Laying of hands

Bible Issues

In many churches today, people horde to the altars not to repent of their sins or cry out to God, but to seek the hand of the power evangelist or "anointed" man of God. Their hope is that he would lay hands on them and their problems would all go away – they would be healed, made financially prosperous, get some anointing, get whatever gift he has transferred to them. First we will look at the various purposes of laying on of hands, then we will examine whether there is a scriptural case for any transference of spirit or anointing or blessing when hands are laid.

The Biblical Practice of Laying of Hands

Invoking of Blessings

The laying of hands was a custom of the Jews that dated back to Genesis. Jacob laid hands on his children and pronounced various blessings on them (Gen. 48:17). Laying of hands was done to invoke blessings on someone. Even in the NT, Jesus laid hands on children to show His approval of them (Mt. 19:15).

OT Sacrifices

The practice later became authorized under the Law. In the OT sacrificial system, the priest would lay his hands on the animal being sacrificed, symbolically to transfer the sins of the people to the animal (scapegoat) (Lev. 16:21). There was no physical or spiritual transfer of sin, it was purely symbolic. Surely this is not needed today. The true fulfillment of the OT sacrifices of course was Christ’s atonement.

Healing

There are many NT examples of Jesus and the apostles laying hands on people for healing. Actually the fact that people requested Jesus to lay hands on them suggested that this was the traditionally accepted means of imparting healing. But does that apply to us today? The disputed Mark 16:18 states that all believers could lay hands on the sick for healing. Also in James 5:14, we are to call for the elders who would pray for us anointing us with oil. It is hard to anoint someone with oil without touching them (laying hands). Surely it is not wrong to lay hands on someone while praying for their healing, is it? But point of contact is not needed for healing to take place. It is God who heals even without human contact. To suggest that contact is needed to transfer the healing  power is absurd at best.

Imparting the Holy Spirit

There were times when laying of hands was the means by which God gave to people the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:17; 9:17; 19:6). It was by no means the only means (Acts 10:44). So the laying of hands was not always necessary for the impartation of the Holy Spirit. In any case there is no transfer of the Holy Spirit from person to person, since it is God who freely gives of His Spirit (Luke 11:12). No man has any monopoly on God the Spirit.

Commissioning

In Acts 13:3 Paul and Barnabas were commissioned by prophecy and the laying on of hands. Paul called it the right hand of fellowship (Gal. 2:9). It was a sanction of approval. Through the laying of hands Timothy received “the gift”. This most likely refers to one of the gifts of the Spirit associated with his calling. Comparing 1 Tim. 1:18; 4:14 and 2 Tim. 1:6, Timothy received the gift by prophesy and the laying on the Paul’s hands. Later on the elders also laid hands on him. There was no transfer from Paul to Timothy since God gives gifts as He pleases (1 Cor. 12:11). What most likely happened is that Timothy received his commission together with the prophecy and the laying on of Paul’s hands. This was very much how Paul received his calling. God gave him the gift, but through prophesy he came to know when it was time for him to fulfill his call, and through the laying on of hands, he received the sanction of the relevant authorities.

Transference of spirits?

Now let us examine whether there is a scriptural precedent for the concept of "impartation" - where the Holy Spirit or the anointing is transferred from one person to another. Some people claim it is like a dead battery being charged by a live one. To reinforce this belief, it is observed that when hands are laid on people, some people jump, oscillate, vibrate, buckle, fall and roll. So they this confirms to them that something was transferred. Let's look at what the Bible teaches.

The Seventy Elders

God took of the spirit that was on Moses and placed some on the 70 elders. It does appear to signify some sort of transference. But it must be noted that in this instance, Moses laid hands on no one. It was purely an act of God to sanction and anoint these 70 men to help Moses. Secondly 2 elders who were not even invited to the Tent of Meeting also received of the Spirit. God freely gives His Spirit and he uses different means to do it. Sometimes God uses the laying on of hands, sometimes He uses other means. In all cases, the transfer is not from person to person, but from God to person.

Joshua

According to the KJV, when Moses laid hands on Joshua, some of his ‘honour’ came upon him. The NIV uses the word “authority”. The purpose of this is outlined in verse 20 - so the children of Israel would be obedient. See also Deut. 34:9. Moses commissioned Joshua. This was God’s means of sanctioning him and letting the people know that God’s authority rested on him to lead them. There was no transference of anything, just a commissioning.

Woman with an Issue of Blood

Virtue went out of Jesus when a woman touched his garment. It is clear that power was transferred from Jesus to heal the woman. This is not at all difficult to understand since Jesus is God. However this text is used to “prove” that the anointing is transferable to clothing and other objects. Consequently I have friends who have prayer cloths and sacred oils from TV ministries that were supposedly anointed by the TV evangelist. Is this scripture or superstition?

The reason the gospels were written was to present Jesus as being distinct from any other person, not to set a precedent for all men. It does not mean that we can transfer the anointing to physical objects. In Acts 19:12, Paul’s handkerchiefs were used to heal people. But the Bible specifically calls it special or extraordinary miracles. Since when is the extraordinary the norm? It would be interesting to see the results of those ministries which use prayer cloths and other such gimmicks. Once in every thousand cases, they produce a positive testimony which could very well have been attributed to some other cause than any miracle. I believe we fabricate too many miracles. God does not need our help.

Some people even take this “transference of spirit” to the other extreme. They are very careful of whom they allow to lay hands on them, since whatever spirit that person has might come upon them. This is such garbage. This belief betrays an utter lack of confidence in the God they serve. The Greater One is in me than the one in the world, no demon could come on me by accident. I am a son of God, not a son of Sceva (Acts 19:14).

The Appointing of Deacons

When the apostles had to appoint deacons to help with church affairs, they looked for people full of the Holy Spirit among other things. Then they laid hands on them. Did you note the order in which this happened? In this case, the laying on of hands was not for the purpose of transferring the anointing or the Holy Spirit. These men were already filled with the Spirit. The laying of hands was only for the purpose of commissioning them.

Conclusion

There is no doubt that God works through people. He worked through Moses to commission Joshua and the other elders. God worked through Paul to commission Timothy. However that person plays the role of a conduit. When people claim that the spirit or the anointing can be transferred from them to others, they are usurping the place of God. They are claiming to be more like a reservoir than a pipe. No human being is a source of the anointing. No human has any control over God the Spirit. Any anointing comes directly from God. He uses human authority symbolically. For example when Paul laid hands on Timothy, he was merely commissioning him. Paul's authority would have made it clear to all that they should now recognize Timothy as a man of God. The same was true of Moses/Joshua. Laying of hands was more of a symbolic gesture than a means of tranference.

Laying of hands can still be used when praying for healing, praying for people to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, and for commissioning of ministers. But the scriptures do not teach anything about transference of spirit or anointing, and laying of hands was never used for such purposes in the Bible.

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© 2001 Denver Cheddie

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