By Ashley Hooker, Crosswalk.com
Have you ever been watching an evangelist on TV and people began coming to the altar and falling to the ground? Maybe you have been to a church where people are being prayed over, and they just fall backward. When this phenomenon happens, believers are told they have been slain in the spirit.
Throughout decades, the legitimacy of being slain in the spirit has been questioned. Is this act biblical or just people acting out? Does the Bible speak about becoming slain in the spirit, or is it just a myth?
What Does Being “Slain in the Spirit” Mean?
When a person is slain in the spirit, they are overcome by the power of the Holy Spirit. The power of the Holy Spirit causes them to faint, fall to the ground, and become physically powerless. Some have witnessed people convulsing while lying on the ground.
The idea or experience of being slain in the spirit has origins going back to the first Great Awakening. John Wesley wrote in his journal about people who “were struck to the ground and lay there groaning” while he was preaching:
“Many of those that heard began to call upon God with strong cries and tears. Some sunk down, and there remained no strength in them; others exceedingly trembled and quaked: some were torn with a kind of convulsive motion in every part of their bodies, and that so violently, that often four or five persons could not hold one of them… I immediately prayed that God would not suffer those who were weak to be offended."
The writings of Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield also speak of this phenomenon during the New England Great Awakening of 1740-1743. Charles G. Finney wrote about an event where people could not speak or move in his autobiography. In 1906, W J Seymour, an apostle in the Azusa Street Revival, was conducting a prayer service and people began speaking in tongues and falling to the floor.
Today, becoming slain in the spirit is primarily a practice in Pentecostal and other charismatic meetings. It usually happens when people are called to come pray for others or to be prayed over. A minister will lay hands on a person and if they become slain in the spirit, they will fall backward. The minister will have people ready to catch those falling so they don’t get hurt, and women assistants will provide a cover for any woman who may become slain in the spirit.
Is This Phrase Found in the Bible?
The phrase in question is not specifically found in the Bible, although there are references to people falling down and worshipping the Lord.
The prophet Ezekiel wrote, “Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. When I saw it, I fell facedown, and I heard the voice of one speaking.” (Ez. 1:28)
In the book of Acts, Luke describes the conversion of Saul with these words. “He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? (Acts 9:4) These same words are repeated in Acts 22:7 and 26:14.
John writes in his gospel “Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, who is it you want? Jesus of Nazareth they replied. “I am he,” Jesus said. (And Judas the traitor was standing there with them.) When Jesus said, “I am He” they drew back and fell to the ground.”
John also speaks of his own experience in God’s presence when he writes Revelation 1:17. “When I saw Him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last.”
The Bible does show us that when people were experiencing the power of God they fell or began to convulse. Jesus’s disciples fell down at his voice (Matt. 17:6) and the guards at the tomb shook and became like dead men. (Matt.28:1-4).
Is Being Slain in the Spirit Biblical?
There are many who would argue that becoming slain in the spirit is biblical. They believe the power of the Holy Spirit comes over them and they have an experience they don’t want to end. The Holy Spirit gives them peace, love, and joy, as if they are receiving a hug from God.
The argument that says being slain in the spirit is biblical is based upon the verses I already mentioned. If the prophets, disciples, and lay people can fall down in the presence of God, then why can’t the persons of today do the same? God uses man to do His work on earth, so God can use a man to pastor His people. When that man touches another, the touch of God can flow through.
Examples of this are prevalent during the ministry of Jesus. In Mark 5:30, Jesus says, “At once Jesus realized the power had gone out from Him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes.” In Matthew 9:27-31, Jesus comes upon two blind men. The men are asked if they believe Jesus can heal them. When they say yes, Jesus places his hands on their eyes, and their sight was restored.
Those who don’t believe becoming slain in the spirit is biblical use several different points. They believe that God is looking for permanent results, not a temporary act. They also reference that the ones who fell down in the Bible did not fall backward. They either fell forward or face down. Scholars also note that some fell over voluntarily. There was no laying on of hands or touching.
Theologians say that spirit-led behavior produces the fruit of the spirit of self-control. They believe that for one to have self-control, they would not convulse or fall on the ground.
Even though the Bible does not specifically talk about being slain in the spirit, it does make clear that when in the presence of God, it can be soothing, overwhelming, frightening, and joyous. All these emotions can lead us to act in certain ways. We may cry, fall on our knees, or sing out praises. During the Pentecostal and charismatic movements, we see a more distinct act of becoming slain in the spirit emerge. God’s presence always makes us react.
Even though I have read a lot of information and referenced many Bible verses, I can say that there is no clear answer to our beginning question. Being slain in the spirit is an act that happens as a result of being filled with the Holy Spirit. For some, it feels so good they don’t want to come out of it.
The argument against becoming slain in the spirit is compelling as well. There are differences between what happened in the Bible and what happens today. Is that enough to say something isn’t real? Can we truly say the Holy Spirit doesn’t fill us up to a point of falling?
I leave you with this quote to consider from Aimee Semple McPherson. “Don’t blaspheme the sacrament you don’t understand.”
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/digitalskillet
Ashley Hooker is a freelance writer who spends her time homeschooling her two children, ministering alongside her husband as he pastors a rural church in West Virginia, and writing about her faith. Currently, she is a contributing author for Journey Christian magazine. She has taken part in mission trips with the NC Baptist Men during the devastation of Hurricanes Katrina and Harvey in Mississippi and Texas. In her local church, she has served on various committees focusing in the area of evangelism along with traveling to West Virginia and Vermont to share the Gospel. Her dream is to spend her time writing and sharing the love of Christ with all she meets.
The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of Salem Web Network and Salem Media Group.
These verses serve as a source of renewal for the mind and restoration for the heart by reinforcing the notion that, while human weakness is inevitable, God's strength is always available to uplift, guide, and empower us.
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