The Foundation Principles

7. The laying on of hands


This teaching is found in both the Old and New Testaments. It is part of the foundation principles. Its ministry within the church is far more than mere ceremony and form and requires that all who move in this service should fully understand the realities which are involved. In the church the laying on of hands is always to be considered as an act which involves some spiritual purpose. In the Biblical record the act of laying on hands involves three areas of function …
i. Identification.
ii. Impartation.
iii. Confirmation.

Exhortation and Warning

This ministry is of divine character. It is a vital ministry and part of the mystery of Christ in His church. It is not to be taken lightly.

1 Tim 5:22 (NIV) Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, and do not share in the sins of others. Keep yourself pure.

There has been much trouble in the church through the misuse of this ministry. There is a definite impartation in the ministry of laying on of hands and the persons involved must be clean.

1 Tim 2:8 (NIV) I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing.

All who minister must wash their hands (service.) and their feet (walk.) before ministry.


This practise of laying on hands was an established one in the early days of Israel. One example is found in Genesis.

Gen 48:14 (NIV) But Israel reached out his right hand and put it on Ephraim’s head, though he was the younger, and crossing his arms, he put his left hand on Manasseh’s head, even though Manasseh was the firstborn.

Another example of impartation is seen in

Num 27:23 (NIV) Then he laid his hands on him and commissioned him, as the LORD instructed through Moses.

Other examples may be found but in general they point to the use of this ministry to appoint leaders and empower them with divine wisdom and strength for a special purpose ordained by God. In addition a special case occurs where the offering up of sacrifices was involved. Priests and supplicants had need to lay on hands that sins might be imparted to the sacrificial animal. Thus the innocent became the guilty one and died for the sin.

Lev 1:4 (NIV) He is to lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it will be accepted on his behalf to make atonement for him.


a. Laying Hands upon the Sick.

Mark 1:31 (NIV) So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them.
Mark 6:2-5 (NIV) 5 He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them.
Mark 7:31-37 (NIV) 32 There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged him to place his hand on the man. 33 After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue. 34 He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!” (which means, “Be opened!”). 35 At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly.

Here Jesus gave example of identification (with the sick) and impartation of, (in this case) life and healing. Notice particularly:

Luke 8:46 (NIV) But Jesus said, “Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from me.”

Power … i.e. spiritual virtue went out from Him. So it is with us. Spiritual virtue must be present. This service was passed on to the believer-priest by Jesus.

Mark 16:18 (NIV) they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.”

But later a different ordinance is introduced concerning the sick .

James 5:14-15 (NIV) Is any one of you (any church member!) sick? He should call the elders (more than one.) of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven.(by the Lord not by the minister)

The implications are clear. Christian believers should always be members of a local church and be able to call upon the Elders (n.b. plural.) that they might pray and anoint them when necessary. The believer must ask, and the Elders should be available at all times. The laying on of hands is involved as this is taught in the Mark 16 Scripture above. The idea of healing by the laying on of hands is linked to evangelism as a sign which will follow the preaching of the Word. We should note that the phrase used at the end of Mark 16:18 is ‘ they will get well ‘ There is no note on how, or how long before that healing will occur.

While miracles, wonders and mighty experiences of the power of God in us can happen during ‘hands’ ministry we must always remember that laying on of hands is an act of obedient faith and there may be no manifestation or sign given at the time. Nevertheless faith says healing will follow.

b. Impartation of the Holy Spirit.

While the Holy Spirit may at any time be poured out upon those who seek to receive; there are records which show that the Lord chooses on occasion to impart the Holy Spirit through the ministry of a believer.

The Samaritan believers: Acts 8:14-25 (NIV) When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. 15 When they arrived, they prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16 because the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them; they had simply been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. 18 When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money 19 and said, “Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”

Saul: Acts 9:17 (NIV) Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”

The Ephesian disciples: Acts 19:1-7 (NIV) While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples 2 and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” 3 So Paul asked, “Then what baptism did you receive?” “John’s baptism,” they replied. 4 Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” 5 On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. 7

Note that Ananius the person who ministered to Saul (Paul) was a disciple. i.e. one of the many believers of that day. There is no record of him being a special officer or elder of the church. Exercise of supernatural sign ministries is for “them that believe ” not for any special class of believers e.g. apostles, or bishops etc.

c. Impartation of Spiritual Gifts.

The Gifts of the Holy Spirit are imparted sovereignly as He wills, yet it pleases God to use the ministry of the laying on of hands to impart gifts through the ministry of His servants.

1 Cor 12:11 (NIV) All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.

Examples are found in:

Acts 19:1-7 (NIV) 6 When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. 7 There were about twelve men in all.
1 Tim 4:14 (NIV) Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you.
Rom 1:11 (NIV) I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong—

d. To commission ministries.

Occasions occur where workers are sent forth from the local church to fulfil some calling which has been made known to them by them Holy Spirit. These times are often marked by the laying on of hands and commissioning by the presbytery.

Acts 13:3 (NIV) So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.

In this act the local Elders claim for those sent the empowerment of God for the work and signify their public acknowledgment of the calling.

e. To appoint to particular service.

An example is seen in the appointment of those who have come to be known in these times as Deacons.

Acts 6:1-7 (NIV) In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. 2 So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. 3 Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them 4 and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.” 5 This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. 6 They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.

This kind of appointment by the laying on of hands might well apply to any who serve in the temporal needs of the local church. To care for the physical needs of the church is more than just a task. It is a spiritual ministry and those who are so called are set in place by prayer and the laying on of hands.

f. To ordain to a particular ministry:

This involves all three of our original criteria. Those who are ministering identify with the one being ordained. They impart some of their own spiritual grace and wisdom and they confirm the person into the ministry to which they have been called.

Titus 1:5 (NIV) The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you.