Romans 8:26 Speaking in Tongues, Or Not, and Theological Dictionary of the New Testament

For our Midweek Bible study at Banquo Christian Church we are going through “Who is the Holy Spirit?” by Sinclair Ferguson. This week we will be looking at session 11- The Inward Groan. As one might guess, the focus of the lesson is Romans 8:18-27.

In preparing for the lesson I consulted I consulted Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. As I further studied the words “groan” (8:22, 23, 26) and “helps” (8:26) I was reminded once again about the “risk” in using resources such as TDNT.

In discussing “groanings” in Romans 8:26, J. Schneider writes, “Since the reference is not to something which takes place in us, the apostle cannot be thinking of the sighing of Christians in prayer. He is referring rather to times when we are unable to pray, when because of our “weakness” we do not know what we ought to pray for. This means that he cannot have in view speaking in tongues, or the inarticulate stammering of ecstatic in worship.” (TDNT, 7.602)

Turning then to the word “helps” in the very same verse, G. Delling writes, “This pneumatic prayer is a charismatic dealing with God like speaking with tongues, whether with or without the corresponding forms.” (TDNT 1.376)

In other words, someone studying certain key words of Romans 8:26 could come away radically different interpretations of the verse if they only looked up either “groan” or “help.”

Schneider’s interpretation is obviously the correct one.

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Does it really matter what you believe about God’s Creation?

God of the ages-
You have seen fit to bless us with the coming of a new year.
May you receive the offering of our joy for it.
Even as your Spirit offers us the sobriety
Of knowing this day may be our last.

In this new year I have again reset my Bible reading odometer. Once again, I am reading one chapter from 10 different books. On day one, as I read the first chapters of Genesis, John, and Romans, I was impressed at the importance of creation.

The Bible begins with an explanation of man’s existence- not God’s. God is not “properly” introduced, or explained: he is simply there. God is presented as the one who by his Word (Genesis 1:3,6,9,11,14,20,24) and through his Spirit (Genesis 1:2) brings all things into being. The existence of the universe, and man who inhabits it, is attributed to a God able to bring said universe into existence.

If such a God is powerful enough to create all that exists, do you suppose he would also be intelligent enough to communicate to others how he brought all things into being? Is he so powerful that he is unable to communicate simply? If such a God really exists; and if he did what Genesis 1 says he did; can Genesis 1 be trusted to tell us how he did it? Is God powerful enough to create all things instantaneously?

If God used, or needed, billions of years to accomplish creation I can only come to one of these conclusions: God is not as powerful as his word seems to indicate; or God is not a very good communicator.

John 1 brings the Trinitarian allusions in Genesis 1 into sharper focus. The Word through whom all things were made is Jesus (John 1:3). You cannot keep your doctrine of creation and your doctrine of Christ separate. For better or worse, whatever you say and believe about God’s creation in Genesis is going to affect what you say and believe about Jesus. Did Jesus make a man named Adam? Did that Adam’s sin bring death into the world? Did Jesus enter into his creation to obliterate the results of that Adam’s sin?

Does it really matter how I answer these questions? According to Romans 1 it does: at least, eventually. The exit ramp for the road to perdition is clearly marked: “Deny Creation.” Man takes his first step away from God by denying the testimony of creation (Rom. 1:20). Thinking of previous questions, should we take anything from the assertion that those who deny God’s power in creation are “without excuse”? Does Romans 1:20 indicate anything about the understandability of Genesis 1? Does Genesis 1 have a meaning that God hid from his people for over 6,000 years? Was mankind in the dark about Genesis 1 until Darwin came along and shed his light on the matter? If so, how could pre-Darwinian man be “without excuse”?

Does your understanding of creation matter? I guess only if your understanding of Christ matters. I guess only if eternal salvation matters.

John Chrysostom On the Incomprehensible Nature of God Sermon 2

In sermon 2 Chrysostom does not leave any doubt about his feelings toward the Anomoeans. In the previous sermon they were seen as guilty of madness, obstinacy, and folly.  In the very first sentence of the second address they are described as “unbelieving and infidel.” Chrysostom goes on to say they are guilty of dishonoring the faith and disgracing themselves (1)[1]. Yet even with such harsh words, Chrysostom insists he is acting gently. He encourages his hearers to treat the Anomoeans “as you would treat people who have suffered a mental illness and lost their wits” (51). Indeed, the claim to be able to comprehend God is one of insanity.

The preacher rightly identifies one of the consequences of this false belief: the elimination of faith (6). If God can be known completely; known for who he is in his essence; what room is there for faith? For mystery? For wonder? As mentioned in yesterday’s post, one of the underlying questions in the debate about the knowability of God is, “What kind of God is God?” Again, if God can be comprehended, is he that much of a god?

Unlike the first sermon, Chrysostom does not base this address on a single passage of Scripture. Rather, he uses multiple Scriptures to prove his point. In his first sermon, the preacher demonstrated the incomprehensibility of God by focusing on the Scriptural teachings of his attributes. The Bible consistently says that even God’s individual attributes are incomprehensible, so how much more sure is it that God himself is incomprehensible? In this sermon Chrysostom turns from the attributes of God to his actions. If what God does cannot be understood, how can God himself be understood? He will also turn attention to the nature of man. How can the finite grasp the infinite?

