On the Laying on of Hands

“And Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel…”

Lev. 16:21

“Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works…  and of laying on of hands…”

Heb. 6:1-2

“…the Holy Ghost said, ‘Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.’  And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.  So they, being sent forth by the Holy Ghost, departed…”

Acts 13:1-4




On the 7 Sacraments of Romanism



Order of Contents

Nature of, Who May & is it Essential, Efficient or Proper
.      Articles  12+
.      Quotes  8+
Only Ministers May Lay Hands on an Ordinand  6
Episcopalians & Baptists  8+
Bibliography  1
Latin  6



What is the Nature of the Laying on of Hands,
Who May Do it & is it Essential, Efficient or Proper?




Calvin, John – Institutes  (1559), Bk. 4

ch. 3, section 16
ch. 14, section 20
ch. 19, sections 4, 12 & 31



Gillespie, George

Miscellany Questions, ch. 8, p. 46

This is the fullest delineation of Gillespie’s viewpoint, though it is unable to be dated.

An Assertion of the Government of the Church of Scotland in the Points of Ruling Elders  (Edinburgh, 1641), Part 1, ch. 14, pp. 103-104

English-Popish Ceremonies, Bk. 3, ch. 8, Digression 1, pp. 165-6  (Edinburgh, 1844)

Gillespie argues that the laying on of hands is not necessary or essential to the act of ordination (which Episcopalians often argued in his day), but was a common civil/societal gesture to point out the ones being prayed for, which need not be imitated today, but ought to be retained in the churches.

Scripture holds out the laying on of hands as a natural action designating the person or thing selected (see especially Gen. 48:14,17; also: Lev. 16:21; 24:14; Num. 27:18,23; Dt. 34:9; Mt. 9:18; 19:14-15; Mk. 5:23; 6:5; 16:18; Lk. 1:66; 4:40; 13:13; Acts 6:6; 8:17-19; 13:3; 19:6; 28:8; 1 Tim. 4:14; Heb. 6:2; Rev. 1:17), though it does not confer ministerial authority; the consent and act of presbytery does.

Seaman, Lazarus – ‘Concerning Imposition of Hands’  31 pp.  in The Diatribe [by Sidrach Simpson] Proved to be Para-Diatribe. Or, A Vindication of the Judgment of the Reformed Churches & Protestant Divines from Misrepresentations Concerning Ordination & Laying on of Hands. Together with a Brief Answer to the Pretenses of Edmond Chillenden for the Lawfulness of Preaching Without Ordination  (1647)

Seaman (d. 1675) was a divine-right presbyterian and Westminster divine.  Seaman argues against Sidrach Simpson (1600?-1655) in this piece, who was an Independent Westminster divine.  Here is Simpson’s Diatribe (1647) that Seaman argues against.

Simpson takes a less normative view of laying on of hands; Seaman argues a more normative view.

English Presbyterian Provincial Assembly – Jus divinum ministerii evangelici. Or The Divine Right of the Gospel-Ministry…  (London, 1654)

ch. 12, ‘Wherein the Third Assertion is Proved, viz. That Ordination of Ministers ought to be by Prayer, Fasting & Imposition of hands’

ch. 13, ‘Wherein the Fourth Assertion about Ordination is Proved, viz. That Ordination of Ministers ought to be by the Laying on of the Hands of the Presbytery’

Brinsley, John – The Sacred Ordinance of Ordination, by Imposition of the Hands of the Presbytery. As it was lately held forth in a Sermon…  (London, 1656)  on 1 Tim. 4:14

Brinsley (1600–1665) was an English, nonconforming, puritan clergyman.  He associated with the presbyterians during the Inter-Regnum.  He was ejected in 1662 at the Great Ejection.

Firmin, Giles

pt. 2, ch. 2, ‘Concerning Imposition of Hands in Ordination’  in Of Schism, Parochial Congregations in England & Ordination by Imposition of Hands  (London, 1658), pp. 119-57

Firmin (1614-1697) was an English puritan minister (ejected in 1662) and physician.  He was also a deacon in the first church in Massachusetts of John Cotton.

