Monday, July 02, 2007

“Human Spirit” or “Holy Spirit” in Romans 8:26?

(Scripture quotations from the KJV unless otherwise noted.)

In Romans 8:26 we read:
26Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.
It has been argued that this “Spirit” is the human spirit rather than the holy spirit. The case is made that the context of this passage, starting at least in chapter 7 and perhaps earlier, is of the basic struggle between the fleshly part of a human and the spiritual part of a human. This can be seen by comparing 7:18 where Paul writes:
18For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing
and 7:22 where he writes:
22For I delight in the law of God after the inward man:
The argument is made that the basic flesh-vs-spirit struggle is reiterated in verse 26: our flesh, being against God, has infirmities, but our spirit, being in favor of God, makes intercession for our faults.

It's a fairly strong argument, but I believe it fails on three points.

The first failure point is that Paul uses a phrase similar to verse 26 in Galatians 4:6:
6And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.
As was noted in Part 1 of this essay, Paul often “recycles” his sermons as he writes to different church groups. This particular case appears to be an example of one of those recycled sermon points. In Romans, the spirit intercedes in prayer by making groanings that can not be uttered; in Galatians, the spirit, which has been sent into our hearts, prays to God as Abba (Aramaic for “Papa”).

The spirit in each passage performs a similar function of praying-crying/interceding-groaning. It seems likely that both passages are referring to the same spirit.

Since the spirit in Galatians is identified as the Spirit of God's Son, it seems likely that the spirit in Romans is also the Spirit of God's Son (aka, the Holy Spirit).

The second failure point of the argument that the spirit in Romans is the human spirit comes from the grammar of verse 26. Note that the subject of the clause, “the spirit”, as well as the verb, “maketh intercession” are in the singular form, whereas the direct object, “us”, is plural (at least in this English translation; if the underlying Greek does not support this point, it may be dispensed with without injury to the other two points). The passage thus says “the one spirit makes intercession for the many of us”. If “the spirit” in this passage were the human spirit, it would make more sense for Paul to have written something like “our spirits make intercession for us” or “a person's spirit makes intercession for that person”.

The third failure point is the structure of the immediate context. Note that Paul uses the word “likewise” in verse 26. What does he mean? Like what?

Outlining the passage makes it more clear:
  1. The whole creation has been groaning – verse 22
  2. Not only the creation, but we ourselves groan inwardly – verse 23
  3. Likewise, the spirit groans, helping us by interceding for us – verse 26
Paul already covers the case of our human spirit groaning in verse 23 (we groan “inwardly”). If the spirit in verse 26 is the human spirit, Paul would essentially be saying “we groan; likewise we groan”, which doesn't make much sense.

Conclusion: The spirit referred to in Romans 8:26 is probably the “Holy Spirit” rather than the “Human Spirit”.

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