What does it mean to be slain in the Spirit?

The term "slain in the Spirit" is used in the Charismatic circles of Christian Churches to designate a supposed movement of the Holy Spirit upon a person. The claim is that the Holy Spirit moves with such power on a person, that the person is "slain." This does not mean the person dies but that he/she is so overcome by the presence of the Spirit that he/she falls down to the ground being completely overcome.

Many evangelists have televised meetings where Christians gather. Some of these meetings have special times of healing or "receiving the Spirit." This is where the "evangelist," who is supposedly anointed to be able to do this, goes around putting his hand on peoples' foreheads causing them to fall down--to be slain in the Spirit--as they are overcome by the presence of the Holy Spirit. This display is unfortunate since it is unverifiable, ostentatious, and could very well be nothing more than the overcoming power of emotions of a person.

On the other hand, it is possible that the Holy Spirit could move so powerfully on a person that he/she is overcome. After all, God is incredibly powerful. But, the problem is not with this possibility but with whether or not it is biblical. We must always seek to remain as close as possible to the word of God and let it guide our words and practices.  So, let's look at the Word.

Perhaps the closest occurrence we can find in the Bible to being slain in the Spirit is where Paul the apostle fell to the ground when Jesus appeared to him:

"And it came about that as he journeyed, he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; 4 and he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?'" (Acts 9:3-4).

Is this being slain in the Spirit? No, it is not. But it is an instance where people fell to the ground when the presence of the Lord was strong. In fact, my own subjective experience includes a time where the power of the Lord was so strong that I was forced to bow my knee and be laid low to the ground. But the result was worship and adoration, not a lack of bodily control.

Nevertheless, let's look at some additional scriptures used to support being slain in the Spirit:

  • "And behold, a severe earthquake had occurred, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it. 3 And his appearance was like lightning, and his garment as white as snow; 4 and the guards shook for fear of him, and became like dead men," (Matt. 28:2-4).
  • Judas then, having received the Roman cohort, and officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, came there with lanterns and torches and weapons. 4 Jesus therefore, knowing all the things that were coming upon Him, went forth, and said to them, 'Whom do you seek?' 5 They answered Him, 'Jesus the Nazarene.' He said to them, 'I am He.' And Judas also who was betraying Him, was standing with them. 6 When therefore He said to them, 'I am He,' they drew back, and fell to the ground," (John 18:3-6).
  • "at midday, O King, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining all around me and those who were journeying with me. 14 And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew dialect, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads,"' (Acts 26:13-14).

We can see that in the presence of God people fall to the ground. This is natural and proper given the majestic holiness of God compared to our sinfulness. Falling to the ground in the presence of the Lord is to be expected. But, does this mean that being slain in the Spirit is biblical?

When someone is slain in the Spirit, he or she is usually touched on the forehead by a pastor or teacher or evangelist, etc. This touch alone seems to be the compelling means by which a person receives this movement of the Spirit. The person is then incapacitated for a period of time. Again, is this biblical? Apparently not since there is not a single instance in the New Testament where someone is touched on the forehead and falls to the ground due to the presence of the Spirit.

Furthermore, the danger in this phenomenon is that it can be set up by the teacher who appears as someone special, an "anointed" individual with the power to cause the Spirit to move on people. They then congregate around this individual and view him/her as a specially-anointed person. This is inherently dangerous, especially given the numerous theological errors taught by many of the TV evangelists.

Now, I am not saying that the Spirit of God cannot knock someone down or that the Spirit of God does not move today. I wholeheartedly believe that the Spirit is still very active in the Church. But, given the sensationalism in the TV church, the numerous unbiblical practices and teachings that occur there, and the over-eagerness of people to be slain in the Spirit, I would conclude that this phenomenon is to be frowned upon.