Over fifty years ago I was first exposed to the experience which is the subject of this study. I saw it first-hand and as a young minister in training was assigned to be a “catcher” to gently lower people to the ground who were “slain by the Spirit.” Certain aspects of what I saw in great “healing” crusades caused me concern, but it was not until many years later that I had gathered together sufficient background material from the Word of God to share my findings with others in a small booklet of limited circulation.
Then, twenty-five years later, I found others were asking the same questions that I did when I first observed a person being “Slain by the Spirit”. The booklet was reprinted at that time. Now again, the church is concerned with those who seem to put emotion to the forefront and the Bible on the back burner. It is again time to get back to the Bible.
If there is one thing about which I am convinced, it is that we must go to the Word of God — our sole rule for faith and practice — and discover the examples and search for the promises. This I have done, and the result is in your hands.
Even though I have given my conclusions, I hope that you will simply use this study as an aid as you “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (II Timothy 2:15).
In some Christian fellowships and meetings there is seen an experience where believers, as they are being prayed for or are engaging in prayer, fall upon the floor, usually upon their back. This experience has been termed as being “slain by the spirit”, “slain in the spirit”, or “falling down under the power”. To many people this is considered a manifestation of the Spirit of God and indicative of the great blessing or anointing upon the service or the speaker. Some ministers use their power of showmanship to fully display this experience.
Some explain that this “manifestation of the Spirit” merely means that “God is in the place and we are aware of His presence”. Others refer us to the history of great revivals, where such happenings are recorded, as proof of their authenticity. Still others tell us that such experiences are not uncommon in scripture.
Another reason often given for the acceptance of the experience is that since it is supernatural it must be of God. Surely earnest Christians must have read the record of the Egyptian magicians in Exodus 7:11. What they did was both supernatural and recorded in scripture (hence “scriptural”), but was it from God?
It is vital that we re-examine the scriptural record and let the Word of God speak for itself. We would do well to remember that we must not interpret God’s Word in the light of our experiences. We must let the Word alone indicate what experiences are available to the born-again believer, how to receive them, and what to do with them after we have them. We must also keep in mind the great principles of truth the whole Word reveals as the mind of God.
In this study, I have brought together those records I have found in the Word of God that indicate an experience of falling down. For the sake of clarity, I have presented them in three groups: Falling in fear, Falling in a trance, and Falling in worship.
“So he came near where I stood: and when he came, I was afraid, and fell upon my face: but he said unto me, Understand, O son of man: for at the time of the end shall be the vision. Now as he was speaking with me, I was in a deep sleep on my face toward the ground: but he touched me, and set me upright” (Daniel 8:17,18).
Let us note that when the angel Gabriel came near to Daniel, it is recorded that Daniel was afraid. When fear became master for the moment, Daniel fell on his face (not his back). The angel Gabriel spoke to him, and then lifted him to his feet. If this was supposed to be a great spiritual experience, why didn”t the angel leave him on the ground? Only when Daniel was on his feet did the angel consider him in a fit state to receive the complete message from God as given in verses 19-26.
“And I Daniel fainted, and was sick certain days; afterward I rose up, and did the king’s business; and I was astonished at the vision, but none understood it” (Daniel 8:27). The words “fainted, and” are not in the text and should be omitted. “And I Daniel was sick certain days…” No doubt Daniel had prayed and fasted many days for the meaning of the vision (verse 15), as he had done on previous occasions (9:3; 10:2,3). Certainly seeing a vision and then an angel, would not make one sick.
“And I Daniel alone saw the vision: for the men that were with me saw not the vision; but a great quaking fell upon them, so that they fled to hide themselves. Therefore I was left alone… and there remained no strength in me: Yet heard I the voice of his words… then was I in a deep sleep on my face, and my face toward the ground” (Daniel 10:7-9).
