Tongues and Spirit Baptism

At the beginning of the church, the Spirit came down with tongues of fire and a mighty wind. Those who were there spoke in tongues and prophesied. They performed miracles and healings. Greatest of all, thousands were saved. But soon after the apostolic era, the church records that these gifts from the Spirit had ceased. And, until recently, very few claimed to be performing such miraculous gifts.

In current theology, the Spirit’s supernatural power in the life of the believer is at the center of the current debate. While much has been written about supernatural gifts, there is one aspect that is often overlooked in the debate: the connection between Spirit baptism and the miraculous gifts. The purpose of this paper is to suggest that miraculous gifts have ceased with the cessation of the Baptism in the Spirit, but they will be revived in the end times. The gift of tongues will serve as the primary example.

Basic Concepts Concerning the Gift of Tongues

With the advent of Pentecostalism, the discussion of tongues has entered turbulent waters. Some maintain that tongues can either be a human language (xenoglossia) or an unknown heavenly language (glossolalia).[1] Others sharply disagree, maintaining that tongues are only known human language.[2] Because of the debate, it is necessary to define tongues and to state its purpose.

Definition of the Gift of Tongues

The history of the tongues indicates what the gift is. The first time the gift of tongues appears is in Acts two. Jesus had ascended and poured out the Spirit; all the believers were filled with the Spirit and they began to speak in tongues (Act. 2:4). As they proclaimed the message, their listeners—an international crowed—exclaimed, “How is it that we each hear them in our own language to which we were born?” (Act. 2:8). This passage indicates that the tongues were known human languages. In addition, they were the native languages of the crowed, which would have been impossible for the disciple to have studied. Therefore, from this passage, the gift of tongues was the ability to speak in human languages not previously studied.

Some maintain, like Bastian Van Elderen, that the gift of tongues was different from the tongues in Acts. Elderen advocates:

1) The phenomenon at Corinth involved an unintelligible speech which could not be understood by the auditors unless there was an interpreter or interpretation. Such was not required in the experiences on Pentecost, Caesarea, or Ephesus, as recorded in Acts. 2) The purpose of the phenomenon at Corinth was edification — for the individual and/or church, if there be an interpreter. In Acts it was validation, verification, authentication of the presence of the Holy Spirit. 3) The phenomenon in Acts was restricted to very special situations in the early church when there was a pressing need for evidence of the Spirit’s presence. In Corinth such a need did not exist, and if it did, there were other signs or gifts to establish this. In the light of the foregoing it is difficult to maintain a continuity between the phenomenon in Acts and that reported in 1 Corinthians.[3]

While his observations are helpful, he leaves several gaps in his logical progression. First, it does not follow that tongues were different in Corinth just because they needed an interpreter. In the Acts account, there was no need of an interpreter for the hearers understood the prophecies given through other tongues. In Corinth, there was need for an interpreter because the prophecy could not be understood by all; that is, they did not understand the language in which the speaker spoke. Second, the purpose of tongues was a sign of judgment on an unbelieving Jew (as shown later), not edification. Third, while Elderen is correct that Acts contained special conditions for the gift of tongues, it does not follow that Corinth lacked these special conditions. Paul does not describe all the conditions of the coming of the gift, rather he regulates it as an already existing entity.

Furthermore, the tongues in Corinth seem to be human languages, as used in Acts. The arguments that the occurrences were different have no firm exegetical data. As John Walvoord puts it:

The same expressions are used in both places. . .. There is no evidence that those who exercised the gift of tongues spoke languages that were unknown to men, though there is reference to the theoretical possibility of speaking in the tongues of angels (1 Cor 13:1).

With no clarifying statement from Paul that the tongues were different, it must be assumed that they are the same in both locations. Further, Paul states that if one speaks in another tongue, “the one who speaks will be a barbarian to me” (1 Cor. 14:11). A barbarian is not a person who simply babbles incoherent gibberish. Rather, he is a person who can speak a coherent human language, but the hearer cannot understand him. But with the aid of an interpreter who knows the language of the barbarian, he can understand his speech. Therefore, based on the clear definition from the book of Acts and the indications from 1 Corinthians that the languages were known to humankind, it seems reasonable to assume that both were the same gift.

