The enemy always works to counterfeit what God is doing, and because of this many have feared to even learn of the trance realm. The reality is trances are biblical, and we need to understand what the Bible says about them. What is a trance? Before we go any further, it’s helpful to see various definitions that will lay a foundation for your faith.
Noah Webster’s 1828 Dictionary defines trance this way, “An ecstasy; a state in which the soul seems to have passed out of the body into celestial regions, or to be rapt into visions.” A trance is a state of one who is “out of himself,” according to Easton’s Bible Dictionary.2 The word trance comes from the Greek word ekstasis, form which the word ecstasy is derived.
According to The King James New Testament Greek Lexicon, ekstatis means “a throwing of the mind out of its normal state, alienation of mind, whether such as makes a lunatic or that of a man who by some sudden emotion is transported as it were out of himself, so that in this rapt condition, although he is awake, his mind is drawn off from all surrounding objects and wholly fixed on things divine that he sees nothing but the forms and images lying within, and thinks that he perceives with his bodily eyes and ears realities shown him by God.”
I suppose it’s hard to describe it if you’ve not experienced it, but Smith’s Bible Dictionary goes a little deeper, saying a trance is: “The…state in which a man has passed out of the usual order of his life, beyond the usual limits of consciousness and volition, being rapt in causes of this state are to be traced commonly to strong religious impressions. Whatever explanation may be given of it, it is true of many, if not of most, of those who have left the stamp of their own character on the religious history of mankind, that they have been liable to pass at times into this abnormal state.”
The International Bible Encyclopedia defines trance this way: “The condition expressed by this word is a mental state in which the person affected is partially or wholly unconscious of objective sensations, but intensely alive to subjective impressions which, however they may be originated, are felt as if they were revelations from without. They may take the form of visual or auditory sensations or else of impressions of taste, smell, heat or cold, and sometimes these conditions precede epileptic seizures constituting what is named the aura epileptica.”
What the Bible Says About Trances
We only see trances mentioned five times in the Bible, but that is more than enough to set a principle of a way God moves on us and speaks to us. By the mouth of two or three witnesses every word is established (see Deut. 19:15). We’ll start with the Old Testament, where we see two mentions of trances and then move to the New Testament, where we see trances mentioned three times.
Balaam, the false prophet who a king tried to hire to curse Israel, went into a trance. We read about that in Numbers 24:1–4:
And when Balaam saw that it pleased the Lord to bless Israel, he went not, as at other times, to seek for enchantments, but he set his face toward the wilderness. And Balaam lifted up his eyes, and he saw Israel abiding in his tents according to their tribes; and the spirit of God came upon him.
And he took up his parable, and said, Balaam the son of Beor hath said, and the man whose eyes are open hath said: 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 (KJV).
Notice when he fell into this trance, his eyes were open. He was not asleep, but it seemed he was in a sleeplike state, not moving.
Peter fell into a trance that opened his eyes to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles. Let’s look at the entire account in Acts 10:10–17:
Then he became very hungry and wanted to eat; but while they made ready, he fell into a trance and saw heaven opened and an object like a great sheet bound at the four corners, descending to him and let down to the earth. In it were all kinds of four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air. And a voice came to him, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.”
But Peter said, “Not so, Lord! For I have never eaten anything common or unclean.”
And a voice spoke to him again the second time, “What God has cleansed you must not call common.” This was done three times. And the object was taken up into heaven again.
Now while Peter wondered within himself what this vision which he had seen meant, behold, the men who had been sent from Cornelius had made inquiry for Simon’s house, and stood before the gate.
Notice, Peter saw a vision in the trance. Many people who fall into trances report having seen visions. Some others can’t even describe what they have seen or didn’t see anything.
Paul fell into a trance in Acts 22:17–21 in which the Lord gave him a warning and a commission to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles.
I was in a trance and saw Him saying to me, “Make haste and get out of Jerusalem quickly, for they will not receive your testimony concerning Me.” So I said, “Lord, they know that in every synagogue I imprisoned and beat those who believe on You. And when the blood of Your martyr Stephen was shed, I also was standing by consenting to his death, and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him.” Then He said to me, “Depart, for I will send you far from here to the Gentiles.”
Notice, that Paul got instruction in the trance, just as Peter did. Trances, like any other supernatural encounter, are purposeful.
What Happens in Trances?
