On Eagles Wings Ministries
Laying on of Hands
Imparting Blessing, Authority and Healing
Stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands.
2 Timothy 1:6
Throughout this series of studies we are examining the six foundation doctrines of Jesus which are listed in Hebrews 6:1-2:
- Repentance from dead works
- Faith toward God
- The doctrine of baptisms
- Laying on of hands
- Resurrection of the dead
- Eternal judgement
In the preceding sections we have systematically examined the first three doctrines in this list. Now we will move on to the fourth of these doctrines – that which is called “laying on of hands.”
Had it been left to human understanding to determine the six basic doctrines of the Christians faith, it is quite probable that the laying on of hands would never have been included. However, in the last resort, the best commentary on Scripture is provided by Scripture itself. In this particular case we have the authority of Scripture itself for placing this doctrine among the great foundation doctrines of Christianity.
What are we to understand by this phrase, “laying on of hands”? “Laying on of hands” is an act in which one person places his hands upon another person with some definite spiritual purpose. Normally this act is accompanied by prayer or by prophetic utterance, or by both.
Outside the sphere of religion, this act of laying on of hands is not something strange or foreign to normal human behavior. For example, in some parts of the world, when two men meet who are friends, it is normal for them to lay their hands upon each other’s shoulders. This act constitutes an acknowledgement of their friendship and pleasure at meeting each other. Or again, when a child complains of headache or fever, it is quite natural – in fact, almost instinctive – for the mother to place her hand upon her child’s brow to soothe or caress the child.
Within the sphere of religion, the practice of laying on of hands may thus be considered as an extension or an adaptation of what is basically a natural human action. As a religious act, the laying on of hands normally signifies one of three possible things.
- The person laying on hands may thereby transmit spiritual blessing or authority to the one upon whom hands are laid.
- The person laying on hands may thereby acknowledge publicly some spiritual blessing or authority already received from God by the one upon whom hands are laid.
- The person laying on hands may thereby publicly commit to God for some special task or ministry the one upon whom hands are laid.
At times, all these three purposes may be combined in one and the same act of laying on hands.
Three Old Testament Precedents
The laying on of hands was an accepted practice in the earliest records of God’s people. For instance, consider how Joseph brought his two sons Ephraim and Manasseh to his father, Jacob, and how Jacob blessed them.
Then Israel [Jacob] stretched out his right hand and laid it on Ephraim’s head, who was the younger, and his left hand on Manasseh’s head, guiding his hands knowingly, for Manasseh was the firstborn (Gen. 48:14).
At first Joseph thought his father had made a mistake, and he tried to make his father change his hands over, placing the right hand upon the head of Manasseh, the firstborn, and the left hand upon the head of Ephraim, the younger. However, Jacob indicated that he had been conscious of divine guidance in placing his right hand upon Ephraim and his left hand upon Manasseh. With his hands still kept crossed in this position, he proceeded to bless the two boys, giving the first and greater blessing to Ephraim and the lesser blessing to Manasseh.
This passage shows it was an accepted practice that the blessing of Jacob should be transmitted to his two grandsons by laying his hands upon their heads; and, furthermore, that the greater blessing was transmitted through Jacob’s right hand and the lesser through his left hand.
As Moses came near to the end of his earthly ministry, he asked the Lord to appoint a new leader over Israel who should be ready to take his place.
And the Lord said to Moses: “Take Joshua the son of Nun with you, a man in whom is the Spirit, and lay your hand on him; set him before Eleazar the priest and before all the congregation, and inaugurate him in their sight. And you shall give some of your authority to him, that all the congregation of the children of Israel may be obedient” (Num. 27:18-20).
Moses carried out this commandment of the Lord:
So Moses did as the Lord commanded him. He took Joshua and set him before Eleazar the priest and before all the congregation. And he laid his hands on him and inaugurated him, just as the Lord commanded by the hand of Moses (Num. 27:22-23).
