There are several views on the basic teaching of the early Church regarding the “laying on of hands.” Some believe the laying on of hands is a process of voting by a congregation in general. Another group views a mere rubber stamp by unknown men representing another group amounts to the laying on of hands. An examination of those main verses where the phrase occurs explains who and what were involved in such an action.
Acts 6:3 “So, brothers, select from your number seven men who are well spoken of - full of Pneuma and wisdom - and then we will appoint them over this duty. Acts 6:4 But, as for us, we will continue to devote ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the Word.” Acts 6:5 And, this statement before the full number [of the disciples] pleased everyone. So, they chose Stephen [a man full of conviction and holy Pneuma], and also Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas [a proselyte from Antioch]. Acts 6:6 These men were placed before the apostles, and having prayed, they laid their hands upon them.” [NCMM]
Conclusion: The laying on of hands by men already appointed may confer appointments on other men.
Acts 8:15 “[These two] arrived and prayed for them so that they might receive holy Pneuma. Acts 8:16 For the [Pneuma] had not yet fallen on them and they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Acts 8:17 So then, the apostles laid their hands on them and they received holy Pneuma.” [NCMM]
Conclusion: The apostles were particularly gifted to impart the holy spirit upon others by the laying on of hands. With the death of these apostles this dispensation of spiritual gifts ceased.
Acts 9:12 “… and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias. And after you go in, lay your hands on him so that he might see again.” Acts 9:17 Then Ananias left and entered into the house, and after laying his hands on Saul, he said: “Brother Saul, the Lord has sent me, Jesus, the One who appeared to you on the road you were traveling, in order that you may see again and may then be filled with holy Pneuma.” [NCMM]
Conclusion: A male disciple - whether he was an elder is not stated, but it is possible - was instructed to lay hands on Saul of Tarsus to heal him and also dispense gifts of the Spirit.
Acts 13:1 “Now in Antioch there were prophets and teachers in the congregation. Their names were Barnabas, Simeon of Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen who was raised with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. Acts 13:2 And as they were publicly worshipping to the LORD, the holy Pneuma said: “Set apart to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work I have called them.” Acts 13:3 Then they fasted and prayed, and after laying hands upon them they sent them away.” [NCMM]
Conclusion: Three elders with the additional offices of prophet and teacher could appoint elders to special ministries, such as missionary. [Compare Ephesians 4:12]
Acts 19:6 “Now when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the holy Pneuma came upon them. Then they all began to speak in tongues and prophesied. Acts 19:7 Now there were about twelve men in all.” [NCMM]
Conclusion: Like the apostles John and Peter, Paul could also dispense the Spirit by the laying on of hands.
Acts 28:8 “It happened that the father of Publius lay sick with fever and dysentery. So Paul entered the room and after prayer he laid his hands on him and he was healed.” [NCMM]
1 Timothy 4:14 “Do not neglect your gift which was given to you by a prophecy with the laying on of hands by the presbytery.” [NCMM]
Conclusion: An elder may be appointed by a body of elders.
1 Timothy 5:17 “Let those elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the Word and teaching. … 1 Timothy 5:22 Never lay on your hands hastily, nor participate in the sins of others.” [NCMM]
Conclusion: Judging from this text along with Titus 1:5 it is likely that individual men who were already elders could lay their hands on other men to appoint them as elders.
2 Timothy 1:6 “Hence I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands.” [NCMM]
A man already appointed as an elder by a body of elders could receive other gifts or appointments by the laying on of hands of another authorized man.
General observations: The laying on of hands seemed to serve three purposes: a] the dispensation of gifts of the holy spirit; b] the appointment to positions of authority; c] other special appointments. It is noted that women are never so appointed and that women never lay hands on others. Essentially, the phrase “laying on of hands” indicates authority. In the case of the early Church this authority derived from Jesus the Nazarene. By extension, and the application of godly principles, the same authorized laying on of hands could exist today.
For example, elders among the Friends of the Nazarene believe the appointment by other elders or deacons may be performed by any of the “founding elders” and those they appoint to do likewise. Though, as in Bible times, an individual elder - acting as an “apostle” - may make such an appointment, in most circumstances the other founding elders may be respectfully consulted for their opinions.
Nazarene Commentary 2000© by Mark Heber Miller
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