Romans 8:26-27


The word "spirit" occurs with higher frequency in this chapter than anywhere else in the New Testament, twenty times. It is the great New Testament chapter on the work of the Holy Spirit. In our text, only two verses,  "spirit" occurs three times and each time is speaking of the Holy Spirit. It is a very comforting text concerning the part which the Holy Spirit plays in our prayer life. All true Christians, without exception, need comfort in this matter. The text must be preached carefully, evangelically and forthrightly (which is true of all preaching).

There are times when the Christian feels good, happy and seemingly without a care. But there are also times when the Christian feels forsaken, forgotten, a victim of jumbled and incoherent thoughts of guilt, self-condemnation and despair. Such times come upon Christians more often than we know or think. Perhaps the reader of these notes has learned this truth from experience. Read Psalm 51 and 130, both penitential Psalms. Such are the heavily laden people who sit before the preacher every week. They desperately need help. Give it to them in this text.

Kretzmann: We are always battling with our own weakness in faith and hope; we sometimes find it difficult to keep a firm hold on the promises of God concerning our sonship. And so the Spirit comes to the aid of the faltering, uncertain footsteps; His strength serves to uphold us in our infirmity. . . . Our prayers rarely measure up to the importance of the blessings for which we ask, they are not adequate to the object of our prayers. And therefore the Spirit comes to our assistance; He holds before our eyes that great blessing toward which all prayers of the Christian finally converge, the salvation of our souls. The contrast between the present state of oppression and tribulation and the future state of glory is so great that we Christians cannot find the proper words of beseeching appeal, which would adequately express our longing for the final deliverance. But our great Comforter and Advocate, in His groanings for us, presents our cause to God; He speaks to God through the inarticulate groanings for us, presents our cause to God; He speaks to God through the inarticulate groanings of the believers' hearts. When the cross of the Christians becomes heavy to bear, when they feel forsaken and alone, when they have no comforter among men that understands what troubles their hearts, then an inexpressible longing and sighing is pressed out of their soul for the redemption of their body. . . . All such inarticulate sighs are nevertheless fully intelligible to God. He that searches, investigates, the hearts is fully conscious of, perfectly acquainted with, the mind of the Spirit. The omniscient God knows what the Spirit has in mind in those groanings whose content cannot be expressed in the words of human language. For the Spirit intercedes for the saints, as the believers are fitly called on account of the cleansing power of the blood of Christ which they have experienced, in a manner which agrees fully with the will and with the glory of God.

This very fitting passage from Kretzmann ought give the pastor the proper mind set for working on this text.

Romans 8:26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.

There is a difference of opinion among Lutheran commentators as to the thought which these three words introduce. Bengel and Arndt see an ellipse here:  "And likewise also the Spirit groans etc."  They base this idea on verse 23 and the conclusion of verse 26. If verse 23 is taken as causal, then the groaning is caused by the Spirit. And 26b  clearly says  "the Spirit Himself intercedes with groans which cannot be uttered in words." 

Arndt: 1) The Spirit laments with creation and with us. It is seconding our lamenting, our striving for something better. The Spirit is our ally; 2) The Spirit supports us in our own praying and yearning for that better state; he is making us able to do it.
Bengel: Not only the whole creation groans, but the Holy Spirit himself aids; cf. verse 23. On both sides, believers have such a groan and sympathize with them, on the one side, the whole creation; on the other, what is more important, the Spirit.
Lenski: (Does not agree) Some connect: the creation groans-we groan--and in like manner the Spirit groans. But this paralleling of the Spirit with the creature and with us is mere fancy. What Paul connects is 1) our patient waiting out the time, with 2) the Spirit's help, and the link is our weakness.

None of our English versions translate according to Bengel and Arndt here. There is something to be said for both explanations. The  sensus literalis  does not require one explanation to the exclusion of the other.

Rienecker: To lend a hand together with, at the same time with one, to help, to come to the aid of someone.

"The Holy Spirit aids us in our weaknesses."  What is this weakness or weaknesses? Any and all of them. The clause which follows is explanatory and sums up our weaknesses:  "You see we do not know etc."  At this point we have a difference in translations. KJV and NKJV read  "what."  All the others take it as  "for we do not know how to pray as we ought."  The difference is not serious but we prefer the latter.

At this point the hearers must be dealt with honestly. It is a very common experience among Christians that there are times when prayers are very few and quite mechanical. Or, when they are praying, all sorts of foreign thoughts (sinful thoughts too) come into mind and grieve the one praying. Or, like Elijah, they run from trouble and ask God that they might die. Or, like Paul, they want to be rid of the thorn in the flesh, but God's answer (My grace is sufficient for you) differs from the request. Or, even like Jesus, they ask that the cup of suffering be removed but add  "Thy will be done,"  or maybe they don't add that provision. We don't know how to pray as we ought.

