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Why I Speak in Tongues

William Arnold III

Five times in the book of Acts we read of people being filled with the Holy Spirit (in the case of Paul we only see Ananias telling him that he will receive the Holy Spirit). The first of these times is in Acts chapter two. There are about 120 believers in the upper room waiting for the promise of the Spirit. In verse four we read:

"And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance."

So here we have 120 people filled with the Holy Spirit and every one of them speaks in tongues. Some have said that tongues are only for some people and that not everyone needs this experience, but here we see that all of those who received the Spirit spoke with tongues. People have also tried to say that the reason that they spoke in tongues here was to preach the gospel to the other people. However, this is not what the scripture says. All it says is that when people heard this sound they came and heard them speaking in their own languages (vs. 5, 6). Verse 11 tells us what they heard, "We hear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God." When we look at their response in verses 12 & 13 we do not find the type of response we would expect from people who had just heard the gospel preached to them (which we do find after Peter is done preaching in verse 37). This view is just not Biblically founded.

Another occurrence of people receiving the Holy Spirit is in Acts chapter 10:

"44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word. 45 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. 46 For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God."

Not only do the Gentile believers here speak in tongues when they receive the Spirit, but the scripture shows us that the reason Peter and the other Jews knew that they had received the Spirit was because they spoke in tongues (v. 46). Now this is significant. Most people today believe that there is no outward sign when someone receives the Spirit, that only an inner change takes place. Well, as much as I might like to believe that, it is not what we find in scripture. In every occurrence we find an outward manifestation.

The disciples at Ephesus spoke in tongues when they received the Spirit:

"And when Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied." Acts 19:6

Now some would like to dismiss tongues because they prophesied as well, but tongues is what we repeatedly see as a pattern. Even so, there is still an outward sign every time someone receives the Holy Spirit.

Now we look back in Acts 8 (I left this one off purposely). This is the only occurrence of people receiving the Holy Spirit where it does not say that they spoke in tongues. However, I believe that this passage is probably the strongest indicator that tongues are normative for those who receive the Spirit. In verse 12 we read that the Samaritans believed and were baptized, but in verse 16 we see that they had not yet received the Holy Spirit. This completely destroys the idea of some that the Spirit is received instantly upon believing and of others that it is received at baptism, for these believers had done both and still had not yet received the Spirit. Furthermore, if no outward expression is expected then how did Peter and John know that none of these had received the Spirit? There had to be something that they expected when people received the Spirit for all of these Samaritans to have believed and been baptized yet they knew for sure that none of them had received it (14-16). Not only that, but verse 18 states that Simon saw that people received the Spirit through the laying on of hands. What did he see? He had already seen Philip do miracles (6, 13), and that didn’t impress him. But when he saw people receive the Holy Spirit then he offered the apostles money that he too might have that ability. There was obviously something outward that happened to impress this ex-sorcerer. So since we have seen elsewhere that tongues routinely accompany the outpouring of the Holy Spirit we naturally assume that Simon saw this same thing.

The final instance of someone receiving the Holy Spirit is Acts 9. Here we see Ananias telling Paul that Jesus sent him to pray for him that he might receive the Spirit. Now Luke does not go on to record the actual event, but Paul affirms elsewhere that he also spoke with tongues (I Cor. 14:18). So in four out of the five instances where people receive the Holy Spirit, the people who received it spoke in tongues. Furthermore, on the day of Pentecost at the first outpouring, all 120 of them spoke with tongues. And in the one case where it does not specifically say that they spoke in tongues (Acts 8), it is obvious something outward happened that Simon could see. It seems from scripture that speaking in tongues is the normative experience for those who receive the Holy Spirit.

So far we have looked at examples of people receiving the Spirit to show that it is routinely accompanied by speaking with other tongues. But now I would like to look at two passages that seem to specifically indicate that this experience is what is to be expected when someone receives the Holy Spirit. The first of these is John 3:8:

8 "The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit."

