The phenomenon of ‘falling down backward’ is one which has gained unprecedented popularity in today’s churches. However, it is a phenomenon which has absolutely no biblical standing whatsoever. In fact, it would indeed be laughable if it weren’t so deadly serious an issue for the Church. There are many Christians who are curious about these odd occurrences and have asked if there is any biblical validation for these events. Subsequently, I am obliged to give a response, and a warning.
This phenomenon is usually declared to be the product of the act of ‘laying on of hands,’ which is the belief that a person receives the Holy Spirit of anointing when this is done. The subsequent falling down backward is defined as the physical response to the strong power of the Holy Spirit coming upon these people.
These curious events are known by many different names, including, ‘falling down backwards, falling out, drunk in the Spirit, sleep in the Spirit, going down, slain in the Spirit, overcome by the Spirit, resting in the Spirit, and the sleep blessing..’ As best we can tell, Maria Beulah Woodworth-Etter, a woman who preached in the holiness movement of the 1880’s, started this practice by falling out in her popular services of the time. She would often go into a trance-like state and fall down during her performances. She died in 1924, but her legacy of falling down backward in Church services has lived on. In modern times, it was brought back to great popularity by people in great numbers falling down in a small church in Toronto Canada. From this resurgence, many have also labled this, ‘The Toronto Blessing,’ where it is mixed with what is termed holy laughter.
Many Charismatics claim that apart from the anointing, falling down backward is also a phenomenon which brings both physical and emotional healing. They believe that it is a blessing of the spiritual gifts that God gives. However, the most agreed upon explanation or purpose for this act is that it is that of the anointing of the Spirit for the service to God. Much like Christ was anointed for the service of God when the Spirit descended like a dove. But all of these explanations are in stark contrast to all of the actual Biblical references to falling down backward. These are ‘always’ (without exception) seen in the context of God’s judgment upon man, and are ‘never’ seen as any type of blessing, anointing, or healing. So if falling down backward is not anywhere seen in scripture as good or a blessed thing, then the question is, why are some professed Christians emulating this?
In order for faithful Christians to honestly establish if there is any real support in the scriptures for these experiences, we must be willing to examine the passages which have been offered up by these people as evidence that it is a Biblical practice. Therefore, in the first part of this article, we will examine the scriptures which actually speak about people who fall backward. And in the second part, we will address some of the scriptures which Charismatics use in an attempt to support their belief. If falling down backward is really a biblical practice, then we should clearly see it illustrated in the Bible. And if it is not a Biblical practice, then what we see in scripture should illustrate that this falling is unchristian, and unprecedented. If we are willing to surrender to the authority of the Word, we can clearly tell what is not the product of the Spirit of truth, and what is the working of a seducing spirit of deception. Because it’s not as if God has not warned us false practices were coming upon the Church.
Passages Illustrating Falling Down Backwards
When we search through the scriptures we are struck by the realization that the witness of canon is that any and all ‘falling down backward’ is invariably in the context of God’s Judgments upon man. It is never in the context of believers receiving the Holy Spirit, or of any blessing or benefit. We should not lose sight of the ‘fact’ that all other scriptures which those who profess belief in this phenomenon offer, do not actually speak of any ‘falling down backward.’ And most speak of no falling down at all. The first reference we will look at is in Genesis:
- “Dan shall judge his people, as one of the tribes of Israel.
- Dan shall be a serpent by the way, an adder in the path, that biteth the horse heels, so that his rider shall fall backward“.
Dan is your classic example of a man under Judgment of God who goes forth an adversary, that others may fall backward under that same judgment. The tribe or family of Dan was infamous for it’s fall to idolatry (Judges 18:30-31), and their turning away from God to serve false gospels and false gods. In Genesis, Dan is equated with the serpent who bites at the heels of horses that the horsemen might ‘fall backward.’ i.e., it is a spiritual picture signifying his bite is to make the strong people to fall into judgment. In point of fact, the name Dan itself is the Hebrew word [dawn], meaning ‘judge.’ Indeed, Rachel herself declared that she named him Dan because God had judged her. Dan being ‘the serpent’ biting at the heels that one falls down backward, is God inspired spiritual truths concerning the evil spirit and God’s judgment. From the beginning in the garden of Eden, in Genesis chapter 3 we see this symbolism of that Spirit Satan, as the serpent:
- “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.”
