ARIs Speaking in Tongues the Necessary Evidence of Receiving the Holy Spirit?Is it biblical to say that speaking in tongues is the necessary evidence of receiving the Holy Spirit? Does everyone who receives the Holy Spirit speak in tongues? To answer these questions, let us look at the apostolic experience and ask, "How did the apostles know whether a person had received the Holy Spirit?"When does a person receive the Holy Spirit? The common belief is when he or she accepts Jesus Christ as their Savior. Yet the accounts in Acts indicate that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is a separate event that usually takes place after a person's acceptance of Christ and baptism. The baptism of the Holy Spirit is also contingent on whether a person accepts the complete gospel of salvation. The article examines the apostolic precedent, as well as the difference between preaching and praying in tongues mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12.
Examining Prevalent Views
The Apostolic Experience
Do All Speak with Tongues? (1 Corinthians 12)
What Shall I Do?
When does a person receive the Holy Spirit? The common answer, "upon
accepting Jesus Christ," is based on the following rationale:
- A person is saved immediately upon accepting Jesus Christ.
- The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is an integral part of God's saving
- Therefore, a person receives the Holy Spirit as soon as he or she accepts
Based on this view, many cannot accept that speaking in tongues is the
necessary evidence of receiving the Holy Spirit. The fact that many Christians
today are unable to speak in tongues seems to negate the possibility that
speaking in tongues is the evidence of receiving the Holy Spirit. If these
Christians are saved, can we say that they have not received the Holy Spirit?
The reasoning follows:
- Most Christians cannot speak in tongues.
- Every Christian has the Holy Spirit.
- Therefore, speaking in tongues is not the necessary evidence of receiving
the Holy Spirit.
A similar argument reasons:
- Many Christians practice good deeds and bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit.
- These Christians have the Holy Spirit but do not necessarily speak in
- Therefore, not everyone who has the Holy Spirit speak in tongues.
Although the necessity of tongues may seem to be totally unacceptable
according to the above rationales, we need to first examine their premises to
see whether they stand according to the truth of the Bible.
The Bible does teach that the promise of the Holy Spirit is for all believers
(Jn 7:37-39; Acts 2:38-39). But it never teaches that the Holy Spirit dwells in
believers the very moment they accept Jesus Christ into their hearts. The
indwelling of the Holy Spirit is an integral part of God's saving grace, but it
does not necessarily follow that this indwelling has to happen at the moment of
accepting Jesus Christ. In fact, the accounts in Acts indicate that the
indwelling of the Holy Spirit is a separate event that usually takes place after
a person's acceptance of Christ and baptism. The baptism of
the Holy Spirit is also contingent on whether a person accepts the complete
gospel of salvation.
While the good deeds of a professed Christian are due to the inspiration and
movement of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 12:3), we can see from the Bible that the
believers in the early church did not use good deeds to determine whether a
person has been baptized by the Holy Spirit. People may be moved by the Spirit
to accept Christ or perform good deeds, but that does not necessarily mean that
they have already received the indwelling Holy Spirit.
We also cannot use numbers as our guide. Although many professed Christians
today do not speak in tongues, this fact cannot rule out speaking in tongues as
the necessary evidence of receiving the Holy Spirit. To find the truth, we need
to go back to the Scriptures rather than judge by numbers.
Is it biblical to say that speaking in tongues is the necessary evidence of
receiving the Holy Spirit? Does everyone who receives the Holy Spirit speak in
tongues? To answer these questions, let us look at the apostolic experience and
ask, "How did the apostles know whether a person had received the Holy Spirit?"
Examining the accounts in Acts, we will easily see that receiving the Holy
Spirit was not simply a silent, inward occurrence. Rather, it involved an
obvious, external sign—the speaking of tongues.
(See also the section titled "The Apostolic Precedent" in the
"One Spirit" article)
Before His ascension, the Lord Jesus promised the disciples that they would
be baptized with the Holy Spirit in a few days (Acts 1:5). So the disciples
waited in the upper room in Jerusalem with prayer and supplication (Acts 1:12-14).
Obviously, the coming of the Holy Spirit had to be accompanied by some
evidence. If not, the disciples would not have had no way of knowing when the
Holy Spirit had actually come. On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came.
There came a sound from heaven, and divided tongues, as of fire, rested on each
one of the disciples. Then they all began to speak with other tongues, as the
Spirit gave them utterance (Acts 2:1-4). Because of the powerful experience,
which everyone could see and hear (Acts 2:33), the disciples knew that they had
received the Holy Spirit.
Many people argue that the external evidence of speaking in tongues was
necessary in this case because this was the first time in history that the Holy
Spirit was poured out. According to their view, such evidence would no longer be
necessary because the Holy Spirit, once poured out, would be with the church
forever. Anyone who believed in Christ thereafter would automatically have the
Holy Spirit in them.
