Paul’s Experience With Speaking in Tongues
By Mel C. Montgomery
The Book of Acts and Paul’s own epistles reveal the entire cycle of the Holy Spirit in Paul’s life and ministry. There is no need for guesswork. Scriptures plainly tell us how Paul received the Spirit, that he spoke in tongues, and then how that late in his life he ministered the Holy Spirit and the accompanying gift of tongues to others.
Paul’s original name was Saul, and he came from the city of Tarsus. Much of his theological understanding of God and His Law was formed by his study under the tutelage of Gemaliel, who was a noted Jewish theologian of the day. Saul appears to be the kind of guy that never does anything halfway. He took his faith seriously, and at some point in his early life, he joined the extremist Pharisee sect.
The Pharisees sought to perfectly keep every minute detail of the Jewish Law, taking their zeal to the point that they became legalistic, judgmental, condescending, and even violent at times. Evidently, misguided religious extremism was a part of Saul from his early days. Saul first appears in Acts at the martyrdom of Stephen. After Stephen gave his moving defence against the false accusation of blasphemy, the witnesses laid their garments down at the feet of the young Saul, and stoned Stephen to death as Saul watched and agreed with the action. (Acts 8:1).
When Saul was older, he became infuriated, as more and more Jews came to accept Jesus Christ as the Messiah. His opposition to Christianity grew from verbal opposition, and standing on the sidelines as Stephen was martyred, to initiating his own violent actions against the Church:
“Meanwhile Saul, still drawing his breath hard from threatening and murderous desire against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and requested of him letters to the synagogues at Damascus [authorizing him], so that if he found any men or women belonging to the Way [of life as determined by faith in Jesus Christ], he might bring them bound [with chains] to Jerusalem.” Acts 9:1,2. (Amp).
But God brought Saul’s murderous persecution of the Church to an end on the road to Damascus:
“And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven: And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecute you me? And he said, who are you, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom you persecute: it is hard for you to kick against the pricks. And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what will you have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told you what you must do.” Acts 9:3-6.
Notice something here that most people miss. Paul later wrote:
“That if you shall confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus, and shall believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you shall be saved.” (Romans 10:9).
That is exactly how Paul got saved. Right there on the road to Damascus.
Christ’s speaking to Paul drove home to Paul’s heart the reality of Christ’s death and Resurrection. Paul believed in his heart that God had raised Christ from the dead, and he confessed with his mouth the Lord Jesus, saying, “LORD, what will you have me to do?”
Saul arose from the ground, a born-again Christian.
In an instant, he had joined the sect that he had come to Damascus to destroy. All his life, he had been spiritually blind. Now the spiritual blindness had been taken away, leaving Saul with physical blindness instead.
After three days passed, God moved in Saul’s behalf:
“And there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias; and to him said the Lord in a vision, Ananias, And he said, Behold, I am here, Lord. And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the street which is called Straight, and inquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul, of Tarsus: for, behold, he prays. And has seen in a vision a man named Ananias coming in, and putting his hand on him, that he might receive his sight.”–Acts 9:10-12.
Ananias obeyed the Lord’s command:
“And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto you in the way as you came, has sent me, that you might receive your sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost. And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized.”–Acts 9:17,18.
Ananias acknowledged Paul’s newfound faith by referring to him, not as an enemy, but as “Brother” Saul. I emphasize this point because I’ve heard those who argue against tongues, claim that Paul wasn’t converted on the Road to Damascus, but instead received Christ three days later when Ananias laid his hands on him.
Let’s stop and analyze that theory for a moment.
The Scriptures tell us spefically what Ananias did.
Ananias did not preach Paul a sermon.
He did not lead Paul in the Sinner’s Prayer.
He did exactly what the Lord told him to do. Jesus did not say, “Lead him into faith in Me.”
Ananias said to Paul, that the Lord:
“…has sent me, that you might receive your sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost.”
Wait a minute.
