Ultimate Evidence – Part 2 Paul Was Not A Pentecostal

Derek Ouellette —  January 19, 2012

… neither was he a Calvinist, nor an Arminian and, no, Jesus was not a Dispensationalist (even though someone on Facebook tried to convince me otherwise). To try and apply any number of later systems of theology back on to Paul is like saying that the first century habitants of the British Isle spoke English. It just doesn’t make any sense. (And if you think they did speak English, please stop reading this post and visit Wikipedia).There’s a word for this, it’s called anachronism. It is the error of taking something of a later time period and imposing it back onto any earlier time. It really agitates historians when people commit anachronism. But this post is not only going to attempt to show that Paul did not share the modern Pentecostal view of tongues-evidence, but that he actually wrote to counteract that very idea.

Overdue Adjustments

“It is of great significance that the great outpouring of God’s Spirit in the twentieth century was granted to, of the many Christian bodies available, a people whose primary concern was the ethical issues of life – the Holiness movement! That fact should speak volumes to us.” – Newman, p.71

Larry Newman has a section in his book which well reflects one of my complaints in the first blog of this series; namely that Pentecostalism needs to readjust ‘ethics’ in its paradigm. If tongues is the evidence that one has been Spirit-Baptized then what about one who speaks in tongues but lives an unethical life? “This adjustment is sorely needed in our day” says Newman [p.85]. “When Pentecostals are sometimes noted not so much for their charismatic expressions as for their lack of character, something is surely amiss”. (For examples of this read “this” article.)

Newman adds,

“Chapters 10 through 14 [of 1 Cor.] contains Paul’s argument that the charismatic is meaningless without the ethical dimension of the Christian life. Positioned in the middle of these chapters is Paul’s great ode to love. That is not accidental! It is intentional!” [p.86]

Another adjustment Newman calls attention to is the need to add emphasis to the “charisma of discernment” and adds, “We are rather naive in this day relative to manifestations of the Spirit. We have a tendency to accept any and all such expressions as being of the Spirit, with little concern that they might be the product of the flesh, or possibly, of demons” [p.88]; “I am afraid that in our eagerness to see people experience Spirit-Baptism we may prematurely declare someone to be Spirit-filled without a full accounting of the evidence. Again, the ethical dimension of the Christian life must be held to be primary in these considerations” [ibid].

Paul – Tongues are not the evidence!

Newman echoes one of the question I have been asking for nearly a decade now:

“It seems logical that if Scripture intended to convey to the Church that glossolalia is to be understood as the primary evidence of Spirit-baptism, literature as important to Christian theology as the Pauline corpus would convey a didactic strain that would confirm such a notion” [p.91].

He points out that though Paul confirms the gift of tongues, he does not elevate it to the place of primary evidence! F.F. Bosworth shares similar sentiments, “Think of it, and then think again, all the New Testament epistles, and not a single mention of this doctrine” [p.126].

Newman does a great job at examining the Pauline (and elsewhere in the N.T.) key text as they relate to this subject; but for brevity sake I want to focus on what I perceive to be the “left hook” of his Pauline study which deserves serious consideration. Perhaps, contrary to popular opinion, Paul does in fact have something very relevant to add to the “tongues as evidence” paradigm.

What does Paul mean when he says, “Tongues, then, are a sign not for the believer but for unbelievers”? I have heard many theories over the years, but the most prominent one has been that when someone comes into the church and hears you speaking in tongues they will say you are “mad” and as a result they will blaspheme the Holy Spirit, therefore, tongues is a “sign of Judgment”. There have been other theories, but this one I have heard the most. Newman’s exegete however is perhaps the best I have heard to date, taking into consideration the full context of 1 Cor. 12-14 and also the historical context of the church.

