I'm interested in learning about the origins and evolution throughout Church history of manifestations such as shaking, trembling, jerking, contorting, collapsing or fainting attributed to the Holy Spirit (i.e., not due to a diagnosed medical condition). For further context, I posted a related question asking for the neurological and psychological causes of these manifestations on Psychology.SE. Feel free to check it out.

For illustrative purposes, here are two testimonials about these manifestations that were recorded in 1995 during the first few months after the beginning of the Brownsville Revival:

I understand that events such as the Toronto Blessing (1994) and the Brownsville Revival (1995) have played a very influential role in promoting these manifestations the last two or three decades, but, what about the past? Were these relatively recent events pioneer regarding these manifestations or can we find older records of similar manifestations in Church history? What are the oldest records?

Update: according to Wikipedia the oldest records of these manifestations in Protestantism would pertain to the First Great Awakening that took place in the 18th century. However, it would seem very strange to me if there were no records prior to that. Is it truly the case that there are no records of these manifestations during the first 17 centuries of Christianity and that they suddenly began to take place from the 18th century onward? If so, why?

  • 2
    It is common in people believed to be possessed (Luke 4:35, 9:42). It is unmentioned in the New Testament in the context of baptism with the Holy Spirit.
    – user46876
    Commented Jul 27, 2020 at 6:29
  • 1
    @Lucian . . . . . agreed. The Philippian jailer trembled before Paul (Acts 16:29) but that was in the context of his supposing his prisoners to have escaped and in the immediate aftermath of his decision to commit suicide because of the situation. It was nothing to do with the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Jul 27, 2020 at 9:03
  • You have received one answer to this question in the Psychology & Neuroscience section. You have also posted this question in the Skeptics section. What do you consider to be acceptable "evidence"?
    – Lesley
    Commented Jul 27, 2020 at 9:36
  • 1
    Not sure how anybody will ever be able to provide a scientific explanation given both God and the Holy Spirit are not physical beings or entities. How do you analyse or replicate something that is not physical and not constrained by scientific or physical laws? 24 years ago I experienced the Holy Spirit in a private and extremely powerful manner. No speaking in tongues, no throwing myself around or collapsing in an incoherent heap, no hysteria and no witnesses. Impossible to "prove" by scientific means or even psychological analysis - but it was real. He comes and goes as He wills.
    – Lesley
    Commented Jul 28, 2020 at 10:43
  • 1
    My experience was unique. It was no "alleged" manifestation either, although skeptics would scoff. And nobody can ever give a "scientific explanation" because it is supernatural and comes from God.
    – Lesley
    Commented Jul 28, 2020 at 14:24

3 Answers 3


What are the origins and history of shaking, trembling, jerking, contorting, collapsing, fainting and similar manifestations in Christianity?

The origins are definitely not of biblical origin.

The closest we can see something even remotely similar in the Scriptures would be something would be individual falling to the ground trembling before the Lord. But this is certainly not the same idea as to what is being asked in the question.

Fear and trembling seized me and made all my bones shake. - Job 4:14

Again not the same context the OP is desiring, has St. Paul telling us to continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling. - Philippians 2:12

Simply put God through the Holy Spirit is awe inspiring within our souls.

The are the origins and history of shaking, trembling, jerking, contorting, collapsing, fainting and similar manifestations in Christianity is most certainly a more modern phenomenon to say the least.

But what are these modern origins of this phenomenon see have come to notice within certain ecclesiastical communities of Christianity?

It is not impossible that the origins of the subject matter originated with the Quakers around 1740.

The Protestant Reformation and technological advances led to new Christian sects outside of the Catholic Church and mainstream Protestant denominations into the 17th and 18th centuries. The United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing, commonly known as the Shakers, was a Protestant sect founded in England in 1747. The French Camisards and the Quakers, two Protestant denominations, both contributed to the formation of Shaker beliefs.

The French Camisards originated in southern France during the 17th century. They regarded some of their leaders as Prophets, believing that they heard the word of God. Heavily persecuted by French authorities, they fought the armies of King Louis XIV from 1702 to 1706. After losing, some Camisards fled to England to continue their religious practices. While in England, their preachers heavily influenced a group of Quakers in Manchester.

The Quakers, or Society of Friends, were founded in England in 1652 by George Fox. Early Quakers taught that direct knowledge of Christ was possible to the individual - without need from a Church, priest or book. No official creed exists. Their belief that God exists in all people caused many to be sensitive to injustice and practice pacifism.

The name “Quaker” was derived from their process of worship, where their violent tremblings and quakings predominated. This form of worship changed in the 1740s, though it was retained by one group in Manchester, England. The “Shaking Quakers,” or Shakers, split from mainstream Quakerism in 1747 after being heavily influenced by Camisard preaching. The Shakers developed along their own lines, forming into a society with Jane and James Wardley as their leaders. Ann Lee, the founder and later leader of the American Shakers, and her parents were members of this society.

