Although this teaching will, in general, examine all the supernatural gifts of Holy Spirit mentioned in the New Testament, specifically, I will address the matter of speaking in tongues in more detail—because that is what I have been asked by some of my readers to do: focus some teaching about the supernatural gift of speaking in tongues. Just knowing what little I know of human nature concerning this intriguing, yet controversial, biblical subject, I have a feeling you might be asking, “Bill, do you speak in tongues? Do you pray in tongues?” The answer is Yes. I pray, praise, and sing privately in tongues almost daily and, upon a few occasions, I have spoken in tongues in public (with an interpreter present). I was baptized in Holy Spirit and first began to speak in tongues (and exhibit some of the other supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit) in a Chicago suburb when an Episcopal laywoman, Mrs Jean Stone, laid her hands on my head and prayed for me to “receive” the baptism in Holy Spirit.
The supernatural gift of speaking in tongues is certainly a part of New Testament teaching, and has been practiced by various churches and groups of Jesus’ followers here and there throughout all 2,000 years of Church history. Their usage died down somewhat toward the latter part of the 19th century, perhaps due to the rational and logical thought patterns of the so-called “Age of Enlightenment,” or “Age of Reason,” characterized by rational, intellectual scepticism and cynicism about all things religious and supernatural.
The gift of speaking in tongues burst forth anew on the world scene in the early years of the 20th century at a small Bible School in Kansas and a few years later (1906) in Los Angeles during what has come to be known as the Asuza Street Revival, which gave birth to the modern Pentecostal Movement, birthing such Pentecostal denominations as the Assemblies of God, Church of God, and the like.
The gift of speaking in tongues has since been practiced by millions of Pentecostal believers worldwide since 1906, but the usage of the gift did not become evident in most mainstream Christian churches until 1959 when an Episcopal Pastor in Seattle, Dennis Bennett, was baptized in Holy Spirit and began to speak in tongues and exhibit other supernatural gifts of Holy Spirit, launching the modern “Charismatic Movement.”
Since then, the phenomenon has spread worldwide through almost all major Christian denominations and churches with the exception of the eastern Orthodox churches, Holiness Churches, and most churches in the Reformed and Calvinism theological tradition. Why this movement has not spread to those specific churches is an interesting question, but I will not attempt to answer that in this teaching.
5 people figured prominently in the “spread” of the Charismatic Movement (including speaking in tongues) beyond the confines of Pentecostalism in the mid-20th century.
First, there was David Bennett mentioned above. Next, there was a man from South Africa named David DuPlessis who was nicknamed “Mr Pentecost.” He ranged the world bringing the news of the restoration of the supernatural gifts of Holy Spirit to both Protestantism and Catholicism, even having private sessions with various Popes. God also used Oral Roberts, a Pentecostal holiness, healing evangelist, to build bridges between Pentecostals and mainline denominational believers.
Pope John XXIII was used by God to open up the Roman Catholic Church to the supernatural gifts of Holy Spirit when he issued a papal Encyclical in 1962 urging the Roman Catholic Church worldwide to “open up to the fresh wind of the Holy Spirit.” Finally, Dr Derek Prince, a highly educated British intellectual like the famed evangelical Christian, C.S. Lewis, gave intellectual underpinnings and credibility to the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit; no longer were the gifts of the HS supposedly limited to poor, uneducated Pentecostals.
As noted above, the only churches which have remained largely closed to the supernatural manifestations of Holy Spirit since the mid-20th century are the eastern Orthodox churches, Holiness churches, and churches holding and espousing Reformed views and the theological traditions of John Calvin.
Please read Acts 2: 2 – 11; Acts 10: 44 – 48; and Acts 19: 1 – 12 These are the biblical occurrences of the gift of speaking of tongues among believers in the New Testament Church.
Let me now simply enumerate the listings of the various supernatural gifts of Holy Spirit—including tongues—found in Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12 and 14 in the New Testament portion of the Bible. In brief, it can be said that these supernatural gifts are bestowed by God the Father, administered by God the Son, and operated by God the Holy Spirit. They are all given either to spread the Gospel or to build up, advise, warn, strengthen, and comfort believers. They are decidedly not merely heightened natural abilities:
- The supernatural gift of prophecy. This is a divine disclosure by Holy Spirit, an edifying revelation from God, a sudden supernatural insight into a given situation, generally for encouragement, consolation, advice, or comfort. See an amplified description later in this teaching.