The Purpose of Tongues

The purpose of tongues was not for edification of the church. While it is true that tongues can edify oneself (1 Cor. 14:4), Paul argues that self-edification is not a good thing. He would rather no one speak in tongues, but that they prophesy (1 Cor. 14:5), because prophecy builds up the church. These facts fit right into chapter twelve, where he argues that Christians are all members of another and should work for the body, not for oneself. The building up of one’s own self, so that he thinks he is more important than the others, harms the body more than it helps.

However, Paul gives a purpose statement for tongues: they “are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers” (1 Cor. 14:22). He defines the sign in the previous verse by quoting Isaiah 28:11. Through Isaiah, God states that he will condemn the nation of Israel because they all have become drunk and refuse him (Is. 28:1-8). He comes to them, teaching the simple truths which a child could understand (Is. 28:9-10). He will even bring in people who speak another language (Is. 28:11). But Israel will still refuse to listen to God (Is. 28:12). So, God will cause them to “go and stumble backward, be broken, snared and taken captive” (Is. 28:13). And the object over which they stumble is Christ (Is. 28:16, cf. Rom. 9:30-33). Therefore, the gift of tongues is a sign of judgment on the Jews.

Duration of the Gift of Tongues

The duration of the gift of tongues receives the most attention in the debate. In the Cessationist camp, Fred Moritz states that “signs and wonders [such as tongues] have ceased because God sovereignly gave them to accredit Christ and the apostles, who were the messengers of the New Testament revelation.”[4] In the Continuationist camp, the Assembly of God denomination assumes in its Statement of Fundamental Truths that the gift of tongues continues to this day.[5] In the discussion, one particular aspect is often overlooked, or tangentially treated; that is, the connection between the Spirit baptism and the duration of the gift of tongues.

People often link tongues with baptism in the Spirit, and rightfully so. As the official statement of the Assembly of God states, “the baptism of believers in the Holy Spirit is witnessed by the initial physical sign of speaking with other tongues as the Spirit of God gives them utterance.”[6] But the question arises: what does the Biblical data indicate regarding Spirit baptism?

Spirit Baptism in the New Testament

Spirit baptism in the New Testament is a curious phenomenon. There are only three speakers who use the phrase baptism in the Spirit: John the Baptist, Jesus, and Paul.[7] Peter mentions it once, but he was quoting Jesus (Ac. 11:16). In the Gospels, John identifies Jesus as the agent who will perform the baptism. In Acts, Jesus predicts that Spirit would come soon. Paul mentions Spirit Baptism, but here the Spirit is the agent of the baptism. Therefore, the baptism in 1 Corinthians is different from the baptism in Acts and will not be considered here.[8]

The most helpful information comes from Peter who identifies baptism with several parallel terms. First, in his account of the conversion of Cornelius, he parallels baptism in the Spirit with the concept of a gift (δίδωμι, δωρεά, λαμβάνω), falling upon (ἐπιπίπτω), and outpouring (ἐκχέω). Second, another term appears in Acts 2:2, where Peter identifies the outpouring of the Spirit with the filling of the Spirit (πίμπλημι). And finally, in Acts 19:6, the Spirit came (ἔρχομαι) upon the believers and the spoke in tongues.

However, just because terms or ideas are in parallel does not mean that they are equivalent. There are two different relationships between the words in parallel: Coordinate and Synonymous. Coordinate ideas appear in the same context of Spirit baptism, but do not necessarily mean the same thing because they are used differently elsewhere. Synonymous terms appear in the same contexts of Spirit baptism and are used the in the exact same way.