Note that  "ought" is the deliberative subjunctive which indicates that those who pray are under emotional stress and know not which way to turn. Then follows a very strong "but" denoting great contrast.  "The Holy Spirit intercedes with groans which cannot be uttered."  KJV, NKJV. RSV translates  "with sighs too deep for words."  TEV and NIV have  "in groans that words cannot express."  AAT reads: " With yearnings that can't find any words." 

Let it be emphatically said immediately that the so-called charismatics cannot use this passage for their deluded speaking in tongues.  "Unable to be spoken."  That means there are no words for these groanings. How can they possibly squeeze  "prayer-language"  out of this word? What fools some people make of themselves!!!

What Paul means is that human beings cannot find words to express these groanings. The next verse plainly indicates that the Father in heaven plainly understands the groanings of the Holy Spirit, though unutterable by men.

Stoeckhardt: We do not understand how to pray for the future blessedness as we should, as is proper. . . . this groaning is a waiting and also a praying. We sigh, we long for the completion of the adoption, for the life of redemption. . . . We do not have an adequate concept of the glory which shall be revealed in us. . . . Suffering and pain oppress us so, and often overpower us, so that our glimpse into the bright and happy eternity is darkened. . . . We, indeed, sigh, pray: 'Thy kingdom come! Deliver us from evil! Lord, save us!' This entreating, however, is still so weak, often so faint and listless. . . . The Spirit groans and pleads and intercedes for us before God. The Spirit does this in our hearts. . . . We can feel and experience something of this groaning and longing of the Spirit. . . . We can distinguish them from our own; but we cannot put them into ideas and clothe them with words. . . . Every believing Christian has experienced this help of the Spirit.
Arndt: These groanings, as Stoeckhardt says, do not really proceed from our own ego, but from the Holy Spirit. Of course, they arise out of our heart, but their origin really lies in some other being. They are characterized as groanings that cannot be uttered.

Lenski comes down heavy on those who say that the Holy Spirit groans with the Christian. He says:

Lenski: The Holy Spirit does not and cannot groan; these groans are ours.

The reader of these notes should make up his own mind on the basis of verse 26b.

Romans 8:27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will.

"And" introduces a supplementary and explanatory thought.  "The one who searches" is obviously God Himself. Note that we have a participle used as a noun and that it is present tense. This constantly goes on.  "Hearts" obviously means the hearts, the inmost being of Christians. Nothing is hidden to God.'

Note that  "mind" is used twice in verse 6, where the mind of the flesh is contrasted with the mind of the Spirit. KJV, NIV, NKJV, RSV and NASB translate it  "mind."  TEV reads  "the thought of the Spirit."  NEB what the Spirit means. And AAT:  "what the Spirit means to do."  All consider  "Spirit" as the Holy Spirit.

God does two things:

  1. He searches every nook of my heart; and,

  2. He knows what the Holy Spirit intends by His intercessions (though I may or do not understand).

Now a little problem. Most translate  "because."  Lenski suggests  "namely that"  which makes very good sense here. The word can, at times, be quite difficult to translate. The phrase which most versions render  "according to the will of God,"  at first may seem superfluous. It is not. It assures us that, whether or not we are conscious of the Holy Spirit's intercessions, they are in keeping with God's will and that God will do that which is best for us.

"Intercedes" is a simpler form of the verb in verse 26. Look at verse 34 in this chapter where the same verb is used of Jesus' intercession for us, Jesus as Savior, the Holy Spirit as Sanctifier. Read the promises of Jesus concerning the coming of the Holy Spirit: John 14:26; 15:26; 16:7 and 13.

"In behalf of (the) saints."   "Saints" is Paul's most frequent term for Christians. They are holy and cleansed because of Jesus' blood. They are God's elect. They are temples of the Holy Spirit. He sanctifies and keeps me in the one true faith.

Stoeckhardt: God understands what the Spirit wants and means by His groanings. . . . ' According to God' corresponds to 'as we ought' in verse 26. . . . The Spirit well understands what we do not. . . . He Himself is God and knows and sees God's glory, which is also His own. . . . God's Son, our Redeemer, is our Advocate, John 17:24.
Arndt: Saints is here an expression designating the Christians who have been sanctified by the Holy Spirit. Cf. Ephesians 5:25-27. It is the usual name for the Christians in the epistles of Paul.
Franzmann: The weariness of all things in this world (Ecclesiastes 1 :8) infects us too. The strength of our prayers is not in proportion to the glory that we pray for.

If the conscientious preacher proclaims law and Gospel week for week from his pulpit, he can rest assured that, unless the individual refuses to hear, the Holy Spirit dwells in the heart of the penitent sinner. But remember always that the Holy Spirit comes only through the means of grace. Cf. Galatians 3:1-5.

One thought in conclusion: The concurrence of the Holy Spirit and the new man in the Christian is, indeed, a deep mystery. They work together in total harmony as do the members of the Trinity. No earthly relationship can begin to compare with this remarkable concurrence.


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series A Epistle Texts, Sundays After Pentecost, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1984, pp. 37-39. Used with permission.

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