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In a recent small group Bible study sponsored by a local Pentecostal church, attendees were encouraged to "pray in the Spirit." The study leader cited these verses:

So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my understanding; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my understanding. 1 Corinthians 14:15 (NIV)

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord's people. Ephesians 6:18 (NIV)

But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life. Jude 20-21 (NIV)

The leader then continued to teach that "praying in the Spirit" meant to pray in "tongues"- a spiritual language that can only be spoken and interpreted miraculously. Is this interpretation of these passages consistent with any church doctrines or writings that predate Pentecostalism?

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You will need to understand what it means to pray, and also what it means to be in the breath. –  Decrypted Aug 31 '14 at 1:52
I suggest reading this (jeffcreightonblog.wordpress.com/2014/06/04/…) –  Decrypted Aug 31 '14 at 1:57
To answerers: I've downvoted each of your answers. Please note that I specifically ask if the Pentecostal interpretation of these verses is consistent with any doctrines that predate Pentecostalism. That is, are there established church writings (scriptural commentaries, church fathers, reformers, etc.) that also say that "to pray in the Spirit" means "to pray in tongues"? Since you've each given your own reading and not presented one such established source, you haven't answered the question as it was posed. –  Andrew Jun 17 at 8:44

2 Answers 2

Praying in the Spirit is a concept that was put forth by Paul in the book of Romans.

Romans 8:26 and 27 Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. 27 And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God.

The underlying thought appears to be that since God is Spirit that communication between our spirit and Spirit God so to speak have their own language as indicated by intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.

And in verse 27 he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, appears that the Spirit itself has a mental process foreign to ours, and that God looks at our hearts rather than our entreaties.

Hope this helps.

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I suggest reading this (jeffcreightonblog.wordpress.com/2014/06/04/…) –  Decrypted Aug 31 '14 at 1:59
@Bye the passages you use are talking about Spirit God making intercession for us with groanings--- not us to the Spirit. We have to look at the sentence structure. maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered is a verb; so what is doing the verb? the Spirit itself –  mastermissions.com Sep 9 '14 at 18:09
@HandofDon you appear to be disputing verse 27. Of course it is the Spirit of God making intercession for us, but that intercession comes from the Holy Spirit conversing with our spirit as is indicated by:he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God. We are privileged by having an intercessor who can converse with God on his level –  BYE Sep 9 '14 at 18:51
@Bye Clarity: when you say the Spirit of God and Holy Spirit, you're talking about the same being, right? –  mastermissions.com Sep 9 '14 at 19:02
@HandofDon Absolutely that is cleared up in Genesis chapter 1 verse 1. and also the he in verse 27 also refers to the Holy Spirit, Ghost or what ever name you affix to that Spirit, however the 'the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit' refers to our spirit. –  BYE Sep 9 '14 at 20:31

I agree with Bye's answer that praying in the Spirit can mean what is spoken of in Romans 8:26-27 about the Spirit offering up groanings on our behalf when we can't find the words. But there is another passage I think needs to be mentioned as well. Paul himself dealt with those who interpreted praying in the Spirit as meaning speaking in tongues, and he absolutely disagreed with them.

1st Corinthians 14:13-20

13 Wherefore let him that speaketh in an unknown tongue pray that he may interpret.

14 For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful.

15 What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also.

16 Else when thou shalt bless with the spirit, how shall he that occupieth the room of the unlearned say Amen at thy giving of thanks, seeing he understandeth not what thou sayest?

17 For thou verily givest thanks well, but the other is not edified.

18 I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all:

19 Yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue.

20 Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men.

Praying in an unknown tongue is not praying in the Spirit, and praying in an unknown tongue in public worship doesn't edify anyone, since they don't understand what was said and therefore cannot say "Amen" to the prayer, so Paul says stick with a language everyone can understand in public prayer.

Edit:-- I will add the "the spirit" here seems not to even be the Holy Spirit but the human spirit. The idea behind praying in or with the spirit seems to be to pray with sincerity, i.e. from the heart. Even when it comes to tongues, Paul here attributes it to the human spirit, in verse 14, "For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful." The important thing in praying "in the spirit" is praying sincerely, from the heart. But when people pray in an unknown tongue, their heart may be in it apart from the intellect, which is what Paul is saying should not be done.

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Paul talks about praying "with the spirit" and "with understanding" as a contrast. Presumably "with the spirit" is either without language or in an unknown tongue. Paul warns against doing this in a public meeting, but you haven't demonstrated that he thought "praying in the spirit" meant anything other than "praying in an unknown tongue." –  disciple Aug 31 '14 at 1:08
@disciple, Yes I have, since he says he will pray with both the spirit and the understanding, which demonstrates that praying in the spirit does not require praying in an unknown tongue. –  david brainerd Aug 31 '14 at 1:21
I suggest reading this (jeffcreightonblog.wordpress.com/2014/06/04/…) –  Decrypted Aug 31 '14 at 1:59
I asked a question about it in Biblical Hermaneutics: hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/13251/… . Let's work on improving and getting good answers to that question, or take it to chat if there's still a misunderstanding. You could improve your answer here by clarifying how you interpret those verses, and I apologize for not suggesting that earlier. –  disciple Aug 31 '14 at 4:05
@disciple, I saw that question on biblical hermeneutics. I actually did update my answer a bit, although you may have missed it. –  david brainerd Aug 31 '14 at 5:01

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