Can being ‘slain in the Spirit’ be seen at other times in history?
Some people say that the manifestations in revivals and the strange behaviour related to an outpouring of the Holy Spirit is not of God and has only appeared in the 17th century and later.
Others believe that the manifestations are of God and that any earlier reports of them have not been found yet, or have been lost.
Are there any historic documents that describe emotionalism, shaking, falling down, and other bodily manifestations during religious revivals?
1. Did Signs and Wonders die out with the apostles?
Origen (AD185-254) was an early zealous church father. His full name, Origen Adamantius, means ‘man of steel,’ a title he earned through a lifetime of suffering. 2
Origen wrote a major apologetics work in around 248 AD, countering the writings of Celsus, a pagan philosopher and controversialist who had written a scathing attack on Christianity in his treatise ‘The True Word’. 3
Origen mentions in his book, ‘Against Celcus’:
- The manifestation of the Spirit.
- Signs and wonders.
- The driving out of evil spirits.
- Foreseeing certain events.
Obviously, being ‘slain in the Spirit’, knocked over, shaking, shouting, trances, tears, trembling, groans, twitching, jerking, or convolsions is not mentioned in his book.
The ‘manifestation of the Spirit’ and also the ‘power’ is not explained and could include things like being forced down by the Lord’s Presence.
But there is no concrete evidence, so those wanting to believe that manifestations happened will accept that Origen’s descriptions include such things.
Whereas those against manifestations will see that there is no evidence for such things.
Here are Origen’s quotes:
We have to say, moreover, that the Gospel has a demonstration of its own, more divine than any established by Grecian dialectics.Origen, ‘AGAINST CELSUS Complete’ Translated from the Greek original by Frederick Crombie. Page 7. Ellopos. 4
And this diviner method is called by the apostle the “manifestation of the Spirit and of power” of “the Spirit,” on account of the prophecies, which are sufficient to produce faith in any one who reads them, especially in those things which relate to Christ; and of “power,” because of the signs and wonders which we must believe to have been performed, both on many other grounds, and on this, that traces of them are still preserved among those who regulate their lives by the precepts of the Gospel.”
The first letter to the Corinthians, where the apostle Paul wrote about the gifts of the Spirit, was probably written in A.D. 59 so, it is interesting to note that roughly 190 years later there were still ‘traces’ of these spiritual gifts being used.
Celsus asserts that it is by the names of certain demons, and by the use of incantations, that the Christians appear to be possessed of (miraculous) power; hinting, I suppose, at the practices of those who expel evil spirits by incantations.Origen, ‘AGAINST CELSUS Complete’ Translated from the Greek original by Frederick Crombie. Page 11. Ellopos. 5
And here he manifestly appears to malign the Gospel.
For it is not by incantations that Christians seem to prevail (over evil spirits), but by the name of Jesus, accompanied by the announcement of the narratives which relate to Him; for the repetition of these has frequently been the means of driving demons out of men, especially when those who repeated them did so in a sound and genuinely believing spirit.”
The quote below again emphasises that there were ‘traces’ of the Holy Spirit, meaning that since the days of Paul there had been a steady decline in the Holy Spirit’s power being manifested through the believers, but it had not completely died out:
And there are still preserved among Christians traces of that Holy Spirit which appeared in the form of a dove. They expel evil spirits, and perform many cures, and foresee certain events, according to the will of the Logos.”Origen, ‘AGAINST CELSUS Complete’ Translated from the Greek original by Frederick Crombie. Page 52. Ellopos. 6
The quote below states that Origen himself had seen these ‘traces’ of the Holy Spirit’s workings:
For they [the Jews] have no longer prophets nor miracles, traces of which to a considerable extent are still found among Christians, and some of them more remarkable than any that existed among the Jews; and these we ourselves have witnessed, if our testimony may be received.”Origen, ‘AGAINST CELSUS Complete’ Translated from the Greek original by Frederick Crombie. Page 94. Ellopos. 7
2. Manifestations of groaning, loud outcries, or trance like states.
One of the earliest known records of this type of manifestation happened in the late 17th century and into the 18th century:
The World History Encyclopedia states that the French Camisards claimed inspiration from the Spirit, they focused much on the Old Testament and fell into mystical trances.
