Slaying in the Spirit

Slaying in the Spirit

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Among the more interesting of modern spiritual experiences occasionally seen in Pentecostal services is the loss of motor control by believers that causes them to fall on the floor. Such experiences are attributed to the action of the Holy Spirit. They were sporadically reported in revival meetings in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries,but first became common at meetings held at the end of the nineteenth century by Maria Beulah Woodworth-Etter (1844–1924), a Pentecostal evangelist-healer. However, it was not a notable phenomenon within Pentecostalism through the mid-twentieth century.

The experience came to the fore during the ministry of healer Kathryn Kuhlman (1907–1976). During her healing services, Kuhlman would point to people and they would appear to fall back as if pushed. Some people reported an invisible force hitting their chest area, others simply felt a loss of balance and control of their leg muscles. The experience rarely lasted for more than a minute or two. During the height of Kuhlman’s career in the 1960s and 1970s, other evangelists such as Kenneth Hagin Sr. and Charles and Frances Hunter also introduced the phenomenon into their meetings. In these cases, the slaying in the Spirit was not spontaneous as in previous centuries, but was controlled to a large extent by the minister in charge of the meeting.

In the years since Kathryn Kuhlman’s death, being slain in the Spirit has been most frequently identified with the ministry of Benny Hinn (b. 1952), who has assumed Kuhlman’s mantle. In his services people who have been healed are frequently called to the front of the congregation, where Hinn then lays hands on them and they appear to fall. Hinn usually designates assistants to catch anyone who falls, lest they hit the floor and are hurt, and others stand ready with cloths in case a female’s skirt should inadvertently ride upward in an immodest manner.

Most recently, the phenomenon was associated with the Toronto Blessing, a revival movement centered on a single congregation located near the Toronto Airport in Ontario, Canada. The movement was most known for the so-called Holy Laughter, in which people broke into fits of uncontrollable laughing when affected by the Spirit. However, it soon became known for other phenomena as well, such as the slaying in the Spirit.

Slaying in the Spirit was criticized as soon as it became well known. Non-Pentecostals, especially conservative Baptists, attacked it as an unbiblical occurrence. This was a particularly stinging indictment, since Pentecostals had built their movement around an unquestionably biblical event, speaking in tongues, which they complained had been abandoned by other churches. Though no biblical passage details an experience that duplicates the contemporary phenomenon of slaying in the Spirit, its supporters point to passages in which people were knocked down during an encounter with God (Numbers 24:4; Matthew 17:6). Others have suggested that slaying in the Spirit is a sign of psychological disorder (not unlike possession or obsession), while supporters have seen it as an event that marks a new level of intimacy with God by those who experience it.


MacNutt, Francis. Overcome by the Spirit. Tarrytown, NY: Revell, 1990.
Nader, Mikhaiel. Slaying in the Spirit: The Telling Wonder. Punchbowl, NSW, Australia: Bruised Reed, 1992.
Warner, Wayne E. 92Kathryn Kuhlman: The Woman behind the Miracles. Ann Arbor: Servant Publications, 1993.
The Encyclopedia of Religious Phenomena © 2008 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.