In 1 Cor 14:15, does Paul say he will pray with both spirit and understanding (at the same time), or that he will pray with each (at different times)? Specifically, when Paul says he will "pray with the spirit" and "pray with the understanding", is it more likely he meant he would pray both ways at the same time, or that he would also make sure he prayed another time in the other way?

(1 Cor 14:13 KJV) 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.

Verse 14 seems to be giving an example of praying in the spirit, with no understanding. I understand verse 15 as saying that while he will pray with the spirit, he will be sure to pray at other times with the understanding. Does the Greek text suggest instead that he wants to be sure that while he is praying in the spirit, he will be praying with the understanding at the same time?

I agree that when Paul says he will pray with the "spirit", he is speaking of his human spirit. I do believe Paul's spirit is in close communion with the Holy Spirit at that time.

9 Answers 9


What is important to understand is that the gifts of the Holy Spirit operate in conjunction with the human spirit(pneuma). Paul is not suggesting he is merely praying with his own intellect, or his own 'spirit'; rather, when one operates in the gifts of the Spirit one must understand the Context one is operating in.

Before we delve into Chapter 14, which talks about Context, we must 1st read Chapter 12:

Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. 6And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all. 7But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. 8For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; 9To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; 10To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues: 11But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.

Nowhere in the above paragraph do we see Paul refuting the gifts of the Spirit, and the same word Πνεῦμα is used-except capitalized to represent the Holy Spirit. However, in Chapter 14, he is talking about "When you come together.."(vs 26), there is an order in which the church should express itself, and that in a public setting with unbelievers in the audience;(vss 23-25)

If therefore the whole church be come together into one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those that are unlearned, or unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad? 24But if all prophesy, and there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all: 25And thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest; and so falling down on his face he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth.

Paul does not discount tongues; in vs 27 he says,

If any man speak in an unknown tongue, let it be by two, or at the most by three, and that by course; and let one interpret.

He can pray in tongues "more than you all" and he is saying that in truth. But his understanding is unfruitful, therefore he is only edifying himself, rather than the church at large, which is the whole point of Chapter 14.

If Paul prayed in tongues(which he says he does), and it is "unknown"-meaning he doesn't understand what he is saying, then it is a "him and God" dialogue, which is not profitable for a Sunday Morning Worship Service. It is important to note that, "He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself"(vs 4), so to speak in tongues without understanding indeed edifies the individual, therefore, one is certainly encouraged to do so-providing it doesn't become a message for the church at large.

  • 1
    Your references are about speaking, not praying, in tongues so this doesn't really address the question.
    – Bit Chaser
    Commented Sep 28, 2015 at 7:07
  • 1
    @disciple The context of the passage is "...the church(ekklesia)(vss 4 &5). Paul is not discrediting "praying out mysteries"; he does so himself. The issue is what gets "λαλεῖ οἰκοδομὴν καὶ παράκλησιν "( speaks(for) edification and encouragement) and these are what he is primarily concerned with in the church. One is certainly free to "pray mysteries to God"-nowhere does Paul tell them not to do that. But if one is going to "speak" in terms of edifying or encouraging, then it is a "public message" and must be interpreted; otherwise one should not 'publically speak' his tongues-in the ekklesia.
    – Tau
    Commented Sep 28, 2015 at 7:40
  • 1
    @disciple This "practice" is not always followed today; but most congregations make the distinction of "praying in your spiritual language" and "giving a tongues message" by which the audience remains quiet and an interpretation is sought and delivered. Prophecy, of course, is in the vernacular of the audience, and needs no such interpretation.
    – Tau
    Commented Sep 28, 2015 at 7:45
  • For 'unknown tongue' γλώσσαις, I read 'foreign languages' of which, Paul being well travelled, knew many and could probably converse in, to more or less extent.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Jan 7, 2021 at 16:29

The word commonly translated "tongues" is the Greek word for "language" and the passage makes a lot more sense if it is read with a view toward multiculturalism than to the gibberish that passes for "the tongues of angels". Just because Paul said "though I speak with the languages of men and of angels" does not mean that he did speak in the angelese, only that if he did and didn't have love it would just be a bunch of, well, noise.

