Teaching of Scripture
But let us look even more closely at this experience when it happened in scripture in contrast to what mainly goes on today. We do not wish to suggest that if someone falls backward the experience is false, purely psychological or demonic, yet whenever it happened in the Bible the people fell on their faces before The Lord.
The only time recorded in scripture where people fell backwards, spiritually slain, is when His enemies and false accusers came to arrest Jesus (John 18:6). The other times the people fell forward. To really grasp the true nature of being "slain in the Spirit" we must look at one key example from the gospels. In our exegesis let us understand the midrashic and typological dimension of the episode which illustrates the true meaning. As always, we must beware of building any doctrinal conclusions on type, allegory, or midrash. We only use typological illustration and midrash to illuminate and demonstrate doctrine.
In Mark 9:17-29 we read the narrative account of a young man so demon possessed that the apostles could not cast the evil spirits out of him. This gospel account reveals important things about the subjects of demonology and exorcism, and also the subject of faith (v. 24). But the text also graphically depicts features which are central to a genuine understanding of 'being slain in the Spirit'. With the single exception of Mary Magdalen, each case of demonic possession recorded in the gospels is accompanied by some form of self destructive, irrational behaviour. This case is no exception. We first see the boy being driven by the unclean spirit into convulsions, with foaming at the mouth. Some Christians in the medical profession have investigated demonic possession from the view point of medical science. One of the most renowned of these was Dr. Kurt Koch. Clinically there appears to be at least two general areas of possibility here. We asked Dr. Hilda Podlas, a Messianic Jewish Physician specializing i n neurological disorders to attempt a forensic review of the case in Mark 9 from a diagnostic perspective. We are advised that such phenomena can be symptomatic of serious neurological disorders such as encephalitis, some meningiococcal infections, leuco-dystrophy, and certain kinds of epilepsy. Clearly these illnesses are not always caused by sin or by the direct workings of Satan, but they can be in some cases, and they are here in verse 25, causing the deaf and dumb condition in this young person who Jesus delivered from Satan's clutch. Whenever Jesus took away a disorder caused by demonic 'oppression' in the gospels, the Greek term is therapeuo meaning 'healed'. When it is caused by open 'possession' however, as it is here in Mark 9, the term is ekballo meaning 'cast out'.
Another clinical possibility for the boy imitating an animal might point to the bacterial disease rabies. Rabies can result in irrational behaviour in humans as it does in animals. When the mind of a beast was given to Nebechednezzer, the animal imitations were a manifestation of God's judgement. Here it could be a manifestation of demon possession. Although in its literature the Brownsville Assemblies of God church in Pensacola (like its Toronto counterpart) sanctions animal imitations such as roaring like a lion, nowhere in scripture is animal imitation ever a manifestation of God's Spirit. Non-metaphorical comparisons of persons to animals, may be a sign of God's judgement, or of demon possession, but never of God's blessing, in spite of what some people are teaching today. Perhaps however, there was no medical pathology involved, only symptoms. We cannot be sure.
The demons then propelled the boy to throw himself into the fire. Viewed midrashically, there is more to this abnormal, self destructive behaviour than the demon trying kill him, although that surface aspect is certainly true and important in its own right, as it reveals how Satan wants people to kill themselves. In verse 22 the demon threw him into the water and threw him into the fire. In biblical figure, as with Noah's flood and Pharaoh and his army, death by drowning was judgement. Throwing into the fire however is a picture of hell (Revelation 20:14). This is the true nature of Satan. He wants to see people join him in the judgement and eternal perdition reserved for him. God - in the person of the Lord Jesus -is in the business of saving people from judgement and hell. This story in Mark is a typological illustration of a new birth experience, a saving act by Jesus resulting in a regeneration, where the old creation that was bound for judgement and hell dies (as this boy falls down like a corpse after encountering the Lord, v. 26). After meeting Jesus, he becomes (as it were) a different person and is now in his right mind. This is exactly what happened in Mark 5:15 at Gerasene. The Lord gives us the power of a sound mind. The theological term that applies in this text is known as "corporate solidarity", where one person represents a larger or collective group of people. Here the young boy represents all of fallen mankind collectively. This is not to suggest that all unsaved people are demon possessed. This is certainly not true, although all of them reside in Satan's kingdom and are under the realm of his domain in this fallen world. But while we cannot say that all persons not yet born again are demon possessed, since the Lord promises His people the power of a sound mind, I cannot help but wonder if all unsaved people are not to some degree, not 'of sound mind'. How tragic it is then, when supposedly saved Christians behave more irrationally than the lost do, by falling down at meetings all the time, erroneously believing it is God's Spirit knocking them out.