Let us look at the subsequent accounts in Acts of people receiving the Holy
Spirit to see whether the above argument stands.
In Acts chapter 8, we read that the multitude in Samaria believed in the Lord
and was baptized. But their acceptance of Jesus Christ and their baptism were
not the evidence of receiving the Holy Spirit. Luke, the writer of Acts, tells
us that the apostles in Jerusalem sent Peter and John to Samaria because they
learned that the Holy Spirit had not fallen on any of them (Acts 8:14-16).
This account immediately calls into question the argument that the believers
since the Pentecost received the Holy Spirit automatically without any external
evidence. If this argument were true, Luke as well as the apostles in Jerusalem
must have been mistaken. But what made the apostles conclude that these
believers had not received the Holy Spirit? Some necessary evidence must have
been missing to lead them to that conclusion.
Peter and John came down to Samaria to pray for the believers that they might
receive the Holy Spirit. When the apostles laid hands on them, they received the
Holy Spirit. Although Acts does not describe the experience in detail, some
visible evidence must have accompanied the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, for
Simon saw that the Holy Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles'
hands (Acts 8:17-18). We may not be able to argue that, based on this passage,
speaking in tongues was the evidence in this case, but at the very least we know
that some kind of visible sign was the necessary evidence that allowed everyone
to see that the Holy Spirit had come to these believers.
Acts chapter 10 tells us that the Holy Spirit fell upon Cornelius and all the
others who heard Peter preaching:
And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came
with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the
Gentiles also. For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God. (Acts 10:45-46)
How did the circumcised brothers who were with Peter know that the Holy
Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles? The passage states very plainly:
they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God.
Since it was obvious that God had also chosen these gentile believers, Peter
said, "Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have
received the Holy Spirit just as we have?" (v. 47). Notice that Peter and his
companions were able to discern the pouring out of the Holy Spirit because
experience was identical to the disciples' own experience on Pentecost, when the
Holy Spirit enabled them to speak in tongues (see also Acts 11:15). Peter used
speaking in tongues as the criterion to determine that Cornelius and the others
had received the Holy Spirit. This was the way the apostles discerned the coming
of the Holy Spirit upon a believer. We ought to use the same approach today to
determine whether we have received the Holy Spirit.
Acts 19 records that Paul came to Ephesus and found some disciples. He said
to them, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" The disciples
replied that they had not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit. So Paul asked
them what baptism they had received and found out that they had only been
baptized into John's baptism. Then Paul preached to them about Jesus Christ and
baptized them in the name of the Lord Jesus.
Let us analyze this situation carefully. Why did Paul have to ask these
disciples whether they had received the Holy Spirit if he supposedly believed
the Holy Spirit is given the moment a person believes? Wouldn't this question be
redundant? He should have corrected them and said, "You already have the Holy
Spirit in you, but you just didn't realize it."
But suppose that these were disciples of John but not disciples of Jesus
Christ, meaning that they had not yet believed in Jesus Christ. Suppose Paul
asked them whether they had received the Holy Spirit in order to test whether
they believed in Jesus Christ. As it turned out, these believers had not been
baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. So they decided to be baptized
in the name of the Lord Jesus. When they made the decision to accept Jesus
Christ and be baptized, Paul had already accomplished the intended purpose
behind his question. At this point, he could have said, "now that you have
accepted Jesus Christ, you have also received the Holy Spirit." But Paul did not
Did these believers receive the Holy Spirit at that very moment? The answer
is "no." In fact, even as they were baptized, they still did not have the Holy
Spirit. Verse 6 reads, "And when Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit
came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied." The Holy Spirit
came upon them not when they decided to be baptized into Christ nor during their
baptism into Christ, but when they spoke with tongues and prophesied after
Notice that Luke records specifically that the Holy Spirit came upon them
when Paul had laid hands on them. How did Luke know that the Holy Spirit came
upon them at that very moment? The answer is that they spoke with tongues and
prophesied. If the Holy Spirit were given at the moment of accepting Jesus
Christ, and speaking in tongues were not the necessary evidence, Luke would not
have even needed to record that the Holy Spirit came on them subsequently. In
fact, it would have been wrong for Luke to say that the Holy Spirit came on them
when Paul laid hands on them and associate the coming of the Holy Spirit with
the speaking of tongues. But as the passage clearly demonstrates, speaking in
tongues is the evidence that accompanies receiving the Holy Spirit.
Indeed, these examples in Acts prove that speaking in tongues is the
necessary evidence of receiving the Holy Spirit.
"There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences
of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but
it is the same God who works all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is
given to each one for the profit of all: for to one is given the word of wisdom
through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, to
another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same
Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another
discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the
interpretation of tongues." (1 Cor 12:4-10)
"And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets,
third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps,
administrations, varieties of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are
all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? Do all have gifts of healings? Do all
speak with tongues? Do all interpret?" (1 Cor 12:28-30)
Chapter 12 of 1 Corinthians has often been cited to support the view that
speaking in tongues is not a necessary evidence of receiving the Holy Spirit.