You will recall in the previous blog that there was a popular Greco/Roman cult which practiced speaking in tongues and that this cult was very active in first century Corinth. The glossolalia was practiced not just by the priestess of the cult, but also, during festival times, a power seized the average adherents and they too would speak in tongues. What is highly relevant is that such tongues speech was a sign for the adherents of this cult that a god had entered into them and had taken them over so that they were considered to be “out of their minds”. This is not to be understood the way we in our culture flippantly do, as in nuts or crazy, rather they were out of their minds because another mind had taken over – ecstasy (with the assistance of drugs no doubt). Now let us survey the text in question:

1. Paul situates the Corinthians firmly in the midst of this context when he says “Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant. You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols” (1 Cor. 12:1-2). So Paul is making an explicit connection between the pagan cult of which the Corinthians had come out of and the gifts of the Spirit, in particular, the gift of tongues.

2. Next Paul moves on to show how every gift is on equal footing! Whether tongues or prophecy, or teaching or healing or interpretation etc, they are all given by one and the same Spirit (chpt. 12). It is interesting to parallel the love chapter of 1st Corinthians with the fruits of the Spirit in Gal. 5 – love is the keynote by which you have the Spirit; and if you speak in tongues but have not love you are nothing but a blabbering gong. I find it interesting that Paul begins the ode to love by negatively contrasting “tongues” with “love” to show that love is the “most excellent way”.

3. Lingering on the ode to love chapter just a little bit longer, as we progress through these three chapters of Paul’s letter towards his main point, I am struck by these words: “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.” [13:11] – Paul almost sounds condescending. How does this verse relate to the most excellent way as it is contrasted to the Spiritual gifts – especially tongues? Paul immediately narrows the discussion as he moves quickly to the issues at hand – tongues and prophecy. It is here where Paul explicitly applies what he said earlier [13:11] directly to the Corinthians just in case there was any doubt: “Brothers, stop thinking like children!” [14:20]; he makes this statement after affirming tongues as a legitimate gift, but then proclaims that he would rather speak “five intelligible” words that could be understood then “ten thousand words in a tongue” [14:18-19]. So the Corinthians were being childish both in their teaching and in their practice regarding tongues and Paul is crying out, mature in your theology, there is a more excellent way!

4. And so you Corinthians who came out of a tongues speaking pagan cult religion, let me remind you – Paul is in essence saying – that tongues is a sign for the unbelievers in our culture; a sign to the pagans that a god has come in to them and that they are out of their mind because another mind has taken over – but tongues are not a sign to the Christian that a god is in them; let me show you a more excellent way!

5. Prophecy, however, when it says that it is for the believer and not for the unbeliever, it means that it is not used as a “sign” among unbelievers – the pagan practitioners. However, it is a sign to the Christian, because when someone delivers a message from God “the secrets of his heart will be laid bare… So he will fall down and worship God, exclaiming ‘God is really among you’” – as will the pagans [14:25]. However, even though prophecy is not considered a sign of the presence of the god’s in the cultic Greco/Roman religions, nonetheless, when an unbeliever hears prophecy among Christians – i.e. the preaching of the Word in the power of the Spirit – “he will be convinced by all that he is a sinner” [14:24].


It seems that while the scriptures do not teach anywhere that the evidence of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit is speaking in tongues, the Corinthian church had taught and practiced this very notion or something similar to it, and Paul deemed it necessary to correct them exclaiming, “Brothers, stop being childish in your orthodoxy and orthopraxy!” and “come out of your Pagan roots and influences”. Tongues may be a sign to the unbeliever that a god is among them, but Jesus made it clear, they shall know you are His by your love! And so if I speak with the tongues of angels and of men and have not love I am nothing, for the fruit of the Spirit is love (Gal.5).

This is not to say that the modern Pentecostal movement must “come out of their Pagan roots”. The root of modern Pentecostalism was holiness, and so the context of Corinthians and modern Pentecostalism are not the same. However, modern Pentecostalism is a ‘young’ movement, and many of it’s’ keynote doctrines – especially the one at hand – was developed out of a need of defending this experience to the church at large (i.e. tongues-evidence doctrine was birthed for apologetics sake!). But today the Pentecostal movement is the fastest growing branch of Christianity in the world and no longer needs to defend its existence. This point is critical, for as the premise of Newman’s books suggest, it’s time for modern Pentecostalism to mature in its’ theology! As Paul said to the Corinthians, “Brothers, stop thinking like children!”

