The Good News, January 1983
The doctrine of the “laying on of hands” is of critical importance to real Christians. It is through this ceremony that God imparts His Holy Spirit to those truly called, repentant and in the process of dedicating their lives to God’s service.
In the Bible, this ceremony was used in a wide variety of circumstances. It was generally performed by an individual ordained or commissioned by God.
The ceremony centered around God’s servant praying aloud as he placed his hands on the recipient of his petitions. It was a formal request to God, usually for a specific blessing, gift or authority, as in an ordination. It was usually a simple, short ceremony, but filled with meaning.
One of the earliest recorded biblical examples of this doctrine is found in Exodus 29. The occasion was an ordination ceremony. Interestingly enough, hands were laid on animals by the persons being ordained.
In Exodus 28:1 God commanded Moses to set apart Aaron and Aaron’s four sons to be priests.
In Exodus 29:10-11 we read: “You shall also have the bull brought before the tabernacle of meeting, and Aaron and his sons shall put their hands on the head of the bull. Then you shall kill the bull before the Lord, by the door of the tabernacle of meeting.” Verses 15-20 state that they were to do likewise with the two rams.
Why did they do this? Aaron and his sons were commanded to lay their hands on the animals’ heads to symbolize their sins, their guilt being transferred to the animals, which then suffered the penalty of sin Aaron and his sons should have received — death.
Of course, this all had symbolic meaning, since only Christ’s blood really atoned for sin.
The laying on of hands in this example symbolized the cleansing and purifying of the priests through the transferal of their sins to the animals. The laying on of hands often symbolizes a transfer, transmittal or granting of special gifts, blessings or authority — elements that are literally priceless — things that are only God’s to give.
“And you shall bring the Levites before the tabernacle of meeting, and you shall gather together the whole assembly of the children of Israel. So you shall bring the Levites before the Lord, and the children of Israel shall lay their hands on the Levites; and Aaron shall offer the Levites before the Lord, as though a wave offering from the children of Israel, that they may perform the work of the Lord….
“Thus you shall separate the Levites from among the children of Israel, and the Levites shall be Mine. After that the Levites shall go in to service the tabernacle of meeting” (Num. 8:9-11, 14-15).
Of course, the leaders’ hands had no magical or mystical qualities. They merely symbolized and formally emphasized that God, not man, gave them authority and set them apart for a particular job.
The Worldwide Church of God practices this doctrine today in ordaining qualified men to be deacons and ministers, and qualified women to be deaconesses.
Notice the New Testament example of ordaining deacons. The 12 apostles had been presented with seven men who were to be deacons, “whom they set before the apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid hands on them” (Acts 6:6).
Acts 13:2-3 records the ordinations of Barnabas and Paul: “As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away.”
Receiving the Holy Spirit
Christ gave the ministers of His Church the authority to baptize those who have truly repented of their sins. Along with the physical act of baptism is promised the Holy Spirit through the laying on of hands.
Notice the example in Acts 8. Philip went to the city of Samaria to preach the Gospel. Many believed and were baptized. When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that the Gospel had been preached at Samaria, they sent Peter and John, “who, when they had come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. For as yet He had fallen upon none of them. They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit” (verses 15-17).
Notice: These disciples had been baptized days or even weeks before and had not received the Holy Spirit. God withheld it until Peter and John laid hands on them. God respected the order and authority He vested in His ministers. He granted His Spirit when they laid hands on them. For more information, write for our free reprint, “How You Can Be Imbued With the Power of God.”
The ceremony of laying on of hands is also used in cases of healing. Christ set the example: “Now when the sun was setting, all those who had anyone sick with various diseases brought them to Him; and He laid His hands on every one of them and healed them” (Luke 4:40).
Mark 6:4-5 relates another example. When Christ came to His own community, He found such little faith that He remarked: ” ‘A prophet is not without honor except in his own country, among his own relatives, and in his own house.’ Now He could do no mighty work there, except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them.”
Concerning His true ministers, Christ stated, “They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover” (Mark 16:18). While many professing Christians know nothing of God’s promise to heal, others make a public mockery and display of what they think is the healing power of God.
James 5:14 is a command from God to those who are sick: “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.”
No minister’s hands are special or holy. No olive oil has any mysterious power. It is God Himself who heals through His Holy Spirit, but He has prescribed a physical act for us to follow to show our faith and trust in Him and to show our acceptance of the authority He has placed with His servants.
The book of Genesis contains a moving example of the laying on of hands — the time when Jacob blessed his two grandsons. Jacob was an old man and knew his time was short. He asked his son Joseph to bring the two boys to him.
“Now the eyes of Israel were dim with age, so that he could not see. Then Joseph brought them near him, and he kissed them and embraced them. And Israel said to Joseph, ‘I had not thought to see your face; but in fact, God has also shown me your offspring!’
“So Joseph brought them from beside his knees, and he bowed down with his face to the earth. And Joseph took them both, Ephraim with his right hand toward Israel’s left hand, and Manasseh with his left hand toward Israel’s right hand, and brought them near him. Then Israel stretched out his right hand and laid it on Ephraim’s head, who was the younger, and his left hand on Manasseh’s head, guiding his hands knowingly, for Manasseh was the firstborn.
“And he blessed Joseph, and said: ‘God, before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, The God who has fed me all my life long to this day, The Angel who has redeemed me from all evil, Bless the lads; Let my name be named upon them, And the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; And let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth’ ” (Gen. 48:10-16).
The laying-on-of-hands ceremony is relevant to this society — to you and me! God is alive and actively dealing with mankind today through a group of human beings, a Church doing His Work. And He has provided in this day, as the Bible records He always has, spiritual guides, ministers, to represent Him, to oversee His Church. And He has given them jurisdiction to carry out their jobs.