A new creation
In terms of a corporate solidarity, this young man being plunged by Satan into judgement and hell is saved by Jesus. He falls as if he is dead (verse 26) and becomes like a corpse. When we are saved we also fall down dead. The old creation is slain. Even though we may not all literally fall under the Spirit of God physically, as happened in figure here in Mark 9 or in the ministry of John Wesley or Jonathan Edwards, the old creation bound for judgement and hell becomes a corpse and we become new creations. Something happened when this young man met Jesus that is so typical of what happens when anyone meets Jesus and becomes a new creation. Most people thought he had died. When I was saved, my family and friends thought the crazy university student stoned on cocaine that they once knew was dead. I became different. And when you first met Jesus and were saved by Him you became different. Your unsaved family and friends thought the old you was dead. And they were, in some way, right. The unsaved cannot understand what happens when we are born again. Our old selves become dead at the feet of Jesus and He raises us up as new creations that Satan can no longer control and throw into judgement and the fire of hell. Understood midrashically, the literal experience of being 'slain in the spirit' in Mark 9 reflects the deeper experience of death and resurrection we all have when we meet the Lord Jesus. He saves all from the judgement and the fire who repent and truly receive Him.
Spectators have the same need
Just like the spectators in Mark 9 however, the unsaved who knew us before we met Jesus share a common attribute. They knew that the demon possessed young lad was in serious trouble and in desperate need of help. What they did not realize however, was that in God's economy they were in the same desperate state. They are bound for the same judgement and destruction at the hands of Satan. The unsaved who see the change that meeting Jesus causes in our lives, do not realize that they too have just as desperate a need for Him to bring Himself and His salvation into their lives as well, although the need may not be as outwardly obvious. They also are bound for judgement and hell without the true salvation only found in Him.
God can do the same today
The physical falling that happened with the young man in Mark 9 happened in the crusades of the Great Awakenings, when people fell under the conviction of sin and were saved. There is no biblical reason why the real thing cannot still happen today, if and when God so chooses. But precious little of today's falling down is the sovereign power of God. Once the boy got up again, he was a completely different person. His falling down 'slain in the spirit', when he encountered the Lord, was a once-only life transforming experience. Even when it happened to Daniel and John, it was the same. In each biblical case the people were totally different after they got up than from when they went down. The test is not what happens when somebody goes down, but how radically transformed their lives as believers in Jesus are, once and for all, after they get back up. In genuine cases, the people were never the same again. Today, we see very little of this. What we mainly have now is people going back for more and more because the first time they went down it was not transforming enough - so they want another dose of the same experience. If anything demonstrates the hollow and counterfeit nature of most of what we see today in "falling in the spirit", it is this. The real thing we see in Scripture has nothing to do with Toronto, Pensacola, Sunderland, or what has become of most of the Full Gospel Businessman's Fellowship. How radically different are most of the people we see falling down today after they get up again? Usually they are no different in the longer term. That is why they go back for what amounts to little more than "another fix". But it would be very wrong to say, as some do, that there is no biblical authority for the experience of being 'slain in the spirit'. There is a clear scriptural basis for this experience and, as with the Gifts of the Spirit, Satan only counterfeits things worth counterfeiting. It would also be a mistake to state that this experience is something that only happened in biblical times and that a sovereign, all-powerful God cannot or will not cause this experience to happen again if He so chooses. Nowhere does Scripture teach that He will not do it when and if it suits His purposes. He did it in the ministry of Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield (Reformed Calvinists) and John and Charles Wesley (Arminians), and He can do it today.
In accordance with Scripture
But if He does elect to do it today, it will be in accordance with Scripture as it was in the ministry of Wesley, Whitefield, and Edwards - and not like Benny Hinn, Colin Dye, Steve Hill, or Rodney Howard-Brown. These are two distinct and mutually exclusive things. The former group was of God, and the latter group most certainly is not. While it would be quite wrong to say that most of what is alleged to be being 'slain in the Spirit' in contemporary trends has anything at all to do with the genuine biblical article, it is also quite wrong to say that there is no genuine biblical article to begin with. We must not confuse the biblical with the popular, neither conversely, should we reject the scriptural and authentic because of the unscriptural and counterfeit. The overwhelming majority of what goes on today clearly is not God at all. At best, most of it is a fleshly manifestation where the psychological and carnal are substituted for the biblical and spiritual. In some cases it may even be overtly demonic. The increase of body heaviness, despite no actual increase in mass or weight, testified to by Pensacola Pastor John Kilpatrick when he went down - while a very common feature in demon possession, occult practices, and in Eastern and New Age Religion - certainly has no biblical warrant. Because the Fruit of the Spirit is self control (Galatians 5:23), no valid supernatural experience, no matter how ecstatic, can justify people passed out in a day dream or screaming like maniacs on the floor. This is not what happened to John, or Daniel. Less still does a real supernatural experience of the Lord see someone crashing down on the ground, vibrating like a victim of severe epilepsy, and resembling more the demoniac in Mark 9 before Jesus saved him, than the soul he became after he met the Lord. A genuine falling under God's Spirit that reflects a true redemptive work of God, or revolutionizes the life of a believer in such a way as the church is blessed and encouraged, as with John in Revelation chapter one, is another matter. It is rather rare in Scripture, fairly rare in church history, and seemingly even more rare today. Perhaps, if the real experience were not being counterfeited and produced in the flesh so widely, we would see the Lord doing more of the real thing. I do not know. God is sovereign and that is up to Him. Being discerning and judging biblically, however, is something He said is up to us. We live in a church environment today where people are falling down left, right, and centre. There is a true version and a false version. What predominates in contemporary circles, is plainly the false. This falling can and has caused physical injury, humiliation, and even death. The saturation of our churches with this current brand of manipulation and deception is good for little, except undermining the credibility of the church. I want to be open to anything of God that He desires for me. If it is of God it will be Bible based. The only thing that God is interested in - and therefore the only thing that we should be interested in - is not what happens when people go down, but what happens when people get back up.
