I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing. —1 Timothy 2:8

I was once told that in context this verse refers only to the pastor.

  • Are there good exegetical reasons for thinking this, or is this a more general command to the congregation?
  • Is it known what the practice of the early church was in this matter?
  • What is the significance of lifted hands?

2 Answers 2


The Jewish method of prayer was not folding hands as many Westerners do today, but rather to hold up the hands and face towards heaven. Tim Chailles (a Christian blogger notes this is mentioned in severla Psalms - see this link, especially towards the 'Lifting Hands' section.) Additionally, the Jewish Encyclopedia shows a relief of Jews entering the presence of Sennachirb using this gesture, showing the respect intended.

By lifting the hands towards God, the pray-er is able to show God, "look, I have washed my hands, I am coming to you as one who has been made clean, I can approach."

In calling all men to "lift holy hands," Paul is simply encouraging people to pray as they always have, albeit in a more pure manner.

  • 1
    I remember this discussion from seminary, but I'll see if I can find a sourceable link May 10, 2012 at 15:05
  • Although, the 666 reputation is tempting to keep :) May 10, 2012 at 15:06
  • I love this answer except that you have not provided a source and I can't find one on the Internet. I'm concerned that this is a convincing but fabricated explanation. Any chance you can contact your old prof? I've upvoted but really this answer doesn't meet site standards without a source.
    – Ruminator
    Sep 11, 2018 at 13:02

In calling all men to "lift holy hands," Paul is simply encouraging people to pray as they always have, albeit in a more pure manner.

The Hebrews (and later the Jews) prayed in all sorts of postures (i.e. lifted hands, lifted eyes, heads down, on knees, heads bowed, prostate.) as can be seen in the old testament.

However the green word used here, translated 'men', means "males" opposed to all mankind. Probably referring to only the men who were leading in prayer in the meeting places in which Timothy was an overseer. Paul was instructing him in how instruct those he was in charge of overseeing - to see to it that they had "clean hands" before praying as can be seen in the previous chapter.

But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.
-- 1 Timothy 1:5 (NASB)

It was an ancient custom but Paul was not giving Timothy instructions to Timothy or anyone else to "lift holy hands". Nor was it ever a command. He was simply telling them to instruct his men leaders to ensure their "hand were clean" (spiritually speaking) before offering prayers.

We also see this elsewhere where we are instructed before making an offering at the altar (prayer). If we remember we have ought against someone - some unfinished business of reconciliation - we should "leave our gift" and go be reconciled first. Paul also later instructs Timothy to ensure leaders are "blameless".

This is the principle being taught. It is not about lifting hands any more than we are to greet each other with a holy kiss. :)

  • It is a requirement of this site that you provide a primary source for your explanation. Also, I believe Paul and the believers did practice the holy kiss and expected believers to do so as well as they do in some other countries. When I lived in Argentina they/we did so. If you do decide to practice the holy kiss make sure you explain it first to whomever you kiss!
    – Ruminator
    Sep 11, 2018 at 13:03

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