Jude 1:20 (NIV):

20 But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit,

Ephesians 6:18 (NIV):

18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.

1 Corinthians 14:14-16 (NIV):

14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. 15 So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my understanding; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my understanding. 16 Otherwise when you are praising God in the Spirit, how can someone else, who is now put in the position of an inquirer, say “Amen” to your thanksgiving, since they do not know what you are saying?

Are Jude and Paul using different expressions to refer to the same type of prayer?

5 Answers 5


In 1 Corinthians 14, the context of praying in the spirit is glossolalia.

Elsewhere, Paul wrote about praying in the Spirit in
Ephesians 6:18

Pray in the Spirit at all times, with every kind of prayer and petition. To this end, stay alert with all perseverance in your prayers for all the saints.

This is not necessary glossolalia.

Now, let's look at the context in Jude 1.

17But, dear friends, remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ foretold. 18They said to you, “In the last times there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires.” 19These are the people who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit.

20But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, 21keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.

There is no mention of glossolalia. Instead, we have the general sense of the Holy Spirit which alludes to what Jesus says in John 14:26

But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.


No. Tongues and 'praying in the spirit' are not synonymous. Let's look at some of the background:

Confounding factors for interpretation

  1. The word 'tongues' is also the term used for 'languages', and so it can be difficult to interpret some New Testament passages. Most are clearly known human languages, but in cases like 1 Corinthians 14:15 Paul is clearly about a type of prayer where even he does not know what he is saying.

  2. Church history is a complicating factor for interpretation. Very few early texts outside of the New Testament make any reference to 'tongues', and so we have very little material to go by for understanding these references in context. Similarly, 'tongues' has become such a widely known practice among some parts of the modern church that interpreters automatically assume this to be the same as the New Testament practices.

  3. Many interpreters carry a silent assumption that Christianity has historically been the only setting 'glossolalia' happens, and so they assume it is de facto a divine practice or 'Holy Spirit' experience. However, tongues both predates Christianity and occurs in other religions and cultures, and so we need to factor this in when interpreting scripture.

Glossolalia as a Pagan practice

“Glossolalia is practiced among non-Christian religions: the Peyote cult among the North American Indians, the Haida Indians of the Pacific Northwest, Shamans in the Sudan, the Shango cult of the West Coast of Africa, the Shago cult in Trinidad, the Voodoo cult in Haiti, the Aborigines of South America and Australia, the Eskimos of the subarctic regions of North America and Asia, the Shamans in Greenland, the Dyaks of Borneo, the Zor cult of Ethiopia, the Siberian shamans, the Chaco Indians of South America, the Curanderos of the Andes, the Kinka in the African Sudan, the Thonga shamans of Africa, and the Tibetan monks.” George B. Cutten, An Ethnological Study of Glossalalia

Glossolalia is so widely attested among cultures relatively isolated from the middle-east that it becomes easy to see its widespread appeal and usage among pagans did not begin with the New Testament. Jesus himself attests to the practice:

*And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words." (Matthew 6:7)

The pagans were well known for this behaviour.

Glossolalia as a Christian practice

In Acts, 'glossolalia' or tongues makes its first positive biblical appearance, and in each case the Christians appear to speak known, understandable human languages, which was a clear act of God. By contrast, every documented case in modern times has been heavily disputed.

After Acts, tongues rarely make an appearance, until the (arguably) most paganised church of the New Testament letters, Corinth. Here, Paul gives explicit and detailed guidance about tongues. The Corinthians had continued to use 'tongues' as a spiritual practice, and Paul affirms this as something which can be done to edify the soul. In the same way that the Holy Spirit takes a natural gifting in teaching or leadership and sanctifies it for use in the church, so too does he sanctify this pagan practice and make it acceptable for Christian worship.


