Elementary Principles, Part 6

Laying on of Hands

Now we have come to the fourth element in our list of six foundational principles. The phrase “laying on of hands” may conjure drastically different images in the minds of various groups within Christianity. Some upon hearing these words immediately turn their thoughts to laying hands on an individual for divine healing or the baptism in the Spirit. Others may think solely of the sacramental practice of the laying on of hands associated with ordaining priests and bishops. How is it meant to be understood in the context of Hebrews 6, speaking of elementary principles of the faith? Does it mean an education in the entire spectrum of how the laying on of hands was to be applied, or does it speak of a specific subset of this practice?

Before we can answer these questions, we must look at what Scripture teaches us about laying on of hands and what its various purposes are. “Laying on of hands” used as a phrase usually invokes thoughts of some ceremony or practice in which laying hands on a person is the cornerstone. Because this is the case, when this phrase is used it becomes difficult to consider its base meaning outside of the context of our experiences with the practice. In order to figure out what the phrase means in the verse in Hebrews, we must try our best to remove any obstacles in our thinking and strip this phrase of any preconceived contextual definitions. 

Not every place in Scripture where the laying on of hands takes place uses this particular phrase to indicate the practice. We will look at several such examples as we continue. In examining the various uses of the practice in Scripture, the fundamental question arises, why is placing hands on another person significant? We can observe that as a general statement about human nature, physically touching someone creates a deeper emotional and spiritual bond/connection than could be made only verbally. Doubtless this is part of the purpose for the Scriptural practice of laying hands on someone, but much emphasis seems to be placed on the ritual or ceremonial aspects of this practice as well. Certainly there is symbolism involved, and this symbolism gets its power and meaning from the unity which it externally conveys. As we look at some Scriptural examples, the answer to this question will hopefully become clearer. 

For the purposes of our study, we will examine the practice of laying on of hands according to three different contexts or categories: blessing, substitution, and ordination. It could be argued whether this is an accurate categorization, and some overlap may be seen between the categories, but nevertheless this division will provide a good framework for studying the act of hand-laying in Scripture.

Blessing

The first category of the laying on of hands which we will look at is in regard to giving blessings. It is fitting to put this type first, as the first example we find of hands-laying is in this context of giving a blessing. In the book of Genesis, the concept of blessing is introduced. First we see God bless His creation, and for our part mankind begins to bless as well. Noah appears to be the first to bless his sons (Genesis 9:25-27). This blessing and the similar blessings of the patriarchs which will follow have a certain prophetic air. These are not merely hopeful wishes, but are prayers to God and in some cases could be said to be based on prophetic foresight. 

No mention is made initially of blessing being accompanied by laying on of hands. Perhaps the earliest indication for a form of this practice is in Genesis 27:27-29. Here we see Isaac blessing his son Jacob, but before he gives the blessing Isaac asks his son to approach and kiss him. After catching the scent of his clothing, Isaac’s spirit is apparently stirred and he blesses his son while seemingly yet embracing him.

The first explicit mention of laying on of hands as associated with blessing takes place in the next generation as Jacob proceeds to now bless his sons as he prepares to leave this life. Part of his closing affairs involved blessing Joseph’s sons Ephraim and Manasseh as if they were his own. The older son, Manasseh, is brought to Jacob’s right hand side, and the younger son, Ephraim, is taken to his left hand side. 

But Israel (Jacob) stretched out his right hand and laid it on the head of Ephraim, who was the younger, and his left hand on Manasseh’s head, crossing his hands, although Manasseh was the firstborn. (Genesis 48:14)

Joseph notices this and attempts to correct his father, saying that he ought to place his right hand on the firstborn’s head. This tells us that the practice here of laying hands on a child and blessing them is not new or innovated by Jacob, but that Joseph and Jacob alike understood that there was a proper order and ceremony which this blessing was normally done with. Jacob proceeds: “He blessed them that day, saying, ‘By you Israel will pronounce blessing, saying, “May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh!’”’ Thus he put Ephraim before Manasseh” (verse 20). Thus this seems to be the first example in Scripture of laying hands on a person and blessing them. 

This verse has been the foundation for the traditional practice in Judaism of blessing children. On the eve of the Sabbath and other Appointed Times, the father will have his sons approach and, laying his hands on each of their heads individually, will bless them saying, “May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh.” Likewise, the daughters are also blessed in the same way, saying, “May God make you like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah.”

