Is the Laying on of Hands Necessary to Receive the Holy Spirit?

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Is the Laying on of Hands Necessary to Receive the Holy Spirit?

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The Bible gives us a clear answer. Paul came upon some believers in Ephesus who had been baptized by no less than John the Baptist. Yet they had not received the Holy Spirit for two reasons. One is that they did not have the laying on of hands. The other was that they apparently did not fully understand the Christian way of life, the covenant into which one enters through baptism.

What did their baptism by John accomplish? Undoubtedly, it helped prepare them for conversion, for he preached repentance. And it likely strengthened their resolve to obey God. But the baptism didn't bring about their conversion or result in their receiving the Holy Spirit. Clearly, many factors have to be in order for that to take place, including knowledge of sin (the transgression of God's law, 1 John 3:4), an awareness of the need for forgiveness, true repentance (turning from sin to obedience) and a clear understanding of the obligations of Christianity. In addition, the baptism should, under normal circumstances, be done by a minister of God's true Church, followed by the laying on of hands and prayer to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

You can read this encounter in Acts 19:1-6, where you will see that Paul—after counseling the believers—baptized them again and laid hands on them.

Like baptism, the practice of laying on of hands has its historical roots in the Old Testament. In ancient times this practice, often accompanied by anointing with oil, was used to set men apart to serve God in the offices of king or priest. It was also sometimes invoked in setting apart sacrifices or other things for holy use. Similarly, laying on of hands after baptism signifies that the newly baptized person has now been set apart for God.

Since the days of the apostles, the laying on of hands after baptism has signified the actual moment of the receiving of the Holy Spirit and the setting apart of a convert as a child of God. It is only through the gift of God's Spirit that we can develop the godly attitude of obedience and faith. The practice of laying on of hands for the receiving of God's Spirit is mentioned in Acts 8:17; Acts 19:6; and 2 Timothy 1:6.

For more information, please read our booklet The Road to Eternal Life.