In the passage in question, 1 Corinthians 14, Paul explains how this appropriation of the pagan practice can be personally edifying, but does nothing to help those around us:

6 Now, brothers and sisters, if I come to you and speak in tongues, what good will I be to you, unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or word of instruction? 7 Even in the case of lifeless things that make sounds, such as the pipe or harp, how will anyone know what tune is being played unless there is a distinction in the notes? 8 Again, if the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle? 9 So it is with you. Unless you speak intelligible words with your tongue, how will anyone know what you are saying? You will just be speaking into the air. 10 Undoubtedly there are all sorts of languages in the world, yet none of them is without meaning. 11 If then I do not grasp the meaning of what someone is saying, I am a foreigner to the speaker, and the speaker is a foreigner to me. 12 So it is with you. Since you are eager for gifts of the Spirit, try to excel in those that build up the church.

13 For this reason the one who speaks in a tongue should pray that they may interpret what they say. 14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. 15 So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my understanding; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my understanding. 16 Otherwise when you are praising God in the Spirit, how can someone else, who is now put in the position of an inquirer, say “Amen” to your thanksgiving, since they do not know what you are saying?

Paul is providing a gentle correction to encourage the believers to only speak in languages they know and understand when in church. 'Praying in the spirit' is not a synonym for glossolalia.

In all three passages, I'd interpret 'pray[ing] in the [Holy] Spirit' to mean praying in conformance with or empowered by the work of the Holy Spirit. In Corinthians Paul is speaking into a very specific context and is being particularly specific by saying that it is possible to pray without consciously applying your mind to the prayer (and this is his explanation of the 'tongues' practice as used in churches). However as no such specific phraseology is applied in Judge or Ephesians, the natural reading would be to consider prayer as audible corporate prayer in a shared language.

  • Thanks Steve for the answer. I have some comments/questions: 1) If I understand correctly, you are saying that at Corinth people were exercising "pagan glossolalia". What do you mean by that? Do you mean that they were speaking demonic tongues (i.e. inspired by demons) or just babbling incoherent sounds without any meaning at all? 2) What does it mean for the Holy Spirit to "sanctify a pagan glossolalia"? 3) How do you interpret 1 Cor 14:2 2 For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit?
    – user38524
    Commented Jan 15, 2021 at 14:26
  • 4) Your answer mainly addresses and explains the concept of "praying in tongues", but the other two expressions "praying with one's spirit" and "praying in the (Holy) Spirit" are not explained. Thus, from reading your answer it's not yet clear to me how they are different.
    – user38524
    Commented Jan 15, 2021 at 14:30
  • 1
    1) When I say 'pagan', I really just mean not in a godly manner. I'm not aware of the term 'pagan' being explicitly connected with demons in the NT. I'd put it in the same category as meditation - anybody can 'do' the practise, but it's also possible to do it in a Christian way, or for God to specifically empower you in it. So for 2) I'm just saying that God is re-appropriating a natural gift for his own use, and using it as something holy. And so for 3) I'd understand it in the same category as meditation - Paul is describing it as a personal practice uninterpretable for anybody nearby.
    – Steve can help
    Commented Jan 15, 2021 at 14:43
  • The crucial question is: what (or who) is the source of the words being spoken during "sanctified pagan glossolalia"? Are the words inspired by the individual's own mind? Or by the Holy Spirit? V2 says "[...] but he utters mysteries in the Spirit", so the source of the words appears to be the Holy Spirit quite clearly. Also, given the fact that these utterances can be interpreted by someone else with the gift of interpretation of tongues and thus have meaningful and edifying content for the church, it follows that these utterances are not 'gibberish' but an actual meaningful language.
    – user38524
    Commented Jan 15, 2021 at 14:51
  • @SpiritRealmInvestigator - I've added a supplementary passage at the end explaining the meaning of 'praying in the spirit'. I think I'd been focusing on tongues as the area requiring the clearest disambiguation, but much more could be said by exegeting the other two passages. It's highly unusual to contrast three passages with different phrases like this, and unfortunately that means there are lots of possible ways to answer it - it's probably just on the edge of 'needs more focus', but close enough to be answerable within the SE format.
    – Steve can help
    Commented Jan 15, 2021 at 14:55

I don't think so.

