“Slaying” people in the Spirit is the practice of laying hands on a person who then loses control of his body to the extent that he falls helplessly to the ground, supposedly overcome by the power of the Holy Spirit. This behavior typically occurs in Charismatic and Pentecostal circles. The person thus “slain” may lie on the floor for minutes or hours, convulsing, crying out in ecstatic utterances, or simply lying quietly. People are often “slain” in the Spirit during revival meetings or praise services led by a Charismatic minister with a reputation for having the ability to “slay” people in such a fashion.
Some try to use 2 Chronicles 5:14 to justify the behavior demonstrated by being slain in the Spirit. In that passage, King Solomon and the priests of Israel are dedicating the newly built temple in Jerusalem. As the ark of the covenant is being brought into the temple for the first time, there is music and loud singing in praise to God. Then something spectacular happens: “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, ESV).
Using 2 Chronicles 5:14 as a proof text for slaying in the Spirit hinges on the word stand. The reasoning is that, if the priests could not “stand” to minister, they must have fallen to the ground, just like happens in modern-day Charismatic services. The fact that we fall to the ground incapacitated proves that the glory of the Lord is among us, just like it was in Solomon’s day.
This interpretation of 2 Chronicles 5:14 requires several assumptions and ignores the definition of the word stand in this context. The word here does not mean “maintain an erect posture”; it means “take one’s place.” Other translations of the same verse say the priests “could not perform their service” (NIV); “could not carry out their duties” (NET); and “were unable to complete their duties” (ISV). The idea is simply that the priests were prevented from taking their positions in the temple, not that they were knocked flat. The priests may have “knelt on the pavement with their faces to the ground” with the other onlookers (2 Chronicles 7:3), but otherwise they remained upright.
The ESV translates the same Hebrew word for “stand” in 2 Chronicles 5:14 as “stay” in Exodus 9:28. In that verse, the pharaoh tells Moses, “There has been enough of God’s thunder and hail. I will let you go, and you shall stay no longer” (emphasis added). Was pharaoh telling Moses that Moses would soon fall to the ground, shaking and uttering unintelligible words? No, he was saying that Moses would soon be allowed to leave his place in Egypt and go to another place.
We must remember that the church is only obligated to follow those instructions clearly given to us in the New Testament. We cannot apply an Old Testament event in Israel to the New Covenant church with haphazard disregard of context and dispensation. Even if the priests in Solomon’s time were struck down in a temporary fit of spiritual ecstasy (which they were not), it would not give license for believers today to seek such an experience. Remember, when Saul was filled with the Spirit, “he stripped off his garments, and he too prophesied. . . . He lay naked all that day and all that night” (1 Samuel 19:24). Should we imitate Saul’s behavior, too?
There is a big difference between narrative in the Bible and commands in the Bible. The Lord truly fed Israel with manna in the wilderness, but that doesn’t mean we should sit outside with bowls in our hands today, waiting for it to rain bread. We have no command to do so. The fact that the glory of the Lord filled the temple and the priests could not perform their duties is narrative—it is an accurate telling of history. But the priests had no command to seek the same experience the next week. Neither do we. The church is never commanded to seek a repeat of the priests’ experience, and we are never commanded to be slain in the Spirit.
Also arguing against being slain in the Spirit is the fact that we cannot base theology on what we have seen or experienced. Experience-based doctrine will invite deception. Jesus said, “A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a sign” (Matthew 16:4), and He warned that in the last days “false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive” (Matthew 24:24). No, the miraculous is no guarantee that God is at work.
“The righteous will live by faith” (Romans 1:17). In our faith system, we are being matured to believe God when there are no signs, to trust Him when there is no evidence, to follow Him when there is no proof of the truth except that God said it. Faith, “confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see,” is primary (Hebrews 11:1).
The Charismatic movement is not the faith movement; rather, it is the signs movement. 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.
God wants us to be alert, conscious, aware, ready, and watchful (Luke 21:36; 1 Corinthians 16:13; 1 Peter 5:8; 2 Timothy 4:5; Revelation 3:2). God never teaches chaos, unconsciousness, confusion, mysticism, or the practices of pagan spiritualism. He teaches self-control, self-discipline, the renewing of the mind, growth in knowledge and love, the necessity of faith, and the awareness of God’s presence in our waking moments.
The fact that the priests in 2 Chronicles 5:14 “could not perform their service” is not due to their falling to the ground. Nothing in the passage suggests the priests were laid out on their backs or physically incapacitated in any way. Rather, the visible glory of the Lord filling the temple made the priests keep their distance. This was the Lord’s temple, the Lord’s work, and the Lord’s day. The priests became awed observers of the glory of God.