Since my review of the chapter “Laying on of Hands” in Watchman Nee’s book Assembling Together generated some interest, and since admittedly I know little about this practice in the New Testament, I thought I would examine the passages where we see this. There will be very little analysis in this post. First, before we make any decisions about laying on of hands, we should look at the activity in Scripture:
And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them. (Acts 6:5-6)
Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit. Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, saying, “Give me this power also, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money!” (Acts 8:14-20)
Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” (Acts 9:10-12 ESV)
So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; and taking food, he was strengthened. For some days he was with the disciples at Damascus. (Acts 9:17-19 ESV)
Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. 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.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off. So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus. (Acts 13:1-4 ESV)
And it happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the inland country and came to Ephesus. There he found some disciples. And he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, “Into John’s baptism.” And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying. (Acts 19:1-6 ESV)
It happened that the father of Publius lay sick with fever and dysentery. And Paul visited him and prayed, and putting his hands on him healed him. (Acts 28:9 ESV)
Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you, which was bestowed on you through prophetic utterance with the laying on of hands by the presbytery. (1 Timothy 4:14 ESV)
Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, nor take part in the sins of others; keep yourself pure. (1 Timothy 5:22 ESV)
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, or God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. (1 Timothy 1:6-7 ESV)
Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. (Hebrews 6:1-2 ESV)
These are all the passages that I could find in Scripture that deal with the laying on of hands. There are a couple of other passages, but they seem to use the phrase “laying on of hands” in a different way: i.e. to lay hold of someone in order to arrest them.
There are several interesting things about this list from Scripture. First, “laying on of hands” is only mentioned in three books: Acts, 1 Timothy, and Hebrews. This certainly does not mean that the topic is unimportant; but, it is an interesting observation to me. Second, everything that seems to be “caused” by the laying on of hands is mentioned elsewhere in Scripture without mention of the laying on of hands. This makes it difficult for me to say that something “always” happens through the laying on of hands, or that something “never” happens without the laying on of hands.
So, what do we see associated with the laying on of hands, at least on occasion?
1. Setting apart for service.
2. Receiving the Holy Spirit.
4. Spiritual gifts.
Also, I do not see a command to “lay hands on” people, such that we see with making disciples, or baptism or sharing the Lord’s Supper or many other activities.
What would you add about “laying on of hands” from these passages of Scripture?