  • Johnathon
    I think conversations like these pull people out of focus. I don't think they bring people closer to YHWH or Christ. The reason for that is because the focus is placed on what they want to get and this can easily become a false and lost path. People that focus on topics like this risk falling prey to being controlled by other people, especially clergy. After all, your paying their salaries, right? If you need someone (a pastor) to lay their hands on you in order to be saved, this gives the pastor control over your life -literally - and that's true regardless of whether or not anything else is needed. Scholars disagree on this topic. You can attempt to interpret this through Paul's writings or through those that followed Paul (Timothy, Luke), or you can attempt to interpret it from Christ's sayings, which do not mention the laying on of hands. In either case, the text never says it is required; that is an interpretation. Get an exegetical dictionary from the library (Greek/English), get a Strong's Concordance (available at the library), get your bible, and go online to a site that references most English-speaking bibles, and do the work. You don't have to know Koine Greek. Line up each of the verses and look up the words, one by one. Go online and read scholarly interpretations of these verses. Pray about it. Let it go. In my opinion, the laying on of hands is not required.
  • Malachi 3_16-18
    Hi Tina27, The word Christian is indeed mentioned in the Bible, in several places: “And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch” (Acts 11:26). King Agrippa told Paul, “You almost persuade me to become a Christian” (Acts 26:28). “Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed…” (1 Peter 4:16). The word Christian simply means “believer in, or follower of Christ.” The Jewish religion was already intact before Jesus was born. Jesus was certainly a Jew by virtue of His lineage through the tribe of Judah , from which the word “Jew” is derived, but He was so much more. And He came to save the whole world, including but not limited to the Jewish people (Jn 3:16; 2 Pet 3:9). What did Jews and Gentiles alike convert to? To Christianity (Rom 1:16). This does not mean that Jewish people necessarily threw away all their laws and customs, but it does mean that they followed Christ first, with New Covenant application of God’s Law as laid out in the Old Testament. Paul refers to Christians as spiritual Jews if they have converted minds and hearts (Rom 2:28-29). The law Jesus came to uphold was the Law of God, which overlaps but is not limited to the Jewish laws and customs.
  • Steven Britt
    Tina, The United Church of God readily accepts that Jesus was the promised Messiah of the Old Testament and that He was Jewish, but allow me to correct you on one point. He did not uphold "all the Jewish laws," but actually the holy and eternal Law of God, which was made for all mankind. I'm splitting hairs on that point because I think the distinction is important: the law given to Israel in the Old Covenant was not intended for Israel only or for the Jews only, but for all people. We do not teach that this law was in any way abolished, but, as you've rightly said, Jesus came to fulfill the law, and, as prophesied, "to magnify the law and make it honorable" (Isaiah 42:21). As far as the words "Christian" and "Christianity" are concerned, I think it's just a matter of semantics. In the New Testament writings, they sometimes call what we refer to as "Christianity" as "the Way," but the Old Testament, which indeed was the only scripture that they had for decades after Christ's death, never refers to God's people as followers of "the Way." They invented that terminology to describe themselves, and so I think that using this admittedly more modern word "Christian" to designate such a person is fine, if indeed they are a person who follows Christ by walking in the commandments of God, as He also walked.
  • rwp_47
    Wow! Its surprising to see what interest there is in this relatively simple notion of the "laying on of hands". I wonder why? Because actually its pretty simple and one doesn't have to be a rocket scientist to understand it (its like being enamored with the idea that 1 plus 1 is 2). Clearly there are those in the past that have received God's Holy Spirit without the laying on of hands. Two events that quickly come to mind ... the first Pentecost after Jesus' death ... and in Acts 10 where the first gentiles (Cornelius and his kinsmen and friends) received God's Spirit. But these both were somewhat unusual situations where something new happened for the first time. But in general the biblical instruction is to be baptized and have hands laid on one to receive God's Spirit. So if someone who is newly being called is trying to understand what he actually needs to do ... then: Consider Acts 8:18, 1 Tim 4:14, and Heb 6:2 and ... 1. Be baptized by a minister of God (it symbolizes a burial ... so you want complete immersion in the water). 2. And have God's minister lay hands on you and he will simultaneously pray that you receive God's Holy Spirit. That is the clear biblical instruction. So do it. And just so there's no misunderstanding ... if this simple procedure is something that one actually refuses to do ... then you can bet your life that you will not be receiving God's Spirit. God only accepts those who will obey him. It really is that simple.
  • Tina27
    You write of Christians and Christianity but those terms or concepts are completely absent in both the old and new testaments! There was no such thing as a Christian back then. If you write your answers and explanations without acknowledging that, I really cannot trust a word of what you write because of your lack of understanding of the bible in its entirety! Jesus was the Jewish Messiah. Jesus was Jewish, He upheld all the Jewish laws. He came not to abolish the law but to fulfill it, it says so in the bible. All the authors of the New Testament only knew the Old Testament, the Torah and Tanakh, they only had the Old Testament word of God that was contained in the Old Testament. Does no one notice this?
  • Jennifer Tenley

    Jesus Christ himself gave the example, when he went to John the baptist to be baptized.

    Love Jennifer

  • God Seeker
    I'm not an expert on the laying on of hands though I know James tells believers to practice it in the Book of James and I do know a few people who practice it. I probably need a lot more study or a refresher on this topic but I believe that salvation is a continuous process: we are saved, being saved and will be saved. Once I was reading up John Wesley's explanation of receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit and he explained that the timing of it was a divine mystery. Some people receive it at baptism but some people receive it later. The Spirit is like the Wind and people have difficulty telling where and when it will come. "The wind blows wherever it wants. Just as you can hear the wind but can't tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can't explain how people are born of the Spirit." (John 3:8, New Living Translation) Also doesn't God know us before we our born? He's the one that does the electing...our job is to make our election sure. Timing is one of the most mysterious things in the bible but then time is in God's hands. He reserves the right to time things in His plan according to His own judgment.
  • Lena VanAusdle
    God Seeker You mention, it might be a preferred way, preferred by whom? The Bible is the inspired word of God! That means it is God's preference! Could God work in another way? Sure He can, He's God, He can do anything. Because He can do anything, does that negate or responsibility to obey? He's given specific instruction to have hands laid upon us at baptism, that's what we should do.
  • God Seeker
    "Nothing is impossible with God." Laying on of hands could be a preferred way or just a way God wants us to know about but sometimes God overshadowed people in the bible. Like he did with Mary and some of the biblical patriarchs.
  • RPM
    To ABLEBART Ephesians 1:13-14 teaches us that the Holy Spirit is the seal of salvation for all those who believe: “In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory.” 1 Corinthians 12:13 declares, “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.” How could Paul say these things with any assurance if it depended on the laying on of hands? You only need to truly believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ and you will receive the Holy Spirit. Read Acts 1&2 - when those present asked "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" Peter said: "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost." He says nowhere they need hands laid on them. See also in Acts 10:44-47 which says, "While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost. For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter, can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we? No laying on of hands, yet the Holy Spirit came, and they must have received Him because they spoke in tongues. Don't be fooled - Those in Acts 19 had not heard the full Gospel so could not receive the Holy Spirit until they knew that Jesus Christ had come and fulfilled the promise that John the Baptist referred to - read it and see. Paul laid hands on them after they were baptized and the Spirit came coincidentally since they had believed on Christ. Also, who laid hands on the disciples at Pentecost? Nobody - the Holy Spirit came, sent from GOD to the believers. As for being filled with the Holy Spirit - if you believe, live in the Grace you have received, pray and read the Scriptures daily, and GOD will fill you with the Holy Spirit. I hope this helps you in you in your walk with Christ. Blessings RPM
  • fight2die
    "Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know EVERYTHING completely, just as God now knows me completely". 1 Corinthians 13:12
  • Sabrina Peabody

