Questions From Readers
In his letter to the Hebrews, the apostle Paul spoke of “the laying on of the hands.” Was he referring to the appointing of elders or to something different?—Heb. 6:2.
There is no reason to be dogmatic, but Paul was likely referring to the laying on of hands to transmit gifts of the spirit.
The Bible does speak of the laying on of hands in connection with theocratic appointments. Moses “laid his hand upon” Joshua when appointing him as successor. (Deut. 34:9) In the Christian arrangement, some qualified men were appointed by the laying on of hands. (Acts 6:6; 1 Tim. 4:14) Paul advised against laying hands hastily upon a man.—1 Tim. 5:22.
However, Paul urged Hebrew Christians to “press on to maturity” now that they had left “the primary doctrine.” He then listed “repentance from dead works, and faith toward God, the teaching on baptisms and the laying on of the hands.” (Heb. 6:1, 2) Would the appointing of elders be just a primary thing from which Christians should press on? No. Being a congregation elder is a goal toward which mature brothers should reach out and thereafter appreciate.—1 Tim. 3:1.
But there was another use of the laying on of hands. In the first century, Jehovah rejected natural Israel as his people in favor of spiritual Israel, the congregation of anointed Christians. (Matt. 21:43; Acts 15:14; Gal. 6:16) Miraculous gifts of the spirit, such as speaking in tongues, gave evidence of that change. (1 Cor. 12:4-11) When Cornelius and his household became believers, these new ones received holy spirit, as manifested by their “speaking with tongues.”—Acts 10:44-46.
At times, miraculous gifts were transmitted by the laying on of hands. When Philip spread the good news in Samaria, many got baptized. The governing body sent the apostles Peter and John there. Why? We read: “Then [these two] went laying their hands upon [the recently baptized people], and they began to receive holy spirit.” That must have meant that they received the gifts of the spirit, abilities that were observable. We know this because Simon, who formerly practiced magical arts, saw this operation of the spirit and greedily tried to buy the ability to lay his hands on others to impart holy spirit with miraculous results. (Acts 8:5-20) Later, 12 persons in Ephesus were baptized. We read: “When Paul laid his hands upon them, the holy spirit came upon them, and they began speaking with tongues and prophesying.”—Acts 19:1-7; compare 2 Timothy 1:6.
Hence, at Hebrews 6:2, Paul was apparently referring to the laying on of hands to transmit gifts of the spirit to new believers.