Why is blessing, according to these verses and their traditional practice, associated with the practice of laying on of hands? As we mentioned earlier, touching someone is often an act of love. Visually and emotionally it creates a connection between two bodies, symbolizing how close they are not only in physical proximity, but in the heart. Laying hands on a person who you care for while you are blessing them increases the emotional bond between the one blessing and the recipient and makes it more real, more personal.

Another explanation could be found by examining the symbolism involved. In the example of Jacob, the hand of the giver of the blessing is laid on the head of the one receiving the blessing. The head is representative of the whole person, being the center of consciousness and the seat of four of the five senses. If a blessing is a gift given from one person to another through the agency of God, then placing your hand on a person’s head while blessing them is symbolic of that transfer.

Obviously physical contact is not necessary for a blessing to be effective, because the laying on of hands is not the means through which the person is actually blessed. It is a useful symbol and is presented as valid by Scripture, but nevertheless is not the cause of the blessing. This idea is demonstrated in that not every blessing in Scripture is associated with the laying on of hands.

Another example of a variant of laying hands on a person for blessing is found in Leviticus 9:22. After offering up sacrifices, we are told that the high priest Aaron “lifted up his hands toward the people and blessed them.” Understandably, Aaron was not able to lay his hands on the whole congregation and bless them. In order to continue the symbolism, however, he lifts his hands towards them while proclaiming the blessing according to God’s instruction in Numbers 6:23-27. It is interesting how the action of lifting up the hands to bless ties in with God’s words about the blessing. He says, “So they [i.e., the high priest] shall invoke My name on the sons of Israel, and I then will bless them” (verse 27). The blessing is done by God as His name is spoken over the congregation. Aaron lifts his hands up towards God and out towards the people, thus symbolically reflecting His goodwill onto the congregation.

The association between laying hands and blessing is continued into the New Testament. One obvious case where this is quite common is seen in the healings which take place throughout the ministries of Yeshua and the apostles (Mark 5:23, Luke 4:40, Acts 28:8). While it may not appear so on first glance, healing is indeed a form of blessing. Definitely the one on the receiving end of the healing would consider it a blessing.

We do witness Yeshua laying His hands and blessing outside of the context of healing as well. In Mark 10:13 we read, “And they were bringing children to Him so that He might touch them,” and a few verses later it says, “And He took them in His arms and began blessing them, laying His hands on them” (verse 16). Emphasized in this verse is the connection between individuals which is associated with physical contact. Rather than simply laying his hands on the children but otherwise staying aloof and ceremonial, Yeshua takes them up in His arms, bringing them closer to Himself and giving them a gift from the fullness of His love.

The last example we will look at in regard to blessing is found in Luke 24:50 where we see that Yeshua, after spending time with His disciples, is preparing to ascend into heaven: “And He led them out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them.” Some have noted the similarities between the lifting of hands to bless here and the priestly blessing which we mentioned earlier. According to this interpretation, Yeshua was here emphasizing His role as the high priest in the order of Melchizedek (Hebrews 5:9-10). While this is indeed possible, there are also practical reasons for lifting His hands as opposed to laying them on His disciples. Yeshua could have lifted His hands to bless for the same reason the physical high priest did. Verse 51 says, “While He was blessing them, He parted from them and was carried up into heaven.” This indicates that He was ascending as He was blessing them, thus making it very difficult for Him to bless them with His hands laid upon them. 

So far, we have examined the practice of laying on of hands in the context of giving blessings. If we look at it very generally, many of the other cases where hands are laid could be construed as being blessings, but the primary focus is not itself on blessing. 

Substitution

The second context we will look at in which the laying on of hands was a central act is in the role of substitution. Mainly this use is seen only in the context of the sacrificial system and Levitical priesthood. Because of this limited scope, there is not much to be said outside of explaining a couple of examples. Though the substitutionary role of laying hands is not one which we find many examples of in Scripture, we will see that it is both unique and foundational and thus deserves its own category in our study of the laying on of hands. In order to understand this, we must briefly discuss the sacrifices and offerings. 

When God gave Moses the instructions for the sacrifices and offerings, it was clear that it would form the basis for how the people related to God. As we mentioned in the previous lesson, the purpose of the tabernacle was so that God Himself could dwell in the midst of the congregation of Israel. In order for this to happen, there needed to be a way for the people to be purified from both spiritual and physical impurities so that God’s holiness would not be to their immediate destruction. 

