Then they began laying their hands on them, and they were receiving the Holy Spirit.

(Acts 8:17 NASB)

The Hebrew author states, ‘Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation,’ (Heb 6:1). This statement indicates that there cannot be more than one foundation, and in essence, there cannot be a variety of teachings on the elementary teachings listed by the author. Indeed, the author emphasized that his readers could not “press on to maturity,” unless these teachings were firmly established in their faith. Clearly, a baseline of measurement was laid down for those who would believe unto salvation. This baseline was not established by men, it was first and foremost established in the teaching of Jesus Christ the Messiah, and confirmed by the Apostles, (1 Cor 3:10-11; Eph 2:19-22). Among the list of elementary teachings about the Messiah the author includes “the laying on of hands,” (Heb 6:1-2).

Having included the practice of laying hands on people should draw our attention, for it would not be among the list of elementary doctrine if it did not have spiritual significance. Although it formed an essential part of the ministry of our Messiah, it was also well understood and practiced by the Apostles and early believers. But it had its roots in the administration of the First Covenant, and the Israelites understood the spiritual significance of this important commandment, for this act clearly imparted spiritual authority and blessing. The laying on of hands was associated with four significant ordinations in this administration, namely, leadership, consecration, commissioning, and impartation.

Joshua was chosen to follow Moses in leadership, and we read, ‘Now Joshua the son of Nun was filled with the spirit of wisdom, for Moses had laid his hands on him; and the sons of Israel listened to him and did as the LORD had commanded Moses,’ (Deut 34:9). [See also Num 27:16-18.] Not only was Joshua set apart as leader through the act of laying on of hands, but he was also commissioned with a very specific task, namely, to lead Israel into a conquering conquest in taking possession of the land of their inheritance, (Josh 1:1-9). Joshua was commissioned for this immense task when Moses laid hands on him, ‘Then he (Moses) laid his hands on him (Joshua) and commissioned him, just as the LORD had spoken through Moses,’ (Num 27:23). In the act of laying his hands on Joshua, Moses also imparted authority on him as clearly stated in the passage relating the commissioning, ‘And you (Moses) shall put some of your authority on him (Joshua), in order that all the congregation of the sons of Israel may obey him,’ (Num 27:20). Also, the Levites were consecrated before the nation through the laying on of hands, as we read in Numbers, ‘present the Levites before the LORD; and the sons of Israel shall lay their hands on the Levites…that they may qualify to perform the service of the LORD,’ (Num 8:9-11).

The laying on of hands was an essential part of the ministry of Messiah as He healed the sick (Mark 5:23; Mark 6:5; Luke 13:13), and blessed the children (Mat 19:13 & 15). Moreover, Messiah clearly instructed His disciples ‘to lay hands on the sick so that they would recover,’ (Mark 16:18c).

In the Acts of the Apostles the practice of laying on of hands becomes prevalent as they consecrated deacons (Acts 6:1-6), commissioned Barnabas and Saul (Acts 13:1-3), prayed for healing (Acts 9:17), and prayed for the impartation of the Holy Spirit, (Acts 8:17; Acts 9:17; Acts 19:6). We also read that the apostle Paul admonished Timothy not to neglect the spiritual gift he received through a prophetic utterance and ‘the laying on of hands’ by the presbytery or board of elders (1 Tim 4:14; 2 Tim 1:6), and James advised the sick to call on their elders to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord for their healing, (James 5:14-16).

It is evident that the laying on of hands is not a mere religious act, but a significant order accompanying spiritual authority and impartation. It is a precious gift which should be guarded and applied to equip the Body of Messiah, and to further the administration of the Kingdom of God.

Since the act of laying hands on someone accompanies spiritual authority and impartation, we should take heed of the warning, ‘Do not lay hand upon anyone too hastily and thus share responsibility for the sins of others, keep yourselves from sin’ (1 Tim 5:22), and practice discernment at all times.