The community meeting-house was the center of Shaker worship services on Sunday. Spontaneous dancing was part of Shaker worship until the early 1800s, when it was replaced by choreographed dancing. Spontaneous dancing returned around the 1840s, but by the end of the 19th century dancing ceased during worship. Services consisted of singing hymns, testimonials, a short homily, and silence. - History of the Shakers

Is this the real origin of this phenomenon? Maybe?

Wikipedia has this to say in it’s article on Slain in the Spirit. But is this the origins is still doubtful.

Slain in the Spirit or slaying in the Spirit are terms used by Pentecostal and charismatic Christians to describe a form of prostration in which an individual falls to the floor while experiencing religious ecstasy. Believers attribute this behavior to the power of the Holy Spirit. Other terms used to describe the experience include falling under the power, overcome by the Spirit, and resting in the Spirit. The practice is associated with faith healing because individuals are often slain while seeking prayer for illness.

Beginning with the First Great Awakening that impacted Protestant Europe as well as Britain's American colonies in the eighteenth century, bodily movements became a prominent and controversial part of Protestant revivalism. Supporters of the revivals within various denominations including Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Baptists and Methodists argued that trembling, groaning, screaming and falling to the ground "as dead" were signs of divine power in those who were becoming aware of their own sinfulness. This bodily agitation, as well as the problem of sin and guilt, was resolved through a conscious conversion experience, which was marked by peace and joy.

John Wesley (1703-1791, 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. Wesley, George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards all record instances of people falling during their ministries. During the Second Great Awakening of the early nineteenth century, Peter Cartwright and Charles G. Finney also recorded similar behaviour.

Biblical basis

Christians who support the practice cite biblical evidence for its authenticity and use. Michael Brown quotes a number of scriptures which he claims support the practice of being slain in the Spirit. Wayne Grudem states that while the phrase "slaying in the Spirit" is not found in Scripture, there are a number of instances where people are described as falling to the ground or falling into a trance in the presence of God.

  • Ezekiel saw the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord and fell face-down. - Ezekiel 1:28

  • As Daniel saw and heard a vision, his strength left him and he became helpless, then he was unconscious face down, then later trembling on his hands and knees. - Daniel 10:5-18

  • Three disciples fell face-down to the ground, overwhelmed, on the mount of transfiguration. - Matthew 17:6

  • The Apostle John heard a loud voice behind him, then he turned to see the voice and "fell at His feet as though dead". - Revelation 1:10-18

But then again, the Holy Roller movement may be at the original source.

Holy Roller is a term originating in the 19th century and used to refer to some Protestant Christian churchgoers in the holiness movement, such as Free Methodists and Wesleyan Methodists. The term describes dancing, shaking or other boisterous movements by church attendees who perceive themselves as being under the influence of the Holy Spirit. Holy Rolling is sometimes used derisively by those outside these denominations, as if to describe people literally rolling on the floor in an uncontrolled manner. Those within related Wesleyan traditions have reclaimed the term as a badge of honour.

Holy Roller refers to Protestant Christian churchgoers in the holiness movement, such as Free Methodists and Wesleyan Methodists. Holy Rolling is sometimes used derisively by those outside these denominations, as if to describe people literally rolling on the floor in an uncontrolled manner.

Many individuals in the wider Methodist tradition are also referred to by others as Shouting Methodists due to the ejaculatory prayers congregants often utter during the service of worship, such as "Praise the Lord!", "Hallelujah!", and "Amen!

Similar disparaging terms directed at outspoken Christians but later embraced by them include Jesus freaks or, from former centuries, Methodists, Quakers, and Shakers.


Merriam-Webster traces the word to 1841. The Oxford English Dictionary cites an 1893 memoir by Charles Godfrey Leland, in which he says "When the Holy Spirit seized them ... the Holy Rollers ... rolled over and over on the floor." The term describes dancing, shaking or other boisterous movements by church attendees who perceive themselves as being under the influence of the Holy Spirit.

Those within related Wesleyan traditions have reclaimed the term as a badge of honor; for example William Branham wrote: "And what the world calls today holy-roller, that's the way I worship Jesus Christ."7 Gospel singer Andraé Crouch stated, "They call us holy rollers, and what they say is true. But if they knew what we were rollin' about, they'd be rollin' too." Decades earlier, in the notes for his 1960 album Blues & Roots, jazz musician Charles Mingus used the term, seemingly neutrally and as a simple description, to indicate his own religious upbringing.

We may never truly know for certain what are the origins and history of shaking, trembling, jerking, contorting, collapsing, fainting and similar manifestations in Christianity, but I have offered a few insights in a possible source, but holly rollers is the most possible origins.