Moses’ action produced a tremendous result in Joshua.
Now 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 the Lord had commanded Moses (Deut. 34:9).
From these passages we see that this act of Moses laying his hands upon Joshua was one of great significance both for Joshua individually and for the whole congregation of Israel collectively. By this divinely ordained act, Moses accomplished two main purposes: 1) He transmitted to Joshua a measure of the spiritual wisdom and honour which he had himself received from God; 2) he publicly acknowledged before the whole congregation of Israel God’s appointment of Joshua as the leader who was to succeed him.
Another significant act of laying on of hands took place when Joash, king of Israel, went down to pay his last respects to the prophet Elisha, who lay upon his deathbed. The following conversation occurred between Joash and Elisha.
And Elisha said to him, “Take a bow and some arrows.” So he [Joash] took himself a bow and some arrows. Then he said to the king of Israel, “Put your hand on the bow.” So he put his hand on it, and Elisha put his hands on the king’s hands. And he said, “Open the east window”; and he opened it. Then Elisha said, “Shoot”; and he shot. And he said, “The arrow of the Lord’s deliverance and the arrow of deliverance from Syria; for you must strike the Syrians at Aphek till you have destroyed them” (2 Kin. 13:15-17).
Shooting the arrow eastward through the window symbolised the victory which Joash was to gain in battle over the Syrians. By this act, therefore, Elisha acknowledged God’s appointment of Joash as the leader who would bring deliverance to Israel.
This divine appointment of Joash was made effective through Elisha’s laying his hands upon the hands of Joash as the latter held the bow and shot the arrow, which was symbolic of victory and deliverance. Through the laying on of Elisha’s hands, there were transmitted to Joash the divine wisdom and authority needed to equip him as the deliverer of God’s people.
This incident is therefore closely parallel to the one in which Moses laid his hands upon Joshua. In each case the laying on of hands acknowledged a leader whom God had appointed for a special purpose. In each case this act also transmitted to that leader the divine wisdom and authority needed to carry out his God-appointed task. It is interesting also to notice that, in both cases, Joshua and Joash were appointed primarily as military commanders.
Two New Testament Ordinances for Healing
Let us now turn to the New Testament to see what part this ordinance of laying on of hands plays there. We shall find five distinct purposes for which laying on of hands may be used, according to the precepts and examples of the New Testament.
The first of these purposes is directly associated with the ministry of physical healing. Jesus authorised it in His final commission to His disciples (see Mark 16:17-18). In these verses Jesus appoints five supernatural signs which are to accompany the preaching of the gospel and which may be claimed by all believers through faith in the name of Jesus. The fifth of these supernatural signs appointed by Jesus is:
In My name . . . they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover (Mark 16:17-18).
Here the laying on of hands in the name of Jesus is appointed as a means for physical healing to be ministered to those who are sick.
Later on in the New Testament another slightly different ordinance is appointed.
Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and God will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven (James 5:14-15).
The ordinance here appointed is that of anointing the sick with oil in the name of the Lord.
Both these ordinances alike are effective only through the exercise of faith in the name of the Lord; that is, the name of Jesus. In the case of anointing with oil, it is specifically stated that prayer must accompany this act. In the passage about laying hands on the sick in Mark’s Gospel, no specific mention is made of prayer. However, in most cases it would be natural to pray for the sick person, as well as laying hands on him.
Again, when anointing the sick with oil, it often seems natural – indeed, almost instinctive – to lay hands upon them at the same time. In this way the two ordinances become combined in one. However, this need not necessarily be so. It is perfectly scriptural to lay hands on the sick without anointing them with oil. Likewise, it is perfectly scriptural to anoint the sick with oil without laying hands on them.
The question naturally arises: Is there any difference in use or purpose between these two ordinances – that is, laying hands on the sick and anointing the sick with oil? Are there times or situations when it is more appropriate to use one ordinance rather than the other? And if so, what are the scriptural principles guiding their use?
