The doctrine of the laying on of hands is the fourth principle in the foundations of the Christian faith. Laying on of hands is an act in which one person places his hands on the body of another person with a definite spiritual purpose, and is usually accompanied by prayer or prophecy.
Laying on of hands in the Old Testament was used for many different purposes such as the transference of spiritual blessing or authority, [Transference means that something spiritual flows from the one laying on hands to the one he is touching.] For example, laying on of hands was used on the Levites who were ordained by God to serve the congregation of Israel as spiritual leaders. In this position they represented the people before God.
The laying on of hands was confirmation by the people of the Levite's authority before God. You are to bring the Levites before the LORD, and the Israelites are to lay their hands on them. (Numbers 8:10)
As Moses approached the end of his earthly ministry, he asked the Lord to appoint a new leader over Israel. Laying on of hands was used as a sign of that change of leadership. So the LORD said to Moses, “Take Joshua son of Nun, a man in whom is the spirit of leadership, and lay your hand on him. Have him stand before Eleazar the priest and the entire assembly and commission him in their presence. Give him some of your authority so the whole Israelite community will obey him. (Numbers 27:18-19) Moses did as the LORD commanded him.
He took Joshua and had him stand before Eleazar the priest and the whole assembly, and laid his hands on him and commissioned him, as the LORD instructed him. The results that this laying on of hands produced in Joshua are recorded in Deuteronomy. Now Joshua son of Nun was filled with the spirit of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands on him. So the Israelites listened to him and did what the LORD had commanded Moses. (Deuteronomy 34:9) Moses laying hands on Joshua was important both for Joshua and for the whole congregation of Israel. By this act, Moses transferred to Joshua a measure of the wisdom and honour which he had received from God. Moses also confirmed to the people God's selection of Joshua as the new leader.
The New Testament records five general purposes for the laying on of hands. One is supernatural signs such as when Jesus practiced laying on of hands in His ministry. At sunset, the people brought to Jesus all who had various kinds of sickness, and laying his hands on each one, he healed them. (Luke 4:40)
In His final message to the disciples at the close of His earthly ministry, Jesus listed supernatural signs which were to accompany the preaching of the Gospel. And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well. (Mark 16:17-18) One of these supernatural signs was the laying on of hands through which God would heal the sick and perform other miracles. Mark 16:17-18 confirms that this practice was to continue after the end of Christ's earthly ministry.
The laying on of hands in the name of Jesus is used to minister physical healing to the sick. The person who lays his hands on one who is sick transfers the supernatural healing power of God. Sometimes the sick person actually feels the power of God in his body. At other times there is no feeling at all, but this does not mean healing will not occur. The laying on of hands is an act of faith and obedience to God's Word.
Sometimes complete healing is received instantly as soon as hands are laid on the sick and other times healing comes gradually. It is important to instruct those seeking healing concerning the importance of maintaining faith until their healing is complete.
The book of Acts records how God used the laying on of hands by believers to perform miraculous healings and other supernatural signs confirming His Word:
So Paul and Barnabas spent considerable time there, speaking boldly for the Lord, who confirmed the message of his grace by enabling them to perform signs and wonders. (Acts 14:3)
Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 9:17)
His father was sick in bed, suffering from fever and dysentery. Paul went in to see him and, after prayer, placed his hands on him and healed him. (Acts 28:8)
Another purpose of laying on of hands is for baptism in the Holy Spirit. You may remember us this from our discussion about baptisms. However laying on of hands is not the only way people receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit. In the upper room in Jerusalem and in the house of Cornelius people received the experience without anyone laying hands on them. But on the basis of these examples, it is Scriptural for those seeking baptism in the Holy Spirit to be ministered to through the laying on of hands.
Another purpose for the laying on of hands is to impart spiritual gifts. Paul wrote to Timothy, “Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through prophecy when the body of elders laid their hands on you.” (I Timothy 4:14) and again Paul refers again to Timothy's spiritual experience in II Timothy. 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. (II Timothy 1:6) Laying on of hands was combined with the gift of prophecy to direct, encourage, and strengthen Timothy to fulfill his God-given ministry.
Another purpose for laying on of hands is to commission Christian workers. "Commission" means to authorize, delegate, or send on a mission. As spiritual leaders were waiting before the Lord in Antioch they laid hands on Saul and Barnabas to commission them for the work ahead.
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.” So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off. The two of them, sent on their way by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia and sailed from there to Cyprus. (Acts 13:2-4)
The Bible indicates God had already spoken privately to Paul and Barnabas about the work He wanted them to do before He spoke publicly to the church leaders. The public revelation was a confirmation of the call they already had received. They took time for fasting and prayer, and then once the church leaders had laid on of hands on them they were sent forth.
It is not Scriptural to baptize infants, as they cannot repent or believe which are the requirements for baptism. I’m not saying it’s ‘wrong’, just that it’s not Scriptural, but through the laying on of hands, infants can be dedicated and committed to God's protection, guidance, and blessing. And He took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them. (Mark 10:16)
The New Testament provides a word of caution regarding laying on of hands. Do not be in a hurry in the laying on of hands. (I Timothy 5:22,The Amplified Bible) Because an act of spiritual transference occurs when you lay hands on someone or they lay hands on you, it is wise to be cautious in using this practice. If the person laying on hands is not spiritually qualified, the practice is not effective. The Bible is specific about who is qualified to lay hands on another to impart spiritual benefit. Believers for example, may lay hands on others.
And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.” (Mark 16:17-18)
We discussed what makes a person qualified when we looked at the principles of repentance from dead works and faith toward God. Pastors and Elder of the church may also lay on hands. The high standards set for Pastors and Elders, are recorded in I Timothy3:1-7 and Titus 1:6-9. The five purposes for the laying on of hands in the New Testament are:
-Baptism of the Holy Spirit
-Imparting spiritual gifts
-Commissioning Christian workers
-Dedication of infants
Jesus indicated the practice of laying on of hands was to be part of the ministry of the Church making the understanding and using of laying on hands very important. The laying on of hands is a spiritual practice missing in many churches today, but consider the impact on the spread of the Gospel if every believer was effective in the laying on of hands for healing and miracles. And consider the impact on the spread of the Gospel if spiritual gifts were being imparted and Christian workers commissioned on a regular basis through laying on of hands.