The subject of “tongues” and the baptism of the Holy Spirit have been taken over by extremists on both sides of the issue. One side denies their biblical usage and availability within contemporary Christianity. And, the other side has perverted their usage by ignoring and disobeying the biblical guidelines governing them. However, before delving into our detailed study of “tongues” and the baptism of the Holy Spirit, it would first be appropriate to cover a few other important things about the Holy Spirit. To begin with, who or what is the Holy Spirit?
The Holy Spirit is not a “thing” or an “it”. The Holy Spirit is a “person”. The Holy Spirit is repeatedly referred to throughout the New Testament with personal pronouns. Numerous scriptures call the Holy Spirit “He”, “Him”, “His” or “Himself” (John 14:16-17; John 14:26; John 15:26; John 16:7-8; John 16:13-14; Romans 8:26-27; 1st Corinthians 12:11). Other texts refer to the Holy Spirit as “I” or “Me” (Acts 10:19-20; Acts 13:2; Revelation 2:7; Revelation 2:17). The Holy Spirit is also given attributes of “personhood” in the Bible. Many scriptures reveal that the Holy Spirit “speaks”, by stating that the Spirit “said” or “says” (Acts 10:19-20; Acts 13:2; Revelation 2:7, 11, 17 and 29; Revelation 3:6, 13 and 22). Romans 8:26-27 says that the Holy Spirit “prays” and has a “mind”. 1st Corinthians 12:11 reveals that the Spirit has a “will”. In Ephesians 4:30, we’re told that the Holy Spirit can be “grieved”. Furthermore, Acts 5:3-4 states that the Holy Spirit can be “lied to”. And, 1st John 5:6 tells us that the Spirit can “bear witness”.
According to the Bible, the Holy Spirit is not just a person; He is a “divine” person. Several New Testament passages reveal that the Holy Spirit is God. The Scriptures state that the Holy Spirit can be “blasphemed”, and only God can be blasphemed (Matthew 12:31-32; Mark 3:29; Luke 12:10). Jesus’ “great commission” to His followers, in Matthew 28:18-20, tells us to not only baptize in the name of the Father and the Son, but also in the name of the Holy Spirit, and only “divine” beings are listed in this passage. The Bible says that Jesus, the divine Son of God, was “conceived” of the Holy Spirit, and that He was the “child” of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:18-20). If Jesus is the Son of God, and He is the “child” of the Holy Spirit, then the Holy Spirit has to be God. Likewise, in Luke 1:35, the Scriptures reveal that the Holy Spirit “came upon” Mary, thus producing the “Holy One”, the Son of God, Jesus Christ. And, in Acts 5:3-4, we’re told that when Ananias led to the Holy Spirit, He lied to “God”.
At this point, and before moving on to discuss the baptism of the Holy Spirit and “tongues”, it would be appropriate to mention a few important things. The Bible is clear that there are three members in the Godhead: God the Father, God the Son (Jesus Christ), and the Holy Spirit. The God of Christianity is “One God” manifest in three distinct divine beings. Several scriptures refer to God by using the “plural” pronouns of “us” or “our”, such as Genesis 1:26, Genesis 3:22 and Genesis 11:7. And, several scriptures refer to all three members of the Godhead in the same passage, such as Matthew 28:19, Luke 3:22, John 14:16-17, John 15:26 and 2nd Corinthians 13:14. Also, in John 8:17-18, Jesus refers to the Father and Himself as being two distinct and separate witnesses. Furthermore, in John 1:1-2, the Bible states that Jesus was “with” God, and yet that Jesus Himself was also God; this would require a “plural” Godhead.
The baptism of the Holy Spirit is one of the many “works” done by the Spirit. Some other important works of the Holy Spirit are listed in this paragraph. He is our Comforter, Helper or Counselor (John 14:16-17). He teaches us and brings the things Jesus said back to our remembrance (John 14:26). He testifies of Jesus (John 15:26). He convicts of sin, of righteousness and of judgment (John 16:7-11). He guides us into truth and tells us “things to come” (John 16:13). He glorifies Jesus (John 16:14). He “dwells” in us (Ephesians 2:19-22; John 14:16-17). He “seals” us, and He is the deposit, earnest or guarantee of our inheritance (Ephesians 1:13-14; 2nd Corinthians 1:22). He produces the “fruit” of the Spirit in our lives, which is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). And, He gives us the following “spiritual gifts”: the word of wisdom, the word of knowledge, faith, gifts of healings, working of miracles, prophecy, discerning of spirits, tongues, interpretation of tongues, apostles, teachers, “helps”, administrations, evangelists, pastors, ministry, exhortation or encouragement, liberality or contributing to the needs of others, leadership and mercy (1st Corinthians 12:7-11; 1st Corinthians 12:28-31; Ephesians 4:8-13; Romans 12:6-8).
