Renewal Theology
featuring the works of theologian J. Rodman Williams

Renewal Theology


Published Online Books

A Theological Pilgrimage

The Gift of the Holy Spirit Today

Ten Teachings

The Pentecostal Reality

Published Online Writings

Prophecy by the Book

Scripture: God's Written Word

The Holy Spirit in the Early Church

Other Writings

The Gift of the Holy Spirit Today
Chapter Three - Response

The human response to the giving of the Holy Spirit is essentially the praise of God. When human existence—individually and in community—is bathed with the divine presence, there is only one truly significant response, namely, the glorifying of God. God has acted through Jesus Christ to pour out His Spirit, and so marvelous is its occurrence that nothing else can capture it but the high praise of God. So does the praise of God ring forth—praise for His mighty deeds in creation, redemption and sending His Holy Spirit. It is the extolling of God that springs from the lips and hearts of those who are acclaiming Jesus as Lord.

This praise that is rendered is not to an absentee God but to one who is present in the midst of His people. The fullness of His grace in Jesus Christ has been experienced, and now His glory is being shed abroad in the Holy Spirit. There is a deep sense of the goodness of the Father, the Lordship of Jesus Christ and the dynamism of the Holy Spirit.

The whole focus of this praise is God. It is not a glorying in the self—as if perchance one had suddenly become an extraordinary person by virtue of the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is not a glorying by people who look at themselves as spiritually superior to others because of what they have received. Far from it: the direction is totally away from human existence as all things are lifted up to the praise and blessing of God.

Something like what we have been describing took place originally in Jerusalem at Pentecost. For when the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit they all began to praise God. This is apparent from the words of Acts 2:11 which record the multitude saying: "We hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty [wonderful, magnificent]1  works of God." We are not told for what "mighty works" they praised God; but it is not hard to imagine that, having so recently lived through the events of Jesus' life, death and resurrection, they were praising Him, among other things, for having performed the mighty work of redemption. Also He had just now fulfilled the promise to pour forth the Holy Spirit. How much they had to praise God for!

Again, something of the same thing happened years later in Caesarea: another occasion of the glorifying of God. This time it was the Gentiles upon whom the Holy Spirit came, and others (Peter and his fellow Jews) "heard them speaking in tongues and extolling [magnifying]2  (Acts 10:46).

We should also note the connection between being filled with the Spirit and praise in Paul's letter to the Ephesians. Paul writes: "Be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart" (Ephesians 5:18-19). As a result of being filled with God's Spirit, psalms, hymns, spiritual songs break forth—the heart is filled with melody, rejoicing in the Lord. Thus is praise offered up in manifold ways to Him who has given His blessed Spirit.

Let us reflect for a moment upon the praise of God in the worship of the church. In all true worship there is a desire to offer up worthy praise and adoration to Almighty God. And according to the intensity of the sense of the Lord's presence, there is yearning to find further ways of showing forth this praise. Ordinary language may seem to be inadequate, and perhaps some language of the past (Greek or Latin, for example) will be used in the desire for more worthy expression. There may be the use of praise language such as "Hallelujah!" or "Hosanna!" often repeated to voice an intensity of adoration. Or in the sensing of the wonder of God's grace, there may even be yearning for multiple tongues3  as a means of declaring what is being deeply experienced. Such ways are examples that bespeak a growing concern to get beyond ordinary speech into another, or higher, mode of worshiping God.

Here, of course, is where music occupies an important role. By moving into lyrical modes of expression, by adding melody to words, there may well be more satisfying worship of heart and soul. Thus human utterance is caught up to higher levels by the singing forth of God's praises. Yet music, even as ordinary speech, is ever seeking among ardent worshipers of God to find ways to reach still more sublime heights.

Now we come to the recognition in the books of Acts of the close connection between praise and tongues. As we have noted, the Gentiles at Caesarea were heard to be "speaking in tongues and extolling God." In Jerusalem the Jews on the day of Pentecost were heard to be speaking in other tongues than their own, and the speech served one purpose: the praise of God. From the Pentecost narrative it is apparent that tongues are not ordinary speech, but represent the worship of God in a speech that is other than one's own native language. Hence, speaking in tongues might be called transcendent praise: praise that goes beyond ordinary capacity and experience.

