I grew up in, and am still a part of, a denomination that steers clear of the baptism of the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues. It is generally not so much that they are opposed, as that they are ignored. Although it must be said that anyone who claims to speak in tongues is generally thought to be a bit suspect.
But what my denomination thinks, or what my charismatic brethren think is not nearly as important as what the Scripture has to say about these topics. I want to look at all of the passages that speak of the baptism of the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues and try and understand biblical teaching concerning this.
Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
Table of contents
What is the Baptism of the Holy Spirit?
There are three passages that I am aware of that connect baptism with the Holy Spirit. And there is a fourth passage that I believe is related to these other three. In two of these passages, tongues are involved, but not in the other two.
In Acts 1:5 Jesus told his disciple that “John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” He told them this shortly before his ascension. And this seems to correlate well with Acts 2:1-12. This passage relates the outpouring of the Spirit on the believers at Pentecost. This is often considered as the foundational event for the church.
Along with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the disciples spoke in other languages. Languages that it turns out were intelligible to the others who had come to Jerusalem for Pentecost. People who spoke a variety of native languages. And each of them was able to understand what the disciples were saying.
There are a couple of things to note about this event. First, it was the initial experience with the Holy Spirit for these disciples. There is no record of the Holy Spirit’s presence in their lives before this. And Acts 1:8, where they are told to wait for the coming Holy Spirit, would argue against this being a second encounter with the Spirit.
A second thing to note is that the tongues here are not a spiritual language as seems to be the case in 1 Corinthians 14. Here the language spoken by the disciples is intelligible and meaningful to the hearers. Without any interpretation.
The tenth chapter of Acts records Peter’s encounter with the Roman centurion Cornelius. Peter proclaimed the gospel to Cornelius and his household. And while doing so the Holy Spirit is poured out on them and they begin to speak in tongues (Acts 10:26-44). This proves to Peter, and those with him, that God had accepted these Gentiles.
In Acts 11:16, Peter, while relating his encounter with Cornelius in the previous chapter, said “then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’” This outpouring of the Spirit on the Gentiles was considered to be similar to what had happened at Pentecost.
This event is also similar to what happened with the Samaritans in Acts 8:14-17 and to a group of John the Baptist’s disciples in Acts 19:4-7. When they believed, they were filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues.
For all three of these events, the Holy Spirit coming on them was at their initial point of salvation. It was not a later event. And, in all three cases, the tongues seemed to serve as a sign to the other believers that God had accepted these previous outsiders.
1 Corinthians 12:13
The church at Corinth is the only church that Paul writes to about tongues. In Chapter 12 of his first letter to them he mentions tongues in reference to spiritual gifts. Then, in the 13th chapter, they are mentioned as someday passing away. And, finally, in chapter 14 he discusses the use of tongues, especially when the church meets together.
The discussion on gifts in chapter 12 is closely tied to his discussion of the corporate nature of the body of Christ. Gifts are given to members of the body, as the Spirit determines, for the growth of the body. And tongues are mentioned here as a gift. But, according to chapter 14, tongues were the exception, given to the individual rather than the corporate body.
It is in 1 Corinthians 12:13 that Paul mentions the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Here he says that “we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.” What this baptism accomplishes is to make us a part of the body of Christ.
There is no specific connection with tongues in this case. And, like all of the other passages discussed so far, it appears to be the initial experience that all believers have. We are all baptized by the Holy Spirit into the body of Christ.
The final passage to look at is Galatians 3:27; “for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” This passage has nothing to do with tongues. But it, like all of the others, points to this baptism of the Holy Spirit as being the common experience of all believers.
What Is the Gift of Tongues?
The only mention of tongues in the Bible are those that are listed above. And they seem to be used in two distinct ways.
The use of tongues in Acts seems to be related to their use as a sign. At Pentecost, with the Samaritans, with Cornelius, and with the Ephesian group, tongues demonstrate the presence of the Holy Spirit. At Pentecost, it is a demonstration to those outside the body of believers. In the other three cases, it seems to be more of a sign to the believers. A sign that God has accepted a group of people who were on the outside. And this does seem to correspond to some extent with the concentric circles of outreach mentioned in Acts 1:8.
The other use of tongues is in 1 Corinthians. Here it is for the use of the individual. More specifically, for individuals within the body. Paul describes it as the individual’s spirit communicating with God (1 Cor. 14:14-15). Like all the gifts, it is given at the discretion of the Holy Spirit. And, Paul says, it is a desirable gift. But not as useful to the church as gifts such as prophecy that will build up the body. And it should not be exercised around other people unless there is an interpreter.
Some of my charismatic brethren teach that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is a ‘second blessing’. Something that happens to believers at some time after they come to Christ. And, further, that speaking in tongues is evidence of this second blessing.
But I find no reason to believe that my initial salvation experience and the baptism of the Holy Spirit are separate events. Every mention of Holy Spirit baptism I can find in the Scripture points to it as being synonymous with salvation. It is the Holy Spirit’s baptism that brings us into the body of Christ. If we have not been baptized by the Holy Spirit, then we are not of Christ.
