The Light of Life Magazine
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John Thannickal

The doctrine that speaking in “other tongues” is the initial physical evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit was formulated following the Topeka experience in 1901 and the Azusa street revival in 1906. After the formulation of the doctrine, speaking in "other tongues" became the qualification for membership in the ministerial role of the Pentecostal churches. In order to promote this experience, tarrying meetings were conducted until the believers were revived and spoke in “other tongues.” The doctrine of initial physical evidence prompts sincere, spiritually minded people to seek this experience, which is not unspiritual, but sub-spiritual. Seeking this experience is a general requirement of the Pentecostal movement. Though the Pastors would instruct that the seekers should seek the Holy Spirit, the main motive of seeking is the tongue. Acts 1:4 is quoted as the scriptural basis for the tarrying meetings.

Experience Or Doctrine?

In the Early Church, the experience came first and the explanation came next. The experiences in Jerusalem (Acts 2:4), in Caesarea (Acts 10:46) and in Ephesus (Acts 19:6) were vertical events initiated and processed by the Holy Spirit. Those who spoke in other tongues in these places did not see or hear about the "other tongues" manifestation from any other source. They were not taught or influenced by any teaching on tongues.

The early Christians heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which embraces the whole world, controlled by multiple languages. The "other tongues" evidenced only in response to the contextual need of mutual acceptance and communication. The "other tongues" manifestation did not occur in places where a contextual need for cross-cultural communication did not exist.

The biblical instances of tongues were not the result of teaching on tongues. The teaching the disciples received was about the role and function of the Holy Spirit in the believer as Comforter (Jn.14:16-18), Teacher (Jn.14:26), Witness of Jesus (Jn.15:26), Judge of the world (Jn.16:7-12) and as Guide (Jn.16:13,14). No mention of initial evidence of “other tongues” is found in the teachings of Jesus. Manifestations of the Holy Spirit in Acts were according to the need of the context, whether healing, miracle of speaking or discerning, or any other function.

Today the indoctrination on “other tongues” as initial evidence comes first; then comes the tarrying experience. The process is not vertical, but horizontal. When the work of the Holy Spirit is turned from a vertical to a horizontal process, the result will be imitation, not genuine. The vertical is Spiritual and the horizontal is human.

For many, the tongues they speak are out of exuberance; it was not a language they understood, nor their audience. There are some isolated testimonies that the speech was understood by a visitor from another language region. What I have heard spoken for over 45 years, were all speeches of exuberance, expression of joy, sincerity, or imitation of other speakers. This provided satisfaction that the speakers have reached a higher spiritual stage. After this experience, some became more jealous and some became satisfied. Some remain in mystery and some get an attitude of "holier than thou." Some are deluded and leave the church; some remain as spectators of the extraordinary religious behaviour.

Most Pentecostal churches now do not practise speaking in tongues. 1% members may occasionally speak. The Pastor might speak some babbling words to identify with the movement, claim allegiance of the members or out of exuberance. The end result of such teaching and practice is a misunderstood, demeaned and shallow Christianity with emotional zeal, but lacking spiritual knowledge. It is true, Christianity with immature zeal or childish talk is better than spiritually dead Christianity. But the abiding values are faith, hope and love, and the greatest of these is love (1 Cor. 13:13).

Multicultural Contexts

We have seen that only in three places in Acts tongues appear in connection with the filling of the Holy Spirit, and there are 20 other places where the Holy Spirit filled, empowered and transformed people without the occurrence of tongues. Where language prejudice prevailed in Jewish-Gentile context, the Holy Spirit moved people to speak in another tongue as a meaningful language. But where a monocultural situation prevailed, and where diversity of language was not a problem, speaking of "other tongues" did not occur.

There is no Biblical pattern that all Christians spoke in other tongues. There is no instruction from Christ or the Apostles that all Christians should speak in tongues. There is no rationality or theological basis that speaking "other tongues" is the basic sign of spirituality. There are no vital examples in Church history to conclude that "other tongues" is the primary sign of a spiritual Christian. If other tongues operated in the Early Church, according to the need of the multicultural contexts, it cannot be made mandatory in other contexts. Christian love demands that communication in other languages or interpretation into languages is performed where a multilingual situation prevails. Love is the greatest character of Christian spirituality (1 Cor. 13). Love demands other tongues or interpretation of tongues in a multilingual context.

Idolisation Of Tongues

The term "initial" in the doctrinal formulation suggests that the Holy Spirit works always according to this formula. According to this doctrine, the first work of the Holy Spirit in a believer is taking hold of his tongue and enable him to speak a foreign language, or ecstatic speech that he had never learned.