Coordinate Terms

There are two ideas that are simply coordinate. First, the concept of the gift of the Spirit (δίδωμι, δωρεά, λαμβάνω) is repeated throughout the church age by multiple authors.[9] It contains both references to supernatural abilities given and the status of every Christian throughout the church age without reference to the supernatural. Second, the filling (πίμπλημι) of the Spirit describes the power given to a person to proclaim a message from God. Without exception, those filled with the Spirit are prophets, preachers or those who on a limited occasion preach the message of God.[10] While these ideas intersect with Spirit baptism, they are not synonyms because they appear throughout the church age and they do not always include the miraculous.

Synonymous Terms

Three ideas stand out as having the same meaning and context of Baptism: the falling upon (ἐπιπίπτω), the outpouring (ἐκχέω), and the coming (ἔρχομαι) of the Spirit. First, the phrase the Holy Spirit fell only occurs in the Cornelius account (Act. 10:44, 11:15). However, Peter says “the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as He did upon us at the beginning,” indicating that the falling of the Spirit also occurred at Pentecost. Second, the term Outpouring occurs four times in Acts, each connected with Pentecost or the like events.[11] Significantly, Joel uses this term where Peter quotes him. Third, the idea of the Spirit coming upon some also produces prophecy and tongues. This concept appears only once in the New Testament and three times in the Old Testament, referring to the supernatural ability to prophecy.[12] When concepts appear, their effects are supernatural, and they only appear around the events of Pentecost. They do not appear in the same way outside of the book of Acts.

Tongues and Prophecy and Baptism

Prophecy is closely related to the gift of tongues. First, in Acts 2:2, the Spirit was poured out upon the believers and they spoke in tongues. When Peter interprets this event to the crowd, he quotes Joel 2:28, “I will pour forth of My Spirit on all mankind; And your sons and your daughters shall prophesy” (Act. 2:17). Here, Peter directly links prophecy to the gift of tongues. Second, Paul states that both tongues (when translated) and prophecy have the same effect: edification (1 Cor. 14:4-6). Third, usually whenever tongues are mentioned in the Bible, prophecy either directly or indirectly implied within the near context.[13]

Spirit baptism always produces one or both of these gifts. In Acts 2, the gift of tongues amazed the crowd. While the gifts are not directly stated in Acts 8, the gifts can be reasonably assumed because Simon the Sorcerer offers the money to obtain some kind of supernatural power. Cornelius and his household also spoke in tongues when they had the Spirit poured out on them. In Acts 19, the Spirit comes upon the believers and they speak in tongues. In the book of Corinthians, Paul does not delineate the nature of how they received the Spirit, but he assumes that they already have the Spirit. So, based on the other data, that the Corinthian church must have had an experience similar to that recorded in Acts. Thus, there appears to be a tight link between the baptism in the Spirit and the gifts of tongues and prophecy.

Spirit Baptism from the Old Testament

Using the vocabulary of Spirit baptism from the New Testament, several key texts appear in the Old Greek, located in Joel, Isaiah, and Ezekiel. These Old Testament texts give more information than New Testament concerning the duration of Spirit baptism.


The first place to start is where Peter himself makes a connection: Joel 2:28-32. As to the timing of the outpouring, there are a few things to observe. First, the outpouring would come “after this” (Joel 2:28). In context, God sends judgment on the nation of Israel for their sin (Joel 1:1-2:11). But, the people repent and call on the name of the Lord (Joel 2:12-17). When they repent, then the Lord will restore the nation of Israel to their land (Joel 2:18-27). The “after this,” then, in Joel 2:28 is the restoration of God’s people to their land. Second, when the Spirit of God is poured out, there will be miraculous, cosmic signs (Joel 2:30-32). These signs will also be followed by the judgment of God upon the nations (Joel 3:1ff). Thus, Joel places the outpouring of the Spirit in the eschaton. As for the effects of the outpouring, the Spirit will come upon all humankind and cause them to prophesy.


