Probably my wife’s favorite television series of all time is BBC’s Robin Hood, which ran from 2006 to 2009. The show gives a new take on the legend of the aristocrat-turned-outlaw fighting for justice against the corrupt Sheriff of Nottingham. Though the plot sometimes turns silly or nonsensical, the characters are often compelling, and each episode provides a diverting escape into a medieval world of swords and castles.
That’s the image that comes to mind when I read these words from Paul:
Although we live in the world, we don’t fight our battles with human methods. Our weapons that we fight with aren’t human, but instead they are powered by God for the destruction of fortresses. They destroy arguments, and every defense that is raised up to oppose the knowledge of God. They capture every thought to make it obedient to Christ. (2 Cor 10:3-5, CEB)
By continually undermining his credibility as an apostle, Paul’s opponents in Corinth have been sowing doubt in the congregation and weakening their commitment to the gospel. For Paul, this means an all-out battle for the hearts and minds of the Corinthians.
His metaphors are all drawn from the arena of war. The battlefield is the mind; the weapons are words. Paul’s opponents are skilled in rhetoric and adept with fine-sounding arguments. They’re able to turn the Corinthians’ heads by seeming more erudite than Paul.
But the battle isn’t an equal one. The Holy Spirit and the truth of the gospel are on Paul’s side. His words don’t rely on human cleverness, but the power of God — power enough to destroy (literally, “pull down”) any rhetorical fortress. And what the CEB translates as “every defense” is literally “every high thing”; one might envision a castle tower with battlements from which archers could defend a city. Paul’s opponents might try to take refuge behind their lofty words, smugly lobbing their verbal darts. But all for naught. If necessary, Paul will see to it.
Note that here, the knowledge of God is not a passive thing, a mere set of ideas to be gained through the use (or misuse) of reason. The Corinthians, apparently, had a spiritual bent in that somewhat gnostic direction. But, Paul seems to suggest, all bets are off when God himself enters the fray. Empowered by God, Paul was confident that he would win any war of words, taking his opponents’ vanquished arguments captive and making them subservient to Christ.
“Take every thought captive” (vs. 5, NRSV). I’ve heard that verse used time and again to encourage some form of mental self-discipline, particularly against temptation. But I wonder if we really understand how far reaching that phrase might be?
More on that in the next post.