The Laying On of Hands in the New Testament: Its Significance, Techniques, and Effects

John Fleter Tipei University Press of America, Lanham, MD December 10, 2008
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Tipei serves as associate professor of biblical theology and rector (director) at the Pentecostal Theological Seminary, Bucharest, Romania. He is also an ordained bishop with the Church of God, Cleveland, Tennessee. Because the laying on of hands, mentioned a number of times in the Bible, has seldom been studied extensively, Tipei investigated this topic in his doctoral dissertation at the University of Sheffield, of which this book is a minor revision.

After Tipei discusses the historical background of the laying on of hands in the Jewish environment (chap. 2) and in Greco-Roman and Near Eastern literature (chap. 3), he devotes four chapters to the exegesis of this practice in the New Testament in four areas: healing, blessing, reception of the Holy Spirit, and commissioning.

Tipei argues that when Jesus laid His hands on those whom He healed, no magical function was involved. In support of this point is the fact that Mark wrote that the woman with a hemorrhage was healed because of her faith (Mark 5:34; p. 126), not because of Jesus’ hands on her. “The LH [laying on of hands] was not used in a ritualistic manner; it was just another means by which Jesus established physical contact with his patients and transferred to them his healing power” (p. 154). Tipei also suggests that applying oil—mentioned in Mark 6:13 and James 5:14—was not to serve as a medicine, but was “a symbol of God’s healing power” (p. 147).

In placing His hands on children (Matt. 19:13; Mark 10:13–16; Luke 18:15) Jesus was blessing them; that is, the gesture was “a symbol of a transfer of blessing” from Jesus to them. Its purpose was “primarily to identify the person(s) who receives the blessing” and also to serve as “a sign of Jesus’ identification with and acceptance of this marginalized category of human beings” (p. 178).

After a lengthy discussion (chap. 6, pp. 183–227) of the laying on of hands in association with the reception of the Holy Spirit, which is mentioned in Acts 8:17 (Samaria); 9:17 (Saul); and 19:6 (Ephesus), Tipei concludes that this gesture was a blessing and “an expression of an epiclesis, the calling down of the Holy Spirit” (p. 229, italics his). “In those [abnormal] situations when the Spirit is said to have been given through the apostles’ hands the gesture was only symbolic” and yet it was “an efficacious means by which the Spirit was communicated” (p. 295). One could wish the author had discussed the transitional nature of the Book of Acts and thus the unusual nature of Acts 8:17 and 19:6. As Stanley Toussaint writes, “The reception of the Holy Spirit in Acts does not follow a set pattern. He came into believers before baptism (Acts 10:44), at the time of or after baptism (8:12–16; 19:6), and by the laying on of apostolic hands (8:17; 19:6).” Thus “the traditional Book of Acts is not to be used as a doctrinal source on how to receive the Holy Spirit” (“Acts,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, New Testament, ed. John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck [Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1983; reprint, Colorado Springs: Cook, 1996], 409).

Five times the New Testament refers to laying on of hands as part of a commissioning ceremony (Acts 6:6; 13:3; 1 Tim. 4:14; 5:22; and 2 Tim. 1:6). Tipei argues cogently that these are instances of commissioning for a particular task, not acts of ordination (pp. 261, 296) with the gesture being a sign of blessing and a prayer “that God would bless them in their new role” (p. 253).

While stressing the aspect of blessing, Tipei also concludes in his next-to-last paragraph that “in the New Testament the gesture always signifies transference of some positive materia: blessing, ‘life-force, ‘the Spirit, and charismata” (p. 296, italics his).

Tipei’s lengthy bibliography (twenty-one pages) and his extensive endnotes (four chapters have 282, 267, 289, and 200 endnotes, respectively) reveal the thoroughness of his research.

—Roy B. Zuck

July 1, 2010
 

Biblotheca Sacra

This review appeared in the Jul-Sep 2010 vol. 167 no. 3 issue of Biblotheca Sacra, DTS’s quarterly academic journal.

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