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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

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Amongst the members of the body, the hand (χείρ) is named by St. Paul as being superior to the foot, and necessary to the eye (1 Corinthians 12:15; 1 Corinthians 12:21). The work of human hands has its definite limitations, whether the product be idols (Acts 7:41; Acts 19:26) or temples (Acts 17:24; cf. Ep. Barn. xvi. 7); but, within its true sphere, manual labour belongs to man’s dignity and duty (Ephesians 4:28, 1 Thessalonians 4:11). St. Paul could display his toil-marked hands to the Ephesian elders, as evidence of his example of unselfish service (Acts 20:34; cf. 1 Corinthians 4:12). To defend themselves from political suspicion as descendants of David, the grandchildren of Jude showed their horny hands of toil to the Emperor Domitian (Eus. HE [Note: E Historia Ecclesiastica (Eusebius, etc.).] III. xx. 5).

The hand is employed in significant gestures both of ordinary life and of religion. It hangs down in despair (Hebrews 12:12), is outstretched in oratory (Acts 26:1) or appeal (of God, Romans 10:21), is waved to gain silence (Acts 12:17; Acts 13:16; Acts 19:33; Acts 21:40), is lifted in prayer (1 Timothy 2:8; cf. Psalms 134:2) or in taking an oath (Revelation 10:5; cf. Genesis 14:22). The giving of the right hand (δεξιός) in token of fellowship (Galatians 2:9; cf. Proverbs 6:1) is not a specially Jewish custom, and may be due to Persian influences (cf. Lightfoot, ad loc.). The Odes of Solomon show the early practice of prayer with arms extended in the manner of the cross: ‘I stretched out my hands, and sanctified my Lord; for the extension of my hands is His sign’ (xxvii. 1; cf. xxi. 1 and J. H. Bernard’s notes in Texts and Studies viii. 3 [1912] ad loc.). In a similar spirit of symbolism, continuing that of OT prophecy, Agabus (q.v. [Note: quod vide, which see.] ) binds his own hands and feet with St. Paul’s girdle (Acts 21:11; see article Feet). Those who belong to the Apocalyptic Beast receive his mark on hand and forehead (Revelation 13:16; Revelation 14:9; Revelation 20:4). Deissmann has given evidence for connecting this mark with the Imperial seal placed on documents of this period (Bible Studies, Eng. translation , 1901, p. 241f.). We may perhaps compare the three seals placed on the disciple of Mani, i.e. on mouth, hand, and bosom, as a converse dedication of the members to purity.

The term ‘hand’ is employed in a number of graphic or figurative phrases, relating either to man (Acts 2:23; Acts 12:1, Hebrews 8:9, 1 John 1:1, James 4:8) or to God. The Hand of God appears in the activities of creation (Acts 7:50, Hebrews 1:10; Ep. Barn. v. 10, xv. 3; 1 Clem. xxvii. 7, xxxiii. 4), or of providence (Acts 4:28; Acts 11:21, 1 Peter 5:6), or of judgment (Acts 13:11, Hebrews 10:31; Hebrews 10:1 Clem. xxviii. 2).

The most striking and important references to the hand in apostolic Christianity occur in connexion with the ‘laying on of hands.’ This occurs for three purposes, which help to elucidate each other. By contact with apostolic hands is wrought healing of the sick (Acts 3:7; Acts 5:12; Acts 9:12; Acts 9:41; Acts 14:3; Acts 28:8), transmission of the Spirit (Acts 8:17; Acts 8:19; Acts 19:6), and ordination to ‘office’ or special work (Acts 6:6; Acts 13:3, 1 Timothy 4:14; 1 Timothy 5:22, 2 Timothy 1:6, Hebrews 6:2). If these passages are approached, as they should be, from the general standpoint of the OT, and from the particular circle of ideas which constitutes primitive and ancient psychology, the imposition of hands will probably be seen to imply more than an outward sign (contrast Swete, The Holy Spirit in the NT, 1909, p. 384). In each of the three applications, the conclusion reached by Volz in regard to the OT seems fundamental in regard to the NT also: ‘the laying on of hands is the process by which the sacred substance is conducted from one body into another … the power passes not primarily through the spoken formula, but through the physical contact itself’ (ZATW [Note: ATW Zeitschrift für die alttest. Wissen schaft.] , 1901, pp. 93, 94; cf. P. Volz, Der Geist Gottes, 1910, p. 115).

H. Wheeler Robinson.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Hand'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament.​dictionaries/​eng/​hdn/​h/hand.html. 1906-1918.