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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: The Holy Spirit and Us

Don Stewart :: What Does It Mean to Be Slain in the Spirit?

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What Does It Mean to Be Slain in the Spirit?

The Holy Spirit and Us – Question 11

There is an act known as being “slain in the Spirit.” This occurs when a person is supposedly overcome by the power of the Holy Spirit and faints, or falls to the ground, in physical powerlessness. Is this an experience that believers should expect to have? How should we view people who are “slain in the spirit?” Do we find examples of this in the Bible?

The Case for People Being Slain in the Spirit

There are a number of passages that are usually cited as examples of being slain in the Spirit. They include the following.

Ezekiel Fell over When He Saw a Vision

The Bible says that the prophet Ezekiel fell over when confronted by the vision of a moving object. Scripture reports it as follows.

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 (Ezekiel 1:28 NIV).

The prophet fell down when confronted by the glory of the Lord.

The Priests Could Not Stand to Minister

There is a passage in 2 Chronicles that is also quoted by those who argue for believers being “slain in the spirit.” This passage speaks of the priests not being able to stand in the presence of the Lord. It says.

In unison when the trumpeters and the singers were to make themselves heard with one voice to praise and to glorify the LORD, and when they lifted up their voice accompanied by trumpets and cymbals and instruments of music, and when they praised the LORD saying, “He indeed is good for His lovingkindness is everlasting,” then the house, the house of the LORD, was filled with a cloud, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled the house of God (2 Chronicles 5:13, 14 NASB)

It is argued that the glory of the Lord would not allow the priests to remain standing while they ministered. The assumption is that that all fell down.

Judas and the Crowd Fell Back

There are also alleged New Testament examples of this occurring. We find that Judas Iscariot and the crowd that was with him fell over when arresting Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. John’s gospel reports what happened as follows.

Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to him, came forward and said to them, “Whom do you seek?” They answered him, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus said to them, “I am he.” Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. When Jesus said to them, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground (John 18:4-6 ESV).

These people were knocked over by the power of God. Some see this as an illustration of being “slain in the spirit.”

Saul of Tarsus Fell to the Ground at His Conversion

Saul of Tarsus, who became the Apostle Paul, was knocked off of his feet on the Damascus road when he met Jesus Christ. The Book of Acts says.

Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:3-4 ESV).

This is another example of someone falling to the ground when confronted by the Spirit of God.

John Fell down like He Was Dead

The Apostle John fell as one dead when seeing the risen Christ. We read about this in the Book of Revelation. It says.

His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. 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” (Revelation 1:15-17 NIV).

Therefore, Scripture gives examples of people falling down when being overwhelmed by the Spirit. This practice of being “slain in the spirit” thus has biblical support.


These instances, however, do not actually teach that the Holy Spirit overcame them, causing them to fall to the ground in worship. A number of points need to be made.

Some Fell over Voluntarily

Some of these examples are actually people voluntarily falling to the ground. Apart from the episode in Gethsemane and Saul’s conversion, where the people fell back, the other instances can be understood as people voluntarily falling down to worship God. In other words, they were not overcome by the Spirit to the place where they could not help but all over.

They Fell Forward, Not Backward

Those who are supposedly “slain in the Spirit” fall backward. With the exception of those in Gethsemane, all of them fell forward, not backward.

Those in Gethsemane Were All Unbelievers

Those who fell backward in Gethsemane were not believers, but unbelievers sent there to arrest Jesus. Therefore, we can hardly attribute their falling down backward to some mighty spiritual experience!

Spirit Led Behavior Means Producing the Fruit of the Spirit: Self-Control

Though people have attempted to find a biblical basis for this phenomenon, none can be found. The Scripture nowhere advocates passing out while being overwhelmed by the power of the Holy Spirit. Quite the contrary, the Bible says that the fruit of the Spirit’s power is self-control, not some sort of uncontrolled ecstasy. Paul wrote to the Galatians.

But the fruit of the Spirit is... self-control (Galatians 5:22-23 NIV).

When God’s Spirit is truly controlling a person’s life there is not a showing off or some outward theatrical display. Any act, such as being “slain in the Spirit,” is not a work of God’s Spirit but a work of the flesh. Whenever people call attention to themselves, they are not glorifying the God of the Bible. This is not the way the Holy Spirit works, for His ministry is to call attention to Jesus Christ.

The Fruit Must Be a Continuous Thing in a Person’s Life

In addition, the Lord requires permanent results in the lives of those who trust Him. He is not looking for some temporary act that supposedly displays devotion to Him. Paul wrote about the need to conduct our lives by the power of the Spirit.

If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit (Galatians 5:25 NASB).

This is the way in which we must live; by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus also made some comments about the fruit of the Holy Spirit. Matthew records Him saying the following.

Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them (Matthew 7:15-20 NIV).

A good tree will continually produce good fruit. Therefore, we are to look at the totality of a person’s life rather than some momentary experience.

In sum, the idea of one being “slain in the spirit” has no biblical support.

Summary – Question 11
What Does It Mean to Be Slain in the Spirit?

There are a number of people who have fallen down while being in the presence of the God of the Bible. This includes the prophet Ezekiel when confronted by the vision of a. moving object. Another example seems to be certain priests who could not stand to minister as recorded in the Book of Chronicles. In the New Testament, Judas and the crowd with him fell to the ground when they confronted Jesus Saul of Tarsus fell to the ground at his conversion on the Damascus road. Finally, John the Apostle fell to the ground when seeing the risen Christ. These examples have been offered as biblical proof of the legitimacy of the experience known as “slain in the Spirit.”

Supposedly this same work of the Spirit happens today in the lives of people who are touched with His power. Indeed, many examples are cited of people falling backward when overcome with the power of the Spirit

However, there is no evidence that the Bible supports such an experience for believers. The passages used to support the belief do not do so.

First, we find that some of them fell over voluntarily – they were not knocked over. Therefore, it was not the power of the Spirit which seized them and caused them to fall over.

Moreover, most of them fell forward, not backward. This is contrary to the modern-day experience which people attribute to the power of the Holy Spirit.

In addition, the ones who fell down backwards were unbelievers, not believers. The fact that they were not believers clearly shows they were not overwhelmed with the power of the Spirit in the same manner as people claim today! Indeed, they fell back in judgment, not worship.

The Bible says that when one is filled with the Holy Spirit they exhibit self-control – not lack of control. This self-control, or fruit, is something constant throughout their life.

Consequently, some one-time experience of falling down and passing out is not an indicator of the spirituality of a person. True spirituality is living a consistent Christian life.

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