The passage in the epistle of James about anointing with oil begins:
Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church (James 5:14).
Since the epistle of James is addressed primarily to professing professing Christians (albeit among the Jewish people), the phrase “among you” would seem to refer mainly to believers. This fits in also with the commandment which follows: “Let him call for the elders of the church.”
A person who made no profession of faith and was not associated with any Christians church would not be included in the phrase “among you”; nor would such a person know who were the church elders for whom to send. It would seem, therefore, that this ordinance of anointing with oil is intended primarily for those who already profess faith in Jesus and are associated with some Christians church.
Interpreted in this way, this ordinance contains two lessons of great practical importance for every professing Christians. First, God expects every sick Christians to seek Him first, for healing through faith and by spiritual means. This does not mean it is necessarily unscriptural for a Christians who is sick to seek the advice or help of a medical doctor. But it is absolutely contrary to Scripture for any professing Christians who is sick to seek for human medical aid without first seeking for divine help from God Himself, through the appointed leaders of the church.
Today the great majority of professing professing Christians who fall sick automatically call for their doctor without giving any thought to seeking help from God or from the leaders of the church. All professing Christians who do this are guilty of direct disobedience against the ordinances of God as set forth in the New Testament. For the Scripture says plainly, without any qualification: “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church . . .” In the face of this, any Christians who falls sick and calls for the doctor, without calling for the elders of the church, is guilty of open disobedience.
The implications of this act are plain enough if we pause to consider them. It amounts to saying to God: “God, I do not need You. I do not really believe You can help me or heal me. I am content to accept the best that man can do for me without seeking You for guidance or help.” This prevailing attitude among professing professing Christians is one main reason why so much sickness also prevails among them.
For the most part, professing Christians today have simply set aside the claims of God to heal the body and have closed the doors of their homes and churches against Jesus the healer.
The second important lesson contained in this passage from the epistle of James is that God expects all professing Christians to associate themselves with a church and that the leaders of this church shall be ready to minister in faith, according to the Scripture, to the physical needs of their church members.
The phrase “let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord” (James 5:14) carries both these implications: 1) that every Christians shall be associated with a church in such a way that its leaders both know him and are known to him; 2) that these leaders shall be ready to minister physical healing to their members in faith, according to the ordinances appointed by God for the church.
In connection with this ordinance of anointing the sick with oil, there are two further points which need to be made plain. First of all, there is no suggestion that oil is to be used because of any natural healing properties it may possess. Here, as in many other passages of Scripture, the oil is simply a type or picture of the Holy Spirit.
Thus, placing the oil upon the sick person represents the claim of faith on behalf of that person that the Spirit of God shall minister divine life and healing to his sick body. This claim is based upon a clear promise from God.
But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you (Rom. 8:11).
Here the phrase “to give life to your mortal bodies” means to impart divine life and power to the mortal, physical body of the believer in whom the Spirit of God dwells. The great agent of the Godhead who imparts this divine life is the third Person, the Holy Spirit.
The second point which must be established is that anointing the believer with oil, according to the New Testament, is never intended as a preparation for death but, on the contrary, as a way of imparting to the believer the exact opposite of death – that is, divine life and health and strength.
Thus, to make anointing with oil a preparation for death is to reverse the true meaning of the ordinance. It is ignoring God’s warning not to “put darkness for light and bitter for sweet” – to put the darkness and bitterness of death and sickness in place of the light and sweetness of life and health (see Is. 5:20).
We may sum up this ordinance of anointing with oil by saying that it is an appointed act of faith by which the impartation of divine life and health through the Holy Spirit is claimed for the body of a sick Christians.
If we now turn back to the ordinance of laying hands on the sick, as set forth in Mark 16, we shall see that the context suggests that this ordinance is intended to go together with the preaching of the gospel to the unconverted and that its primary use is for those who are not yet converted or who have newly come to the faith.