We may better understand this by focusing upon the situation of high spiritual intensity resulting from the outpouring of God's Holy Spirit. The sense of God's abundant presence evokes a breaking forth in praise expressive of the occasion. Ordinary language, even music, may be inadequate to declare the wonder of God's gift. This is not to deny or discount the various modes of human expression with all their possibilities to rise to greater heights. However, there may be a speech or language more suitable to the experience of the richness of God's spiritual gift. Humanly speaking, this is impossible, but—and herein is marvel—God through His Spirit may go beyond what has been uttered or sung before and bring forth a new language!4

All of this is possible because of the new situation created by the gift of the Holy Spirit. God, while remaining transcendant, scales the heights and plumbs the depths of creaturely existence, thereby effectuating a fresh situation of divine-human immediacy. In this very moment human existence is so penetrated by the Holy Spirit that response may come forth in a new spiritual key. A transposition thereby occurs wherein human language—as representative of the divine-human immediacy—can become, in an extraordinary way, the vehicle of the Holy Spirit for the praise of Almighty God.5

This brings us again to the picture of what happened on the Day of Pentecost: "They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance" (Acts 2:4). The Spirit of God filling all present pervades the speech of each one and brings forth "other tongues." The disciples speak—not the Holy Spirit—but it is the Spirit who gives them the utterance.6  And the speech is speech of transcendant praise, for what they are declaring are "the mighty works of God" (Acts 2:11).

Before proceeding further it is to be recognized that many persons hold the view that speaking in "other tongues" signifies a miraculous speaking in a language of mankind one has not learned. This is claimed, first, on the basis of the narrative in Acts 2 that, since in the assembled crowd "each one heard them speaking in his own language," the disciples must have been speaking the various languages of the listeners. However, what may have been happening was not the hearing of one's own language but hearing in one's own language. What the Apostle Paul speaks of in 1 Corinthians as the Holy Spirit's work of interpretation following upon a tongue (1 Corinthians 12:10; 14:5 and 13) may have been occurring at Pentecost, so that those who heard "other tongues" had this immediately translated—by the Holy Spirit's activity—into their own native speech. Actually not everyone on the Day of Pentecost seems to have understood: "All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, 'What does this mean?' But others mocking said, 'They are filled with new wine'" (Acts 2:12-13). Those mocking seemed to hear and understand nothing; the speech of the disciples did not impress them as being their own speech—or any speech for that matter. Hence, it would scarcely seem that the disciples were speaking the various languages of the multitude. For those who had ears to hear, the Spirit gave them understanding; for others, the disciples' speech was but the babble of drunken persons.7

A second claim that "other tongues" refers to speaking in other languages of mankind is drawn from some contemporary experience. Many testimonies in the spiritual renewal of our time are heard of people speaking foreign languages they did not learn. The evidence for this invariably given is the witness of others that they actually heard their own languages being spoken by someone who had no knowledge of that language.8  However, there are no assured proofs that the language spoken was actually a foreign language. Tongues spoken on various occasions have been recorded and checked thereafter as to language content, but the evidence for their being a language of man is lacking. This, of course, does not rule out the possibility—even likelihood—that through the Holy Spirit's interpretation a person might understand what is being said. It would seem more probable that speaking in "other tongues" refers—as was earlier mentioned—to the utterance of transcendent praise. "Other" would mean different—different, that is, in quality9—from what had been spoken before. Thus rather than the speaking of an additional human language, it would be transcendent speech, and in that sense an unknown tongue. It would be language addressed to God and known by Him alone.10

Let us reflect upon a number of significant matters about this utterance. First, the extraordinary and unique fact is that while people do the speaking, it is the Holy Spirit who provides the language. It is spiritual, not natural, utterance. The human apparatus—mouth, tongue, vocal cords—is in full operation, but the words are not from the speaker: they are from and by the Holy Spirit. One speaks as the Holy Spirit gives to speak out.

Thus there is no sense of compulsion or coercion. The Holy Spirit does not assume control, thereby forcing this speech to occur.

There is no divine seizure. Rather, the person freely does the speaking, and the Holy Spirit generously provides the language. Human integrity is fully maintained—even as individuals are given to speak forth praise in a way transcending anything they have before experienced.

It may also be observed that the uniqueness of this speech is also related to the fact that the Holy Spirit is speaking through the human spirit. For the Spirit of God pervades the depths of the human spirit and speech flows there from. The level is deeper than—or higher than—the level of mind where speech is that of human conceptualization and articulation. The level is also more profound than that of human feelings where speech has a large emotional content. It is that level of human spirit where the Spirit of God, speaking in and through the spirit of man, communicates with the transcendent God.11  To speak in other tongues is to go beyond one's native speech into the realm of spiritual utterance. Thereby the praise of God may sound forth in a new and glorious way.

The utterance, secondly, has intelligible content. It is address to God, and not babbling nonsense12  or irrational expression. It is speech, language; hence, there is intelligibility, even if this utterance is other than one's own ordinary language.

Again, let us return to the Day of Pentecost. They speak on that day in "other tongues" or "languages."13  Hence, there is intelligible content even though the disciples themselves do not provide it. This intelligibility is demonstrated in the fact that the assembled crowd understands the disciples to be declaring "the mighty works of God" (Acts 2:11). The same thing is implied later at Caesarea where the people are heard to be "speaking in tongues and extolling God" (10:46). There is intelligible content in both cases: the magnifying of God.