Often we think of the sacrifices only in terms of their atoning purpose. While atonement was indeed one of the prominent purposes for the sacrifices, we find that there were different types of sacrifices and offerings that were to be offered in different circumstances. This can be understood the most clearly from examining the word we translate as “offer” or “offering.” In Hebrew the root word is qarab, meaning to approach or come near. Thus the offerings could be understood as a means by which the people could draw near to God, or in other words, to worship. 

Atonement and worship are thus connected to each other very prominently in the sacrificial system. In Hebrew, the word we translate as “atonement” is based on the root word kaphar, which seems to have the meaning of covering (Genesis 6:14). At the same time, it does not mean, especially when speaking of sin, that atoned sin is merely covered over while yet existing under the surface. When speaking of sin this word seems to mean a removal or taking away (Isaiah 6:7). 

When atonement is spoken of in regard to the sacrifices, the meaning which we are most familiar with, that of purification of the soul from sin, is not intended. It is clear that the blood of the sacrifices and offerings were not themselves the means by which God and man were reconciled, even while the sacrificial system was in use. If the intent of the one bringing the offering was not pure, the sacrifice was of no use to him (Psalm 50:7-9, 16-21; Isaiah 1:11, 15-17). The blood of these sacrifices was not capable of bringing salvation or purifying the conscience of the sinner because that was not its purpose (Hebrews 9:13-14, 10:4). Its purpose was to atone for the sin of the genuine worshiper so that they could draw near to God. We must keep in mind the distinction between the atonement of sins for the purposes of the tabernacle and the atonement of sins in a personal relationship with God. A penitent heart will be esteemed as cleansed from sin not because of the offering of many sacrifices, but because of faith in God and trust in His forgiveness (Psalm 32:1-5). Yeshua has come and shed His blood so that our consciences could be cleansed from deeds that lead to death. 

Now that we understand a little bit about sacrificial atonement, we can ask the question, where does the laying on of hands come into all of this? The first instance which indicates that laying on of hands was essential in the sacrificial system can be found in Leviticus 1:4. After introducing the burnt offering and describing what type of animal is acceptable, God tells Moses what the one who offers is supposed to do: “He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, that it may be accepted for him to make atonement on his behalf.” Similar statements are made about other sacrifices and offerings as well (Leviticus 3:1-2, 4:27-29). 

The laying on of hands in this context is about the transfer of identity. One who would come to offer a sacrifice would lay his hands on the animal’s head, in a symbolic sense placing himself upon the animal in order for that animal to take his place in its death. In our discussion on repentance, we saw that the natural outcome of sin is death. In the sacrifices was a clear picture of this fact. The blood of the animal was counted as the man’s own blood in making atonement for him, and the process that transferred that identity, or allowed for this substitution to be considered valid, was the laying on of hands. 

A similar sentiment is present in the passage which speaks of the instituting of the Levites. We are told in Numbers 8:

So you shall present the Levites before the tent of meeting. You shall also assemble the whole congregation of the sons of Israel, and present the Levites before the LORD; and the sons of Israel shall lay their hands on the Levites. (verses 9-10)

In laying their hands on the Levites, the children of Israel were investing their identity into the Levitical priests. Instead of every member of the community serving in the tabernacle, the Levites would serve continually as a substitution, representing the rest of the nation. God specifically designated this tribe for the work of sustaining His tabernacle, but the symbolic transfer through the laying on of hands, signaling that this substitution had taken place, still needed to be acted out (Numbers 8:11, 17-19). 

Now that we have looked at the second type of laying on of hands, we can move on to the final category. This second category may in some ways help us understand part of the next and final category of hands-laying which we will examine.

Ordination

When we speak of ordination, what we mean is the process where authority or status is transferred from one person or group to another, usually in regard to leadership. Perhaps you have heard of or known someone who acted in the position of ordained minister (i.e., a minister who has been through the process of ordination). A person with this title may have authority to perform weddings, funerals, or perhaps lead a congregation. This authority or status cannot simply be claimed or asserted, but must be granted from some outside group or body which itself has recognized authority. 

With this definition in mind, it is easy to see how this category is related to the previous one. As authority is passed on to another, in a sense identity is passed along as well. The one on the receiving end receives their status according to the identity of the one who has granted them that status. For example, one who is ordained as a minister in a specific denomination receives his status and authority within that denomination and as a result of the identity of the denomination who ordained him.