Dan is equated with this serpent, Satan. He lies by the way attempting to bite the heel of the strong (horsemen are a symbol of strength) people that they fall backward, coming under judgment of God. Dan is a vessel of judgment. This tribe brought idolatry and false gospel to Israel so that it is cut off and not even mentioned in the census of revelation chapter 7, of the 12,000 sealed of “all” the tribes of Israel. By Dan’s wickedness, he is used to Judge Israel. Much like God prophesies that he will send deceivers (2nd Thessalonians 2:9-12) with lying signs and wonders to deceive the unfaithful of the Church who will not receive the love of truth. It is illustrating that God uses false teachers to judge His Church. Likewise,
- “Dan shall judge his people, as one of the tribes of Israel.
- Dan shall be a serpent by the way, an adder in the path, that biteth the horse heels, so that his rider shall fall backward.”
This falling backward of those whom Dan accosts, signifies they are come under Judgment. In no way does this scripture showing ‘falling backward’ signify the anointing of the spirit, or a blessing of God. On the contrary, it signifies God’s judgment, and an evil upon man.
1st Samuel 4:18
- “And it came to pass, when he made mention of the ark of God, that he fell from off the seat backward by the side of the gate, and his neck brake, and he died: for he was an old man, and heavy. And he had judged Israel forty years.”
Likewise, this falling backward is in the context of the judgment that God sent upon the people of Israel for their rebellion. There was a great slaughter of Israel by the Philistines, and the ark of the Covenant, the symbol of God’s promise to Israel, was taken by the heathen. God had foretold of His judgment upon Israel, and now he was bringing it to pass. That any of the examples of falling backward in scripture can be construed or used as proof that it illustrates a blessing, or an anointing, is beyond all rational thought. This man fell backward, broke his neck, and died ‘because’ the Ark of Israel was taken in Judgment. In no instances of scripture is falling down backward ever seen as anything but judgment. The Charismatic church should testify to the passages which ‘actually’ speak of this falling backward.
- “But the word of the LORD was unto them precept upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little; that they might go, and fall backward, and be broken, and snared, and taken.”
The Lord is speaking here of rebellious Israel, that they would not hear His Word of truth, and He declares that they would be broken, caught in their own snare or web, to be trapped. And He uses the terminology of His judgment as them, ‘falling backward.’ We see that all roads lead to the same conclusion. And the conclusion is that the Biblical references of ‘falling backward’ do not ever signify the anointing of the Spirit of God, but signifies the wrath of God in his judgment upon rebellious man.
Likewise, when Judas betrayed Christ and the soldiers came to arrest Him in the Garden of Gethsamene, Jesus asked them who it was they sought, and their reply was, Jesus of Nazareth:
- “As soon then as he had said unto them, I Am he, they went backward, and fell to the ground.“
Note that the word ‘he’ is not actually in the original manuscript, it was placed there by translators in an attempt to make the sentence flow smoothly. Jesus literally says, I AM, announcing He was the Great I AM (Exodus 3:13-14), the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. As soon as Christ said I AM, these wicked men who would come to accuse God, fell backward to the ground, signifying their own judgment. They had come to arrest righteous God for violation of the law, and God (not willing to stop His arrest, but to show forth His Authority), has them all ‘fall backward’ at the sound of His Glorious Name, ‘I AM!’ This isn’t the picture the Charismatics want to paint of those who fall down backward, but it is the picture which God paints. No one ‘caught’ these men who fell backward, no one saw or alleged any anointing of them by the Spirit, and no one claimed that this was God’s blessings upon these men. Because falling backward is a ‘sign’ of God’s Judgment in scripture, not His Blessing. And in an ironic twist, this verse of John 18:6 is one which many attempt to use to support their claims of Biblical precedence for their belief in falling backward. On the contrary, it illustrates just the opposite. That it signifies those who come under Judgment of the Great I AM, and not those who are blessed of God.
These are the passages which speak of falling backward in scripture, and not one of them give one shred of support to such doctrines as Christians being slain in the spirit or Holy laughter. It supports the truth that this event signifies God’s judgment. If we are going to go by the scriptural record of what men falling down backwards entails, then we have clear validation that it involves those under the Judgment of God. It is not something which any Christian would ever want to be associated with.
Passages purported to support Falling Down Backwards
Advocates of this practice allege that there indeed is Scriptural warrant, but does this claim hold up under close biblical examination? There are no explicit biblical references, but there are some passages which Charismatics say ‘imply’ the act of falling down backward or being slain in the spirit. The passages which they most often submit as supporting their beliefs are Genesis 15:12 and 17:3, Numbers 22:30 and 24:4, Joshua 5:14, Ezekiel 1:28, Matthew 17:5-6, Revelation 7:11 and 11:16, and Acts 9:3-4. Let’s look at each of these scriptures in their proper context, and without prejudice.
