To someone in the world, "laying on of hands" conjures up thoughts like, "I'd like to get my hands on him for the way he cheated me!" or, "Just wait ‘til I get my hands on him!" In sharp contrast, God's use of the laying on of hands symbolizes the bestowal of blessings, authority and distinctiveness. It is a symbolic act designed to represent God Himself setting a person apart for a holy use, whether for service, healing, protection and guidance or blessing. This Bible study will analyze the fifth basic doctrine of God's church listed in Hebrews 6:2, "laying on of hands."
1. In the Old Testament did the laying on of hands play a part in offering sacrifices? Exodus 29:10; Leviticus 1:4; 3:2, 8, 13; 4:15.
Comment: The Aaronic priests were purified for service to God through the transferal of their sins to a bull. Similarly, when an Israelite presented a peace or a sin offering, he laid his hands upon the animal being offered, identifying himself with it and transferring his guilt to the animal. Thus, the animal was set apart by God through the laying on of hands.
2. Why did the high priest lay hands on the azazel goat on the Day of Atonement? Leviticus 16:7-10, 21-22.
Comment: The two goats together were a sin offering (Leviticus 16:5). The first goat’s blood was used to cleanse the incense altar and the Holy Place, and allow entrance into the Holy of Holies. The high priest then laid his hands upon the azazel goat's head, confessing the sins of the people, to show a symbolic substitution as the goat became a representation of sin. The goat, now bearing those sins, was led into the wilderness. In the same way, God laid our iniquities on Jesus Christ and He bore them (Isaiah 53:6, 11-12; I Peter 2:24; Hebrews 9:28; II Corinthians 5:21).
3. Was the laying on of hands used in Old Testament ordinations? Numbers 8:10; 27:16-23; Deuteronomy 34:9.
Comment: Moses laid his hands upon Joshua, signifying the transferal of some of his authority to lead the nation. This rite of ordination was always accompanied by a special commission and the giving of special authority.
4. Was laying on of hands used in passing judgment? Exodus 7:4; Leviticus 24:14; Deuteronomy 13:6-10. Was it used when sparing someone from judgment? Genesis 22:12; Exodus 24:9-11.
Comment: God laid His hands on Egypt in divine judgment by sending plagues. When trying a blasphemer, each witness placed his hands upon the guilty person to signify his acceptance of the verdict. Conversely, when a victim was spared death—as when God commanded Abraham not to sacrifice Isaac or when He allowed the leaders of Israel to see Him without dying—mercy is described as hands not being laid on the spared victim.
5. Were special blessings conferred by the laying on of hands? Genesis 48:12-20; Psalm 139:4-6; Mark 10:13-16; Luke 18:15-17.
Comment: Jacob laid his hands on his grandsons' heads to confer God's blessing upon them. David considered God's hand upon him as a blessing and comfort. Jesus blessed little children by laying His hands on them.
6. Does the Bible sanction the laying on of hands for healing? Matthew 9:18-30; Mark 6:5; 16:17-18; Luke 4:40; 13:10-13; Acts 5:12; 28:8; James 5:14-15.
Comment: Jesus and His apostles touched the sick when they healed, yet miracles often occurred without this physical act. The miraculous power to heal derives from God's authority, not from the physical touch of the hands.
7. Are special spiritual gifts given through the laying on of hands? Acts 9:17; 19:6; I Timothy 4:14; II Timothy 1:6-7.
Comment: Usually, the Holy Spirit was given by the laying on of an elder's hands, confirming baptism. However, Acts 8:14-17 says that the Samaritans received the Holy Spirit after baptism, while Acts 10:44-48 says that it fell upon Cornelius' household before baptism. Sometimes God makes exceptions to work out His own will and plan.
Timothy received special spiritual gifts from the hands of the elders, including the gifts of wisdom and teaching. Paul reminded him that ordination bestowed such gifts upon him and that he needed to stir up God's Spirit to use them.
8. Is this rite used to set people apart for special tasks? Acts 6:3-6; 13:2-3; I Timothy 5:22.
Comment: As in these examples, the laying on of hands is part of a formal ceremony by which the church commissions selected people into their new service. Paul advises that this should take place only after the entire matter is properly and prayerfully considered.
Laying on of hands, performed by ordained elders of the church during prayer, signifies an ordination or setting apart. The church, following biblical precedent, uses the laying on of hands for requesting the Holy Spirit after baptism, anointing the sick, ordaining ministers, consecrating marriage vows, blessing little children and requesting special gifts of God.