By Clinton D. Hamilton
A question concerning the mediating work of Jesus (1 Tim. 2:5) in relation to interceding of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:26) has been raised by a reader. In elucidating on the question, the querist comments as follows: “It is my understanding mediator and intercessor are interchangeable (the same word), hence my problem to reconcile these two teaching.” The querist goes on to state that “if the Spirit of Romans 8:26 is the spirit within us (Eccl. 12:7) that helps us to pray and as such is an intercessor between the one praying and Jesus the Christ (who puts the prayer before his heavenly Father) as our only mediator before God, that I can understand.”
However, the querist further observes: “But there are those who say the Spirit in Rom. 8:26 is the Holy Spirit, part of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. If so, wouldn’t this fragment the Holy Spirit?” In further amplification, the querist comments: “And if, as some . . . contend, the Holy Spirit only helps us pray when we are confused in what to ask for, and the Bible says we do ask amiss (Jas. 4:3) and we can ask in doubt (1 Tim. 2:8), so if it is the Holy Spirit who comes into us when we pray why do we ask ‘amiss,’ ‘doubting’?”
Finally, the querist states: “To my understanding (until corrected scripturally) the Holy Spirit bears witness with our spirit (Rom. 8:16) through the word. His help (if Rom. 8:26 does mean the Holy Spirit) in our praying is to help us to bring into remembrance what the Bible teaches on how to pray.”
Response: There is but one mediator between God and men, Jesus Christ (1 Tim. 2:5). The Holy Spirit is not, therefore, a mediator. This is a threshold issue and having settled this issue (who the mediator between God and men is), then it follows clearly that whatever Romans 8:26 means it cannot mean that the Holy Spirit is the mediator between God and men.
Mediator is from mesites, which means a go-between. This word is a compound of mesos, middle, and eimi, to go. Jesus is the perfect mediator because he is both God and man. He possesses the same nature, characteristics, and qualities of God toward whom he acts, as well as he does of those on whose behalf he acts. In this position of a go-between, no other being is so qualified as he is and no other is so approved by God. Consequently the Holy Spirit is not in this role.
On the other hand, it is also true that Jesus makes intercession for Christian (Heb. 7:25). Intercede is from entugchano which means to make petition, plead, or supplicate. In Romans 8:34, it is stated that Christ died for us, has risen again and is at the right hand of God, and makes intercession for us. True, Jesus Christ is our mediator but he also makes intercession for us to God.
Crucial to dealing with the issue posed by the querist is the meaning of the Greek term pneuma translated spirit in Romans 8:26. Does the term refer to the human spirit or to the Holy Spirit? This is a threshold question. It would appear from the fact that this same pneuma referred to in verse 26 is the one who in verse 27 makes intercession or supplication according to God on behalf of the saints. It is therefore evident that the reference is to the Holy Spirit and not to one’s own spirit.
In verse 26, the word translated “make intercession for us” is huperentugchanei which is a compound of huper, on behalf of, an entugchano which means to make petition, plead, or supplicate. In verse 27, entugchanei is followed by huper rather than being compounded with it. Having answered the threshold question I posed with the conclusion that the pneuma of these verses is the Holy Spirit, the issue addressed in the querist’s question about a possible contradiction in Scripture can now be considered.
There is only one go-between, or mediator between, God and men. However, the fact that this go-between supplicates or intercedes for men before God does not mean that any one interceding becomes the mediator between God and men. Intercessions (same word as defined above) are to be made for all men, according to the instruction of Paul (1 Tim. 2:1). The fact that men intercede for others does not put them in the place of Jesus Christ as the mediator. Although the mediator between God and men does intercede for them, this fact does not make one who intercedes for another also the mediator between that person and God. Making intercession on behalf of another does not impinge on the work of Jesus Christ as mediator between God and men to the point of usurping, or playing, the same role as Jesus Christ does as the mediator between God and men.
What does Romans 8:26 mean when the statement is made that the pneuma makes “intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered”? Alfred Marshall’s translation renders this verse basically as follows: And similarly also the Spirit takes share in our weakness; for what we may pray as it behooves we know not, but the Spirit it (him) self supplicates on (our) behalf with groanings unutterable. According to the instruction of God in Scripture, prayer is to be uttered consistent with the will of God (cf. 1 Jn. 5:14). Man being imperfect may have difficulty in expressing himself because of his weakness. The American Standard Version renders Romans 8:26: “And in like manner the Spirit also helpeth our infirmity: for we know not how to pray as we ought; but the Spirit himself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.”
“Helpeth” is translated from the root verb sunantilambanomai, which means according to Thayer “to lay hold along with, to strive to obtain with others, help in obtaining . . . to take hold with another (who is laboring), hence univ. to help: Lk. 10:40; Rom. 8:26.” Martha was concerned that Mary did not help her in serving and asked Jesus that he bid her to do so (Lk. 10:40). The sense is very clear: Martha wanted Mary to take hold in serving with her. The idea in the word is to assist, to help.
The same verb, sunantilambanomai, used in Luke 10:40, is used in Romans 8:26. The Holy Spirit is said to help in our weakness, that is as the text says, he helps our infirmity or weakness. Gar translated for means because and what follows it is the way he helps by making intercession for us with groanings that cannot be uttered. His intercession does not inferfere with or conflict with or supplant the mediator role of Jesus Christ. That he intercedes for us is unquestioned (Rom. 8:26-27). That this intercession does not relieve man of his responsibility and accountability in praying to God is fundamental to all the Bible teaches on man’s giving account to God (Jn. 5:28-29; 2 Cor. 5:10; Rom. 14:10-12).
It is evident from the teaching of the preceding passages that the Holy Spirit does not direct a correction of any words in our thoughts that would indicate we are not praying as we ought for then would men not be responsible for what is said. The Holy Spirit does not do something to the person praying but rather does something for the person. On the other hand, that person who seeks to serve God acceptably but who has some weakness, the Holy Spirit assists or helps in the Holy Spirit’s making intercession to God. This, of course, would be through Jesus Christ because he is the only mediator between God and men (1 Tim. 2:5).
The Holy Spirit intercedes with groanings or sighs, stenagmois, but these are not spoken words, alaletois, which means not spoken or expressed (Rom. 8:26). However, although they are not uttered, God who searches the heart knows what is the mind of the Spirit (Rom. 8:27). Therefore, he knows what his intercession is. But in his groanings the Holy Spirit intercedes for or on behalf of the saints according or relation to God. It should be clearly evident from these verses that the Holy Spirit does nothing to the Christians or saints but does help them in their weakness because he makes intercession for them. This help is consistent with the mediatorship of Jesus Christ and the will of God just as are intercessions made for some saints by other saints (1 Tim. 2:1).
It is through the Holy Spirit’s revelation that men are directed as how to pray or for what to pray. God who is the one searching the hearts knows the mind of the Holy Spirit, therefore he knows what the Holy Spirit’s supplication is on behalf of the saints (Rom. 8:27).
We certainly do not know everything in connection with this work of the Holy Spirit in relation to Christ and God. But God has revealed that the work is done and he has also revealed the responsibility and accountability of men to God. Both the praying of the individual with his weakness and the interceding of the Holy Spirit on his behalf are true. There is no fragmentation. Each being involved in the actions taken is independent. The actions which the passages under review teach are consistent with, and not contradictory to, each other.
Guardian of Truth XXXV: 18, pp. 549-550
September 19, 1991