Holy Spirit

Should every Christian speak in tongues? (Part 1)

pentecostMany Pentecostal traditions teach that speaking in tongues is the definitive sign of being baptized with the Holy Spirit.   This baptism or filling of the Spirit happens sometime after your conversion and is known as the “Second Blessing”.   Every Spirit-filled believer, they would argue, should therefore speak in tongues. 


I have numerous theological problems with the previous two sentences.  I will give what I believe is the biblical answer in under the following four headings:

1.  The same word for “speaking in tongues” in used throughout the New Testament.

The same word for “tongues” is used in throughout the New Testament (cf. Acts 2, 10, 19 and 1 Corinthians 12-14). “Glossolalia” (tongues) is constructed from the Greek word γλωσσολαλία, itself a compound of the words γλῶσσα (glossa), meaning “tongue” or “language” and λαλέω  (laleō), “to speak”.   Another usage is in Mark 16:17 but this passage comes from inferior manuscripts and should not be considered at part of scripture.  The oldest and most reliable manuscripts end at Mark 16:8.  The same words in the New Testament may have a few related meanings, but the semantic domains (word meanings) are not that different!   It is significant that the apostle Paul in writing 1 Corinthians chose the same word that Luke used in Acts, “glossolalia”.

2.  Tongues in Acts 2 were known, foreign languages

Acts 2 is the awesome account of the Holy Spirit coming down into the world in a radical new way as prophesied by Jeremiah (ch. 31) and Ezekiel (ch. 36).   The Spirit would now under the New Covenant be available to all believers – no longer just a few select leaders and prophets.   Jesus had told his disciples to what in Jerusalem for the “promise” of his Father (Luke 24:49).  

On the Day of the Pentecost feast, as the followers of Jesus were praying together, the promised Holy Spirit arrived with an accompanying sound of rushing wind and “tongues as of fire”.   Rushing wind and fire were always signs of God’s presence in the Old Testament.   Immediately the followers of Jesus “spoke in tongues” as the Spirit enabled them (Acts 2:4). 

The interpretive key is v6 which tells us that all the foreigners who heard them speaking were bewildered because “each one was hearing them speak in his own language” (Acts 2:6).  Known foreign languages.   What were the following of Jesus speaking about?  Acts 2:11 says they were telling of the “mighty works of God” which no doubt included the death and resurrection of Jesus.

In Genesis 10 in the Old Testament, at the Tower of Babel, God judged humans for their rebellion towards Him by confusing their languages and thereby scattering the nations.  Now, under Jesus, God is uniting the nations under Christ and there was no better sign than the followers of Jesus declaring the gospel in other languages.   The time of God’s great plan to save people from all the nations had arrived. 

3.  The norm in Acts is that the baptism of the Spirit happens at conversion

Peter, at end of his Pentecost sermon, announces that the crucified Jesus is in fact the Lord and the promised king.  The mixed crowd of Jews and proselytes (foreign converts to Judaism) are deeply disturbed and ask what they should do.  Peter says they ought to “repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ”.  (Acts 2:38)  They are to turn from rebellion and turn to Jesus (of which their baptism would be a sign).  If they do this Peter says they will have the “forgiveness of sins and will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”  (Acts 2:38)  The two consequences of forgiveness and the gift of the Spirit are not optional extras, but necessary outcomes of trusting in Jesus. 

Elsewhere in the New Testament the gift of the Spirit is also connected to conversion (cf. Ephesians 1:13, Romans 8:9, 1 Corinthians 2:14-15, 1 Thessalonians 1:4-5 etc.)  In fact, the overall thrust of the New Testament’s teaching on conversion is that without the Holy Spirit actively at work in us we would never get converted in the first place.  Pentecost is a unique, descriptive event of God the Holy Spirit entering our world in a new permanent way and therefore Pentecost is not the norm for Christians.  Acts 2:39 is the norm.

4.  God delayed the giving the Holy Spirit on a few occasions for a specific purpose  

The early church before Acts 8 was largely made up on converted Jerusalem-based Jews.  The mandate given by Jesus was always to penetrate not only Jerusalem, but “Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).   God, in his providence, sent persecution on the church in Jerusalem and the Christians scatter – even to hated Samaria.   Surprisingly, the Samaritans believe the gospel of the Jewish Messiah and are converted.  Would there be a new “Samaritan” church running parallel to the “Jewish” Church – after all the Jews and Samaritans hated each other?   


Luke tells us that,

when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.  Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 8:14-17) 

God waited for the official leaders of the church – the apostles – to arrive in Samaria before sending the Spirit so that the apostles could see and verify that the same Spirit they had received had now been given to the Samaritans.   No need for two churches.  One Spirit.  One Church.  We can presume the Samaritans spoke in tongues as evidence of receiving the same Spirit.  Luke says in v16 “for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.”  The point is that this was not the norm – that’s why Luke points it out – they should have received the Holy Spirit when they were baptized but didn’t for a very specific purpose.   Do not make the exception the rule!


The gospel reaching Gentiles, who were even lower than Samaritans on the Jewish social scale, was a similar scenario.  Luke tells us the shocking account,

While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles.  For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” (Acts 10:44) 

Even Gentiles received the same Spirit – proven by their speaking in tongues – just as the followers of Jesus did at Pentecost.  It’s interesting to note that the Gentile believers spoke in tongues immediately at their conversion – there was no delay.  One Spirit. One Church.   Speaking in tongues is not the norm (as we shall also see from 1 Corinthians 12:11 in Part 2), but receiving him as a gift at conversion certainly is.

Religious Jews

Acts 19:1-7 is often quoted as the definitive proof that the Holy Spirit is received subsequent to conversion.  I would contend that what happened at Ephesus was not an event following the Ephesians’ conversion, but their conversion itself.   Acts 19:2-3 tells us that the (probably Jewish or maybe proselyte) disciples had not heard of the Holy Spirit and only knew of John’s baptism (John the Baptist).  In other words, they were like faithful Jews in the Old Testament awaiting their Messiah.  They had not yet put their faith in Christ.  Paul then explains the gospel to them; they turn to Christ and receive the Spirit.   The Spirit comes immediately.  There is no second blessing. 

F.D. Bruner says,

“The teaching of Acts 19:1-7 is that the Ephesians lacked the Holy Spirit due to no failure to summon, intentionally, either apostles, full surrender, or tongues, but unintentionally in having been baptized into John’s baptism rather than into Jesus Christ’s.”   

Merril Unger helpfully writes,

“Could it possibly be true that those who clung to the teachings of Judaism so long into the new age (of Christ) could be shut out the great salvation?  The incident at Ephesus gives a ringing answer. Yes!   Religious Jews must come the same ways as unreligious Gentiles.” 

 Every spiritual blessing

One would think that if speaking in tongues (known languages or perhaps, as some claim, an “angelic” language) were the sign of being filled with the Holy Spirit that there would be many passages intentionally teaching that.   Yet “speaking in tongues” only occurs in a few chapters in the New Testament.    

Rather, speaking in tongues was a signal that the new age of the Spirit had come, God had sent what he had promised, the nations were being united under Christ, and the gospel being proclaimed in the known languages of foreigners was the perfect sign.   When we turn from sin and trust in Christ, God forgives us and indwells us by his Holy Spirit.  Ever Christian has the Holy Spirit.   Every Christian has every spiritual blessing (Ephesians 1:3).  There is no “second” blessing.

Here is the follow up post.


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