Because of this connection, it should not surprise us that we find Scriptural examples where ordination or commissioning of an individual  is done through the laying on of hands. Even today in some religious circles, this authority is still granted by the laying on of hands based on this Scriptural precedent. Symbolically, this practice represents a continuity from the one granting authority to the one receiving it. It asserts that just as the one laying hands has authority and respect, now the same status is given to the one the hands are being laid upon.

A clear example of this is found in Numbers 27:18-20. Moses has just been told by God that he will not enter the Promised Land with the children of Israel. In response, he prays that God will raise up a capable leader for the people in his place because he has seen their tendency to wander. Moses was the established leader, and despite many mutinies and rebellions the people in the end respected him and realized that his authority was given to him by God. If Moses simply passed away without any clear indication who would take over, there would inevitably be chaos, as we see happens later on throughout the book of Judges. 

God instructs Moses to “commission” Joshua and to “put some of [his] authority on him” in the sight of all the people of Israel. In doing this, the people would see that the place that Moses had previously held was now transferred to Joshua, and he would become like Moses to them. A little piece of Moses would be passed on to Joshua so that he would be able to lead the people according to God’s will. 

Moses did just as the LORD commanded him; and he took Joshua and set him before Eleazar the priest and before all the congregation. Then he laid his hands on him and commissioned him, just as the LORD had spoken through Moses. (verses 22-23)

It is clear that the laying on of hands is presented as symbolically establishing a succession of leadership. Something else also seems to happen when Moses lays his hands on Joshua, however: 

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. (Deuteronomy 34:9)

Implied in this verse is that in laying his hands on Joshua, the spirit of wisdom which God had given Moses was transferred to Joshua. Although we are told that Joshua already had some access to the Spirit before this inauguration (Numbers 27:18), the laying on of hands and transfer of authority increased this as the spirit and authority which Moses had was given now to his successor.

This fact points us to another event which takes place in the book of Numbers which deals with the transfer of authority in regard to the imparting of God’s Spirit. God had recently been blessing the people by sending manna, bread from heaven, for the people to eat while they wandered in the wilderness. Eventually the people get tired of eating the same old manna day after day, and they begin to weep and complain to Moses that he ought to provide them with some meat. Their incessant complaining infuriates Moses, and he pleads before God, “I alone am not able to carry all this people, because it is too burdensome for me” (Numbers 11:14). 

God responds by commanding Moses to bring seventy elders with him to the tent of meeting, where God will take some of the Spirit which was on Moses and put it on these other men. After this is done, these seventy men will be able to help Moses bear the burden of leadership (verses 16-17). No mention is made of Moses laying his hands on the elders, but the process seems very similar to what we saw with Joshua in that it deals with the transfer of authority, which is centered around God’s Spirit which assisted the people in leading with wisdom (cf. 2 Kings 2:9, 14-15).

When we come into the New Testament, the laying on of hands continues to be used in this role of ordination. At times hands are laid on a person so they may receive the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (spiritual authority), and at other times in order to grant physical leadership positions. 

For example, in Acts 6 we find the apostles having to deal with an administrative problem which was detracting from time they should have been spending teaching the Word of God. Therefore, they decide that seven men should be appointed who would deal with these types of tasks. “And these they brought before the apostles; and after praying, they laid their hands on them” (verse 6). In some respects this seems to mirror the event where Moses’s authority was divested onto the seventy elders. The apostles were being burdened with the people’s complaints that their needs weren’t being met. They could not effectively lead, teach, serve, and mediate these disputes. So they designate seven men and lay their hands on them, thus granting them a certain level of leadership authority, what would become known as deacons. 

As this movement known as the Way continued to grow, the need for these types of leadership positions became more and more essential. The easiest way for them to quickly and easily establish a system where these types of positions could be filled was to continue with the type of authority structure already present in Judaism. Judaism based its authority structure off of passages such as Deuteronomy 16:18. A small group of individuals of high character were appointed in each city in order to decide on smaller matters and to serve as the spiritual leaders in the community. These roles were known as elders or judges. While we may not initially think that this role of judging was necessary in the community of the early believers, Scripture indicates that this role also was continued in the early years of the faith (1 Corinthians 6:1-2).