Most Protestant pastors disapproved of their activities. 8
The Encyclopaedia Britannica describes the French Camisards’ manifestations and ritual practices as ‘shaking, shouting, dancing, whirling, and singing in tongues.’ 9
In 1740, George Whitefield after being at the forefront of revival in England, went to North America to preach there and huge crowds came to hear him.
During his lifetime, it is reckoned that he preached to nearly 10 million people at thousands of events.
George Whitefield was a significant catalyst for the 18th-century revival in England and the First Great Awakening in North America.
Also, Jonathan Edwards, a Puritan, Congregationalist preacher and one of America’s most influential theologians was involved in that Great Awakening. 10
Jonathan Edwards experienced revival manifestations, along with George Whitefield. He wrote:
A work is not to be judged of by any effects on the bodies of men; such as tears, trembling, groans, loud outcries, agonies of body, or failing of bodily strength.‘Jonathan Edwards on Revival. The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the True Spirit’ 11
The influence persons are under is not to be judged of one way or other by such effects on the body; and the reason is because the Scripture nowhere gives us any rule.
We cannot conclude that persons are under the influence of the true Spirit because we see such effects upon their bodies, because this is not given as a mark of the true Spirit; nor on the other hand, have we any reason to conclude from any such outward appearances, that persons are not under the influence of the Spirit of God…”
What Jonathan Edwards has written here is important.
In today’s spiritual climate, many see these manifestations as being proof of God’s Holy Spirit moving, but Edwards points out that the Bible gives no qualification to these effects on the body.
[Jonathan Edwards] still wants to say that there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with such manifestations.‘Jonathan Edwards: Christian History Interview — On His Own Terms’. A conversation with George Marsden. 12
But his principle is that every revival will be imitated by Satan—that’s why it’s hard to tell whether revival experiences are really benefiting those involved.
The long-run test was the qualitative change in your life, not the joy bells ringing for a while.”
Also, because we see the body being affected we cannot say that this is not the Holy Spirit’s work.
We can only say this based on the fruit that comes from this event.
So for example, if these manifestations in revivals cause such a commotion that the preaching of God’s Word is stopped, then that makes it suspicious of being contrary to the Lord’s aims.
Also, if weeks after the manifestations there appears to be no godly change in those affected, or no one was permanently saved and transformed, then those manifestations are potentially of the flesh and not of the Holy Spirit.
3. Revival manifestations of shaking.
The Quakers, from about the mid-17th century, were known “to tremble in the way of the Lord” in their services.
They generally believed in the authority of the Holy Spirit as being of primary importance, above that of Scripture. 13
The Shakers, also known as ‘The United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing’, was a Christian sect founded c. 1747 in England and then organised in the United States in the 1780s.
They were initially known as “Shaking Quakers” because of their ecstatic behaviour during their charismatic worship services.
During the mid-19th century, an Era of Manifestations resulted in a period of dances, gift drawings, and gift songs inspired by spiritual revelations, and also involved twitching, jerking, or shouting. 14
4. Is falling to the ground a manifestation of the Holy Spirit?
James McGready (1762?–1817) became pastor of three small churches in Logan County, Kentucky in 1796.
The area was called Rogues’ Harbor because many murderers, horse—thieves, highway robbers, and counterfeiters fled there to escape justice, so the area was very crude and uncivilized.
But the fearless McGready told them that they had not got away from the eternal God and his message was so powerful that by 1798 many were “struck with an awful sense of their lost estate.”
The first real manifestations of God’s power came, however, in June 1800.‘The Return of the Spirit: The Second Great Awakening’ Christian History Institute. 15
Four to five—hundred members of McGready’s three congregations, plus five ministers, had gathered at Red River for a ‘camp meeting’ lasting several days.
On the final day ‘a mighty effusion of [God’s] Spirit’ came upon the people, ‘and the floor was soon covered with the slain; their screams for mercy pierced the heavens.’ ”
The Presbyterian pastor, Barton W. Stone (1772–1844), of the Cane Ridge and Concord churches, northeast of Lexington, Kentucky visited McGready and planned a similar meeting for August 1801.
Between 10,000 and 25,000 people flocked to Cane Ridge from as far as Ohio and Tennessee. Stone had arranged for the crowds to be divided into separate groups which were led by ministers from different denominations all united in one purpose, the salvation of sinners.
Sinners dropping down on every hand, shrieking, groaning, crying for mercy, convulsed; professors praying, agonizing, fainting, falling down in distress, for sinners or in raptures of joy!…The Rev. Moses Hoge described the Cane Ridge camp meeting. ‘The Return of the Spirit: The Second Great Awakening’ Christian History Institute.
