The Six Foundation Doctrines - Hebrews 6:1-2
Bible Study Series Part 4: Laying on of Hands
Notes prepared by Pastor Bob Beverley
To listen to Pastor Bob presenting this Bible study click here.
In our church, when someone places their hand on another person, it is with a definite spiritual purpose and normally takes place with prayer or a prophetic statement. It is usually to do one of three things:
- Publicly commit the person to God for a particular need, special task or ministry;
- Convey spiritual blessing or authority, or
- Acknowledge publicly a blessing on that person's authority already received from God.
In religion it is a natural extension of normal human behaviour to show comfort or affection.
In the Old Testament Genesis 48:14 records Israel (Jacob) laying hands on Ephraim and Mannasseh - the accepted practice to pass on a blessing or inheritance. In Numbers 27:18-20 and 22-23, Moses appointed Joshua to lead Israel, and Deuteronomy 34:9 describes the result. There were two main purposes - the first to transmit to Joshua a measure of the spiritual wisdom and honour that Moses had received from God, and the second to publicly acknowledge Joshua's appointment by God before all the people.
When King Joash visited Elisha on his death bed, Elisha laid his hands on Joash's hands, acknowledging by that action God's appointment of him as the leader who would bring deliverance to Israel (2 Kings 13:14-17). Note that Joshua and Joash were both appointed primarily as military commanders, giving us the example of physical warfare in the Old Testament - a pattern of spiritual warfare in the New Testament.
In the New Testament there are five distinct purposes for laying on of hands:
- To minister healing to the sick
- To help in seeking the Holy Spirit
- To impart spiritual gifts
- To send out workers (such as apostles, evangelists)
- To ordain deacons
To minister physical healing
In Mark 16:17,18 - physical healing is to be ministered to those who are sick. While there is no specific mention of prayer, it would be a natural action to accompany the laying on of hands. In James 5:14,15 the sick are directed to call for the elders of the church who would anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord and pray. There is no specific mention here of laying on of hands, but again this would be a natural action.
Is there any difference between these two ordinances, and if so, what are the scriptural principles? There are two lessons in James, a letter addressed to professing Christians. One is that God expects every sick Christian to seek him first before seeking human medical aid. If we do the reverse we disobey Bible directions and effectively say to God 'I don't need you and I don't really believe you can help'. Secondly, Christians are to be associated with a church and the leaders must be ready in faith to pray for the physical needs of its members.
The anointing oil is simply a type or pattern of the Holy Spirit. Its use is not mandatory, with no mention in Mark 16:18 for example, but by its use we exercise faith and obedience in the particular directive to 'call for the elders of the church'. We believe the Spirit of God will minister life and healing to the sick body. Romans 8:11 says 'he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwells in you'. It is not anointing as preparation for death that the Roman Catholic Church practices.
Back to Mark 16:15-20 - it is intended to go together with preaching the gospel. Therefore the primary purpose of the five supernatural signs listed there is to confirm the truth of the gospel message to people who have not heard it before.
THE EXACT WAY THAT HEALING IS MANIFEST IS NOT DETAILED - there may be some feeling of power or no feeling of power; sometimes healing may be immediate, sometimes as a gradual process - and in this case continue holding on in faith until it is complete; thank God for what has already happened and express belief in the completed healing happening in due course.
To receive the Holy Spirit and spiritual gifts
The Bible records five cases where believers received the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-4, Acts 8:14-20, Acts 9:17, Acts 10:44-46, Acts 19:1-6) and three of these mention laying on of hands. So it is normal and scriptural for believers to receive the Holy Spirit in this way. Note that Mark 16 says: 'and these signs shall follow them that believe . they shall lay hands on the sick .' 'They' means all believers.
In 1Timothy 5:22 the instruction is 'lay hands suddenly on no man' so it is obviously not to be done lightly or carelessly. There are three distinct warnings as well - it is 'not to be done suddenly', 'not partaking of other men's sins' and the third - 'keep yourself pure'. Because there is direct spiritual contact between the two believers and therefore the possibility of spiritual harm, there are four main safeguards for the one laying on hands:
- Not lightly or carelessly but in the spirit of prayer and humility.