It is important to stress that the intelligible content of speaking in (other) tongues is that provided by the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit of God flowing through the human vessel—most profoundly the human spirit—communicating with God. It is the worship of God "in spirit and truth" (John 4:23).

Thirdly, speaking in tongues is the language of exalted utterance. We have spoken of its intelligible content; now it is to be observed that the language is that of exaltation, of rapture, of transport.14  As we have noted, some mockingly said, "They are full of new wine," which suggests (despite the lack of spiritual sensitivity of some in the audience) that the manner and speech of the disciples were not unlike inebriation. Here, though, was not wine of the grape, but wine of the Spirit, and an exuberance transcending anything earth could produce.15  When the Holy Spirit is poured out and men experience this abundance of God's grace, it can but follow that there will be great joy and exaltation.

Here also is the place to comment that this language of exalted utterance may be that of song. Earlier, mention was made of how, through music, the ardent worshiper may seek to go beyond speech into lyrical expression, thereby conveying his worship and adoration of Almighty God. Now we take a step further by making reference to "singing in the Spirit."16  Such singing may not be in conjunction with the added factor of the melody also being provided by the Holy Spirit. This often happens in a group at worship, and may be a climatic moment in the total worship experience.17

Before proceeding let us stress again that the basic human response to the gift of the Holy Spirit is the praise of God. The focus is not on tongues but on praise. Where, however, praise under the impact of the out pouring of God's Spirit seeks to express itself, it may become transcendent. The breakthrough into the heights of praise is made possible by the Holy Spirit taking human speech and carrying it beyond itself into spiritual utterance. There may be praise without tongues, but where tongues are spoken there is always praise. The essential matter is, and continues to be, praise.

This leads, fourthly, to the recognition of tongues as a peculiar sign of the gift of the Holy Spirit. Those who have experienced the outpouring of God's Spirit and spoken in tongues bear in their own speech evidence of a miracle. They never had spoken so before—though there may have been many other spiritual experiences. This was a sign of something new and different in their lives. Furthermore, they know they did not manufacture this speech,18  that in all of its strangeness (never becoming really comprehensible) such speaking remains testimony to a special visitation of God. The particular joy and elation of the original moment of the divine gift may come and go, even fade somewhat, but not the memory of this strange utterance. And this is all the more enhanced by the fact that, insofar as such speaking continues in the personal life and community life,19  there is a visible, audible reminder of the extraordinary fact of the outpouring of God's Holy Spirit.

In this matter of tongues as a peculiar sign, it is apparent in the biblical witness that there is no record of speaking in tongues before the first outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Many other phenomena such as prophecy, healings, exorcism, etc. had occurred previously—but not tongues. Thus it is the particular sign of the gift of the Holy Spirit. Also, in at least one case where speaking in tongues occurs in Acts, it is designated as peculiar, undeniable evidence that the Holy Spirit has been given. I make reference to the Caesarean account where the text reads: "The gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. For they [those accompanying Peter] heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God" (Acts 10:45-46). Speaking in tongues was the sure evidence—the unmistakable sign—that the Holy Spirit had also been given to the Gentiles.

Indeed, in the books of Acts wherever speaking in tongues is mentioned, it is immediately after the gift of the Spirit. The disciples at Jerusalem: "were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues (Acts 2:4). The Gentiles at Caesarea: the Holy Spirit falls on them and at once they are "speaking in tongues and extolling God" (Acts 10:46). Likewise the Ephesians: "The Holy Spirit came on them; and they spoke with tongues and prophesied" (Acts 19:6). It would seem unquestionable that Acts points to speaking in tongues as an immediate and unmistakable sign of the gift of the Holy Spirit.20

A sign, however, is not identical with the reality to which it points. The gift of the Holy Spirit is the primary reality, and speaking in tongues is the sign that the gift has been received. It demonstrates further that the human response of transcendent praise has occurred. So tongues are not constitutive of the gift of the Spirit (as if it were not possible to have one without the other), but are declarative, namely, that the gift has been received. Tongues are—and remain—a peculiar sign.21

Fifthly, tongues are to be understood as a universal possibility. It is the same Holy Spirit, the same reality of the gift of the Spirit, the same called-for response of praise, and the same opportunity to voice this praise in tongues. That it is a possibility for all is surely a matter of God's grace wherein He grants the privilege for persons to enter into His highest praise.

Let us look again at the biblical record. In the book of Acts on every occasion when people speak in tongues all are involved. On the Day of Pentecost the waiting disciples were "all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues" (2:4); at Caesarea "the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word" (10:44) and others heard "them [all] speaking in tongues …" (10:46); and at Ephesus "the Holy Spirit came on them; and they [all] spoke with tongues" (19:6). Where speaking in tongues is mentioned, all who have received the gift of the Holy Spirit participate. It is not the activity of a few, but that of the whole body of believers.22  No one is left out.