The Bible informs us of the manifestation of the Holy Spirit in Jerusalem, at Pentecost, after Jesus’ death, resurrection and return to heaven. However, there is no mention of the recipients shaking, trembling, jerking, contorting, collapsing, fainting or falling about. This supernatural event is described in Acts chapter 2 when the Holy Spirit was “poured out” on Jews and proselytes:

The Coming of the Holy Spirit: 1 When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and hit filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues las the Spirit gave them utterance.

5 Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. 6 And mat this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. 7 And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? 9 Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, 11 both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” 12 And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.”

Peter’s Sermon at Pentecost: 14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. 15 For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day.2 16 But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: (Quotes Joel 2:28-32)

The second occasion was to a group of believing Samaritans (Acts 8) where the gospel was preached and evil spirits were cast out. The Holy Spirit was given to believers at the laying on of the apostles’ hands. The third was to a group of believing Gentiles (Acts 10) who had listened to Peter preaching and who heard them speaking in tongues. Not speaking unintelligible “mumbo-jumbo” but speaking in understandable languages. These events took place circa 33 A.D.

Before we go any further, it is essential that we define who and what Christians mean by the Holy Spirit. I speak as a Trinitarian Protestant. The Holy Spirit is the eternal, uncreated and co-equal part of the One Being of God. His purpose is to bring praise, honour and glory to God. His being is entirely in harmony with the Father and the Son. Everything He does, from convicting people of sin and drawing them to God, is entirely good, holy and part of the divine plan of salvation. This article explains more about what the Holy Spirit does: https://www.gotquestions.org/names-Holy-Spirit.html I have no intention of going into the theological aspects of this third person of the Trinity, but you might find it helpful to read this article: https://www.gotquestions.org/who-Holy-Spirit.html

I wouldn’t know where to start looking for reliable documentation on the activity of the Holy Spirit after the end of the first century, but I do have access to information concerning the Protestant Reformation which dates back to the early 1400’s with men like John Wycliffe and Jan Hus. Martin Luther is usually credited with starting the movement when he posted his Ninety-five Theses on the door of the Wittenberg Church on October 31, 1517. Nothing I’ve read about the lives of these men suggests they were invoking the Holy Spirit to cause people to shake, tremble, jerk, contort, collapse, faint or fall about. Likewise with Protestants such as John Bunyan (who wrote Pilgrim’s Progress) and Charles Spurgeon (a famous Baptist preacher); then we have John and Charles Wesley who introduced Methodism – they were all very sober, upright and disciplined men of God. Yes, they believed in the power of God as experienced through the Holy Spirit, and they advocated holy living. But I have never read any accounts of meetings they conducted that fit in with what you describe.

Accounts of Christians attending meetings where they were overpowered by some spirit force that resulted in them shaking, trembling, jerking, contorting, collapsing, fainting or falling about came later, towards the end of the 19th century with the event of Pentecostalism and the Charismatic Movement.

First came revival in Topeka, Kansas (January 1900), followed by the Azusa Street (Los Angeles) revival meetings in 1906 (Methodist sponsored). Then, in 1907 came the Latter Rain Movement (Pentecostalism) resulting in the Brownsville/Pensocola revival. This was followed by the Vineyard Movement (1982) and the Toronto Blessing (1994) where expressions such as “slain in the spirit” and “holy laughter” were used to describe what went on.

If here are no records of these strange manifestations during the first 17 centuries of Christianity and they suddenly began to take place from the 18th century onward, then the most obvious and simple explanation must be that this is a relatively new phenomenon.

Bearing in mind the power, authority and purpose of the Holy Spirit, I can only conclude that any manifestations that detract from the holiness of God or that fail to point people to Christ Jesus can not be attributed to Him. I do not say this to upset or challenge Pentecostals or persons who have experienced such things. I do not know what the origin of these strange manifestations are, only that the blueprint Christians should adhere to is that given from the Bible.

  • This is a good start, I think. It would help to have some citations to materials describing the events you mentioned in the 3rd to last paragraph. Commented Sep 11, 2020 at 17:13
  • Start here:gotquestions.org/Holiness-movement.html However, I must sign off for tonight and I'm going on holiday tomorrow morning. But I will look up the Got Questions articles I sourced and hope to post them for you later.....
    – Lesley
    Commented Sep 11, 2020 at 17:18
  • 2
    Here's an article positing 1652 England as the beginning of the Quakers, and later the Shakers. nps.gov/articles/history-of-the-shakers.htm Commented Sep 11, 2020 at 20:06
  • Thanks Lesley. Your’s is quite well done also +1.
    – Ken Graham
    Commented Sep 19, 2020 at 17:11

God in a Box?! It is impossible to put God in a box. How He interacts with inquirers and disciples is varied, and often mysterious...and at times concerning. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, are all seen in the Bible to interface with people in physical ways.

