What is the doctrine of laying on of hands?


This is my third year after being added to the body. Somehow, I often find myself in intense discussions with friends and relatives regarding certain areas of belief. Many times I can hold my own, but when it comes to laying on of hands, I'm not certain how to discuss this. When I read Hebrews 6:2 it sounds as though it supports the argument of some denomination churches that believe a man touching people on the head, causing that individual to fall out and subsequently stand up cured of their particular malady. I would appreciate it if you could offer me some clarity in this area, as well as other signs and wonders, and how they play a role in the church today.


"Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits" (Hebrews 6:1-3).

First, let's take note of what this passage does not say: It makes no mention of people falling down or being cured of a disease. It is talking about the teachings dealing with laying on of hands, but what this teaching and the others listed are is not defined. We only have the names of the topics and are told that they are basic teachings.

To find out what "laying on of hands" is, we have to find other references to the practice. In the days of the Bible, laying hands on a person was a way of indicating your approval of the person.

The practice goes back to ancient times. When Jacob offered a blessing on his grandsons, he laid his hands on their heads (Genesis 48:14).

In the days of Moses, it continued. "And the elders of the congregation shall lay their hands on the head of the bull before the LORD. Then the bull shall be killed before the LORD" (Leviticus 4:15). To show their approval that this bull's death was to represent them before the Lord, the elders laid their hands on the bull. See also Leviticus 8:18; 16:21; Numbers 8:12. When a young man profaned God's name, the witnesses were required to lay their hands on his head prior to his stoning (Leviticus 16:10-15). The action showed the witnesses approval of the death penalty that he then received for his sin.

When a person was appointed to an office, people again placed their hands on their heads to show their approval. "And you shall bring the Levites before the tabernacle of meeting, and you shall gather together the whole congregation of the children of Israel. So you shall bring the Levites before the LORD, and the children of Israel shall lay their hands on the Levites" (Numbers 8:9-10). Joshua received the same treatment. "So Moses did as the LORD commanded him. He took Joshua and set him before Eleazar the priest and before all the congregation. And he laid his hands on him and inaugurated him, just as the LORD commanded by the hand of Moses" (Numbers 27:22-23; see also Deuteronomy 34:9). A similar event happened when Saul and Barnabas were sent out on a mission. "As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, "Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away" (Acts 13:2-3). Saul and Barnabas left with the approval or blessing of the church in Antioch. Jesus blessed children by laying his hands on them (Matthew 19:13-15).

Timothy was warned not to be in a rush to lay hands on people. He had the knowledge of the Scriptures and he was expected to use it. When it came to dealing with elders, Timothy was told, "Do not lay hands on anyone hastily, nor share in other people's sins; keep yourself pure" (I Timothy 5:22). In other words, as a preacher, Timothy had a duty to appoint elders (Titus 1:5) but wasn't to rush the process just to get men appointed.

One of the marks of the apostles was the right to pass on the gifts of the Holy Spirit to others. This was done by laying their hands on those they selected to receive the gifts. "Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. And when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles' hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money, saying, "Give me this power also, that anyone on whom I lay hands may receive the Holy Spirit" " (Acts 8:17-19). Simon was then rebuked because the ability to pass on the gifts was not for sale. Paul demonstrated the mark of apostleship in this manner (Acts 19:6). "Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands" (II Timothy 1:6). We also find that when he did this, the elders in the church showed their approval. "Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the eldership" (I Timothy 4:14).

Nowhere do you find mention that those receiving the Holy Spirit's gifts fell down. Nor did people fall when they received the approval of others.

While a variety of means were used to heal people, especially by Jesus, sometimes people were healed when hands were laid on them (Mark 6:5; 16:18; Luke 4:40; 13:13; Acts 9:17; 28:8). The action still keeps the same meaning. It shows the approval of the person desiring that another be healed. Yet again, we don't see people passing out and falling down; instead, we see instantaneous restoration.

You have to be careful when people read more into passages than what they actually say.

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