Taking Every Thought Captive – What does it mean?

Judy approaches her friends at church and reveals that she is struggling with persistent doubt and depression. She tells them she reads her Bible every day, prays, attends church, and serves others. “But the thoughts keep intruding” she confesses. One of her friends gently takes her by the hand, looks into her eyes with great concern, and says “Judy, you just need to take those thoughts captive and make them obey Christ.” The people in the circle nod in agreement and Judy politely thanks her friend. They pray together and then continue with the church activities. Judy goes home feeling much better. Later that afternoon, the depressive thoughts return in earnest. Judy is perplexed. Didn’t she and her friends “capture” these thoughts? Why are they back? Judy’s faith is strong and her friends mean well. But she cannot comprehend how to “capture her thoughts” which have plagued her for years. “Where in the Bible is this passage again?” she asks herself. She googles the words and re-reads 2 Corinthians 10. There it is in verse 5 “we take captive every thought and make it obey Christ.” “Maybe I’m just not there yet,” she says to herself.  Judy retires for the evening discouraged, praying for a peaceful night.

It’s often heard, when the church is addressing an individual’s thought-life, intruding or perverse thoughts, or even mental health, that he or she must “take every thought captive.” The King James translation employs the wording “Casting down imaginations” in the same interpretive context as above; a personal mental battle. Is this what Paul taught?

If the Apostle Paul is teaching we are to somehow capture our personal thoughts and make them obey Christ, in an individual context, he chose not to explain how.

Please notice the verbiage ‘what Paul taught’ and not ‘where we get the teaching.’ These are often two different approaches. When we examine doctrine, we must ask “is this what the author is conveying?” One of the first rules of hermeneutics is ‘if it did not mean it to the author, it does not mean it now.’

Let’s examine Paul’s context. Paul was a intentional and precise author. It is important to follow the progression of his writing. In 2 Corinthians 9, Paul teaches about the gifts of giving, the confession of the gospel, and thanksgiving. In chapter 10, vs. 2, Paul begs the Corinthians that when he is present with them, he will “…not need to be bold with the confidence by which I plan to challenge certain people who think we are behaving in an unspiritual way.” Notice his tone; Paul is about to speak of spiritual confrontation. The tone in scripture is relevant to the context.

Let’s outline 2 Corinthians 10:3-6 to help us examine Paul’s progression…

  • We do not wage war in an unspiritual way (or wage a physical war.)
  • The weapons of our warfare are not worldly.
  • The weapons we use are powerful through God for the demolition of strongholds.
  • We demolish arguments and every high-minded thing that is raised up against the knowledge of God.
  • Taking every thought captive to obey Christ
  • We are ready to punish any disobedience, once your obedience has been confirmed.

Notice the confrontational tone of Paul’s words. Directly surrounding “taking every thought captive” are “we demolish every high-minded things against the knowledge of God” and “we are ready to punish disobedience.” The word “thoughts” is not alone; Paul prefaces it with “every high-minded thing.” Battling personal mental struggles or negative self-talk does not appear to be Paul’s intent here. Such an interpretation, as well intentioned as it may be, would be foreign to Paul’s message in 2 Corinthians 10. 

Let’s examine I Corinthians 10:5 in the New Living Translation; “We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God. We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ.” This translation is in context with Paul’s spiritually confronting language here. Paul does not appear to be saying “when you are facing negative or perverse thoughts, take them captive and make them obey Christ.” Rather, Paul’s progression looks more like this.’

“We are in a spiritual battle, so we don’t fight in a physical way. As believers in Christ, we engage people in a spiritual manner and, through the Spirit, demolish popular godless arguments and so-called ‘high knowledge’ opposed to the gospel. We, through the Spirit, capture these prevailing mindsets and bring them to the truth of Christ in obedience. Because of this, we are qualified and ready to punish disobedience, because the truth is crystal clear.” 

I believe Paul is speaking of engaging a godless culture with the truth, and teaching it to obey Jesus Christ. He does not appear to be teaching an individual how to chase down and capture his or her personal thoughts. This passage is closer to the Great Commission than how to manage mental struggles. 

Paul writings, and other scriptures, do address individual and corporate thought-life.  Consider Romans 12:1-3 “Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God. For by the grace given to me, I tell everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he should think. Instead, think sensibly, as God has distributed a measure of faith to each one.” Transformation takes place by the renewal of the mind. The renewed mind can discern the will of God and think sensibly. When Paul speaks of the mind, he is practical, not merely theoretical.

This blog post is meant as an encouragement to all who read. We are called to love the Lord our God with all our mind, as well as our hearts, souls, and strength – Mark 12:30-31. What if the key to defeating intrusive thoughts was not some attempt to chase them down, capture them, and force obedience? What if the key is to love God with our mind?

In closing, having mental and spiritual peace is not abstract and theory. Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, gives another practical exhortation concerning our thoughts. Notice the progression; Paul encourages the believers to dwell or meditate on whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, and morally excellent, or worthy of adoration. Then consider the challenge of doing what they have learned, received, heard, and seen in Paul.  The God of peace will be among them, personally and corporately. The key here is dwelling, meditating, and thinking on the things of God and practicing lives based on such things, both for personal peace and for the encouragement and example to others. What God teaches is achievable.

“Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable—if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise—dwell on these things. Do what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.” Philippians 4:8-9 HCSB

God bless you, and thanks for reading. Comments welcome.

Reuben

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Book Review: How to Read the Bible For All Its Worth

Book Review
How to Read the Bible For All Its Worth Book Review. 3rd Ed.
Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003

“Just read the bible and do what is says!”. Good advice, yet quite incomplete. How does one read the Bible? Is it read like a novel? Like a history book? Like a list or rules? Do we pride ourselves on a literal reading? If so, are we to build parapets around the roofs of our houses as Deuteronomy 22:8 demands? Do we feel as though the Bible is a templet for our pet doctrines? Are we free to ignore sections at will? Does the God of the Bible hold us accountable for these decisions?

