Tongues and the Baptism with the Holy Spirit

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By Spencer D Gear

Some Pentecostal Christian denominations and para-church agencies of a similar theological persuasion have Statements of Beliefs that state that they believe the baptism with the Holy Spirit, according to Acts 2:4, is given to believers who ask for it. [1]  The meaning is that speaking in tongues is the initial physical evidence of the baptism/filling with the Holy Spirit.  Those who are Spirit-filled will speak in unknown or other tongues, according to this theology.

Although I accepted this view for about 13 years, an examination of the Scriptures and Christian experience have  pressed me to question this understanding.  Since I am committed to the inerrant Word of God, I have sought answers from a careful study of the grammar and context of Acts 2:4 and other Scriptures.

I consider this an important issue since the Scriptures speak about the baptism/filling of the Holy Spirit.  I deeply desire the Holy Spirit’s ministry in my life, therefore, the following study is directed towards discovering the theology of the baptism with the Holy Spirit with a view to experience in the Christian’s life.

The Day of Pentecost

What happened on the day of Pentecost was a unique historical occurrence (tongues were not sought) where the tongues were actual known dialects (Acts 2:6, 8 uses the Greek word, dialekto — dative case, which v. 8 affirms was their own native language).  These dialects were understood by the listeners and did not need to be interpreted.

To make Acts 2:4 support the “initial evidence” doctrine, one, to be consistent, must require that those baptised in the Holy Spirit today must speak in known dialects.

Other References in the Book of Acts

The “tongues” of Acts 10:46 seem to be interpreted by Acts 11:15, which means that it is the Gentiles’ Pentecost with the languages being known dialects (cf, “just as He did upon us at the beginning”, 11:15).  Therefore, because of this context of the Book of Acts, Acts 19:6 would be most consistently interpreted as the dialects of the day of Pentecost.  What is significant is that as the gospel spread and as each new group of people was encountered, tongues is mentioned (the Jews, Acts 2:4; the Gentiles, Acts 10:46; those who accepted John’s baptism, Acts 19:6).  From these verses it is evident that for some people who are filled with the Spirit, they will speak in tongues.

It is just as significant in the Book of Acts that tongues is not mentioned with the filling of the Spirit in all examples.  Acts 8:18 does not state what Simon the sorcerer saw.  Acts 9:17 does not associate Paul’s filling with the Holy Spirit with “tongues”.  It is arguing from silence (a dangerous exegetical practice) to say that Paul’s baptism with the Spirit was accompanied by tongues.  We know he spoke in tongues (I Cor. 14:18-19), but do not know when it began.

In Acts 4:8, “filled”, an aorist participle, could be translated “having just been filled”, does not mention tongues.  This is repeated in 13:9, 52.  Acts 4:31 does not mention tongues.  In fact the evidence was that they “began to speak the word of God with boldness” (NASB).  Why are not boldness (Acts 4:31), power (Acts 1:8) and prophecy (Acts 19:6) the evidences of the filling of the Spirit?

Tongues in I Corinthians

What happened on the day of Pentecost cannot be identified with the “tongues” of I Cor. 12:11, 30; 14:2, 4, 13, 19, 27 where the “tongue” either had to be interpreted (12:11, 30; 14:13, 27) or was unknown language, spoken to God for personal edification (14:2, 4).  However, I Cor. 13:1 identifies tongues with the languages of men (understandable human languages) and the languages of angels (presumably the communication language of the angels in heaven).

For me, the definitive moment in my interpretation of these sometimes difficult verses came when I studied the Greek language of I Cor. 12:29-30 which uses the Greek negative me, thus requiring that a negative answer be given to the question, “Do all speak in tongues?” which is confirmed by the NASB translation: “All do not speak with tongues, do they?”

Since the baptism of the Holy Spirit is available to all believers, I Cor. 12:30 confirms that tongues cannot be the initial physical evidence for all believers, since tongues is not given to all.

Perhaps the reply could be: I Corinthians 12-14 must be taken as a whole and refers to the use of tongues in the corporate gathering of the church and so refers to the gift of tongues requiring the accompanying gift of interpretation.  Therefore, it is correct to say that not all believers are given the gift of tongues requiring interpretation for exercise in the gathering of the body.

This is a valid objection that I accepted for many years.  However, a closer examination of the context reveals the following:

a.    I Cor. 14:2, 4 refers to tongues for personal edification and not requiring interpretation — therefore it is not for use in the church.  This seems to be what Paul is referring to when he says, “I thank God, I speak in tongues more than you all” (I Cor. 14:18).  In the church, he prefers intelligibility: “I desire to speak five words with my mind, that I may instruct others also, rather than ten thousand words in a tongue” (14:19)

b.    I Cor. 14:14-18 contrasts speaking and singing “with the spirit” (tongues on the basis of v. 14) and praying with the mind.  Therefore, throughout I Cor. 12-14, there seems to be an interchange of tongues (spiritual language or ecstatic utterance) as a language spoken to God for personal edification and tongues requiring interpretation for the edification of the church.

Therefore, my conclusion is that I Cor. 12:28, 30 is referring to both kinds of tongues, which are not given to all believers.  Why?  Because “one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills” (I Cor. 12:11 NASB).  I Cor. 12:14 emphasises: “For the body is not one member, but many.”  Therefore, I do not find it surprising that tongues is restricted to some believers by the sovereignty of the Holy Spirit.

