What is Being Filled with the Holy Spirit?

by Pastor Matthew Norville, Sr.


After Jesus had risen from the dead and spent 40 days on earth traveling around the world preaching the gospel and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God, He met with His disciples on top of the Mount of Olives before going back to Heaven to be seated at the right hand of the Father. Acts 1:4–5, 8 says,

“And being assembled together with them, commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but ‘wait for the promise of the Father, which,’ saith He, ‘ye have heard of me. For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence...But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.’”

Jesus then ascended back to Heaven to His Father. This took place on Thursday, Ijar 27th, in 29 A.D., and is sometimes called, “Ascension Thursday.” (In 29 A.D. Ijar 27th fell on a Thursday.)

Then eight days later, the Word of God in Acts 2:1–4 says,

“And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.”

This took place on the Old Testament feast day of Pentecost, on Friday, Sivan 6th, in 29 A.D., and is sometimes called, “Pentecost Friday.” (In 29 A.D. Sivan 6th fell on a Friday.)

This is when the Holy Spirit first came in New Testament times to fill people with Himself and to endue them with power. (“Holy Ghost” and “Holy Spirit” are the same thing, the same person, the third person of the Godhead. In 1611, when the King James Bible was first published, people often used the word “ghost” for “spirit” or, “Holy Ghost” for “Holy Spirit.”) Notice that when the people were filled the Holy Spirit, they spoke in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.

Must a Person Speak in Tongues in Order to be Filled with the Holy Spirit?

Can a Person be Filled with the Holy Spirit and NOT Speak in Tongues?

These two questions are really the same question phrased two different ways. The answer is that a Christian must speak in tongues initially in order to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Speaking in tongues is the initial evidence that a Christian is filled with the Holy Spirit. A Christian who has NEVER spoken in tongues, has NEVER been filled with the Holy Spirit.

Some Christians argue that a Christian CAN be filled with the Holy Spirit even though they have NEVER spoken in tongues. But what is the point of this argument? The Bible talks about “praying in the Spirit,” or, “praying with the spirit.” This is talking about praying or speaking in tongues, or other tongues, or unknown tongues, as it is sometimes called. (The reason the Word of God sometimes refers to tongues as “other tongues,” or “unknown tongues,” is because it is a language other than a language that the person praying is familiar with, or unknown to the person praying.) When a person prays in a language that they know, the Word of God calls this, “praying with the understanding” (I Corinthians 14:15). The Bible says in Ephesians 6:18, “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit....” The Bible says in Jude 20, “But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost.” The Bible says in Romans 8:26, “Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit Himself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered,” meaning, “not uttered in a language understood by the person praying.” I Corinthians 14:5 says, “I would that ye all spake with tongues.” Praying in the Spirit is something that all Christians are supposed to do. Praying in the Spirit is something that all Christians are commanded to do.

Since all Christians are supposed to do this, why would a Christian want to be filled with the Holy Spirit and NOT speak in tongues? Does such a Christian want to be in sin? Disobeying the Word of God is sin. This is the reason I said what is the point of arguing whether or not a Christian can be filled with the Holy Spirit even though they have never spoken in tongues. If a Christian can be filled with the Holy Spirit, even though they have never spoken in tongues, and such a Christian refuses to speak in tongues, such a Christian would be in sin anyway.

It should also be pointed out here that every single Christian who was filled with the Holy Spirit in the New Testament spoke in tongues. To say that Christians of today can be filled with the Holy Spirit differently is preposterous!

Let's examine this in detail.

The Three Terminologies Used Under the New Covenant Referring to Being Filled with the Holy Spirit

The first thing we need to understand is that there are three different terminologies used under the New Covenant when referring to being filled with the Holy Spirit and speaking with tongues. The three terminologies are:

1) filled with the (Holy) Spirit;

2) baptized with the (Holy) Spirit; and

3) received (the gift of) the (Holy) Spirit.

As you can see by my parentheses, each of the three terminologies can be shortened and written more than one way.