Paul is trying to show the Corinthians his "more excellent way" aka "better approach" to unity. There are two "carnal" (aka "arising from the flesh") approaches that are used in "Churches" that don't work:

  • forced consensus (ie: dogmas, popes, cult leaders, denominational control, etc.);
  • sectarianism (aka "denominations") where groups split off, adopt a name and then major in that minor;

There is a third, which is bloodshed and it has been practiced more than many realize.

His approach is essentially taking turns and considering respectful and prayerfully the views of others. Those with "a word from God" speak their peace, the others listen and discriminate. They might agree or they might not but they are free to disagree.

Another practice that was occurring among the infantile Corinthians was that of not considering their audience. What good is it if someone brings "a word from God" but in a language no one knows? If there is an interpreter then it works for everyone but if not... well it's a clown show.

That's all that's in view here. I can't prove it is not more than that because it is impossible to prove a negative so my post will be devoid of sources.

As to the question, if you don't understand what you are hearing or saying your mind is unfruitful. Your breath (aka "spirit") - that internal intelligent organ from God is praying a really cool prayer or announcing really cool things about God but what Paul wants is order so if there is no interpreter don't talk what is essentially gibberish to your hearers.


I really like Paul's biblically opinion on tongues speaking. Paul made it clear to the whole world about tongue speaking but yet still 60+ % of many people speak tongue anyhow... Has Paul emphasized on 1Corinthians 14:22...

1 Corinthians 14:22 ►

New International Version( Bible)

Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers; prophecy, however, is not for unbelievers but for believers.

Then, why should Christians who believed that they had already accepted Christ continued to speak tongue anyhow and at anywhere......?

I would be very grateful if some Christians of today could sit upright and read the whole chapter of 1 Corinthians 14:1-30, and they will understand the main concept of speaking tongues...

May the God of the universe the maker of heavens and earth have great mercy on anyone who ought or sought to doubt the truth I have shared with the whole world...

Read: as in Jude 1:22-23

Jude 1:22 ►23

22 And have mercy on some, who are doubting;

23 save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.


That same Paul also wrote in Romans 8:26:

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. (My emphasis)

This clearly is not talking about unknown tongues, because those unknown tongues must necessarily be "uttered". Yet, it is clearly speaking about things which we have no understanding of--without Paul's understanding.


These are clearly two types of prayer. One is in the known language of the person (praying with my understanding)Classically this could be the Lord's prayer or any prayer in the common language, and one is in unknown tongues (Paul's human spirit expressing itself to God which no one understands 1 Cor.14:14.) I Cor. 14:2 "For he that speaks with a tongue does not speak unto men, but unto God for no one understands, although in spirit he is speaking sacred secrets (mysteries)". When one prays in the spirit he is speaking directly to God and NO ONE understands, not even the one praying. These are done at separate times because you can't pray known and unknown prayers simultaneously. It is important to do both because we need to express the known needs we can pray about in our own language, and we need the the accuracy of bypassing our carnal mind which tongues allows as our spirit expresses itself directly to God without our mind messing it up. Tongues in personal prayer let us express "the groanings which cannot be uttered because we don't know how to pray as we should" (Rom.8:26-27) So both have great value and are in no way competing.

  • 2
    This appears to be your opinion. If you add biblical references supporting it, or show us a group or author teaching it, this will be a much better answer.
    – Bit Chaser
    Commented Sep 28, 2015 at 7:14

Paul earlier stated in verse 2 that no man understands what he speaks ,in tongues. The mind is not a contributing factor of the words spoken in tongues.In verse 14 Paul states that the mind is unfruitful during the act of speaking in tongues. To be unfruitful in the Greek text is to be unprofitable.so it's a problem.so he says "what is it then" what's the solution.I will pray with the spirit(tongues) and pray with the understanding also,so I'm not thinking of hamburgers or some other unprofitable thought.The word also adds emphasis to to doing both at the same time


This NT passage (1 Cor 14) touches on different methods of worship and discusses which methods are better suited for communal worship. As all methods of worship should arise from or engage the spirit, it is unlikely that the author is suggesting a method of worship that engages only the mind or understanding. Reference:

  • God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (Jn 4:24).