    Thank you eliwhite for the comment. Hebrews term "laying on of hands" could be talking about healing, setting apart and the gift of the Holy Spirit.

    In resposne to "Personally I'm not against the ritual of "laying on of hands" accompanying water baptism. But, neither am I fully convinced of its absolute necessity to receiving God's Holy Spirit."

    Who are we to hinder God? What I do know is I try to do what I see explained in the Bible and then put it in God's hands for those out of the ordinary circumstances.

  • Norbert Z

    With the idea of the custom of baptism/laying on of hands as "a required condition for forgiveness", as Ivan mentions. What about Heb 10:4 "For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins."? That is also a biblical custom; so are the NT customs greater than the OT ones whereby God can only forgive a person once they are performed?

  • Ivan Veller

    Hello Eli,

    Baptism is no “mere ritual of thanksgiving for God's forgiveness. [On the contrary,] Acts 2:38 states that baptism is a required condition for forgiveness…baptism is so important! God holds each person guilty of every sin he has ever committed until those sins are blotted out at baptism (Acts 3:19; 22:16)” (“Baptism: Beginning of a New Life”).

    Likewise, the laying on of hands isn’t merely a cute custom or ritualistic “sign of our…[prior] membership into the…Body of Christ.” Rather, it is “[t]hrough the laying on of hands, with prayer, [that] the believer receives the Holy Spirit and becomes a part of the spiritual Body of Jesus Christ (Matthew 3:13; 16; John 3:23; Acts 2:38; 8:14-17; 19:5-6; 1 Corinthians 12:13)” (“Water Baptism and the Laying on of Hands”).

  • Ivan Veller

    Hello Norbert,

    Remember that the early Church was coming out of a culture in which it was "forbidden for a Jewish man to associate with or visit a foreigner"--and that it had just taken no fewer than 3 visions from heaven to convince Peter "that I must not call any person common or unclean" (Acts 10:28, HCSB 2009).

    So, God chooses to pour out His Spirit just as Peter is explaining that "through His name everyone who believes in Him will receive forgiveness of sins" (Acts 10:43 HCSB). It takes direct and powerful intervention from God here to convince some people present that Gentiles will be granted the gift of the Holy Spirit--something that "amazed" (ESV 2011), "greatly astonished" (NET 2006), and even "astounded" (HCSB) "[t]he circumcised believers who had come with Peter" (Acts 10:45 HCSB).

    God's intervention overcomes such prejudices. Peter exclaims: "'Can anyone withhold water and prevent these people from being baptized, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?'" (Acts 10:47 HCSB).

    Facing opposition in Jerusalem (Acts 11:2), the extraordinary nature of the event enables Peter to prove that God is granting repentance to Gentiles: "'Therefore, if God gave them the same gift that He also gave to us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, how could I possibly hinder God?' When they heard this they became silent. Then they glorified God, saying, 'So God has granted repentance resulting in life even to the Gentiles!'" (Acts 11:17-18 HCSB).

