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Monday, October 01, 2007

The Laying on of Hands

On Fifth Sunday evenings, I take questions from the congregation concerning Biblical issues, Christian theology, Christian history, and ethics.

One of the questions I received concerned the laying on of hands. Here was the question: Why do we not have laying on of hands when a person is saved? Is this not a commandment that goes along with Baptism?

I admit that I have not given the laying on of hands issue the attention it deserves. I do not recall much being said about the issue in my seminary training. And my only experience with the laying on of hands has been deacon ordination, my own ordination into pastoral ministry, and for healing in exceptional cases.

So in preparation for answering this question, I solidified my thinking on this issue, although a few questions remain.

In the New Testament there appears to be five major uses of the laying on of hands.

1. To heal the sick/lame
Both Jesus and the Apostles practiced the laying on of hands for this purpose. In Mark 6:5, Jesus was said to have laid his hands on some of the sick residents of Nazareth and they were healed. In Luke 13:13, Jesus lays his hands on a deformed woman, and her body was straightened. And in Acts 28:8, we find the apostle Paul laying his hands on one named Publius who was sick, and he too was healed. Paul himself was the recipient of the laying on of hands by Ananias in order to have his vision restored (Acts 9).

2. To bless children
In Matthew 19:15, we find Jesus laying his hands on children who were brought to him. It appears, although it is not explicit, that the parents wanted Jesus' blessing on the children. It does not seem to be a sickness issue here.

3. To set apart specific Christians for a special task.
In Acts 6, the Hellenists widows were being neglected in the distribution. So the Apostles suggested that the church select seven men full of wisdom and of the Spirit to fulfill this task. The church accepted the suggestion, and after the seven were selected, the Apostles laid their hands on them and prayed for them.

We also have another example found in Acts 13:1-4 where the Holy Spirit directed the church at Antioch to appoint Paul and Barnabas for a specific work. The work is not named, but it becomes evident that the work was gospel ministry for they depart and begin to share the gospel in various cities.

4. To receive a specific gift from the Holy Spirit
From texts like 1 Timothy 4:14 and 2 Timothy 1:6 we can see incidents where elders laid their hands on a Christian in order to receive a gift(s). Timothy is reminded not to neglect his gift which was given to him after prophecy and the laying on of hands.

5. To receive the Holy Spirit
In at least two events the laying on of hands resulted in believers receiving the Holy Spirit. In Acts 8:14-17, we are told that Samaria had received the word of God. So Peter and John were dispatched to the region. Peter and John found believers there who had been baptized, but they had not received the Holy Spirit so they laid their hands on them and the Samaritans received the Holy Spirit.

In Acts 19, Paul finds some disciples (of Christ?). Upon his investigation he learns that none of them have received the Holy Spirit and they have only received the baptism of John. They were baptized into Jesus' baptism and Paul laid his hands on them and prayed for them. After this they received the Holy Spirit.

This last category is the most perplexing. Why did the Samaritans not receive the Holy Spirit at conversion? The second act could be interpreted that these individuals were disciples of John and not Jesus. Perhaps the answer to the Samaritan question was that God wanted the Apostles to see the the advance of the gospel firsthand and see the power of the Holy Spirit coming upon them firsthand considering the strained relations these people groups had.

Then there is the question: why was it visibly apparent in Apostolic times when someone received the Holy Spirit (Acts 2, Acts 8, Acts 19)? The answer of many charismatic groups that it is still apparent through the speaking of tongues at the second blessing is surely false because Scripture makes clear that everyone does not receive tongues (1 Cor 12). The answer here will again only be speculation.

Going back to the original question...

Upon investigation the answer is: we do not lay hands on someone when he or she is saved with regularity because it is not commanded in Scripture. Baptism is commanded. Communion is commanded. The Laying on of hands is not commanded.

The only specific instruction that I could find given in Scripture concerning the laying on of hands is given to Timothy (1 Timothy 5:22) when Paul instructs him not to hastily lay hands on others.

My investigation leads me to believe that God permits freedom for churches to practice this in diverse ways. Since Jesus, the Apostles, elders, and churches practiced the laying on of hands, surely churches today should as well. Leaning upon the examples we have in the Bible, churches should institute this practice with more regularity where appropriate.

1 comment:

Samantha RSA said...

thank you so much for your insight! i really benefitted from this blog. I also want to share an article about the laying on of hands that i found very powerful.
I agree that this is a topic that is sadly under dealt with. Especially since it is one of the foundation topics mentioned in Hebrews 6.