‘Whether Imposition of Hands in the Separation of a Person to the Work of the Ministry be Necessary?’  22 pp.  in Weighty Questions Discussed…  (London, 1692)



Bannerman, James – Appendix H, ‘Imposition of Hands in Ordination’  in Church of Christ, vol. 2, pp. 421-4

Bannerman was a Free Church of Scotland professor, who summarizes and expounds a similar position as Gillespie above (though not precisely the same).

“The laying on of hands, or the action which usually accompanies ordination, is no essential part of it.”  “And, in the second place, imposition of hands in ordination is no significant part of the institution…” p. 421

“It is a suitable and Scriptural accompaniment of our then and there imploring the divine blessing on the person ordained, and of his solemn designation to office and consecration to the work of the Lord, which all take place at that time.  But it does not enter as an essential part into the ordination, as if that would be invalidated by the absence of the imposition of hands.” p. 422




Order of Quotes

First Book of Discipline
Second Book of Discipline



Scottish First Book of Discipline  1560

Fourth Head, Concerning Ministers and Their Lawful Election

“The admission of ministers to their offices must consist in consent of the people and kirk whereto they shall be appointed, and in approbation of the learned ministers appointed for their examination.

Other ceremony than the public approbation of the people, and declaration of the chief minister, that the person there presented is appointed to serve that kirk, we cannot approve; for albeit the apostles used the imposition of hands, yet seeing the miracle is ceased, the using of the ceremony we judge is not necessary.”


Scottish Second Book of Discipline  1578

Ch. 3, ‘How the Persons that Bear Ecclesiastical Functions are to be Admitted to Their Office’

“6. Ordination is the separation and sanctifying of the person appointed of God and his kirk, after he is well-tried and found qualified.  The ceremonies of ordination are fasting, earnest prayer, and imposition of hands of the eldership.”



George Gillespie

English-Popish Ceremonies (1637), pt. 3

ch. 4, p. 73

“Kneeling in receiving imposition of hands, which is joined with prayer and invocation, has nothing ado with kneeling in a mediate worship, for in this case a man kneels because of the immediate worship of invocation: But when there is no prayer, I suppose no man will kneel religiously and with a religious respect to those persons or things which are before him, as there purposely in his sight that before them he may adore, which is the kind of kneeling now in question, or if any did so, there were more need to give him instruction than ordination.”


ch. 5, p. 91

“…the sign of imposition of hands helps not the cause of our Opposites, because it’s the example of Christ and the apostles, and their disciples, which our [imposed] ceremonies have not: yet we think not imposition of hands to be any sacred or mystical sign, but only a moral [sign], for designation of a person: let them who think more highly or honorably of it, look to their warrants.”


Assertion of the Government of the Church of Scotland (1641), pt. 2, ch. 3, p. 132

“But it is further objected by Sutlivius that this could not be such a Presbytery as is a­mong us, because ordination and imposition of hands pertain to none but the ministers of the Word.

Answer 1.  The children of Israel laid their hands upon the Levites (Num. 8:10), and we would know his reason why he denies the like power to ruling elders now, especially since this imposition of hands is but a ge­sture of one praying, and a moral sign declaring the person prayed for.

2. Howsoever our practice (which is also approved by good divines, Junius, Cont. 5, book 1, ch. 3; Synopsis Pur. Theol., Disputation 42, Thesis 37) is to put a difference betwixt the act of ordination and the external right thereof, which is imposition of hands, ascribing the former to the whole Presbytery both pastors and elders, and reserving the lat­ter to the ministers of the Word, yet to be done in the name of all.”