As to the work in general there can be no question but it is of God.
The subjects of it, for the most part are deeply wounded for their sins, and can give a clear and rational account of their conversion…”
Peter Cartwright (1785 – 1872) was a Methodist circuit rider in Kentucky and the Midwest who is credited with helping to start the Second Great Awakening wrote about Cane Ridge:
The power of God was wonderfully displayed; scores of sinners fell under the preaching, like men slain in mighty battle; Christians shouted aloud for joy…Autobiography of Peter Cartwright: ‘Outpouring America: The Cane Ridge Revival’ 16
I have seen more than a hundred sinners fall like dead men under one powerful sermon, and I have seen and heard more than five hundred Christians all shouting aloud the high praises of God at once, and I will venture to assert that many happy thousands were awakened and converted to God at these camp meetings.”
Colonel Robert Patterson was an officer in the American War of Independence (1775–1783) and in the Indian Wars (early 1800s).
He was also the founder of Lexington, Kentucky and also of Cincinnati, Ohio.
The quote below comes from his letter to Dr John King, dated September 25th 1801, describing what happened at the Cane Ridge Revival in May:
…on Cabin creek, six miles above Limestone, the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper was administered by Mr. Camble and Mr. M’Namaar, at which time about sixty persons were struck down.Colonel Robert Patterson: ‘Outpouring America: The Cane Ridge Revival’ Fathers Heart Ministry. 27 March 2020.
Next Sabbath, on Fleming creek, under Mr. M’Namaar, and Mr. Camble, on a like occasion, about 100 persons were struck down and deeply convinced…
On Friday night preceding the Sacrament at Concord, I was present at a society, held at Kainridge, a united congregation of Mr. Stone, and saw the extraordinary work.
Of fifty persons present, nine were struck down. I proceeded next morning to Concord, ten miles distant, where a sermon was preached, at which several became affected and struck down…”
The crowds at Cane Ridge and other revivals on the wild frontiers were often highly emotional.
Those rough people had few social controls and often lived in isolation, so when they were part of a large crowd could become susceptible to uncontrolled displays.
Most of the ministers opposed these manifestations and strange behaviours, but often it was beyond their power to prevent that.
Even so, despite weird manifestations, there was a powerful turning of people towards the Lord and there was much good fruit.
5. Do these Bible verses show manifestations of falling over?
Falling down in front of God is described in the Bible, but does this explain being ‘slain in the Spirit’ where people get prayed for within a meeting and consequently fall prostrate?
 One verse that is quoted to justify being knocked flat is this:
…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 5:14 ESV
The word translated here as ‘stand*’ is ‘עָמַד’ (a.mad) meaning ‘to stand, remain, endure, present oneself, attend upon’ and occurs about 521 times in the Old Testament.
I would translate that verse that they could not remain or present themselves before the Lord as His glory was so bright in the house of God.
It does not prove that the priests were struck down flat.
 Ezekiel narrates that:
…there was brightness around him.Ezekiel 1:28 ESV
Like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness all around.
Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord.
And when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking.”
The word ‘fall’ could indicate being cast down, but the context is not consistent with that.
This verse in Ezekiel, implies that he willingly falls before the glory of the Lord and that he was not forced to the ground.
The Lord then says to him, “Son of man, stand on your feet…” which indicates a freedom to do so.
But before he stands up, the Spirit entered into him and set him on his feet, so the conclusion is not certain.
 The disciples fell on their faces:
…a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said ‘This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.’Matthew 17:5-6 ESV
When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified.
But Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Rise, and have no fear.’ “
These verses give no indication that they were forced to the ground.
They seem to decide to throw themselves down in fear, but then Jesus invites them to stand up and not to be fearful.
 A very similar situation can be seen in Revelation where John falls down in fear, and Jesus tells him not to be fearful:
In his right hand he held seven stars from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.Revelation 1:16-17 ESV
When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead.”
None of these verses can be seen as biblical evidence of physical manifestations of the Spirit.
A Bible verse that could relate to a manifestation of being knocked down.
In Daniel a supernatural event happened and those with Daniel greatly trembled with fear and ran away.
This shows that they was no force directly upon them, rather it was sheer terror that gripped them.
But Daniel did seem to be physically affected by seeing this awesome heavenly figure before him.
