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Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary

Imposition of Hands

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All ecclesiastical action, by which, among Episcopalians, a bishop lays his hands on the head of a person, in ordination, confirmation, or in uttering a blessing. In Presbyterian churches, the imposition is by the hands of the presbytery. This practice is also frequently observed by the Independents and others at their ordinations, when all the ministers present place their hands on the head of him whom they are ordaining, while one of them prays for a blessing on him and his future labours. This they retain as an ancient practice, justified by the example of the Apostles, when no extraordinary gifts were conveyed. However, Christians are not agreed as to the propriety of this ceremony; nor do they all consider it as an essential part of ordination.

Imposition of hands was a Jewish ceremony, introduced, not by any divine authority, but by custom; it being the practice among that people, whenever they prayed to God for any person, to lay their hands on his head. Our Saviour observed the same custom, both when he conferred his blessing on children, and when he cured the sick. The Apostles likewise laid hands on those upon whom they bestowed the Holy Ghost, but it was a form accompanied by prayer, through which only the blessing was obtained. And the Apostles themselves sometimes underwent the imposition of hands afresh, when they entered upon any new design. In the ancient church, imposition of hands was practised on persons when they married; which custom the Abyssinians still observe. But this ceremony of laying on of hands is now restrained, by custom, chiefly to that imposition which is practised at the ordination of ministers.

[In the Methodist Episcopal Church, a bishop is constituted by the election of the general conference, and the laying on of the hands of three bishops, or at least of one bishop and two elders; unless it happen that, by death or otherwise, there be no bishop remaining in the church: in this case, the general conference is empowered to elect a bishop, and the elders, or any three of them appointed by the general conference for that purpose, to ordain him. An elder is constituted by the election of an annual conference, and the laying on of the hands of a bishop and of two or more elders. A deacon,

by the election of an annual conference, and the laying on of the hands of a bishop.]

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Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Imposition of Hands'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. 1831-2.

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Tuesday, November 24th, 2020
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