By Dr. Jay Zinn
At the turn of the 20th century, a Methodist evangelist by the name of Charles F. Parham opened a Bible School in Topeka, Kansas. He gave his 40 students an assignment to diligently study what the book of Acts showed to be the evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit and report back in three days. Each student’s findings were the same: every recipient baptized in the Holy Spirit spoke in “other” tongues. The result of this study sent them to their knees in prayer for God to bless them with this gift.
As it was for the 120 disciples on the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came upon these students and they began to speak in tongues. This event sparked a renewal and revival that spread across the Midwest and Southern California to a humble Los Angeles mission on Azusa Street.
By 1906, people came from all over the world to Azusa to see this experience and hear more about it from the leader of the mission, a pastor named William J. Seymour. Many who heard the message believed and received the baptism with the evidence of speaking in tongues, and took their experience back to their own countries. As in the case for all restored truth, this doctrine was not embraced by all and is still resisted to this day. It is my hope to shed some light on the controversies and misunderstandings that surround this subject of speaking in tongues.
Before I begin, let me say that the doctrine of speaking in tongues is “nonessential.” It is a matter of individual conviction and has no bearing on determining one’s salvation. It is not a heaven or hell issue, nor should it ever be an “us vs. them” in matters of any “nonessential” doctrines. Whatever our personal convictions are on this subject, let us follow the admonition of Paul in his letter to the Romans (12:10, 16): “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Live in harmony with one another.”
Four misunderstandings about the Baptism of the Holy Spirit
I have walked as a Christian for four decades and witnessed four misunderstandings that have kept hungry believers from receiving this gift.
MISUNDERSTANDING #1 — The “gift” of salvation and the “gift” of the Holy Spirit are the same gift and experience.
The Bible demonstrates there are two separate and distinct “gifts” from God in the life of the believer—the gift of eternal life and the gift of the Holy Spirit. Note the contrasts of the two experiences below:
The “Gift” of Eternal Life:
• Greek here for “gift” is: charisma
• Charisma: Romans 5:15, 16; 6:23
• Born of the Spirit
• Born Again of the Spirit
• Receive the Holy Spirit within
• Twelve Disciples (John 20:22)
• Samaritans (Acts 8:12)
• House of Cornelius (Acts 10:43)
• Ephesian disciples (Acts 19:1-2)
The “Gift” of the Holy Spirit:
• Greek here for “gift” is: dorea
• Dorea: Acts 2:38; 8:29; 10:45; 11:17
• Baptized (Filled) with the Spirit
• Anointed with the Spirit
• Receive the Holy Spirit upon
• Disciples 47 days later (Acts 2:1-4)
• Samaritans days later (Acts 8:14-17)
• House of Cornelius (Acts 10:44-46)
• Ephesian disciples later (Acts 19:1-6)
Until we recognize that the scriptural pattern reveals two experiences, the confusion will remain. The misunderstanding is in the belief that one receives all that the Holy Spirit has for us when we’re born again and no “other” experience follows. This belief is difficult to sustain in light of the above scriptures.
MISUNDERSTANDING #2 — The evidence of tongues for the baptism of the Holy Spirit does not apply to everyone and could be any one of the nine spiritual “gifts” in 1 Corinthians 12.
This belief exists because of a mistaken interpretation of 1 Corinthians 12:29-30, which reads: “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?” The obvious answer is “no.” But is this speaking in tongues in 1 Corinthians referring to the same speaking in tongues recurring in Acts? Let’s take a look at the differences. In the book of Acts, the consistent pattern of the evidence accompanying the baptism (gift) of the Holy Spirit was clearly—speaking in tongues:
“All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues.”
“While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.”
Acts 19:1-2, 6
“Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples and asked them, ‘Did you receive the [gift of] Holy Spirit when you believed?’ They answered, ‘No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.’ … When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied.”
NOTE: This evidence is confirmed by Jesus when he said: “These signs will accompany those who believe: … they will speak in new tongues.”
An important point is to be made here. Tongues is NOT the gift referred to when receiving the “gift” of the Holy Spirit. The anointing power itself is the gift, and tongues are simply the evidence of that—“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you.”