His strength was removed and he fell down to the ground and into a deep sleep.
This could be seen as a similar situation to ‘being slain in the Spirit’:
And I, Daniel, alone saw the vision, for the men who were with me did not see the vision, but a great trembling fell upon them, and they fled to hide themselves.Daniel 10:7-9 ESV
So I was left alone and saw this great vision, and no strength was left in me.
My radiant appearance was fearfully changed, and I retained no strength.
Then I heard the sound of his words, and as I heard the sound of his words, I fell on my face in deep sleep with my face to the ground.”
So, yes this can happen, but there appears to be only one verse in the Bible that describes this and it certainly was not a common experience.
This should make us question manifestations of falling down when it is a regular, common event.
If it is a true manifestation of the Spirit then it is likely to be a rare, uncommon event, otherwise it could become merely a powerful suggestion and emotionalism.
6. What is the conclusion, what, if any, manifestations should be accepted?
We can accept that at times we may see individuals being physically affected by God’s Spirit because it is entirely plausible, we are emotional beings and not robots.
But where there are multiple manifestations we can suspect that the power of suggestion is working.
Also, if there is an environment where these things are encouraged, or manifestations are sought after, it will become the expected outcome which is dangerous.
The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association put out this statement:
…whatever one may think about the experience of being ‘slain in the Spirit,’ it should not be made an expectation for all believers or be considered a sign of spiritual maturity.‘What does “slain in the Spirit” mean?’ Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. 18
In addition, discernment needs to be exercised by mature church leadership since the power of suggestion and mere emotionalism can so easily mimic legitimate spiritual experience.
It is never God’s will that we seek spiritual experience for the sake of experience.
God’s will is that we seek Jesus Himself by faith and in accordance with the Word of God.
He is our only source of genuine spiritual experience, satisfaction and fulfillment (Psalm 16:11, Philippians 3:10-14).”
John Wesley, who witnessed bodily manifestations in his meetings, came to an interesting conclusion. It could be due to:
- A natural human response to fear, guilt, etc.
- A natural response to feeling God’s love.
- Satan could be trying to sabotage the meeting.
John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, considered falling down and other bodily movements to be natural (not supernatural) human responses to the supernatural “testimony” or “witness” of the Holy Spirit in conversion. Occasionally, Wesley attributed bodily movements to Satan’s attempt at disrupting the conversion process, but at other times, he described bodily movements as natural human responses to God’s love.” 19‘Slain in the Spirit’ Wikipedia. 20
So, John Wesley saw these manifestations as natural bodily responses and not supernatural ones.
He also knew that these things can be used by Satan to sabotage a meeting.
We need to be aware of these things.
Also, as we have not got evidence that these things happened after Pentecost, or through the first centuries of the early church right up to the 1600s, it seems suspicious and something to be very cautious of.
We must definitely NOT seek for manifestations and signs.
The Bible does not teach this
For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.1 Corinthians 1:21-24 ESV
For Jews demand signs* and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”
The word translated as ‘signs*’ is the Greek word ‘σημεῖον’ (sēmeion) meaning ‘(miraculous) sign, signal, mark’.
The Jews were seeking for miraculous signs that impressed them and the Greeks were seeking for things to puff up their minds, – both were wrong in themselves.
The verses below show that Jesus did not agree with seeking for ‘signs’:
The Pharisees came and began to argue with him seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him.Mark 8:11-12 ESV
And he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, ‘Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.’ ”
Got Questions Ministries has an interesting observation:
The Charismatic movement is not the faith movement; rather, it is the signs movement.‘Does 2 Chronicles 5:14 teach slaying in the Spirit?’ Got Questions Ministries. 21
It teaches people to seek after a sign or to rely on personal experience rather than on the written Word of God.
Those who live by faith do not need signs and wonders to keep their faith alive or to prove the Word.
They do not need to engage in extra-biblical practices to somehow prove God’s presence.
Those who live by faith read the Word of God, believe what God has said, and live accordingly.”
May we not seek after ‘signs’ and ‘manifestations’, but “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness”. 22
References and credits – open in new tabs:
‘Jonathan Edwards on Revival. The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the True Spirit’ Banner of Truth Trust. p 91. ↩
Williams, Jeffrey (2010). ‘Religion and Violence in Early American Methodism : Taking the Kingdom by Force.’ Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press. ↩
Matthew 6:33 ESV ↩