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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible
Laying On of Hands
LAYING ON OF HANDS. This ceremony, of frequent occurrence in both OT and NT, is a piece of natural symbolism with the central idea that through physical contact the person performing it identifies himself with the other in the presence of God. In OT this is done with a view to the transference ( a ) of a Divine blessing ( Genesis 48:14 ff.; cf. Numbers 27:18; Numbers 27:23 , Deuteronomy 34:9 ); ( b ) of a burden of guilt ( Leviticus 1:4; Leviticus 4:3 f., Leviticus 16:21 Leviticus 16:21 f. etc.). In NT, while it is variously employed, the general idea is always that of blessing.
1 . The simplest case is when Jesus lays hands of blessing on the little children ( Matthew 19:13; Matthew 19:15 ||). The fact that the mothers desired Him to do so shows that this was a custom of the time and people. The narrative in Mt. shows further that, as used by Jesus, it was no magical form, but the symbolic expression of what was essentially an act of prayer ( Matthew 19:13 ).
2 . In His deeds of healing Jesus constantly made use of this symbol ( Mark 6:5; Mark 8:23 , Luke 4:40; Luke 13:13; cf. Matthew 9:18 ||, Mark 7:32 ) an example which was followed by the Apostolic Church ( Acts 9:12; Acts 9:17; Acts 28:8 ). In these cases, however, besides its religious symbolism, the act may further have expressed the healer’s sympathy (cf. the hand laid even on the leper, Mark 1:41 , Luke 5:13 ), or have been designed to bring a reinforcement to faith.
3 . In the early Church the imposition of hands was used, sometimes in close association with the act of baptism ( Acts 9:17-18; Acts 19:5-6; cf. Hebrews 6:2 , which, however, may include all the various kinds of laying on of hands), but sometimes quite apart from it ( Acts 8:17; Acts 8:19 ), as an accompaniment of prayer that believers might receive a special endowment of the Holy Ghost in charismatic forms. That this endowment does not mean the essential gift of spiritual life, but some kind of ‘manifestation’ ( 1 Corinthians 12:7 ), is proved when Acts 9:17 (‘filled with the Holy Ghost’) is compared with Acts 2:4 , and when Acts 8:15; Acts 8:17 is read in the light of the request of Simon Magus ( Acts 8:18 ff.), and Acts 19:2 in the light of Acts 19:6 . The case of Ananias and Saul ( Acts 9:17 ) further proves that the laying on of hands for this purpose was not a peculiar Apostolic prerogative.
4 . In four passages the laying on of hands is referred to in connexion with an act that corresponds to ordination (the word in its ecclesiastical sense does not occur in NT. ‘Ordained’ in Acts 14:23 should be ‘elected’ or ‘appointed’; see RV [Note: Revised Version.] ). The Seven, after being chosen by the multitude, were appointed to office by the Apostles, with prayer and the laying on of hands ( Acts 6:6 ). The ‘prophets and teachers’ of the Church at Antioch ‘separated’ Barnabas and Saul for their missionary work by laying their hands on them with fasting and prayer ( Acts 13:3 ). Timothy received the ‘gracious gift’ which was in him with the laying on of the hands of a body of elders (see art. Presbytery), with which St. Paul himself was associated (cf. 1 Timothy 4:14 with 2 Timothy 1:6 ). Timothy’s ‘gracious gift’ probably means his special fitness to be St. Paul’s companion in the work of a missionary evangelist (see Hort, Chr. Ecclesia , p. 184 ff.).
5 . Of the manner in which deacons and elders or bishops were set apart to office no information is given in NT. The injunction, ‘Lay hands suddenly on no man’ ( 1 Timothy 5:22 ), has often been supposed to refer to the act of ordination; but the fact that the whole passage ( 1 Timothy 5:19-25 ) deals with offenders points rather to the imposition of hands in the restoration of the penitent (cf. 2 Corinthians 2:6 f., Galatians 6:1 ), a custom that certainly prevailed in the early Church at a later time. The fact, however, that Jewish Rabbis employed this rite when a disciple was authorized to teach, favours the view that it was commonly practised in the Apostolic Church, as it was almost universally in the post-Apostolic, in consecration to ministerial office. But the silence of the NT at this point is against the supposition that the rite was regarded as an essential channel of ministerial grace, or anything more than the outward and appropriate symbol of an act of intercessory prayer (see Matthew 19:13 , Acts 6:6; Acts 13:3; Acts 28:8; and cf. Augustine, de Baptismo , iii. 16, ‘What else is the laying on of hands than a prayer over one?’). See, further, art. Bishop.
J. C. Lambert.
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Hastings, James. Entry for 'Laying On of Hands'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hdb/l/laying-on-of-hands.html. 1909.