This universal possibility is also apparent in the words of Mark 16:17: "And these signs will accompany those who believe …they [all] will speak in new tongues." The same is suggested in the words of Paul to the Corinthians: "I want you all to speak in tongues (1 Corinthians 14:5). Likewise since "praying with the spirit" refers to praying in tongues (1 Corinthians 14:14-15),23  the admonition to believers generally to "pray in the Holy Spirit" (Jude 20), or to "pray at all times in the Spirit" (Ephesians 6:18) may contain the note of glossolalic utterance—and thus again represent a universal possibility.

The universality of speaking in tongues has been confirmed again and again in the contemporary spiritual renewal. So widespread is the experience that—though the nomenclature is misleading—the renewal is frequently called "the tongues movement."24  Untold numbers of people have found there is no limitation to a few, but that all may praise God in tongues. Wherever the Spirit is moving in fullness, tongues—the language of the Spirit—are to be found.

Now, returning to the record in Acts, it is to be recognized that though all speak in tongues wherever tongues are mentioned—hence the universal character—not every account that records the giving of the Spirit mentions speaking in tongues. In the five stated instances of receiving the gift of the Spirit, three of them (as previously noted) specify speaking in tongues, the other two do not. However, in the case of the Samaritans, tongues may be implied. For just after the statement that "they received the Holy Spirit" are the words: "Now when Simon [the magician] saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles' hands, he offered them [Peter and John] money …" (Acts 8:18). The text may be suggesting that what Simon saw was the Samaritans speaking in tongues, something extra ordinary beyond his previous manifold occult practices, and that he was willing to pay for the power to lay hands on others for similar miraculous results. I think this interpretation is quite likely, and that the Samaritans did speak in tongues.25

In the case of Saul of Tarsus and his being filled with the Spirit, nothing is said about his speaking in tongues (see Acts 9:17); however, by Paul's own testimony to the Corinthians—"I thank God I speak in tongues more than you all" (1 Corinthians 14:18)—we know he did. It is quite possible, though Luke does not so specify,26  that Paul first spoke in tongues when he was filled with the Holy Spirit. However, it may also be that he began to speak at a later time.

To summarize: in the majority of cases—three out of five—people who had received the gift of the Holy Spirit definitely did speak in tongues; there is strong likelihood of such in four out of five; and a possibility that in all five instances people did so speak. Based on the evidence in Acts we can draw no absolute conclusion that speaking in tongues invariably followed the reception of the Spirit; however, the texts do incline in that direction. This is further suggested by the fact that, as already noted, wherever tongues are explicitly mentioned, all speak; it is not the expression of one or two but of everyone who has received the Holy Spirit. The universality of speaking in tongues would strongly suggest their occurrence, whether or not directly mentioned, in all situations wherein the Spirit was given.

In the present-day spiritual renewal, the intimate connection between receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues is recognized everywhere. It happens again and again that when people are filled with the Holy Spirit they immediately begin to speak in tongues.27  Indeed, since praise is the initial response to the gift of the Spirit, and tongues represent transcendent praise, one follows readily upon the other. In some instances, speaking in tongues may occur later;28 but that it does occur is the common testimony of the renewal through the world. Tongues are the Spirit-given opportunity for fullness of praise.

Some of the things said in this chapter about transcendent praise through tongues may seem a bit strange since there has been a tendency in the Church to neglect this opportunity and vehicle of praise. However, there have always been those who, flowing in the Spirit, have experienced and maintained this high worship of God. It is quite possible also that out of this praise in tongues has come some of the great music in the Church.29

A similar, fascinating, activity in the history of the Church has been that of jubilation. To jubilate is to go beyond ordinary speech into a praise of God that even the most expressive words cannot convey. "Jubilation is an unspeakable joy, which one cannot keep silent; yet neither can it be expressed (in words) …it is beyond comprehension."30  Jubilation represents various wordless outcries of joy and exaltation; hence, though it may not be identified as such with "other tongues" (the emphasis being on wordless praise rather than praise in a new language), the connection is quite close. Each is motivated by the same intense yearning: to express the inexpressible—thus to go beyond ordinary speech into the realm of transcendent praise.31

We close this chapter on the theme of the praise of God as the ultimate human response to the gift of the Holy Spirit. Praise be unto God for all His mighty and wonderful works!


1. The Greek word is megaleia.

2. Megalunonton. It may be noted that the same Greek root is found in Acts 2:11and 10:46megal—which connotes mightiness, magnification. Thus in both Jerusalem and Caesarea they "magnify" the "magnificent" works of God.

