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What Does the Phrase 'Casting Down Imaginations' Mean in the Bible?

What Does the Phrase 'Casting Down Imaginations' Mean in the Bible?

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” 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 (KJV).

When we first read Paul’s phrase “casting down imaginations,” we might wonder if God is encouraging us to not use our imaginations. Although it’s true our imaginations can be misused, Paul is emphasizing a different spiritual concept for every Christian to prevent believing in lies.

Paul’s phrase is encased in three very important verses in 2 Corinthians 10:3-5: “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds;) 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” (italics added KJV).

As we’ll see, the weak Christians located in Corinth have adopted certain ideas that have captured their “imaginations”—their thinking. These wrong ideas have been accepted into their belief system as if they are true. But the ideas are against everything Paul introduced to them and taught them. They are of the world, not God.

Context of 2 Corinthians 10:5

One of the primary purposes of Paul’s letters (yes, there were two or three) to the Corinthians is to fight against the wrong thinking of the false teachers who are spiritually harassing the believers in that pagan city. Being at a physical distance from his spiritual brothers and sisters, Paul is determined to convince them they are cooperating with a destructive influence that is tearing down their faith in Jesus Christ. He also knows the false teachers have been critical of himself as God’s appointed messenger.

Since the weak believers are easily swayed by these false doctrines, Paul is firmly and yet gently reminding them of the truths he taught them while he was with them. He is wondering, since they trusted him then, how they could be influenced against him now. He is shocked. Paul writes this letter to remind them of the spiritual doctrines he taught them while with them.

Paul is treading on dangerous ground. He doesn’t want to seem mean-spirited or critical. He wants to come across with the meekness of Christ. Yet he also passionately desires to shake the Corinthians free from the stronghold of falsehoods the other teachers have heaped upon them. Paul is limited to handwritten letters being personally delivered by his trusted helpers. He is walking a tightrope of showing love and yet speaking the truth.

That’s why he begins this section of his letter (2 Corinthians 10:1) referring to “the meekness and gentleness of Christ.” He is reminding them that in person he represented Christ’s nature and neither he nor Jesus have changed. Because of his concern for them, he must teach them how to examine the wrong beliefs—the “imaginations”—the false teachers are throwing at them. Those ideas represent the way the world thinks, not the way Paul taught them that God thinks.

What Does Casting Down Imaginations Mean?

The Greek words making up the phrase “casting down imaginations” is kathaireo logismos. “Kathaireo” is defined as "demolish" and bring down. God prompts Paul to use the concept of bringing down since many unbelievers worshipped their gods in “high places” which were elevated areas where altars were built. Paul continues his instruction, writing, “Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God,” (2 Corinthians 10:5, italics added).

Each of us “exalts” or “lifts up” our preferences by making choices we consider most beneficial for us. We choose that which we think will meet our needs. But if we are Christians, the ideas we “exalt” above others should be God’s perspective and how He wants us to think and act.

Paul taught the Corinthian believers from the beginning of their salvation to lift high the value of Jehovah God, find salvation only through His Son Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection, and obey God’s principles. But because of the influence of the false teachers, they have now replaced their high value of Christ with incorrect ideas. These ideas include questioning Paul’s authority as an apostle, believing they can live immoral lives and have a division between believers.

The second Greek word of the phrase for “imaginations” is logismos which is defined as arguments, thoughts, and reasonings. Just as Satan questioned Eve’s perceptions, challenged God’s words, and reasoned with her to confuse her in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:1-6), Satan was using the deceptive reasoning of false teachers to cause the Corinthians believers to question who God is and how He defines salvation and walking in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Thankfully, Paul’s letter to his beloved people was effective. The large majority of the Corinthian believers stayed true to the message of the Gospel claiming only Jesus could save them from their sins. They also turned away from the ungodly and immoral choices they had begun accepting. To Paul’s great relief, they kept their allegiance to Paul as God’s official messenger of the Good News.

How Can Christians Cast Down Imaginations?

In II Corinthians 10:5, Paul continues his thoughts with how to cast down imaginations by urging his readers adding “and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.”