Midrash is the ancient Jewish method of biblical exegesis used by The New Testament writers, in the Dead Sea Scrolls, and in early rabbinics.The rabbinic 'Midrashim' were written in the fourth century to the Middle Ages but the earliest recorded rabbinic midrash cites earlier orally transmitted traditions dating back to the 7 Midoth of Rabbi Hillel , the grandfather of Rabbi Gamaliel, tutor of St. Paul. We see Paul's use of these principles of interpretation in his epistles. We also see the same exegetical approach used in the New Testament handling of the Old Testament in both the early midrashim and in much of the Qumran literature. In Jude's epistle we see the use of Midrash not only as exegetical method, but as literary genre. Midrash does not nullify the standard grammatical-historical exegetical methods the Reformers adopted from 16th century humanist scholarship, but in fact incorporates a more ancient grammatical-historical approach into the 'peshet' (simple meaning) interpretations but with a cyclical view of prophetic history expands into 'pesher' interpretations which is exactly what the New Testament does. This is not to say to say that the New Testament is Midrash but rather that it is "midrashic'; the Jewish authors of the New Testament inspired to write it handled handled exegesis in the same matter as the other Jewish religious exegesis broadly contemporary with it.
The use of midrashic hermeneutics in the New Testament has been recognized in conservative Evangelical scholarly circles for centuries since the Puritans. The first midrashic commentary having been written by John Lightfoot, the Puritan scholar. Bilderbeck and Strach pioneered research into New Testament midrash in Germany. Contemporary Evangelical scholars have been drawn to a re-examination of Midrash in the New Testament due to the implications of the Qumran literature. These include TS Doherty, RN Longenecker, EE Ellis, and Moises Silva. A number of rabbinic scholars have likewise confirmed the Jewish-ness of the New Testament as Second Temple Period Jewish literature including JacobNuesner, David Flusser, W. Lachs, and Pinchas Lapide.
Unfortunately this area of hermeneutical scholarship has been wildly distorted by a few liberal higher critics who in their contorted analysis have actually departed from the fundamental principles of midrash in order to negate literal meaning and historicity, when in fact in actual midrash. Historicity and literal meaning (peshet) are pre-requisites for defining the expanded (Pesher) interpretations. These have included Barbara Thierring and John Sponge; but their supposed citations of midrash are often held as bogus by serious theologians familiar withy the field. Some have viewed biblical uses of midrash through the prism of M. Goulder's lectionary hypothesis.
Opposition to Christian use of midrash in The New Testament has also surfaced from non scholars posing as self styled academics but who themselves are not even literate in the biblical languages and are unqualified to offer an intelligent opinion in the matters they misrepresent themselves as having expertise. These are generally adherents to the Ruckmanite heresy which elevates the 17th century King James bible over the original texts and autographs in the original languages. Because they have no knowledge of the subjects they pontificate on their rather merit-less and often preposterous views are not published in scholarly journals but they do have small cultic following on the internet. These include Richard Engstrom, V. Dillen and B. Aho. Reformed scholar wrote an excellent refutation the 'King James Only' heresy which is the basis of Ruckmanite opposition to anything placing Hebraic scholarship above post Elizabethan English. Ruckmanism is also the counter part to British Israelism and the racist beliefs of The Identity Movement. Opposition to Jewish origins of the New Testament are also voiced by radical replacementist Calvinists (who are often seen as a result of the tone and content of their writings as anti semitic) such as the journalist Peter Golver. Glover likewise has no training in theology or biblical languages and his opinions are dismissed as unqualified by conservative researchers and he has no serious acceptance in the academic community. In light of the Dead Sea scrolls, few conservative Evangelical theologians would doubt thepresence of midrashic hermeneutics in the New Testament, though some like Waltar Kaiser would seek to explain it in terms of conventional typology while others would demonstrate typological exegesis itself is a cardinal component of midrash.
Midrashic hermeneutics have no placed in interpretation of inspired commentary - the epistles, because the epistles themselves often use midrashic method to exegete other scripture. Midrashic hermeneutics however are employed in the interpretation of narrative, apocalyptic, wisdom literature, and biblical Hebrew poetry.
Moriel places an emphasis on the need to re-connect hermeneutics with Sitz im Leben. The same as meaning of a biblical text must first be examined in light of its historical setting before it can be applied to our situation today, so too interpretation cannot be divorced from its historical setting in order to arrive at its proper meaning for today. In short, we must interpret scripture in the way that scripture does.