3. For example, the hymn of Charles Wesley beginning, "O for a thousand tongues to sing My great Redeemer's praise" exhibits this intense yearning.

4. Many of the things said in the paragraph above are reflected in the contemporary spiritual renewal. Two illustrations may suffice, the first from a former Roman Catholic layman, Larry Tomczak: "As thanksgiving and praise erupted from within, a profound sense of God's presence began to well up in me. I felt the rapturous and exultant joy of the Lord surging through me, and the more profuse my praise, the more intense became my desire to magnify the name of my Savior. I grew impatient with the inadequacy of the English language to fully express all that I was feeling, how much I loved God. Then, just at the right moment, new words began to flow from my heart… I could not restrain my tongue, and my lips began to stammer, as a new language hopped, skipped and somersaulted from my mouth. The language was foreign to my ears, a heavenly language only God could understand. It was praise that had surged through my whole being to seek expression through the Holy Spirit in a new transcendence" Clap Your Hands! (Plainfield, NJ: Logos, 1973), pp. 112-113. More briefly, words from a Reformed pastor, Harald Bredesen: "I tried to say, 'Thank you, Jesus, Thank you, Jesus,' but I couldn't express the inexpressible. Then, to my great relief, the Holy Spirit did it for me. It was just as if a bottle was uncorked, and out of me poured a torrent of words in a language I had never studied before. Now everything I had ever wanted to say to God, I could say." Yes, Lord (Plainfield, NJ: Logos, 1972), p. 59.

5. C.S. Lewis in his address entitled "Transposition" (in Transposition and Other Addresses [London: Geoffrey Bles, 1949]) describes how a transposition occurs whenever a higher medium reproduces itself in a lower. If viewed merely from the perspective of the lower, the higher may be completely missed. Concerning glossolalia (speaking in tongues) "all non-Christian opinion would regard it as a kind of hysteria, an involuntary discharge of nervous excitement" (p. 9). However, " …the very same phenomenon which is sometimes not only natural but even pathological is at other times …the organ of the Holy Ghost" (p. 10). "Those who spoke with tongues, as St. Paul did, can well understand how that holy phenomenon differed from the hysterical phenomenon—although …they were in a sense exactly the same phenomenon (p. 17). Lewis later speaks about "the inevitableness of the error made about every transposition by one who approaches it from the lower medium only" (p. 19). "Transposition" accordingly is an excellent term to express what happens when the Holy Spirit, the higher medium, is expressed in the lower, the human spirit. For the vehicle of expression, human language, becomes transposed into a new dimension of utterance.

6. The word translated "utterance" is apophthengesthai, literally "to speak out." Apophthengesthai is a term used of "the speech of the wise man [in Greek literature] …but also of the oracle-giver, diviner, prophet, exorcist, and other 'inspired' persons …" (Arndt and Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, article on apophthengomai.) This "inspired" speech is given by the Holy Spirit through the lips of men.

7. I do not mean to say in the paragraph above that only a miracle of understanding is involved; there is also clearly a miracle of speech. It is by no means enough to say that whereas the disciples may have spoken their own language (Aramaic), each in the crowd—miraculously—heard his own tongue being spoken. There is both a miracle of speech—other, different, spiritual tongues—and a miracle of understanding: each made possible by the Holy Spirit.

8. See, for example, Spoken by the Spirit: Documented Accounts of "Other Tongues" from Arabic to Zulu, by Ralph W. Harris (Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 1973).

9. Thayer in his Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament has two headings under heteros ("other") referring to (1) Number (2) Quality. "Number" would point to other tongues as additional; thus in the case of Acts 2:4, the speaking of additional languages (such as Arabic, Greek and Chaldean); "quality" would signify difference in kind—"not of the same nature, form, class, kind" (Thayer).

10. So does Paul write the Corinthians: "For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit" (1 Corinthians 14:2). Here clearly "a tongue" is not a human language—"no one understands him." Incidentally, the KJV reads, "For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue …," while adding a word "unknown" not in the Greek original, conveys a proper understanding of what "a tongue" is. It is not a foreign language, but an "other" language, known to God alone, and only by interpretation to men (see 1 Corinthians 14:5, 13, 27-28). Thus, there is no basic difference between tongues, or glossolalia, at Pentecost, in Caesarea, Ephesus and Corinth. So writes Philip Schaff: "The glossolalia [on the Day of Pentecost] was, as in all cases where it is mentioned, an act of worship and adoration … The Pentecostal glossolalia was the same as that in the household of Cornelius in Caesarea after his conversion, which may be called a Gentile Pentecost, as that of the twelve disciples of John the Baptist at Ephesus, where it appears in connection with prophesying, and as that in the Christian congregation at Corinth" (History of the Christian Church [New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1910], Vol. 1, pp. 230-231).