Scripture The scriptures are full of instances where the human physical bodies were affected with "signs and wonders"

  • Paul fell, went speechless, was blinded (Acts 9)
  • Daniel fell prostate, went into deep sleep, was exhausted, lay ill, no strength, pale faced, helpless, trembling, speechless hardly breathing (Daniel 8:17, 10:8,17)
  • Belshazzar became pale faced, knees knocked together, legs gave way (Daniel 5:6)
  • John fell as if dead (Revelation 1:17)
  • Ezekiel fell facedown, and was raised up by the the Spirit (Ezek. 1:28-2:2)
  • Philip was "taken away" by the Spirit (Acts 8:39)

Post biblical Times The Early church is recorded by the Early Church theologians as having experienced the manifestation of the Sifts of the Spirit listed in 1 Cor. 12. (healings, exorcisms, deliverance) Can we assume that bodily manifestations also occurred in the ministry back then? Records are sparse, if any. (See writings of Gregorius, Justin Martyr, etc.)

We do know that the Charismatic Gifts did not cease with the Apostles. The Middle Ages historians record such. And we do have testimonials by various theologians of manifestations in their personal lives that they record as definite supernatural "touches" from God. Blaise Pascal, and later Wesley, Moody, et al. wrote in their diaries of these. They would however probably not be classified as "the jerks, spasms, etc.". The Camisards, French Hugenots, Jansenites, all had supernatural spiritual manifestations in their midst.

Recent times But what is in recent times called "shaking, trembling, jerking, etc." is clearly described in the 1600s onward. As the other Answers have noted, there is Fox and the Quakers; in the 1700s there is Jonathan Edwards; in the 1800s there is Peter Cartwright, Evan Roberts, Edward Irving, and later Charles Finney. All these were before the modern Pentecostal or Charismatic movements.

From 1801 for years a blessed revival of religion spread through almost the entire inhabited parts of the West...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 praises of God at once...

...a new exercise began to break out among us, called the JERKS which was overwhelming in its effect upon the bodies and minds of the people. No matter whether they were saints or sinners, they would be taken under...and seized with a convulsive jerking all over, which they could not by any possibility avoid, and the more they rtesisted, the more they jerked. (Peter Cartwright, The Autibiography of...1857, p. 45,48)

In the 1900s the holiness and Pentecostal movements emerged, and such physical manifestations abounded, not just in denominations, but many independent storefront churches. In the second half of this century, arose the healing evangelists, the Jesus People revival, Vineyard movement, Toronto Blessing, and many independent revivals. (The jerks did not originate with recent "holy rollers".)

Decent and in Order In most of the eras where "jerks" became pronounced, there were Guardians of the Faith who tried to maintain a "decent and orderly" approach to these manifestations. Of note, are the writings of Jonathan Edwards, especially, RELIGIOUS AFFECTIONS, in which he laid out the genuine fruit of such events, and what were not. Accordingly, John White wrote an amazing evaluation of the Vineyard movement and the signs and wonders that accompanied it, WHEN THE SPIRIT COMES WITH POWER, 1988. There is also an analysis of the Toronto Blessing by James Beverley, HOLY LAUGHTER AND THE TORONTO BLESSING, 1995.(Interesting, but not as scholarly is Renee DeLoriea, PORTAL IN PENNSACOLA, 1997)

Highly recommended is Dick Iverson, THIS PRESENT RENEWAL, CAN THIS BE GOD? 1995. Regardless of the many manifestations people experienced, this pastor who had experienced several revivals in recent history, listed fruits of Revival that should be evident:

Increased intimacy with God...A greater love for the Word...Emotional healing...Physical healing...Greater burden for the lost...Spiritual refreshing...Greater unity...Increase in intercessory prayer...Deeper consecration to the Lord...Greater joy...Greater fear of God...More intense worship....Brokenness and humility...Greater peace...etc.

Notice that, even though many manifestation have been associated with Pentecostalism, these physical acts have been associated with non Pentecostal movements! When people come into contact with God the Father things happen; when people come into the Presence of Jesus also, and when anointed with the Holy Spirit other manifestations occur. As a closing thought, one minister advised his congregation "to get plugged in," that is, instead of hanging on to a live electrical wire and getting jolted, rather, plug the wire into the socket and reap the benefits of the operation of spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12)!

P.S. For your consideration, recall that the observers in the Temple complex, on the Day of Pentecost, described the Disciples as drunk! (Acts 2:15) Now, people speaking to you in your own language in a normal tone of voice would not be a characteristic of drunkenness.

There would have to be other actions that we would apply to drunkenness, such as staggering, falling down, being boisterous, shaking, trembling, etc. So the same characteristics that have accompanied past revivals and pioneer camp-meetings, may have indeed been manifest on the Day of Pentecost!?

You must log in to answer this question.