Having laid a biblical foundation regarding the Holy Spirit, we will now delve into a detailed study of “tongues” and the baptism of the Holy Spirit, which is a different baptism than our water baptism. It is important to understand that the baptism of the Holy Spirit comes from Jesus; He is the “Baptizer” (Matthew 3:11; John 1:29-33; Luke 24:49), and, as the passages in Matthew and John also reveal, the baptism of the Holy Spirit is a different and separate baptism, which is in addition to our water baptism. And, the purpose of this baptism is to bring us power to “be” witnesses (Acts 1:4-5; Acts 1:8).
The Bible lists “evidences” of having received the baptism of the Holy Spirit. To begin with, as stated in the previous paragraph, one evidence of having been baptized with the Spirit is the presence of a “new power” in our lives making us into “fulltime” witnesses for Christ, no longer just occasionally “doing” witnessing, but now “being” witnesses, with our entire lives reflecting the power and character of Christ (Acts 1:4-5; Acts 1:8).
The Bible reveals that another evidence of receiving the baptism of the Holy Spirit was the gift of “tongues” (speaking other languages), which is one of the “spiritual gifts” mentioned in 1st Corinthians chapter twelve (Acts 2:1-11; Acts 10:44-48; Acts 11:15-17). All of the scriptures I just listed mentioned a gift of tongues that gave the disciples the supernatural ability to speak in other “human languages”. In Acts chapter 2, it specifically states that the disciples were speaking in the people’s own various “tongues” or dialects, so the “tongues” referred to in this text were obviously “understandable” human languages. And, in the incident regarding tongues in Acts chapter 10, and which Peter recounts in the Acts chapter 11 passage, Peter states that the gentiles received the “same gift” as the disciples had received (Acts 11:17); that gift, as previously stated, was speaking “understandable” human languages. There is another scripture, Acts 19:1-7, which also mentions “tongues” being spoken by 12 men after the Holy Spirit came upon them. However, this text does not specifically state that these tongues were “understandable” human languages. And, the Scriptures do reveal another “type” of tongues in 1st Corinthians chapter 14 that we will discuss later, which is stated to be a “non-understandable” language; moreover, this type of tongues is repeatedly compared to the gift of prophecy in that chapter, as though it was also a “spiritual gift”. Thus, this type of tongues, a “non-understandable” language, could also be another evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
The gift of prophecy, another one of the “spiritual gifts” listed in 1st Corinthians chapter 12, was another evidence of having received the baptism of the Holy Spirit (Acts 19:1-7; Acts 2:14-18). In the Acts chapter 19 text, the Bible states that the twelve men “prophesied”. In the Acts chapter 2 passage, after the Holy Spirit had fallen upon them, Peter states that the people were seeing the fulfillment of an Old Testament prophecy made by the prophet “Joel”; part of that prophecy was that men and women would “prophesy”. Therefore, if Joel’s prophecy was being fulfilled by the disciples, at least some of them must have been given the “spiritual gift” of prophecy when the Holy Spirit came upon them.
In 1st Timothy 4:14 and 2nd Timothy 1:6, the Bible states that Timothy was given an unspecified “gift” when Paul and the eldership “laid hands” on him, which, according to Scripture, is one of the ways in which people receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit, which we will discuss later. So, once again in these two texts, we see another “spiritual gift” resulting from receiving the Holy Spirit.
How do you prepare for and receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit? To begin with, we should “ask” for it (James 4:2; Luke 11:9-13). In James 4:2 we are told that “we do not have because we do not ask”. And, in Luke 11:9-13, Jesus tells us to “ask”, and it will be given to us; moreover, He specifically relates this to the gift of the Holy Spirit in verse 13.
