By:  J. L. Hall


The spark that ignited and sustained the Pentecostal revival in this century is the belief that speaking with tongues is the initial evidence of a person being filled with the Holy Ghost. Without this specific belief, it is not likely that the twentieth-century Pentecostal movement would have come to birth. Moreover, without this inseparable link to the gift of the Spirit, the sporadic occurrences of speaking with tongues probably would not have attracted any more attention today than they did among the followers of John Wesley, George Whitefield, Edward Irving, and others.

As vital as the doctrine of the initial evidence has been to the Pentecostal movement in this century, the more important question is, What is the scriptural basis that speaking with tongues is the initial evidence of the infilling of the Spirit?

Primarily, the initial evidence doctrine comes from four passages in the Book of Acts: (1) the coming of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2; (2) the revival in Samaria in Acts 8; (3) the outpouring of the Spirit on the household of Cornelius in Caesarea in Acts 10; and (4) the reception of the Holy Ghost by the disciples of John the Baptist at Ephesus in Acts 19. Other accounts, such Paul's experience (Acts 9) and writings (I Corinthians 12-14) are also important in studying the initial evidence.


When the Jewish disciples received the Holy Ghost on the Day of Pentecost, each person spoke with tongues as the Spirit gave him utterance (Acts 2:4). In response to the interest this unusual event created in Jerusalem, a large number of Jews, many who had come from other nations, crowded around the disciples. Confused, they questioned the apostles as to the meaning of the people speaking in foreign languages about the wonderful works of God. The apostle Peter explained in his sermon that they were witnessing the fulfillment of prophecy: "This is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh. . ." (Acts 2:16-17). His answer linked speaking with tongues to the gift of the Holy Ghost.

He made the same association between speaking with tongues and the gift of the Spirit later in his sermon: "Therefore being by the right hand exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he (Jesus Christ) hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear" (Acts 2:33). Peter identified the sign of speaking with tongues as the evidence that the disciples had received the "promise of the Holy Ghost."

Acts 2:4 clearly states that the Spirit gave the disciples the utterance of "other tongues": "And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance." The Spirit gave them utterance--a sign manifesting His indwelling presence.


The biblical record does not state that the people in Samaria spoke with tongues when they received the Holy Ghost, but it does support that conclusion. Several important observations need to be made: (1) Although the Samaritans believed Philip's preaching about Jesus Christ, they did not received the Holy Ghost at the moment of their faith; (2) The Samaritans did not received the Holy Ghost when they were baptized in the name of Jesus Christ; (3) The miracles of deliverance and healings brought great joy to the people in Samaria, but this joy was neither the Holy Ghost nor the evidence of their receiving the Holy Ghost; (4) Philip and the apostles knew that not one Samaritan received the Holy Ghost until Peter and John came from Jerusalem and laid hands on them in prayer; (5) Philip and the apostles accepted only one particular outward sign that revealed when each person received the Holy Ghost.

How did Philip, Peter, and John know that not one of the Samaritan had received the Holy Ghost although the people believed, were baptized, experienced miracles of deliverance, and had great joy? Obviously the essential evidence was missing. The two apostles were so sure about the matter that they laid hands on the baptized converts and prayed for them to receive the Holy Ghost. But it was not the laying on of hands or even their prayers that signified that the people received the Holy Ghost. The evidence had to emanate from the person who received the Spirit.

The passage is clear that the evidence received in Acts 8 was outward and not merely an inner witness. When the apostles laid hands in prayer upon individual Samaritans, the sign was evident to all, not merely to the person receiving the Holy Ghost or only to the spiritually sensitive, but to everyone, even to Simon the Sorcerer: "When Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles' hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered money, saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost" (Acts 8:18-19). The sign was more than an inner feeling for even believers from Jerusalem and a wicked person in Samaria witnessed the sign of the infilling Spirit. And the sign was clearly supernatural, for a sorcerer was sufficiently impressed that he sought to purchase the ability to bestow it While no specific sign is mentioned in Acts 8, it is evident from a comparison of this event with others in Acts that the expected evidence was speaking with tongues. Since the apostles knew that the people had not received the Holy Ghost, they must have also known what sign to expect when they were filled. Although not named in this passage, the sign is still required. We can only believe that the same sign given in Acts 2, 10, and 19 is the same sign expected in Acts 8.

The sign comes to each person individually as he receives the Spirit; although several persons may receive the Holy Ghost at the same time, each person will have his own experience accompanied by the sign emanating out of that experience. In other words, the gift of the Holy Ghost is not to the group collectively but to individuals that form the group. As the infilling of the Spirit is personal so is the sign personal.

In order for the sign to be the evidence of the supernatural it must itself be supernatural. Moreover, the sign must be a manifestation of the experience it signifies. The indwelling Spirit works the miracles of regeneration and transformation, and the same Spirit miraculously gives the sign of His presence in the person.


When Peter received the call to preach to the Gentiles in Caesarea, he was not easily convinced to go. The thought of Gentiles being saved was foreign if not distasteful for a Jew, and Peter knew that the other apostles and church people would not readily understand his preaching to them. Nevertheless, six Jewish believers went with him to Caesarea. Since he was convinced that God was directing him, he entered the home of Cornelius, but he did not expect the sudden outpouring of the Holy Ghost. He had only begun his message when the Holy Ghost fell on Cornelius and his household.

