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God’s Word for You

Acts 6:6-7 Laying on hands

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Wednesday, December 4, 2019

6 They brought these men before the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.

This seems to be a kind of commissioning or rite of installation. It is not really ordination into the ministry, since these men were not called to preach the gospel but to “wait on tables;” they were going to administer the church’s charitable gifts to those who needed them.

What about the laying on of hands? There are four different categories of laying on hands in the New Testament:

1, Laying on hands for healing. Sixteen of the New Testament’s twenty-four instances of laying on hands are for some type of healing. “The people brought to Jesus all who had various kinds of sickness, and laying his hands on each one, he healed them” (Luke 4:40).

2, Laying on hands to confer spiritual gifts. “Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit” (Acts 8:17). There are other instances of this: Acts 19:6; 2 Timothy 1:6.

3, Laying on hands to ordain a minister of the gospel. A unique case occurs in 1 Timothy 4:14, which “appears to be the only passage in the New Testament which makes an unambiguous connection between laying on of hands and ordination” (John Brug, WLQ Vol. 92:4, p. 268).

4, Finally, laying on hands to transfer responsibility. This is the usual meaning in the Old Testament, where (for example) sin was transferred in the offering ceremony from the sinner to the head of the animal victim before sacrifice (Leviticus 3:2, etc.). According to the Jewish Mishnah, new members were admitted to the Sanhedrin by laying hands on one of their disciples when a position opened up (Sanhedrin 4:4). This seems to fit the situation here, since this is precisely what the Twelve were doing with the Seven. This, then, matches what we often see in churches today when a pastor installs councilmen or Sunday School teachers to carry out some of his responsibilities in a limited way.

7 So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.

Luke is fond of telling us how the word of the Lord grew and spread.  At this time, in Jerusalem in particular, large numbers of people came into the fellowship of the Christian church. Luke tells us that this was the moment when “a large number of priests” came to faith in Christ. A phrase normally reserved for devout Jews, “they became obedient,” is here applied to these new Christians. These priests who had been obedient all their lives to the Law of Moses were now obedient to the gospel of Jesus Christ. They no longer put their trust in the endless sacrifices, but now they put their trust in the One Sacrifice which ended all the others.

At last, the men who should have recognized the Messiah, the priests of the temple itself, were coming to see that Jesus was indeed the One. Faith is nothing more or less than trusting that Jesus is the promised Savior of the Old Testament, and recognizing that his sacrifice on the cross means the atonement for all of our sins. What these priests had done day after day, year after year, had come to an end in Jesus.

Perhaps the depletion of such a large number of priests meant a crisis within the circle of those Jews who rejected Jesus. They would still want to be served by legitimate priests, so we can well imagine that Levites who had waited a long time to join in the temple service were called upon to perform the duties of priests. But they weren’t necessary. The need for the temple was ended. The sacrifices had only pointed ahead to Jesus. Now the apostles and evangelists were focusing all their energy and all their attention on pointing the Savior out to the world.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith

About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.


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