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This rite is often traced back in the NT to Acts 8:14-17; 19:1-7. On both occasions, in Samaria and in Ephesus, the action of manual imposition is associated with baptism and the gift of the Holy Spirit; but in neither case is a second stage of Christian experience, separate from commitment to Christ in baptism, implied. And even if it were, this would not add up to confirmation as we now know it. It is impossible, in fact, to deduce from the laying on of hands in Acts 8 or 19, or anywhere else in the NT, a clear precedent for the later rite of confirmation.

This first appears distinguished from baptism in the third century. From the third to the fifth centuries a complex initiation rite was practised by the church, which included baptism followed by the laying on of hands, or anointing with oil, or both. Gradually, by the twelfth century, confirmation was separated from baptism as a “sacrament” in its own right. It is still such in the Roman Catholic Church. At the Reformation the practice of confirmation continued, but it was associated less directly than in the patristic and medieval periods with the gift of the Spirit.

Confirmation, as Anglican prayer book reformers now insist, has greatest meaning when it is associated with (infant) baptism.* Then it can be regarded as primarily an opportunity to assume personal responsibility for baptismal vows; and this may have been the view taken of it in the early church. In any case, as in current Baptist teaching, such a rite (whether or not it is called “confirmation”) denotes reception into full church membership, with or without the imposition of episcopal hands. The theology of confirmation, however, and the nature of the gift (if any) it confers, is disputed. Those who associate the rite with the reception of the Spirit see it as in this sense the completion of baptism.

G.C. Richards, Baptism and Confirmation (1942); G. Dix, The Theology of Confirmation in Relation to Baptism (1946); L.S. Thornton, Confirmation: Its Place in the Baptismal Mystery (1954); J. Hickinbotham et al., articles on confirmation from the Islington Clerical Conference of 1963, in The Churchman, LXXVII (1963), pp. 84ff.; G.W.H. Lampe, The Seal of the Spirit (2nd ed., 1967).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

See Laying on of Hands.