So, the burning question is how do we read the Bible? The Bible is like no other book in history, yet it contains many known genres. It is more widely read than all other written works, and for good reason. It has impacted the course of history like no other work before or after it. Because of this monumental question, we have books such as How to Read the Bible For All Its Worth by Douglass Stuart and Gordon D. Fee.

The world at large, and the church specifically, hold the Bible in a special regard. Both those who are converted to Christ and those who are not are often familiar with certain stories and passages. The language of the Bible has worked its way into our everyday vernacular. Because of these and other reasons, there is a wide variety of views of the Bible. People often do not know the difference between reading the book of Job (a book so ancient, it has no reference to the Law) and Romans. In Job, we are rejecting good advice from poor comforters and in Romans we are receiving all the advice given! Stuart and Fee have written How to Read the Bible For All Its Worth to address these issues and to help guide all who are serious in properly reading and interpreting the Bible. One would be at odds to name a more important study skill.

The way the book is constructed is immensely helpful in aiding the purpose of the authors. How to Read the Bible For All Its Worth wisely begins with the addressing the need of interpretation. People often do not realize they already interpret anything they read. Would you read the newspaper the same way you read a heart-felt poem? Of course not! One cannot simply read the Bible completely devoid of interpretation. The authors make a valid point: you are interpreting anyway, you might as well interpret correctly.

From there, the book then goes from help in choosing a translation to a systematic process of how to read each Bible genre. I particularly appreciate the book’s structure, which is very easy to follow. Stuart and Fee address how to read the Epistles, the Old Testament narratives, Acts, the Gospels, the parables, the Law, the prophets, Psalms, Wisdom and finally Revelation. Of course, these could be further broken into sub-groups, but these include nearly everything found in scripture. These literary genres are also often tied to one another and may go from genre to genre in a single book (or chapter!). When one masters the skills in how to read each type, it’s smoother sailing.

I believe Stuart and Fee did achieve their goal in guiding the reader to a fuller understanding of Bible interpretation with this book. This is conditional on the reader following the guidelines of course. For an example of such guidelines, we should attempt to grasp the text as it was written “in their town”, or exegesis. The task of exegesis is outlined in a way anyone can understand the subject. “Exegesis is the careful, systematic study of the Scripture to discover the original, intended meaning” (Kindle location 385).

We read a passage, was it poetry? Was it a list? Was it hyperbolic? Did Jesus really want us to gouge out an eye or cut off a hand? He said to do so in Matthew 5:29-30 if the offending eye or hand causes one to sin. What is the price of a literal interpretation when it was not meant as such? It this case it could be a limb! In fact, the hyperbole Jesus was using was much more powerful than a literal interpretation. Reading the Bible with the correct mindset, and submitted to the Holy Spirit, brings liberation as apposed to the bondage of false belief.
Another very important point How to Read the Bible For All Its Worth drives home is the all-important subject of context, namely, the literary context. This is mentioned throughout the book. This means “first that words only have meanings in sentences, and second that biblical sentences for the most part only have clear meaning in relation to preceding and succeeding sentences.” (Kindle location 458). Without grasping what context really is, one cannot correctly interpret scripture, much less skillfully apply it the way God intends.

Personally, I tend to agree with the authors of How to Read the Bible For All Its Worth and nearly every point. I have actually read the book twice and find it to be incredibly helpful in my own devotional reading as well as sermon/lesson prep. They do tend to take some hard stances on the book of Revelation which I would personally tread lighter, but with Revelation, that is to be expected at times. They see the great city as Rome for sure. Rome is only mentioned in Acts (the last 1/3 or so of Acts is dedicated to Paul’s trek to Rome), Romans 1:7, 15, 15:22 and 2 Timothy 1:17. This is only minor and they are probably right.

I would heartily recommend How to Read the Bible For All Its Worth. In fact, when I first read it about 3 years ago (an earlier edition), I was already recommending it to many people. The second reading was only richer and more rewarding. The parables and proverbs took on a whole new life and I tried to view them (as best I could) as those who heard them for the first time. The puzzling laws in Deuteronomy became examples of God’s care and His desire for the Israelites to be set apart from pagan practices. The dragon and locusts of Revelation were not longer simply enigmatic monsters in my mind.

I would recommend How to Read the Bible For All Its Worth to anyone (professional minister or not) who desires to learn the skills of proper Bible interpretation. There are many books on this subject, yet this particular work as gained notoriety for it’s logical sequencing, easy to understand language, and tried-and-true hermeneutical techniques.

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A Meditation of Psalm 19

Psalm 19 describes God revealing Himself, leading to a natural conclusion. Psalm 19 contains oft-quoted verses. These include “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky proclaims the work of His hands.” (vs 1) and “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, Lord, my rock and my Redeemer. (vs 14) Interestingly, these are the first and final verses of this Psalm.

Notice the natural structure to Psalm 19. Without over-spiritualizing at all, you can easily tell a sequence the psalmist has placed here. From vs 1 to vs 4, it is the heavens which are said to declare, proclaim, pouring, communicate, and sending a world-wide message. From vs 5, it is now the sun which, as an extension of the work of the heavens, is a witness in the sky directly from God (the psalmist is careful to say it is God, or Him in the HSCB, who in control of the sun). It gets better.  Beginning with vs 8, the psalmist provides an outline which connects on a profound level. Notice…

Beginning with vs 8, the psalmist provides an outline which connects Continue reading “A Meditation of Psalm 19”