Today we will continue our journey through the book of Acts. After previously taking an in-depth look at the events that occurred on Pentecost in AD 31, last time I provide an historical overview of tongues speaking within Christianity during the past 2000 years.  We saw that while there were outbreaks of tongues speaking at various times in isolated branches of the Church during the past 2000 years, overall there was little evidence of tongues speaking in general until an outbreak of this phenomenon in the early 1900’s which lead to the inauguration of the Pentecostal Church AKA The Assemblies of God. 

       We have seen that modern day speaking in tongues is not the kind of tongues speaking as seen at Pentecost AD 31. Two weeks ago we took a close look at the tongues event associated with the conversion of the centurion Cornelius and his family and friends and determined that their tongues speaking was the same as that seen at Pentecost.  They spoke extant, understandable languages as opposed to the ecstatic tongues experienced by modern day tongues speakers.

       Today we will look at several other occurrences of tongues speaking in the book of Acts and then move to Paul’s extensive treatment of this issue in his first letter to the Corinthians.    

Tongues and the Samaritans:

       Let’s begin by looking at a very interesting event that occurred in Samaria. During this event we do not see anything recoded about speaking in tongues but it is certainly inferred by what happened.

       Acts 8:8-19: Now for some time a man named Simon had practiced sorcery in the city and amazed all the people of Samaria.  He boasted that he was someone great, and all the people, both high and low, gave him their attention and exclaimed, "This man is the divine power known as the Great Power." They followed him because he had amazed them for a long time with his magic. But when they believed Philip as he preached the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.

       Simon himself believed and was baptized. And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw. When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them.  When they arrived, they prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them; they had simply been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles' hands, he offered them money and said, "Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit."

       Here we see a number of Samaritans responding to the Gospel and being baptized but not receiving the Holy Spirit until Peter and John lay hands on them sometime later. We then see the sorcerer Simon trying to buy the ability to lay hands on people so that they receive the Holy Spirit. 

       Simon, being the sorcerer he was, must have seen some outward manifestation of these Samaritans receiving the Spirit to make him want the power to duplicate what Peter and John did.  Since we see speaking in tongues as the outward witness of receiving the Spirit on Pentecost and at the Cornelius event, there is good reason to believe Simon heard these Samaritans speaking in tongues.  If indeed they were speaking in tongues, why did they do so and was it the same kind of tongues spoken on Pentecost and at the Cornelius event?

       We have seen that the tongues spoken on Pentecost were real languages and the miracle of speaking in tongues gave witness to the giving of the Holy Spirit.  The tongues speaking by the Cornelius group gave witness to the Gentiles receiving the Holy Spirit and God accepting Gentiles on an equal basis with Israel as to the promise of salvation through Christ even though Gentiles did not keep the Mosaic regulations.  If indeed the Samaritans did speak in tongues as the context of Acts 8 indicates, what purpose was served? 

        The Samaritans were a third group of people to whom the gospel message was preached.  At Pentecost it was Israel. In going to the house of Cornelius, it was the Gentiles.  Now it was the Samaritans. The Samaritans were a hybrid group of people.  They were the descendants of the Israelites who had intermarried with the Assyrians and other nationality groups during the Assyrian captivity.  They had their own temple and their own worship system. They had developed a hybrid form of Judaism wherein they combined Mosaic regulations with various practices of pagan worship. 

       There was great animosity between the Jews and the Samaritans, more so than between Jews and Gentiles.  So when the Samaritans accepted the Christian message it was another giant step forward in the growth and development of the Christian Church.  If tongues speaking did indeed occur at the laying on of hands by Peter and John, it would have served as confirmation of the fact that even these despised Samaritans were accepted by God and were to be included in the community of Christians.

       The receiving of the Holy Spirit by the Samaritans may have been purposely delayed by God so that leadership from the Jerusalem church would have the opportunity to make a connection with them and see firsthand that God was indeed giving His Spirit to the Samaritans just as He did to the Gentiles.     

       It must be remembered that starting with the events that took place at Pentecost, a great deal of change was taking place as to how one relates to God.  Covenantal transition was taking place were the Mosaic system was being slowly phased out and replaced by the New Covenant System, a system open to all of mankind. It wasn’t easy for the Jewish Christians and their leadership to move from a system based on ethnicity and exclusiveness to a system of inclusiveness where all peoples could be included in the Israel of God. So if the Samaritans did speak in tongues, it probably was for the express purpose of demonstrating that all peoples were being accepted by God, even those despised Samaritans. 

       If tongues speaking did take place at this event, there is no reason to believe it was a different kind of tongues speaking than what took place at Pentecost.  Peter and John would have recognized Samaritan tongue speaking as confirming the giving of the Holy Spirit to the Samaritans just as it confirmed the giving of the Spirit to them on Pentecost.  As has been shown, the tongues speaking at Pentecost was the speaking of known languages.

 Tongues at Ephesus:  

       While visiting Ephesus, Paul found around 12 men who are identified as disciples.  We are not told whose disciples these men were but this becomes rather evident as we read the narrative.