“Filled with the Holy Spirit” can be shortened to “filled with the Spirit.”

“Baptized with the Holy Spirit” can be shortened to “baptized with the Spirit.

“Received the gift of the Holy Spirit” can be shortened to “received the gift of the Spirit” or “received the Holy Spirit” or “received the Spirit.”

The reason that there are three different terminologies is because there are three different persons involved when someone gets filled with the Holy Spirit. The three different persons are: Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the Christian. There is one terminology for each person.

The term “baptized with the Holy Spirit” has to do with Jesus because Jesus is the one who baptizes the Christian with the Holy Spirit.

The term “filled with the Holy Spirit” has to do with the Holy Spirit because the Holy Spirit is the one who fills the Christian with Himself.

The term “received the gift of the Holy Spirit” has to do with the Christian because the Christian is the one who receives (the gift of) the Holy Spirit.

Jesus baptizes. The Holy Spirit fills. The Christian receives.

John the Baptist said in reference to Jesus, the Son of God:

“I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but He that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire” (Matthew 3:11).

“There cometh one mightier than I after me, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose. I indeed have baptized you with water: but He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost” (Mark 1:8).

“I indeed baptize you with water; but one mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose: He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire” (Luke 3:16).

“I saw the Spirit descending from Heaven like a dove, and it abode upon Him. And I knew Him not: but He that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, ‘Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, the same is He which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost.’ And I saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God” (John 1:32–34).

Jesus, Himself, said,

“For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence” (Acts 1:5).

We have clearly established that Jesus is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit. So now we have to prove that being “baptized with the Holy Spirit” is the same thing as being “filled with the Holy Spirit.”

Jesus said in Acts 1:5 that the disciples would “be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days hence.” Acts 2:4, which took place eight days later, is the fulfillment of these words:

“And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.”

Therefore, we can see here that the Word of God calls being “baptized with the Holy Spirit,” the same thing as being “filled with the Holy Spirit.”

In Acts, chapter 10, the apostle Peter was led by the Holy Spirit to go to a Gentile's (Cornelius's) home to preach the gospel to them. In Acts 10:44–47 it says that the Gentiles there in Cornelius's household received the gift of the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues:

“While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the Word. And they of the circumcision (the Jews) which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles (the non-Jews) also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost, for they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter, ‘Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?’”

Peter, in Acts, chapter 11, recounting the Gentiles' experience in chapter 10 of them receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues, said, “And as I began to speak, the Holy Ghost fell on them, as on us at the beginning. Then remembered I the word of the Lord, how that He said, ‘John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost’” (Acts 11:15–16).

So Peter, here, in chapter 11, referred to the Gentiles' experience of having the Holy Spirit fall on them and their speaking in tongues, as being baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

And since in Acts, chapter 10, the Gentiles' experience of having the Holy Spirit fall on them and their speaking in tongues is referred to as “receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit,” we know that “receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit” means the same thing as “being baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

And Peter said in Acts 11:15, “the Holy Ghost fell on them as on us at the beginning.” When the Holy Spirit fell on the approximately 120 Jews in the upper room “at the beginning,” the Word of God calls this being “filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:4). This means that the terms “received the gift of the Holy Spirit” and “baptized with the Holy Spirit” mean the same thing as “filled with the Holy Spirit.”

Speaking in Tongues Under the New Covenant was Prophesied by the Prophet Isaiah

The fact that people under the New Covenant would be speaking in tongues was prophesied by Isaiah approximately 750 years before the New Covenant came in. Isaiah 28:11–12 says,

“For with stammering lips and another tongue will He speak to this people. To whom He said, ‘This is the rest wherewith ye may cause the weary to rest; and this is the refreshing:’ yet they would not hear.”

We also learn from this Scripture that speaking in tongues causes the weary to rest and refreshes them.