Samuel Rutherford

Due Right of Presbyteries (1644), Part 1, ch. 7, section 7, ‘Of Deacons’, pp. 169-70

“2.  It is not said that deacons were ordained with fasting and prayer, Acts 6, as the elders are chosen in every Church, Acts 14:23, and as hands are laid upon Paul and Barnabas; Acts 13:3-4, but simply that the apostles, Acts 6:6, prayed and laid their hands on them.  Which seemeth to me to be nothing but a sign of praying over the deacons, and no ceremony or sacrament conferring on them the Holy Ghost:

And Steven his working of miracles, and speaking with wisdom irresistible was but the fruit of that grace and extraordinary measure of the Holy Ghost abundantly poured forth on all ranks of persons in those days when the prophecy of Joel was now taking its accomplishment; Acts 2:16-19; Joel 2:28-29. which grace was in Steven before he was ordained a deacon by the laying on of hands. Acts 6:3-5.  And the Text saith not that Steven did wonders and signs amongst the people by virtue of imposition of hands, or of his deaconry, but because he was full of faith and power. v. 8, else you must make working of miracles a gift bestowed on all those who serve tables, and are not to give themselves to continual praying and the ministry of the Word.  I think papists will not say so much of all their priests; and we can say it of none of our pastors, nor doth Chysostom say that Steven, as a deacon, and by virtue of the office of a deacon wrought miracles, but only that his miracles and disputing was a mere consequent of laying on of hands.

Further, laying on of hands was taken from the custom of blessing amongst the Jews, Christ laid his hands upon young children and blessed them, yet did he not, thereby, design them to any office.”


A Survey of the Survey of that Sum of Church-Discipline penned by Mr. Thomas Hooker  (1658)

p. 76

“Why did ye [Congregationalists] not clear yourselves of: …  4.  the necessity of ordination by laying on of the hands of the elders, etc.; to such you say not anything, in leaving the Reformed Churches and joining with these enemies of the truth [Papists, Episcopalians, etc.]; but of this hereafter: you have yet place to dismiss the crowd.”


p. 315

“…but the question now is: whether they [Church officers] be subjectively sent potestate missionis [by the power of mission], by ordination and laying on of hands (the ceremony to me is [of] economy, not to be despised; but for the thing itself I contend) of elders, or people, and in an official power of the keys to shut or open Heaven…”


pp. 428-9

“If [as Thomas Hooker says,] ‘the laying on of hands be no specificating act of an office, because it is used in other performances, as in the sending of Paul and Barnabas to preach to the Gentiles, Acts 13,’ then shall water not be essential to baptism, nor drinking to the Lord’s Supper, nor blessing sacramental in that Supper, because in Levitical washings, in the feasts-sacred, in the Passover, in praying for a blessing to the Word preached, all these were used.  It’s loose logic, a genere ad speciem [a genus to the species]; the question is not of laying on of hands in general, but of a certain kind and species of laying on of hands by way of prayer and designation.  Mr. Rutherford knows there be diverse kinds of laying on of hands.

2.  Nor do I say that the rite is essential to ordination, but of the necessity of before.”


Francis Turretin

Institutes of Eclenctic Theology, vol. 3, Topic 19, Question 31, ‘The Five False Sacraments of the Romanists’, section 36, ‘Proof that the Orders [of Church Office] are not Sacraments’

“V. …But no better do they substitute in the place of the chrism the imposition of hands.  This rite [of the imposition of hands] was never commanded by Christ, nor as the act of a minister and a common rite; nor ([as it was] temporary and used in the Old Testament) can it be a visible and determinate sign of any sacrament.”

“VI. No more can the rite of the sacrament of confirmation than the name be shown from the Scriptures.  The apostles indeed employed the imposition of hands (cheirothesian, Acts 8:17; 19:6), but since it is evident that that was done in a visible dispensation of the Holy Spirit in the nascent condition of the church and indeed from a special promise, it is clear that it was an extraordinary rite and for this reason only temporary (whose end ceased together with other miracles).

That the sacerdotal chrism and anointing were altogether different from the apostolic laying on of hands (cheirothesia) and that this [chrism/anointing] referred to the bestowal of the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit is not obscurely gathered…”

“XXXVI…  For as to the laying on of hands, it cannot be considered as a sign.

