The Study of the Holy Spirit

"And when Paul had laid his hands  upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying." Acts 19:6

Part D:  The Significance of Tongues in Acts 19:1-7


Paul encountered some disciples of John the Baptist in Ephesus.

Go to a Chart of Speaking in Tongues in the Book of Acts

D.          The Apostle Paul encountered some “disciples” in Ephesus who had not received the Spirit.  After he laid hands on them, they spoke in tongues and prophesied.  What was the significance of tongues-speaking here (Acts 19:1-7)?

1.               This incident begins with a reference to Apollos (Acts 19:1), who, like the disciples Paul found (Acts 19:1) also previously had inadequate knowledge, being unaware of Jesus (Acts 18:24-28).

2.               When Paul met these disciples, he must have sensed something missing.  He asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”  Their reply confirmed his suspicions.  They had never even heard about the Holy Spirit (Acts 19:2)!  These disciples (the word mathetes, disciple, means “learner”) had not been baptized in or with the Spirit (Acts 1:5; 11:16).  If they did not have the Holy Spirit, Paul reasoned, they were not even Christians.  They must not be believers in Jesus, for all believers in Jesus have the Holy Spirit.  For Paul there was no such thing as being a Christian and not having the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:9; 1 Cor. 12:13).

3.               Paul probed further.  If they had not been baptized in or with the Holy Spirit, into what had they been baptized?  They replied that they had been baptized into John’s baptism (Acts 19:3).  So these disciples were disciples of John the Baptist, but not of Jesus.  They lacked sufficient information to follow Jesus.  They apparently had never even heard of Him!  Paul had discovered that, though they were disciples of John the Baptist, they had not even heard all of John’s message.  They had never heard the part of John’s message in which he predicted One mightier than he himself – One who would baptize with both fire and Spirit instead of mere water (Matt. 3:11; Luke 3:16).  These disciples had repented of their sins, but they had not repented in regard to Jesus – in fact they had never heard of Him!

4.               So Paul proceeded to educate these deficient disciples (Acts 19:4).  He confirmed John’s message of repentance and the need to be baptized in water as a means of public identification with John and his message.  This they had already done.  But he also informed them that John preached more – that his adherents should believe in the One mightier than John who was to come, namely in Jesus the Messiah.  When these disciples heard this information, they placed their faith in Jesus and were, accordingly, baptized by water into Jesus’ name (Acts 19:5).  “This is the only explicit reference to re-baptism in the New Testament” (Dr. Constable’s Notes on Acts, 2007 Edition, p. 244).

5.               At some point subsequent to their water baptism, Paul laid his hands on these new believers in Jesus.  It was at that point that “they began speaking in tongues and prophesying” (Acts 19:6). 

6.               It is here that Luke, the writer, notes that the number of these disciples consisted of “about twelve men” (Acts 19:7).  Luke immediately mentioned that Paul then entered “the synagogue,” attempting for three months to convince the adherents there of the need to enter “the kingdom of God” (Acts 19:8.  Cf. John 3:3, 5).

7.               It is my guess that these twelve men (and their families) had originally been part of this synagogue in Ephesus to which Luke now refers.  Somehow they had been exposed to a partial message of John the Baptist and had believed.  When they found themselves at odds with the established Judaism of the main synagogue, they had withdrawn and formed their own smaller, independent synagogue, which required a quorum (minyan) of ten adult males.  It is this larger, main synagogue to which Paul now directed his attention.  When he met opposition in the synagogue, he himself withdrew to the school of Tyrannus and began teaching there daily.  He took away all his disciples.  Presumably this would have included all believers in Jesus from both the main synagogue and the smaller, independent synagogue.  God blessed Paul’s ministry to such an extent that everyone in the Roman province of Asia heard about Jesus, regardless of whether they were Jewish or Greek (Acts 19:7-10).

8.               What is the significance of speaking in tongues as recorded in this incident recounted by Luke?  The fact that these disciples now spoke in tongues convinced Paul that they were now believers in Jesus, as evidenced by their having been given the gift of the Holy Spirit.  Of course the disciples themselves also would have found their new-found faith in Jesus verified by their tangible speaking in tongues and prophesying.


Part C: The Significance of Tongues in the House of Cornelius in Acts 10 Part E: Is Tongues-Speaking in the Book of Acts Normative?

The Significance of Speaking in Tongues

Part D:  The Significance of Tongues in Acts 19:1-7

Prepared by James T. Bartsch

April, 2009; Updated February 4, 2022


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This study is based on, and the links to Scripture reference the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE , Copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation. (

(Scripture quotations taken from the NASB 1995.  Used by Permission.)

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Updated February 4, 2022