The doctrine and practice of laying on of hands is rarely taught and in many churches rarely practiced, yet the Scriptures indicate that the doctrine of laying on of hands plays a key part in our development as Believers.
Most of us have witnessed the practice of laying on hands, and many may be already practicing its use. However, to revisit this wonderfully simple means that God has given for the impartation of His power, presence and authority, and its Scriptural basis, will stir faith afresh for its effective exercise in discipleship and evangelism. As Paul so clearly states:
“So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”Romans 10:17 NKJV
This is why it is important to understand the Biblical basis and practice of laying on hands. The principles of transference and impartation of anointing and authority are all part of this great truth.
The seasoned saint, Campbell McAlpine, in “The Biblical basis of First Principles”, describes this doctrine thus:
“By this truth we are taught that although we have received so many blessings from God, He wants us to be imparters of blessings to others. A Christian is one who has Christ in him and Christ in us desires and delights to bless others.”
Definition of “laying on hands”
What Is Laying on of hands?
The laying on of hands is an act in which one person places his/her hands upon another for spiritual purposes.Derek Price, Foundations of Christian Doctrine
These purposes could include:
- A point of contact for faith to be released for baptism in the Holy Spirit.
- A point of contact for faith to be released to receive healing from God.
- A point of contact for faith to be released to receive spiritual gifts.
- Impartation of spiritual blessing and authority.
- Public acknowledgement of spiritual blessing or authority already received from God by the person having hands laid upon them
- Public committal to God for some special task or ministry such as Ccommissioning ministers to the call of God and appointment of elders and deacons
Old Testament Examples of the practice of Laying on hands
Jacob blessing Joseph’s sons (Genesis 48:14-20)
It was accepted practice that Jacob’s blessing should be transmitted by laying hands upon the heads of Joseph’s sons, and that the greater blessing came through the right hand.
Moses imparting blessing and Authority to Joshua (Numbers 27:18-23)
The results of this significant event are clear;
“And Joshua the son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom; for Moses had laid his hands upon him: and the children of Israel hearkened unto him, and did as the Lord commanded Moses.”Deuteronomy 34:9
In this act of laying hands on Joshua Moses at once acknowledged before all Israel God’s appointment of Joshua as their Leader and transmitted to Joshua a measure of the wisdom, honour and power he himself had received from God.
It is important to realise that there is a definite impartation to be received through the laying on of hands. A distinct transformation took place in the life and ministry of Joshua the son of Nun, after Moses had laid his hands upon him and given him authority over the people of God.
In both of these examples, Joshua and Joseph’s sons, we see that laying on hands was not a mere formality, or some symbolic act devoid of any real power. On the contrary, through laying hands upon another the substance of faith was actually transferred, and the person receiving the blessing was not the same after the impartation was administered.
Laying hands upon the animal sacrifice
Before making a blood sacrifice, the person making the offering, not the priest, laid hands on the victim. The act signified the transference of guilt to, or self-identification with, the victim.
“Then he shall put his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it will be accepted on his behalf to make atonement for him.”Leviticus 1:4
A similar process took place when Aaron placed his hands on the scapegoat, thus symbolically transferring the sins of the nation upon the innocent animal:
“Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, confess over it all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions, concerning all their sins, putting them on the head of the goat, and shall send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a suitable man.”Leviticus 16:21 NKJV
This foreshadowed of course our perfect Lamb, Jesus Christ, who took the sins of the world upon Himself, and carried them away, not only to the place of forgiveness, but the place of forgotteness;
“No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, “Know the LORD,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.””Jeremiah 31:34 NKJV
New Testament Usage
The use and power of laying on hands is much more prevalent in New Testament theology and accounts. Because through Christ we are now all ‘ministers of the Spirit’ (2 Corinthians 3:6) there is much more scope and opportunity for the use of this straightforward means of connecting people with the power of God.
Five distinct purposes for the laying on of hands are prescribed in the New Testament:
- Ministering baptism in the Spirit & imparting the power of the Holy Spirit
- Imparting Spiritual Gifts
- Commissioning ministers
- Appointing deacons and elders
Healing Through The Laying On Of Hands
Jesus Christ ministered healing by touching people with His hands.
“Now when the sun was setting, all they that had any sick with divers diseases brought them unto him; and he laid his hands on every one of them, and healed them.”Luke 4:40
He commissions His disciples to do the same;
“And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.”Mark 16:15-18
In obedience we see the ordinance of laying hands for healing practiced in the early church. (Acts 3:7;Acts 9:17; Acts 28:8-9)
We are also commissioned by the Lord Jesus Christ to lay hands on the sick so they may be healed.
The hands of the minister are not specially endued with power. They are not ‘healing hands’ and the minister is not a ‘healer’. Jesus Christ is the Healer, we are simply the ministers of that healing. The act of laying hands on someone acts as a point of contact where faith is released in the Word of God and in the power of the Holy Ghost to heal.
God’s healing power then flows from the one laying hands, into the one upon whom the hand is laid. Sometimes this may be accompanied by tangible feelings of power coming into the body, at other times there will be no ‘feelings’. It is our faith not our feeling that receives from God.
The Ministry of healing through the laying on of hands is manifest
Matthew 8:2-4; 20:34, Mark 1:41; 6:5; 7:32-33; 8:25; 16:18
Luke 4:40; 22:50-51, Acts 28:8
Luke 4:40-41; 13:11-13
Raising the dead
Acts 5:12; 14:3
Ministering The Baptism Of The Holy Spirit
One of the scriptural ways for believers to receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit is through another Spirit Filled Believer laying hands upon them.
