My question is a bit two-fold.

It's regarding the proper understanding of Romans 8:26-27, specifically verse 27. Recently, I've come to disagree with many commentator's understanding of this passage. The consensus of verse 27 is that the "He who searches the hearts" is the Father. And the Father knows what's on the Holy Spirit's mind. I don't find that consistent with the text.

Rom 8:26 In the same way, the Spirit also helps our weaknesses, for we don’t know how to pray as we ought. But the Spirit himself makes intercession for us with groanings which can’t be uttered. Rom 8:27 He who searches the hearts knows what is on the Spirit’s mind, because he makes intercession for the saints according to God. (WEB)

Paul seemed to have devoted this section of scripture (actually starting at 4 though 28) primarily on the work of the Holy Spirit. It's clear the Spirit intercedes on behalf of believers because of weaknesses (8:26). And considering Paul's continuing flow of thought it appears that in verse 27 Paul is implying the Holy Spirit, not the Father, is the One who searches hearts and knows what's on the believer's/spirit's mind. Thus the deity indicative capitalization of "Spirit's" in verse 27, found in many modern and older translations, is incorrect.

Can someone point me in the right direction in understanding this passage? Also, does the Greek language rules of grammar support the traditional view that Spirit's indicate the Holy Spirit?

  • According to Jeremiah 17:10; 1 Chronicles 6:14,30 etc, YHVH alone searches minds and hearts. (See therefore Revelation 2:18-23, where the Son is identified as YHVH). This particular passage reminds me somewhat of Wisdom 1:6-7: "For the spirit of wisdom is benevolent, and will not acquit the speaker of evil from the words his lips. For God is witness of his mind, and a true searcher of his heart. For the spirit of the Lord fills all the world: and that in which holds all things together knows all that is spoken." Commented Apr 22, 2018 at 23:44

5 Answers 5


The Greek text with the ESV runs like this:

For we do not know what to pray for as we ought,
τὸ γὰρ τί προσευξώμεθα καθὸ δεῖ οὐκ οἴδαμεν,

but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.
ἀλλ᾿ αὐτὸ τὸ πνεῦμα ὑπερεντυγχάνει στεναγμοῖς ἀλαλήτοις·

And he who searches hearts
ὁ δὲ ἐραυνῶν τὰς καρδίας

knows what is the mind of the Spirit...
οἶδεν τί τὸ φρόνημα τοῦ πνεύματος...

  1. OP proposal #1: ὁ ἐραυνῶν τὰς καρδίας (he who searches the heart) refers to the Spirit (τὸ πνεῦμα).

    In English, this is a perfectly reasonable suggestion in light of the topic of the passage. In Greek, there are two factors I see that preclude this understanding:

    • is the masculine article, here functioning as a pronoun: "he". The participle that follows, ἐραυνῶν ("who searches"), is also masculine. Whatever your opinion about how we ought to refer to the Spirit in English ("he" vs. "it"), in Greek the word is grammatically neuter. Accordingly, we have τὸ πνεῦμα ("the [neuter] Spirit") in the preceding verse. "He who searches" can therefore not refer to "the Spirit".

    • δὲ is a standard way to indicate a change of grammatical subject in Greek. The post-positive δὲ emphasizes the distinction between the (already emphatic) αὐτὸ τὸ πνεῦμα ("the Spirit himself") and the subject of the following sentence, ὁ δὲ ἐραυνῶν τὰς καρδίας ("he who searches the heart").


    Furthermore, God is known throughout the Hebrew scriptures as the one who knows, explores, and tests hearts (1 Sam 16:7; 1 Kgs 8:39; Prov 20:27, 1 Chr 28:9; Pss 17:3, 139:1). Other New Testament references also support this identification, including one from the Pauline corpus (1 Cor 4:5; see also Acts 1:24, 15:8; Rev 2:23).

    Finally, as Richard Longenecker notes:1

    Reference to God as "the One who searches our hearts" had evidently become quite widely proverbial, as seen is Wis 1:6, "God is the witness of a person's reins and a true overseer of his heart," and Sir 42:18, "God searches out the deep and a person's heart, and all their secrets he surveys." It may, therefore, be presumed that the expression would have been known both by Paul's [audience]....as (1) having God as its subject....and (2) signaling the depth of God's knowledge of all human beings.

  2. OP Proposal #2: τὸ φρόνημα τοῦ πνεύματος should be understood as "the believer's/spirit's mind" rather than, as traditionally posited, "the mind of the Spirit".

    Because the Spirit is the topic of this passage, a reference here instead to the human spirit is difficult to sustain without the need for an object distinct from the subject of that sentence (i.e. if "he who searches" is, as I have argued, God rather than the Spirit himself).

    The term πνευμα certainly can be used of the human spirit, but elsewhere when this occurs, this is made explicit by the use of a genitive/possessive personal pronoun (e.g. Rom 8:16, "our spirit"; cf. Gal 6:18, Phil 4:23). The most natural understanding of the absolute term in this context is the Holy Spirit.