- The supernatural gift of ministry. This gift is a special gift given by Holy Spirit for a person to most effectively serve the Body of Christ in physical and tangible ways; the rendering of any type of creative spiritual service. It includes, but is not limited to, those persons who are “called to the ministry.”
- The supernatural gift of teaching. Teaching refers to those who are supernaturally gifted to teach the revealed truth of God’s written Word, the Bible, and related biblical subjects, or to those in the public “Office of Teacher” in and to the Body of Jesus (Ephesians 4: 11). The New Testament concept for “teacher” is mind-engraver.”
- The supernatural gift of exhortation. This is a supernatural gift given in order to render advice, warning, or comfort, generally to God’s people, but sometimes to those who are not yet followers of Jesus.
- The supernatural gift of giving. This refers either to those gifted to contribute to the emotional or physical support of others, or to those gifted to give financially abundantly to support the work of proclaiming the Gospel.
- The supernatural gift of leadership/supervision. This refers to people who are supernaturally gifted to be facilitators, or to those with the public function of administration and supervision in the Church.
- The supernatural gift of mercy. This defines persons with a special gift of strong, perceptive emotions, or those called to perform special functions of Christian relief or acts of charity.
- The supernatural gift of hospitality. This is a supernatural gift in order to provide friendly, kind, and solicitous attention to guests.
- The supernatural gift of the word of wisdom. This is a spiritual utterance in one’s known language at a given moment, supernaturally disclosing the mind, purposes, and ways of God as applied to a specific situation.
- The supernatural gift of the word of knowledge. This is a supernatural revelation (in one’s known language) of information pertaining to a person or an event, given for a specific purpose, usually having to do with an immediate need.
- The supernatural gift of faith. This gift is a unique form of faith, going beyond “generalized faith” God dispenses to every human (see Romans 12: 3). It supernaturally trusts and does not doubt with reference to specific matters involved. It is a supernatural gift enabling one to fully trust in advance what will only make sense in reverse.
- The supernatural gifts of healings. Note this is plural. Just as there are many sicknesses, illnesses, disabilities, and diseases, there are as many gifts of healings. God heals supernaturally through both prayer and medicine.
- The supernatural gifts of the working of miracles. This is a manifestation of God’s power beyond the ordinary course of natural law. It is a divine enablement to do something that could not be done naturally. I define miracles as “God-caused events beyond human reason and logic, defying comprehension, explanation, expectation, and experience, for God’s purposes of lovingly drawing all humanity to Himself.”
- The supernatural gift of tongues. This is the ability to speak supernaturally in a language not known or learned by the speaker. It is often a language of heaven. It can also be unlearned human languages as in Acts 2. It is a transrational utterance of speech using human vocal apparatus, but originating in the human spirit rather than in the human mind. (see additional explanations below)
- The supernatural gift of discerning of spirits. This is a supernatural ability to see into the invisible spirit world, especially to detect the true source of circumstances or motives of people in a given situation. In brief, it enables one to see into the invisible world of Satan and his demons. Some well-meaning but untaught persons use the phrase the “gift of discernment.” There is no such gift as the gift of discernment. It is the gift of discerning of spirits.
- The supernatural gift of interpretation of tongues. This gift “translates” and “interprets” when the gift of speaking in tongues has been exercised. It renders the transrational (not irrational) message of the Holy Spirit, making such a message meaningful to others in their own language when exercised either in public or in private.
As to the gift of speaking in tongues, see the explanation above as well as this additional explanation. Generally, tongues can best be described as unlearned, human or angelic languages (languages of heaven)—pure clean languages which have been untainted, uncorrupted, and unfouled as all human languages have been. Tongues are languages that are “pleasant to the ears of God.”
There are 3 categories of the supernatural manifestation of the gift of tongues, based on usage:
- Spoken, unlearned human languages generally proclaimed among those who are not yet followers of Jesus. (Acts 2)
- The gift spoken in a believer’s meeting, but only when someone is present who can demonstrate the gift of interpretation of tongues. (sometimes being one and the same person) (1 Corinthians 14).
- Private devotional use of tongues in prayer, praise, and song. (1 Corinthians 14)
At this point, please stop reading this teaching! To continue on, it’s very important that you first understand the concept of how God created humans as tri-unified beings, composed of bodies, souls, and spirits, in order for the remainder of this teaching to make any sense. Please stop and read our companion teaching, “Whole In One” before you read any further in this teaching.