Isaiah also speaks of the outpouring of the Spirit in two places. First, Isaiah 32:9-20 opens with a scene of destruction. God chides the “women who are at ease” and who sit and drink wine (Is. 32:9-10). They are to morn because the land has become desolate and unproductive (Is. 32:11-14). But, then the Spirit will be poured out upon God’s people (Is. 32:15) and the land will be restored (Is. 32:16-20). Second, Isaiah 44:1-5 states that God will pour out his Spirit upon the sons of Israel. When this happens, they will claim the name of the Lord and will not be ashamed of it. In addition, they will multiply because of the outpouring. Therefore, Isaiah also points to a time of restoration and of rejuvenation in the land of Israel.


Ezekiel leaves no doubt concerning the time of the baptism of the Spirit. In Ezekiel 39:25-29, God speaks of the restoration of his people. He states that he will “restore the fortunes of Jacob” and “have mercy on the entire house of Israel” (Eze. 39:25). When the restoration occurs, they will be ashamed of their unfaithfulness, and God will magnify himself in the sight of all nations (Eze. 39:26-27). At that time, God will restore their relationship with him when he pours out his Spirit on them (Eze. 39:28-29). Thus, all of Israel will have a right relationship with God when the Spirit comes. And he will come during the restoration of the nation to the land.

Synthesis of the Old Testament Passages

There are several conclusions which come from these passages. First, the Spirit will undoubtedly be poured out in the last days. Second, the outpouring will be when Israel is restored to her land. Third, all of Israel will be restored to a right relationship with God. Fourth, they will all prophesy the words of God.

The Outpouring of the Spirit and Pentecost

Since Spirit baptism comes at the restoration of the kingdom, this conclusion explains the disciples’ reaction to Jesus statement, “for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now” (Act. 1:5). Some among them must have known that when the Spirit would be poured out, then the nation of Israel would be restored. So, they asked the next obvious question: “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” (Act. 1:6) But Jesus responded,

It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”[14]Jesus states that the time of the restoration—and thus the time of the full outpouring of the Spirit—was not for the disciples to know. Instead, Jesus predicts that they will be witnesses unto the ends of the earth through the power of the Spirit.

Therefore, when the Spirit came, the disciples stood and bore testimony that Jesus was their Messiah. The Spirit performed the miraculous through them as a sign to the unbelieving Jews that indeed Jesus was their Messiah. But, as their ministry shifted from a primarily Jewish audience to the primarily Gentile audience,[15] such miraculous gifts were no longer needed and these gifts themselves ceased. However, when the Lord restores his nation, then he will again pour out his Spirit upon all of Israel so that they may prophesy and speak in tongues once again. What happened at Pentecost was a temporary occurrence, a first fruit of greater things to come.


In the current era of salvation history, the miraculous has ceased because the Baptism in the Spirit has ceased. However, in the future, the Spirit will again be poured out upon all believers so that all may prophesy. Therefore, the gift of tongues is no longer available for today, as church history has shown. While the church is in the end times, God has not yet restored the nation of Israel to her former glory and so even now believers still wait for the outpouring of the Spirit. But when the Spirit is again poured out in like manner as at Pentecost, then the Kingdom will be fully restored, and Israel will have a joyful relationship with God.

Selected Bibliography

Beare, Frank W. “Speaking with Tongues: A Critical Survey of the New Testament Evidence.” Journal of Biblical Literature 83, no. 3 (1964): 229.

Bellshaw, William. “The Confusion of Tongues.” Bibliotheca Sacra 120, no. 478 (1963): 145.

Berding, Kenneth. “Confusing Word and Concept in” Spiritual Gifts”: Have We Forgotten James Barr’s Exhortations?” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 43, no. 1 (2000): 37.

Busenitz, Nathan. “The Gift of Tongues: Comparing the Church Fathers with Contemporary Pentecostalism.” The Master’s Seminary Journal, no. 1 (2006): 61–78.

