Romans 8:26 Is Not The Gift Of Tongues

It is written:

“Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.” (Romans 8:26)

The Bible teaches that the gift of tongues was the ability of a person to speak fluently in the language of another nation without having previously studied such (1 Corinthians 14:21; Acts 2:4-13). In contrast, the paganism of Paul’s day had a manifestation (possibly demonic in origin) of speaking indecipherable gibberish. The Bible makes it clear that this latter occurrence was not the gift of tongues!

Yet is the Apostle Paul teaching us here in Romans that there is a type of tongues that a believer manifests which is like to the pagan manifestation manifested above?

Not at all.

First, the gift of tongues was not for every believer, as every believer did not possess miraculous gifts. The miraculous gifts were only bestowed through the laying of an apostle’s hands (Acts 8:12-19; 19:1-6). Indeed, Paul wanted to travel to Rome especially to grant some miraculous gifts to the brethren at Rome (Romans 1:11). In act, Paul specifically points out that not all Christians will possess the gift of tongues (1 Corinthians 12:29-30).

By contrast, whatever Paul is talking about in this passage is a blessing for all Christians who are given the Holy Spirit when they are baptized into Christ (Acts 2:38; 1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19-20). Therefore, what Paul is talking about in Romans 8:26 is not the miraculous gift of tongues, and should not be confused with such.

Second, the “groanings which cannot be uttered” are done by the Holy Spirit, not the Christian in the passage. As one commentator points out:

“If Paul had meant to identify the groanings as believers’, we would perhaps have expected a ἡμῶν (“ours”) after the phrase to make this clear; without it, we are led to expect that the groanings are to be attributed to the one who is interceding—the Spirit. To be sure, Paul could identify the groans as the Spirit’s and still view them as coming to expression through the believer—for the divine/human interplay in such matters escapes logical precision (Leenhardt); but v. 27 makes even this degree of involvement of the Christian difficult. For in this continuation of the thought of v. 26, all attention is focused on the Spirit; it is his “mind” that God understands and responds to, and it is he who intercedes “on our behalf” (see esp. Niederwimmer, “Das Gebet des Geistes,” pp. 263–64; Hendriksen).” (Douglas Moo, The Epistle To The Romans, (940, footnote 95 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company)

Third, the “groanings” of this passage are not vocal in nature. They are instead feelings which are beyond audible words or statements. Earlier in his commentary, Moo pointed out:

“Paul’s reference may then be to those times when, in the perplexity of our ignorance, we call out to God in “content-less” groans—whether expressed out loud or kept to ourselves. 91 However, others who ascribe the groans to believers think that Paul is referring to glossolalia—the “speaking in tongues” of 1 Cor. 12–14. 92 Like tongues, these “groans” are a “prayer language,” inspired by the Spirit, and taking the form of utterances that cannot be put in the language of earth. But this identification is unlikely. The gift of tongues is clearly restricted by Paul to some believers only (cf. 1 Cor. 12:30), but the “groans” here are means of intercession that come to the aid of all believers. 93 Furthermore, and to return to our original point, the word alalētois probably means “unspoken” rather than “ineffable”; and this makes it almost impossible to identify the “groans” with glossolalia; for tongues, of course, are verbalized if not understandable.” (Douglas Moo, The Epistle To The Romans, (524-525 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company)

The Apostle seems to be teaching us that in those moments of life when we are too burdened to know how or what to say to God, the Holy Spirit communicates our burdens to Him through inaudible ways, too deep for words to convey. Romans 8:26 therefore is not a reference to glossolalia, but is instead a beautiful reminder that the Christian has continual access to the throne of God in ways far beyond our understanding.

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