One component of the anti-tongues theories is that Salvation and the Baptism in the Spirit are interchangeable terms.
That can’t be.
We’ve already seen that Paul was born-again on the Road to Damascus, and that Ananias acknowledged his Christian faith by calling him “Brother” Saul.
Ananias ministering healing to Paul is self-explanatory. Paul was physically blind.
But what did Ananias mean when told Paul he had come to help Paul “…be filled with the Holy Ghost?” Did Paul have to get saved twice–once on the road, and again at the house of Judas?
Of course not. This term “filled with the Holy Ghost,” can’t refer to salvation:
- You never minister salvation to someone who is already saved.
- Salvation is never ministered through the laying on of hands.
Clearly, Ananias was ministering to Paul an experience subsequent to salvation, which involved the work of the Holy Spirit. Paul already had the Holy Spirit’s presence within him through salvation. But he did not have the Holy Spirit’s power resting upon him, as Joel had prophesied, as Jesus had said would come, and as did come to the believers at Pentecost.
It was obvious when Paul was healed: “…he received sight forthwith…”
But how did Ananias know for certain that Paul had received the Holy Spirit’s power?
What sign was given?
Ananias did not rely on guesswork. He did not wait years for spiritual fruit or ministry offices to develop in Paul. Ananias had some way of knowing instantly that Paul was now filled with the Holy Spirit.
What was the proof?
The Book of Acts is silent on this point.
But Paul is not silent about it in his epistles:
“I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than you all…” 1 Corinthians 14:18.
When did Paul begin speaking in tongues?
The Bible gives us not a single example of any believer receiving the Holy Spirit, not speaking in tongues instantly, but then speaking in tongues months or years later.
Not one such example.
At Pentecost, the believers received the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues instantly. (Acts 2:4).
At Cornelius’ house, they received the Spirit and spoke in tongues instantly. (Acts 10:44-46).
Paul tells us that he too, spoke in tongues. If this did not begin when Ananias laid his hands on Paul, then when did it begin?
About tongues, Paul tells us specifically:
He found speaking in tongues to be very edifying.
“He that speaks in an unknown tongue edifies himself.” 1 Corinthians 14:4.
He considered praying in tongues to be a profoundly deep spiritual experience.
“For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth…”–1 Corinthians 14:14.
Jude, the Lord’s brother, agreed with Paul about the powerful spiritual benefits of praying in other tongues.
“But you, beloved, build yourselves up [founded] on your most holy faith–make progress, rise like an edifice higher and hither–praying in the Holy Spirit…”
Paul used speaking in tongues in prayer to God, and in his worship of God.
“I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also.” 1 Corinthians 14:15.
When Paul prayed and sang in other tongues, he had no idea what he was saying.
“For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful.” 1 Corinthians 14:14.
Even though Paul did not understand what he was saying in other tongues, he went right ahead and prayed and sang in other tongues anyway.
“What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also.” 1 Corinthians 14:15.
Paul considered speaking in tongues to be a miraculous sign given by God through believers.
“Wherefore tongues are for a sign…” 1 Corinthians 14:22.
The Lord Jesus Christ agreed.
“And these signs shall follow them that believe: In my name…they shall speak with new tongues;” Mark 16:17.
Paul did not “take a dim view” of speaking in tongues, as some ignorantly argue. On the contrary, he was deeply grateful to God for his experiences in speaking in other tongues.
“I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all.” 1 Corinthians 14:18.
And Paul made it clear that it was God’s will for all other believers to speak in other tongues also.
“I would that you all spoke with tongues…” 1 Corinthians 14:5.
In his letters to the Corinthians, Paul established protocols for receiving communion, church discipline, marriage and re-marriage, and tongues. He did not forbid communion or church discipline for example. He simply presented some common sense instructions for handling various matters.
His guidelines for handling speaking in tongues in a public service were:
- If several believers have messages in tongues to share with the congregation in a public service, limit the number to two or three, and have them take turns.
