In 1 Cor. 14:15, it is written,

15 What is the outcome then? I will pray with the spirit and I will pray with the mind also; I will sing with the spirit and I will sing with the mind also. NASB

ΙΕʹ τί οὖν ἐστιν προσεύξομαι τῷ πνεύματι προσεύξομαι δὲ καὶ τῷ νοΐ ψαλῶ τῷ πνεύματι ψαλῶ δὲ καὶ τῷ νοΐ TR, 1550

What, if any, is the difference between praying «τῷ πνεύματι» (NASB: “with the spirit”) versus «τῷ νοΐ» (NASB: “with the mind”)? Or, is the apostle Paul using a parallelism thus equating the πνεῦμα with the νοῦς?

  • Very good question. It seems that Paul is distinguishing between spirit and mind here. I wonder what it means.
    – R. Brown
    May 29, 2016 at 11:31

1 Answer 1


In later Greek Christian writings, the word νους (nous) took on a very specific theological meaning. I am not sure we can load this meaning onto the word as it appears in the New Testament, but the word is nonetheless interesting, I think. It appears countless times in The Philokalia, a collection of Greek Christian writings that span several centuries. The editors of one popular English translation include the following definition in the glossary:

The highest faculty in man, through which - provided it is purified - he knows God or the inner essences or principles of created things by means of direct apprehension or spiritual perfection. Unlike the διανοια [Note: root is νους] or reason, from which it must be carefully distinguished, the [νους] does not function by formulating abstract concepts and then arguing on this basis to a conclusion reached through deductive reasoning, but it understands divine truth by means of immediate experience, intuition or 'simple cognition' (the term used by St. Isaac the Syrian). The [νους] dwells in the 'depths of the soul'; it constitutes the innermost aspect of the heart.

The Philokalia, compiled by Nikimos of Mt. Athos and Makarios of Corinth; English translation by G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, Kallistos Ware (Faber and Faber, 1979), Vol. I, p. 362.

The 5th century Greek writer, Diadochos of Photiki, writes of the the nous in his Texts on Spiritual Knowledge and Discrimination:

Satan is expelled from the soul by holy baptism, but is permitted to act upon it through the body for. the reasons already mentioned. The grace of God, on the other hand, dwells in the very depths of the soul - that is to say, in the nous. For it is written: 'All the glory of the king's daughter is within' (Ps. 45: 13. LXX), and it is not perceptible to the demons. Thus, when we fervently remember God, we feel divine longing well up within us from the depths of our heart. The evil spirits invade and lurk in the bodily senses, acting through the compliancy of the flesh upon those still immature in soul. According to the Apostle, our nous always delights in the laws of the Spirit (cf Rom. 7: 22), while the organs of the flesh allow themselves to be seduced by enticing pleasures. Furthermore, in those who are advancing in spiritual knowledge, grace brings an ineffable joy to their body through the perceptive faculty of the nous. But the demons capture the soul by violence through the bodily senses, especially when they find us faint-hearted in pursuing the spiritual path. They are, indeed, murderers provoking the soul to what it does not want.

Text No. 79, Op. cit., Vol. I, p. 280-81

Didachos also describes the role of the nous in one's spiritual growth:

When a man stands out of doors in winter at the break of day, facing the east, the front of his body is warmed by the sun, while his back is still cold because the sun is not on it. Similarly, the heart of those who are beginning to experience the energy of the Spirit is only partially warmed by God's grace. The result is that, while their nous begins to produce spiritual thoughts, the outer parts of the heart continue to produce thoughts after the flesh, since the members of the heart have not yet all become fully conscious of the light of God's grace shining upon them. Because some people have not understood this, they have concluded that two beings are fighting one another in the nous. But just as the man in our illustration both shivers and yet feels warm at the touch of the sun, so the soul may have both good and evil thoughts simultaneously. Ever since our nous fell into a state of duality with regard to its modes of knowledge, it has been forced to produce at one and the same moment both good and evil thoughts, even against its own will; and this applies especially in the case of those who have reached a high degree of discrimination. While the intellect tries to think continually of what is good, it suddenly recollects what is bad, since from the time of Adam's disobedience man's power of dunking has been split into two modes. But when we begin wholeheartedly to carry out the commandments of God, all our organs of perception will become fully conscious of the light of grace; grace will consume our thoughts with its flames, sweetening our hearts in the peace of un-tempted love, and enabling us to think spiritual thoughts and no longer worldly thoughts. These effects of grace are always present in those who are approaching perfection and have the remembrance of the Lord Jesus unceasingly in their hearts.

Text No. 88, Op. cit., p. 287-88

The word νους is notoriously difficult to translate, as it does not have an exact equivalent in English. The Philokalia translation translates it as "intellect", which even the translators find lacking. The NASB, as you cite, translates it as "mind", as does the RSV and ESV - a translation lacking for the reasons outlined in the glossary definition above. The KJV, NKJV, NIV try to come a little closer with "understanding".

Regarding the "spirit", we must suppose, I think, that Paul is referring to spirit in the same sense here as he refers to it when he speaks of "body" [σωμα/soma], "soul [ψυχη/psyche], and "spirit" [πνευμα/pneuma] in 1 Thessalonians 5:23. Greek Orthodox theologian Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos, who has written extensively on Greek spiritual terms used in both the New Testament and in later writings of Greek Church Fathers, claims that the words nous and psyche were frequently used interchangeably by both, even though the nous was understood to mean the spiritual "core" of the soul, so to speak (Orthodox Psychotherapy, p. 119). If this is the case, 1 Corinthians 14:15 could just as well have been translated:

What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the soul.

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