Every Person in the New Testament Who was Filled with the Holy Spirit Spoke in Tongues

The first people who were filled with the Holy Spirit in the New Testament were the approximately 120 people in the upper room in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost eight days after Jesus ascended back to Heaven. Acts 2:1–4 says,

“And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.”

Notice that it says, “they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues.”

This means that all of the approximately 120 people were filled with the Holy Spirit, and all of the approximately 120 people spoke in tongues as the Holy Spirit gave them the utterance.

This was the first time in history that anyone had ever spoken in tongues. No one under any of the previous covenants in the Bible had ever spoken in tongues. Speaking in tongues is peculiar to the New Covenant.

The next group of people that the Bible says were filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues are mentioned in Acts, chapter 10.

We have already established that the terms “received the gift of the Holy Spirit” and “filled with the Holy Spirit” mean the same thing. Acts 10:44–47 says,

“While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the Word. And they of the circumcision (the Jews) which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles (the non-Jews) also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost, for they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter, ‘Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?’”

So we see in this passage of Scripture that all of these people also spoke in tongues when they received the gift of the Holy Spirit (were filled with the Holy Spirit).

We then go to Acts, chapter 19, to find the next group of people that the Bible says were filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues. Acts 19:1–2 says,

“And it came to pass, that, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper coasts came to Ephesus: and finding certain disciples, he said unto them, ‘Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed?’ And they said unto him, ‘We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost.’”

The first thing we want to establish here is that these people that Paul found in Ephesus were already Christians. The Word of God calls them “disciples,” which means that they were “believers.” Paul, himself, called them “believers” because he asked them if they had received the Holy Spirit since they had “believed.”

Paul then asked them about water baptism, and they responded that they had only been baptized with John the Baptist's Old Testament water baptism (verse 3). Then verse 4 says,

“Then said Paul, ‘John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on Him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.’”

Paul then explained New Testament water baptism to them and baptized them with water. Acts 19:5 says,

“When they heard this, they were baptized (into water) in the name of the Lord Jesus.”

Then verses 6–7 say,

“And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied. And all the men were about twelve.”

Once again, all the people that “the Holy Spirit came on” (verse 6), “spake with tongues” (verse 6). We know that this is talking about being “filled with the Holy Spirit” because Paul was talking to them about “receiving the Holy Spirit” in verse 2, and we have already shown that “receiving the Holy Spirit” is the same thing as getting “filled with the Holy Spirit.” Only Christians who are filled with the Holy Spirit can speak in tongues. It is not possible to speak in tongues if you are not filled with the Holy Spirit.

Let's go back to Acts, chapter 8, to talk about some other people under the New Covenant who were filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues. This is an account of Philip, who was an evangelist, who was holding meetings in the city of Samaria in the province of Samaria in Israel. We could say he was in “Samaria City, Samaria” in the nation of Israel. (It's kind of like saying “New York City, New York” here in the United States.)

The fact that all of the people here in Acts, chapter 8, spoke in tongues when they were filled with the Holy Spirit, is not as obvious here. But if you look closely at the text, you can see that they all spoke in tongues when they were filled with the Holy Spirit.

Acts 8:5–8:

“Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them. And the people with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spake, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did. For unclean spirits, crying with loud voice, came out of many that were possessed with them: and many taken with palsies, and that were lame, were healed. And there was great joy in that city.”

Verses 9–11 refer to a man named Simon who used sorcery to bewitch the people of Samaria. Then verse 12 says,

“But when they (the people other than Simon) believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.”

This verse explains that the people became Christians and were baptized in water. Since the verse says “they believed,” it means that they were “saved,” or were, “born again.” Since the verse says “they were baptized,” it confirms the fact that the people had become Christians, because a person has to become a Christian first (see What is a Christian?), before they can be eligible for water baptism. (see Is Water Baptism Necessary for Salvation?) Then verse 13 says,

“Then Simon himself believed also: and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done.”

So we see here in verse 13 that Simon also “believed” (was born again, became a Christian), and was baptized in water.