There is a biblical, spiritual phenomenon called the “Baptism in Holy Spirit “ which, when experienced, unleashes, “uncorks,” or “releases Holy Spirit ” from within the human spirit where He is already resident if we have been born again. All four Gospels and the Book of Acts teach that Jesus baptizes people in Holy Spirit. Matthew 3, Mark 1, Luke 3, John 1, and Acts 11: 16. There are no valid textual, exegetical, or historical reasons to believe that the phenomenon of the baptism of Holy Spirit ceased with the waning of the so-called “Apostolic Age,” (approximately 100 A.D.) as some individuals and churches mistakenly teach.
The baptism of Holy Spirit is not when a follower of Jesus first receives Holy Spirit. No, Holy Spirit first comes into the life of a follower of Jesus in a nanosecond when that person is born again; at that moment, Holy Spirit and the new follower of Jesus’ spirit are inseparably fused together and they become one spirit (1 Corinthians 6: 17). The baptism of Holy Spirit is a so-called “second work” of God’s grace wherein Holy Spirit (Who already lives within the follower of Jesus) is unloosed into all areas of that person’s life to add new dimensions of holiness (wholeness) to their life, and ushers them into a decidedly new supernatural relationship with Jesus.
There’s another aspect of the baptism in Holy Spirit I will simply mention in passing, but will not teach about it in this teaching. John the Baptizer said of Jesus that He would baptize people in Holy Spirit and fire. Being “baptized in fire” is another matter altogether, not within the scope of this teaching. Suffice it to say that being baptized in fire opens the door for Holy Spirit to begin anew a lifelong cleansing, purifying, and sanctifying process in the life of the follower of Jesus. For additional teaching about God’s use of fire for cleansing and purging, see our companion teaching entitled “Fire.”
A note of admonishment . . . Some people who have been baptized in Holy Spirit and subsequently exhibit some of the supernatural gifts of Holy Spirit have, for whatever reasons, taken some sort of perverse pride that God has “chosen” them above other, “lesser,” followers of Jesus to be gifted in such wonderful matters. They feel some sort of “spiritual elitism” that they are somehow “holier” than their non-baptized-in-the-Spirit followers of Jesus.
Away with such false pride, spiritual elitism, and holier-than-thou attitudes!! The reality is that one ought to be deeply humbled that the Most High God, the Creator of the Universe has condescended to allow them to participate in such wonderful and blessed matters. There is absolutely no room for pride that one has been baptized in Holy Spirit and is able to manifest some of the supernatural gifts of Holy Spirit. The baptism in Holy Spirit and the supernatural gifts of Holy Spirit are for all God’s children and are given to build up, strengthen, comfort, and encourage all of God’s sons and daughters in his Church.
What are the differences, if any, in being baptized in Holy Spirit and being “filled” with Holy Spirit, the latter as taught, for example, in Ephesians 5: 18? The differences are simple. Being baptized in Holy Spirit is a one-time event whereby Holy Spirit is first “unleashed” from where He dwells within our spirits—having come to live there when we were born again.
By contrast, being filled with Holy Spirit is a daily, almost moment by moment, process whereby we continually let Holy Spirit “flow out” from within us. It is what Jesus was referring to in John 7: 38 and 39 when He said that “rivers of living water” would flow out from our inner beings to the dry, parched, and thirsty world around us; Jesus was speaking of Holy Spirit. Being filled with Holy Spirit is simply to make a conscious choice on a daily basis to yield control of our lives to Holy Spirit.
The imagery of Ephesians 5: 18 contrasts and compares someone being intoxicated (controlled) by wine, or being filled (controlled) by Holy Spirit. The expanded definition of being filled with Holy Spirit means to regularly and consistently, day-by-day, make conscious choices to remain filled with Holy Spirit.
Ideally, God would love to have each of his Spirit-born sons and daughters be both baptized in Holy Spirit and filled with Holy Spirit. However, we do not live in an ideal world. Some who choose to be filled with Holy Spirit choose not to be baptized in Holy Spirit. Conversely, some who choose to be baptized in Holy Spirit choose not to be filled with Holy Spirit. And, more unfortunately, there are some who choose to do neither. It has been aptly said that Holy Spirit is a “perfect gentleman” and does not force Himself upon anyone. Being persons of what is mistakenly called free will, it is our choice to be baptized in Holy Spirit . . . or not. It is our choice to be filled with Holy Spirit . . . or not. Such wonderful gifts from God are available to all his sons and daughters, but it is the simple choice of each follower of Jesus whether or not to reach out and receive such wondrous gifts.
