Written by: Arlene Sanchez Walsh
Pentecostalism, like other Protestant communities, embraces the 66 books of the Bible as a guide to faith and practice. It relies heavily, however, on the Book of Acts as a blueprint for the Pentecostal experience. Other foundational scriptures include Paul's first Letter to the Corinthians, especially chapters 12-13 where the gifts are discussed. Some sections of the Hebrew Bible, like Joel 2: 28-29, receive much attention.
Since there are no other scriptures that Pentecostalism adheres to, it may be helpful to briefly examine two foundational texts and draw some comparisons between how Pentecostals and other conservative Protestants interpret them. It will also be helpful to discuss how Pentecostals interpret certain passages differently amongst themselves. From the movement's earliest days, schism has been an option for Pentecostals who have described their disagreements as part of a revelation from God rather than as mere differences of interpretation.
Taking the foundational text first, Acts 2:4, Pentecostals place most of their theological emphases on this scripture, which describes a meeting that Jesus' followers had in Jerusalem when the tongues of fire appeared over their heads, the Holy Spirit filled them, and they began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. This description, along with a few others (especially Acts 10:10), gives Pentecostals the theological support for adhering to the doctrine of initial evidence, that Spirit baptism is demonstrated by speaking in tongues (though as we shall see later, most Pentecostals loosely adhere to that doctrine as a matter of faith and practice).
The story in Acts is important not only for its experiential description, but also for what it says in terms of Pentecostal theology. Jesus' admonition that he would not leave his followers without an advocate, a comforting presence (John 14-16), is seen as fulfilled in the Acts passage. These sections that fulfill the prophetic nature of Jesus' words, and especially the Old Testament passages that, for Pentecostals, foreshadow the Pentecostal movement (e.g., Joel 2:28-29), are particularly important. They place Pentecostalism squarely within the Christian tradition, legitimating its existence regardless of whether other Christian bodies agree with the experiential nature of their faith. Because Pentecostals are as rooted in the scriptural texts as other evangelicals, arguing with the text become a self-defeating exercise.
Passages such as Joel's are always subject to interpretation and revision based on one's social and cultural lens; the Joel passage has always been a kind of theological double-edged sword. Joel 2:28-29 reads:
28 And afterward,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,