Is Being “Slain in the Spirit” Biblical?
Some charismatic churches advocate being “slain in the Spirit” as a genuine encounter with God’s Holy Spirit. But is this experience biblical?
For readers who don’t come from a charismatic background, the phrase slain in the Spirit may be puzzling. A search of the Bible reveals no use of the phrase slay in the Spirit or slain in the Spirit. So, what exactly do people mean by “slain in the Spirit”? And is it something that you should seek?
Being “slain in the Spirit” (or sometimes called “anointing of the Spirit”) describes an experience that occurs in some charismatic churches where a person allegedly receives an intense manifestation of the Holy Spirit into their bodies.
Perhaps you have watched a religious program on television and have seen this occur but didn’t know exactly what it was called.
It is usually prompted when a preacher lays hands on the person, sometimes violently, and asks God for this sign. When it occurs, it’s believed that the Holy Spirit enters someone and the sheer power knocks the person onto his or her back. People experiencing this often go into a trancelike state and believe the Holy Spirit has literally seized and taken control of their mind and body. Sometimes the people involved become totally quiet, and other times they loudly wail or laugh throughout the experience.
Charismatic churches believe that this occurs only to people who truly and fully yield to the power of God’s Spirit and allow it to take control and seize their mind and body. It often occurs in meetings where people are also seeking to speak in tongues or where a preacher is attempting faith healing.
What does being “slain in the Spirit” feel like?
Here’s how one individual described her experience of being “slain in the Spirit” at a charismatic church:
“He laid his hands on me. Down I went. Down I went . . . I just went down. I can’t even describe the feeling, it’s just like something was in me, like a tingling thing. I was under His control . . . I was laying on floor with my eyes closed . . . I just stayed there until the tingling started to subside a little bit. And that feeling, that powerful feeling, was just starting to go back out naturally. Oh, it was wonderful. It was great . . . It’s not something you’re in control of. It just comes to you.”
Is being “slain in the Spirit” in the Bible?
Though there are examples of prophets receiving revelation from God through His Spirit, the Bible gives no example of the modern practice of being “slain in the Spirit.” There’s not one example where a prophet or a minister of God ever laid hands on someone, causing them to fall backward into a trancelike state.
There are examples of people being impacted physically by an encounter with God’s presence, but those examples are very different from modern instances of being “slain in the Spirit.”
Here are a few examples:
- Matthew 17:5-6: “While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!’ And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their faces and were greatly afraid” (emphasis added throughout).
Peter, James and John fell on their faces in terror when they experienced a vision of the glorified and radiant Jesus Christ. But there’s no indication that they lost control of their mind or that they experienced a feeling of euphoria. In fact, Jesus’ response indicates that they had fallen to the ground in great fear of what they had seen and heard (verse 7).
There’s not one example where a prophet or a minister of God ever laid hands on someone, causing them to fall backward into a trancelike state.John 18:5-6: “Jesus said to them, ‘I am He.’ And Judas, who betrayed Him, also stood with them. Now when He said to them, ‘I am He,’ they drew back and fell to the ground.”
Sometimes people refer to this scripture as an example of people falling backward under the influence of the Spirit. But note two things: First, this was a unique occurrence. And, second, these people were part of the mob coming to arrest Jesus and were in rebellious opposition to God’s plan. In this case, it seems power emanated from Christ when He spoke, as a witness of who He was. The power coming from Jesus pushed them back and to the ground. (Whether they actually fell backward is unclear, but if they did, this is the only time such an occurrence is mentioned in the Bible—and it wasn’t a good thing!)
- Acts 10:9‑11: “The next day, as they went on their journey and drew near the city, Peter went up on the housetop to pray, about the sixth hour. Then he became very hungry and wanted to eat; but while they made ready, he fell into a trance and saw heaven opened and an object like a great sheet bound at the four corners, descending to him and let down to the earth.”
This was another unique occurrence. But it’s important to note that Peter wasn’t just experiencing a feeling of euphoria and tingling. He was experiencing a direct vision from God. When God gives a vision to one of His servants, He directly implants that vision into the individual’s mind. The person’s mind does not go blank, it is literally filled with direct revelation of God. But this is not something God does often or that people can seek. These visions occurred at specific periods in time for specific purposes. In this case, Peter was experiencing an important vision regarding God’s opening up salvation to the gentiles.
Here are a few other examples of when God gave revelations to His servants in this way: Genesis 15:12-13; Acts 9:3-4; Revelation 1:10, 17. These passages refer to experiences of some of God’s greatest servants—Abraham, Paul and John.
It would be presumptuous and arrogant for us today to try to duplicate what God did in the lives of these men.
What about the laying on of hands?
A key element of “slain in the Spirit” experiences is the forceful touch of a preacher—often with enough power to push people down onto their backs. Sometimes it is downright violent and done when a preacher and his audience are worked up into a near frenzy due to the music, dancing and spirited preaching.
Though the Bible contains no example of this kind of experience, it has much to say about the practice of a minister of God laying hands on people. In fact, the book of Hebrews lists “laying on of hands” as a fundamental doctrine of God’s Church (Hebrews 6:2). But the biblical practice of “laying on of hands” is very different from what we see in charismatic services.