We also need to “repent” (Acts 2:38). In this scripture, Peter told the people to “repent” in order to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
A willingness and commitment to be “obedient” is another prerequisite to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit (James 4:3; Psalm 66:18; Acts 5:32). James 4:3 says that, even when we do “ask”, we will not receive if we’re asking for the wrong reasons of our own personal pleasures or lusts; such as, in the case of the baptism of the Holy Spirit and the “spiritual gifts” resulting from it, perhaps asking for this “baptism” and the spiritual gifts that would accompany it, because of a desire for the fame and power that might result from them. Also, Psalm 66:18 declares that, if we regard “iniquity” (sin) in our hearts, the Lord will not hear us. In other words, if we are holding on to known, cherished sin in our lives, we should not be expecting Jesus to bestow the baptism of the Holy Spirit upon us, or the “spiritual gifts” resulting from that baptism. As clearly stated in Acts 5:32, the Holy Spirit is given to those who “obey” God.
Another preparation for receiving the baptism of the Holy Spirit is “prayer” (Acts 1:14). This text says that, prior to receiving the baptism of the Holy Spirit, the disciples “continued” in prayer. The word, “continued”, used in this passage, implies a lifestyle filled with much time in prayer.
Reading the Scriptures is another way to prepare for the baptism of the Holy Spirit. In John 17:17, Jesus states that we are “sanctified” by the truth revealed in God’s word, the Bible. The original Greek word translated as “sanctify” in this text means to “make holy” or “consecrate”. The word “consecrate” is defined in the dictionary as being “set apart” as holy; devoted for “sacred use”. Likewise, in the “Strong’s Expanded Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible”, this Greek word is stated to include the meaning of being “set apart for God”. Therefore, as we study the Scriptures, we will become sanctified or “set apart” for God, and for the “sacred use” He has intended for us. Keeping this in mind, it is important to remember that, in Acts 1:8, we’re told that the baptism of the Holy Spirit will bring power upon us, which will make us to “be” witnesses for Jesus. Once we receive this baptism, we will no longer just occasionally “do” witnessing, but we will have been empowered and changed to actually “be” witnesses. In other words, “witnessing” will no longer be an “event”, but will have become a “lifestyle”; we will have been “set apart” as fulltime witnesses for Jesus Christ. When considering Jesus’ statement in John 17:17, about being sanctified or “set apart” by God’s word, part of the process of being prepared for the empowerment brought by the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and being “set apart” to be witnesses, is certainly studying the Holy Scriptures.
Another preparation to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit is to be in “accord/”one mind”/”agreement” with your brothers and sisters in Christ (Acts 1:14; Acts 2:1). The original Greek word that is translated as “accord” in the King James Translation encompasses all of the “meanings” I placed within quotation marks. In other words, these scriptures reveal that the disciples were in complete unity and agreement with each other; they had truly become of “one mind”.
How or when is the baptism of the Holy Spirit bestowed? It can come as a supernatural outpouring direct from God without the use of a human agent (Acts 2:1-4; Acts 10:44-48). The baptism of the Holy Spirit and its “gifts” can also come through the “laying on of hands” by the “eldership”/”church leaders”, such as happened with Peter, John and Paul (Acts 8:14-17; Acts 19:6; 1st Timothy 4:14; 2nd Timothy 1:6). And, Acts 2:38 reveals that the “gift” of the Holy Spirit can come at the time of a person’s water baptism.
It is now time to take a detailed look at the subject of “tongues”. To begin with, there are two “types” of gifts of tongues in the New Testament. Paul states that, though he speaks with the tongues of “men” and the tongues of “angels”, but does not have love, he is just like sounding brass or a clanging cymbal (1st Corinthians 13:1). So, Paul, a human being, refers to himself speaking, not only with the tongues of “men”, but also with the tongues of “angels”. Therefore, it is obviously possible for a human being to not only speak “human languages” (the tongues of men), but also to be able to speak with the “tongues of angels”, which would imply “nonhuman” languages.
We see the “tongues of men” demonstrated in Acts 2:1-11. In this passage, after receiving the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the disciples were supernaturally empowered to speak in the various tongues or dialects of the many different people groups who were present. However, in 1st Corinthians 14:1-19, a different “type” of language is discussed. This scripture reveals a non-understandable, “spiritual” tongue or language that could be the “tongues of angels” referred to by Paul in 1st Corinthians 13:1. The next few paragraphs present some important “points” derived from the individual verses of this 1st Corinthians chapter 14 passage.
