Valentina was our well-informed tour guide in Moscow. It was shortly after Glasnost, and we were free to give Bibles on the street and preach in the churches. One day Valentina told us the following story:
I was a devout Communist from childhood. I believed the Marxist system to be the best in the world. I believed most people in the West lived in poverty with great scarcity of food and other necessities. Then unexpectedly I was given the privilege of going to London. Arriving late at night, the first place I wanted to visit the next morning was a super market. As I just entered the door and saw the vast array of all sorts of foods, I stood as if frozen by the shock. Suddenly I knew I had believed a LIE!
As we look together at the only occurrence of the term "strongholds" in the New Testament we will see it is referring to LIES that, like Communism, were promulgated by ungodly people.
At the time Paul wrote his second letter to the church in Corinth, heretical teachers in the church were attacking Paul's integrity as an apostle and, in the process, undermining the Gospel. In 2 Corinthians 10-13, he defends his apostleship and calls his beloved converts back to the Truth. Probably the best known verse in this section and certainly the one that is a favorite of all who engage in spiritual warfare is this: "For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God for pulling down strongholds" (10:4).
As I prepared to write this chapter, I asked a number of mature Christians that question. It quickly became obvious that many have used the term without thinking about exactly what it means. "Pulling down strongholds" has a great sound of victory in spiritual warfare. However, as the term "stronghold" has been dangerously abused, I call to your attention the necessity of knowing the right meaning of the phrase. We cannot simply make it mean whatever we want it to mean. "The Word of God is living and powerful" (Hebrews 4:12a). He saw fit to give us His Word in words of language; the power in the Word is released as we use words that express what the Word says (1 Corinthians 2:13). In Confronting the Powers, Peter Wagner has written on this issue:
One of the more curious aspects of my pilgrimage into the field of spiritual warfare during the past few years has been the discovery that those who had been talking about it and doing it long before I even thought much about it did not agree among themselves about the nature of strongholds. They agreed that strongholds provide the forces of darkness a legal basis for doing their evil deeds both in individual people on the ground level and in cities and nations on the strategic level . . . . We have not been sure enough of what we are looking for exactly (237, emphasis mine).
Wagner does not attempt to define exactly what "a legal basis" for forces of darkness might be. Legal by whose laws? Basis for what? Is it a legal place or a legal idea? We can be sure that when Paul wrote the second epistle to the Corinthians he knew exactly what he meant by "strongholds," and he expected his readers to know as well. If we are going to use the term, we too need to find out what the Holy Spirit meant us to understand.
The word "strongholds" (Gr. ochuroma) occurs only once in the New Testament. According to Arndt-Gingrich, it was used in New Testament times to denote "fortress" or "prison" (606). Having learned this, it is not surprising that some have concluded "strongholds" to mean "a gathering place" for demons. By studying the context we will see right away that this is not the sense in which Paul used it here. Unless we use the term as he did, we may believe and teach something the Word does not support.
I have before me an example of a well-intended but erroneous use of the term. Teresa Castleman, leader of a "deliverance ministry," has written the following: "Are Christians demon possessed? Absolutely not. Can Satan have strongholds in our lives? Yes" (2). She then goes on to define "strongholds" at great length; according to her, they are "evil spirits" that need to be "expelled" from Christians (16). No doubt her purpose is to help believers; she promises the spirits will "exit" as victims cooperate with a "deliverance ministry team." On pages 24-43 of her manual, she lists 20 such "strongholds," including "familiar spirit" (24), "generational curses" (25), "seducing spirits" (41), "whoredoms" (42), and "sexual demons" (43).
All these heinous things are indeed possible where evil spirits are given freedom to control sinners, but none of the above is in any way indicated in 2 Corinthians 10. With due consideration to the context of verse 4, her use of the term "strongholds" becomes simply a cover for teaching that believers can be inhabited by evil spirits. Any time a demon inhabits a human, he will control and possess that person in the Scriptural sense of demonization, i.e., possession. This is an entirely different matter from what Paul is referring to as "strongholds."
Can we know what Paul meant by "strongholds"? Not only can we know, it is imperative that we know if we are going to use the term in our personal spiritual warfare and in our ministries. False doctrine is usually the result of flawed hermeneutics. Scripture is its own best interpreter. We are commanded to study to show ourselves "approved of God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of Truth" (2 Timothy 2:15). After ascertaining the plain meaning of any portion to the best of our ability, we then carefully and prayerfully study the context to gather further information, looking to the Holy Spirit for illumination.