What sign convinced Peter and the Jewish believers with him that the Gentiles received the Holy Ghost? The answer is stated in the text: "And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished . . . because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost. For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God" (Acts 10:45-46). When they heard the Gentile speak with tongues, they knew that God had filled them with the Spirit.

When the Gentiles spoke with tongues, Peter had his answer to the questions he knew would come from the other apostles and leaders: "Forasmuch then as God gave them the gift as he did unto us, who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ; what was I, that I could withstand God?" (Acts 11:17). He pointed to the unmistakable sign that God had indeed filled the Gentiles with the Spirit, and no one would expect Peter or anyone else to act contrary to God's divine plan.

It can safely be assumed that speaking with tongues was the only sign that would convince the early Christians that the Holy Ghost had fallen on the Gentiles. For one thing, it was the sign of their own experience that began on the Day of Pentecost. And it was this Pentecostal pattern that Peter used to convince the other apostles and leaders that the Gentiles had in reality received the Holy Ghost. Peter said, "And as I began to speak, the Holy Ghost fell on them, as on us "at the beginning" (Acts 11:15). In other words, the Gentiles received the Holy Ghost after the pattern established on the Day of Pentecost--that is, they spoke with tongues of the Spirit gave them utterance. Peter's appeal to Pentecostal pattern reveals that the early church accepted speaking with tongues in Act 2 as God's pattern or sign to be experienced by every person who is filled with the Holy Ghost.


Did Paul agree with the other apostles? The answer is found in Acts 19. When he arrived in Ephesus, he found twelve disciples of John the Baptist. One of the first questions he asked concerned the matter of receiving the Holy Ghost: "Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed?" (Acts 19:2). He did not question their faith, although it was flawed by incomplete knowledge and understanding. But he did expect them to face their need to receive the Holy Ghost.

When the twelve disciples confessed that they had not even heard of the coming of the Spirit, Paul related to them the gospel of Jesus Christ. The men believed and were baptized in the name of Jesus. But since they did not speak with tongues, Paul knew that they had not received the Holy Ghost. For this reason, he laid his hands on them just as Peter and John had laid their hands on the people in Samaria. He looked for the one sign, and he was not disappointed. When the Spirit came upon the men, they "spake with tongues and prophesied" (Acts 19:6). Believing was not the evidence, nor was water baptism.

The only God-given sign was speaking with tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. From a comparison of Acts 2, Acts 8, Acts 10 and Acts 19, it is evident that Paul, Peter, John, and the other apostles and leaders agreed that the sign of speaking with tongues is the initial evidence of the infilling of the Holy Ghost. They did not confuse the evidence of baptism of the Holy Ghost with faith, repentance, water baptism, miracles of deliverances and healing, or even an inner feeling of joy.

Some critics point to the account of Paul's conversion in Acts 9 to raise doubts about the initial evidence of speaking with tongues. There is no mention of Paul speaking with tongues in this passage as it is not a description of his receiving the Holy Ghost. Later, however, in his epistle to the Corinthians he affirms that he indeed experienced speaking with tongues as the Spirit gave him utterance (I Corinthians 14:18).

Only a biased person would attempt to twist Paul's words of instruction in I Corinthians 14 to mean that he condemned speaking with tongues. There is not one hint in Paul's writings that a person should not speak with tongues; indeed, Paul endorsed speaking with tongues as from God. Moreover, he extolled its blessings in both private prayer and church gatherings.

The teaching of I Corinthians 14 is not that speaking with tongues is wrong or that it should be avoided but that Christians should not abuse the function and purpose of speaking with tongues, especially in public gatherings. Those who attempt to discredit speaking with tongues in general usually try to make speaking with tongues among the Corinthians essentially different from speaking with tongues on the Day of Pentecost. But speaking with tongues is the same whether it serves as evidence of the indwelling Spirit or functions as the gift of "divers kinds of tongues." Differences in purpose and function exist, but the same Spirit gives the utterance.

It is interesting to note that Paul applied the prophecy in Isaiah 28:11 to speaking with tongues in the New Testament church: "In the law it is written, With men of other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people; and yet for all that will they not hear me, saith the Lord. Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not" (I Corinthians 14:21-22).

Using this prophecy, Paul wrote that speaking with tongues is a sign, a sign by which God speaks to His people about the "rest wherewith ye may cause the weary to rest; and...the refreshing" (Isaiah 28:12). Is not this the same rest that Jesus promised to those who "labor and are heavy laden"? (See Matthew 11:28.) Does it not also indicate that a person has not entered into the "rest" of God until he has experienced speaking with tongues as the Holy Ghost gives him the utterance?


Since in the early church the sign of speaking with tongues was the only accepted evidence that a person had received the Holy Ghost, we should follow the same teaching. We must remember that the pattern was established by God on the Day of Pentecost, and that the apostles accepted it as the pattern for the church.

If anyone teaches contrary to the pattern established by God and proclaimed by the apostles, he is not building on the foundation of Jesus Christ. No Christian can deviate from the truths established of the Bible by precept and example, including those in the Book of Acts, and be pleasing to God. Other signs and wonders may convince both believers and unbelievers of God's presence among the people, but speaking with tongues is the only initial evidence that the Spirit has come to dwell in a person.

(The above material appeared in an August, 1989 issue of the Pentecostal Herald.)