The next four verses talk about Peter and John coming down from Jerusalem to pray for the new Christians at Samaria to be filled with the Holy Spirit and speak in tongues. (Even though the city of Samaria was about 55 kilometers north of the city of Jerusalem, the Bible says that Peter and John came “down” from Jerusalem. This is because Jerusalem is “up” on a hill. You will notice that everywhere in the Bible when people are going to and from Jerusalem, the Bible speaks of them going “up” to Jerusalem or going “down” from Jerusalem, regardless of whether they are going north, south, east, or west.)

Acts 8:14–17:

“Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the Word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John: who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost: (for as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus). Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost.”

Once again, the Bible says that the people in the city of Samaria “had received the Word of God,” meaning, that they had received Jesus Christ (the Word of God) as their Savior and Lord, thus, becoming Christians. It goes on to say that these Samaritan Christians were then baptized, meaning, water baptized, in the name of the Lord Jesus.

Then we see that the apostles, Peter and John, prayed for these Christians of Samaria and laid their hands on them to receive the Holy Spirit—and they received the Holy Spirit” (verse 17). And since we know that “receiving the Holy Spirit” is the same thing as being “filled with the Holy Spirit,” we know that these Samaritan Christians were “filled with the Holy Spirit.”

But how do we know that they spoke in tongues when they were “filled with the Holy Spirit?”

Acts 8:18–19 says,

“And when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles' hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money, saying, ‘Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost.’”

The Bible says that Simon “saw” something when the people received the Holy Spirit. He knew that if he had this power to lay hands on people to receive the Holy Spirit, not only would they receive the Holy Spirit, but he would be able to tell when they had received the Holy Spirit.

There is only one thing that Simon could have seen when the people received the gift of the Holy Spirit: the people speaking in tongues. That is the only outward sign that happens when people receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. You do not automatically get healed when you receive the Holy Spirit. Some people are healthy anyway when they receive the Holy Spirit, so they have nothing to be healed of. Simon had already seen all kinds of miracles and healings take place. But what happened when the people received the Holy Spirit, was different than that. Verses 20–21 say,

“But Peter said unto him, ‘Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money. Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God.’”

Peter referred to this as “this matter.”

In the book of Job, chapter 32, Elihu (ee-LIY-hyoo), the Buzite (BYOO-ziyt) was waiting for a chance to speak to Job and his three friends. Because he was younger than Job and Job's three friends, he waited until they were finished speaking. His wrath was kindled on the inside of him because he felt like Job's three friends had found no answer, and yet had condemned Job.

Job 32:3–5:

“against his (Job's) three friends was his (Elihu's) wrath kindled, because they had found no answer, and yet had condemned Job. Now Elihu had waited till Job had spoken, because they were elder than he. When Elihu saw that there was no answer in the mouth of these three men, then his wrath was kindled.”

Then, as Elihu began to speak, he said in verses 18–19:

“For I am full of matter, the spirit within me constraineth me. Behold, my belly is as wine which hath no vent; it is ready to burst like new bottles.”

Elihu felt like he knew the answer. He believed that what he had to say was right and he could explain it to Job and Job's three friends. He wanted so badly to speak that he could hardly restrain himself—yet he did!

Have you ever felt that way? I have!

The Bible says that all these words that Elihu wanted to say were “matter.” The Hebrew word translated “matter” here is “millah” (mill-AH). It means “word, speech, or utterance.”

The Greek word in Acts 8:21 translated “matter” is “logos” (LAH-gahs). (In English we say “LOH-gohs.”) It also means “word, speech, or that which is spoken (an utterance).”

Acts 8:21 is talking about a “matter of utterance.” What Peter was saying was that receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit has to do with speaking or uttering something. That something is called “speaking in tongues.” When a person receives the Holy Spirit, they speak in tongues. If a person has not spoken in tongues, they have not received the Holy Spirit.

The next person we want to talk about is the apostle Paul.

(more to come)

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This page last updated May 8, 2016.