- “And when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and, lo, an horror of great darkness fell upon him.”
This scripture says a deep sleep fell upon Abraham, it doesn’t say a word about being slain in the spirit, falling backward, fainting, or passing out. Nor does this biblical reference bear any resemblance whatsoever to what goes on in the Churches today. This passage fails miserably as a proof text for the teaching that Christians fall down backward as a sign of anointing. At best it says when darkness came, he fell asleep. It doesn’t say that Abram fell, it says a deep sleep fell upon him. A totally different context.
- “And when the ass saw the angel of the LORD, she fell down under Balaam: and Balaam’s anger was kindled, and he smote the ass with a staff.”
This Hebrew word translated fell is [rabats], which means to crouch or to lie down. In no instance does it mean an involuntary falling backward. To use this passage as support for such events is taking liberties above and beyond what can be ‘honestly’ justified. The ass simply crouched down or lay down under Balaam because of what he saw. He did not fall backward, nor is there anything here that would allow this episode to be used to support such actions in the Church today. It’s ridiculous to say this proves we can fall down backward in the Churches.
- “And Abram fell on his face: and God talked with him, saying,”
- “And he said, Nay; but as captain of the host of the LORD am I now come. And Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and did worship, and said unto him, What saith my lord unto his servant?”
- “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.”
These are people going down to the ground in reverence for God, a ‘voluntary’ act of obeisance, respect, and submission, not the spirit knocking them down or putting them to sleep. Obviously these people have no concept of the application of the Hebrew word ‘fell’ [naphal] in the sense of going down. Nevertheless, these also do not show an involuntary falling either backward or forward. We plainly see all throughout scripture that the prophets of God, acknowledging the Glory, Vision, and Magnificence of God’s presence, would fall (that is to say, drop or go down) with their face to the ground as a sign of reverence and obeisance. None of these Holy men were stupefied, fainting, passing out or confused, nor were they prodded by other Prophets, nor did they fall backward as is the practice of Charismatics. Scripture tells us that they fell on their faces, which is a synonym for going down to their knees to kneel and bow in fear and reverence to God. None of these scriptures support the phenomenon of falling down backward. They are used by the proponents of these doctrines unjustifiably. It is simply another classic example of people ‘reading one’s own views into the scripture,’ rather than actually reading these scripture.
- “He hath said, which heard the words of God, which saw the vision of the Almighty, falling into a trance, but having his eyes open:”
This passage doesn’t speak of being slain in the spirit, doesn’t show the act of falling down backward, or falling at all. And again, it doesn’t bear any resemblance to what is today’s Church phenomenon. It merely speaks of a man receiving a vision of God, and going into a trance. The very same application used if we were to say, ‘the soldier fell into formation.’ It is not falling ‘as in’ losing balance and falling down, but he fell in the causative sense of having gone into the formation. Likewise, the application of the word here is that this prophet has gone into a trance, not physically fell down. There are many different applications of the word fall, as we saw it used in the sense that prophets (voluntarily) fall (go down) with their faces bowed in worship. These have nothing whatsoever to do with a Preacher touching a christian on the forehead, and him falling backward to the ground in an uncontrollable fashion. More examples of this voluntary going down is illustrated in New Testament passages such as Matthew and Luke:
- “While he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: 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.”
- “And fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan.”
Again, just what saw in the Old Testament passages. The Apostles of God fell to their face voluntarily, in fear, or reverence and obeisance to the presence of God.
- “And all the angels stood round about the throne, and about the elders and the four beasts, and fell before the throne on their faces, and worshipped God,”
- “And the four and twenty elders, which sat before God on their seats, fell upon their faces, and worshipped God,”
To suggest that these verses are picturing falling down backward or being slain in the Spirit would be laughable if it wasn’t so serious. What this actually does is support just the opposite. Namely, this falling on the face is a voluntary act, and in reverence and to worship God. It is not the anointing of the Spirit, and it is not falling down backwards.
- “And as he 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?”
Even in our day (in war for example), when a man comes face to face with his opponent who has the power to kill him, he goes down to the ground or to his knees in submission and fear. We saw this in the Gulf war. How much more Saul standing in the presence of the Light of God from Heaven? But it has nothing to do with being slain in the spirit phenomenon. Man is in fear when in the presence of the Almighty God, and he falls to the earth in terror at the voice of God. We have scripture after scripture in the Old Testament Proving just that, and I’m sure we all know them. Man falling to the ground in fear has nothing to do with being drunk in the Spirit, but with his knowledge of his frailty before a great power, or that he is in the presence of the Almighty God, the Great ‘I AM!’
