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Imposition of (Laying on of) Hands

See also Laying on of Hands

HANDS, IMPOSITION OF (LAYING ON OF). A ceremony of ancient origin with different meanings, depending upon its occurrence in various Scriptural contexts.

In relation to sacrificial procedures.

In relation to punishment.

A blasphemer had the hands of witnesses laid on him before being taken away to be stoned (Lev 24:14).

In association with blessing.

Jacob blessed the children of Joseph in this way (Gen 48:14), as Christ also blessed the children (Matt 19:15; Mark 10:13, 16). The invoking of a benediction upon a group involved outstretched arms, such as the priestly benedictions (Lev 9:22) or the occasion of Christ’s ascension (Luke 24:50).

In relation to healing.

Gift of the Spirit.

The imposition of hands also conveyed the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:18, 19; 19:6). The resultant manifestations of spiritual vitality were often of the external variety such as glossalalia. The denominations that justify their postbaptismal confirmation rites by reference to such passages (Heb 6:2), clearly misunderstand the significance of the practice in the early Apostolic age.

Ordination rites.

A special blessing was envisaged, as with the ordination of Joshua by Moses as his successor (Num 27:18, 23; Deut 34:9). At the ceremony, Joshua was commissioned to his new task, and was not given the gifts of leadership or wisdom, which he already possessed. In effect, his ordination attested to his special qualities of spirit, giving him formal authority to exercise the functions of leadership among the Israelites. The same principle applied to the Seven (Acts 6:6) and the commissioning of Paul and Barnabas (13:3). The imparting of a spiritual gift is implied by Paul (1 Tim 4:14; 2 Tim 1:6). Paul’s advice to Timothy involved the restoration of penitents to leadership (1 Tim 5:22).


F. J. Foakes-Jackson and K. Lake, The Beginnings of Christianity V (1933), 121-140; A. Ehrhardt, Journal of Ecclesiastical History, V (1954).