11. "The language was being given me from the central place in me where God was, far beyond the realm of my emotions. Speaking on and on, I became more and more aware of God in me …God living in me was creating the language. I was speaking it—giving it voice, by my volition, and I was speaking it to God Who was above and beyond me. God the Holy Spirit was giving me the words to talk to God the Father, and it was all happening because of God the Son, Jesus Christ." So writes Dennis Bennett in Nine O'clock in the Morning (Plainfield, NJ: Logos, 1970), p. 23. Bennett, Episcopal priest, is often described as "spiritual father" of the neo-Pentecostal or charismatic renewal. His experience of "baptism in the Spirit" and speaking in tongues occurred in 1960 while he was rector of St. Mark's Church in Van Nuys, California.

12. " …this speech of tongues is not the babbling of babes, but it is a mode in which the inexpressible verbal form of the heavenly world (1 Corinthians 12:3; 1 Corinthians 13:1) breaks into this human world of ours." So Peter Brunner writes in his book, Worship in the Name of Jesus (St. Louis: Concordia, 1968), p. 270. Brunner describes tongues, however, not as speech but as a disintegration or rupture of speech in which the mode mentioned breaks in, all of which is due to the impact of the approaching kingdom of God. "The New Testament shows us that the verbal vessel of our language may disintegrate under the impact of the onrushing new eon. This takes place in the language of tongues, which is no longer speech, but which appears as babbling and outside the bonds of molded words." Then comes the statement: " …this speech of tongues, etc." Another beautiful passage follows: " …this rupture of intelligible speech in the speech of tongues shows us that the word will not remain unaffected by the approaching might of the kingdom of God. It, too, will be drawn symbolically into the future eschatological transformation of all things" (page 270). Brunner here employs language about the inbreak of "the heavenly world," "the onrushing new eon," "the approaching might of the kingdom of God" which, while different from terminology we have used, expresses the wonder of the coming of the Holy Spirit. What is important is his strong emphasis on "tongues" as resulting from the impact of the inbreaking spiritual reality, and that tongues are not babbling nonsense but a form of expression beyond all human capacity.

13. The Greek word is glossais. It may mean either tongues or languages.

14. I hesitate to use the word "ecstasy" because of the possible connotation of frenzy, uncontrolled "">Mark 3:21: "He is beside himself" the Greek word is exeste, a form of the verb existemi, the noun ekstasis. Thus, though "ecstasy" may be used of transport, joy, etc., it also tends to suggest unbalance, lack of control, even madness. Ekstasis can also mean "amazement," or "astonishment," in a situation of confusion and bafflement. For example, the multitude hearing each in his own language " … were amazed [existanto] …and wondered [ or 'marveled'] saying 'Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?'" (Acts 2:7). Accordingly, it was the crowd hearing the tongues who were "ecstatic," not the disciples speaking them! On this point also see Larry Christenson, Speaking in Tongues (Minneapolis: Dimension Books, 1968, p. 24). Christenson is a Lutheran leader in the contemporary renewal.

15.Recall Paul's words: "Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit …singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart …" (Ephesians 5:18-19). The true wine of the Spirit makes not for dissipation but for the praise of God with all one's being.

16. The words of Paul in Ephesians 5:18-19 were partially quoted in the preceding footnote. The fuller quotation, which seems particularly relevant here, is: "Be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart." The "spiritual songs" are odais pneumatikais, songs given by the Spirit, probably representing the exalted utterance of singing in the Spirit. (Incidentally, in a footnote to Colossians 3:16, where "spiritual songs" are also mentioned, the Jerusalem Bible says that these songs "could be charismatic improvisations suggested by the Spirit during liturgical assembly.") For a reference to "singing with the spirit"—which seems likewise to refer to spiritual singing—1 Corinthians 14:15. Note also that Paul differentiates such singing from "singing with the mind."

17. "We were lifted out of ourselves in the worship of the Lord. There was a period of singing in tongues, and the variety in the sound was matched only by its harmony and the unanimity with which it began and ended, almost as if at the signal of a conductor; but there was no conductor—at least, not a human one." So writes Michael Green, Anglican rector, about his visit to a church "full of the Holy Spirit" (I Believe in the Holy Spirit [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975], pp. 158-59). In an earlier book I described the experience of "singing in the Spirit" thus: " …there may be long periods of joyful, lilting music, quite unplanned, moving back and forth through psalms, hymns, choruses, and the like—as the Spirit guides the meeting. But the climax is the moment when not only is the melody given by the Spirit but also the language, as words and music sung by the assembled worshipers blend into an unimaginable, humanly impossible, chorus of praise. Here is 'singing in the Spirit' at its zenith—the sublime utterance of the Holy Spirit through the human spirit to the glory of Almighty God" (The Era of the Spirit, p. 33).

