The Bible leaves us in NO DOUBT as to what THE LAYING ON OF HANDS is and how the true Church of God should employ it.
THE MOST basic doctrines of Christianity are listed in Hebrews 6:1 and 2 — repentance, baptism, faith, and the resurrection. Among them is THE LAYING ON OF HANDS. Yet you have probably never heard of the LAYING ON OF HANDS. Most so-called Christian churches seem oblivious to this basic Biblical teaching — and those who do recognize it, misunderstand, misapply, or misuse it.
Old Testament Examples
Back at the time that God was bringing the children of Israel out of Egypt, He instructed Aaron and his successors to lay their hands on certain of the sacrificial animals. This was done as a symbol of the figurative transfer of sin to the animal to be sacrificed. (See Lev. 8:14-23; Num. 8:10-14.) An excellent example is what took place on the Day of Atonement. "And Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat, and shall send him away by the hand of a fit man into the wilderness" (Lev. 16:21). Certainly Aaron didn't have a special set of hands — his were just like any other Israelite's. But this physical ceremony was commanded by God to make the physical, unconverted Israelites realize that their sins needed to be atoned for and ultimately placed on the head of the father of sin — Satan.
To Confer Blessings
In Genesis 48 is recorded Israel's (Jacob's) blessing on his two grand sons, Ephraim and Manasseh. "And Israel stretched out his right hand, and laid it upon Ephraim's head, who was the younger, and his left hand upon Manasseh's head, guiding his hands wittingly; for Manasseh was the firstborn" (verse 14). Joseph, the boys' father, objected to Jacob's putting his right hand on the second born, but Jacob refused to change the position of his hands: "I know it, my son, I know it: he (Manasseh) also shall become a people, and he also shall be great: but truly his younger brother (Ephraim) shall be greater than he, and his seed shall become a multitude of nations (verse 19). Jacob's hands certainly didn't make Ephraim and Manasseh become the great peoples they are today — the power of Almighty God did that. But God used the physical symbols of Jacob's right and left hands to be a visible sign of the blessings He was to grant those two boys and their descendants.
Some might reason, "Sure, God used physical symbols and ceremony in the Old Testament, but we worship God in 'spirit and in truth'; we don't need physical symbols." Note the example of Jesus Christ Himself. He conveyed a blessing to small boys and girls by laying hands on them. "Then were there brought unto him little children, that he should put his hands on them, and pray 19:13 and 15). Christ's physical hands didn't do anything for those children. Only God, through the power of His Holy Spirit and through His angels, can bless and protect us; but the point is, our Lord and Master used a physical LAYING ON OF HANDS as He prayed to God for a blessing on those small children. He didn't limit this simple physical act to the unconverted people of the Old Testament. He used it as a symbol of authority to ask for a blessing on the children, and He set an example for His true Church to follow.
To Give Authority
God has also willed that THE LAYING ON OF HANDS be used in ordaining His servants to a position of responsibility. Moses passed on his authority to Joshua by laying hands on him. "And the Lord said unto Moses, Take thee Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is the spirit, and LAY THINE HAND UPON HIM; And set him before Eleazar the priest, and before all the congregation; and give him a charge in their sight. And thou shalt put some of thine honour upon him, that all the congregation of the children of Israel may be obedient. AND HE LAID HIS HANDS UPON HIM, and gave him a charge, as the Lord commanded by the hand of Moses" (Num. 27:18-20, 23). Notice that IT WAS NOT MOSES who put Joshua over all Israel. Moses merely laid hands on Joshua as a SYMBOL of the fact that GOD HAD PLACED HIM IN THAT OFFICE.
New Testament Examples
There are many New Testament examples of a person being ordained to an office through THE LAYING ON OF HANDS. In Acts 6:5-6, the seven deacons were set before the apostles, who prayed and LAID HANDS ON THEM — putting them into the office of deacon. Another example is found in Acts 13:1-3. "Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. And when they had fasted and prayed, AND LAID THEIR HANDS ON THEM, they sent them away." Again, it was God who chose these men to do a job. By laying hands on Barnabas and Paul, the leaders of the Church merely put approval on what God had already done. Timothy was admonished by Paul, "Lay hands suddenly on no man ..." (I Tim. 5:22). In other words, he was telling Timothy, "Don't ordain anyone to an office on the spur of the moment." Paul also exhorted Timothy to "... stir up the gift of God, which is in thee by THE PUTTING ON OF MY HANDS" (II Tim. 1:6). It was GOD ALMIGHTY who gave Timothy the gifts that he had; but God works through a physical Church and a physical ministry. It was Paul who placed his hands on Timothy as a PHYSICAL OUTWARD SIGN of the fact that God had chosen Timothy as a minister.
