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TitleLaying on of Hands
Publication TypeEncyclopedia Entry
Year of Publication1992
AuthorsDunford, C. Kent
Secondary AuthorsLudlow, Daniel H.
Secondary TitleEncyclopedia of Mormonism
Place PublishedNew York
KeywordsBurnt Offerings; Church Organization; Gift of Healing; Gift of the Holy Ghost; Laying on of Hands; Priesthood Blessing; Sacrifice; Sin Offerings
Citation Key9452

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Laying on of Hands

Author: Dunford, C. Kent

The laying on of hands on the head of an individual as a religious ceremony has served many purposes historically and continues to do so for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The most common are the following:

THE SACRIFICIAL CEREMONIES OF ANCIENT ISRAEL. Anciently, in burnt and sin offerings, the offerer laid his hands on the sacrifice prior to its being slain (e.g., Ex. 29:10; Lev. 1:4;4:4; 2 Chron. 29:23). In the case of the scapegoat, hands were laid on the head, symbolizing transference of the sins of the people to the animal (Lev. 16:21). The hands of the people were laid upon the Levites, and they in turn laid their hands upon the offerings (Num. 8:10-12).

BESTOWAL OF THE GIFT OF THE HOLY GHOST. Confirmation and bestowing of the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands follows baptism. The Doctrine and Covenants explains that the one performing the ordinance is acting as proxy for the Lord himself: "I will lay my hand upon you by the hand of my servant Sidney Rigdon, and you shall receive my Spirit, the Holy Ghost, even the Comforter, which shall teach you the peaceable things of the kingdom" (D&C 36:2; cf. Moro. 2:2). This ordinance may be performed only by Melchizedek Priesthood holders, not by those of the lesser or Aaronic Priesthood (D&C 20:58). This explains why John the Baptist, though he performed water baptism, did not bestow the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands (Matt. 3:11), and it may explain why Philip did not do so for his Samaritan converts (Acts 8:5-17), or Apollos for the Ephesians (Acts 19:6; see also Acts 8:12-20). In Philip's case, he baptized the Samaritans, but Peter and John, who held the higher priesthood, were sent to confer the Holy Ghost, and they laid "their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost" (Acts 8:17).

Paul may have referred to this gift when he counseled his companion Timothy to "neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery" (1 Tim. 4:14). On another occasion Paul admonished him to "stir up the gift of God, which is in thee by the putting on of my hands" (2 Tim. 1:6).

BESTOWAL OF THE GIFTS AND RIGHTS OF AN OFFICE. Moses ordained Joshua as his successor by the laying on of hands (Num. 27:18, 23; Deut. 34:9). Jesus' apostles used this procedure in authorizing seven men to manage practical economic matters in the early church (Acts 6:1-6). Paul and Barnabas were ordained to a missionary journey by the laying on of hands of the "prophets and teachers at Antioch" (Acts 13:3).

The Book of Mormon reports that Jesus conferred upon his disciples the power to give the Holy Ghost by laying his hands upon them (3 Ne. 18:37; Moro. 2:3). The Aaronic Priesthood was conferred on the Prophet Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery by the hands of the resurrected John the Baptist (JS-H 1:68-69). All subsequent transmission of authority comes from the president of the church by the laying on of hands. A revelation on priesthood states: "Wherefore, it must needs be that one be appointed of the High Priesthood to preside over the priesthood, and he shall be called President of the High priesthood of the Church…From the same comes the administering of ordinances and blessings upon the church, by the laying on of the hands" (D&C 107:65-67). Accordingly, all men and women are installed in any Church office or calling by a setting apart by the laying on of hands of those in authority.

HEALING THE SICK. The laying on of hands to heal the sick was a common practice of Jesus (Mark 5:23;6:5;16:18; Luke 13:12-13). Luke records that "all they that had any sick with divers diseases brought them unto him; and he laid his hands on every one of them, and healed them" (Luke 4:40). Jesus did not use this method exclusively. Sometimes a touch was sufficient, or his word only. In the case of a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, Jesus touched his tongue and his ears (Mark 7:33).

Jesus conferred the power of healing on his followers: "And these signs shall follow them that believe…they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover" (Mark 16:18). Ananias laid hands on Paul that he might regain his sight (Acts 9:17-18). Paul thus healed the father of Publius in Malta (Acts 28:8). The Lord commanded that this practice should be continued in the Latter-day Church (D&C 42:43-44).

IMPARTING A BLESSING. Blessings in addition to those for health are given by the laying on of hands. Among these are patriarchal blessings (as when Jacob blessed Ephraim and Manasseh [Gen. 48:14]), blessings for the Lord's protecting care, blessings for success in the Lord's work, blessings of counsel, and the blessing of children. (Matt. 19:15; Mark 10:13, 16; cf. Acts 8:12-20; Moro. 2:2).