- Always under the guidance of the Holy Spirit - who, when, how?
- Claiming the power and protection of the blood of Christ on himself.
- Claiming authority over anything of the enemy in the person being prayed for.
To impart spiritual gifts
Spiritual gifts in the church today are as important as they were in the early church and the Bible gives direction and spiritual authority. In Romans 1:11-12 Paul longs to 'see them and impart some spiritual gift to establish them and to be comforted by their mutual faith'. 1Corinthians 1:4-8 says that God 'enriched them by utterance and knowledge, and that they were confirmed and strengthened in this way' ('behind in no gift' and 'blameless in the day of the Lord Jesus Christ').
So Paul teaches about how they are imparted - 1Timothy 4:14 'laying on of hands of the presbytery'; 2Timothy 1:6 'putting on of my hands'. See also 1Timothy 1:18 where Paul refers to the 'prophecies which went before'.
(Note: 'Presbytery' is simply a collective noun denoting the elders of a local church, probably those at Ephesus.) So in one case Paul himself laid hands, and in another case Paul and the elders laid hands. In both cases it was the means by which the revealed will of God for Timothy was actually made effective.
'Prophecies' are words inspired by the Holy Spirit - we can say these things to an individual first and then pray afterwards. The verse goes on to say that by them Timothy might wage a good warfare. Christian life (especially for the pastor and other leaders or elders) is a continual contest. For example Ephesians 6:12 says 'we wrestle against principalities, powers, rulers of the darkness of this world, and spiritual wickedness in high places'.
The main weapons used against the saints are 'doubt and fear'. Therefore in 2 Timothy 1:7 Paul says that God has not 'given us the spirit of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind'. So stir up the Holy Spirit within AND recall the prophecies (inspired words, not necessarily about the future) that have gone before.
To commission ministers
In Acts 13:1-4 workers for the Lord were sent out from the local church, Antioch in Syria. There were prophets and teachers there - they all prayed and fasted as a group (see the examples in Joel 1:14, Joel 2:15 of coming together to seek God and the prophecy in Joel 2:28 of the birth of the church in Acts 2); and the 'Holy Ghost said, separate me Barnabus & Saul'. This probably happened through one of them by means of the gift of prophecy or tongues with interpretation, or by inspired words in conversation or discussion.
Note: 'I have called them' - God had probably revealed his plans to Paul & Barnabus already. After this they prayed and fasted again and then sent them away. In Acts 14:4 and 14, they are called 'apostles', which means 'one sent forth', and in Acts 13:1 they are called 'prophets and teachers'.
So the laying on of hands here is open, public acknowledgement by the church leaders that God had chosen and called Paul and Barnabus to a special task and ministry. In addition, the leaders claimed for them the wisdom, grace and power they needed. Acts 14:26,27 gives us the outcome - they went back to Antioch and told them all that God had done through them amongst the gentiles.
To ordain deacons
Acts 6:1-6 records the appointment of seven men to administrative tasks (deacons), which was made effective by the laying on of hands of the church leaders. The basic structure of the local church was oversight and spiritual guidance by 'elders' with support from 'deacons'. The word episkopo, meaning overseer, is translated elder, bishop or overseer in scripture. (Acts 20:17 - elders; Acts 20:28 - overseers; Titus 1:5 - elders). We are instructed about qualifications in 1Timothy 3 and Titus 1:5-9.
The elders are to give spiritual direction and instruction to the church - 1Timothy 5:17 and deacons are to 'serve tables', Acts 6:2. There is no account in the early chapters of Acts of the way elders in Jerusalem were appointed, but later appointments by Paul and Barnabus tell us the apostles had this responsibility (for example Acts 14:23 and 16:4). There is no direct suggestion anywhere that elders were appointed with 'laying on of hands', but that would be a reasonable expectation based on other examples.
It is a privilege to lay hands on people in accordance with Gods word, confident of his blessing and ministry.