones say, “Even intellectual result.”

In his Greek-English Interlinear, Alfred Marshall translates every thought (King James Version) every design.

Alfred Plummer defines every thought as “Every device, or design” and adds, “. . . it refers to all workings of the natural reason [note that word] which hinder or corrupt the Gospel.”

Rather than thought, Philip Schaff prefers every conception.

Ralph R. Martin defines thought referred to in the last half of the verse we are looking at as, “another polemical term for human ‘design’ [Barrett’s rendering] which is at odds with the divine will.” Commenting further on 2 Corinthians 10:5 reference thoughts, Martin adds, “sinful aspirations of human independence [clearly he does not believe this Scripture refers to mere thoughts] . . . are to be curbed and brought into submission to Christ . . .”

Philip E. Hughes writes on this verse, “ . . . what Paul says here must come with special force to the Corinthians who breathed the Greek atmosphere of pride in human wisdom and philosophy. . . . the Apostle did speak . . . a wisdom . . . not of this world and therefore unknown to the intellectual leaders of this world whose wisdom is that of the fallen and rebellious human reasons. . . . Christian warfare is aimed at the casting down of reasonings [note Hughes’ choice of word] . . . Paul instinctively analyses the intellectual motives of unbelief [again, note his choice of words] in Rom. 1:18-25. And this analysis reveals, starkly and precisely, the nature of the high tower raised against the knowledge of God within which proud unregenerate man immures himself. . . . Unfortunately, while the thinking of regenerate man is in principle entirely subjected to the obedience of Christ, in practice, it is not always entirely so. The philosophies and sophistries [note again Hughes’ choice of words] of the “natural” man are frequently permitted to a position of influence in the redeemed intellect. This was the case with some of the Corinthians believers who . . . were being deceived by the specious logic [note that expression] of the false apostles . . .”

Commenting on the words used in this verse, C. K. Barrett writes, “Both words . . . suggest the cleverness of human wisdom, which is so satisfied with itself that there is no need of God, or evolves its own god, made in its own image. . . . It is the highmindedness . . . which thinks itself superior not only to fellow-men but also (in this instance) to God. . . . it is essentially a religious attitude. . . . they would rather exalt themselves than recognize God . . . but the word knowledge was current in Corinth and it may have suggested one or both of two further points. (a) Paul has made it clear that the true Christian knowledge of God is found only in Christ crucified . . . it is precisely against this knowledge that men exalt themselves, because it offends both their sense of reason and propriety (1 Cor. i.23). They reject the truth that we know about God. (b) It may be that Paul uses the word knowledge because his opponents used it; he rejected what he understood as knowledge of God (gnosis) in the interest of their own gnosis. . . . To lead into captivity and obedience is a translation that slightly expands ‘take as prisoner of war into obedience’ . . . Men’s designs are captured and transferred to another authority.”


We have delved into the works of a huge sample of the world’s top Bible scholars from an enormous range of different eras, nations and theological persuasions. The accumulated intellect, knowledge and time poured into their conclusions is staggering.

Whatever is meant by “every thought,” it does not even refer to the mental efforts of those of us who look in faith to Jesus. Instead, it refers to the intellectual products of our (and Christ’s) spiritual opponents – people who refuse to accept the spiritual significance of what Christ achieved on the cross. We noted in the previous webpage that whereas some Bible versions make this clearer by paraphrasing to highlight the meaning, the New Living Translation leaves us in no doubt:

    We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God. We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ. (Emphasis mine.)

For some other versions that hint at this meaning, see Hints.

Whereas in English what we call thought is a broad term covering a wide range of different mental activities, we have seen that, under the inspiration of the Spirit, the Greek-writing Apostle Paul is referring to something much narrower and more precise in meaning.

Moreover, what in King James English is called imagination does not mean what today we would call imagination but refers to using one’s powers of reason. In fact, in the context we have been examining, it refers to using one’s reasoning powers to argue a case that opposes the truth that Christ died to secure our salvation. It addresses those who do this so consistently that they keep on refusing to accept Christ’s salvation.

