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Rodman Williams: The Gift of the Holy Spirit Today: Response

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

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Category: Fall 2002, Spirit

About the Author: J. Rodman Williams (1918-2008), Ph.D., is considered to be the father of renewal theology. He served as a chaplain in the Second World War, he was a church pastor, college professor, and key figure in the charismatic movement of the 1960s. Beginning in 1982, he taught theology at Regent University School of Divinity in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and became Professor of Renewal Theology Emeritus there in 2002. Author of numerous books, he is perhaps best known for his three volume Renewal Theology (Zondervan, 1996).

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