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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: Introduction to the Gifts of the Holy Spirit

Don Stewart :: Do People Receive Either the Holy Spirit, or Spiritual Gifts, by the Laying on of Hands?

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Do People Receive Either the Holy Spirit, or Spiritual Gifts, by the Laying on of Hands?

Introduction to the Gifts of the Holy Spirit – Question 13

The Scripture speaks of people laying hands on others to receive the Holy Spirit, as well as the gifts of the Holy Spirit. How are we to understand these passages of Scripture?

The Holy Spirit Was Given in Samaria by the Laying on of Hands

In one instance, we are told that the gift of the Holy Spirit was given by the laying on of the apostles’ hands. This took place when Peter and John visited Samaria after hearing of their belief in Jesus. We read the following in the Book of Acts.

Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:17 ESV).

The Spirit of God was received the moment Peter and John laid their hands upon these Samaritan believers.

This event caused a man named Simon Magus to want this power for himself. The Bible says.

Simon saw that the Spirit was given to the Samaritans when the apostles placed their hands on them. So he offered Peter and John money (Acts 8:18 God’s Word).

Simon actually offered money for the power that the disciples had; to impart the Spirit by the laying on of hands.

A Spiritual Gift Was Given to Timothy by the Laying on of Hands

The Scripture also speaks of the impartation of spiritual gifts by the laying on of hands. Paul wrote to Timothy on two different occasions about his reception of spiritual gifts through the laying on of hands. Paul told Timothy to stir up the gift that is in him. This gift came about through the laying on of hands of the Apostle Paul.

For this reason I remind you to kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands (2 Timothy 1:6 NASB).

Paul also wrote about how the elders had laid their hands upon Timothy to give him a spiritual gift.

Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you through prophecy with the laying on of hands by the council of elders (1 Timothy 4:14 NRSV).

On each occasion Paul emphasized that the reception of this gift was accompanied by the laying on of hands.

Paul Expressed a Desire to Impart Spiritual Gifts

The Apostle Paul also wrote to the church at Rome about his ability to impart spiritual gifts. He explained it in this manner.

For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you–that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine (Romans 1:11, 12 ESV).

The purpose of these gifts was to strengthen the believers. Paul wanted to impart these gifts.

What Did Paul Mean by This?

What does this mean? Does this tell us that the Holy Spirit, as well as spiritual gifts, can be received when a Christian leader lays hands on another Christian? There are three possible meanings as to what Paul meant.

  1. Paul himself wanted to be a special blessing to the Romans through the gifts God had given him.
  2. Paul had some special power that he wanted to give them.
  3. Paul wanted to impart to them some spiritual gift.

Did Paul Have Some Unique Ability?

It is possible that Paul had a unique ability to impart some special power to believers or spiritual gifts. However there is no reason to believe that anyone, after the time of the apostles, has had the ability to impart spiritual gifts or spiritual power to people.

There are a number of things which we do know for certain.

Laying on of Hands Was an Elementary Doctrine of the Christian Faith

According to the Book of Hebrews, the doctrine of the laying on of hands was one of the elementary doctrines of the faith.

Therefore let us go on toward perfection, leaving behind the basic teaching about Christ, and not laying again the foundation: repentance from dead works and faith toward God, instruction about baptisms, laying on of hands, resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment (Hebrews 6:1, 2 NRSV).

In this context, the idea of the laying on of hands is equated with baptism and the resurrection from the dead as an elementary truth or doctrine of the faith.

Some Think That Laying on of Hands Was for Identification, Not Impartation

There is the view that the laying on of hands was not for the impartation of any spiritual gifts – rather it was for the purpose of identification with the leadership. The practice was to unite the believers in Jesus Christ. Thus, nothing supernatural happened with the laying on of hands.

Prophecy Was the Circumstances, Not the Means by Which Timothy Received His Gift

We also find that Paul said the gift was given to Timothy “through prophecy.” This has been understood in various ways.

The best answer seems to be that the phrase “given to you through prophecy” does not denote the means that Timothy received the spiritual gift. In other words, it was through some prophetic message that Timothy then received this gift.

Instead the prophecy was an accompanying circumstance when he received his gift. Thus, the gift was accompanied by a prophetic message. These prophetic words may have stated what Timothy would do with the gift that was given him. Therefore, a prophetic word was given at the time, but prophecy was not the means by which he acquired the gift. Indeed, the gift had already been given to him.

Spiritual Gifts Are Probably Given at the Moment of Salvation

It seems that spiritual gifts are given to every believer the moment they trust Jesus Christ as Savior. If this is the case, then the laying on of hands to impart a spiritual gift would be unnecessary.

This, of course, does not mean that the spiritual gift will immediately become apparent. People may have a spiritual gift without being aware they have been given it. This could have been what happened in the case of Timothy. The gift he had been previously given was finally recognized by the leadership of the church. Their “laying on of hands” confirmed this fact.

Summary – Question 13
Do People Receive Either the Holy Spirit, or Spiritual Gifts by the Laying on of Hands?

The Bible gives one example of the Holy Spirit being given by the laying on of hands by Christian leaders. There are also two examples of spiritual gifts being bestowed in this manner. Does this mean that spiritual gifts are not received until the leadership of the church lays their hands upon the individual?

While there is an example of the Holy Spirit given by the laying on of hands, as well as an example of spiritual gifts given by the laying on of hands, this was not the normal means of receiving the Holy Spirit or the gifts of the Spirit.

The Holy Spirit was received upon belief in Jesus. There was no delay whatsoever. That which took place in Samaria was a special case. It was not the norm for New Testament believers.

In the two instances when Paul told Timothy that he had received his gifts through the laying on of hands by the leadership there are several things which we must observe.

First, it is possible that the Apostle Paul had some unique ability to impart spiritual gifts to people. However, if this was the case, there is no indication that anyone else was ever given this same ability or that Paul passed on this ability to others.

It is also possible that the laying on of hands was not for the impartation of the spiritual gift but rather for the confirmation that Timothy had received the gift. In other words, this gift which Timothy had earlier received was not evident to everyone. The leadership of the church was merely acknowledging this fact. The prophetic words which were spoken at the time explained how Timothy was going to use the gift for the glory of the Lord.

While the Scriptures do not specifically say when believers receive spiritual gifts, it seems best to understand they are received the moment one trusts Jesus Christ as Savior. If this is the case, then the laying on of hands means something other than the impartation of some spiritual gift.

When Do Believers Receive Their Spiritual Gifts? ← Prior Section
Does the Bible Tell Believers to Desire the Best Gifts? Next Section →
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