18 September 2022

Tongues in Ephesus

In the city of Ephesus, disciples of John spoke in tongues and prophesied after receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit

On Pentecost, the disciples received the Spirit for the first time accompanied by the sound “like a rushing might wind” and  “tongues of fire.” And they began to “speak in other tongues” as the Spirit gave them “utterance,” events “seen and heard” by the Jewish pilgrims who were in Jerusalem to celebrate the feast.

In the city of Caesarea, Peter and the Jews with him had witnessed the Holy Spirit fill Cornelius and his family while the Apostle was still speaking. This was confirmed when the Gentiles “spoke and tongues and magnified God,” confirming to those present that the Gentiles had received the same gift as the 120 Jewish disciples did on the Day of Pentecost.

In Ephesus, upon meeting several disciples of John the Baptist, Paul queried them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” Apparently, he detected something deficient in their faith that led him to this question. Precisely what that was the passage in Acts does not tell us – (Acts 19:1-7).


John’s disciples responded - they knew nothing about the Holy Spirit. This caused Paul to inquire concerning their baptism in water, and to this, they stated they had been “baptized unto John.” Presumably, they had repented and been baptized by John or one of his followers but had not heard the full message preached by Jesus or his disciples.

Paul explained that Jesus is the “Coming One” referred to by John who would come after him and “baptize in spirit and fire” – (Matthew 3:11-12, Acts 13:23-25).

Paul then baptized them “in the name of the Lord Jesus.” This is consistent with earlier accounts in Acts when new converts were immersed in water in the name of Jesus – (Acts 2:38, 8:16, 10:44-48).

In this case, the men received the gift of the Spirit AFTER water baptism. By itself, this information could suggest that the gift is only given after a convert is baptized. However, in Caesarea, the Gentiles received it BEFORE their baptism, so that is not a safe assumption.


Next, Paul laid hands on the twelve men, the “Holy Spirit came upon them,” and they “spoke in tongues and prophesied.” That is the end of the story as it is told in Acts.

This might indicate the Spirit is received through the laying on of hands by an apostle. However, the original 120 disciples, including the twelve apostles, received the gift on the Day of Pentecost without the laying on of anyone’s hands, or at least, there is no mention of it in the second chapter of Acts.

Paul himself received the Spirit and healing through the prayer and “laying on of hands” by Ananias, a man nowhere identified as an apostle – (Acts 9:1-18).

Moreover, the Gentiles in Caesarea received the gift WHILE Peter was still preaching and BEFORE anyone had an opportunity to lay hands on them. Thus, while the “laying on of hands” whether by an apostle or anyone else may be important in some instances, it is not a requirement in Acts for receiving the Spirit.


Obviously, the twelve disciples of John did speak in tongues after they received the Spirit. Since Paul conversed with them BEFORE they received the gift, “tongues” were not used for translation purposes. Whether they spoke in “known” or “unknown” tongues the passage does not say.

This is the only instance in Acts where we read of individuals “prophesying” after receiving the gift of the Spirit. The passage does not say whether “tongues” or the ability to prophesy was the “sign” of the gift, it only tells us what phenomena did occur when the disciples of John received it.

In one respect, the incident is unique. The twelve men were not Gentile converts or another case of Jews, in general, accepting Christ. They were followers of John the Baptist who must have heard of the “Coming One,” but, nevertheless, they remained ignorant of his arrival and identity (Paul stressed who the “Coming One” is - “Jesus”).

Thus, the manifestation of both “tongues” and prophecy possibly was intended to confirm for followers of John that Jesus is the promised Christ, the one who now dispenses the gift of the Spirit. But that is supposition. What Paul’s reaction was to these manifestations we do not know.

This is the only case recorded in Acts when the gift of the Spirit was accompanied by prophecy. However, in his sermon on the Day of Pentecost, Peter quoted the prophet, Joel. In the “last days,” God would pour out His Spirit “on all flesh,” and one result would be that “your sons and your daughters shall prophesy.” In anything, this incident confirmed further that the Spirit was being poured out “on all flesh” as promised in the book of Joel – (Joel 2:28-32, Acts 2:17-21).

Prophecy exercised by members of the covenant community is one of the predicted “wonders in the heaven above, and signs on the earth beneath” that characterizes the activity of the Spirit among God’s people and the “last days.”

As in Caesarea, and on the Day of Pentecost, the passage leaves no doubt that the arrival of the Spirit on these men resulted in their “speaking in tongues.” What they said in tongues or revealed in their “prophesying” we do not know.

For the narrative in Acts, apparently, such questions are not relevant. What the manifestations do confirm is that the followers of John received the Spirit. What we can conclude from this is straightforward - when they received the Holy Spirit, they “spoke in tongues and prophesied.”

No comments:

Post a Comment