Clearwaters, Richard. “The Gift of Tongues and Prophecy.” Central Bible Quarterly 15, no. 2 (1972): 34.

Cole, Graham. He Who Gives Life: The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit. Kindle Edition. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2007.

Compton, R. Bruce. “1 Corinthians 13: 8–13 and the Cessation of Miraculous Gifts.” Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal 9 (2004): 97–144.

Dean, Robert. “Three Arguments for the Cessation of Tongues.” Conservative Theological Journal 9, no. 26 (2005): 63.

Farnell, F. David. “Fallible New Testament Prophecy/Prophets?: A Critique of Wayne Grudem’s Hypothesis.” The Master’s Seminary Journal 2 (1991): 157–79.

———. “When Will the Gift of Prophecy Cease?” Bibliotheca Sacra 150, no. 598 (1993): 172.

Ferguson, Sinclair. The Holy Spirit. Contours of Christian Theology. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1996.

Gumerlock, Francis. “Tongues in the Church Fathers.” Reformation and Revival Journal 13, no. 4 (2004): 123–38.

Gundry, Robert H. “‘Ecstatic Utterance’(NEB)?” The Journal of Theological Studies (1966): 299–307.

Harrisville, Roy A. “Speaking in Tongues: A Lexicographical Study.” The Catholic Biblical Quarterly (1976): 35–48.

Heller-Roazen, Daniel. “Speaking in Tongues.” Paragraph 25, no. 2 (2002): 92–115.

Horton, Michael. Rediscovering the Holy Spirit: God’s Perfecting Presence in Creation, Redemption, and Everyday Life. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 2017.

Houghton, Myron J. “A Reexamination of I Corinthians 13:8-13.” Bibliotheca Sacra 153 (1996): 344–356.

MacArthur, John. Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfiet Worship. Nashville: Nelson Books, 2013.

———. The Charismatics: A Doctrinal Perspective. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1978.

Malone, Jonathan. “Varying Views of Spirit Baptism: An Analsis of Speech-Acts Toward Ecumenical Dialogue.” Journal of Ecumenical Studies 48, no. 4 (2013): 571–585.

Martin 3rd, Ira Jay. “I Corinthians 13 Interpreted by Its Context.” Journal of Bible and Religion (1950): 101–105.

Martin, Dale B. “Tongues of Angels and Other Status Indicators.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 59, no. 3 (1991): 547–589.

Martin, Ira Jay. “Glossolalia in the Apostolic Church.” Journal of Biblical Literature 63, no. 2 (1944): 123.

McDougall, Donald G. “Cessationism in 1 Cor 13:8-12.” The Master’s Seminary Journal 14, no. 2 (2003): 177–213.

McGee, Gary B. “‘Latter Rain’ Falling in the East: Early-Twentieth-Century Pentecostalism in India and the Debate over Speaking in Tongues.” Church History 68, no. 3 (1999): 648.

Miguens, Emanuel. “1 Cor 3:8-13 Reconsidered.” The Catholic Biblical Quarterly (1975): 76–97.

Moritz, Fred. “A Case for Cessationism.” Maranatha Baptist Theological Journal 3, no. 2 (2013): 39–47.

Morton, Russell. “Gifts in the Context of Love: Reflections on 1 Corinthians 13.” Ashland Theological Journal (1999).

Owen, John. The Holy Spirit: His Gifts and Power. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1973.

Robertson, O. Palmer. “Tongues: Sign of Covenantal Curse and Blessing.” Westminster Theological Journal 38, no. 1 (1975): 43–53.

Smit, Joop. “Tongues and Prophecy: Deciphering 1 Cor 14:22.” Biblica (1994): 175–190.

Thomas, Robert L. “1 Cor 13:11 Revisted An Exegetical Update.” The Master’s Seminary Journal 4, no. 2 (1993): 187–200.

———. “Tongues… Will Cease.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 17, no. 2 (1974): 81–89.