Since this is the meaning of the first part of the verse we must, for consistency, conclude that the rest of the verse is also referring to the same sort of mental activity. Thus, for example, Olshausen’s analysis of the passages is that even the previous verse (2 Corinthians 10:4) refers to “reasonings” and he concludes that every thought in the last part of verse 5 must therefore be employed “in the same sense as before” i.e. it must also refer to reasoning. So “every thought” does not refer to fleeting or inconsistent or unrestrained thoughts but to carefully and deliberately thought-out and consistently held onto arguments that oppose doctrinal truth.

If you believe that Jesus died for the sins of the world, then what the Bible calls your thoughts are already, in the biblical sense, in “captivity . . . to the obedience of Christ”. Nevertheless, you might be tempted to rebel against this obedience by choosing to believe you are somehow an exception to divine truth and to stubbornly maintain that Christ did not die for one or more of your sins. You must keep resisting that temptation or, if you fall for it, pick yourself up again and return to submission to Christ by believing that the blood of Jesus cleanses you “from all sin” and “from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:7,9, emphasis mine).

Thomas Constable agrees with Harris’s analysis of the verse we have been examining that “It is not a case of the Christian’s effort to force all his thoughts to be pleasing to Christ,” In fact, Constable includes this very quote in his commentary. Constable also says about this verse, “We wage war against invisible, intangible spiritual forces, though obviously Satan is behind these forces. Satan’s strategy is not only to use demons (Ephesians 6:12) but also speculations (theories) and incorrect information that contradicts God’s revealed truth. The propaganda of our enemy consists of ideas that run counter to the truth of God. ‘Speculations’ or ‘arguments’  . . . contrast with revelations that God has given, and they contradict those revelations. ‘Lofty things’ or ‘pretensions’ include any human act or attitude that asserts itself as being superior to God’s will or truth. Paul claimed to make it his aim to bring all such thoughts and actions into submission to what God has revealed in His Word.”

As stated in the previous webpage, and confirmed by citing very many authorities in this webpage (see below), “bringing into captivity every thought” is not about an impossibly unhuman, machine-like control of one’s mind, but the spiritual defeat of belief systems present in the non-Christian world that are opposed to the gospel message.

Without even considering what Paul meant by “bringing into captivity every thought”, however, it is highly significant that he introduced it by saying that our weapons are not carnal (human or worldly). It is astonishing, therefore, that many of us read that passage and are tempted to suppose we can win divine approval by being carnal – by the human effort of trying to control our thoughts. To be acceptable to God we must be spiritual (the opposite of carnal) which involves abandoning faith in our own efforts and investing every speck of our faith in what Christ achieved on the cross in totally erasing our sin from God’s awareness and rendering us perfectly acceptable to God.

Have you the courage and commitment to Jesus to stop trying to save yourself and put all your faith in Christ’s power and eagerness to save you? Heaven does not allow us to hedge our bets. All of our faith must be in Jesus and none in our own attempts to gain God’s approval, whether it be by our thought life, crawling a hundred miles on our knees, or any other works program.

Sin is sin. Either Jesus has the power and love to forgive your every sin – no matter how atrocious or repeated – or he is too weak to forgive anyone.

The thoughts that 2 Corinthians 10:5 refer to are mindsets and firm beliefs that undermine one’s faith in the adequacy of Jesus’ sacrifice. Unwanted thoughts are of no consequence to God. They cannot hurt us spiritually. What can hurt us is allowing heresy to dominate our beliefs, such as the heresy that thoughts are more powerful than Christ and the heresy that there are sins we regret that our mighty Savior is too weak to forgive. We must keep rejecting such lies and, instead, surrender to the power of the cross; confessing that no matter how strongly we are tempted to doubt it, the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:7-9) and that we are therefore the righteousness of God in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Refuse to cave in to fear or worry. Like a limpet relentlessly sticking to a rock in a storm-tossed sea, stubbornly cling to your mighty Savior. Ignore your thoughts – stop treating them as if they could save (or condemn) you – and, instead, put all your faith in the person who truly is your Savior.

There is so much more for you to discover about why people are plagued by unwanted thoughts. So take a break, if needed, but it is important that you then return and continue reading.

Next webpage:

Does God judge our thoughts or is he smarter than that?

