A foundational doctrine of our Christian faith

Laying on of Hands

by Pastor Jim Feeney, Ph.D.

Summary:  The laying on of hands is a common biblical practice that, sad to say, is often absent in our churches today. Let’s see why we should be well acquainted with this power-filled biblical action.

Hebrews 6:1-2  ...the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, [2] instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.

•• The laying on of hands is a foundational truth of Scripture, right alongside repentance and faith (vs. 1). But it is a truth that is overlooked surprisingly often. Let’s try to rectify that as we look into the Bible today.

Leviticus 16:20-22  When Aaron has finished making atonement for the Most Holy Place, the Tent of Meeting and the altar, he shall bring forward the live goat. [21] He is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites — all their sinsand put them on the goat’s head. He shall send the goat away into the desert in the care of a man appointed for the task. [22] The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a solitary place; and the man shall release it in the desert.

•• Notice an important biblical principle here. Something was transmitted by the laying on of hands. Here it was the people’s sins. As you ponder various situations where hands are laid on people, remember the principle that something is transmitted in this biblical act.

Luke 4:40  When the sun was setting, the people brought to Jesus all who had various kinds of sickness, and laying his hands on each one, he healed them.

•• Jesus often healed by the laying on of hands. He healed other ways, too, but He often laid on hands. This is a very common, and entirely biblical practice in many Bible-believing churches today. And with good results!

•• Again, recall the concept of something being transmitted by the laying on of hands. In instances of laying hands on the sick, there seems to be a flow of divine healing to the person in need. This was consistently seen in Jesus’ ministry.

Mark 16:18  ...“[those who believe - 17] will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.”

•• Believers bring healing by laying hands on the sick. This is not limited only to Jesus. No, He Himself said that His believing followers would see the same results. That is, as they laid hands on the sick in faith, the sick would experience healing.
• When I was pastoring a church in New York, a fellow pastor and I made a sick call to a lady in our church who was having excruciating pain in her hand. After talking a bit, we quoted Scriptures, prayed, and laid hands on her pain-stricken hand, and the Lord healed her right then and there.

Acts 6:6  They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them [and ordained them as deacons].

•• Ordinations to ministry roles occur through the laying on of hands. Again, something seems to be transmitted. Here perhaps it was authority and enablement for the assigned ministry tasks they would undertake as deacons.

Acts 13:2-3  While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” [3] So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off [as apostles; see Acts 14:14].

•• Two apostles were ordained and sent out in ministry by the laying on of hands of that local church’s leadership (vs. 1), under the clear guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Acts 8:17  Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.

•• The baptism with the Holy Spirit is frequently received through the laying on of hands.
• My late wife Mickey and I were baptized in the Holy Spirit at Anchorage’s First Assembly of God in 1971. Visiting Pastor Ralph Wilkerson and local Pastor Jim Brenn laid hands on us, and we were filled with the Spirit and spoke in tongues, as the Bible teaches about this great experience (Acts 2:1-4).

• I have had the privilege over the years of laying hands on a number of believers and seeing them wonderfully filled with the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues as the biblical evidence of that infilling.

1 Timothy 4:14  Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you.

2 Timothy 1:6  For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.

•• Impartation of ministry gifts can occur through the laying on of hands. But note that this is not just to be done arbitrarily by believers in general. The context of the two Scriptures above was the laying on of hands by recognized church leadership (the elders in one instance, the apostle Paul in the other).
• I had a dramatic example of this in my life. In 1975 I was ordained as an Ephesians 4:11 Bible Teacher at Anchorage’s Abbott Loop Community Church. A large presbytery of church elders laid hands on me, and a prophecy was spoken which said, in part: “...while you are teaching, right while you are teaching, the Spirit of God will give illumination. And the Scriptures that have an obscurity about them will become very, very clear.” In the 35 years since that laying on of hands with prophecy, I have seen that promised spiritual gift manifested time and again, for the edification of the hearers.

Mark 10:16  And [Jesus] took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them.

•• Believers can always impart a blessing through the laying on of hands. We don’t always need a prophecy or a healing or the impartation of a ministry gift. Sometimes the relevant thing to do, the thing that is most needed, is simply to extend a blessing to someone. And we can easily do that by laying on hands and sharing some kind words, perhaps also a prayer.

1 Timothy 5:22  Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, and do not share in the sins of others.

KJV: Lay hands suddenly on no man.

•• Caution should be used in laying on hands. By way of illustration, a couple of “hasty”, inappropriate uses of laying on hands would be:
Premature ordinations. If you are training young people for ministry, be certain that they are well prepared and you have the Lord’s go-ahead before laying hands on them for ordination.

• Attempting to impart spiritual gifts to people you don’t know. Generally speaking, the local church, under the watchful oversight of elders/shepherds who know the flock, is the best venue for the laying on of hands and impartation of spiritual gifts.

In sum, the laying on of hands is an often-overlooked but foundational biblical truth. Among its many proper biblical uses of laying are:

• healing

• ordinations

• sending qualified, called people out in ministry

• receiving the baptism with the Holy Spirit

• imparting spiritual gifts

• imparting a blessing

• There are more examples, but hopefully these few will encourage you to enlarge your thinking and your experience to embrace this powerful biblical truth of the laying on of hands.

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©2009, James H. Feeney. Copyright statement.