And, apart from their use as a sign in Acts, there is no reason to believe that tongues are evidence of a second blessing. Rather, tongues are given as the Holy Spirit determines. And they are for private use only, unless there is an interpreter. I don’t believe there is any reason to believe that tongues have ceased. But Paul does place some restrictions on their public expression.
The views expressed here are solely mine and do not necessarily reflect those of any other person, group, or organization. While I believe they reflect the teachings of the Bible, I am a fallible human and subject to misunderstanding. Please feel free to leave any comments or questions about this post in the comments section below. I am always interested in your feedback.
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10 thoughts on “Baptism of the Holy Spirit and Tongues”
Ed, a few more concerns:
Is the ‘baptism’ of the Holy Spirit the same as the ‘outpouring’ of the Holy Spirit?
I have the impression from your post that up until the day of pentecost, there was no record of the Holy Spirit’s presence in the lives of the disciples. What can you say then to explain what Jesus meant when he told the disciples to receive the Holy Spirit- didn’t they receive it then? ( John 20:22).
Are believers not expected to speak in tongues as a sign of the baptism of the Spirit?
I got saved many days before ever speaking in tongues. My initial experience with tongues came after attending a Holy Spirit baptism meeting. I have since been praying often by speaking in tongues. There seem to be a clear distinction here for me as I can relate my experience to Acts 19:4-6. Was my experience then the baptism of the Spirit or the gift of speaking in tongues?
But I also admit that in the case of Peter at Cornelius’ house and on the day of Pentecost, the Holy Ghost came on his own accord but in certain cases, hands had to be laid before, like Acts 19:6.
I understand “Baptism of the Holy Spirit” to be the activity of the Holy Spirit in our lives that immerses us into the body of Christ. It happens when we come to faith. And speaking in tongues might be involved there, but, at least in my experience, is usually not. I do not speak in tongues, and have no desire to do so. Although I do believe that it is a gift that the Spirit still gives to some as he sees fit.
I do not clearly understand what is meant by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. It is a term that I hear used, but it seems to mean different things in different faith traditions.
Speaking in tongues is clearly described in 1 Corinthians 12 as a spiritual gift given by the Holy Spirit. It seems not to be given to all believers. But is given as the Spirit sees fit. The gift he has given to me is as a teacher. Others have different gifts. And tongues is one of those listed with them.
In Acts 19:6, then the Spirit comes on those new believers, they spoke in tongues and prophesied. In that case, it served as a clear indication that these 12 men had come to faith. I do not believe it is a general rule though.
Ed, what at all does the word ‘baptism’ mean in relation to the Holy Spirit? Why, among all other words, was the word ‘baptism’ used to explain this study. Because I practically can’t relate with that word in this context. The subject on ‘baptism’ of the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues really gets me confused at times; I can’t tell the difference. In any case, what really happens to the believer in practical experience?
To baptize means to immerse. It was a term used by those who dyed cloth in the first century. They would baptize their cloth into the dye vat. Baptism of the Holy Spirit is the Spirit immersing us into the body of Christ, something that happens when we come to faith in Christ. There are some traditions that advocate a second experience for believers that they identify as baptism of the Holy Spirit. But I disagree with that. They see speaking in tongues as evidence of this second blessing, as they call it. But I understand speaking in tongues to be distinct from baptism of the Holy Spirit. All believers are baptized by the Holy Spirit into the body of Christ. Some believers receive the gift of speaking in tongues.
I was refreshed on your common ground, of the Holy spirit. I know some think their baptism in water is the seal of God. When I received the Holy Spirit I did not know about him, I had no teaching or up bringing of any religion. I only knew I believed when I heard the word of God. I accepted him as my savior. It was a month later that I received the Holy Spirit; and later I was baptized in water. But I have witnessed people who came to Christ and received the Holy Spirit all at the same time.
Thankyou for the great study.
Pastor Patricia Seger
I think you misunderstand me. I do not believe in a baptism of the Holy Spirit that is distinct from coming to Christ. The baptism of the Spirit is baptism into the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13). I do accept that God gifts some people with the ability to speak in tongues. But that is no different than his gifting with any of the other spiritual gifts. With the exception that tongues is for the individual rather than the body, and is thus less useful to the body.
I’m interested in the Holy Spirit baptism. If we have not been baptized by the holy Spirit then we are not of Christ. Do you have something that speaks to this. I know of my own salvation although very interested in your comment. I am reading “The Forgotten God” by Francis Chan. Great book about the Holy Spirit and the Church. I have extra copies if you don’t have one.
Art, I really don’t have any books that speak to this topic. But the Scripture itself does. 1 Corinthians 12:13 is probably the most explicit. But Romans 8, even though it does not mention baptism in regards to the Holy Spirit, does emphasize the necessity of the Holy Spirit working within us.
Thanks Ed for your insights and clarity on these scriptures,… His blessings in 2020 as you allow Him to further instruct and encourage us 🙂 Barry P