Is praying in the Spirit the same as praying in tongues? What does it mean to pray in the Spirit? What does it mean to pray in tongues? This study briefly examines the concept of praying in the Spirit and praying in tongues to see if they are the same. The goal is to live an effective Christian life by practicing what the Bible reveals to us of the kingdom of God.
There are three passages of Scripture that refer to praying in the spirit. However, they do not refer to the same thing, which we will now see.
Praying With the spirit
Let me first present the concept of praying with the spirit based on the passage of Scripture below.
1 Corinthians 14:15 (NKJV) What is the conclusion then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding. I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding.
This passage is part of a discussion on speaking in tongues by Paul. He was comparing the act of speaking in an unknown language (unknown to those listening and speaking) and of speaking in a language that the listeners and speaker knew. Speaking or praying in tongues was a gift of the Holy Spirit. Not every Christian could speak in tongues because not every Christian has the same gifts. Paul used the term to speak or pray in tongues to distinguish it from speaking or praying from the mind, i.e., the language that you knew. Therefore, when a person who has the gift of speaking in tongues begins to speak, they are speaking or praying from their spirit because their mind does not know the language or, therefore, what is being said.
So, in short, praying with the spirit is basically the same as praying in tongues. The prayer originates from the spirit of the person, by the gift of the Holy Spirit, and is in a language that the one praying and those listening do not know.
Praying in the Spirit
Ephesians 6:18 (NKJV) praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints?
Jude 20 (NKJV) But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit,
These two passages of Scripture refer to something very different from 1 Corinthians 14:15. Many Bibles use a convention when referring to God. You will notice the capital “G” when the Bible text is referring to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Joseph, i.e., YHWH. The same convention is used here with respect to the Holy Spirit or the Spirit. The capital “S” means that it is referring to the Holy Spirit and not the spirit in general, e.g., the spirit of a person. You will notice the difference in capitalization of the word “spirit” in 1 Corinthians 14:15 and the two passages above.
Let’s look at another example of this convention.
John 4:22–24 (NKJV) —  You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews.  But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him.  God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”
Jesus said that true worshipers worship in spirit and in truth. To worship God in spirit means that the worship originates from the heart and is not a mere formality. That is why these are true worshipers. Why? God is Spirit and we must, therefore, worship him spiritually, i.e., with our spirit. So, the word “spirit” refers to the spirit of humans, i.e., the real you! Whereas, when referring to God, notice the capital “S.”
Praying in the Spirit means to pray with a dependency on the Holy Spirit to help you with your prayer and be consistent with God’s kingdom and ways. Praying in the Spirit means that the prayer is also from the heart and not mere words put together for effect.
Praying in the Spirit refers to a prayer that is from one’s spirit, as opposed to mere words from the mind, and it relies on the Holy Spirit to help you in your prayer.
Romans 8:26 (NKJV) Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.
Praying with the spirit (praying in tongues) is a term that Paul used to refer to a prayer that is in an unknown language.
Therefore, praying in the Spirit and praying in tongues refer to separate, though related things. Not all Christians have the gift of tongues (speaking in a language they don’t know). However, Paul tells all to pray in the Spirit, i.e., pray from your innermost being and not merely your head.
Matthew 6:7 (NKJV) — And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words.
Whether you are praying in tongues or in the Spirit (Holy Spirit), true prayer is one that comes from within one’s inner being, i.e., our spirit. True prayer is more than words put together in the mind and spoken. Praying with the spirit (praying in tongues) is a special case of praying in the Spirit where the prayer is rendered in a language that is not known to the one praying nor those listening.
So praying in the Spirit and praying in tongues are prayers that originate from the spirit of the person praying. Praying in the Spirit relies on the Holy Spirit to help, whereas praying with the spirit (or in tongues) is possible because of the Holy Spirit. Both are spiritual prayers, but one is a special case with regard to the language spoken.
Thank you! The explanation was perfect!
Thank you so much for breaking it down and making it understandable.
You are very welcome. I am glad the article helped your understanding. God bless you, and thanks for sharing your comment.
Thanks so much
You are very welcome
Well explained, but I wanted to see a video of someone praying in tongues
Thanks for your comment. I am sure that there are many videos on YouTube of people praying in tongues. The context of my article, however, is that praying in tongues would simply be someone praying in an earthly language that they did not learn. For example, if I started praying in Swahili (I don’t know how to speak Swahili).
