Praying In the Spirit Versus Praying in Tongues

Introduction

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.

Scripture Lessons

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) — [22] You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. [23] 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. [24] 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.

Conclusion

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.

 

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43 Comments

  1. Agbidi Samuel

    Precise

    Reply
  2. Gina

    Thank you! The explanation was perfect!

    Reply
    • Oluwadamilola

      Thank you so much for breaking it down and making it understandable.

      Reply
      • Pastor Bill

        You are very welcome. I am glad the article helped your understanding. God bless you, and thanks for sharing your comment.

        Reply
      • Grace

        Thanks so much

        Reply
        • Pastor Bill

          You are very welcome

          Reply
          • Marcus Green

            I am not convinced that praying in the Spirit and speaking in an unknown tongue are the same. We cannot make assumptions or conjectures. When the Word states about speaking in tongues, there must be an interpreter. If we pray in the Spirit it is not necessarily meant to speak in tongues.
            If we are going to “pray in the Spirit” the belief of speaking in tongues, then we must interpret or someone in obedience interprets.

          • Pastor Bill

            Hello, Marcus. I don’t think that praying in the Spirit and speaking in an unknown tongue are the same as well. You are correct. Paul said that if someone speaks in tongues, there should be an interpreter else no one knows what was said. The context there was in a church service. Correct again. As I said in the article, praying in the Spirit is to pray with the help of the Holy Spirit. You are not necessarily speaking in an unknown language. If we pray or speak in tongues, there should be an interpreter within the context of a fellowship, e.g., church service. There is no precedence provided in Scripture I can think of for speaking in tongues while alone.

            I must say, that I do not focus or put much thought into speaking in tongues. The Bible says that it is a gift from God. So, if the Holy Spirit gives someone the ability to speak in a language they have not learned, great. However, even Paul said that we should desire the gift of prophecy, i.e., speaking the word or messege of God. I think much to much emphasis is given on speaking in tongues uneccesarily. That has cause fabrications of the gift, where people are taought or encouraged to speak in tongues. The mind will easily create an unknown language, i.e., babbling. Thanks for your comments. I appreciate it.

  3. Shonita. Badillo

    Very informative

    Reply
    • Shane

      Short,Small book of Jude speaks largely regarding this topic as he stated “praying in Tongues building up yourself In your most holy faith .

      Reply
      • Pastor Bill

        Thanks for your comment. Actually, Jude does not speak of praying in tongues. He refers to praying in the Spirit, which is different from praying or speaking in tongues. Jude is encouraging the people to build themselves up through prayer guided by the Holy Spirit. That is something that we can do even today. I know many people equate praying in tongues with praying in the Spirit. However, the two are different.

        Reply
  4. Cherryl Jordan Jones

    Good explanation.

    Reply
  5. Augusta Ogbechie

    Well explained, but I wanted to see a video of someone praying in tongues

    Reply
    • Pastor Bill

      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).

      Reply
    • Chris

      Exactly

      Reply
      • Pastor Bill

        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.

        Reply
        • Vince Belen III

          That’s a good reply Pastor Bill..

          Reply
  6. Jakonda Hassan zarmuwa

    Well explained. Lots of Christians are confused on this issue.

    Reply
    • Pastor Bill

      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.

      Reply
      • Solome

        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.

        Reply
        • Pastor Bill

          Thank you for your comment, Solome. I’m glad the article was helpful. Be blessed.

          Reply
  7. John Stewart

    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?

    Reply
    • Pastor Bill

      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.

      Reply
  8. ljk

    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.”

    Reply
    • Pastor Bill

      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.

      Reply
  9. Uwa

    Thanks Pastor Bill!
    I feel so blessed by the explanation.
    May more grace be bestowed upon you in Jesus name.

    Reply
    • Pastor Bill

      Thank you Uwa. I’m glad you were blessed by the explanations.

      Reply
  10. Javier Ospino

    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?

    Reply
    • Pastor Bill

      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.

      Reply
      • Marilyn Jackson Cook

        Thank you Pastor Bill for bringing forth clarity! I really appreciate the break-down of the scriptures.

        Reply
        • Pastor Bill

          You are very welcome. I am glad I was able to help you understand. God bless you.

          Reply
  11. jose hernandez

    First of all, I want to say thanks for the article, it was totally inspired.

    I would still like to get more information about this subject, if it’s by all means possible??

    Reply
    • Pastor Bill

      Thank you for writing, Jose. I appreciate it. Do you have specific questions about the topic or areas that you would like more information? I am happy to provide more studies on this topic.

      Reply
  12. David D

    Pastor Bill thank you so much for this studies.
    Please considering Acts 19:2-4. Is speaking in Spirit an evidence of receiving the Holy spirit

    Reply
    • Pastor Bill

      According to Acts 19:1-7, the disciples Paul came upon spoke in tongues and prophesied after receiving the Holy Spirit. That means that them speaking in tongues and prophesied was evidence that the Holy Spirit came upon them. Keep in mind what led up to that incident. There was something about them that caused Paul to ask them about receiving the Holy Spirit. They were disciples of Apollos, who was a great preacher, but only knew of John’s baptism, i.e., baptism by water. Paul instructed them about Jesus Christ and being baptized by the Holy Spirit. Read Acts 18:24-28. What happened to Apollos’ disciples suggests that we receive the Holy Spirit when we believe in Jesus Christ. I should also point out that not all of Apollos’ disciples necessarily spoke in tongues. Some may have spoke in tongues and some might have prophesied. Paul taught that prophesy is the better gift because people would understand what was saud,

      Reply
  13. Peter Yee

    May I know how you understand the statement: “one who speaks in a tongue edifies himself” 1 Corinthians 14:4?