And so considering all these scriptures which the Charismatics use in the attempt to support their actions, we can only humbly conclude that not one single passage supports this unbiblical phenomenon. It is a case of men grasping at straws in order to rationalize their unGodly actions. Moreover, in none of these verses, was there ever anyone actually falling down backward because of things that happened during a worship service or a Church gathering. In fact, there was no falling down period, there was a voluntary falling to their face in reverence or fear. This is very significant. It is the same as if we were to say, “Bill saw the vision, and fell to his knees in prayer.” For someone to take from this statement that not only did Bill fall down backward, but that this also now gives us warrant to do this in the Churches, is nothing short of ludicrous. These men did not lose control of their senses. They did not fall down. They were not twitching and jerking uncontrollably. There is no warrant in any of these verses for the practice that we see in the Churches today.
In this study we have shown that there is no real scriptural support for the falling down backward experience. The precedence in scripture is that such experiences signify God’s judgment, and this seems to me in perfect harmony with the Churches which practice this. They are false Churches under judgment. No ‘Bible believing’ Christian should want to have anything to do with this plague of falling down backwards. While Charismatics claim that they are following the Bible, this is an untenable declaration, as the witness of Holy Canon is void of any accounts, testimonies, experiences or doctrines like the ones they are attributing to God. These are very serious offenses, and are not non-essentials which we can just wink at.
Search as we may, we will not ever find anything in scripture where Christians were lined up, catchers stationed, and The Apostles or Christ tapped them on the forehead and watched them ‘fall down backward.’ The idea is foreign to scripture. We’re not going to find it there because it is a ridiculously unbiblical practice. When the Holy Spirit came upon Jesus, anointing Him for His ministry (by the baptism of John), Jesus did not fall down backward. No one that Jesus or the Apostles ever touched or laid hands on fell down backward. The truth is, this is a doctrine pulled from the dark inner minds of the imaginations of men, not from the pages of Holy canon. It does not draw from Scripture. The claim of a Scriptural foundation for it does not hold up under the light of God’s Word. Both the historical and the modern ‘slain in the spirit’ services are more from pagan themes and the occult, than from anything in scripture. And since these experiences are obviously not by the Holy Spirit of God, we can only conclude that it is by the spirit of disobedience. Another substitute (anti) spirit, masquerading as the Spirit of God. A spirit of lust for the fleshly and temporal experience. A spirit of deception, wherein Satan’s lie is made to appear as God’s truth. The spirit of Dan, a serpent nipping at the heels of horsemen that the rider may fall backward and be trapped or caught in a web. A spirit of Judgment, where the wrath of God abides upon it. For no false gospel shall be a Saving gospel, nor false spirit a Saving spirit, and no sign of Judgment a sign of Blessing. Christ is not in the business of mocking Himself. These are two different gospels, and two different spirits.
In conclusion, we can see that the popularity of this phenomenon is just another example of a ‘spiritual’ falling backward. A falling away or apostasy which is devastating the Churches in our day. It is professed Christians departing from the faith, and falling away from God. We are in a time where there is little reliance upon the Authority of the Word of God, as men change these laws to suit their own agenda and beliefs. God has always used falling as a ‘sign’ that His people are coming under judgment.
1st Timothy 4:1
- “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils;”
People of the Church giving heed to seducing spirits, not the Spirit of Christ, and because of this they shall be Judged. As the Bible clearly indicated, falling backward is a ‘sign’ of Judgment. The product of a seducing spirit, not the anointing Spirit.
To be sure, when true believers fall, it isn’t a involuntary fall, as the Charismatics do, but rather a fall or quick decent to our knees, faces bowed to the earth in humble prayer and worship of God. No preacher pushed us, we fell to our knees voluntarily. As did Jesus Himself, our precious example (in the Garden of Gethsamene). He fell on His face before His Father giving Him reverence. He did not actually ‘fall down,’ as Charismatics attempt to use the word, rather, He voluntarily dropped or went down with his face to the earth. To fall is by implication, to go down. It doesn’t mean literally falling as these suppose, and as was so clearly illustrated in that garden:
- “And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.”
Jesus, as all the Prophets and believers, fell forward in prayer, not backward. And they fell or dropped down in reverence. Falling backward is shown by God as Judgment, not anointing, healing, or blessing. So let us all in subjection pray that many will begin to learn the difference between falling backward, and falling on our faces to worship our God.
And may the Lord who is Gracious above all, give us the wisdom to ‘Stand’ and to discern His truths in these days of the rampant degradation of the Church.
1st Thessalonians 5:21
- “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.”