Some two years later Daniel saw another vision after a period of fasting. Fear gripped Daniel and again the outcome was that he “retained no strength” and so fell on his face on the ground. Once more he was lifted up (verse 10), but he continued to tremble through fear (verse 11) and was commanded to “Fear not” (verse 12). Then he was given the message from God. So tremendous was the revelation to Daniel that he immediately forgot what he was told, and fell once again to the ground (verses 15-17). Again the angel strengthened him and told him to “Fear not” (verses 18, 19). Obviously, in both these incidents, it was not pleasing to the angel to speak to Daniel while he was upon the ground, nor to leave him in that condition.
“As the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud in the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness round about. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell upon my face, and I heard a voice of one that spake. And he said unto me, Son of man, stand upon thy feet, and I will speak unto thee” (Ezekiel 1:28–2:1). This first incident in the book of Ezekiel is representative of the other incidents in 3:23, 43:3, and 44:4, where the same pattern will be observed.
Following the vision, Ezekiel fell upon his face (not upon his back), and heard a voice commanding him to stand on his feet before the speaker would address him. Once he was on his feet he was in a position to receive the revelation from God. A marked similarity is seen with the incidents already discussed from the book of Daniel. Note that the will of the angelic speaker is given with clarity here in Ezekiel 2:1,15, “Stand upon thy feet, and [then] I will speak to thee.”
“And behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him. And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their face, and were sore afraid” (Matthew 17:5b,6). This record in the New Testament took place at the time of what is usually referred to as the transfiguration of Christ. Only three disciples were present: Peter, James, and John.
When they saw the vision (verse 9) and heard the voice that spoke, their fear of the unknown was so great that they fell on their faces on the ground. A literal translation would read: “… they threw themselves on their faces, and were greatly frightened.” They were not “Slain by the Spirit”. Jesus came and commanded them to “arise, and be not afraid” (verse 7). Their falling down was a fearful reaction to the vision, a new experience for them, and Jesus did not will to leave them to “enjoy” the experience.
“His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow: And for fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead men” (Matt. 28:3,4). Following the resurrection of Christ from the dead, the striking appearance of the angel caused the keepers of the tomb to be filled with fear, and their physical reaction was to fall upon the ground. It is obvious they were fully conscious of what happened around them, since they reported this to their superiors within a short space of time (verse 11).
“And Ananias hearing these words fell down, and gave up the ghost: and great fear came on all them that heard these things… Then fell she [his wife] down straightway at his feet, and yielded up the ghost: and the young men came in, and found her dead, and carrying her forth, buried her by her husband” (Acts 5:5,10). The apostle Peter, by a word of knowledge, brought to light the lies of Ananias and his wife. When they realised they had been found out, they fell down (perhaps gripped with great fear) and died. This type of experience is not usually commented upon and certainly not sought after by those believers who expect to be “Slain by the Spirit” or want the church to return to the book of Acts!
“And as he [Saul] journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven: And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” (Acts 9:3,4). Saul’s reaction to the sudden brightness of the light was to fall upon the ground. Saul heard the voice and answered, so he was fully conscious of what was happening. With trembling astonishment he questioned what he was to do (verse 6). The immediate answer was, “Arise, and go into the city” (see also Acts 22:6-10). If this was a spiritual experience of great depth, why did God put a stop to it?
“And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last” (Revelation 1:17). The pattern is repeated in this incident involving John on the isle of Patmos. He saw a vision and becoming filled with fear, fell upon the earth. God exhorted him to “Fear not”. This exhortation must logically include God’s purposes regarding the effect of his fear, his falling upon the ground. Notice that John did the falling down; he was not made to fall down against his will.
“And he became very hungry, and would have eaten: but while they made ready, he fell into a trance… I was in the city of Joppa praying: and in a trance I saw a vision, A certain vessel descend, as it had been a great sheet, let down from heaven by four corners; and it came even to me… And it came to pass, that, when I was come again to Jerusalem, even while I prayed in the temple, I was in a trance” (Acts 10:10; 11:5; 22:17).
