To listen to the talk of the tongues movement people, you would think there would be many instances of speaking in tongues in the Bible. However, we have only 3 examples of God giving people power to speak in a tongue (language) that they did not already know.
1. Jerusalem On The Day Of Pentecost. Acts 2 The day of Pentecost was an annual feast day of the Jews that came every year 50 days after the Passover. The Holy Spirit came to empower the Church for her mission of world evangelism. There has never been another Pentecost like the one in Acts 2, and we are not taught to look for one. On the day of Pentecost, the prophecy of John the Baptist was fulfilled, “He (Christ) shall baptize you with the Holy ghost…” Luke 3:16. Peter said in Acts 2:16-21, that the events of that day were a fulfillment of Joel 2:28-32.
Devout Jews from many nations were gathered in Jerusalem. These people had lived in the various nations and had learned the native language of these nations. The preaching and teaching that they heard on the day of Pentecost was done by Galileans, yet “every man heard them speak in his own language.” Acts 2:6-8. Sixteen nations and tongues (languages) are mentioned in verses 9-11, and these all heard the messages by the Galileans in their own language.
No one but Galileans received this gift of tongues on the day of Pentecost. Everybody did not speak in tongues. In fact it seems almost certain that only these Galilean Apostles of Christ received this ability. There is no record that any of the other people sought the gift of tongues. In fact the Bible does not give us even one example of any body ever seeking the gift of tongues at any place or any time!!
Tongues served two purposes on the day of Pentecost. (1) They were for a sign to the Jews (who seek after a sign). (2) They served to communicate with and to evangelize the foreign born Jews who were at Jerusalem for the feast. What better way could be found to get the attention of these Jews and to evangelize them before they returned to their various countries. Every tongue that was spoken and heard on the day of Pentecost was a known language to some of them there. There was no “unknown tongue.” Those who spoke in tongues did not all speak at the same time, or no one would have understood what they said.
There is no record that the Jerusalem Church ever had another service where the gift of Tongues was exercised. Much is said about this Church and her services, but nothing more about tongues.
2. Three Years Later At The House Of Cornelius. Acts 10:34- 48 Cornelius was an unsaved Italian gentile who was a centurion of the Roman army. Peter was sent to tell him how to be saved. Acts 11:14. When he preached the gospel to them, they believed and were saved. (That is, Cornelius and others of his household). At that very moment they received the “gift of the Holy Ghost”, and began to speak “with tongues, and magnify God.” Acts 10:45,46. They did not pray for, ask for, or even long for, the gift of tongues. Most likely they had never heard of tongues as a gift.
This event represents the giving of the Spirit to the gentiles as He was given to the Jews at Pentecost. More than anything else, these tongues were a “sign to the 7 Jews present that God was concerned about the gentiles as well as the Jews. Acts 10:45,46; and 11:12. They went back to the Jerusalem Church and testified to the Jews what God had done among the gentiles. Acts 11. However, they did not call this even a gentile Pentecost, and those who do so today are in error. No doubt but what a number of different languages were represented here, as there were at Pentecost.
3. Twenty Two Years Later At Ephesus. Acts 19:1-7 Twelve men in the city of Ephesus claimed to be disciples and to have received the baptism of John the Baptist. Paul asked them, “Have ye received the Holy Ghost since (when) ye believed?” v. 2. These were sincere but ignorant of John’s preaching and all that followed. This is proven by their answer, “We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost.” Had they known John’s preaching and John’s baptism, they would have known about the Holy Spirit and Jesus, for John preached both. See John 1:26-34.
When Paul preached, these people believed and were saved. At that very time Paul “laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them, and they spake with tongues, and prophesied.” They did not seek to speak in tongues, but rather it was a sign to the Jews as were the other two instances.