Laying On of Hands

The need for repentance and baptism was clearly taught by Christ and the apostles. But do people need to have hands laid on them to receive the Holy Spirit?

When John the Baptist first began preaching, he commanded those who heard him to repent: “In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!’” (Matthew 3:1-2). Repentance is necessary before baptism. (See our article “What Is Repentance?”)

It is clear that many of those who heard John the Baptist speak understood what repentance was. They were convicted of sin, repented and were baptized. “Then Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him and were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins” (verses 5-6).

But was something still missing? The answer is yes!

What else besides repentance and baptism do we need?

Does repentance and baptism complete our transformation and change, or is there something vitally important that we still need from God?

Notice what the apostle Paul asked when he came among some disciples in Ephesus: “‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?’ So they said to him, ‘We have not so much as heard whether there is a Holy Spirit’” (Acts 19:2). Other translations allow that the men had heard of the Holy Spirit, but didn’t know it had been given. For example, the American Standard Version says, “We did not so much as hear whether the Holy Spirit was given.” The Darby Translation says, “We did not even hear if the Holy Spirit was come.”

Paul asked an important question: “Did you receive the Holy Spirit?” They had repented and were baptized, but they told him they had not received the Holy Spirit.

Look at Paul’s response: “And he said to them, ‘Into what then were you baptized?’ So they said, ‘Into John’s baptism.’ Then Paul said, ‘John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.’ When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied” (verses 3-6, emphasis added throughout).

What exactly is the laying on of hands?

In simple terms, hands are laid on an individual by those in authority to set that person apart before God for His special attention or blessing. The laying on of hands does not of itself provide the Holy Spirit. Much like baptism, the laying on of hands is a physical action with a spiritual component. When a minister lays hands on a person after baptism, it is God (not the minister) who gives the Holy Spirit.

There are many examples of hands being laid on an individual in the New Testament. Hands were laid on people (usually on their heads) for healing through the process of anointing (James 5:14), for the blessing of children (Matthew 19:13-15), for ordaining ministers (1 Timothy 4:14), and for the receiving of God’s Holy Spirit, as we’ve already seen in Acts 19.

The laying on of hands with prayer, asking God to give the Holy Spirit, is also found in the following passage:

Once a person repents, believes and is baptized, it is through the laying on of hands that he or she receives God’s Spirit.“Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them, who, when they had come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. … They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit” (Acts 8:14-17).

After a person is baptized, a special prayer is given, asking God to place His Holy Spirit in those who have repented and accepted Jesus Christ as their personal Savior. Only authorized representatives of God—most scriptural examples are of ordained ministers—should lay hands on the newly baptized person. God is the One who gives the gift of His Holy Spirit. It cannot be bargained for or purchased.

“They laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit”

Once a person repents, believes and is baptized, it is through the laying on of hands that he or she receives God’s Spirit. The Spirit of God would then be in that person as the promised “Helper” (John 14:16), which is necessary for a person to be a follower of Jesus Christ and for our ultimate salvation (see Romans 8:9-11). For more information about the Holy Spirit, see the articles in the Holy Spirit section.

We, then, must not neglect the Spirit of God that is in us or allow it to be quenched (1 Thessalonians 5:19). Rather, we need to do as Paul admonished Timothy: “Stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:6-7).

Is the laying on of hands a teaching of the New Testament Church?

The laying on of hands is one of the foundational doctrines listed in the book of Hebrews:

“Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment” (Hebrews 6:1-2).

Once these stepping-stones of understanding are laid, we are expected to grow toward “perfection” (which can mean completeness or maturity). God wants us to maintain that foundation and then build on it in our converted lives.

With the laying on of hands after baptism (and thereby receiving God’s Holy Spirit), a whole new life will emerge in front of us, as we realize just how valuable that Spirit is. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Looking for the church behind Life, Hope & Truth? See our “Who We Are” page.

Are you missing God’s Holy Spirit?

Without God’s Holy Spirit, our “transformation” through the process of conversion (change) is incomplete. Receiving the gift of God’s Holy Spirit through the laying on of hands is only the beginning. The process of conversion and developing God’s holy, righteous character is a process that takes time. To learn more about this, be sure to read the articles “What Is Conversion?” and “How Do You Know You Have the Holy Spirit?”

About the Author

Paul Carter

Paul Carter is pastor of the Church of God, a Worldwide Association, congregations in Los Angeles and Bakersfield, California. He is a contributing writer for Life, Hope & Truth, as well as the director of two summer camps for teens and preteens in the Southwest. He is married with three wonderful children, and enjoys the outdoors including hunting, fishing, hiking and volleyball.

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