Hello Chris. Thanks for your comment. Are you “saying” that you would like to see a video of someone speaking in tongues? If so, then I recommend that you dismiss that desire from your mind. It is rather pointless when you think about it. If speaking in tongues is a gift of the Spirit, what would watching a video do for you? Nothing except provide you with something to copy. Just pursue the Father and build your relationship with him. If he enables you to speak in tongues then you won’t need to see a video.
That’s a good reply Pastor Bill..
Well explained. Lots of Christians are confused on this issue.
Thanks, Jakonda. I was one of those people confused by this issue. However, I have found that the Bible is very clear on this topic. What is typically taught by some ministers is not consistent with what the Bible reveals. I’m amazed at how people are told that they must speak in tongues to receive from God, healing for example. Whereas, the Bible doesn’t reveal that at all. It’s so unfortunate.
Thank you pastor for the good explanation. I also believe that it’s the Holy Spirit who prays through us because we are one with Him 1 Cor 6:17.
Thank you for your comment, Solome. I’m glad the article was helpful. Be blessed.
Thank you for Pastor Bill. I found your answers the most helpful. I have a few comments and questions. I was always resistant to someone telling me to just babble and repeat the sounds they made. Would it be true to say that one cannot be taught to speak in tongues by people? and that it is a gift. ie. we have gifts to teach, prophesy, heal and then speaking in tongues?
Is it possible for someone to have a gift to interpret tongues?
Hello, John. Thanks for writing to Pursuing the Truth Ministries. You are correct. You cannot be taught to speak in tongues. I’ve witnessed what you have described and it is unfortunate. Speaking in tongues is to speak a different language that you have not learned. Therefore, if someone taught you to speak that language, then it would no longer be speaking in tongues. Teaching someone to babble and repeat sounds is far removed from speaking in tongues and it introduces a severe problem, which I described in the article.
Regarding the gift of interpretation. Great question! The Apostle Paul listed the interpretation of tongues along with other gifts of the Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12:10. Therefore, it is possible for someone to have the gift of interpreting tongues. There are a couple of ways of looking at this though. First, If I began speaking Spanish then someone who also does not know Spanish (as I don’t) may be able to interpret what I say via the gift of interpretations. Second, I may speak my native language, English in a place where people don’t speak English, but there is someone who has the gift of interpretation that can translate/interpret what I say. It is like the converse of speaking in tongues. I believe that the gift of interpretation is the latter not the former. The former belief about interpreting tongues opens the floodgates for people to babble nonsense and someone else to interpret that nonsense anyway they want–in the name of the Lord. I think I’ll add this point to my article. Stay tuned for that.
Hello, I appreciate this explanation, however, we cannot know (unless the original Greek used caps or something else obvious) in Eph 6:18 and 1 Corinthians 14:15 if it means spirit or Spirit. English translators made those determinations (based on something…). Jude 20 is obvious because it says “Holy Ghost.”
Thanks for your comment, ljk. You’ve made a valid point. The same Greek word, pneuma, is used in 1 Corinthians 14:15 and Eph 6:18. In Ephesians, the phrase is “in spirit/Spirit.” In 1 Corinthians, the phrase is “with spirit/Spirit.” The verse in Jude in Greek includes the word holy to read Holy Spirit, which, as you mentioned, eliminates any ambiguity. The translators used the context of the passage to determine if the reference is the Holy Spirit or spirit in general (e.g., our spirit).
The article wasn’t trying to distinguish between praying in the spirit or Holy Spirit. My objective was to highlight the difference between speaking/praying in tongues and praying from within or even with the Holy Spirit’s aid.
Thanks again for your comment. I truly appreciate it and always welcome comments. Be blessed.
Thanks Pastor Bill!
I feel so blessed by the explanation.
May more grace be bestowed upon you in Jesus name.
Thank you Uwa. I’m glad you were blessed by the explanations.
The question I have is: when speaking in tongues or in the Spirit, is the mind of the person praying blank (no thought) or are they praying with something in mind?
Hello Javier. Thanks for writing Pursuing the Truth with your question. First, let me emphasize that speaking in tongues and praying in the Spirit are different. YOu can pray in the Spirit and not be praying in tongues. The Apostle Paul wrote that praying in the Spirit (in tongues in this case) does not edify those around the speaker or the speaker because what is being said is not understood. It is possible that you do have something on your mind when you pray in the Spirit or speak in tongues. However, the point is that if speaking in tongues, you or others do not know what you are saying so it doesn’t edify.
Thank you Pastor Bill for bringing forth clarity! I really appreciate the break-down of the scriptures.
You are very welcome. I am glad I was able to help you understand. God bless you.