The "strongholds" of 2 Corinthians 10:4 cannot refer to evil spirits, as study of the context will show clearly. In fact, the entire epistle does not have a single reference to evil spirits. It is basically a letter to bring the Church at Corinth back to their former allegiance to the ministry of the one who brought them the Gospel at first. Chapters 1-7 contain loving admonitions for the Church, along with the beginning of Paul's defense of his ministry, which was being maligned. Chapters 8-9 encourage generous giving to spread the Gospel. Chapters 10-13 comprise Paul's forceful defense of his apostleship and ministry against the vituperative attacks of "false apostles" (11:13) who were spreading vicious lies about him (10:2,10; 11:6-7,15; 12:11-12). In their attempts to alienate the Corinthians from Paul, his enemies were accusing him: of having weak bodily presence (10:10), of poor speaking skill (11:6), of being inferior (11:16), of not really being an apostle (12:11-12), and of using fleshly methods for self-aggrandizement (10:3). With all that in mind, we can understand Paul's appeal in chapter 10, including his usage of the term "strongholds."
First, he pleads with the Corinthians to retain their confidence in him (10:1-3). He makes a play on words, using sarx in two ways. He writes: "Though we walk in the flesh (sarx-we are still in a physical body), we do not war according to the flesh (sarx-in a carnal, worldly way). His enemies were accusing Paul of something he avoided assiduously.
Second, in verses 4-6, he tells the Corinthians how he will win in the "war" against Truth: (1) He will not use carnal (sarkikos) weapons, but he will use weapons that are "mighty through God for pulling down strongholds." (2) He defines the "strongholds"; they are "arguments (logizmous, imaginations)" against his ministry (5a), the "high thing" (hypsoma, the prideful arrogance of his enemies) that exalts itself against the knowledge of God (5b); and the thoughts (noema) that are not obedient to Christ (5c). Hypsoma, "high thing" can be used to refer to a spirit in Greek mythology, but in context here it refers to that which exalts itself above the Truth of the Gospel as preached by Paul. As Craig Keener has written:
Greek sages sometimes described their battle against false ideas as a war, in terms similar to those Paul uses here. Like those sages, Paul claims to be doing battle with false ideas. "Arguments" (NIV, NRSV, TEV) or "speculations" (NASB) is a technical term for "rhetorical or philosophical" reasonings; the prisoners of war in this extended metaphor are human thoughts. Cf. Proverbs 21:22 (508).
When people believe lies, they are allowing a prison of deceit to be established in their minds. Believing a lie is one of the most dangerous things a person can do. Our eternal destiny depends on our believing Truth. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word (Romans 10: 17); without Biblical faith we cannot be saved. In further emphasizing that the mind is the battlefield under attack, Paul expresses his deep concern:
I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ (2 Corinthians 11:2-3).
H. D. Spence describes the strongholds as "the evil fortifications of the mind, corrupt thinking, prejudices, worldly maxims, evil thinkings. The work of the true soldier is to bring this frontal force into entire subjection to Christ" (242).
Third, Paul tells which weapons will be effective to pull the strongholds down: (1) The stronghold of false arguments and diabolical arrogance will be cast down by the knowledge of God, the full Truth (10:5a), exposing the God-given validity of his apostleship and the satanic nature of his enemies (11:13, 12:12). (2) The stronghold of wrong thoughts will be pulled down by bringing every thought into "captivity to the obedience of Christ" (10:5b). (3) Paul will personally punish all disobedience (including that of the false apostles) as soon as the Corinthians have fulfilled their obedience to his apostolic authority (10:6; 12:20-21; 13:2,10).
As we gain understanding of the crucial nature of the war against Paul's ministry and against the Church at Corinth, we appreciate the power of Truth to overcome Lies. In his comments on 2 Corinthians 10:4-5, Matthew Henry has recorded:
What opposition is made against the Gospel, by the powers of sin and Satan in the hearts of men: ignorance, prejudices, beloved lusts, are Satan's strongholds in the souls of some; vain imaginations, carnal reasonings, and high thoughts, or proud conceits, in others. But then observe, the conquest which the word of God gains. These strongholds are pulled down by the Gospel as the means, through the grace and power of God accompanying it as the principal efficient cause (1090).