The author does argue that certain types of worship are better suited than others for communal worship, the aim of which should be to build up the community.:

  • What should be done then, my friends? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. (1 Cor 14:26)

He further argues that for a method of worship, whether by speech, prayer, or singing, to benefit others, it should engage the mind as well as the spirit. When only the spirit is involved, specifically, when someone speaks or prays in tongues, such worship benefits that person alone but may not be of benefit to others or the community:

  • For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unproductive. (1 Cor 14:14)

  • Otherwise, if you say a blessing with the spirit, how can anyone in the position of an outsider say the “Amen” to your thanksgiving, since the outsider does not know what you are saying? For you may give thanks well enough, but the other person is not built up. (1 Cor 14:16-17)

If there is speaking or praying in tongues, the author recommends that interpretation be provided. Otherwise, speaking or praying in tongues should be reserved for personal, not communal worship:

  • If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn; and let one interpret. But if there is no one to interpret, let them be silent in church and speak to themselves and to God. (1 Cor 14:27-28)

For the purposes of communal worship, the author advocates ways of worship that simultaneously engage both the mind and the spirit:

  • What should I do then? I will pray with the spirit, but I will pray with the mind also; I will sing praise with the spirit, but I will sing praise with the mind also. (1 Cor 14:15)

To really understand what Paul was trying to communicate, We'd have to consider some scriptures

Romans 8:26(KJV) 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.

Here, Paul clearly tells us we know not what we should pray for as we ought. This would imply that we do know(or understand) what we should pray for just not as much as we should or simply put: our understanding of the things to pray for is low and incomparable to that of the spirit. This brought about the need to pray in the spirit, giving the spirit the space to make intercession for us(i.e come in the gap, making plain what we are praying for).

Now, what is praying in understanding? As I have previously outlined when we pray normally(in our understanding), we require the help of the spirit to properly communicate our desires.

Matthew 26:41(KJV) Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.

Ephesians 6:18(KJV) Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints;

I am persuaded within me that watching as mentioned above is synonymous to praying with understanding. There isn't any clear description of praying with understanding but Two things are clear

  1. It is done with praying with the spirit
  2. It is done conciously (watching thereunto: which implies a concious need of something to something)

Conclusion: What I'm trying to say is they're simultaneously carried out. Doing one without the other is acceptable but engaging both simultaneously is better


The key is verse 14

For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful.

εαν γαρ προσευχωμαι γλωσση το πνευμα μου προσευχεται ο δε νους μου ακαρπος εστιν

The spirit in question is the human spirit (πνευμα μου, my spirit) as distinguished from the human mind (νους μου, my mind). If one prays in an unknown tongue, they are praying purely with the human spirit (i.e. the emotions) but if one prays in a tongue they at least can translate, then not only the emotions but also the mind is at work.

This also shows that Paul didn't really view tongues as a true phenomenon of the Holy Spirit (at least not when the Corinthians practiced it), but only as a vain emotional show. Nonetheless, rather than say this explicitly, he veiled it so that only those ready to receive this truth would perceive it. What else can it mean for Paul to say "I thank God I speak in tongues more than you all" than to suggest that their tongue speaking was pure emotion and not the genuine article? He's making fun of them. But in a veiled way.

  • If Paul did as you suggested, he would be guilty of taking the Lord's name in vain. In short, wrong answer. If Paul sees the gift of tongues as an operation of the gifts of the spirit(1 Cor. 12:10), how can he say that it is ludicrous to exercise the gift?
    – Tau
    Commented Sep 5, 2014 at 6:36
  • @user2479, I meant only he is saying this in their case. I.e. that he is saying "Anyone who wants to use tongues publicly is faking it by raw emotion." That's what contrasting himself who speaks tongues more than they all yet would rather speak 5 intelligible words publicly versus them who want to babble on in public saying nothing. Commented Sep 6, 2014 at 4:25
  • Paul allows for tongues publically in vs 27; albeit with interpretation. I believe the better answer is context(when and how tongues should be used), rather than "is tongues a valid expression of the gifts of the Holy Spirit".
    – Tau
    Commented Sep 6, 2014 at 5:16

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.