    Reply
    • Pastor Bill

      Hello again, Peter. To be candid, I do not fully understand what Paul meant by “one who speaks in a tongue edifies himself,” except to take it at face value. If someone is speakinig in another language (that they did not learn), they edify themselves. I don’t know how that works. It makes sense because if someone speaks in tongues and no one around understand, how can they be edified? That implies that the person speaking in tongues does understand what they are saying, or at least the message being relayed whether they understand the actual words or not. The better gift is prophesy so that all would be edified.

      Reply
  14. Peter Yee

    Pastor Bill thank you for the article.
    May I know how the “one who speaks in a tongue edifies himself” (1 Co 14:4) when he does not know what he is saying?

    Reply
    • Pastor Bill

      Hi Peter. Thanks for your comment. Speaking in a tongue can mean two things. First, it can mean speaking in an earthly language that you do not know.Second, it could mean speakiing in an unknown language that no one speaks. I recall many years ago, I asked myself what language does God speak? We assume he speaks our native language, and perhaps he does. I concluded, that since God sees the heart, he knows what we are saying because the message is there first. Jesus said the mouth speaks from the abundance of the heart. So, when a person is speaking in an unknown language or another earthly language doesn’t matter. the point is, whatever they are saying comes from the heart. He/she may not understand the particular words they say, but they know what they say. Honestly, the Bible doesn’t elaborate on this, so it is merely speculation. We can only know that speaking in an unknown language edifies the person speaking.

      You should also consider that Paul said that the greater is prophesying, speaking the message from God in a known language to the hearers. I often wonder why so many people put so much emphasis on speaking in tongues whereas the better gift is to prophesy. Consider, there is no record of Jesus speakinig in tongues.

      Reply
  15. Jim

    Hi Pastor Bill,

    Thanks for your article. You have helped me unravel a lot of confusion among many people including myself.

    Are these two phrases acceptable biblical terms – personal use of tongues and corporate use of tongues? are these man made phrases?

    Is it correct to associate the personal use of tongues to be used in a private setting (results in edify self)? and the corporate use of tongues to be used in a group setting (results in edifying the church?

    Why doesn’t 1 Cor 12 make this distinction?

    God bless you.

    Thanks for your help,
    Jim

    Reply
    • Pastor Bill

      Hello, Jim. Thanks for your comment. First, consider that Paul instructed the Corinthian church to seek prophesy above speaking in tongues. I typically tell people not to concern themselves with speaking in tongues or its subtopics (e.g., privately or corporately). The primary task is to build your relationship with the Father. It is the Holy Spirit that distributes the gift of tongues, i.e., speaking in a language you haven’t learned. Therefore, either you have it or you don’t. Paul also instructed the church to manage their gifts, e.g., speak one at a time.

      The Apostles did not decide to speak in tongues at Pentecost. They just started doing it because the Holy Spirit empowered them to do so for the sake of spreading the gospel. So, if you are alone and want to pray, just pray. Paul seemed to indicate that there is a prayer language, but I’m not so sure. Perhaps, those with the gift of tongues would do it privately. They know they are praising God and that edifies them even if they don’t know what they are saying. Consider, if the person knew what they were saying when speaking in tongues, they would not need an interpreter. They could merely repeat what they said in the local language. That implies that even in private, the person speaking in tongues may not know what they are saying.

      speaking in tongues privately and corporately are terms people made up to distinguish when people speak in tongues. I think it is just man-made dogma because the Bible does not promote either.

      I hope this helps. Be blessed.

      Reply
  16. Emily Hostetler

    I really appreciate this article. This was always how I interpreted this scripture, and that praying in tongues was a special gift of the spirit for a purpose. I mean it’s mentioned in 1 Corinthians 14 I believe, that its purpose is for unbelievers! Not for believers. So it would be like the acts church, how people heard the gospel in their own languages which subsequently led them to accept the truth of Jesus.
    I go to one of the churches that thinks every believer ought to have a “prayer language” and you basically haven’t received the Holy Spirit unless you have. But it always felt wrong to me. I alway had a check in my spirit persay when it came to that. I used to participate in this but lately I’ve felt as though this isn’t even what the gift of tongues is. And in doing my own reading I’m much more convinced of that fact. I want to bring this to attention. I want to gently admonish my fellow church members and help them see the truth. I’m building up scriptural knowledge to be able to have that conversation well. If you have any advice for me on how to approach that, I’m all ears haha. I feel my church is dying because we are clinging to some silly traditions and not searching out matters for ourselves, not really diving in and getting Gods heart, but just going through the motions to try to get him to bless us. If that makes sense…

    Reply
    • Pastor Bill

      Hi, Emily. Thanks for writing, and I’m glad you found the article helpful. What you’ve said makes much sense. I’ve had similar stuggles as you regarding speaking in tongues in churches. I am amazed that people believe it when the Bible is rather straight forward about it. Promote the Scriptures when you talk to others about it, and realize that they may hold their traditions and beliefs over what the Bible plainly says. Some will hear you and some won’t rejoice for those who do and pray for those who don’t that their eyes would be opened. Just keep focusing on Jesus and feeding on the Word of God, share it with wisdom and patience, and you’ll do well.

      Reply

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