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 based on @Jurp's answer: 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?

  • How is this unanswered by a simple Google search for "earliest evidence of pentecostalism"as answered here Sep 7, 2020 at 2:03
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    @PieterGeerkens that assumes that the origin of these manifestations is linked to the birth of pentecostalism and that there are no prior records of this in history (i.e. no records for about 18 centuries). How do you know that's the case?
    – user46818
    Sep 7, 2020 at 2:08
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    @PieterGeerkens ....which in fact would be very wrong.
    – T.E.D.
    Sep 7, 2020 at 16:38
  • This can be observed in any religion. Not specifically Christianity. For example, Dervishes, in Islam.
    – Jos
    Sep 8, 2020 at 6:03
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    @Jos do you mean the whirling dervishes? That's certainly not the same type of behaviour as the shaking or jerking exhibited in certain Charismatic groups.
    – user46818
    Sep 8, 2020 at 13:32

2 Answers 2


That behavior is generally tied to the receiving of "gifts" from the Holy Spirit, as it is the kind of thing a person naturally needs to do to get attention during a service when The Spirit has taken hold and the recipient is thus unable to communicate normally. This is in fact very old behavior, although modern Pentecostals have been the main force reviving it in the modern era.

Some of that is actually right there in the writings of Paul, which are the oldest Christian writings we have, dating to about 55CE. So it appears to have started very early indeed.

Paul's very first letter shows there was already a nascent sectarian divide in the congregation in Corinth based on evangelists, (Particularly himself and Apollos), and in worship behavior, which he called "gifts".

The ones he listed were

  • working miracles
  • prophecy
  • speaking in tongues
  • discernment of spirits
  • interpretation
  • faith

...and then he later adds his own gifts of "hope" and "love".

Ironically, it rather reads like he's attempting to curtail most of this behavior, without out and out banning it. Perhaps flat out banning tongues could well have been a politically untenable position within that body at that time, so he was trying to wean them from it. Regardless, he flat out bans any tongues without interpreters, and goes on in the last chapter to advise everyone to instead strive for the gifts of faith, hope, and love, particularly the latter.

Point being that this kind of thing likely actually goes back to at least the first half century of the Christian era.

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    The wrap-up argument there contains Paul's "Ode to Love", which one often sees presented as a flowery poem quite apart from its context on posters or in wedding vows. IMHO, if you aren't reading it as if the author is spitting mad, yelling at the screw-ups and rhetorically shaking fingers in their faces, you're not really getting it.
    – T.E.D.
    Sep 7, 2020 at 17:56
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    I definitely agree that "speaking in tongues" dates back to the very first century church as supported by the references provided. However, what I fail to see is evidence of the more controversial manifestations such as shaking, trembling or jerking, that many Christians reject as unbiblical and attribute to the Kundalini Spirit instead of the Holy Spirit. I'd like to know if there are notable records in history of movements with manifestations similar to those observed in the Toronto Blessing and other recent events.
    – user46818
    Sep 7, 2020 at 18:02
  • @SpiritRealmInvestigator - Yes, I understand I'm asking for a bit of a leap there, by logically tying it to the sudden presentation of a gift of the spirit, and that's a definite weakness of this answer. However, its honestly tough to find evidence of that today outside of actual video (which obviously isn't available going back more than about 100 years). As near as I can tell there's not even a specific term for it by itself, apart from the wordy "being overcome by The Spirit". Its just considered part of the presentation of a "gift".
    – T.E.D.
    Sep 7, 2020 at 18:06

According to this Wikipedia article, the bodily movements you describe were first noted during the First Great Awakening in the 18th Century, in Protestant Europe and the British colonies.

  • Interesting. So is the First Great Awakening the oldest reliable record of these bodily manifestations in the history of Christianity? If so, it would mean the phenomenon didn't happen or at least not with the enough significance to be recorded during the first 17 centuries.
    – user46818
    Sep 8, 2020 at 3:06
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    Another 18th century example (1747) would be the United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing aka the "Shakers". en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shakers
    – kuhl
    Sep 10, 2020 at 17:37
  • The medieval dancing manias in the wake of the Black Death may be a similar phenomenon.
    – Mike
    Sep 14, 2020 at 12:16

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