There are two points we should note about the biblical ceremony of “laying on of hands”:
It was never done in a forceful or violent way. Biblical “laying on of hands” had a calming effect. Consider that Jesus laid His hands on children to bless them. We read that “He took them up in His arms, laid His hands on them, and blessed them” (Mark 10:16). Jesus would have done this very gently. He did this to give a benefit—a blessing—to these children. His laying hands on them was in no way forceful or violent.
Laying on of hands was done for specific purposes. The biblical act is always done to set an individual apart for a special purpose. It was never done just to give someone a spiritual experience. Some of the purposes for this ceremony include:
- To impart a birthright blessing (Genesis 48:14).
- To ordain a new leader of Israel (Numbers 27:22-23).
- To impart the Holy Spirit to believers after baptism (Acts 19:3-6).
- To anoint someone who is unwell (James 5:14).
- To bless children (Matthew 19:13-15).
- To ordain deacons and elders in the Church (Acts 6:5-6; 1 Timothy 4:14).
The “laying on of hands” ceremony is firmly rooted in the Bible and is carried out for a specific purpose. However, the biblical examples of this practice in no way resemble the practices we see in modern charismatic churches.
Ministers in the Church of God continue to practice the “laying on of hands” when they carry out these ceremonies. But they follow the biblical example and always do so in a controlled and gentle manner. God’s way is characterized by gentleness (James 3:17).
To learn more about this practice, read our article “Laying On of Hands.”
Falling backward? Is it of God?
Let’s consider another common element of being “slain in the Spirit”—falling backward. Does the Bible show that righteous people respond to God’s presence in this way?
In the Bible, when righteous individuals experienced God’s presence and glory, they always fell forward facedown. Bowing before God with one’s head toward the ground is a sign of deference, humility and worship. Notice these examples:
- Numbers 20:6: “So Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly to the door of the tabernacle of meeting, and they fell on their faces. And the glory of the LORD appeared to them.”
When true servants of God encounter God’s presence, they bow or lie facedown before Him in worship, deference and humility.Joshua 5:13‑14: “And it came to pass, when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, a Man stood opposite him with His sword drawn in His hand. And Joshua went to Him and said to Him, ‘Are You for us or for our adversaries?’ So He said, ‘No, but as Commander of the army of the LORD I have now come.’ And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped, and said to Him, ‘What does my Lord say to His servant?’”
- Ezekiel 3:23: “So I arose and went out into the plain, and behold, the glory of the LORD stood there, like the glory which I saw by the River Chebar; and I fell on my face.” (See also Ezekiel 43:2-3; 44:4.)
- Matthew 17:6-7: “And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their faces and were greatly afraid. But Jesus came and touched them and said, ‘Arise, and do not be afraid.’”
- Revelation 7:11: “All the angels stood around the throne and the elders and the four living creatures, and fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God.”
Many other examples could be cited. But these give a clear and unified standard: When true servants of God encounter God’s presence, they bow or lie facedown before Him in worship, deference and humility.
Again, we should note that the example of people possibly falling backward in John 18:5-6 was not of righteous individuals, but of unrighteous individuals. When righteous individuals encounter God’s presence, they always fall forward, facedown.
God’s way of life is a way of self-control and order
One final thing to consider about “slain in the Spirit” experiences is the general lack of order that surrounds them. They are typically embedded in a form of worship that is very spontaneous, chaotic, unpredictable and emotion-driven.
This is not the atmosphere that should surround true worship. The Bible sets a very different standard. One of the clearest scriptures about the atmosphere God desires when people worship Him is found in 1 Corinthians 14:33: “For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.”
God’s Spirit gently leads a person—it does not violently seize him or her.God’s standard for true worship is simple: “Let all things be done decently and in order” (verse 40).
God’s way of life and true worship are characterized by peace and order—never chaos and confusion. Confusion and disorder are fruit of a carnal way of life (James 3:16).
The peace and order that God expects from His people flow from the influence of His Holy Spirit. God’s Spirit doesn’t influence people to uncontrollable emotional outbursts or to trancelike states. The true Spirit of God is a spirit “of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7). A “sound mind” is a controlled mind.
A mind led by God’s Holy Spirit brings “every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). Notice, our mind must be captive to obey Jesus Christ. Obedience is an active and conscious choice that requires full control of our mind. This is the opposite of trying to open our mind to be seized and controlled by an outside spirit. That’s not how God’s Spirit works. God’s Spirit gently leads a person—it does not violently seize him or her (Romans 8:14).
The fruit of God’s Spirit includes gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:23).
Modern charismatic services are hardly examples of gentleness, and the very idea of being “slain in the Spirit” is the opposite of self-control. Those who seek this are striving to surrender control of their mind to an outside force and often react to the experience in unpredictable ways. There may well be a spirit involved in these experiences, but the Bible shows it is not God’s Spirit. Remember the words of the individual we quoted above: “It’s not something you’re in control of. It just comes to you.”
Beware of charismatic deception
We understand that these kinds of experiences can be stimulating and exciting for people. But the appeal is emotional. In some ways, being “slain in the Spirit” is very similar to drug use. Those who experience it get an emotional adrenalin rush that they interpret as a spiritual experience. But the emotional rush soon wears off, and then they must seek it again and again.
The true impact of God’s Spirit is completely different.
Don’t seek to be slain in any spirit. Seek to be led by God’s Spirit.
To learn more about the dangers of charismatic religious practices, watch for our upcoming article “From Pentecost to … Pentecostalism?” that will appear in the May/June 2022 edition of Discern magazine.