We form this conclusion from the fact that this, like the other supernatural signs ordained by Jesus, follows immediately upon His commandment to evangelise the whole world.
And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptised will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will follow those who believe” (Mark 16:15-17).
Jesus immediately enumerates the five supernatural signs, ending with the healing of the sick through the laying on of hands. This indicates that each one of these supernatural signs, including the healing of the sick, is intended by God to bear testimony to the divine truth and authority of the gospel message in places where this message has not previously been heard or believed.
This is in line with the closing account of the disciples’ evangelistic activity in Mark’s Gospel.
And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs. Amen (Mark 16:20).
This indicates that the primary purpose of these supernatural signs – including the healing of the sick through the laying on of hands – is to confirm the truth of the gospel message among people who have not previously accepted it. It seems clear, therefore, that ministering to the sick through laying on of hands in the name of Jesus is primarily intended not for established professing Christians who are members of churches but for the unconverted, or for those who have newly come to the faith.
How Healing Comes
In what way will healing come as a result of the laying on of hands?
The Scripture does not give any precise or detailed answer to this question. Jesus says merely, “They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.” In place of the phrase “they will recover,” we might translate alternatively, “they will become well,” or more simply still, “they will be well.”
By these words of Jesus two things are still left within the sovereignty of God: 1) the precise way in which healing will be manifested and 2) the precise length of time that the process of healing will take. Side by side with this we may set the words of Paul.
And there are diversities of activities [or operations], but it is the same God who works all in all (1 Cor. 12:6).
In the laying on of hands there are what Paul calls “diversities of operations”; that is, the process of healing does not always operate in the same way each time.
In one case the laying on of hands may be a channel through which the supernatural gift of healing operates. In such a case the person who lays on hands by this act transmits the supernatural healing virtue or power of God to the body of the one on whom hands are laid. Very often this latter person actually feels within his body the supernatural power of God.
At other times, however, there is no sensation of power at all, but the laying on of hands is simply an act of naked faith and obedience to God’s Word. However, if there is genuine faith, healing will follow, even though there may be no dramatic or supernatural experience.
Again, Jesus does not specify the length of time that the healing process will take.
Sometimes complete healing is received instantly, as soon as hands are laid upon the sick person. At other times, however, healing comes only as a gradual process. In this latter case it is most important that the person seeking healing continue to exercise active faith until the process of healing is complete.
It quite often happens that a sick person who is ministered to by the laying on of hands receives a measure of deliverance but not complete healing. The reason for this usually is that the sick person did not exercise active faith for a long enough period of time to allow the process of healing to be completed. When the person’s faith ceases to be active, the process of healing is then arrested.
For this reason it is important to give scriptural instruction to those seeking healing through laying on of hands and to warn them in advance of the necessity of holding out in active faith until the process of healing is complete.
Experience has convinced me that in every case where genuine faith is exercised by laying hands on the sick in the name of Jesus, the process of healing begins to operate. However, if the sick person then loses faith, the healing may be either completely lost or at best never fully consummated.
There are two main ways in which a sick person may exercise active faith after hands have been laid upon him for healing. The first is by thanking God continually for the measure of healing already received. The other is by maintaining a consistent testimony of faith in the truth of God’s Word – even in the face of negative symptoms.
At this point, there is a delicate balance between faith and realism. If a person continues to experience obvious symptoms of sickness even after the laying on of hands, it is unrealistic to pretend that the symptoms are no longer there or to claim that complete healing has taken place. It is better to acknowledge the symptoms but to focus on the Word of God.
Such a person may say, “I recognise that I still have symptoms of sickness, but I believe that God’s healing has been released within my body through my obedience to His Word, and I trust Him to complete what He has begun.”
It is also perfectly reasonable for such a person to ask for continuing prayer.
There are thousands of people, alive and well today, who have received healing through these scriptural means.