Every day, every one of us has thousands, even millions, of thoughts which could be identified as a variety of goals, plans, questions, ideas, conclusions, and analysis of circumstances. Like arrows being flung toward our minds and hearts, we are bombarded. Many of those arrows are truth. Many of them are lies. The truths foster trust in God and acknowledgment of his Lordship in our lives. The lies create doubt, confusion, wrong conclusions, and ultimately questioning God’s nature—his goodness, motives, faithfulness, and many other attributes.

Ephesians 6:16 tells us, “Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.” Those “darts,” our inner dialogue, come from many sources, including our own analysis, our hearts’ desires, the opinions we hear from others, what we read, watch, and hear. Without being viewed through the filter of truth, the influence of the darts turns us toward worry, hate, lack of self-control, criticism, discontent, and many other responses which are the opposite of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23). When we use the filter of the truth of Scripture and who God is, we experience the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance.

Of course, when Paul wrote God’s words down, he was referring specifically to accepting the godly “imaginations” he taught the Corinthians and to reject ungodly lies from the false teachers. He wanted the believers to take their thoughts into “captivity.” But the concept Paul envisioned for the Corinthian believers is a spiritual practice necessary for all of us.

Think of it this way. We are going about our day and different ideas arise within us or we hear something said. In our “imagination,” we can grab a particular thought as if it were a dart, and ask, “Is this the truth?” Or, “What does the Bible say about this?” Or, “Am I thinking the truth about who God is?” When we ask any questions like that and then reject the lies and accept God’s truths, we are “casting down imaginations.”

Here's a practical application. You could wear a rubber band on your wrist and when you notice it throughout your day, ask, “Where is my mind going? To truth or to ideas ‘that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God’?”

This is a life-long process. We might determine to do this and not question our thoughts all day. But several times the next day, we notice a thought which seems correct but upon examination is actually a lie about God or how He works. Within days and then weeks, we are more often alert about whether our ideas are biblical. Then we will be more diligent to choose casting down imaginations that are not of the Lord.

Prayer for Casting Down Imaginations

Almighty God of the Universe, thank you for wanting to empower me to be casting down imaginations that plague me and draw me away from you. You are worthy to be trusted because you are wise, gentle, and yet strong. You know the lies destroying me. Thank you that you want to set me free so that I can exalt you. Open my eyes to the truths of your Word. Strengthen my heart to resist Satan’s questioning of your worth and value. Deliver me from the sinful strategies plaguing me. Only you offer everything truthful, worthwhile, and good. I’m so grateful that you are my God and are empowering me to cast down wrong imaginations. In Jesus Name, Amen.

God led the Apostle Paul to empower the Corinthian believers with a very practical spiritual discipline that was effective for them and is effective for us. Many of the ideas of every Christian’s inner dialogue and the messages reaching them from “outside” their minds are attempting to be a kind of “false teacher.” God, on the other hand, is strengthening His child with truth from the Holy Spirit to fight Satan’s lies. The believer can call upon His help to receive truth and cast down lies. How blessed we are that God does not leave us defenseless. The God of truth is with us.

Photo credit: ©GettyImages/natasaadzic

Kathy Collard MillerKathy Collard Miller is an award-winning author and most often writes about Christian growth through her women’s Bible studies, Christian living books, and Bible commentaries. Her memoir, No More Anger: Hope for an Out-of-Control Momtells how God delivered her from being an abusive mom and healed her dysfunctional marriage. She and her husband, Larry, have written several books together including the God’s Intriguing Questions series.

She also is an internationally traveled speaker and loves to share the hope of heart change, abundant living, and eternal life. She has been Larry’s wife since 1970, and is a mom of two and grandma of two. Website/blog: Instagram: @KathyCollardMiller. Twitter: @KathyCMiller.

This article is part of our larger resource library of popular Bible verse phrases and quotes. We want to provide easy to read articles that answer your questions about the meaning, origin, and history of specific verses within Scripture's context. It is our hope that these will help you better understand the meaning and purpose of God's Word in relation to your life today.

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