  • eliwhite

    If I may add a thought to Sabrina's reference to Hebrews 6:1-2. Personally I'm not against the ritual of "laying on of hands" accompanying water baptism. But, neither am I fully convinced of its absolute necessity to receiving God's Holy Spirit. To argue such would be to tread a fine line since how would you distinguish between a Christian with the Holy Spirit and a Christian without the Holy Spirit? If from a ritual then isn't that much the same as the error of the Judean Christians who insisted on the Greek Christians to be ritually circumcised for salvation (Acts 15:1, 5, 24)? Yet, the apostle Paul notes that it is our words and actions that demonstrate we have the Holy Spirit working in and through us (Galatians 5:22-23). Even Christ Jesus instructed His disciples to simply baptize new converts "in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy [Spirit]" (Matthew 28:19) and during His ministry they did administer water baptism in His presence (John 3:22; 4:1-2). Nothing, however, is said of the ritual of "laying on of hands" let alone its inherent necessity to the ordinance of baptism. That it is a fundamental tenet of the Christian faith is true. What is unclear, however, is whether the writer in Hebrews 6:1-2 is referring it in light of baptism, ordination, anointing the sick or all of the above seeing that he makes reference to "baptisms" in the plural, which wouldn't make sense if he was exclusively referring to the ritual of "laying on of hands" accompanying baptism alone. Maybe then in this passage the writer is trying to convey and distinguish between the OT prescriptions of purification by immersion according to the Mosaic Law and the nature of Christian baptism (Hebrews 9:10).

  • Sabrina Peabody

    Laying on of hands is a foundational doctrine mentioned along with repentance from dead works and faith. Hebrews 6:1-3 says, "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..." The references in the written answer to the question (Acts 8 and 19)are convincing to me that it is meant to be a foundational practice and not just a random ritual.

  • eliwhite

    May I share my findings with you both as I've been studying the NT ritual of "laying on of hands" for sometime now. I've noticed that it's an essential practice in divine healing (Mk 6:13; 16:18; Lk 4:40; 13:13; Acts 28:8; Jas 5:14) and ministerial ordination (Acts 6:2-6; 13:1-3; 1 Tim 4:14). However, it's debatable whether it's absolutely necessary in receiving the Holy Spirit per se. God promises to give His Holy Spirit to "those who ask Him" (Lk 11:13) and "without limit" (Jn 3:34) upon our repentance and obedience (Acts 2:38; 5:32). This takes place upon our belief in Christ Jesus and His Word (Jn 7:37-39; Eph 1:13; 5:26) since the divine agent is linked with a deeper understanding of His Word (Jn 14:17; 16:13; Col 1:9; 1 Jn 2:27). Just as physical circumcision acted as a sign of one's faith and membership into the Old Covenant nation of Israel so our spiritual circumcision acts as a sign of our faith and membership into the New Covenant Body of Christ (Rom 2:29; Phil 3:3; Col 2:11). Looking at the early Church of God there are very few examples of the ritual of "laying on of hands" accompanying water baptism. There is no mention of it at all until Philip's preaching and baptizing in Samaria (Acts 8:12)--who it seems didn't perform the ritual (cf. Acts 8:38)--and not until the apostles Peter and John arrive (v. 17), and even then it seems to be mistaken by Simon the Sorcerer as the means by which God gives His Holy Spirit for which Peter sternly rebukes him (vv. 18-20). Later the apostle Paul travels to Ephesus and meets some converts, possibly of Apollos prior to his edification by Aquila and Priscilla (Acts 18:24-28), who were only aware of John's water baptism and totally ignorant of God's Holy Spirit (Acts 19:2-4). His preaching leads them to be re-baptized and "when Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied" (vv. 5-6). It seems to me that these were rare occassions then to testify to His ministry and confirm His presence among them (Acts 5:12; Rom 15:19; 1 Cor 14:22; 2 Cor 12:12).

  • Norbert Z

    What about Acts 10:44-45, "While Peter yet spoke these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost."

  • KARS

    Yes we do otherwise Jesus would not have told his disciples He had to leave so that the comforter would come. They were only baptist and had not recieved the Holy Spirit until the Day of Pentecost in the form of the firey tongs. After that His Apostles carried on the Laying on of Hands to new members for the gift of the Holy Spirit.
    I will let the UCGi.A.I. staff member give you the scripture references.

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