       Acts 19: 1-6: While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples and asked them, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?"   They answered, "No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit." So Paul asked, "Then what baptism did you receive?"   "John's baptism," they replied. Paul said, "John's baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus." On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied.

       It is apparent these men had been disciples of John the Baptist. From the narrative it appears they knew about Jesus but had little knowledge beyond that.  It is evident they knew nothing about the Pentecost event and the arrival of the Holy Spirit.  Once they learned more from Paul, they were baptized and received the Holy Spirit witnessed by speaking in tongues and prophesying.   

       At the Pentecost event Peter told the crowd to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins and upon doing this they would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  It’s recorded that some 3000 were baptized that very day. We must assume they received the gift of the Holy Spirit as Peter had promised. However, there is no evidence of these 3000 converts’ speaking in tongues. So why did these men that Paul baptized speak in tongues? 

      When Paul was baptized, there is no record of him speaking in tongues at the time of his baptism (see Acts 9). However, Paul obviously had received the Holy Spirit and must have been knowledgeable about both the Pentecost and the Cornelius event where speaking in tongues accompanied the giving of the Holy Spirit. Having such knowledge would have included knowing that the tongues spoken were extant, recognizable languages.

      This being the case, when Paul heard these Ephesian men speak in tongues, there is every reason to believe they spoke in extant, recognizable languages. Why the men Paul baptized at Ephesus spoke in tongues we can’t be sure. Maybe it was simply to demonstrate to Paul and these Ephesians that the Holy Spirit was available to those who had undergone John's baptism but that now one much greater than John had come.   


       Every event we have looked at so far were tongues were spoken was an event where tongues confirmed the giving of the Spirit under unique circumstances.  Pentecost was a unique situation.  Giving of the Spirit to the Gentiles and the Samaritans were unique situations. Even the speaking in tongues by the twelve men at Ephesus was a unique situation in that they apparently had not been baptized into Christ and consequently had not received the Holy Spirit. 

       In the four events we have thus far discussed, there is no evidence that anyone was seeking to speak in tongues or was expecting to speak in tongues. While the tongues speakers on Pentecost were expecting the coming of the Holy Spirit because it had been promised by Christ, there is no evidence they expected to experience this event by speaking in unlearned languages. There is no record of Jesus teaching them the tongues would be the sign of the giving of the Holy Spirit. It just happened that way. There is no evidence those at the house of Cornelius expected to speak in tongues. It just happened. The same could be said about the Ephesians and the Samaritan’s.   

       Modern day tongue speaking is often the result of seeking to receive the Spirit through extensive prayer and supplication with the goal being speaking in tongues as a witness to having been baptized with the Holy Spirit.  While it is maintained that the goal is seeking baptism of the Holy Spirit and not tongues per se, those who seek this baptism aren’t satisfied until and unless they experience tongues as it is believed this is the only way this baptism can be confirmed. Some spend years seeking to speak in tongues as a witness to having received the baptism of the Spirit. 

        This contrasts sharply with how we see tongues manifested in the four events we have examined so far.  In the four events we have examined, we don’t see tongue speaking being sought after.  In fact, we don’t see the Holy Spirit sought after.  At Pentecost, we see the Holy Spirit being given as prophesied.  With the Gentiles, we see the Spirit falling on them while Peter was speaking.  With the Samaritans and Ephesians, we see the Spirit given in response to the laying on of hands. 

       Furthermore, when modern day tongues are spoken, they differ sharply from the tongues we see spoken at Pentecost and seemly spoken by the Gentiles, Samaritans and the Ephesian men.  The tongues spoken at Pentecost and the other tongues events we have discussed all appear to be the speaking of known languages.  Modern day tongues’ speaking has not been shown to be any known language.  But, what about Paul’s discussion of tongues within the context of spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12-14.

Tongues and the Corinthians:

       In Paul’s letter to the Corinthian Church, Paul enters into a rather lengthy discussion of the tongues issue.  Paul is teaching that tongues are one of several gifts of the Spirit. 

       1 Corinthians 12:1: Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant.

       After several additional comments Paul goes on to list a number of spiritual gifts one of which is the gift of speaking in others tongues. 

       1 Corinthians 12:8-10: To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues.

       There are two questions we must ask here:  Is Paul discussing a different kind of tongues than that witnessed at Pentecost and two, what purpose was served by the granting of this gift of speaking in different kinds of tongues? 

       The manifestation of tongues at Pentecost in AD 31 appears to have occurred for two reasons.  It demonstrated (was a sign) that the promised Holy Spirit had arrived.  Secondly, it got the attention of unbelievers in attendance so they would listen to what the Apostles had to say about the Christ event.

        In Corinthians, tongues are not seen as being for the purpose of demonstrating or signaling the arrival of the Holy Spirit as was true at Pentecost.                         

       These Corinthians knew the Spirit had come and they were partakers of the Spirit as demonstrated by the very fact they were being given gifts of the Spirit. However, as appears to be the case on the day of Pentecost, tongues appear to continue to be for the purpose of getting the attention of unbelievers. Paul clearly says as much as recorded in 1 Corinthians 14:22.