Infinitely more was at stake here than Paul's reputation or the Corinthians' allegiance to him. What was at stake was the GOSPEL! Just as Paul earlier pronounced the curse of God (anathema) on the Judaizers who were preaching "another gospel" (Galatians 1-2), so at this point he was determined not to allow "false apostles" to stop his ministry. Without any sinful pride, he realized that if his enemies were successful in undermining his ministry, they would establish a stronghold of deception that could destroy the very Truth of the Gospel.
Using judicious satire, Paul reminds his children in the faith of what they will be tolerating if they listen to his enemies. After summarizing the message of the ungodly interlopers, he gently scolds the Corinthians for even temporarily considering the possibility he might have failed them in the beginning: "If he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted, you may well put up with it" (2 Corinthians 11:4, emphasis mine). With a bit more poignant satire, he continues, "For I consider that I am not a bit behind the most eminent apostles" (11:5). With the weapon of Truth, Paul pulled down the stronghold of the lie of the ungodly teachers. Contemplating the power of the Gospel, Adam Clarke wrote a century ago:
It is amazing how feeble a resistance heathenism made, by argument or reasoning, against the doctrine of the Gospel! It instantly shrunk [sic] from the divine light, and called on the secular power to contend for it! Popery sunk [sic] before Protestantism in the same way, and defended itself by the same means. The apostles destroyed heathenism wherever they came, as the Protestants confuted Popery wherever their voice was permitted to be heard (1832).
The strongholds were (1) the lies of the "false apostles" (2 Corinthians 11:13) and (2) the erroneous thought patterns resulting from believing the lies. There are many false religions and cults built on lies that are believed by gullible people. For example, Mormons believe the lie told by Joseph Smith when he said he found metal plates containing inspired Scriptures in addition to, and superseding, the 66 books of the sacred canon. The Roman Catholic Catechism depends on the basic lie of papal infallibility. These are two of many instances of strongholds that can only be pulled down by the Truth of the Word of God. If the strongholds were pulled down, those religions systems would collapse.
We who hold to the Truth are immune to deception only as long as we stay open to the Word, giving constant attention to doctrine, expecting Biblical doctrines to be realized in our experience. We must worship God in spirit (experience) and in Truth (doctrine). Shortly prior to his death, Don Stamps wrote:
In the churches today there are those whose teachings contradict God's Word and lead their followers to spiritual disaster. We must be on our guard against them. False teachers may state that Biblical revelation is true, but at the same time allege that they possess extrabiblical revelations or knowledge equal in authority to Scripture and valid for the church as a whole. Such false teaching usually draws the Christian faith into a syncretism with other religions or philosophies (note on 2 Corinthians 11:3-4, FLSB).
Paul realized that if his enemies were allowed to undermine his preaching, they would establish strongholds of deception that could destroy the very Truth of the Gospel. Let us proclaim to all that the "strongholds" of 1 Corinthians 10:4 are: false doctrines; lies that are wrapped in a thin layer of Truth, mental barricades against Truth, "high things" such as defiant intellectual walls, knowledge falsely so called (1 Timothy 6:20), profane and vain babbling (2 Timothy 2:16), specious reasoning of proud wicked self-styled "prophets" and "apostles."
For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works (2 Corinthians 11:13-15).
We cannot overestimate the importance of the battleground of the mind. Any minister who tells you to forget your mind and just jump into "spiritual experience" is mistaken. When people ignore and resist Truth, God turns them over to a reprobate mind that believes lies (Romans 1:28). Paul wrote to the Thessalonians:
The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all deception of unrighteousness in those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all might be condemned who did not believe the Truth (2 Thessalonians 2:9-11, emphasis mine).
The book you hold in your hand is a good example of pulling down strongholds with Truth. After the first edition was published in 1989, I received a letter from a young man who wrote:
No words can express my joy in finding the book, Power Encounter. I had been told by some ministers older than I that I had an evil spirit. At the time I was walking close to the Lord, but I believed them. When I asked them to cast the demon out of me, they said they were unable to do so. I fasted until I almost died, I considered suicide. I felt I was losing my sanity, even though in my heart I knew I loved God. As I read this book, I was totally set free of my fear. I had not had a demon; I had only believed a lie.
That young man is today a happy minister, serving the Lord with his wife and family. The stronghold of a lie was demolished by Truth. The weapons of our warfare are the means of replacing lies with Truth. We pull down strongholds as Paul did, by faithfully, tirelessly, joyfully preaching, teaching, writing, and practicing the Word of Truth.