Christian Discussion on Pentecostal Beliefs

Tongues and Spirit-baptism: What Pentecostals believe

Speaking in tongues is a characteristic of Pentecostalism. What do Pentecostals believe about speaking in tongues? In particular, what is the relationship between their beliefs about baptism in the Spirit and their practice of speaking in tongues?

Evidence of baptism in the Spirit

After teaching that baptism in the Spirit is an experience of the Spirit for Christians subsequent to their regeneration/conversion, Pentecostalism maintains that the reception of tongues is the initial (physical) evidence of the reception of baptism in the Spirit. This teaching would give Christianity a doctrinal priority for the practice of speaking in tongues.

The initial evidence

Within the Charismatic movement some insist that the reception of tongues is not the only initial evidence of baptism in the Spirit; other evidences include the manifestation of other spiritual gifts; an increased level of power in life; an increased sense of joy; a greater experience of God’s love. However, traditional Pentecostalism insists that the act of speaking in tongues is an initial special evidence of Spirit-baptism that is always given by God to individual recipients.

The pattern in Acts

This emphasis is partly due to the Pentecostal view that in the book of Acts God has revealed a very close relationship that exists between the reception of tongues and baptism in the Spirit. This belief originated from a characteristic reading of the five narrative accounts in Acts previously described, in which Luke records examples of people being Spirit-baptised.(The first disciples, Acts 2:1-42; The Samaritans, 8:4-24; Saul, 9:1-19; Cornelius' household, 10:1-48; The Ephesian disciples, 19:1-7).

Three of these narratives describe the speaking in tongues of the recipients of baptism in the Spirit (The first disciples, Cornelius' household and the Ephesian disciples). In the case of the Samaritans it is certainly possible that they also spoke in tongues. In the case of Saul it is evident that he did speak in tongues after this event (Paul writes in 1 Cor 14:18, "...I speak in tongues..."), though it is unknown as to whether or not he did this when Ananias laid his hands on him.

The nature of 'tongues'

It is important to note however that in Pentecostalism tongues are generally viewed as a God given ‘prayer language,’ used mainly for prayer or praise in a private devotional sense (It is believed however that these tongues can serve other purposes, such as to ‘prophesy’ when used in conjunction with the gift of interpretation). By ‘prayer language’ it is meant that ‘tongues’ are not an actual language with definite structure and words that convey meaning in the same way that a normal language does; rather, they are ‘miraculous’ and ‘spiritual’ utterances - unitelligible to a speaker or hearer directly - and given by the Spirit for the purpose of edifying one’s spirit.

More on this topic

Speaking in tongues: The pattern in Acts

Baptism in the Spirit: The examples in Acts - Part II

Speaking in tongues: Why tongues were given