The Work of the Holy Spirit, by Witness Lee


With regard to speaking in tongues, some may refer to the cases of the day of Pentecost, the house of Cornelius, and the twelve Ephesian believers. However, we need to read those passages with a proper discernment and logical understanding.

The One Hundred Twenty on the Day of Pentecost

Acts 2:4 is the strongest ground used by the Pentecostals who insist that everyone must speak in tongues. This verse says, “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, even as the Spirit gave to them to speak forth.” Some say that this verse means that they all began to speak in tongues. However, we may use the same grammatical construction to say, “Last night at 7:30 we all came into the meeting and began to pray.” This means that we all came into the meeting, but it does not mean that we all prayed. Verse 4 does not say, “They were all filled with the Holy Spirit in order to speak in tongues.” It says they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in tongues. To be filled with the Holy Spirit is one thing, but to speak in tongues is another. It is difficult to prove by verse 4 that all one hundred twenty disciples not only were filled with the Spirit but also spoke in tongues.

If we read this chapter logically and carefully, we can realize that not all the disciples spoke in tongues. If all one hundred twenty spoke in tongues, how could the people hear them clearly? Verses 9-11 refer to the dialects of less than twenty places. Some of those places may have contained more than one dialect, but the number of dialects was probably still under thirty. All one hundred twenty disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit, and many of them spoke in tongues, but probably not all did.

The Gentiles at the House of Cornelius

Concerning the house of Cornelius, Acts 10:44-46 says, “While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those hearing the word. And the believers who were of the circumcision, as many as had accompanied Peter, were amazed, because on the Gentiles also the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out; for they heard them speaking in tongues and magnifying God.” Verse 46 uses the conjunction and. This grammatical construction indicates that they did two things. They did not speak in tongues to magnify God; they spoke in tongues and magnified God. To speak in tongues is one thing, while to magnify God is another. When the people in the house of Cornelius received the Holy Spirit upon them, they did two things. One was to speak in tongues, and the other was to magnify God. We can be sure that they all were filled with the Holy Spirit, but we cannot be sure they all spoke in tongues. Perhaps some spoke in tongues while others magnified God.

The Ephesian Believers

Concerning the Ephesian believers, Acts 19:6 says, “And when Paul laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied.” This sentence does not stop with “they spoke in tongues”; it says, “they spoke in tongues and prophesied.” Should we believe that all twelve disciples did two things, both speak in tongues, on the one hand, and prophesy, on the other? This is not a logical understanding. The logical understanding is that after receiving the Holy Spirit upon them, some of the twelve spoke in tongues, and some of them prophesied. Not all that were present spoke in tongues. This also shows that speaking in tongues is not a necessity.

Those with a Pentecostal background insist that the cases in the above three passages—Acts 2, 10, and 19—prove that all believers who receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit must speak in tongues. However, if we use proper logic to understand and consider this matter, we cannot use these passages as proof. On the contrary, we can clearly see in 1 Corinthians 12 that not everyone speaks in tongues. Some speak in tongues as the evidence, or manifestation, of the Spirit, but others have a different manifestation. There is no guessing about this. Let us be clear according to the word of the Lord that speaking in tongues is but one of many items of the manifestation of the Holy Spirit as power upon us. It is not a necessary item, and it is not the initial item. Therefore, we should not oppose it, and we should not insist on it as a necessity.

(The Work of the Holy Spirit, Chapter 4, by Witness Lee)