Tongues in Ephesus

On Pentecost, the church received the gift of the Spirit, an event accompanied by the sound “like a rushing might wind” and what appeared to be “tongues of fire.” The 120 disciples began to “speak in other tongues” as the Spirit gave them “utterance.” These phenomena were “seen and heard” by many Jewish pilgrims who were present to celebrate the feast of Pentecost.

In Caesarea, Peter witnessed the Holy Spirit fill Cornelius and his family while he was still speaking. This was confirmed when the Gentiles “spoke and tongues and magnified God,” confirming they had received the same gift as the 120 disciples did on Pentecost.

Ephesus - Photo by Deniz Demirci on Unsplash
[Ephesus - Photo by Deniz Demirci on Unsplash]

Now, in Ephesus, upon meeting several followers 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 does not tell us – (Acts 19:1-7).


John’s disciples told Paul they knew nothing about the Holy Spirit. This caused him to inquire concerning their baptism, and to this, they declared they were baptized by John.

Paul explained that Jesus is the “Coming One” referred to by John, the Messiah 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 where 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 the gift is only given after a convert is baptized. However, in Caesarea, the Gentiles received it BEFORE their baptism.


Next, Paul laid hands on them, 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 suggest 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 anyone laying on them.

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 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 where we read of individuals “prophesying” when they receive 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 these men received it. What Paul’s reaction was to these manifestations we do not know.

This is the only case in Acts where the gift of the Spirit is accompanied by prophecy. However, in his sermon on the Day of Pentecost, Peter quotes the prophet Joel that, in the “last days,” God will pour out His Spirit “on all flesh,” and one result will be that “your sons and your daughters shall prophesy” – (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 receipt of the Spirit by 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.”

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