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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: Speaking in Tongues

Don Stewart :: Does Paul's Statement about "Inexpressible Groans" Refer to Praying in Tongues?

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Does Paul’s Statement about “inexpressible Groans” Refer to Praying in Tongues? (Romans 8:26, 27)

The Gift of Speaking in Tongues – Question 13

When speaking of the subject of prayer, the Apostle Paul made the following statement to the church at Rome.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God (Romans 8:26, 27 NRSV).

Some people believe this refers to speaking in tongues. Is this what is in mind here?

Who Groans: The Person or the Holy Spirit?

There are a number of problems with having this refer to praying in tongues. First, there is the question as to whom is doing the groaning. Is it the person praying or is it the Holy Spirit? Many believe it is not referring to believers but rather to the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit Intercedes on Behalf of the Believer

Paul says it is the Holy Spirit who is interceding on behalf of the believer. Consequently it can be argued that He is the one groaning – not the believer.

If it is the person who groans, it still does not mean that it is referring to speaking in tongues.

All May Groan, but All Do Not Speak in Tongues

For one thing, Paul seems to include all believers in this groaning. This being the case, it cannot refer to speaking in tongues because the Bible says that all believers do not speak in tongues. Paul wrote to the Corinthians.

Does everyone have the gift of healing? Of course not. Does God give all of us the ability to speak in unknown languages? Can everyone interpret unknown languages? No! (1 Corinthians 12:30 NLT).

The way the sentence is structured in the original Greek demands a no answer. Not everyone speaks in tongues. Consequently, this passage in Romans which speaks of “inexpressible groans” does not refer to speaking in tongues.

Summary – Question 13
Does Paul’s Statement about “inexpressible Groans” Refer to Praying in Tongues? (Romans 8:26, 27)

The Apostle Paul said that we believers do not know how to pray as we should. Consequently, the Holy Spirit intercedes for us with inexpressible groans. Some believe he was referring to speaking in tongues. However, this does not seem to be the case.

First, it is possible that it is the Holy Spirit, and not the believer that is groaning. Indeed, the one who is groaning in this instance may be the Spirit rather than the person praying. If this is the case, then the passage has nothing to do with the believer speaking in tongues by means of groans which cannot be expressed. Furthermore, Paul includes every believer in his statement; he makes no exceptions. Therefore, it cannot refer to speaking in tongues because the Bible says that all believers do not speak in tongues. In sum, whatever the passage may mean, it does not refer to the believer praying in tongues by making groans in language which cannot be expressed.

What Does It Mean to Pray in the Spirit? ← Prior Section
Is There Such a Thing as Singing in Tongues? Next Section →
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