I’ve never fallen into a trance, but I (Jennifer) know people who have—and it’s totally biblical. We only see people falling into trances a few times in the Bible, but there is enough evidence from the Word of God and from modern expressions to back up this scriptural supernatural experience.
Maria Woodworth-Etter, a powerful voice from the late 1800s and early 1900s who was moving in the supernatural before Asuza Street or the Charismatic movement made its mark on church history, was known for trances.
Indeed, Woodworth-Etter was a Pentecostal forerunner. She saw great outpourings of God’s Spirit in the Midwest before entering the West Coast to win souls for God. In Oakland, California, she bought an eight thousand-seat tent in 1889 and packed it out with people hungry to watch God move. He didn’t disappoint. Healings, signs, wonders, and miracles were commonplace in Woodworth-Etter’s meetings.
Of course, miracles always draw crowds and critics, and it was no different for this female pioneer. However, she didn’t see the attacks from fellow healing evangelist John Alexander Dowie coming. Dowie, himself moving in miracles, at first praised Woodworth-Etter but soon accused her of propagating a great delusion because people were falling into trances left and right under her tent. He called it “trance evangelism.”
Woodworth-Etter also drew attention from the media. The Salem report documents her falling into a trance on March 24, 1904, and she “had to be laid on the platform for over an hour.” The Indianapolis Star also reported “Woodworth-Etter Goes into a Trance” in a 1904 edition. In 1913, The Boston Globe reported, “Took No Money for Healing; Mrs. Etter Gave God Credit for Cures.”
There are accounts of Woodworth-Etter falling into a trance at a St. Louis meeting and standing like a statue for three whole days as attendees of the World Fair looked on in amazement. It’s not clear if the trance actually lasted that long, but she was known to fall into trances that left her frozen for hours at a time—and so did many others who attended her meetings.
“People fell into trances, experienced visions of heaven and hell, collapsed on the floor as if they’d been shot or had died,” reports Revival Library. “Thousands were healed of a wide variety of sicknesses and diseases and many believers, even ministers, received mighty baptisms of the Holy Spirit.”
Often, unbelievers who came in to disrupt the service were encountered by the power of God and themselves fell into a trance. Reporters ridiculed her, her husband lashed out at her in a public letter, she lost the support of well-known ministers in her day, but she continued preaching the Gospel and people continued getting saved—and falling into trances. Woodworth-Etter pointed people to scriptural references of trances and believed it was the power of God.
Criticized in her day, she goes down in Pentecostal history as a pioneer, a forerunner who withstood strong persecution to steward the glory of God in her meetings. We need more like Woodworth-Etter in this hour.
In the Weekly Evangel, Robert J. Craig, an early Pentecostal leader and pastor of Glad Tidings Temple in San Francisco, honored her and encouraged ministers to study her life and ministry: “If the Pentecostal ministry would study her life and count on God, expecting the supernatural to be revealed in each meeting, what a mighty agency ours would be in the hands of God.”
Amen. And think about it for a minute. What would happen if skeptics of the gospel entered a Holy Ghost meeting and fell into a trance and saw visions of hell? Maybe trance evangelism isn’t such a bad idea.
How to Enter the Trance Realm
You can’t choose to enter an ecstatic realm trance any more than you can choose to have a God-inspired dream. Look at the biblical examples. Balaam didn’t ask God to bring him into a trance. Peter did not ask God to bring him into a trance. Paul did not ask God to bring him into a trance. It was a God-ordained suddenly that they couldn’t have expected and one that left a mark on them. Usually, people who fall into God-given trances are emotional or have strong memories about the experience.
Given biblical precedent and the reality of demonic agents who seek to enter trances for wicked purposes, I (Jennifer) don’t believe we should ask the Lord to put us into trances. God does tell us to pursue spiritual gifts, but a trance is not a gift like the nine gifts of the Spirit, which was the context by which the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to inspire us to pursue them. If we seek supernatural experiences for the sake of supernatural experiences, the devil will oblige. At the same time, we do not want to quench the spirit through fear, unbelief, or doubt. Be open to anything God wants to do for you, give to you, or take from you and you’ll experience everything He has for you in the right time and the right season.
Pray this prayer with me, “Father, thank You for teaching me about the trance realm. I am open and ready for any realm You want to show me, but I do not want to go where You aren’t taking me. Help me not to be deceived by false encounters and demonic realms. Open my eyes only to what You want to show me, in Jesus’s name.”