Symbolic ceremonial act used to invoke a divine blessing or establish a connection for the purpose of sacrifice, ordination, or to impart spiritual gifts.
OLD TESTAMENT: A primary used of laying on of hands in the OT was sacrifices. In Lev 16 the Lord instructed Moses and Aaron concerning the Day of Atonement. At a particular point Aaron was told to place his hands upon a live goat and “confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites-all their sins-put them on the goat’s head” (Lev 16:21), transferring the sins of Israel to the goat.
The identification of the worshiper with a sacrifice is seen in discussion concerning the burnt, fellowship, sin, and ordination offerings (Lev 1:4; 3:2; 4:4; Num 8:12).
Laying on of hands was used to set one apart for a special office. Moses laid his hands on Joshua to identify him as Moses’ successor and of Moses imparting his authority to Joshua (Num 27:18-23). Laying on of hands was used in blessing. Jacob blessed his grandsons, the children of Joseph by placing his hands upon their heads. The laying on of hands in this instance signified future blessing of Joseph’s sons, Ephraim and Manasseh (Gen 48:12-19).
The Laying on of hands also meant to chastise, arrest, capture, or do violence to someone (Exod 22:11; 2 Chron 23:15).
NEW TESTAMENT: There is little difference between the OT and NT usages except that in the NT the sacrificial use is dropped and spirutal gifts are added. As in the OT this expression is used for the arrest or capture of a person (Matt 26:50; Acts 4:3). Jesus blessed children by laying His hands on them (Mark 10:16). He also laid hands upon the sick to heal them (Mark 6:5; Luke 5:13) as did the apostles (Acts 28:8).
Laying on of hands is used in the ordination of the “seven” in Acts 6:6. It is used in the commissioning of Barnabas and Saul for their mission (Acts 13:3). The act of laying on of hands as a method of ordaining or acknowledging a person’s call to a ministry position is a sober task. Paul warned Timothy not to lay hands upon someone too quickly (1 Tim 5:22). By the laying on of hands, the church acknowledges God’s commission of an individual and identifies itself with the Sprit’s enabling the person for the task of ministry.
In Acts are instances when the laying on of it (Acts 8:17-20; 19:6). In these cases, the act confirmed the authenticity of the gospel. First Timothy 4:14 speaks of Timothy receiving a spiritual gift from elders who laid their hands on him. In 2 Tim 1:6 Paul mentions the spiritual gift that Timothy received, “through the laying on of my hands.” These references show that Timothy received authority, the spirit of power, love, and self-discipline (2 Tim 1;7).