What’s the difference between the baptism in the Holy Spirit and the gift of speaking in tongues?
Let’s make some clarifications and define our terms to make it easier for us to answer this question.
- The baptism in the Holy Spirit is the initial encounter a Christian has with the Holy Spirit to empower him or her for bold witnessing and works of service evidenced by speaking in tongues.
- Speaking in tongues is the act of speaking in an unlearned language given to us by the Holy Spirit for his purposes.
- The gift of speaking in tongues is used within a public Christian meeting when the Spirit speaks to his people through speaking in tongues. Interpretation must accompany the public gift.
Baptism in the Holy Spirit
The baptism in the Holy Spirit is experienced by every believer as a second work of grace. That means it does not save us. It happens after salvation. It is part of the Holy Spirit’s work in sanctification, growing into godliness and holiness.
The word, “baptism” is a Greek word that means “to immerse.” This will be the first thing that happens to you, your initiation into the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. We are baptized by Jesus into the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; Acts 1:5).
Just like when you get water baptized, people know because you are wet. When you get Spirit baptized, you will know because you will speak in other tongues. Spirit baptism took place in the book of Acts at least three times () and possibly more ().
Spirit baptism enables us to more boldly proclaim Jesus as Lord and witness to others (Acts 1:8). Jesus told all of the apostles and disciples to wait in Jerusalem for this “promise of the Father” to come to them (Acts 1:4-5).
It was a regular occurrence especially for new believers, and important enough to Jesus (Acts 1:4-5), Peter (Acts 10:47-48), and Paul (Acts 19:2, 6) for empowerment ministry and service to God. This is why we still wait on Jesus today to baptize us in the Holy Spirit.
Although it is the first time we will speak in tongues, we are able to continue speaking in tongues at the prompting of the Holy Spirit. It is the first “filling” of the Spirit, but not the last. We will continue to be filled with the Holy Spirit throughout our lives.
Where is it in the Bible?
On the day of Pentecost in Acts 2:1-13, the apostles received the baptism in the Holy Spirit after waiting for around 50 days since Jesus told them to go to Jerusalem and wait. There were several signs that happened to them. But the only repeatable sign in Acts is speaking in tongues.
Believers were once again baptized in the Spirit, this time breaking the barrier of ethnicity. In Acts 10, a soldier named Cornelius invites Peter to preach to his entire house. When Peter is preaching, the Gentiles (a new people group) are baptized in the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:44-48). They know this because the same thing that happened in Acts 2 to the Jews happened to the Gentiles (Acts 10:46).
The third time happens in the ministry of Paul when he visits Ephesus (Acts 19:1-7). Paul makes a distinction between John’s baptism for repentance and baptism in the Holy Spirit (Acts 19:4-6). Apparently these were believers who were part of John’s ministry that maybe went to Ephesus and were unaware of other baptisms important for their spiritual growth.
There’s one other place some Pentecostals suggest Spirit baptism happens in Acts. Simon the magician in Acts 8:9-24 desires to buy something he finds impressive. Many Samaritans become followers of Christ by the ministry of Philip the evangelist (Acts 8:12-13). After the people believe, and are water baptized, Peter and John come to pray that they receive the baptism (Acts 8:15-16).
Acts 8:17 catches the eye of many Pentecostals. The same language and actions used in the first three examples of Spirit baptism occur in this verse. They lay hands on them like Paul did in Acts 19 and they receive the Holy Spirit. Simon sees something so different and life-changing that he tries to buy it from Peter (Acts 8:18-19).
Whatever he “saw” it was a physical reaction to the laying on of hands that proved the people received the Holy Spirit. Everywhere else the Holy Spirit is received by new believers, speaking in tongues is the result.
The Gift of Speaking in Tongues
The gift of tongues is a spiritual gift (1 Corinthians 12:10). It is used in conjunction with the gift of interpretation. Because it is a public gift, not like our private prayer language, it must be understood by everyone around the speaker.
Paul explains that someone must interpret whatever is spoken in a tongue foreign to the assembly (1 Corinthians 14:5, 13, 27). If nobody is there to interpret or the person who gives the word in tongues cannot interpret it, he should remain silent (1 Corinthians 14:28).
The gift of speaking in tongues in public will sound the same as your personal prayer language. When you are baptized in the Holy Spirit, the language he gives you will be the same in different situations. He will use that language in your prayer language. He will also use that language in the public gift of speaking in tongues. The only difference is the function of the tongues.