  • Paul is criticising the way in which the Corinthians are praying, Jude is encouraging this type of prayer.
  • Jude specifies that he refers to the Holy Spirit, Paul is talking about the human spirit that somehow becomes separated to the mind (Paul does not encourage this).

I think praying in the Holy Spirit means to:

  1. Pray according to the Truth (John 14:17,16:13)
  2. Glorify Christ (John 16:14)
  3. Transform your mind according to the teachings of the Spirit. Consider Galatians 5:16: "walk by the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh". Romans 12:1-2 is also talking about this. To walk according by the Spirit is to be more like Christ. That is called a "spiritual service" (Romans 12:1). To pray in the Spirit is to pray so that your mind becomes more like Christ. I think it is obvious that "walk by the Spirit" does not mean "walk and speak in tongues".

Everybody can mimic some tongues praying, but not everyone is a true servent and follower of Christ.

  • In 1 Cor 14:16, Paul says "Otherwise when you are praising God in the Spirit, [...]", isn't that a reference to the Holy Spirit?
    – user38524
    Commented Jan 6, 2021 at 18:34
  • 1
    I do not think so. If we are consistent, we should translate ”in the spirit (human spirit)” everytime πνεῦμα occurs in the chapter. Actually, according to 1 Corinthians 12:3, every declaration of Christ as Lord is a consequence of the fact that the Holy Spirit is working in our heart/mind/spirit. The Holy Spirit does not posses our spirit. He infuses knowledge, and then the human uses that divine knowledge to proclaim using words. Commented Jan 6, 2021 at 19:47
  • What does 'praying with one's spirit' mean then?
    – user38524
    Commented Jan 9, 2021 at 0:32


1 COR 14: He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself,

‘Edifies himself’ (Paul) = ‘building yourselves up’ (Jude)

Both were talking of prayer prompted via the Holy Spirit. It was Paul who ‘introduced’ the gospel, so Jude would be teaching the same.

  • If the answer is Yes, then does that mean that Jude was encouraging Christians in general to pray in tongues? Is that a logically valid conclusion?
    – user38524
    Commented Jan 6, 2021 at 18:58
  • @Spirit Realm Investigator - Yes
    – Dave
    Commented Jan 6, 2021 at 19:35

Tongue = language. Initially in Acts the apostles speaking in tongues was a comprehensible miracle in which they spoke their native language and the audience of about 12 or more nations head the gospel message in their own language.

In 1 Corinthians 14:14 the tongue or language here described here is the gibberish that people speak pretending to pray. Paul is pokes holes in this practice.

Speaking in tongues the miracle is legit. Speaking in tongues the jibber jabber should not be practiced. Praying in the Spirit most likely means praying in agreement with Spirit.

  • Where does Paul talk about 'gibberish'? Honest question, I'm curious to know. If someone prays in 'gibberish', then why does Paul encourage Corinthians to ask for the interpretation of 'gibberish'?
    – user38524
    Commented Jan 13, 2021 at 18:55
  • In his examples 1 Cor 14:7 Yet even lifeless instruments, whether flute or harp, in producing a sound, if they do not produce a distinction in the tones, how will it be known what is played on the flute or on the harp? 8 For if the trumpet produces an indistinct sound, who will prepare himself for battle? 9 So you too, unless you produce intelligible speech by the tongue, how will it be known what is spoken? For you will just be talking to the air.
    – Lionsden
    Commented Jan 13, 2021 at 21:21
  • 1 Cor 14:26-27 26 What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up. 27 If anyone speaks in a tongue, two—or at the most three—should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret.
    – user38524
    Commented Jan 13, 2021 at 21:31
  • 1 Cor 14:18 I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you.
    – user38524
    Commented Jan 13, 2021 at 21:32
  • 1
    There is no contradiction in speaking in gibberish and speaking in an unknown language. If the speaker doesn’t know the meaning of words that is uttered makes it gibberish to the speaker, but not necessarily to the demons that need to be told off. The offending demons could be thousands of years old and understand languages that are extinct today. Commented Jan 13, 2021 at 22:56

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