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While it is widely held that all one hundred twenty in the Upper Room received the gift of tongues on the Day of Pentecost, Scripture nowhere says this. In fact, there is good evidence to indicate that the gift of tongues was limited only to the apostles or to those to whom they gave the gift. Of the unique “signs of an apostle” (2 Cor. 12:12 NKJV), the ability to resurrect was one (Matt. 10:8), and tongues-speaking was another, called a “sign” gift (1 Cor. 14:22).
At Pentecost, the gift of tongues apparently was given only to the twelve apostles, not to all the disciples. This is supported by the following evidence.
First, only apostles were promised before Pentecost: “You will be baptized with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:5). It is clear from the context that “you” refers to “the apostles” (v. 2).
Second, the “they” (2:1) on whom the Holy Spirit fell refers back to the previous verse, namely, the “apostles” (1:26).
Third, likewise, “they” and “them” (2:3) on whom tongues of fire fell refer to the same “apostles.”
Fourth, further, the crowd heard “them” (the “apostles”) speak in tongues (v. 6).
Fifth, also, those who spoke in tongues were “all … Galileans” (2:7), as the apostles were; even the angel called them “men of Galilee” (1:11). The others present in the Upper Room were not all Galileans; some were from Jerusalem and Judea (vv. 12–14).
Sixth, the group that responded when “they” (2:13) had been accused of drunkenness was “Peter … with the Eleven” (v. 14). This again indicates that those speaking in tongues were the apostles.
Seventh, according to Gleason Archer (1916–2004), noted expert on biblical languages, the fifteen geographical areas listed (vv. 9–11) probably represent no more than twelve language groups, since some nations spoke the same basic language. So each apostle could have been speaking in one of the languages represented by these twelve language groups. Even if there were more than twelve languages represented, some apostles could have spoken in more than one language successively.
Eighth, since tongue-speaking was one of the “signs” unique to apostles (1 Cor. 14:22; 2 Cor. 12:12), initially giving it only to apostles makes sense.
Ninth, later, whenever anyone received the gift of the Spirit and/or tongues in the early church, it was only through an apostle (Acts 8, 10, 19). Acts 8:18 teaches explicitly that “the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands.”
Tenth, supernatural gifts were given in the early church by apostles, as Paul said to Timothy, “Fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands” (2 Tim. 1:6; cf. 1 Tim. 4:14).
Eleventh, since the church was “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets” (Eph. 2:20), the apostles used these special powers to convey supernatural gifts to the leaders of the churches they founded. In this way the early church had an authoritative basis on which to function in the absence of an apostle or written Scripture.
Twelfth, and finally, only some were apostles and only some spoke in tongues (1 Cor. 12:10). Paul said emphatically: “All are not apostles, are they?… All do not speak with tongues, do they?” (vv. 29–30 nasb).
This conclusion has significance for the whole debate about tongues. If tongues were only a sign gift to apostles and only apostles had the gift or could give it to others, this would be confirmation of its temporary nature in laying the foundation of the church on the foundation of Christ’s apostles. Thus, once this basis was established, it would be natural that the gift of tongues would cease—there being no more need for it. Indeed, this seems implied in the phrase “whether there are tongues, they will cease” (1 Cor. 13:8 NKJV), since it is in the middle voice and can be translated “They will cease of their own accord.”
By Norman L. Geisler