       1 Corinthians 14:22: "Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers.  

       As previously discussed, it is clear that the tongues spoken at Pentecost were extant languages that where currently being spoken by those present in Jerusalem to keep the Feast of Pentecost.  Even present day tongues speakers admit to this.  Is there reason to believe that the tongues Paul is discussing in his letter to the Corinthians are something different than real languages spoken by people on planet earth?  Are the tongues Paul speaks of some kind of worship language that is not related to known human languages?  Is there reason to believe Paul is dealing with the kind of tongues presently spoken by Pentecostals and others who practice what is technically referred to as glossolalia?

       Glossolalia is a technical word often used to describe modern day speaking in tongues.  It is a compound word taken from the Greek word glossa which means tongue or language and the Greek word laleo which means to speak, talk, chat or make a sound.  Is it glossolalia, as practiced in modern day tongues speaking, that Paul was dealing with in the Corinthian church?

       In 1 Corinthians 12:1, Paul addresses the issue of spiritual gifts by saying: “Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant.”  Paul is telling the Corinthians that he wants them to have understanding regarding spiritual gifts. Then he says something that will prove to be very important to our discussion of this issue of speaking in tongues.

       1 Corinthians 12:7: “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.”

      Paul is saying that the granting of spiritual gifts is for the common good.  In verses 8-11 Paul lists a number of spiritual gifts as we have already shown.

       Paul then goes on to analogize the makeup of the human body to that of the makeup of the church.  Paul speaks of the many parts of the human body and how all its parts play a role in how the body functions as a whole.  He sees the body of Christ in much the same way.  Its members are its parts and each part has a role to play for the good of the whole.  Paul makes this very evident when he writes the following:

       1 Corinthians 12:28-31: And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But eagerly desire the greater gifts.   And now I will show you the most excellent way.

       It is instructive that every one of the gifts Paul lists pertains to serving others in the body of Christ, the Church.  Tongues and the interpretation of tongues are listed in this grouping of gifts used to serve others.  Remember, in verse 7 we saw Paul saying “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good." Paul also makes it very evident that the various gifts of the Spirit are spread out among the Church membership and different members are given different gifts.  Not everyone is given the gift of apostleship, being a prophet, teacher or miracle worker and not everyone is given the gift of tongues or interpretation.  In verse 11 we read that,

       1 Corinthians 12:11: All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.

       It must be pointed out that Paul speaks of speaking in different kinds of tongues. This would imply extant human languages are being referenced here and not the kind of unidentifiable utterances spoken by some in today's Christian community.

       Paul appears to be saying that it is God through the Spirit who determines who has what gift.  He concludes this part of his letter by writing about desiring the greater gifts. He doesn't define what the greater gifts are. He them goes into a long discourse about how love supersedes and is far superior to the desiring of spiritual gifts.  This discourse is seen in chapter 13:1-7.  Upon completing his dissertation on love, Paul says the following:

       1 Corinthians 13:8-10 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears.

       Here Paul indicates that such things as prophecy, tongues and knowledge were imperfect and will cease when perfection comes. He doesn't identify what that perfection is or when it will come. Paul goes on to admonish the Corinthians to follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially prophecy.

       1 Corinthians 14:1:  Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy.

       Paul then goes on to seemly contrast the gift of prophecy with speaking in tongues.

       1 Corinthians 14:2-5: For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God. Indeed, no one understands him; he utters mysteries with his spirit. But everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort. He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church. I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. He who prophesies is greater than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may be edified.

       The Greek word translated “mysteries” has the basic meaning of a hidden or secret thing that is not obvious to the understanding.  The basic Greek word for prophet and prophecy in the NT has a wide range of meaning.  It can mean to foretell future events. It can also mean declaring the purposes of God through reproof and admonition.  In looking at how this word is used in the NT, it appears that much of the time it is used in the context of foretelling future events. 

       Paul sees the use of prophecy as a means of edifying others.  He sees prophecy as a means of strengthening, encouraging and comforting those who hear the prophecy.  Paul contrasts this with speaking in an uninterrupted tongue which Paul sees as only edifying the self and not the church.  Paul seems intent on having spiritual gifts edify the church and not just the self.

       Paul says that one who speaks in an uninterrupted tongue only edifies himself. The Greek word translated “edify” means to build something.  Paul is apparently using this word to say that to speak in a tongue and not have such tongue interpreted is to only build up the self but does nothing to build up the church. 

       1 Corinthians 14:6: Now, brothers, if I come to you and speak in tongues, what good will I be to you, unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or word of instruction?

       Paul continues to question the usefulness of speaking in different tongues in the presence of others if such tongues do not bring about some revelation, knowledge, prophecy or word of instruction?  Paul is essentially saying that if tongues spoken in the presence of others are not interpreted, of what value are they?  As we continue to address this issue, it will become apparent that Paul makes a distinction between speaking in tongues privately and doing so in the presence of others. We are also going to see that Paul identifies tongues as extant human languages and not just ecstatic utterances as appears to be what is spoken in modern day tongues speaking.