When prophets, priests, and kings were anointed in the Old Testament, oil was poured on them. When Jesus was anointed in the Jordan, the Holy Spirit—in the form of a dove—landed on him. And when the believers were anointed in the New Testament, the Holy Spirit came on them and they spoke in new tongues.
All anointings were accompanied with some tangible evidence or “sign” of their anointing. So the sign of the gift (tongues) isn’t the gift, it is the tangible evidence that you’ve just been anointed and clothed with power from on high (Luke 24:49).
The “power” of the Holy Spirit then becomes available to us in the nine gifts of the Spirit. This is why some recipients prophesied after they spoke in tongues, not before (see Acts 19:6).
In the Old Testament, the power to do what kings were anointed to do came after the oil (the tangible evidence) was poured on them:
1 Samuel 10:1, 6
“Then Samuel took a flask of olive oil and poured it on Saul’s head and kissed him, saying, ‘Has not the LORD anointed you ruler over his inheritance? ... The Spirit of the LORD will come powerfully upon you [Saul], and you will prophesy with them.’”
1 Samuel 16:13
“So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him [David] in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the LORD came powerfully upon David.”
In the New Testament, Jesus was anointed to operate in power after the dove (the tangible evidence) landed on him.
Luke 3:21-22; 4:1, 14, 18
“And as he [Jesus] was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. … Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan …. Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit …. ‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me [Jesus], because he has anointed me.’”
“What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee [water to wine] was the first of the signs [after his anointing] through which he revealed his glory; and the disciples believed in him.”
“God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil.”
The believers, too, were anointed to operate in power in the gifts of the Spirit after the Holy Spirit came on them with speaking in tongues (the tangible evidence).
“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you.”
“When Paul placed his hands on them [Ephesian disciples], the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied [the gift of prophecy].”
Thus we see a pattern:
Anointing + Tangible Sign = power to operate in the gifts of the Spirit.
A diligent study in the book of Acts reveals that believers who operated in any of the spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12, did so after they were anointed with the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues. This is where some of the misunderstanding occurs and needs to be clarified. The “gift of tongues” in 1 Corinthians 12 is not referring to the tongues found as a “sign” in the book of Acts. There is a difference. Please note below:
The “tongues” received as a sign of the baptism (gift) of the Holy Spirit is a private language used to “edify” the believer at any time he or she chooses:
1 Corinthians 14:2-4
“For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God. Indeed, no one understands them; they utter mysteries by the Spirit. … Anyone who speaks in a tongue edifies themselves.”
1 Corinthians 14:14-16
“For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays [mysteries to God], but my mind is unfruitful. So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit [mysteries to God], but I will also pray with my understanding; I will sing with my spirit [mysteries to God], but I will also sing with my understanding.”
1 Corinthians 14:18
“I [Paul] thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you.”
“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.”
“But you, dear friends, by building [edifying] yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit ….”
The “tongues” spoken in a church setting is one of the nine spiritual gifts used to “edify” the church as the Holy Spirit determines.
1 Corinthians 12:1-2
“Now about the gifts of the spirit, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uniformed.”
1 Corinthians 12:7-11
“Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit [i.e., a spiritual gift] 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. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he [the Holy Spirit] determines.”
1 Corinthians 12:30
“Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?” 1 Corinthians 14:5
“I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be edified.”
1 Corinthians 14:12
“Since you are eager for gifts of the spirit, try to excel in those that build up [edify] the church.”
1 Corinthians 14:26-28
“What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revxcelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up. If anyone speaks in a tongue, two—or at the most three—should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak [in tongues] to himself and God.”
1 Corinthians 14:39-40
“Therefore, my brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy [a spiritual gift], and do not forbid speaking in tongues [a spiritual gift, to be followed by an interpretation]. But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.”