Van Elderen, Bastian. “Glossolalia in the New Testament.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 7, no. 2 (1964): 53–58.

Vogel, Dan, and Scott C. Dunn. “‘The Tongue of Angels’: Glossolalia Among Mormonism’s Founders.” Journal of Mormon History 19, no. 2 (1993): 1–34.

Walvoord, John. “Contemporary Issues in the Doctrine of the Holy Spirit Part IV: Spiritual Gifts Today.” Bibliotheca Sacra 130, no. 520 (1973): 315–328.

———. “The Holy Spirit and Spiritual Gifts.” Bibliotheca Sacra 143, no. 570 (1986): 109.

———. “The Person of the Holy Spirit Part 8: The Work of the Holy Spirit in the Believer.” Bibliotheca Sacra 99, no. 393 (1942): 26.

Warfield, Benjamin. Conterfeit Miracles. London: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1918.

Weaver, Gilbert B. “Tongues Shall Cease.” Grace Journal 14, no. 1 (1973): 12–24.

White, R. Fowler. “Richard Gaffin and Wayne Grudem on 1 Cor. 13: 10: A Comparison of Cessationist and Noncessationist Argumentation.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 35, no. 2 (1992): 173–181.

Woods, Andy. “The Meaning of the Perfect in 1 Corinthians 13:8-13.” Chafer Theological Seminary Journal 10, no. 2 (2004): 2.

“Assemblies of God (USA) | Official Website.” Accessed February 19, 2018.

“Tongues – The Language of the Holy Spirit.” Accessed February 20, 2018.

[1] “Tongues – The Language of the Holy Spirit,” accessed February 20, 2018,

[2] John MacArthur, The Charismatics: A Doctrinal Perspective (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1978), 159.

[3] Bastian Van Elderen, “Glossolalia in the New Testament,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 7, no. 2 (1964): 56.

[4] Fred Moritz, “A Case for Cessationism,” Maranatha Baptist Theological Journal 3, no. 2 (2013): 47.

[5] “Assemblies of God (USA) | Official Website,” accessed February 19, 2018,

[6] Ibid.

[7] Matthew 3:11, Mark 1:8, Luke 3:16, John 1:33, Acts 1:5, and 1 Corinthians 12:13

[8] This statement is very controversial, with many people who would disagree. A short defense: baptism is a metaphor and means to dunk or to immerse. Three things are present in a dunking: the agent performing the dunking, the “liquid” that the object is dunked in, and the object being dunked. In the Gospels and Acts, clearly Jesus is the agent, the Spirit the liquid, and the believers the object. In 1 Corinthians, it appears that the agent is the Spirit, the church is the liquid, and the individual is the object. If the Spirit was the liquid and the church being the liquid, it would not make much sense, especially since two different prepositions are used. Furthermore, the Spirit-as-agent interpretation of this passage fits better the content of Galatians 3:26-29 and Romans 6:3.

[9] Examples include Romans 5:5, 1 Thessalonians 4:8. Hebrews 6:4, and 1 John 3:24.

[10]  Luke 1:5, 41, 67, Acts 2:4, 4:8, 31, 9:17, 13:9. Using a slightly different term (πληρόω), Paul commands the church to be filled, which results in the proclamation of the word (Eph. 5:18-19).

[11] Acts 2:17, 18, 33, 10:45; compare with Ezekiel 11:5. The one exception to this statement is Titus 3:6, where Paul describes the indwelling of the Spirit as part of the normal experience of the Christian life. However, the description here appears to be different than that at Pentecost. Here, the effects of the outpouring are regeneration, whereas the effects of the Acts outpouring are prophecy and tongues.

[12] Acts 19:6; compare with Isaiah 32:15 and Ezekiel 2:2, 3:24.

[13] Joel 2:28, Acts 19:6, and 1 Corinthians 12:10, 13:8, 14:4-6, 22, 39

[14] Acts 1:7–8.

[15] Romans 1:16, 2:9-10

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