18. Samarin, in Tongues of Men and Angels (New York: Macmillan, 1972), says that "anybody can produce glossolalia if he is uninhibited and if he discovers what the 'trick' is" (pp. 227-8), namely, the uninhibited expression of nonsense syllables. To reply: anyone who has truly spoken in tongues knows that there is no possible comparison of it with human gibberish. As Simon Tugwell, Dominican priest, succinctly says: "You cannot engineer tongues …" (Did You Receive the Holy Spirit? [London: Darton, Longman, & Todd, 1972], p. 63).

19. Most persons continue speaking in tongues in their prayer life. No reference to a continuation of tongues beyond the initial gift of the Spirit is found in Acts. However, Mark 16:17, many versus in 1 Corinthians 12-14, Ephesians 5:19, Colossians 3:16, and possibly Ephesians 6:18 and Jude 20 suggest continuation. (On Ephesians 6:18 and Jude 20 see later discussion.)

20. This is true even though Acts does not mention tongues in the two other primary cases of the gift of the Spirit (the Samaritans, Acts 8, and Saul of Tarsus, Acts 9). But where they are specifically mentioned, in each instance, it is immediately after the gift, and thus tongues have a peculiar significance. Alan Richardson in his An Introduction to the Theology of the New Testament (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1958) says that "St. Luke regards 'speaking in tongues' (glossolalia) as an unmistakable sign of the gift of the Spirit" (p. 119).

21. A helpful discussion of this matter is to be found in the chapter, "Speaking in Tongues as 'Sign,'" by Larry Christenson in his book, Speaking in Tongues, pp. 30-70. E.g., "To consummate one's experience of the baptism with the Holy Spirit by speaking in tongues gives it an objectivity …regardless of feelings, that sign of the 'new tongue' is there to remind one in a special way that the Holy Spirit has taken up His dwelling in one's body," pp. 55-56. Don Basham in his book, Face Up With a Miracle (Northridge, CA: Voice Christian Publications, 1967), describing his baptism in the Spirit and tongues, says: " …this was God moving in my life more powerfully than ever before …I had made entry into a new and deeper spiritual dimension, clearly marked by the experience of praying in a language utterly unknown to me" (p. 60). "Clearly marked" points up the significance of tongues as an objective and unforgettable sign.

22. Sometimes the statement is made that the Apostle Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians, presents a different picture. In Chapter 12 Paul describes tongues as one of several apportionments of the Holy Spirit—"to another [person] various kinds of, tongues" (v. 10), and later asks, "Do all speak with tongues?" (v. 30). The implied answer is "No, not all do." Does this contradict the accounts in Acts? Not at all, when one understands that Paul is dealing in Corinthians with ministry in the church, and how the Holy Spirit uses a diversity of gifts for building up the body. That all at Corinth are capable of speaking in tongues is evident from the words of Paul thereafter: "I want you all to speak in tongues" (1 Corinthians 14:5). But when it is a matter of the edification of the body, if all so speak it only causes confusion and disorder. The Holy Spirit therefore manifests himself variously (see 1 Corinthians 12:7): prophecy, tongues, healings, etc. Incidentally, prophecy is also listed as one of the several gifts apportioned; yet Paul makes clear that prophecy is not limited to a few: "You can all prophesy, one by one …" (1 Corinthians 14:31).

23. "For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. What am I to do? I will pray with the spirit and I will pray with the mind also …" Praying with (or "in"—the Greek is simply to pneumati) the spirit is unmistakably praying in a tongue.

24. Usually this expression is used in a critical fashion by those who would like to make of the renewal a kind of sensationalism or exhibitionism, as if the basic emphases were on speaking in tongues and getting others to do the same. The emphasis, of course, is not on tongues but on the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the response of praise, which in becoming transcendant does move into the language of exalted utterance. The movement accordingly is "a Holy Spirit movement," not a "tongues movement." Incidentally, however, the labeling of the movement as "tongues" does express (what most critics do not like to admit) that tongues are universally present!

25. A.T. Robertson states that the word structure in Acts 8 "shows plainly that those who received the gift of the Holy Spirit spoke in tongues" (Word Pictures in the New Testament [New York: Harper and Brothers, 1932], III, p. 107). F.F. Bruce affirms that "the context leaves us in no doubt that the reception of the Spirit was attended by external manifestations such as had marked His descent on the earliest disciples at Pentecost" (Commentary on the Books of the Acts, "The New International Commentary on the New Testament" [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1954], p. 181). Johannes Munck writes that "Simon, who by virtue of his earlier life closely observed all wondrous faculties and powers, was struck by the apostles' ability to make the baptized prophesy and to speak in tongues by the laying on of hands" (The Anchor Bible: The Acts of the Apostles [Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Co., 1967], p. 75). Foakes-Jackson says that in this passage "the gift [of the Spirit] is manifested openly, possibly (though this is not stated) by glossolalia" (The Moffatt Commentary: The Acts of the Apostles [New York: Harper and Brothers, 1931], p. 73).

