Can you pray without knowing it?

Questions & Answers September 23, 2016

Q: Can you pray without knowing it? Can the Holy Spirit hijack one’s conscience by talking to God in a physical way without the person being privy to whatever is being said? I ask after reading 1 Cor. 14:14, which says, “For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful” (NKJV). — Mobray, from Zambia

A: Mobray, we read in the book “Steps to Christ” that “Prayer is the opening of the heart to God as to a friend” (p. 93). Is it possible to talk with a friend or loved one without knowing it? No, and neither is it possible to truly pray without being aware of what we are saying.

1 Cor. 14:14 can be translated: “For if I would pray in a language, my spirit prays but the understanding of me is unfruitful” — that is, people not familiar with the language would not understand what I’m saying but it doesn’t mean I myself can’t understand what I’m saying.

The Platonic idea that the soul — or mind — and body are separable entities that can exist independent of each other is a Greek concept foreign to Scripture. But in the 2nd and 3rd centuries, this idea infiltrated the Christian church and underlies much of Christian theology today, including in the charismatic movement that understands speaking in tongues to be a mystical language of the Spirit. But in Scripture, the gift of tongues was given to the apostles to enable the gospel to spread rapidly to many people groups who heard them in their own language (see Acts 2).

The Holy Spirit will never “hijack” a person’s conscience. He speaks through the Bible and as a “still small voice” seeks to guide us in the right way.

If you would like to learn more about 1 Corinthians 14, you may find this article written by Dr. Angel Manual Rodriguez, former director of the Biblical Research Institute, helpful.