The use of the word “trance” in these verses may cause some to think that these texts relate to the subject of “Slain by the Spirit”. The Greek word used is ekstasis, from which our English word “ecstasy” is derived. The noun, ekstasis, is used 7 times (Mark 5:42; 16:8; Luke 5:26; Acts 3:10; 10:10; 11:5; 22:17), and the verb, existemi, 17 times (Matthew 12:23; Mark 2:12; 3:21; 5:42; 6:51; Luke 2:47; 8:56; 24:22; Acts 2:7,12; 8:9,11,13; 9:21; 10:45; 12:16; II Corinthians 5:13). These words have reference to the mind, indicating a state of surprise, and are translated in the King James Version as “amazed” (8 times), “amazement” (1), “astonished” (6), “astonishment” (1), “wondered” (1), “bewitched” (2), “beside himself” (1), “beside ourselves” (1), and “trance” (only 3 times).
A trance is a state in which the subject has no control or knowledge of what is happening to him. The spiritualist usage of the word “trance” and the increased emphasis by certain ESP groups who in their experiments deal with people who “go into a trance”, is not and cannot be what the true God gives. Such an experience could not be of God, for one of the great principles of the Word is that God never touches a man’s free will. When man loses or gives up control of his mind, it is always satanic.
The noun is rendered “trance” only in the three verses already quoted from the book of Acts. The use of the word “amazement” fits each of the three references. In Acts 10:10 the word “fell” is in the active voice. However, we should also note that five out of six critical Greek texts read “came”, also in the active voice. A literal translation would be: “But while they made ready he became amazed and saw heaven opened.” If it had been written in the passive voice it would indicate that the action was done to him by a source other than himself (such as is the case regarding a person in a trance), but being in the active voice it is clear that Peter was responsible for the action.
In Acts 11:5 a literal translation would be: “I was in the city of Joppa praying: and in amazement I saw in a vision a certain vessel descend…” Acts 22:17 likewise would be translated: “While I prayed in the temple, in amazement I saw him saying unto me.” These three verses from the book of Acts give no scriptural basis for an experience such as being “Slain by the Spirit”.
“And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him” (Matthew 2:11). The wise men showed their respect and worshipped the child Jesus by falling down. This was an act of voluntary humility according to Eastern custom. The biblical significance of falling face down is an act of worship showing humility and reverence. Such reverence is a customary act and is expressed when a person of inferior status is presented or presents himself before someone of superior rank. The student should check the following selected references showing this custom: Genesis 44:14; Joshua 5:14; Ruth 2:10; I Samuel 25:23,24; and II Kings 1:13.
“And all these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me” (Matthew 4:9). The devil tried to bargain with Jesus by offering Him the kingdoms of this world and the glory of them, if Jesus would fall down and worship him. The devil had no power against Jesus to force Him to submission or to make Him fall down against His will. Yet it is interesting to note that the devil desired the worship of Jesus.
Other examples of prostration in worship or supplication during the ministry of Jesus are recorded in the following passages: Matthew 18:26,29; 26:39; Mark 5:22,33; 9:20; 14:35; Luke 5:8,12; 7:25; 8:28, 41,47; 17:16;John 11:32; 18:6.
Cornelius, a Roman, “feared God with all his house… and prayed to God alway” (Acts 10:2). An angel of God came to him in a vision while he was praying and Cornelius was afraid, but no mention is made that he fell down. However, when Peter entered Cornelius’ house several days later, the scripture states “Cornelius met him, and fell down at his feet, and worshipped him. But Peter took him up, saying, Stand up; I myself also am a man” (Acts 10:25,26). Cornelius was not astonished by a bright light nor “Slain by the Spirit”, but desired to show great respect to Peter. However, Peter did not accept such a gesture, and commanded Cornelius to “Stand up; I myself also am a man.” Another record of this nature is seen in Acts 16:29 where the Philippian jailer prostrated himself before Paul and Silas.