So when a person is baptized (anointed) with the gift (power) of the Holy Spirit, they do not receive the spiritual gift of tongues referred to in 1 Corinthians 12, they receive a personal language of tongues as a sign. Note the distinction—tongues as:
A SIGN – Mark 16:17; Acts 2:4; 19:6
• All may speak at one time
• All may speak in this setting
• No interpretation is required
A GIFT – 1 Corinthians 12 and 14
• Only one may speak at a time
• Two, at the most, three may speak
• Each tongue must be interpreted
Thus 1 Corinthians 12:30 is not referring to the “tongues” given as a sign spoken when baptized in the Holy Spirit; it is referring to the spiritual gift of tongues brought forth in the church setting to be followed by the gift of interpretation. It is out of context to use the 1 Corinthian 12:30 text to teach that not everyone will speak in tongues when they’re baptized in the Holy Spirit. What is more legitimate to teach is that not everyone who speaks in tongues (their prayer language) will be led by the Holy Spirit in a church service to bring a “tongue,” which is followed by an interpretation.
Is every spirit-filled believer who speaks in English going to bring forth a prophecy? No. Is every spirit-filled believer who speaks in a “prayer language” going to bring forth a tongue in the service? No. Two—or at the most—three. This is what 1 Corinthians 12:30 is really speaking about.
MISUNDERSTANDING #3 — Speaking in tongues has ceased and is no longer for today.
Let’s look at the text and context from which this teaching evolved:
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 completion comes, what is in part disappears.”
The context of this chapter is centered on “love,” which is eternal, versus “gifts,” which are temporal. We are to follow the way of love AND eagerly desire spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 14:1). We need the gifts motivated by love, today, yet when Jesus returns, the need for the gifts will become obsolete. Love will prevail, yes, but the gift of prophecy, the gift of tongues, and the gift of the word of knowledge will all cease to exist. They’re needed only for this temporal, incomplete life, until our complete eternal life has come.
So to use this as a premise to disavow tongues for today is inconsistent with the context. If this context means tongues have already ceased, the question is, when did they cease? There is no historical account of this ceasing in the book of Acts. That’s because Peter said that this gift which Jesus promised (Acts 1:4-5) was for everyone the Lord calls (Acts 2:39). To say tongues had ceased before those yet were called, is to contradict the apostle Peter.
Have you been called? Absolutely! So enjoy what God promised is yours.
MISUNDERSTANDING #4 — It is dangerous to not know what you’re speaking, it could be made up or opening yourself up to a demon, speaking a demonic language.
When I first spoke in tongues I immediately recognized I couldn’t understand the language, and there is a good reason why. The apostle Paul said that our “spirit” is speaking mysteries to God and, therefore, will not be understood by our minds (1 Corinthians 14:2). This is why it is called an unknown tongue. Paul further explained that, when we speak in tongues, our mind (soul) is not producing the language; instead, it is coming from the Holy Spirit through our “spirit” (1 Corinthians 14:14).
Proverbs 20:27 says:
“The human spirit is the lamp of the LORD that sheds light on one’s inmost being.”
Apparently the physical location of the human spirit is in the middle section of the body. When our conscience is pricked, a physical reaction occurs in our gut (like butterflies). Proverbs 20:7 also indicates that our spirit is the Lord’s lamp (i.e., the conscious awareness of the existence of God).
When Adam and Eve were created, God designed them in his image as three-part beings. Therefore, we all have a body, a soul, and a spirit (see 1 Thessalonians 5:23).
The body (our world-conscious part) is the visible, physical home of our invisible soul and spirit.
The soul (our self-conscious part) is our mind and comes from the Greek word, psuche, which is where the word psychology (study of the mind) comes from.
The spirit of man is our God-conscious part.
This is how our soul (the mind) can have its own language while our spirit receives and speaks in another language when we are baptized in the Holy Spirit.
What happens when a Christian speaks in tongues?
When we speak in tongues:
• The Holy Spirit (in us) enables our “spirit” to speak in a new language (Acts 2:4).
• We speak “mysteries” to God with our spirit (1 Corinthians 14:2).
• We pray in a language we don’t understand (1 Corinthians 13:1; 14:2, 15-16).
• We pray “in the Spirit” with our spirit, which builds up our faith (Jude 20).
• We pray a prayer that God understands, and it edifies us (1 Corinthians 14:4a).
• We pray a perfect prayer because its source is in the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:4).
• The Holy Spirit intercedes for us in our weakness (Romans 8:26-27).
• The chaff (of sin) in our lives is burned up (Isaiah 4:4; Matthew 3:11-12).