Because of the importance of these positions, it was necessary that those who filled them met certain standards. Paul speaks to Timothy concerning various rules about elders, and concludes by instructing him about the importance of not transferring the role of elder or deacon onto anyone before correctly determining whether their conduct will suit them to the position (1 Timothy 5:17-22). In another place, Paul instructs Titus to “set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city” (Titus 1:5-9). From reading these verses, it seems as if at times some of the terms used to refer to different leadership roles are interchangeable. For example, in the verses we just looked at in Titus, the same role seems to be referred to both as “elder” and “overseer/bishop.” As time went on, these roles would be separated and differentiated from each other.

Laying on of Hands in the Didache

We have examined the practice of laying on of hands in three different contexts: blessing, substitution, and ordination. We could try to determine which of these is most likely meant in our Hebrews 6 passage by taking into account what a new believer would need to understand about the faith they are entering into. While all the uses of laying on of hands were necessary to learn and understand eventually, if we separate the external ceremony from these three ideas, which would be the most important for an initiate into a believing community to understand: blessing, substitution, or ordination? 

The strongest argument is for the third category to be the subject intended in Hebrews 6. If a believer was to be accepted into the community and function in his role there, he would need to understand how the authority structure was laid out. Although in regard to himself he would be accountable to God alone and his relationship with Him through Yeshua would be the most important, it is also obvious that community and fellowship were one expression of love for God. A new believer would need to know who they were directly accountable to and who to accept teaching and guidance from. Just as a citizen entering a new country must understand the government and leadership of that country, so too one wishing to enter a community of believers would need to understand the hierarchy and where they fit into it.

Further evidence is that the Didache, while not mentioning the practice of laying on of hands, does devote some space to teaching about the role of overseers and administrators and how the majority were to engage with them.

Of accepting the authority of the leadership, we read in Didache 4.1-2, 

My child, remember night and day the teacher who speaks the word of God to you, and esteem him as the Lord, for where lordship is spoken of, there the Lord is. And every day seek the presence of the righteous so that you may lean upon their words.

While not speaking of laying on of hands, this does speak of the results of the laying on of hands. When a person was ordained to be a leader among a community of believers, the role of the community was to respect his office of leadership and meditate on the words which he preached. The phrase “esteem him as the Lord” may seem strange and even dangerous at first glance, but we find that it is a Scriptural idea. The Galatian community esteemed Paul as they would have esteemed Messiah Himself (Galatians 4:14). Likewise in 1 Thessalonians, the people are commended for the faith which they showed in accepting the words of Paul and those with him not merely as the words of men, but as they truly were: the words of God (1 Thessalonians 2:13). Several other examples could be given of similar Scriptures which indicate that we ought to show the same attitude toward those who speak God’s words as we would if He were speaking them to us Himself (Matthew 10:40, Luke 10:16, John 13:20).

All of this is not to say that spiritual leaders ought to be considered infallible, that they are to be deified, or that they hold the place of Yeshua in our lives. The Bereans were commended because they verified in the Scriptures that what was preached to them was correct, thus esteeming leadership in this way does not include blindly following them (Acts 17:11). What this verse in the Didache speaks of is the place of authority and the office of leadership that they hold, which is worthy of respect and honor. Some who have been given the role of spiritual leader do not teach correct doctrine and do not care for the people of God. In Ezekiel 34, God condemns the leaders, the shepherds, who cared only for their own lives rather than the well-being of their flocks. The role of shepherd nonetheless is still to be respected. If the sheep follow the wicked example of the shepherds, they too will not be considered innocent (verses 17-18).

Further in this chapter, we find instructions for the elders who are in the position of mediating disputes among the believing community:

Do not crave conflict, but bring those who are quarreling to peaceful reconciliation. Judge righteously; do not show partiality when rebuking transgressions. Do not be indecisive as to whether or not your judgment is correct. (Didache 4.3-4)

The instructions of the Torah have much to say about this similar theme of justice among neighbors (Leviticus 19:15, Deuteronomy 1:15-17). When people live together and interact with each other in close proximity, conflicts are bound to arise. One person may have been wronged by another, or perhaps both feel they ought to be able to do what they desire, but their two desires conflict. When a set of rules is established for a community to live by, there needs to be a way to reconcile different opinions about what a law exactly means in practice and to decide how to handle transgressions of these laws. When all is said and done, the role of the judge is to bring about peace. This is the case in Judaism, and thus one of the roles of the judge or elder in early Christianity remained likewise.

When an elder was ordained, his power was considered to be granted to him by God in order to bring about His peace and justice within the community. He must be resolute in judgment and not turn from righteousness one way or the other, and the people needed to respect his ruling (Deuteronomy 17:8-13). The elder needed to understand that he acted as judge among his brothers, and thus he ought not allow any personal preference or any type of bias to enter into how he decided a case, but to allow the Spirit to guide him.