Chrysostom’s first example is the angelic announcement of John’s conception to his father Zechariah (9-16). While the preacher makes a few historically inaccurate statements[2], his treatment of the substance of the Scripture is sound and supportive of his thesis. Zechariah was judged by God because he was not content to take God at his word and wanted to know how God was going to accomplish the sign spoken of. The Anomoeans display the same lack of faith and sense. Not content to trust the word of God, the press on to find out the unknowable.

Before treating even more Scripture, Chrysostom mentions the summary of the Anomoeans’ error (17). He describes it as a destructive force and root of all their evils. The claim of the Anomoeans is: “I know God as God himself knows himself.” It is hard to disagree with the preacher’s statement that the mere repetition of this belief demonstrates its folly (18). If such an affirmation were indeed true, the Anomoeans are rightly called godless. Since it is clearly untrue, they are certainly guilty of “unpardonable madness, a new kind of impiety and godlessness.”

Chrysostom then changes track and concentrates on the nature of man (19-22). The preacher ransacks Scripture to describe man as “dust and ashes, flesh and blood, grass and the flower of grass, a shadow and smoke and vanity…” And just in case anything is left out “…and whatever is weaker and more worthless than these.” These attributes are shown in stark contrast to the nature of God who simply looks at the earth and it trembles.

This leads the preacher into a lengthy meditation on the smallness of man in nature (23-31; 49-50). The heavens have stood gloriously for 5,000 years.[3] The mountains and seas of earth dwarf man. Yet all these are accounted as nothing before their Maker: no wider than his hand; dust on the scales; drops in the palms. Man does not even know his home, but has the audacity to claim full knowledge of its Maker?

Following this, there is argument from the book of Romans (32-39). Chrysostom reminds his hearers that they are but clay in the potter’s hand. As such, they have no foundation from which to question the work of God. In Paul’s hypothetical dialogue, the question was not over God’s nature, but his decisions of judgment and mercy. If man has no way of knowing the mysteries of God’s sovereign decrees, what hope has he of knowing the essence of God himself?

 When Paul did not permit the Romans to meddle in these matters, what about you Anomoeans? Do you not think that you deserve to be seared with ten thousand thunderbolts? You are being meddlesome and pretending to know that blesses essence which manages all the universe. Is this not a mark of ultimate madness?[4]

Chrysostom spends the rest of the sermon bringing up other Pauline statements of ignorance. Devoting most of the discussion to Philippians 3:13, “Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended…” and the surrounding context. If the apostle Paul could only claim informed ignorance, who can dare say he knows God as God knows himself?

As in the first sermon, Chrysostom concludes by exhorting his hearers to be gentle but direct when dealing with those “blasphemers” (55). Yet their interaction must be guarded. Weaker believers in the truth should flee the heretics and have nothing to do with them. Indeed, all the faithful should “avoid any association with them” but instead

 …only pray for them and beseech the loving-kindness of God, who wishes all men to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth, to free them from this deceit and snare of the devil, and to lead them back to the light of knowledge, that is, to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ in union with the all holy Spirit, the giver of life, to whom be glory and power now and forever, world without end. Amen.[5]


[1] All parenthetical references refer to chapter divisions in Paul W. Harkins, St John Chrysostom On the Incomprehensible Nature of God (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1984).

[2] i.e. that Zechariah was high priest and was in the holy of holies.

[3] An indication that John Chrysostom understood Genesis 1-11 literally.

[4] §39 pg. 86

[5] §55 pg. 93-94.

The Trinity in Scripture: Luke 11; The Trinity and Prayer

What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him! (Luke 11:11-13)

Here is a passage that is must have weighed heavily in the thinking of Luke. As detailed in posts in previous months, in the book of Acts Luke repeatedly speaks of the Trinity in terms this passage presents.

Jesus’ instruction in Luke 11:1-13 is in response to the request of his disciples for instruction on prayer. After giving the model prayer in 11:2-4, the bulk of the instruction is devoted to a parable and its interpretation. Jesus wishes to encourage his disciples to persevere confidently in prayer.

The rational basis for confident perseverance is prayer is demonstrated by an analogy using the logic of arguing from the lesser to the greater. If even sinful fathers on earth know how to answer the requests of their children with good gifts; don’t you think the perfect Father in heaven will do so as well?

But as comforting as such a truth is; it is not just a theological abstraction. The truth is firmly grounded in the action of the Triune God. In the theology of Luke, Jesus is that Son who has asked his Father for the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:33; cf. Acts 5:32; 10:38; 15:8). As sound as the logic is, we are not finally dependent upon logic for our confident assurance in the efficacy of prayer. We pray because of the faithfulness the Father has already demonstrated to the Son in answering his request to pour out the Holy Spirit.

Our perseverance in prayer is further encouraged by one other Trinitarian truth: the intercession made for us within the Trinity.

But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (Rom. 8:25-27)

Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died–more than that, who was raised–who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. (Rom 8:34 cf. Hebrews 7:27; 9:24)

How shall we not continue in prayer? The foundation is sure- the Father has answered the prayer of his Son to send the Spirit. The building continues- the Son and Spirit continue to make intercession to the Father for us. The prayer life of the believer is both motivated and sustained by the prayer life of the Trinity. For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.