(a) It is not an element, but an action.

(b) It is common with confirmation and many other things and was practiced even under the Old Testament.

(c) It was not instituted by Christ by any command, but is a free ceremony, which we read indeed of having been employed, but not of having been instituted; what has been employed, however, ought not at once to be said to have been instituted.  Thus the washing of feet and breathing upon the apostles were employed by Christ (Jn. 13:5; Jn. 20:22); yet they were not on that account instituted.

(d) Imposition of hands does not pertain to all the orders [of Church office], but only to some.”



That Only Ministers May Lay Hands on One being Ordained a Minister


This is in distinction from ruling elders laying hands on one being ordained a minister.  The reason for this is because ruling elders do not have all the calling, authority and functions of ministers, they having different offices; hence ruling elders cannot impart what they do not have, the authority of a minister, to one being ordained a minister.

Do note that what actually confers the authority of the office is the consent of the presbyterial ministers unto that establishment, per the Word and the natural warrant of the circumstances.  The outward gesture of laying on of hands at best, if used (see above), is simply an ouward designation of the one who is being prayed for and so constittuted.

Note further that a common reformed view during the Post-Reformation was that the practice of laying on of hands was only used (when it was) in the ordination of ministers, not with ruling elders and deacons; they often believing that was all the warrant Scripture gave with respect to the practice.



George Gillespie

English Popish Ceremonies  (1637), pt. 3, ch. 8, Digression 1, p. 171

“This number of preaching elders in one city, together with those elders which in the same city labored for discipline only ([Johann] Gerard [a Lutheran], Theological Places, tome 6, pp. 134, 136), made up that company which the apostle, 1 Tim. 4:14, calls a presbytery, and which gave ordination to the ministers of the Church.

To the whole presbytery, made up of those two sorts of elders, belonged the act of ordination, which is mission (Junius, above, note 5, 12; Synopsis of Pure Theology, Disputation 42, Thesis 37), howbeit the rite, which was imposition of hands, belonged to those elders alone which labored in the Word and doctrine.  And so we are to understand that which the apostle there says, of the presbitery’s laying on of hands upon Timothy…”


Samuel Rutherford

A Peaceable and Temperate Plea (1642), p. 264

“3. Ordination is an act of authority and supreme jurisdiction conjoined with fasting, praying, and laying on of the hands of the elders; but public praying and dedicating the pastor to Christ’s service with imposition of hands is given to pastors, Acts 6:6; 1 Tim. 4:14; Acts 13:1-3, but never to the multitude of believers…”


Westminster’s Form of Presbyterial Church Government  1645

Touching the Doctrine of Ordination

“Every minister of the word is to be ordained by imposition of hands, and prayer, with fasting, by those preaching presbyters to whom it doth belong. (1 Tim. 5:22Acts 14:23Acts 13:3.)”


Touching the Power of Ordination

“The preaching presbyters orderly associated, either in cities or neighbouring villages, are those to whom the imposition of hands doth appertain, for those congregations within their bounds respectively.”

[Note that the last clause is contrary to the common, current American practice, where all ministers of various presbyteries and denominations that are present at an ordination, lay hands on the ordinand.]


Concerning the Doctrinal Part of Ordination of Ministers

“4. Every minister of the word is to be ordained by imposition of hands, and prayer, with fasting, by these preaching presbyters to whom it doth belong. (Tim. 5:22Acts 14:23Acts 13:3.)”


The Directory for the Ordination of Ministers.

“8. Which being mutually promised by the people, the presbytery, or the ministers sent from them for ordination, shall solemnly set him apart to the office and work of the ministry, by laying their hands on him, which is to be accompanied with a short prayer or blessing…”





Milbourne, Richard – Concerning Imposition of Hands. A Sermon at the Lord Archbishop, his Visitation Metropolitical…  (London, 1607)  on 1 Tim. 5:22

Milbourne (d. 1624) was an Anglican parson and doctor of divinity.

