In Paul's first letter to the Corinthians Paul indicates that he prefers to pray both in (or with) the Spirit and in (or with) the mind.

τί οὖν ἐστίν; προσεύξομαι τῷ πνεύματι, προσεύξομαι δὲ καὶ τῷ νοΐ· ψαλῶ τῷ πνεύματι, ψαλῶ δὲ καὶ τῷ νοΐ· 1 Corinthians 14:15

In his letter to Ephesus Paul encourages them to "Pray always...in the Spirit."

διὰ πάσης προσευχῆς καὶ δεήσεως, προσευχόμενοι ἐν παντὶ καιρῷ ἐν πνεύματι, καὶ εἰς αὐτὸ ἀγρυπνοῦντες ἐν πάσῃ προσκαρτερήσει καὶ δεήσει περὶ πάντων τῶν ἁγίων Ephesians 6:18

The context of 1 Corinthians 14 suggests that Paul links praying in a tongue to praying in the Spirit based on his constant encouragement in the chapter to edify the church with words that can be understood. Yet, he also asks rhetorically (earlier in that letter), "Not all speak in tongues, do they?" Still, his instructions to Ephesus, "Pray always...in the Spirit" would prove difficult if praying in the Spirit could only be interpreted as praying in a tongue while not all speak in tongues. It would also seem to contradict Paul's preference that he prays at times "in the mind".

Are there other places in Scripture where translations for the phrase "προσεύξομαι τῷ πνεύματι" or simply "ἐν πνεύματι" provide clarity for these instructions?

  • My revelation our understanding of ‘praying in the spirit’ means praying in tongues. I wanted to know what others revelation is of it the meaning to gain a deeper understanding. Commented Dec 6, 2022 at 16:57

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As I see it, there is indeed a distinction, and it can best be seen in the context of the Corinthian passage.

In the previous verse (16:14), Pauls speaks about praying with "my spirit". (τὸ πνεῦμά μου προσεύχεται). This is clearly a reference not to the Holy Spirit, but rather to his "inner spirit". (Note the lower-case 's' in all modern translations; no where else in Scripture is the Holy Spirit referred to with the personal pronoun "my".) Given this immediate context, it seems most natural to understand the subsequent verses to reflect this same idea. In other words, Paul continues to describe his prayers as "spiritual prayers" (not "prayers in the Spirit"). The NIV is the only translation I could find that deviates from this understanding; the NASB, RSV, NET, ASV, NKJV all use a lower-case 's' in v. 15ff.

In Ephesians, by contrast, the context clearly points to the identity of the Holy Spirit himself. The previous verse (6:17) speaks of the "sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God." And in the previous chapter, the construction "ἐν πνεύματι" is used in reference to being filled with the Spirit, which I believe is universally understood as the Holy Spirit. I would take verse 6:18 to be an extension of this idea: namely, that praying in the Spirit means to pray while filled with the Spirit, which (given the context of 6:17, along with the parallel in Col 3:16) probably refers to being filled with the Word of God (i.e., the sword of the Spirit).

Based on this analysis, I would say that the idea that Paul is referring to tongues in Ephesians cannot be sustained in the text.

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