“If any man speak in an unknown tongue, let it be by two, or at the most by three, and that by course; and let one interpret.” 1 Corinthians 14:27.
- If no interpreter is present, don’t allow the speaker just stand there, speaking the same message in tongues over and over and over hour after hour.
“But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God.” 1 Corinthians 14:30.
Paul’s final word on the subject of speaking in tongues in the local church was not a suggestion.
It was a COMMAND:
“…Forbid not to speak with other tongues.” 1 Corinthians 14:39.
The Amplified Version translates this:
“…do not forbid or hinder speaking in [unknown] tongues.”
Paul received the Baptism in the Holy Spirit, or the Outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Paul spoke in other tongues; presumably at the moment he received the Baptism.
Now let’s examine how Paul ministered the Baptism to others.
Years later in Paul’s missionary journeys, he came to Ephesus:
“…and finding certain disciples, he said unto them, Have you received the Holy Ghost since you believed?” Acts 19:1,2.
These were “disciples.” Paul assumedthat they were born-again Christians. So he was asking those he thought were born-again Christians, whether they had received the Holy Ghost since they believed.
If “receiving the Holy Ghost” is just another term for salvation, as some argue, there was no reason for Paul to ask this question.
Paul knew that the moment a person accepts Jesus Christ as Saviour, he is born-again, placed into the Body of Christ, and the Holy Spirit indwells him. But he also knew there was some aspect of the Holy Spirit to be received after salvation.
Paul himself had received the Holy Spirit in this two-fold manner. He was saved and indwelt by the Spirit on the Road to Damascus, and later received the Outpouring of the Holy Spirit’s power when Ananias laid his hands on him.
Clearly, Paul saw it as entirely possible for a person to be a Christian, but not to have received the Holy Spirit’s outpouring. He saw salvation and the Baptism in the Holy Spirit to be two entirely different experiences.
These believers at Ephesus replied that they hadn’t even heard that there was a Holy Spirit. As Paul questioned them further, he discovered that these people had actually been disciples of John the Baptist. Paul taught them that John had directed everyone to believe on the one that was to come after him, which was Jesus Christ:
“When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied. And all the men were about twelve.”–Acts 19:5-7.
When Paul led them to Christ, their sins were forgiven. The Holy Spirit placed them into the Body of Christ and indwelt their born-again spirits. Paul considered their faith in Christ now to be genuine, and he baptized them in water.
But Paul did not stop there.
He also laid his hands on them for the Baptism in the Holy Spirit. They received, instantly speaking in tongues and prophesying. They spoke in tongues utterances that were probably praises unto God, like occurred at Pentecost.
Notice also that there was no interpretation.
Paul did not stop them.
Why did the Apostle Paul not follow the instructions he himself had written, in which he directed that if there is no interpreter present, let the speaker in tongues speak unto himself and to God?
Paul did not stop them because they were speaking in tongues in prayer and praise unto God in devotion. They were not speaking “messages” in tongues to be interpreted for a congregation.
So we see the full cycle of speaking in tongues in the life of the Apostle Paul. He was saved on the road to Damascus. He was baptized in water by Ananias. Ananias also laid his hands on Paul for healing and for Paul to receive the Holy Spirit.
Paul received and spoke in other tongues. And he continued speaking in tongues as a significant part of his prayer life and devotions for the rest of his life. Further, Paul considered speaking in tongues to be a tremendous spiritual benefit, and urged all believers to receive this wonderful gift.
Paul went on missionary journeys to foreign countries, preaching salvation, water baptism, and the secondary experience of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in other tongues.
If we want to achieve the results that the Apostle did, then we need to minister all that he ministered to people:
And the Baptism in the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in other tongues.
If we refuse to minister to people all that Paul ministered, then we simply are not preaching the Gospel that Paul preached.
Copyright 2006 Mel C. Montgomery All rights reserved. Material may be copied and shared with others if done so without charge, in entirety, and if attribution is given.