Ultimate Evidence: A Most Excellent Way

It should be clear by now what the ultimate evidence that someone has been Spirit-Baptized is! As Newman said earlier, it is imperative that we find an evidence construct that can neither be faked by the flesh nor imitated by the demonic. An evidence is some kind of ‘proof’ that something happened, in this case, that a person is Spirit-Baptized; and if the evidence can be faked or mimicked then it makes for a poor construct, for how can we be sure that it is of the Spirit and not the flesh or demonic? Hopefully by discernment, but then again, discernment is not always utilized (in my observation, “rarely” would be a better term), thus we have run into our same problem; Logic, history and scripture all suggest that this doctrine must be false!

As already suggested, Paul and Jesus affirm the reality that a Spirit-filled, overflowing, empowered person is a life of love which works itself out in obedience. If we have charisma but not the active fruit of the Spirit in our lives, we surely do not have the Spirit and thus do not belong to the Spirit (Rom. 8:9 – gk. Lit.; you are controlled by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God is in you, “if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him” – i.e. the “Spirit” of Christ).

So then, in conclusion, Newman offers an alternative evidential paradigm – love. For neither the flesh nor the demonic are able to sustain for any length of time, an imitation of the Fruits of the Spirit. Life has a way of drawing out whether one is empowered by the fruit of the Spirit, or that of the flesh. But darkness cannot stand light and no demon can stand love without soon afterwards showing his scales, that he is a snake.

An Open Letter to Ministers and Saints in the Pentecostal Movement – a Final Thought

F.F. Bosworth, author of Christ the Healer, as stated in a previous blog, left the Assemblies of God over the tongues-evidence issue. Later on he wrote a letter addressed to all the “ministers and saints of the Pentecostal movement” which has never had more relevance then today. I cannot fully treat the letter here and implore you to pick up a copy of Newman’s book which contains the letter in its appendix.

I will only cite two quotes from Bosworth, please read the second carefully I plead, for in it he sums up my own experience perfectly, and if we claim the Christ of love and the God of unity of one people and recognize the reality that we, as one belonging to Christ, are called to be ministers of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:19), then we are obligated to acknowledge the effects of this teaching, that it may destroy the faith of a dear saint, a child of God. This I do not want on my conscience, and those with a shepherds heart should be doubly concerned!

He says:

“I am certain that those who receive the most powerful Baptisms for service do not receive the manifestation of speaking in tongues. And I am just as certain many who seemingly speak in tongues, are not nor ever have been Baptized in the Spirit. Although I have in the past very tenaciously contended for it, as many of the brethren still do, I am certain that it is entirely wrong and unscriptural to teach that the miraculous speaking in tongues on the Day of Pentecost was not the gift of tongues God set in the Church, and which is so often mentioned in the first letter to the Corinthians. Not only is there not a solitary passage of Scripture on which to base this doctrine, but on the other hand the Scriptures flatly deny it.” [p.123 emphasis added]

Now pay close attention:

“After God has most powerfully Baptized the seeker, and, with perfect faith Divinely inwrought, he is rejoicing with joy unspeakable and full of glory, with every ounce of his flesh quivering under the power of the indwelling Spirit, some one will tell him that he has not yet received the Holy Ghost because he did not speak in tongues. This destroys his faith, which Paul says is both “the evidence” and “the substance,” Heb. 11:1, and sends him home discouraged, to continue his seeking, as some have for several years”. [p.29, emphasis added].

Perhaps in the next blog I will share my testimony of when I received the fullness of the Spirit – it was an event that transformed my life and set me for three weeks praying unceasingly with joy unspeakable while hovering on cloud nine. I have never been the same. Yet, it is most unfortunate that I spent several more years (as long as a decade!) seeking for the fullness of the Spirit which I was told I did not have because I did not speak in tongues.

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Derek Ouellette

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a husband, new dad, speaker, writer, christian. see my profile here.
  • Jesse van der Meulen

    Great thoughts Derek. I know this conversation is going on, and will continue to go on, in Pentecostal circles. I’ve found Jack Hayford’s book “The beauty of spiritual language” really helpful in my understanding of tongues.