Authorities Cited in My Webpages about 2 Corinthians 10


Alford, Henry The New Testament for English Readers: Containing the Authorized Version with marginal corrections of readings and renderings, marginal references and a critical and explanatory commentary . . . Rivingtons, London, 1863-66

Barclay, William The Letters to the Corinthians Edinburgh, UK: St Andrew Press, 1956, page 268

Barnes, Albert Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel

Barrett, C. K. A Commentary on the Second Epistle to the Corinthians Black’s New Testament Commentaries, London: Adam & Charles Black, 1973 page 252-253

Benson, Joseph The Old Testament And New Testament . . . With Critical, Explanatory, And Practical Notes . . . New York: T. Carlton & J. Porter, 1857

Bernard, J. H. The Second Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians The Expositor’s Greek Testament, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1900, page 95-96

Bruce, F. F. 1 and 2 Corinthians, The New Century Bible Commentary, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1971, page 230

Burkitt, William Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the New Testament 1700-1703

Clarke, Adam The Holy Bible . . . With a Commentary and Critical Notes in Six Volumes London: William Tegg

Constable, Thomas Expository Bible Study Notes 2003

Exell, Joseph S & Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice Commentary on 2 Corinthians Overview The Pulpit Commentary, 1897. Gill, John An Exposition of the New Testament 1746–8

Hodge, Charles A Commentary On 1 & 2 Corinthians Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1974 reprint page 611-612

Harris, Murray J. 2 Corinthians The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol 10, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976, page 380

Hughes, Philip E. Commentary on the Second Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1962 page 352-353

Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible – Unabridged .

Kling, Christian Friedrich, Translated by Conway P. Wing, The Second Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and Homiletical by John Peter Lange, Ediburgh: T&T Clark, 1869, page 165, 173-174

Martin, Ralph R. 2 Corinthians Word Biblical Commentary, vol 40 Waco, Texas: Word Books, 1986, page 306

Olshausen, Hermann Translated by David Fosdick, Jr. Biblical commentary on the New Testament: Translated from the German . . . New York: Sheldon, 1866 4:470

Plummer, Alfred Commentary on 2 Corinthians Overview Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges, 1896

Poole, Matthew Commentary on 2 Corinthians Overview Poole’s English Annotations on the Holy Bible

Schaff, Philip Popular Commentary on the New Testament (4 vols.) T&T Clark, 1879–1890

Tasker, R. V. G. The Second Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, London: Tyndale Press, page 134-135

Wesley, John Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible 1765

Whedon, Daniel Commentary on the New Testament New York: Eaton & Mains, 1860-75

Wilson, Geoffrey B. 2 Corinthians: A Digest of Reformed Comment Banner of Truth Trust, 1973 page 121


Bromiley, Geoffrey, W (Gen Ed) The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia: Fully Revised Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1988 2:806

Brown, Colin (Gen. Editor) The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1979, 3:128

Crim, Keith R. & Buttrick, George A. The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible 2:685, Nashville, Tennessee: Abingdon Press, 1962

HELPSTM Word-studies © 1987, 2011 by Helps Ministries, Inc

Kittel, Gerhard, & Friedrich, Gerhard, Editors, Translator: Geoffrey W. Bromiley Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (TDNT) Michigan: Eerdmans, 1964-1976, 4:961

Pfeiffer, Charles F, Vos, Howard F. & Rea, John The Wycliffe Bible Encyclopedia, Complete and Unabridged Chicago: Moody Press, 1975, page 833.

Tenny, Merrill C. (Gen. Ed.) Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible in Five Volumes Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976 3:256

Thayer, Joseph Henry Greek Lexicon, Electronic Database © 2002, 2003, 2006, 2011 by Biblesoft, Inc.


Marshall, Alfred The Interlinear Greek-English New Testament The Nestle Greek Text with a Literal English Translation Second Edition London: Samuel Bagster & Sons, 1958


Spurgeon, C.H. All of Grace For text, see Alas! I can do Nothing!

There is so much more for you to discover about why people are plagued by unwanted thoughts. So take a break, if needed, but it is important that you then return and continue reading.

Next webpage:

Does God judge our thoughts or is he smarter than that?

Not to be sold. © Copyright, 2015 Grantley Morris. Not to be copied in whole or in part without citing this entire paragraph. Many more compassionate, inspiring, sometimes hilarious writings by Grantley Morris available free at the following internet site www.net-burst.net Freely you have received, freely give.

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