Helped in Our Weakness

helped in weakness

b) Rom 8:26–27: Paul observed, “And in the same way also the Spirit helps us in our weakness.” Hope enables us to endure suffering. Meanwhile, the Holy Spirit sustains us in our frailty (Rom 8:23–25).[1]

The word which Paul used to depict the helping work of the Spirit (synantilambanomai) literally means “to take up with.”[2] It appears elsewhere in the New Testament (NT) only in Luke 10:40.

In the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the term describes the support which seventy elders gave to Moses as he went about his duties (Exod 18:22); Num 11:16–17).[3] Thus, the word connotes taking on the burden of another to transfer or share its weight (Ps 89:20–21).[4]

This word commonly appeared in Greco-Roman literature, where it describes lending aid to someone.[5]

For example, Josephus (37–100 AD) employed the term when he wrote, “As for those laws which Moses left concerning our common conversation and intercourse one with another…I propose to myself, with God’s assistance (synantilambanomai), to write, after I have finished the work I am now upon.”[6]

Within the NT, the word translated as “weakness” (astheneia) usually refers to the totality of the human condition, rather than just a person’s physical state.[7]

Paul applied it earlier in this chapter to convey the insufficiency of the Mosaic law (Rom 8:3). Our frailty in body, mind, and spirit reminds us that we are creatures, rather than the creator.[8]

As an example of our weakness, Paul wrote, “For what it is necessary for us to pray for, we do not know.”

The apostle addressed the content of our entreaties, rather than referred to the style of our prayers.[9] We often cannot ascertain the will of God in order to pray accordingly (Matt 6:10; 2 Cor 12:7–9; Rom 1:9–13).[10]

When we don’t know how to pray, “The Spirit itself intercedes on our behalf with wordless groans.”[11]

Thus, in a few short verses, Paul linked creation, believers, and the Holy Spirit with one common characteristic: as we wait patiently for the new creation, we groan (Rom 8:22–27).[12]

Despite this literary parallel, the purpose of the Spirit’s groaning remains vastly different from ours and from nature’s.[13]

The word translated as “interceding on our behalf” (hyperentunchanō) occurs only here in the NT.[14] Furthermore, no earlier example occurs in secular Greek.[15]

Therefore, we cannot tell whether it means that the Spirit helps us by aiding our prayers or by doing the praying for us. However, Paul added another word unique to the NT to describe the Spirit’s groaning.[16] He called it “unexpressed” or “wordless” (alaletōs).[17]

While the Holy Spirit can certainly illuminate our minds to understand how to pray, instead the Spirit often works through our weakness by entreating for us.[18]

We experience this whenever we cry out to God in bewilderment.[19] Although we remain unaware of the Spirit’s groans on our behalf, God hears them.[20]

Thus, we have both the Son and the Spirit pleading for us in accordance with God’s will before the Father (Heb 7:24–25; Rom 8:31–34).[21]

Even when we ask for things which are not in our best interest, we can trust the Spirit’s ministry of intercession to make things right (Rom 8:27).[22]

Image via Wikimedia Commons

 

Read Rom 8:26–27. How does these verses provide comfort and hope to you?

 

 

 

Go to Sons of God or Sons of the Gods?

 

[Related posts include Set Free from the Slavery of Corruption (Rom 8:21–22); Groaning for a Redeemed Body (Rom 8:23–25); Greek Translation of the Old Testament; and Ancient Literature]

[Click here to go to Chapter 5: Groaning and Grieving (Genesis 5:28–6:8)]

 

[1]Moo, Romans, 268.

[2]Gerhard Delling, “συναντιλαμβανομαι” (synantilambanomai), TDNT, 1:376.

[3]Arndt, Danker, and Bauer, “συναντιλαμβανομαι” (synantilambanomai), BDAG, 965.

[4]Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, 522–3.

[5]Dunn, Romans 1–8, 476.

[6]Flavius Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews (trans. William Whiston; The Complete Works of Flavius Josephus; Auburn and Buffalo, NY: John E. Beardsley, 1895), 4.8.4, http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0146%3Abook%3D4%3Awhiston+chapter%3D8%3Awhiston+section%3D4.

[7]Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, 523.

[8]Dunn, Romans 1–8, 477.

[9]Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, 523.

[10]Witherington and Hyatt, Paul’s Letter to the Romans: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, 225.

[11]Moo, Romans, 268. In Greek, the word “Spirit” is neither male nor female but neuter.

[12]Cranfield, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, 1:420–1.

[13]Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, 523.

[14]Arndt, Danker, and Bauer, “υπερεντυγχανω” (hyperentunchanō), BDAG, 1033.

[15]Dunn, Romans 1–8, 478.

[16]Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, 524.

[17]Arndt, Danker, and Bauer, “ἀλαλητος” (alalētōs), BDAG, 41.

[18]Dunn, Romans 1–8, 477–8. A corollary to this is that we cannot consider the ability to give eloquent prayers a sign of the Spirit’s presence in a person.

[19]Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, 524.

[20]Cranfield, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, 1:423–4.

[21]Moo, Romans, 269.

[22]Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, 526.