Acts 8:18 (Peter and John minister baptism to the Samaritans)
“Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. And when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money, saying, “Give me this power also, that anyone on whom I lay hands may receive the Holy Spirit.””Acts 8:17-19 NKJV
Acts 9 (Ananias ministers baptism to Saul of Tarsus in Damascus)
“And in a vision he has seen a man named Ananias coming in and putting his hand on him, so that he might receive his sight. And Ananias went his way and entered the house; and laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you came, has sent me that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.””Acts 9:12,17 NKJV
Paul the Apostle laying hands upon believers in Ephesus:
“And when Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied.”Acts 19:6 NKJV
C. IMPARTING SPIRITUAL GIFTS
Spiritual gifts can be imparted to others through the laying on hands. Paul spoke of His desire to see the Roman church, that he might ‘impart some spiritual gift’ to hthem. (Romans 1:11)
The clearest example of this principle is found in Paul’s letter to Timothy, Paul’s son in the Lord.
“Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery.” 1 Timothy 4:14
“Wherefore I put thee in remembrance that thou stir up the gift of God, which is in thee by the putting on of my hands.” 2 Timothy 1:6
Through prophecy and the laying on of hands a definite spiritual gift was imparted to Timothy. Timothy was directed, encouraged and strengthened in the fulfilment of his God-given ministry through the use of laying on of hands.
As we personally develop in the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit in our own lives, we should seek Him for the grace to also impart those gifts to others, and encourage others to exercise and to flourish in them.
Commissioning Ministers (separation for service)
When ministers are commissioned by the local church to go out and fulfil their ministry, fasting, prayer and the laying on of hands often accompany such commissioning.
“Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, “Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away.”Acts 13:1-3 NKJV
In Christian Outreach Centre and many other churches similar practices are followed when commissioning and sending out ministers.
“The act of the leaders and elders laying hands on Paul and Barnabas represented a public acknowledgement of God’s call and commission on their lives, and also was a point of contact where special power, grace, wisdom and authority were claimed on behalf of the two Apostles, as needed for their God-appointed task. This incident is similar to the incident where Moses laid his hands on Joshua (Numbers 27:18).”
Derek Prince, “Foundations for Christian Living”
Appointing Deacons And Elders
“But as the believers rapidly multiplied…the Twelve called a meeting of all the believers. “We apostles should spend our time preaching and teaching the word of God, not administering a food program,” they said. “Now look around among yourselves, brothers, and select seven men who are well respected and are full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom. We will put them in charge of this business. Then we can spend our time in prayer and preaching and teaching the word.” This idea pleased the whole group, and they chose the following: Stephen (a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit), Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas of Antioch (a Gentile convert to the Jewish faith, who had now become a Christian). These seven were presented to the apostles, who prayed for them as they laid their hands on them.”Acts 6:1-6
The Scriptural structure of New Testament church is very simple – Under the leadership of the apostles, it consists of only elders and deacons, who carry responsibility for the administrative duties of the church. These include both natural and spiritual responsibilities. These responsibilities range very widely in their nature and administration.
An “elder” is translated from the word meaning “overseer”. “Deacon”, in its original form, simply means “servant” (Acts 6).
Both require the power and the anointing of God, administered through the laying on of hands. The act of laying hands upon these men also acknowledged publicly their place of authority and service, and committed them to God for the task appointed to them.
*NOTE in relation to appointment or commissioning for ministry:
“Lay hands suddenly on no man”
“Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine. For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer is worthy of his wages.”Do not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses. Those who are sinning rebuke in the presence of all, that the rest also may fear. I charge you before God and the Lord Jesus Christ and the elect angels that you observe these things without prejudice, doing nothing with partiality. Do not lay hands on anyone hastily, nor share in other people’s sins; keep yourself pure.”1Timothy 5:17-22 NKJV
In 1 Timothy 5:17-22 Paul warns Timothy not to lay hands on anyone hastily. The context suggests that this relates primarily to the appointment of elders, which is a position of great honour and responsibility within the Body of a local church, something that should not be given lightly or prematurely.
The verse has sometimes been taken out of context, and fearfully interpreted to suggest that when we lay hands upon the demonised or the sick that demons or infirmity can somehow invade the one laying hands on the afflicted party. Jesus however told us to do this very thing; lay hands on the sick and cast out demons. No where is it suggested that obedience to this command will result in ‘transference’ of some demonic presence or power into the one praying. The transference that occurs is the ministration of God’s anointing to heal and deliver. As John so eloquently stated:
“You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.”1John 4:4 NKJV
Albert Barnes, in his classic commentary on the New Testament, writes in this regard:
“Some have understood this of laying on hands to heal the sick, others of the laying on of hands to absolve penitents; but the obvious meaning is to refer it to ordination. It was usual to lay the hands on the heads of those who were ordained to a sacred office, or appointed to perform an important duty.
The idea here is, that Timothy should not be hasty in an act so important as that of introducing men to the ministry, he should take time to give them a fair trial of their piety; he should have satisfactory evidence of their qualifications, he should not at once introduce a man to the ministry because he gave evidence of piety, or because he burned with an ardent zeal, or because he thought himself qualified for the work…
…Neither be partakers of other men’s sins. This is evidently to be interpreted in connection with the injunction “to lay hands suddenly on no man.” The meaning in this connection, is, that Timothy was not to become a participant in the sins of another by introducing him to the sacred office. He was not to invest one with a holy office who was a wicked man or a heretic, for this would be to sanction his wickedness and error. If we ordain a man to the office of the ministry who is known to be living in sin, or to cherish dangerous error, we become the patrons of the sin and of the heresy. We lend to it the sanction of our approbation; and give to it whatever currency it may acquire from the reputation which we may have, or which it may acquire from the influence of the sacred office of the ministry. Hence the importance of caution in investing any one with the ministerial office.”