Later in the Didache, we find the following command: 

Therefore, designate for yourselves overseers and administrators worthy of the Lord—humble men and not lovers of money, and truthful and proven—because they also perform the service of the prophets and teachers. Do not then look down on them, for they are your honored ones along with the prophets and teachers. (Didache 15.1-2)

Here we see the injunction to establish the office of overseer and administrator. We ought to take notice that the chapter begins with the word “therefore,” thus signifying that the reason for designating overseers and administrators was talked about just before this verse. If we look at the end of chapter 14, then, we will find the reason these offices were necessary. 

In an earlier lesson, we looked at this preceding passage (chapter 14), which speaks of communal meals and how they were considered to be holy times, not unlike the sacrificial meals eaten at the temple. Because the meal was holy, it was not to be eaten by those who were impure or defiled in spirit, namely through quarreling and dissension: “But do not let anyone who has a quarrel with his fellow come together with you until they have reconciled, so that your sacrifice may not be impure” (Didache 14.2). Therefore one of the primary reasons these roles of leadership were necessary was for mediating disputes and urging the community toward peace and unity. 

Despite this singular purpose of the two leadership positions of elder and administrator, they also seem to be two distinct roles which were both necessary for the community to be in proper order. Many have concluded that “overseer” here is the same thing as the office of elder. The Greek word normally translated as “elder” is presbyeros, but the term used here in the Didache is episkope, which is translated as “overseer” or “bishop.” While later these two roles of elder and bishop/overseer would be separated, early on they were interchangeable terms for the same office (see 1 Timothy 3:1, Titus 1:5-7). The role referred to as “administrator” here in the Didache is the office of deacon. The word “deacon” in English comes directly from the Greek diakonos, which literally means a servant or a waiter. This literal definition is evident in our introduction to the institution of this office, where the apostles give the following reason for ordaining people to this role: “It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables” (Acts 6:2). Therefore it appears that the deacon or administrator primarily functioned as one who attended to the physical needs of the assembly of believers.

In addition to these duties, the Didache tells us that both the overseer/elder and administrator/deacon “also perform the service of the prophets and teachers.” Scripture gives us a description of what the required character traits are for one who wishes to attain to either of these leadership roles. One of the requirements for an overseer is that he must be “able to teach,” as well as able to manage his family well as evidence that he will be able to keep the flock of the congregation together in peace and order (1 Timothy 3:1-5). Likewise, the deacon can not be one who is “double-tongued,” but rather they must “hold to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience” (verses 8-9). 

Performing the service of the prophets and teachers does not necessarily mean that they exercised the gift of prophecy. It means that they held a similar level of status among the community which the prophets and righteous leaders of old had before them. In the Old Testament, we see that the prophets functioned as teachers of righteousness, warning and correcting those who strayed from the true path and revealing the path of wisdom and life to those who were searching for it. The elders and deacons, being in the role of spiritual advisers, held a similar role in their communities and were therefore worthy of honor and respect.

The Didache gives us an interesting look into the authority structures of the early believing community. Even though the Didache doesn’t mention the physical act of hands being laid on a person, nevertheless the transfer of power and the authority structures it describes are what the laying on of hands was symbolic of.

Conclusion

In our attempt to figure out what the phrase “laying on of hands” meant in our passage of Hebrews, we tried to get a full picture of how the phrase is used in Scripture. We broke down the laying on of hands into three categories: blessing, ritual substitution, and ordaining/granting authority. In the context of our Hebrews passage, it is most likely that the latter is what is meant to be conveyed. If we understand Hebrews 6:1-2 as referring to a catechism which the believers would have gone through,  then it would make sense that before entering the community, the initiate would need to understand the hierarchy of the assembly. Laying on of hands was the primary method of passing down this authority from one person or group to another, and so this phrase would act as a suitable reference to the general instruction regarding what roles were present in the hierarchy of the community as well as the process for passing this authority on in the following generations. This is supported by the fact that the Didache gives instructions about authority structures.

Those who act as leaders in our spiritual communities are to be treated with the respect and honor which their office of shepherd has been granted by God. We as the sheep must balance this honor with our obligation to not blindly follow any doctrine based only on an appeal to authority. Whatever our role in the congregation may be, Messiah is the head of us all, and through Him we receive all power and authority.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.