Could you explain the concept of "laying on of hands"?


The ceremony of “laying on of hands” is mentioned as one of the basic doctrines of God’s Church (Hebrews 6:2). However, when reading quite a few commentaries, the very existence of that doctrine is commonly denied–nor is there any understanding as to what this doctrine contains.

The “laying on of hands” is a symbolic act, setting individuals apart for God’s special intervention. Already in Old Testament times, it was understood as symbolizing the imparting of godly blessings (Genesis 48:13-20), His authority and spiritual power (Numbers 27:18; Deuteronomy 34:9). In New Testament times, especially after the establishment of the New Testament Church, the laying on of hands has been exclusively performed through God’s true ministers and serves to show that God works through His ministers.

The following sets forth several examples of laying on of hands, as practiced today by the Church of the Eternal God and its corporate affiliates in Canada and Great Britain:

1) Baptism and Laying on of Hands

There is no promise in the Bible that since the foundation and establishment of the New Testament Church in 31 A.D., someone will receive the Holy Spirit without prior proper baptism as an adult–after repentance and belief in Christ’s Sacrifice–and the laying on of hands by God’s ordained ministers. This symbolic act sets the baptized person aside or sanctifies him or her for the divine purpose of receiving from God His Holy Spirit.

We stated the following in our Q&A on baptism through ordained ministers:

“The biblical record indicates that only ordained ministers of God should perform baptisms. The reason is that the baptism is done for the purpose of receiving the Holy Spirit. We need to remember that following baptism by immersing under water, the minister is to pray over the person and to lay his hands on their head so that the person can receive the Holy Spirit. The Bible shows that without the laying on of hands, a person normally does not receive the Holy Spirit.

“Notice this in Acts 8:12-17: ‘But when they believed Philip [one of the original seven deacons, Acts 6:5] as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized… 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 He [better translated: it – the Holy Spirit, which is not a Person, but God’s POWER] 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… Simon [Magus] saw that THROUGH THE LAYING ON OF THE APOSTLES’ HANDS the Holy Spirit was given…’ (Compare, too, Acts 19:5-6).”

2) Healing and Laying on of Hands

Luke 4:40 shows that Christ laid His hands on sick people when He healed them. We also find that only God’s ministers were given special authority from God to pray for the sick and to lay their hands upon them (while anointing them with oil). Notice James 5:14-15: “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up.”

Mark 6:13 describes how God used the apostles to heal the sick: “And they cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick, and healed them.” In Mark 16:18, Christ adds the following: “… they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

The laying on of hands accompanies an elder’s prayer for the afflicted. We read in Acts 9:17: “And Ananias… laying his hands on him he said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus… has sent me that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” We then read, in verse 18, that “Immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he received his sight at once; and he arose and was baptized.” (For a thorough discussion that Ananias was in fact an elder, read our Q&A on baptism.)

We also read in Acts 28:8: “And it happened that the father of Publius lay sick of a fever and dysentery. Paul went in to him and prayed, and he laid his hands on him and healed him.”

Taking all these passages together, God instructs us, when we are sick, to call for the elders of His Church to pray for us and to anoint us with oil – a symbol of the Holy Spirit – and to lay hands on us, so that we can be healed (James 5:14-15; Mark 16:18). If such a personal ministerial visit is not possible, then elders are permitted to use and pray over a cloth, anointing it with a drop of oil as the symbol of the Holy Spirit, laying or placing their hands on the cloth, and asking God to heal the sick person who will receive this cloth. This is based on numerous passages in the Bible, showing us that people were healed when touching the garments of Christ (Mark 6:56) or the aprons or handkerchiefs from Paul’s body (Acts 19:11-12).

Acts 19:11-12 shows that “God worked unusual miracles BY THE HANDS OF PAUL, so that even handkerchiefs or aprons were brought from his body to the sick, and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went out of them.” While many times Christ and the apostles cast out demons by their word (Matthew 8:16; Mark 6:13; Acts 16:16-18), without the laying on of their hands, we find that in Luke 13:11-16, Christ cast out a Satanic spirit of infirmity by laying His hands on the sick and afflicted person.

3) Marriage and Laying on of Hands

In our Q&A on Christian marriage ceremonies, conducted by God’s ordained ministers, we state the following:

“During the ceremony, the minister emphasizes the purpose of marriage, and that the couple is entering into a life-long COVENANT with God. He also places his hands on the couple, while asking God in prayer to sanctify the marriage and to set aside the couple for the holy purpose of the marriage relationship. (That God’s minister lays hands on the couple is highly significant: The Biblical procedure of laying on of hands is done for ‘sanctification,’ that is, for the purpose of setting the person or persons aside for a holy purpose.).”

4) Blessing of Little Children and Laying on of Hands

Jesus Christ, while here on the earth, specifically and ceremonially blessed little children: “And He took them up in His arms, laid His hands on them, and blessed them” (Mark 10:16; compare Matthew 19:13-15). The Church of God now follows this example by setting aside a time during the annual Feast of Tabernacles celebrations to bless little children, and especially, to ask God to grant them His protection and guidance. This, then, has become a “custom” or “tradition” of the Church.

5) Ordination and Laying on of Hands

Ordinations of deacons and deaconesses and elders are done strictly through the ministry, and they are always accompanied by the laying on of hands–setting the ordained person aside for the godly office of a deacon or deaconess or an elder (Acts 6:2-6; 1 Timothy 4:14; compare also 1 Timothy 5:22). Notice especially 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.” This procedure is also applied when a deacon is raised to the office of an elder, and when an elder is raised to a higher rank within the ministry, such as pastor or evangelist.

The Jamieson, Fausset and Brown commentary states about the ordination, as described in Acts 6:6: “… when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them–the one proclaiming that all official gifts flowed from the Church’s glorified Head, the other symbolizing the communication of these to the chosen office-bearers through the recognized channels.”

As we can see, the doctrine of “laying on of hands” is very important–it is in fact foundational for our very salvation. This doctrine requires and demands a functioning godly ministry. God has established this procedure for His Church: “For the lips of a priest should keep knowledge, And people should seek the law from his mouth; For he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts” (Malachi 2:7). It is an awesome responsibility to stand as representatives of God and Jesus Christ in matters such as these. Likewise, lest we look upon the administration of God’s Church lightly, let us also consider the warning of Hebrews 5:4 concerning what God has ordained: “And no man takes this honor to himself, but he who is called by God, just as Aaron was.”

Lead Writer: Norbert Link

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