The History of Tongues: Pentecost and the Early Church
Author: Professor Walter J. Veith, PhD
Publish date:
Summary: Through the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, God's people were able to share the Gospel to everyone in their own language.
 
This article is part of a series. We recommend that you first read: The History of Tongues.
 

While Jesus was on Earth, He promised that the disciples would receive power from God to equip them for the work of the Gospel:

Source: Wikimedia Commons

And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues (Mark 16:17).

And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high (Luke 24:49).

The Greek word used here for “power” is dunamis, which means “strength, ability and skill.” This ability was to be used for a purpose, and they received it at Pentecost from the Holy Spirit. We read about this event in Acts 2:4-8:

And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven. Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language. And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilaeans? And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born?

The Purpose of Pentecost

Through Pentecost, the people of God were empowered to preach the Gospel. The event transformed the disciples from fearful believers to true soldiers of Christ and they proclaimed the truth with power. Devout Jews of every nation were present when the gift of tongues was given to the disciples.

Acts 2 reveals that 17 languages were represented in Jerusalem and all the people heard them speak in their own mother tongue (Greek idios dialektos), “wherein [they] were born.” This implies that beyond being able to speak the languages, the disciples were given the cultural sensitivity needed to be relevant and engaging.

This event was to bring about the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy where God promised that not only Israel would come into a covenant relationship with Him, but people of all nations that would obey Him and honor His Sabbaths and keep His covenant:

Neither let the son of the stranger, that hath joined himself to the LORD, speak, saying, The LORD hath utterly separated me from his people: neither let the eunuch say, Behold, I am a dry tree. For thus saith the LORD unto the eunuchs that keep my sabbaths, and choose the things that please me, and take hold of my covenant; Even unto them will I give in mine house and within my walls a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters: I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off.

Also the sons of the stranger, that join themselves to the LORD, to serve him, and to love the name of the LORD, to be his servants, every one that keepeth the Sabbath from polluting it, and taketh hold of my covenant; Even them will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer: their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon mine altar; for mine house shall be called an house of prayer for all people. The Lord GOD, which gathereth the outcasts of Israel saith, Yet will I gather others to him, beside those that are gathered unto him (Isaiah 56:3-8).

The gift of tongues was clearly a gift of communication, intended to facilitate the spreading of the Gospel to those who had previously been excluded by the Jews.

The Early Church Period

After Pentecost, the concept of speaking in tongues was also present throughout the early Church period. Irenaeus (114-202 AD), in his work Against Heresies, speaks out against the abuse of the prophetic gift that often lead to violent emotions and loss of chastity. In early times, the gift of tongues was regarded as the ability to speak languages with which to communicate the Gospel. See what the apostle Paul had to say about spiritual gifts in his letter to the Corinthian Church

Even Origen (185-254 AD), writing of Paul's gift of tongues mentioned in 1 Corinthians 14:18, clearly refers to the gift as the ability to speak a known language for the purpose of preaching the Gospel to others.

Ahead to Tongues in Recent History

This article is adapted from Truth Matters by Professor Walter J. Veith, an international speaker who has studied Biblical issues in-depth in his quest for truth. His popular series Genesis Conflict brings the debate between Creation and evolution to a new climax as he dissects the arguments with a scientific eye. His highly-acclaimed series Total Onslaught sheds light on the state of the world today as we move to a one-world government and an anticipated apocalypse.
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