• We receive greater boldness to witness (Acts 1:8; 4:13, 31).
I have led hundreds of people into this experience and often come across someone who asks me, “What if God doesn’t want to give tongues to me, or what if I get a demon instead?” These are legitimate questions and here’s what I show them. Jesus says in Luke 11:9-13:
“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you … for everyone who asks receives …. Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will he give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will he give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
If we ask God for the “gift” of the Holy Spirit, which God initiated, and it says in his Word that it is ours for the asking, why would he not give it to us? Parents give good gifts—not harmful gifts—to their own children. How much more then will our heavenly Father give us the Holy Spirit when we ask him? God not only wants to give us the baptism of the Holy Spirit, but he’ll give us exactly what we asked for, and not a demonic spirit.
How to Receive the Gift of the Holy Spirit
First, you must repent (be willing to turn from everything the Bible calls sin) and accept Jesus Christ as your Lord (Master) and Savior (Acts 2:38-39; Romans 10:8-13). If you’ve already done this then understand, believe and act upon these steps:
• It is Biblical (be thoroughly convinced through examining the scriptures).
• It is God’s will for you (Ephesians 5:17-18).
• It is applicable for today’s Christian (Mark 16:17; Acts 2:39).
• It is not your salvation experience, but distinct from it (Acts 8:14-17).
• It is evidenced by speaking in a language (tongue) you won’t understand because it comes from your spirit and not your mind (Mark 16:17; 1 Corinthians 14:2 and 15).
• It is for your spiritual growth and edification (1 Corinthians 14:4a; Jude 20).
• It brings the supernatural power (anointing) of God to operate in the gifts of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:1-11). This is what happened to Jesus after he was anointed by the Holy Spirit at the Jordan River:Luke 4:1 — “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness.”Luke 4:14 — “Jesus returned to Galilee in the power [Greek: dunamis] of the Spirit.”
• Jesus promised this same Holy Spirit power to the disciples to operate in the gifts:Luke 24:49 — “I [Jesus] am going to send you what my Father promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”
Acts 1:8 — “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you.”Acts 19:6 — “The Holy Spirit came on them, … they spoke in tongues and prophesied [the gift of prophecy].”
• You must really want this gift, and believe God will give you what you have asked for (Luke 11:9-13; Hebrews 11:6; James 1:6-7).
• Jesus is the baptizer in the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:11; Luke 24:49). Ask HIM to baptize you with the evidence of an unknown tongue.
• After you ask, say nothing more in the language or languages you understand because your mind won’t be producing the new language (1 Corinthians 14:14). It will come from your spirit (i.e., out of your belly—see John 7:38). To speak from your mind is to shut off the valve from which the river of tongues flows out of your spirit.
• Understand that God uses your lips and your voice when you speak. You can’t speak with your mouth closed tight. Neither can you speak in tongues unless you begin to give voice, and step out to speak in a new language as the Holy Spirit gives the utterance. Speak it out loud. Faith is “acting on” the promises of God. Take action and give voice to your faith.
• Once you begin to speak in tongues, relax and let it go. Keep speaking for as long as you wish. Your language will grow, and your faith will increase. Your spirit is now speaking mysteries to God so don’t give any thought to the fact that you don’t understand what you’re saying (1 Corinthians 14:2, 14).
• As you’re speaking there’s something else you can dowith your new language. Paul says, “So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit … I will sing with my spirit” (1 Corinthians 14:15). You can also sing in tongues! Put a tune to it, any tune. Sing in your new language! It’s fun!
• Pay no attention to the devil’s lies, such as: “You’re not really speaking in tongues; you’re just making it up!” If this happens to you, it is not uncommon. We have all experienced the same thoughts because it’s new and doesn’t seem possible; or our intellect tried to reject it because it seems foolish. Whatever the doubts, understand that Satan wants to keep you from having this gift. Ignore him and keep speaking in tongues. In time, the doubts will cease as your faith increases.
• Pray in tongues often like Paul (1 Corinthians 14:18). Understand that you can start and stop speaking in tongues at any time. You are in control of your praying. Tongues will not come without you initiating it (1 Corinthians 14:15).