“And thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest; and so falling down on his face he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth” (I Corinthians 14:25). The cause of the reaction given in this verse was the giving of a prophecy. The people involved in this incident were believers, both those who were instructed in the things of God but had not risen up to believe and manifest in their own life, and also the uninstructed believers.
The prophecy convinced and judged their hearts and brought the conviction that these manifestations were from God. Then the desire of their hearts was to worship God and tell everybody that “God is in you of a truth”. There is no indication that they were made to fall down by a power outside of themselves, but rather in their desire to worship they fell down of their own volition in respect and adoration of God.
The book of Revelation also gives many examples of falling down in worship in the following passages: Revelation 4:10; 5:8,14; 7:11; 11:16; 19:4,19; and 22:8,9.
In addition to these specific scripture references, we must also bear in mind the great overall principle of the Word of God, that God never touches our free will. When God gave man free will, He placed Himself in the position where He could not and would not force man to do anything if man did not will to do so. On the other hand, the devil always desires to take control of a person’s will, so that he may accomplish his purposes. When a person does something that he does not will to do so, it has to be an activity of devil spirits.
With the exception of the Eastern custom of falling down in worship, the scriptures quoted all bear out the same conclusion: the act of falling down was a physical reaction to fear. This fear was caused by the sudden appearance of a vision, an angel, or some new experience. Nowhere are we told to seek such an experience, nor is it anywhere indicated that this is necessary in order to receive a healing, or to bring forth a manifestation of the spirit, or to receive any blessing from God.
The experience has become such a common occurence in some churches that people fall down because it is “expected” that they do so. Ted Brooks, in his illuminating book I Was A Flakey Preacher, writes in chapter seven, “I have fallen ‘under the power’ dozens of time. That is why I can tell you, by experience, that the fear of man and the fear of missing out was always the strongest reason to fall to the floor. I did not want to look less willing than anyone else. Nor did I want my ‘inability to yield’ to the ‘moving of the Spirit’ to be interpreted as rebellion or unbelief.
“When you are standing in front of all your peers and respected leaders and they lay their hands on you, the pressure is on. Especially when you are up on stage and all eyes are watching you… I can tell you by experience, that it wasn’t the fear of God I was struggling with. It was the fear of not looking as spiritual as some as the others… As time went on, I got quite good at pretending when I was ‘hit by the anointing’… For many years as a pastor, I watched people fall to the floor when I laid hands on them. The preachers and the people were well trained in this and we knew what was expected of each other. We had quickly caught on to the traditions of the Charismatic church.
“Did Jesus cause people to fall under the power in His ministry? Did He see people laugh, bark, and roll as they received their healing? Did Jesus’ anointing overcome them and send them flying? Did they fall down and shake or cry as He laid hands on them? Only the demon-possessed manifested such foolishness and Jesus told them to be quiet. He did not accept these manifestations as a normal part of His ministry.”
The teaching that the experience of being “Slain by the Spirit” is simply to make us aware of God’s presence hardly seems logical let alone scriptural. The great truth of the omnipresence of God and of His special presence with the believer at all times is declared throughout the Bible. Perhaps one verse will suffice to emphasise the truth: “…for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me” (Hebrews 13:5b,6).
God has commanded us to believe His Word? He has told us that “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works” (II Timothy 3:16,17)? Let’s believe His Word!
God has made so much available to the believer, for He has “blessed us with all spiritual blessings” (Ephesians 1:3). Few Christians have manifested the fact that they are tapped into the “exceeding greatness of his power to usward who believe” (Ephesians 1:19). Certainly let us operate to the full all nine manifestations of the spirit (I Corinthians 12:8-10) in line with the conditions laid down in His Word. Let us be satisfied with no less and demand no more than God promises in the Word. Let us seek those things that build up the church and meet the needs of humanity. “Let all things be done decently and in order” (I Corinthians 14:40).
Copyright © 1997 Peter Wade. The Bible text in this publication, except where otherwise indicated, is from the King James Version. This article appears on the site: https://www.peterwade.com/
Would you like your own copy of books by Peter Wade? Go to our Catalog.