According to these passages, different individuals in the church have different
gifts. Speaking with tongues is listed as one of the gifts. This implies that
not everyone in the church has the ability to speak with tongues. The answer to
the rhetorical question, "Do all speak with tongues?" is obvious: No, not all
speak with tongues. If not all speak with tongues, one may argue, than how can
tongues be the necessary evidence of receiving the Holy Spirit?
If we look carefully at the list of gifts in 1 Corinthians 12, we see that
"faith" is among the spiritual gifts (v. 9). The Spirit gives the gift of faith
to some, but not to others. Does this mean that faith is not necessary for all
Few would argue that, based on this verse, faith is not necessary for all
believers. But why does Paul list faith as a spiritual gift, something that not
every believer has? The answer lies in what kind of faith Paul is speaking of in
It is important to note that the purpose of the diverse spiritual gifts is to
build up the body of Christ. As Paul stated, "The manifestation of the Spirit is
given to each one for the profit of all" (v. 7). This means that the gift of
faith is given to some for the purpose of edifying the church. Believers who are
given this unique gift are able to demonstrate an unusually strong faith. Such
faith is different from the faith in the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation, a
faith that all believers ought to have. Whereas the faith that is required for
salvation is a faith that benefits the individual, the spiritual gift of faith
builds up other believers in the church. They serve two distinctly differently
Having seen the distinction between the two kinds of faith, we now return to
the subject of speaking in tongues.
Just as the faith referred to in 1 Corinthians 12 is different from the faith
required of all believers, the gift of speaking in tongues is different from the
speaking in tongues that is a sign of receiving the Holy Spirit. The speaking of
tongues referred to in 1 Corinthians 12 is preaching in tongues. Paul calls this
gift "different kinds of tongues" (v. 10). It is for the purpose of building up
the church. This is a gift that not every believer has, for it is distributed by
the Spirit according to His will. Since this gift is for the benefit of other
believers, it must be interpreted into a human language. That is why Paul
commanded the Corinthian church not to preach in tongues unless the tongues are
interpreted for the edification of the church (1 Cor 14:5, 27-28). For the same
reason, the gift of tongues mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12 is always accompanied
by the gift of interpretation of tongues (vv. 10, 30). Without interpretation,
preaching in tongues fails its intended purpose.
On the other hand, the speaking in tongues that accompanies the indwelling of
the Holy Spirit serves quite a different purpose; it is associated with prayer
and praise (Acts 2:11, 10:45-46). For this reason, we may call it "prayer in
tongues." When a person prays in a tongue, he is speaking to God, not to men
(1 Cor 14:2, 28). Its purpose is to edify the individual rather than the church
(v. 4), as Paul explained in Romans 8:
Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we
should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us
with groanings which cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the hearts knows
what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints
according to the will of God. (Rom 8:26-27)
During prayer, the Holy Spirit enables the believer to pray in tongues, which
are "groanings which cannot be uttered." The Holy Spirit intercedes for the
believer through a spiritual language for the believer's edification. When
spoken in prayer, tongues need not be interpreted because they are directed to
God, not to men.
Based on Paul's letter to the Corinthians, we see that they had confused the
two kinds of speaking of tongues. Many who did not have the special gift of
preaching in tongues presumed to have the gift, perhaps motivated by the desire
to compete with one another. They misused the tongues in prayer to preach to the
congregation. Without the ability to interpret what they were saying, and
without following the guidance of the Holy Spirit, these believers caused
confusion and disorder in the church.
In order to end this chaos, Paul had to warn them not to preach in tongues
unless someone could interpret the tongues. He drew a distinction between
preaching and praying in tongues. He instructed them that if there was no one to
interpret the tongues, they ought only to pray in tongues instead of using
tongues for preaching.
Once we understand the distinction between preaching and prayer in tongues,
we can also avoid misinterpreting Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 12. When he
asked, "Do all speak with tongues?", he was referring to preaching in tongues
for the edification of the church, not praying in tongues for the edification of
The aim of this study is not to debate over some finer points of theology.
Rather, it addresses a crucial and larger issue that confronts many Christians
today. We urge all sincere Christians to look at the apostolic experience and
see if they have also experienced the Holy Spirit in the same way.
If you have never experienced speaking in tongues, this means that you have
not yet received the Holy Spirit. If you are in a congregation where most or all
the members do not have this experience, it means that the Holy Spirit is not
present in your church. It is time to take action to find out how to receive the
precious promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of your heavenly
inheritance. To learn more about receiving the Holy Spirit, please read "How Do
I Receive the Holy Spirit?"