This has led charismatic leader and pastor of a Vineyard church (USA), George Mallone, to state: “Beyond doubt, one of the greatest theological tragedies to befall the church is the suggestion that tongues is a visible sign of having been baptized or filled with the Spirit” (1983:90).

Based on Experience

Experience is never the way to judge whether or not a doctrine is correct.  That must come from a solid historical-grammatical interpretation of the Bible.  However, my experience and that of others is that, even though one speaks in tongues, this does not mean one is always controlled by the Spirit (and surely that is one meaning of the filling/baptism of the Holy Spirit).  I have spoken in tongues in my prayer time with the Lord, but later in the day have been angry with my children, told a lie, or slandered a brother.  So, speaking in tongues is no guarantee for me that I am always dominated by the Spirit of God.

On the other hand, I know people who do not speak in tongues (my wife is one example) whose lives are a constant testimony to submission to Jesus Christ and control by the Holy Spirit.

Conclusion

A consistent interpretation of the relevant Scriptures reveals that tongues cannot be available to every Christian as the initial physical evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit because:

1.    Not all will speak in tongues (I Cor. 12:30), and
2.    Such a doctrine usurps the sovereignty of the Holy Spirit, based on the following Scriptures:

  •  “We have different gifts according to the grace given us” (Rom. 12:6a).
  •  “All these [gifts] are the work of the one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines” (I Cor. 12:11).
  • ·Hebrews 2:4 speaks of “gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.”
    I believe it grieves the Holy Spirit and is a promotion of doctrinal error when denominations and Christian leaders go contrary to the Bible’s teaching.

However, if I am in error in the above contextual-grammatical interpretation of “tongues” I need your correction.  Please be a Berean (Acts 17:11) and direct me to the Word of God. Use this web page’s response form to show me my error.

References

Mallone, G. 1983. Those Controversial Gifts, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Illinois.

Endnotes:

1.    These Denominations explain the baptism with the Holy Spirit as follows:

(a)  Statement 8 of the Assemblies of God (a Pentecostal denomination) “Fundamental Truths” is:

The Initial Physical Evidence of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit”: ‘The baptism of believers in the Holy Spirit is witnessed by the initial physical sign of speaking with other tongues as the Spirit of God gives them utterance. Acts 2:4 [KJV/NIV]

The speaking in tongues in this instance is the same in essence as the gift of tongues, but is different in purpose and use.1 Corinthians 12:4-10 [KJV/NIV]; 1 Corinthians 12:28 [KJV/NIV]’.

(b)  The International Church of the Foursquare Gospel (a Pentecostal denomination) in its ‘Declaration of Faith’ states:

We believe that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is the incoming of the promised Comforter in mighty and glorious fullness to endue the believer with power from on high; to glorify and exalt the Lord Jesus; to give inspired utterance in witnessing of Him; to foster the spirit of prayer, holiness, sobriety; to equip the individual and the Church for practical, efficient, joyous, Spirit-filled soul-winning in the fields of life; and that this being still the dispensation of the Holy Spirit, the believer may have every reason to expect His incoming to be after the same manner as that in which He came upon Jew and Gentile alike in Bible days, and as recorded in the Word, that it may be truly said of us as of the house of Cornelius: the Holy Ghost fell on them as on us at the beginning [biblical references to support this statement are: John 14:16-17; Acts 1:5, 8; 2:4; 8:17; 10:44-46; 1 Cor. 3:16].

(c)  The Church of God, Cleveland, Tennessee (a Pentecostal denomination), in its “Declaration of Faith” states that ‘we believe … in speaking with other tongues as the Spirit gives utterance and that it is the initial evidence of the baptism of the Holy Ghost’.

(d) The Vineyard Churches USA take a different slant in their statement of Core Values, ‘The Ministry of the Holy Spirit’:

We believe that the Holy Spirit was poured out on the Church at Pentecost in power, baptizing believers into the Body of Christ and releasing the gifts of the Spirit to them. The Spirit brings the permanent indwelling presence of God to us for spiritual worship, personal sanctification, building up the Church, gifting us for ministry, and driving back the kingdom of Satan by the evangelization of the world through proclaiming the word of Jesus and doing the works of Jesus.

We believe that the Holy Spirit indwells every believer in Jesus Christ and that He is our abiding Helper, Teacher, and Guide. We believe in the filling or the empowering of the Holy Spirit, often a conscious experience, for ministry today. We believe in the present ministry of the Spirit and in the exercise of all of the biblical gifts of the Spirit. We practice the laying on of hands for the empowering of the Spirit, for healing, and for recognition and empowering of those whom God has ordained to lead and serve the Church.

(e) The Apostolic Faith Mission of South Africa (a Pentecostal denomination) in the “Confession of Faith” states that,

WE BELIEVE in the baptism in the Holy Spirit with the initial evidence of speaking in tongues as promised to all believers. We believe in the manifestation of the gifts and fruit of the Spirit in the life of a Christian. We believe that a Christian should be a disciple of Jesus Christ living a consecrated and holy life.

Copyright © 2012 Spencer D. Gear.This document last updated at: 11 October 2015.

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