26. Since Luke does not actually say that when Ananias laid hands on him Saul was filled with the Holy Spirit—yet the whole context implies that Saul was so filled—it is quite possible that tongues are also implied. We have just observed the clear-cut statement in Acts 8 that the Samaritans did receive the Holy Spirit, and the strong implication that they spoke in tongues. Acts 9 is less direct on the reception of the Spirit by Saul, while strongly implying it, and has nothing as such about tongues—but Luke may be asking the reader to supply both. If both the reception of the Spirit and tongues were common knowledge and experience (as I believe they were) to Luke's readers, he scarcely needs to repeat each time. Incidentally, this same point may be made about belief in Christ and baptism in water. Often Luke specifically mentions water baptism in connection with faith in Jesus Christ (see Acts 2:38, 41; 8:12-13, 35-38; 9:18; 10:48; 16:14-15, 31-33; 18:8; and 19:5); on other occasions he describes people coming to faith without reference to water baptism (see Acts 9:42; 11:21; 13:12, 48; 14:1; 17:12, 34). However, it is very likely that Luke would have the reader assume the occurrence of water baptism when not mentioned. Such baptism was doubtless common experience and practice in the early church.

27. See, for example, John L. Sherrill, They Speak With Other Tongues: The Story of a Reporter on the Trail of a Miracle (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1964). The climax of Sherrill's own experience was that of being prayed for to receive "the baptism in the Spirit" (p. 139). Shortly thereafter: "With a sudden burst of will I thrust my hands into the air, turned my face full upward, and at the top of my voice I shouted: 'Praise the Lord!' It was the floodgate opened. From deep inside me, deeper than I knew voice could go, came a torrent of joyful sound …After that one shattering effort of will, my will was released, freed to soar into union with Him. No further conscious effort was required of me at all, not even choosing the syllables with which to express my joy. The syllables were all there, ready-formed for my use, more abundant than my earth-bound lips and tongue could give shape to …And so I prayed on, laughing and free, while the setting sun shone through the window, and the stars came out" (p. 141).

28. As possibly in the case of Paul. In our present day there may be a delay, often because of fear or uncertainty. Among many people there is prejudice against tongues, and barriers of inner resistance are built up. However in view of the strong desire to respond in praise to God, and the Holy Spirit surging within, the inevitable movement is toward such transcendent speaking.

29. "The glossolalia of the early Eastern Church, as the original musical event, represents the germ cell or the original form of sung liturgical prayer …. In the sublime levitation and interweaving of the old Church tones, and even in Gregorian chant to some extent, we are greeted by an element that has its profound roots in glossolalia." Words of Werner Meryer in Dererste Korintherbrief: Prophezei, 1945, Vol. II 122 et seq. (tr. by Arnold Bittlinger). See Sounds of Wonder (New York: Paulist Press, 1977) by Eddie Ensley, p. 117.

30. Words of St. Thomas Aquinas in his Commentary on Psalms, as quoted in Sounds of Wonder, p. 53. Ensley, in this important book, gives many instances of jubilation in the history of the Church, and states that "Indications are that jubilation is a continuation of the glossolalia of the New Testament" and the "plainsong and the musical parts of the liturgy emerged from the early practice of glossolalia" (pp. 115 and 117).

31. Tongues are described as "a special language of jubilation" by Gerhard Delling in his book, Worship in the New Testament (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1962). "The working of the Spirit brings about …an enthusiasm which expresses itself in a special language of jubilation, in a praising of God which rises above the normal manner of speaking" (italics: Delling), p. 38. Incidentally, Delling's evaluation of glossolalia is also worth quoting: "It is an intimation (certainly an imperfect and, in Paul's opinion at least, an inadequate one) of the praise and worship of God in the heavenly service; and thus at the same time an anticipation of the future glory. Men knew that they stood in the midst of the irruption of the coming age; they knew that in the gift of the Spirit they had received an earnest [αρραβων] of the consummation; furthermore the Spirit when bestowed did not remain simply a gift in the hidden chambers of the heart; it pressed for expression in special intimations in Worship" (p. 35).

Rodman Williams, Ph.D., was a Professor of Renewal Theology Emeritus at Regent University School of Divinity. Author of numerous books, he is perhaps best known for his three volume Renewal Theology (Zondervan, 1996).

Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptural quotations are from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible.

The Gift of the Holy Spirit Today by J. Rodman Williams, was published in 1980 by Logos International.

Content Copyright ©1996 by J. Rodman Williams, Ph.D.

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