Now whatever analogy Jesus is making here it is very significant because He says, "So is everyone who is born of the Spirit." So whatever this means, it is to be characteristic of all those who have been Spirit-filled. In this passage I believe that Jesus is personifying the wind (speaking of it as if it were a person). This practice is not unusual in scripture. Wisdom is personified in Proverbs 8 & 9, the earth in Numbers 16: 32, etc. My reasoning for this passage is: (1) The word translated wind is pneuma which is also the word for spirit. (2) The wind is said to blow where it thelei (desires, wishes). The wind cannot desire. (3) Jesus speaks of its phone "fo-nay" (voice, sound). Now although this word can refer to just a sound, as W. E. Vine points out, it is "most frequently ‘a voice’" and so it is translated in the RV, ASV, DV and YLT. (4) Every neuter pronoun "it" can just as legitimately be translated "he." The Greek for the masculine and neuter in this passage are identical. (5) Finally, Jesus speaks of those who have been born of the pneuma (Spirit, wind). So since spirit and wind are both the same word in Greek, the original readers would not have seen the distinction that we do in the English. It is as though John (recording Jesus) is using a play on words, or using a word that has a dual meaning to refer to both of those meanings. In other words, the original readers would have heard something like this:

The pneuma blows where he/it wants to and you hear his/its voice but do not know where he/it comes from and where he/it goes; so is everyone who has been born of the pneuma.

or as Young translates it:

8 "the Spirit where he willeth doth blow, and his voice thou dost hear, but thou hast not known whence he cometh, and whither he goeth; thus is every one who hath been born of the Spirit". – Young’s Literal Translation

So now we come to the question of what is the analogy of the pneuma and those who have been born of the pneuma? Well it seems that Jesus’ point is that you can’t see the wind coming or going but you can identify it by its sound/voice and that this is the same way that those who have been born of the pneuma will be identified. Now I readily admit that Nicodemus would not have thought of tongues when he heard Jesus say this. However, as we have previously shown, speaking with tongues (the voice of the Spirit, Acts 2:4) routinely accompanied the infilling of the Holy Spirit and is really the only possible fulfillment of what Jesus said. His words definitely mean something, and he said "so is everyone who is born of the Spirit." If he is not talking about speaking with tongues then what could his words possibly refer to? Furthermore, the gospel of John was written many years after Pentecost and the readers would be looking at this already with the fulfillment of Acts 2 in mind.

Acts 2:3 Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them.

Now what pray tell is the significance of this? This is the first outpouring of the Spirit. About 120 people are praying and a separate tongue appears and sits on each one of them. Immediately in the next verse we read, "And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance." What is God trying to tell us here? Why a tongue of all things? Can you imagine seeing 120 fiery tongues appear in the air and then come to rest upon everyone’s head? What could it possibly mean? Could God be reaffirming what Jesus said in John 3:8 that "the voice of the Spirit" is the sign that we are to expect when someone is born of the Spirit? If not then what could possibly be the purpose of this? If you saw a tongue appear and rest upon everybody’s head and then heard them speak with other tongues the very first time the Holy Spirit was poured out what kind of a connection would you make of it? Once again this obviously means something and the most natural explanation is that this is the sign of a Spirit-filled believer. And of course to tie things up nicely, God didn’t leave the sound of the wind out (vs. 2).

I have heard this passage misquoted frequently. People often say "tongues of fire" and the pictures you have probably seen that people draw of Pentecost show a little flame sitting on everyone’s head. However this is not what the passage says. Individual tongues appeared to them that were "as of fire." Now that one word is significant. "as" is translated from the Greek word hosei which literally means "as if" (hos - as, ei - if) or "as it were; like." They really saw tongues (that were somehow like fire) on everyone’s head. Perhaps there is some parallel to John seeing the dove resting upon Jesus to identify who he was (Matt. 3:16; John 1:33) and these tongues resting on the heads of those who received the Holy Spirit.

Finally, I must conclude that I am convinced both biblically and experientially that when people receive the Holy Spirit they do indeed speak with other tongues. Now it is not tongues that we should seek for. As I heard one preacher say, "You don’t go to a shoe store and buy tongues. You buy shoes and the tongues come with the shoes." So it is with the Holy Spirit. We should seek to be filled with the Spirit and when we are we will speak with other tongues. "So is everyone who is born of the Spirit."

See also, Tongues as Initial Evidence? and Are Tongues Part of Salvation? in our Q & A section.

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