This is the opening blog of a five-part series on this controversial topic. The first blog is a short introduction to the subject with my own not-so-subtle take on it.       

What is being “Slain in the Spirit”? 

Sociological description:  

“Slain/Slaying in the Spirit” is a term coined to describe “the power of the Holy Spirit so filling a person with a heightened inner awareness that the body’s energy fades away and the person collapses to the floor”. [1] 

Theological reflection:

Jonathan Edwards’ assessment was that a person’s bodily strength failed them due to fear of hell and the conviction by the Holy Spirit or due to a “foretaste of heaven.” [2]   Edwards stressed the falling is not God’s direct work but the result of another work of Spirit in a person. He wisely gives a few possible reasons without landing on one.   

John Wesley followed similar logic. He recognized falling to the ground as a manifestation from God, and records many such instances in his ministry. Similar to Edwards, Wesley considered falling down and other bodily movements to be natural (not supernatural) human responses to the supernatural “testimony” or “witness” of the Holy Spirit. [3] The manifestation is evidence of the Holy Spirit doing something, but the physical manifestation is not the thing being done. Such visible manifestations, no matter how weird,  is the person’s (involuntarily) response to the Holy Spirit’s unseen work. 

Some may push back and say, “God works on the soul not the body. He cares about the soul.” Such arguments assume a spiritual work is beyond the senses. A real work, but an incorporeal work of God.” Such reasoning smells like the spoiled liver of Gnosticism. Dividing the spiritual and the material to such a degree – “Never, the twain shall meet.”[4]  Biblically, humanity is a psychosomatic whole made up of a spiritual and physical constitution, distinguishable, but interrelated. It is more gnostic than Christian to think that when God’s spirit touches and/or blesses someone spiritually, it could never result in a physiological response. So, given a biblical anthropology that considers the whole self, it is no wonder that such responses would happen when God does a mighty work on the soul. In short, I agree with Wesley, it is a human response to a deep work of God’s Spirit. I see it much like a physical reflex that happens when a doctor taps a patient’s knee. So, too, when the Holy Spirit taps our spiritual knee, we may have some kind of physical, reflexive response. 

Biblical Warrant 

Theologian Wayne Grudem states that while the phrase “slaying in the Spirit” is not found in Scripture, there are a number of instances where people are described as falling to the ground or falling into a trance in the presence of God.[5]

Biblical Evidence             

  • Ezekiel 1:28  Ezekiel saw the appearance of the glory of the Lord and fell face-down. Similar in 3:23
  • Daniel 10:5–18 As Daniel saw and heard a vision, his strength left him and he became helpless, then he was unconscious face down, then later trembling on his hands and knees.
  • Matthew 17:6 Three disciples fell face-down to the ground, overwhelmed, on the Mount of Transfiguration.
  • Revelation 1:10–18 The Apostle John heard a loud voice behind him, then he turned to see the voice and “fell at His feet as though dead”. Also see 4:10
  • John 18:6. While it is debated if this was involuntary falling or not, I hold that John describes the power of Jesus’ statement, “I am”, hitting the crowd like a shockwave and overwhelming them.[6] 
  • Genesis 15:12; Exodus 40:35; Daniel 8:27; Acts 9:4, 10:10; These are other passages that describe someone falling down but they are disputed because it is not clear if they involuntarily fell.
  • Acts 19:12, 9:12, 28:8; Mark 5:30; James 5:14–15; these passages are examples of how the power of God can be transferred by touch or by laying on of hands. Impartation is an important concept, particularly, in third wave theology of the Holy Spirit. 

The evidence for the phenomenon is unquestionable. Scripture gives strong secondary evidence which speaks to the validity of this type of experience. It is among the kind of experiences described in scripture.  Equally unquestionable is the lack of biblical evidence for the experience as normative in the Christian life.  Paul does not teach us to do it or Jesus command us to go into the world ‘Slaying them in the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit’.  It’s just not normative thus should not be sought like someone seeks out a chocolate bar after lent.   

Personal Testimony 

I became a Christian in college and my personal religious history did not include much talk of the Holy Spirit. I was much like those John the Baptist fan boys Paul met on the road to Ephesus, “I didn’t even know of the Holy Spirit!”  In my early days as a Christian, I experienced the phenomena of falling under the power of God when a friend took me to a church meeting. My experience is a classic testimony of me willfully telling myself I was not about to go down. Then I woke up on the floor with my pride in pieces and my paradigm significantly shifted. I was lucky enough to experience the early days of the Brownsville Revival (even went back a few times, through late 90’s). I was also involved in an outpouring connected to the Toronto blessing at a Baptist church in Georgia. Both Toronto and Brownsville had influenced the college ministries I attended, which led to many times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord, the ripple effect bringing salvation, renewed mission and life change in its wake. All that to say, in those first years of my faith, I witnessed many people falling under the power of God. So this is not just an academic issue, but something I’ve seen firsthand. In those days, I was fascinated by the phenomenon and observed it like a scientist. Analyzing if someone touched someone else and heard how they prayed. Talking with the person afterwards to get a sense of their experience and often help them process.

Personally, I am not big on formalizing the practice but I also don’t consider the formalizing of it, even the sacramentalizing to being anathema. I don’t think the sensationalization of such practices are helpful, especially given our culture. Yet, I’ve also seen such encounters stir scores of Christians out of their religious apathy. In a moment, God becomes real. The encounter, well cultivated, leads to more passion and curiosity for God, not just another encounter. I have seen such experiences drive many to a deeper study of scripture and willingness to share Jesus in ways and contexts they would not have otherwise. When you see a housewife go from happily reading romance novels to devouring systematic theology, you can say, God is doing a work. Especially ten years later when that fascination has developed into a thriving Sunday school class, a vibrant prayer ministry and mentoring scores of young women in the things of God. Given the judgment of time, I will say with full confidence, Yea, God did a work when she got some floor time.  




[1] Margaret Poloma, The Assemblies of God at the Crossroads: Charisma and Institutional Dilemmas. (Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 1989). 28

[2] Jonathan Edwards, “The Distinguishing Marks of the Work of the Spirit of God,” Jonathan Edwards on Revival (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1984), 91, 92. He gives as biblical examples the fainting of the queen of Sheba, the trembling and falling of the Philippian jailer, and others (pp. 91-94).

[3]  John Wesley, The Journal of John Wesley (Chicago: Moody Press, n.d.), 76. For other incidents of falling, see pp.81, 99, 293. See also Ann Taves, Fits, Trances, and Visions (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999), 72-74, 76-117.

[4] The phrase comes from a line in a Rudyard Kipling poem. The Ballad of East and West. 

[5] Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 2004), 640. 

[6] Context clues point to the power overselling them. 1.) It is highly unlikely they would’ve bowed voluntarily. Romans soldiers did not respectfully take a knee for someone they were arresting.  2.) Jesus’ confession was the start of His passion. In two words, “I am”, Jesus set in motion his own death. He began the journey to the cross. 3.) His confession also gave a covert confession of His divinity, “I am” is often used in John’s gospel to highlight Jesus’ divinity.  4.) Further, it fits John’s theme of Jesus’ willingness, for if they did fall like dead men, He could have simply walked away and escaped. Jesus staying heightens, Jesus resolves to go to the cross. In freely staying, Jesus was walking out His prayer “Thy will be done”.