This next foundation is one of the main reasons I started this study. I didn’t feel like I had a good understanding of the “laying on of hands” as a doctrinal principle, and if you’re going to study that doctrine might as well learn more about them all, right?
Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits. (Heb. 6:1-3)
The first three principles built on each other, so I would expect laying on of hands to be closely connected with baptism. And indeed, we do see it following baptism several times.
In the book of Acts, it talks about the apostles laying hands on people after baptism so they could receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 19:5-6). Typically, Jesus baptizing someone with the Spirit accompanied laying on of hands.
Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them, who, when they had come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. For as yet it had fallen upon none of them. They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. (Acts 8:14-17)
In Hebrew thought, the hand is associated with power, and we find the same connection in Greek. Thayer’s Dictionary defines cheir as “help or agency,” figuratively symbolizing the “might, activity, power” of God. This word gained the meaning “hand” through a connection with “the idea of hollowness for grasping” (Strong’s G5495). Laying on of hands has to do with a transfer of power and/or a request for blessing.
In Acts 13, a group of “prophets and teachers” gathered in Antioch were fasting and praying when God moved them by the Holy Spirit and said, “separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Before the other believers sent them on their way, they “laid hands on them” (Acts 13:1-3). Both Paul and Barnabas were already baptized and had hands laid on them to receive the Holy Spirit (read Paul’s story here: Acts 9:17-18), so this was something different.
We find a similar connection in Paul’s epistles to Timothy between laying on of hands and ministers separated for a role in the church. In 1 Timothy 4:14 and 2 Timothy 1:6, Paul tells him to stir up the gifts given him by laying on of hands. This could refer to the Spirit given at baptism in 2 Timothy, but in 1 Timothy it’s a gift “given to you by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the eldership.”
A similar event happens in Acts 6:6, when seven are chosen to serve the widows and the apostles laid hands on them and prayed. This hearkens back to the Old Testament, when priests would lay their hands on the head of an animal sacrifice. In both cases, something was being set apart for God’s holy use. There’s also an example of Moses laying hands on Joshua when he transferred physical leadership of Israel (Num 27:18-23).
There’s an enormous responsibility associated with laying on of hands to separate someone for service to God, which is probably why Paul warned Timothy, “Do not lay hands on anyone hastily” (1 Tim. 5:22). Ordination isn’t the only reason to lay hands on someone, though. It could also be a blessing, as when Jesus laid his hands on the little children (Matt. 19:13-15) or when Jacob blessed his sons (Gen. 48). Either way, the people who had hands laid on them were set apart and special in God’s eyes.
We have several examples of Jesus laying hands on people and, except for when He blesses the little children, its always for healing. This was so much a part of His ministry that people asked specifically for healing through laying on of His hands.
And behold, one of the rulers of the synagogue came, Jairus by name. And when he saw Him, he fell at His feet and begged Him earnestly, saying, “My little daughter lies at the point of death. Come and lay Your hands on her, that she may be healed, and she will live.” (Mark. 5:22-23)
You can read other examples in Mark 6:5; 8:23-25 and Luke 4:40; 13:12-13. And this healing by laying on of hands wasn’t a miracle exclusively performed by Christ in the flesh. We also see Him healing through His people — as when Paul prayed and laid his hands on “the father of Publius” and he was healed (Acts 28:8). In fact, it’s an often overlooked part of the “great commission” as given in Mark.
And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.” (Mark 16:17-18)
Believers today should be following in Christ’s footsteps and practicing laying on of hands. It can be used as a request for the Holy Spirit, to set aside someone for a purpose in God’s house, as part of a blessing, or in a prayer for healing.
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