1st Corinthians 14:2 clearly reveals that the type of “tongue” or language referred to in this text is not a human language such as French, Spanish etc, because it states that no one understands this “tongue/language”. Furthermore, it says that this “tongue” is not speaking to men, but to God.
1st Corinthians 14:4-5 compares this type of “tongue” to the gift of prophecy. It states that, whereas prophecy edifies the church, this tongue only edifies the speaker himself, unless the spiritual gift of “interpretation” is also present. This is another indication that this “tongue” is not human languages, but rather is a “non-understandable” language. A gift of speaking other human languages, of speaking French to Frenchmen or speaking Spanish to Spaniards would not require an interpreter, and it would also edify the listeners, not just the speaker. In Acts chapter 2, when the baptism of the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples, the “tongues” spoken by them did not require an interpreter because they spoke in the various human languages of the people who were present. However, this is not the case with the type of “tongue” referred to in 1st Corinthians chapter 14, where a “spiritually gifted” interpreter is required in order for this type of tongue to be understood. In the “Acts” and “Corinthians” passages we obviously have two different types of “tongues” or languages; one is human languages, and the other is some kind of non-understandable “spiritual” language, possibly the “angelic” language (tongues of angels) referred to in 1st Corinthians 13:1. And, although this non-understandable language only edifies the speaker, it is still revealed to be important in 1st Corinthians 14:5, because the Apostle Paul states that he wishes that “all” spoke with this type of tongue.
In 1st Corinthians 14:14-15, Paul states that, if he prays in this type of tongue, his “spirit” is praying, but his understanding is unfruitful; that is, he does not understand what he is praying about, which again emphasizes that this “tongue” is not an understandable human language. He then says that he prays and sings both ways, “with the spirit” and also “with understanding”; Paul used both types of tongues.
In 1st Corinthians 14:16-17, Paul says that, if you bless or give thanks “with the spirit”, you may have given thanks well, but the other person (the listener) is not edified. So, once again, when you speak in this type of tongue, you are speaking a language that cannot be understood by others. Also, in this text and in the previous passage, when you speak, pray or sing in this type of tongue, it is referred to as doing so “with the spirit”. This type of tongue is obviously some kind of “spiritual language”.
In 1st Corinthians 14:18-19, Paul again contrasts between speaking in this “type of tongue” and speaking an understandable language in church. Thus, this text also clearly reveals that the type of “tongue” mentioned in 1st Corinthians chapter 14 is not a human language; it is some kind of non-understandable “spiritual language”, perhaps the “tongues of angels” referred to by Paul in 1st Corinthians 13:1.
So, what is the purpose of this “spiritual language”? One purpose was mentioned in a scripture we read earlier. In 1st Corinthians 14:4, the Apostle Paul stated that speaking in this type of tongue or language “edifies” us.
Another purpose was alluded to in 1st Corinthians 14:14-15. In this passage we see that speaking in this type of tongue or language helps us to move from the “intellectual realm” to the “spiritual realm”.
When reading Ephesians 5:19, Colossians 3:16 and 1st Corinthians 14:15 we see another potential purpose revealed. These texts reveal that this type of tongue or language apparently gives us another “vehicle” for praise and worship. Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 speak of singing in “psalms”, “hymns” and “spiritual songs”. We know that many of the Old Testament psalms were written to be sung, and also to be accompanied by musical instruments. The original Greek word, which spelled in English is “humnos”, is the word translated as “hymns”. According to the “Strong’s Expanded Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible”, this word denotes a song of praise to God. However, the term, “spiritual songs”, has a unique and interesting meaning. The original Greek word, which spelled in English is “oday”, is the word translated as “songs”. The original Greek word, which spelled in English is “pneumatikos”, is the word translated as “spiritual”. Thus, when these two words appear together, it is correctly translated as “spiritual songs”, as done in these two scriptures. And, according to the “Strong’s Expanded Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible”, when defining the meaning of the Greek word, “pneumatikos” (spiritual), it states in section “4b” of that definition, regarding its usage in Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16, that these “spiritual songs” are songs about things revealed by the Spirit. Therefore, these songs come directly from the Holy Spirit. This sounds very similar to what Paul was saying in 1st Corinthians 14:15, when he said that he sings with the spirit. And, in this 1st Corinthians 14:15 passage, he contrasts and differentiates between singing “with the spirit” and singing “with the understanding”; thus teaching us that to be singing “with the spirit” is to be singing without understanding what you are saying. It is also interesting that the word translated as “spiritual” (pneumatikos) in the Ephesians and Colossians texts, is a derivative of the Greek word, “pneuma”, which is translated as “spirit” throughout the New Testament, and very frequently refers to the Holy Spirit; moreover, it is the word that Paul uses in 1st Corinthians 14:15 when he states that he sang with the “spirit”. So, the word translated as “spiritual” in the “spiritual songs” mentioned in Ephesians and Colossians, is a derivative of the word translated as “spirit” in the 1st Corinthians passage where Paul stated that he “sang” with the “spirit”. Based on all of this information, there is a strong possibility, if not a probability, that the type of “spiritual songs” referred to in Ephesians and Colossians, are the same kind as Paul “sang with the spirit” in Corinthians; that is, singing without understanding.