  3. In support of OP:

    I was able to find one author who agrees with the OP's idea that "he who searches the heart" is the Spirit, and "the mind of the spirit" refers to the human spirit.2 This argument arises from his contention that the traditional understanding of this verse reflects a later form of trinitarian theology that should not be projected onto Paul.3 He summarizes:

    the one who searches hearts [the Spirit] knows what the (human) spirit has [i.e., should have] its mind set on because it is according to (the mind of) God that he intercedes for the saints.

    to which we may respond with Fitzmyer:4

    This interpretation is not impossible, but is there any evidence elsewhere for the idea of the Spirit as one "who searches hearts"?

1. Richard N. Longenecker The Epistle to the Romans (NIGTC; 2016), p735. Quote from the Google Books preview.

2. George MacRae A Note on Romans 8:26-27 Harvard Theological Review V. 73/1 (1980) pp. 227-230.

3. The conclusion constraining the evidence?

4. Joseph A. Fitzmyer, Romans (AYB; YUP, 1993), p 519.

  • I appreciate the awesome research. Commented Jul 16, 2016 at 13:12

I believe that the interpretation is that God searches man's heart and regarding the Holy Spirit's intercession for us God knows what the groanings of the Holy Spirit mean. (The mind of the Spirit) Because we are talking about groanings that we as human beings cannot understand, because it is a Godly language of the Holy Spirit and God knows the Spirit's mind. So if our human mind cannot understand it, why would the interpretation be the human mind?

1 Corinthians 14:2 "For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to people but to God. Indeed, no one understands them; they utter mysteries by the Spirit."

Nevertheless remember we have a Trinity at work here in the Christian faith. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Bible says that Jesus knew what man was made of and he also knew the thoughts of men. Which is the human mind.

But when the Holy Spirit that resides in us is praying with groans and utterings that the human mind can not understand, I don't believe it refers to the human spirit in this case.

The flesh and the spirit are contrary to one another therefore, I believe it is referring to the Holy Spirit making intercession and has nothing to do with our human mind.

Just my opinion...


Is He “who searches hearts” the Holy Spirit or the Father (Romans 8:27)?

In the verse below I have inserted the word [holy] twice and [God] in bold for clarity.

Romans 8:26-27 (NABRE)

In the same way, the [holy] Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings. 27 And the one who [God] searches hearts knows what is the intention of the [holy] Spirit, because it intercedes for the holy ones according to God’s will.

Paul is telling us that when a holy one is praying and has difficulties how to pray and does know exactly what to say or express himself, the spirit itself intercedes or pleads for the holy ones so they can express themselves according to God’s will.

Please note that I have based my answer on an accurate translation. As mentioned above by Susan (Gr.-το πνεύμα) translated “Spirit” it is neuter in the Greek language and is always referred to as “ it/which”, as for material things or power and not with personal pronouns “ himself/who/whom” . The translation quoted by OP has the “Spirit himself”, it is incorrect, the correct translation is “Spirit itself”


I am not familiar with the Greek language enough to answer this question based on grammar, but I can read the context of a chapter to determine when the context moves from one subject to another and that is what I believe we have going on here in Romans. When I went back to verse 16 I read that Paul was concluding his thought pertaining to the contrast of being carnally/flesh minded or being minded by the Holy Spirit. I believe he was talking about our human spirit last in that verse. He then takes a few sentences to give hope to those who were going through sufferings and uses those challenges to come back to his point about how the human spirit receives witnessing from the Holy Spirit. He helps us get through challenges by witnessing with our spirit (not to our spirit). In other words a person can read what the Spirit revealed and the apostles wrote down in the New Testament pertaining to a certain challenge. My spiritual heart (made up of my intellect, emotions, conscience, and will) can challenge me to accept the teaching or condemn me for not. Let me take a moment to tell you why I believe the human spirit is Paul's focus and not the Holy Spirit. If we don't capitalize Spirit in verse 26 and understand him speaking of our human spirit that is groaning it gives meaning to who the creature/creation is that is being discussed in verses 19-23. The belief that fish, plants, and animals are groaning waiting for the adoption is a little hard to grasp, it makes better sense to see that as mankind waiting. When the Holy Spirit searches the heart and knows what weakness we are challenged with He presents to us a choice from the word of God we have in our heart. Of course if a person hasn't studied and they don't have the word in their heart their behavior will reflect that. We can resist the Holy Spirit in our conscience and follow our carnal mind or have a conscience that is clear because we followed the will of God, that battle is between our human mind and the flesh. Paul makes such claims numerous times in the New Testament (Rom. 6:19, 7:23, Gal. 5:17). Keep in mind that the Holy Spirit took on a different role after Pentecost, He was to guide the apostles into all truth. The apostles wrote that truth down and when we read we can understand the mind of God (Eph. 3:1-5).


So I believe Paul is telling us to search our hearts for the will of God - as opposed to the word of the Law. Which is consistent with the work of Jesus to open us to the spirit of God in establishing the new covenant with God that he came to teach us.

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