Today we will be discussing the definition, the purpose, and the practice of laying on of hands both in the Old Testament as well as the new Testament.
Now there is one question that must be asked before we go any further. Why would Paul list laying on of hands as one of the elementary principles of Christ? Why is it relevant? Why would it be important enough to share the same stage as the doctrine of baptism, repentance, faith toward God, the resurrection of the dead, and the doctrine of eternal judgment?
Because dear friends, the elementary principle of laying on of hands is far deeper than one might believe at first glance, and there is much that this practice entails.
So why is the doctrine of laying on of hands so important? Why is it relevant enough that Paul felt compelled to include it among the elementary principles of Christ? In short, the teaching, or the doctrine of laying on of hands is important for the body of Christ, because it assures the continuity of the Church, or in other words the continuity of spiritual life from one generation to the next.
The lack of teaching, the marginalizing and avoidance of this doctrine both from a theological viewpoint as well as a practical one has caused it to be only sparingly represented in the life of what we would call the contemporary church.
As with all things that God instructs us to do in His Word, there is a well-defined purpose for laying on of hands, one that we must understand in order to appreciate this doctrine even though it has been relegated to the dustbin of forgotten church history for many decades now.
Laying on of hands is a practice that the primary church embraced from the olden days, through which God transfers, through a chosen vessel, a power of the Holy Spirit meant to bring blessing, healing, strength and the manifestation of certain gifts among which we can also count the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
The elemental purpose of this practice is that of identifying. The individual laying hands on another, identifies the future growth, future blessing, future fellowship or the future ministry of the person he is laying hands upon. It is not a practice that we ought to take lightly; it is not something that ought to do hastily, but rather one that is reserved only for when the Spirit of God stirs us to do it, only for when we know that it is God who compelled us to lay hands on someone. Laying hands on others hastily is dangerous, because a connection is established between the two individuals, and if it is done hastily and not in a sanctified manner there can be grievous consequences.
1 Timothy 6:22, “Do not lay hands on anyone hastily, nor share in other people’s sins. Keep yourself pure.”
So what is the purpose of laying on of hands, and what does it actually do? Well, the best way I can explain it, is that laying on of hands is a conduit which allows the transfer of power from God, through one individual and into another. Now before we get too excited, there is nothing mystical about laying on of hands, it is something natural and a practice embraced by the early church. Mothers lay hands on their children’s foreheads to see if they are warm, men greet each other by laying their hand on one another’ shoulder, so all these actions are natural, and what the Holy Spirit does is He takes this natural action and ads a spiritual component to it.
When we lay hands on others compelled by God, there are certain things that we can transfer or transmit to those we are laying hands upon.
By laying on of hands we can transfer or transmit blessing. We see this in the Old Testament, beginning with Joseph seeing his father lay his right hand on the head of Ephraim and blessing him.
By laying on of hands we can also transfer or transmit wisdom.
Deuteronomy 34:9, “Now Joshua the son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, for Moses had laid his hands on him; so the children of Israel heeded him, and did as the Lord had commanded Moses.”
So the Word is very clear that Joshua the son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, because Moses had laid his hands on him. By laying hands on Joshua Moses transferred the spirit of wisdom to him.
By laying on of hands we can also transfer, or transmit the Holy Spirit. Now before citing biblical precedent, I must say that this practice, that of attempting to transfer the Holy Spirit by laying on of hands has indeed been widely abused in today’s modern church, with men standing in lines, having their foreheads touched and believing they received the Spirit, but just because something is abused in certain churches or denominations does not invalidate it, nor does it nullify the veracity of it. Yes, the Apostles laid hands on men that they might receive the Holy Spirit.
When Peter and John came to the city of Samaria inquiring if those who had been baptized had received the Holy Spirit, upon hearing that they had not the word tells us in Acts 8:17 that they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. So yes, it is scriptural, and biblical, and nowhere in the Bible are we told that this practice somehow ended or was nullified by God.
By laying on of hands we can also transfer, or transmit authority. When the Apostles of Christ picked seven men, of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit, and wisdom to watch over the daily distribution of food to the widows, they were brought before the apostles, and when they had prayed, they lay hands on them. After laying hands on them these men went out preaching the Word, and did great signs and wonders among the people.
Spiritual gifts can also be transferred or transmitted by the laying on of hands. In his second letter to Timothy Paul reminds him to stir up the gift of God which was in him by the laying on of his hands.
2 Timothy 1:6, “Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands.”
That dear friend is pretty self-explanatory. Once again, my purpose in doing this series is to see what the Word of God says concerning these elementary principles of Christ, these fundamental teachings of the faith, and not what some denomination or some individual has to say about them. When we go to the Word of God, we know that the truth we receive is established in God.
Although there are countless instances in the Old Testament wherein the laying on of hands was incorporated, whether for blessing, for ordination, for transferring the sin of the individual to the animal the Levites were about to sacrifice, if only symbolically so, time does not permit us to go into great depth as to the use of laying on of hands in the Old Testament. I would however like to go through a few scriptures in the New Testament to see where laying on of hands was incorporated, and what it was intended for.
One of the great differences in laying hands between the Old Testament and the New Testament is that in the New Testament laying on of hands was used for healing. Jesus often laid hands on the sick in His ministry, and this He did in two ways. He laid hands on the sick directly, but also indirectly, or by simply touching someone.
There are countless examples of Jesus laying hands on the sick and restoring them throughout the four gospels, but there are also examples where Jesus simply touched someone’s blind eyes, or someone’s deaf ears, and they were healed. The Apostle also utilized the laying on of hands when praying for the sick that they might be healed, the word telling us in Acts 5:12, that through the hands of the Apostles many signs and wonders were done.
So who can lay hands on others? If it is one of the elementary principles of Christ, if it is something that the Word of God encourages us to do, whether for healing, blessing, power, or authority, the question that remains to be asked is who exactly is Biblically allowed to lay hands on others?
If we study the Bible with diligence, we see who it was that laid hands on others. You see, just as throughout the universe there is an established order to things, God has an established order as well. It always amazes me when I go into a church and I see everyone laying hands on everyone else, from little children to fully grown adults, as though it was something ordinary, as though it was something irrelevant.
‘Just stretch out your hand and lay it on the person next to you.’
Sounds easy enough, but whom does the Bible say laid hands on others? Whom does the Bible identify as those commissioned to lay hands on the sick, on the possessed, on those needing strength and the power of God?
With love in Christ,
Michael Boldea Jr.