Having said that, let’s now move on to 1 Corinthians 14 wherein Paul lays out some ground rules for the gift of speaking in tongues. I will attempt to expound and clarify the teachings of this chapter because it is somewhat convoluted and difficult to read. I will try to summarize most of the chapter in plain English, but I will not address every matter Paul teaches about in the chapter:
First, this chapter opens by telling us to desire love first and foremost, but also to desire the supernatural, spiritual gifts of Holy Spirit. Then the chapter proceeds to deal primarily (but not exclusively) with two supernatural gifts of Holy Spirit: prophecy and tongues, and the proper usage of the latter in public and in private.
The chapter proceeds to teach that followers of Jesus should desire to prophesy. As noted above the gift of prophecy is a divine disclosure by Holy Spirit. It does not prognosticate about the future; it is to “forth tell,” not foretell.
Again, generally speaking, the gift of prophecy is to build up, strengthen, comfort, console, and edify the Church as a whole, whereas tongues is generally used to build up, edify, and strengthen the individual follower of Jesus (or the Church as a whole, if an interpreter is present). Note that Paul says he wishes everyone would speak in tongues, but especially that they would prophesy.
Tongues is most often used for private worship, prayer, and singing. The gift of speaking in tongues is a supernatural gift of Holy Spirit for nonconceptual communication with God, originating in the human spirit, rather than in the mind. The difference is in the origin or source of the language, although both tongues and our natural human languages use the same vocal apparatus. Our native language originates in our minds and is transmitted through our vocal apparatus. Speaking in tongues originates in our spirits and is transmitted through our vocal apparatus. Same vocal apparatus, different point of origin of the language being spoken.
It should be noted that one can also legitimately “speak” in tongues silently in the sense that it is subliminal speech not spoken aloud. It is to “think and pray in tongues” silently. Note that in verse 12, Paul admonishes the Corinthian followers of Jesus that since they desire to exhibit the gifts of Holy Spirit, they should desire to excel in their usage. At no point does Paul ever denigrate the supernatural gifts of Holy Spirit or their proper usage.
As in Acts chapter 2, Paul re-affirms that sometimes the public usage of speaking in tongues is to supernaturally speak in other, known human languages so that those who are not yet followers of Jesus hearing the tongues spoken in their native language might come to believe the Good News about Jesus. The chapter goes on to teach that those who prophesy and (by implication), those who speak in tongues are in complete control while exercising the gifts of Holy Spirit. They are not operated by Holy Spirit (beyond human control) in some wild, ecstatic, “holy roller” manner. Again, Holy Spirit is a perfect gentleman and does not force His gifts upon humans who exercise such gifts. Paul’s admonition is to let all things [regarding the use of spiritual gifts] be done decently and in order.
1 Corinthians 14 continues by teaching that public tongues is generally “equal” to prophecy—as long as there is someone in the congregation who has the gift of interpretation of tongues. The gift of tongues should never be spoken in a public meeting of Jesus’ followers unless someone is present who has the gift of interpretation of tongues; in such cases, as a general rule of thumb there should not be more than two or three messages in tongues in any given meeting. Hearers in the congregation have the option of deciding for themselves if what has been spoken (and interpreted) in tongues is true or not. It is God’s system of “checks and balances” in the public use of the gift of speaking in tongues. Note toward the end of chapter 14 God says very clearly that no one should forbid speaking in tongues!
In this chapter, Paul writes about the place of tongues in his personal life. It is a language that originates in the human spirit as contrasted with his native language that originates in the mind. Both are equally important. Prayer, praise, and singing, both in tongues and in his native language, were normal components of Paul’s private devotional times and helped strengthen him, build him up, comfort, and edify him. Paul says he can make a conscious choice to pray and sing with his known, human language, and he can make the same conscious choice to pray and sing in unknown tongues—whichever usage seems appropriate at the time, shifting back and forth between the two languages as seems appropriate.
Paul never depreciates or minimizes the importance of the manifestation and use of the gift of tongues. Rather, he thanked God for its availability for use in his own private devotional life and its limited public use, the latter always accompanied by the gift of interpretation of tongues.
In summary, Paul concludes the chapter by stating again that, yes, it’s proper to speak in tongues—it should not be forbidden. It is proper to speak in tongues both in public and private. Use the gift wisely, decently, and in proper order. The supernatural gift of speaking in tongues is—and should be—a natural part of the life of a Christian congregation and of the individual follower of Jesus.
Revised and Updated February 2023