Taylor, Jeremy – ‘In Defence of Laying on of Hands, as a Never-Failing Ministry’  appended to Thomas Grantham, The Pædo-Baptist’s Apology…  (London, 1671), pp. 98-112

Taylor was an Arminian, latitudinarian, Anglican clergyman and writer.  Grantham was a baptist minister.

Hall, Joseph – Cheirothesia, or, A Confirmation of the Apostolical Confirmation of Children, Setting forth the Divine Ground, End & Use of that too much Neglected Institution…  (London, 1651)

section1, ‘No notice taken of the imposition of hands, yet how important it is, and ought to be esteemed’

Hall was a reformed Anglican and divine right episcopalian.

section 2, ‘What kind of imposition of hands is meant, Heb. 6:2, namely that of Confirmation’

section 6, ‘Confirmation by imposition of hands not dying with the apostles, and continuing in the Church after the miraculous gifts’

section 8, ‘Imposition of hands, not a dumb Ceremony, but joined with Prayer’



In Baptist History & Theology

In Baptist History

Grant, Keith – ‘An Independent Ecclesiology: Ordination & Order Between Church & Association’, no page number  in Andrew Fuller & the Theological Renewal of Pastoral Theology  (Paternoster, 2013)

Grant surveys the views of Sutcliff, Gill & Spurgeon on the laying on of hands with respect to ordination.  The congregational churches “usually incorporated the act because of New Testament precedent”, but Sutcliff denied that it conferred any gifts; “Our hands are empty.”  As their hands were empty, Gill and Spurgeon thought the practice should cease, and omitted it.  Fuller, however, was of another mind (see below).


Article, with Respect to Ordination

Fuller, Andrew – ‘Queries Relative to Ordination’, p. 356  in ‘Theological & Biblical Magazine’  in The Works of the Rev. Andrew Fuller, in Eight Volumes  (New Haven, 1825), vol. 8

“But that which is used to express or described a practice [such as the laying on of hands], would seem to be an important, if not an essential part of it.” – p. 356


Books, on Laying on of Hands in Confirmation of Believers through Prayer


Chamberlain, Peter – A Discourse Between Captain Kiffin & Dr. Chamberlain about Imposition of Hands  (London, 1654)

The context of this document appears to have been amongst the sects in London during the mid-1650’s.  The parties distinguish themselves from the presbyterians.  They also mention that they at one time had discarded baptism (as some of the sects had done), though no longer. (p. 1)

Chamberlain argues for the imposition of hands in prayer with regard to all baptized believers, as a sort of confirmation, associated with the giving of the Holy Ghost.  Kiffin argues against it.

Grantham, Thomas

A Sigh for Peace, or, The Cause of Division Discovered, wherein the Great Gospel Promise of the Holy Ghost, & the Doctrine of Prayer with Imposition of Hands, as the way Ordained of God to Seek for it, is Asserted & Vindicated…  ([London] 1671)

Grantham (1634-1692) was an English general baptist.

The Fourth Principle of Christ’s Doctrine Vindicated, a Brief Answer to H. Danvers’ Book, intituled, A Treatise of Laying on of Hands, Plainly Evincing the True Antiquity & Perpetuity of that Despised Ministration of Prayer, with the Imposition of Hands for the Promise of the Spirit…  (London, 1674)

Keach, Benjamin – Darkness Vanquished: or, Truth in its Primitive Purity, being an Answer to a late book of Mr. Henry Danvers, entitled, A Treatise of Laying on of Hands. Wherein his mistakes & cloudy apprehensions about it, are in a faithful and friendly manner rectified, his grand obiections answered, & Imposition of Hands upon Baptised Believers, as such with Prayer for the Spirit of Promise is Proved, to be a Holy & Divine Institution of Jesus Christ, and Accordingly Practiced by the Apostles & Primitive Saints. Together with the Testimony of many Famous Writers, both Ancient, & of later times concerning it  (London, 1675)  39 pp.




