Hebrews 6,1-3: Therefore, leaving the discussion of the rudiments concerning Christ, let us move along to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of immersion, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits.
According to the letter to Hebrew, teaching about laying on of hands belong to the very basics of Christian knowledge and faith. Because churches don't talk too much about this topic, neither do they teach about it, we'll have to look at what we can find out directly from the Bible. For gaining the complete view about the meaning of laying on of hands, we'll have a look at the old as well as the new testament.
When it comes to laying on of hands, in the Bible we first come across the story, where Israel (Jacob) blesses his two grandsons Efraim and Manases. You can find this story in the 48th chapter of the Book of Genesis. When Israel blessed his grandsons, he put his hands on each of their heads (Gen 48,14). He put his right hand on Efraim's head and his left on Manases's head. From Joseph's reaction (son of Israel), we can clearly see, that it was a custom to lay the right hand on the head of the first born, who was Manases. (Gen 48,17-19). Usually the bigger (2 times bigger) blessing was assigned to the first born, who was in the Bible also marked as “firstling of manhood” or “firstling of man's strength” (Gen 49,3; Deut 21,17). Blessing of God's servants, very often wasn't just a mere “Father's wish”, but also a prophetic declaration. Blessing followed by laying on of hands, was not a matter of the old testament only, but we can also see it done by Jesus Christ (Mark 10,16; Matt 19,13-15).
Offerings and Sanctification
The old testament ritual of “being cleansed of the sin” was placing a hand on the head of the animal, that was about to be sacrificed. By doing so, the sacrificer (man, who performed the sacrifice), placed his sins onto the animal, which was then killed. Like the apostle Paul wrote: the wage (or the price) sin pays is death” (Romans 6,23). In this “ritual” it's actually about substituting the death of a man, for the one of an animal, the foreshadowing of a perfect sacrifice of the God's Son Jesus Christ of Nazareth. The meaning of laying on of hands onto the animal's head in case of a sacrifice, clearly explains and shows the verse in Leviticus 1,4: And he shall put his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it will be accepted for him to make atonement for him.
In the old testament we can find the most informations about offerings for a sin, followed by laying on of hands in the Book of Leviticus, especially in 3., 4., 8. and 16th chapter. It's interesting that a little different bylaws were applied to anointed priests, rulers, community as a whole and for a regular people.
Similar system was used for cleansing and sanctification of Levi nation (Num 8,6-22) and priests for ministration (Exodus - chapter 29, Leviticus - chapter 8). In Aaron's case and the case of his sons, it was followed by anointment or by sprinkling with a sacred oil.
In the case someone cursed God, or was guilty of a blasphemy against His name, he was then to be taken out of the camp and everyone, who heard him, were to lay there hands on his head and all the congregation shall stone him (Lev 24,11-16).
We're able to find cases of assignment for a certain service followed by laying on of hands, also in the new testament for example Acts 13,2-4 or Acts 6,6.
Transferring of the Holy Spirit and other gifts
By laying on of hands, it is also possible to give for example a Holy Spirit or some concrete God's gift. We can find the first example of such situation in Numeri 27,18-23. It's a story about Joshua, follower of Moses. We can read the result in the 5th book of Moses - Deuteronomy 34,9: And Joshua the son of Nun was full of the Spirit of wisdom, for Moses had laid his hands on him; so the children of Israel heeded him, and did as Jehovah had commanded Moses. Bible tells about Joshua's wisdom and authority in a direct connection with Moses's laying both of his hands on Joshua's head (at God's command).
We can see from the Scriptures, that laying on of hands was a common practice of the first apostles, as well as other followers of Jesus. This way people were usually immersed (babtised) into the Holly Spirit or got some gift of the Holly Spirit. Let's have a look at some examples. 2Tim 1,6; 1Tim 4,14; Acts 8,14-17; Acts 19,1-7.
Other, very common reason for laying on of hands, is healing of the sick. We can actually read about this practices in the new testament only. We can find the biggest ministry of healing and deliverance (casting out demons) in the Bible performed by the Lord Jesus Christ, who was empowered and authorized to do this by God. (Isa 61,1; Luke 4,18-21; Acts 10,38; Matt 4,23; Matt 9,35; Luke 4,40; Luke 5,17; Luke 6,19; Luke 9,11 ...).
Lord Jesus did not only heal by laying his hands. Sometimes he laid his hands on the sick, other times, he just ordered to those, who asked him to be healed, he said it should be done to them, according to their faith and so forth. It's important for us, that after that, he firstly gave this power to heal and cast out demons to the 12 apostles. (Matt 10,1-8; Luke 9,1-2; Mark 6,7-13). Later to another 70 (Luke 10,1-9), and in the end, he said, that the healing of the sick by laying on of hands will be a sign, that will appear among those, who'll believe. (Mark 16, 17-18). In the Holy Scriptures we can read, that among the apostles laying on of hands as a purpose to heal was very often accompanied by anointing with oil (Mark 6,13). And the same command we can see in the Holy Scriptures concerning the way, that people should be healed in these days (Jas 5,14-16).
Dangers concerning laying on of hands
The Bible doesn't say much about this topic. Only Paul warns Timothy, not to lay his hands hastily onto someone. (1Tim 5,22: Do not lay hands on anyone hastily, nor share in other people's sins; keep yourself pure.). Because of the fact, that the original greek text is without markings of the beginnings and endings of the sentences, accents, question marks etc., we don't know, whether the “Do not have a share in wrongdoings of others”. does not belong to the part of the warning, that Timothy shouldn't be too eager, to lay his hands on anybody. However it is obvious, that laying on of hands also has its rules for God's servants. We could see in many cases, that laying on of hands for a purpose of giving a certain gift or assigning for a certain service, was performed at the command of the Holy Spirit or the God Himself. Paul's warning can be connected to the fact, that the person who hasn't gone through any trial or who is the newly converted believer, can be full of pride and a certain “big service“ can more likely destroy him. (1Tim - chapter 3).
There is another danger, that is not mentioned in the Bible. It is a fact, that the same way, as the Holy Spirit can be given by laying on of hands, it is possible to pass an unclean spirit (a demon) onto somebody. If somebody tells you, he's got a gift from God, to heal people, and he's not a God's servant and follower of Jesus Christ, you can be sure, he doesn't have his power from the one True God (John 17,3; 1Cor 8,5-6) or Jesus Christ, but there is an unclean spirit performing through him. When you visit a healer who heals by some kind of “an energy” you will undergo “an energetic massage “ and so forth, there is a big chance, you'll leave the place with some unclean spirit as “a bonus”, which will be gradually ruining your life. The problem is, that you can find people, who are whether consciously or unconsciously serving the bad one, also in the churches, and that's why I urgently warn you: ”Do not let lay hands on yourself by someone, you don't know really well, or someone you don't trust!“
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