The word 'initial' suggests that speaking in tongues is the beginning of a process or formula established by the Holy Spirit. If so, what are the subsequent steps of manifestation? Does not the Holy Spirit have the freedom to operate in different ways, according to the needs of individuals? Were the 3000 people who were baptised on the Day of Pentecost initiated by tongues (Acts 2:41)? Was Saul initiated by tongues, according to any of his testimonies? Was the falling of the scales from his eyes and receiving sight his initiation? How was Timothy or Titus initiated? Is there any evidence that Aquila and Priscilla spoke in tongues? They were expelled from Rome and they were familiar with the Gentile languages, Greek and Latin. Did the great orator Apollos ever speak in tongues? He had come from Alexandria, from the Jewish colony of scholars in the Greek language. Being a Greek scholar, he had no language prejudice towards Gentle languages.

The Apostle John never mentions other tongues in any of his five books in the New Testament, though he wrote extensively about the ministry of the Holy Spirit in John 14-16, which was written 60 years after Pentecost. According to him, the Holy Spirit is the invisible, yet real creative power like the wind (Jn.3:8), who was imparted by the risen Christ breathing out and was received by the disciples by breathing in (Jn.20:22). The Holy Spirit was in the world even before the Day of Pentecost. The significance of the Day of Pentecost was that it was an opportune day to witness to a great crowd about the risen Christ (Acts 1:8).


The sound of the rushing mighty wind and the appearance of the tongues of fire (Acts 2:2,3) were not signs of the Holy Spirit, but a physical means which the Holy Spirit used to attract the crowd. The wind caught the ear of the crowd and the light from fire caught their eyes. Some think that the other tongues attracted the crowd. It is not likely that the speech was so noisy to attract the crowd from various parts of Jerusalem. The noise mentioned in Acts 2:6 was not the noise of the speaking, but that of the mighty wind. When they came from various parts of the city, they wondered hearing the speech of the Galileans in the upper room. The Holy Spirit worked systematically on the Day of Pentecost to bear witness to the risen Christ (Refer Acts 1:4, 8, 2:1-6, 11, 24, 32, 36, 41, 42). Sadly, some shift the focus of the Day of Pentecost from the risen Christ to the phenomenon of tongues. The Galilean Jews speaking in other tongues on the Day of Pentecost was a miracle, but the greatest miracle on that day was the transformation of 3000 Jews. Pentecost was not wind, fire, number 50 or other tongues, but crossing barriers of culture, religion, prejudice and traditions by preaching of the Gospel of Christ to a crowd.

Nowhere in the Scripture does the term 'initial physical evidence' occur. The term evolved after the Topeka experience in 1901. Those who held 'tongues' to be a unique experience identified themselves as different from other revival movements.

Physical Evidence

The assumption that physical evidence is required to be assured of the baptism of the Holy Spirit is contrary to the nature and work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is spirit, wind, invisible, yet acting in the visible realm, in diverse ways according to the context, but never to show Himself. The Holy Spirit's design is to conform men and women to the image of Christ and thus testify of Christ. The disciples were promised the Holy Spirit as the power for witness (Acts 1:4, 8).

The need of the Day of Pentecost was the power to witness. "Other tongues" was the contextual need for witnessing. It was not chosen by God to be a physical sign of the baptism with the Holy Spirit. It was the contextual need for witnessing on that festival day when people from many nations gathered at Jerusalem. No doubt, the Holy Spirit can manifest in the physical; but to make the manifestation uniform and mandatory, regardless of the situation, is baseless and contrary to the nature of the Holy Spirit.

Seeking to establish an initial physical evidence to build Christ's church lends itself to unspiritual consequences. It encourages the individual to seek spiritual experiences and helps to discipline him, but can develop misunderstandings, shallowness, hypocrisy and imitation.

The New Testament record shows that the Holy Spirit works in diverse manners to meet the diverse needs of the occasion. Paul clearly states that there is no uniformity of functions of the Holy Spirit, but rather there is unity in origin and purpose (1 Cor. 12:4-6). There is no indication anywhere in the New Testament that the initial operation of the Holy Spirit is identical or it would be speaking in "other tongues." In 3 places, tongues were needed, but in 20 places it was not. The love of God was manifest in all places. Seeking physical evidence is lack of faith in the promise of Jesus and demeans the work of the Holy Spirit. Speaking in tongues on the Day of Pentecost was not an evidence of the Holy Spirit baptism, but the power to witness about the risen Lord.

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