Recognition of Authority
God has ordained that His Church employ THE LAYING ON OF HANDS AS A PHYSICAL SYMBOL OF THE AUTHORITY THAT GOD PLACED IN HIS CHURCH AND WITH HIS TRUE MINISTERS. Timothy couldn't have jumped up one day and proclaimed himself a minister all on his own — he had to recognize the authority in God's Church and in the Apostle Paul. He had to be placed into the ministry through THE LAYING ON OF PAUL'S HANDS; because Paul had been given authority by God — through THE LAYING ON OF THE HANDS of the elders and apostles before him. Thus the authority in God's Church went back to the twelve apostles, who were called, chosen, and ordained by Jesus Christ Himself. Timothy couldn't have been ordained by just any church or any minister. He had to be ordained by the TRUE CHURCH and TRUE MINISTRY, THROUGH WHICH GOD WAS WORKING.
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. Millions have supposedly been baptized, but very few have ever had hands laid on them for the receipt of the Holy Spirit after baptism. And fewer still have had hands laid on them by a person who had authority from Jesus Christ to baptize. 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 were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost (Spirit): (For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.) Then LAID THEY THEIR HANDS ON THEM, and they received the Holy Spirit" (Acts 8:15-17). It could have been a few days or even weeks between the time these people were baptized and the time they had hands laid on them to receive the Holy Spirit. Obviously, the physical act of placing one's hands on someone else doesn't transmit the Holy Spirit. Only God Himself can beget a repentant, baptized person with His Spirit. But God has given us the example of this physical procedure as a symbol of recognition of the human instruments through which He works.
The Example of the Apostle Paul
Even the Apostle Paul, though he was struck down by Jesus Christ Himself, received the Holy Spirit only when Ananias laid hands on him. "And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and PUTTING HIS HANDS ON HIM said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and BE FILLED WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT" (Acts 9:17). Immediately Paul received his sight and was baptized. In his case, as in a few others, Paul first received the Holy Spirit and then was baptized: the normal pattern, however, was baptism first — then receiving the Holy Spirit through THE LAYING ON OF HANDS. Several years after his conversion, Paul visited Ephesus and found people who had been baptized by Apollos unto John the Baptist's baptism; they hadn't even heard about the Holy Spirit. Paul instructed them more fully about repentance and baptism. "When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had LAID HIS HANDS UPON THEM, the Holy Spirit came on them ..." (Acts 19:5-6). First they were baptized, then they received the Holy Spirit through the laying on of hands. The most ignored and misunderstood aspect of THE LAYING ON OF HANDS is its application to the miraculous healing of sickness. Again, Christ Himself set the example. When He came to His own country He found such little faith that He remarked, "A prophet is not without honour, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house" (Mark 6:4). The Gospel writer Mark continued in verse 5: "And he could there do no mighty work, save that he LAID HIS HANDS UPON A FEW SICK FOLK, and healed them." Luke 4:40 says, "Now when the sun was setting, all they that had any sick with divers diseases brought them unto him; and HE LAID HIS HANDS ON EVERY ONE OF THEM, AND HEALED THEM." In Acts 28:8 we find that Paul also laid his hands on Publius' father to heal him. Concerning His true ministers Christ stated: "... They shall LAY HANDS ON THE SICK, AND THEY SHALL RECOVER" (Mark 16:18). You can locate many similar examples by checking the words "laying" and "hands" in a concordance. Christ said that His true ministers and servants WOULD LAY HANDS ON THE SICK — and the sick would recover. 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. 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 to show our faith and trust in Him and to show that we know where He is working on the earth today — to show our acceptance of the authority He has placed with His servants. How clear God's Word is! From beginning to end it mentions and explains this basic doctrine — THE LAYING ON OF HANDS. It's not mystical or magical. There's no spiritual power or faith in anyone's appendages. But God commands that the physical act of THE LAYING ON OF HANDS be used by true Christians. How many churches are there that make this BASIC TRUTH part of their WAY OF LIFE? You can be sure that Christ's TRUE CHURCH will be following His example in the doctrine of the laying on of hands in its many applications.