Malcom, Howard – ‘Imposition of Hands’  in Theological Index...  (Boston, 1868), p. 233



Latin Articles


Hyperius, Andreas – ch. 5, ‘Of the Impoisition of Hands’  in The Elements of the Christian Religion…  on Heb. 6…  (Basil, 1563)  pp. 75-86

Szegedin Pannonius, Stephan – pp. 209-210 of Common Places of Pure Theology, of God and Man, Explained in Continuous Tables and the Dogma of the Schools Illustrated  (Basil, 1585/93)  The whole work is in the form of outlines.

Szegedin (1515-1572) was Swiss reformed and also was known as Stephan Kis.

Aretius, Benedict – Locus 65, ‘Of the Imposition of Hands’ in Sacred Problems of Theology: Common Places of the Christian Religion Methodically Explicated  (Geneva, 1589; Bern, 1604), pp. 193-5.

Aretius (1505–1574) was Swiss reformed.



Walaeus, Antonius – ‘Is the Imposition of Hands Necessary and a Sacrament?’ under ‘Of Pastors’ in ‘Ecclesiastical Functions’  in Common Places, p. 473-4  in All the Works (Leiden, 1643)

Walaeus (1573-1639)

“Wallaeus (tome 1, p. 473) thinks that the negative precept, 1 Tim. 5:22, ‘Lay hands suddenly on no man,’ does also contain an affirmative to lay hands upon such as are worthy and approved.” – Gillespie, Miscellany Questions, ch. 8, p. 46

Voet, Gisbert – Section 1  of Ch. 8, ‘Questions on Some Rituals, in Particular: on the Laying on of Hands…’  in Ecclesiastical Politics, Part 1, Book 2, ‘Of Ecclesiastical Things, or Acts and Exercises’, Tract 1, ‘Of Formularies, or Liturgies and Rituals’, pp. 460-466


1st Problem, ‘What of the rite of laying on of hands in miracles (Mk. 16:18; 6:13)?’, p. 460  2 Conclusions.

2nd Problem, ‘Of what sort was the laying on of hands in blessing (Heb. 6:2)?’, p. 460

3rd Problem, ‘What ought to be decided about the laying on of hands in Acts 8 & 19:6 considered with Heb. 6:2?’, p. 461  3 Conclusions

4th Problem, ‘What is to be decided about the laying on of hands in ordination or the constituting of ministers (on which see 1 Tim. 4 & 5)?’, pp. 461-66

“I respond:  The Papists make ordination a sacrament, and this the the material of it, the laying on of hands (see Cornelius a Lapide, Commentary in location).  This opinion has been refuted, see their antagonists.  The Lutherans however reckon it according to the indifferent rites (see Eckhardt in location cited); however they are seen to discover something in it mystical and necessary however often they knowingly touch upon our indifferent things on this rite.  We, however varied in locations and possibly in however many churches this right is used, yet adjudge it to be merely indifferent.  See Piscator, Daneus and other commentators in 1 Timothy and Acts 6 & 13; and Alting in the Exegesis of the Augsburg Confession, p. 90.  This right was commonly used in synagogues, schools and the polity of the Jews, from where it is seen the apostles took it, which is the opinion of Calvin in his Commentary on Acts 6 & 13, and Institutes, bk. 4, ch. 3, section 16.”

Queries 1-4, p. 462
Queries 5-7, p. 463-4
Query 8, p. 465-6



van Bashuysen, Heinrich Jakob – A Theological Exercitation for Solemnly being Admitted by Theological Examination, on the Imposition of Hands, with Annexed Theological Principles  (Hanau, 1704)

Bashuysen (1679-1750) was a German reformed professor of oriental languages, Church history and theology.




“And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, ‘Bring forth him that hath cursed without the camp; and let all that heard him lay their hands upon his head, and let all the congregation stone him.'”

Lev. 24:13-14

“They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.”

Mk. 16:18

“Lay hands suddenly on no man…”

1 Tim. 5:22




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