Moon on King
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Dr. Tony G. Moon[1]


     Joseph Hillary King was one of the major early leaders in the International Pentecostal Holiness Church.  He served as General Overseer of the Fire-Baptized Holiness Church (a predecessor denomination) 1900-1911 and as General Superintendent of the Pentecostal Holiness Church from 1917 until his death in 1946.  

     Bishop King is increasingly recognized in academic circles as one of the most important leaders and theological thinkers in early Pentecostalism in America.  A point of debate that has recently emerged among historians and other scholars is the question about whether King changed his mind about a particular point of doctrine, namely, “initial evidence.”  Since 1908, the International Pentecostal Holiness Church has included in its Articles of Faith the belief that the “initial evidence” of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit is “speaking with other tongues as the Spirit gives utterance,” so this issue is no small debate. 

     The church historian who has recently raised this issue is Dr. Douglas Jacobsen, author of the 2003 book, Thinking in the Spirit.  He states that King wavered in his commitment to this teaching in the second edition of From Passover to Pentecost (published in 1934).  Although there are other King statements important to the discussion, Jacobsen only quotes King’s last two sentences in that volume:  “We affirm once more that the New Testament prophetic function is a strong evidence of a Pentecostal experience, state, and ministry.  The sign of tongues, and the gift of tongues, adduced as an evidence of Pentecost, are not equal to the prophetic function or gift; therefore, the latter is to be accepted as an evidence of Pentecost as much as the former.”  Jacobsen believes that King had moved away from the belief that Spirit Baptism is always, immediately evidenced by tongues:  “His conclusion was that the gift of prophecy could also be construed as valid proof that the person so gifted had at some point received the fullness of the Spirit.”[2]

     After much research into King’s writings and several interviews with his children, I have concluded that Jacobsen is likely wrong.  Jacobsen did not examine anywhere near all of King’s accessible writings and he did not adequately study King’s second edition remarks in literary context.  The remainder of this article overviews my main counterarguments.

     King in Other Publications.  After the 1934 release of the second edition of From Passover to Pentecost, Bishop King clearly affirmed the doctrine of initial evidence several times, especially in the Pentecostal Holiness Advocate.

     The Internal Consistency Issue.  In the 1914 original edition of From Passover to Pentecost, King clearly, emphatically, and repeatedly affirmed the doctrine.  These statements remained completely intact in the second edition.  Therefore, to interpret some of his remarks in the second edition as undermining the teaching is strongly suspect.         

     The “Pentecostal Age” Theme.  King’s controversial remarks in the second edition should be interpreted in terms of a major theme which functions as the overall context for his discussion:  the “Pentecostal Age.”  In this light, King was not addressing specifically the issue of initial evidence.  Rather, he was writing about Christian prophecy as a sign of the Pentecostal Age which began on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2.

     Contemporary Pentecostal Holiness Advocate Writers.  In the pages of the Pentecostal Holiness Advocate, a sizable number of Pentecostal Holiness leaders and other preachers wrote some of the same things King did relative to tongues, Spirit Baptism, prophecy, and other gifts of the Spirit.  Like King, they expressed concern about “counterfeit demonstrations” and belief in evidences for the Baptism of the Holy Spirit in addition to tongues.  In this light, it is probable that in the second edition King was not denying that everyone who receives genuine Spirit Baptism speaks in tongues.  He was saying there are additional evidences after the “initial evidence,” including prophetic utterances, which also play a confirming role relative to Spirit Baptism in the life of the believer.

     It is likely that Bishop King believed the initial evidence doctrine until the day of his death.  Joseph H. King, Jr., says he “cannot imagine” his father ever changing his mind about this question.





[1] This article summarizes a paper read at the 2005 Society for Pentecostal Studies conference.  It will be published in the April, 2006, issue of the Journal of Pentecostal Theology.   

[2] Rev. J. H. King, From Passover to Pentecost, Second Edition (Franklin Springs, GA:  The Publishing House of the Pentecostal Holiness Church, 1934), p. 219; Douglas Jacobsen, Thinking in the Spirit:  Theologies of the Early Pentecostal Movement (Bloomington:  Indiana University Press, 2003), pp. 190-191.  The Third-Fifth Editions of From Passover to Pentecost are basically reprints of the Second Edition.


This article is a slightly revised version of an article originally written for the IPHC Experience magazine.  Dr. Tony Moon is Professor of Christian Ministries at Emmanuel College.  He has also served as a pastor, Georgia Conference CEM Director, and church planter.