Romans 8:26-27 also reveals another apparent purpose of this type of tongue or language. According to this scripture, it enables us to pray for “real needs”. This text states that we do not know what we ought to be praying for, so the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with “groanings which cannot be uttered” (King James Translation), or with “groans that words cannot express” (NIV Translation). Once again, the wording used in this text is quite unique and interesting. It speaks of the Holy Spirit more or less “taking over” praying for us, because, as finite human beings, we often do not know the right things to pray for; furthermore, it states that the Spirit prays with “groans” that human words cannot express. Therefore, in this Romans passage, the prayers being uttered by the Holy Spirit are using a language not of human origin, and thus not understandable by human beings, just as in 1st Corinthians chapter 14. Are Romans 8:26-27 and 1st Corinthians chapter 14 speaking about the same thing? Is the non-understandable “prayer language” mentioned by Paul, when he speaks of praying in or with the spirit in 1st Corinthians 14:14-15, the same as the Spirit’s interceding for us with “groans that words cannot express” in Romans 8:26-27? There is certainly again a strong possibility, if not a probability, that the Romans and 1st Corinthians passages are indeed speaking about the same thing; that is, they are teaching us that the Holy Spirit, who dwells in us, does offer a special, non-understandable “spiritual language” to pray to God with, in which the Holy Spirit actually prays in us and through us for the things that we truly need, and which are for our best eternal welfare.
There is at least one additional “possible” purpose or benefit of this “spiritual language”. Perhaps this non-understandable “spiritual language” cannot be understood by Satan either, because 1st Corinthians 14:2 does state that it is only understood by God. And, if Satan cannot understand it, then he cannot influence it. When we are praying with our normal human language, Satan can put thoughts and words in our minds that could potentially influence our prayers in the wrong direction. However, if the Spirit is praying in us and through us in a language that Satan does not understand, he cannot influence it.
When discussing this “spiritual language” it is important to mention some other requirements taught by Scripture. The Bible has placed strict guidelines governing the usage of “tongues” in the church. Unfortunately, these guidelines are being ignored and disobeyed by the vast majority of churches who believe in and practice the usage of tongues in their church services. People are often allowed and even encouraged to speak in “unknown tongues”, as if it was somehow blessing and edifying the church body, although no one understands what they are saying. In fact, sometimes the entire congregation is prompted to pray audibly in tongues at the same time, as if it is in accordance with God’s will. However, the Apostle Paul said that he would rather speak just five words in an understandable language in church, so that others may be taught by what he said, than to speak ten thousand words in a non-understandable tongue (1st Corinthians 14:18-19). He also said that, if any unbelievers come into a church service where everyone is audibly speaking in tongues, they will think that the church members are “out of their minds” or “insane” (1st Corinthians 14:23). Furthermore, as previously stated, the Bible has established strict guidelines regarding the usage of tongues in church. No more than a maximum of three people are allowed to speak in tongues in a church service, and, they are not allowed to speak simultaneously; they must take turns. Moreover, if an interpreter is not present, so that others can understand what is said, they are to keep silent in church (1st Corinthians 14:27-28)! These biblical requirements governing the speaking of tongues in a church service are “crystal clear”, yet they are ignored and disobeyed by the overwhelming majority of churches who practice the usage of this “spiritual language”.
The Bible’s teaching about the baptism of the Holy Spirit is clear, and it is important that we believe in, esteem and seek this baptism. Likewise, the Scriptures’ teaching about the gift of tongues is also clear, and it should be both esteemed and obeyed.