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After an uproar concerning the feeding of the widows the Apostles chose seven men to take care of that ministry

KJV Acts 6 : 1

And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration.

The Apostles decided to choose men who will undertake this ministry.The criteria laid down for choosing these men was wisdom,faith and full the Holy Spirit.The seven chosen seemed to have these qualities yet the Apostles went on to lay hands on these men

KJV Acts 6 : 5-6

And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas a proselyte of Antioch: 6 whom they set before the apostles: and when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them.

Mostly laying on of hands was to impart healing or a gift onto the recipient

KJV Acts 8 : 17

Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost.

KJV Acts 9 : 17

And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost.

KJV 2 Timothy 1 : 6

Wherefore I put thee in remembrance that thou stir up the gift of God, which is in thee by the putting on of my hands.

What was the purpose of laying hands on the seven who seemed to have these qualities?

3 Answers 3

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The short answer is, we are not told, but here are the facts from the NT.

The practice of the laying on of hands occurs 31 times in the New Testament:

  • 3 times to bless someone (Matt 19:13, 15, Mark 10:16);
  • 8 times to arrest someone to put them in prison (Matt 26:50, Mark 14:46, Luke 20:19, 21:12, 22:53, John 7:44, Acts 12:1, 21:27);
  • 6 times to receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:17, 18, 19, 19:6, 1 Tim 4:14, 2 Tim 1:6);
  • 10 times to heal someone (Mark 5:23, 6:5, 8:23, 25, 16:18, Luke 4:40, 13:13, Acts 9:12, 17, 28:8);
  • 4 times with an unstated purpose but the context suggests that it was for the reception of the Holy Spirit or similar (Acts 6:6, 13:3, 1 Tim 5:22, Heb 6:2).

Thus, the best we could say is that, based on the other instances of the laying on of hands, is to suggest that the purpose in Acts 6:6 was either to:

  • bless the deacons
  • or to have them receive the special gift of the Holy Spirit to do the work assigned to them

The intention also might have been both. However we are not told so we cannot be certain.

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Acts 6:6 is an occasion of ordaining deacons for service in the Church.

The occasions in Acts 8:17 and 9:17 are of imparting the Holy Spirit after baptism. The occasions in Acts 6:6 and 2 Timothy 1:6 are of ordaining (χειροτονέω - cheirotoneō; cf. Acts 14:23) those who have already been illumined into the service of the Church.

Exactly why laying on of hands is needed for both receiving the Holy Spirit after baptism and for entering into service of the Church, either as διάκονος (diakonos) as in Acts 6:6 or into the other offices of πρεσβύτερος (presbyteros) or ἐπίσκοπος (episkopos) (e.g. Acts 14:23) is μυστήριον (mysterion) - a sacred mystery. The Apostles, it is written, were the ministers of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God (1 Corinthian 4:1).

"The activity of the Apostles was full of mystical elements (mysterion)," states one Orthodox theological text:

Among them the central or culminating place was occupied by sacred rites. Therefore it is entirely natural that in the Church’s life the series of special and most important moments of Grace-given ministry, the series of sacred rites, gradually acquired preeminently the name of “mysteries.” St. Ignatius the God-bearer, an immediate disciple of the Apostles, writes concerning deacons that they likewise are “servants of the mysteries of Jesus Christ” (Trallians 2).*


* Michael Pomazansky, Orthodox Dogmatic Theology. To this day in the Eastern Orthodox Church, what are called "sacraments" in the West are referred to as μυστήρια (mysteria) - mysteries.

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    Your opening sentence is a logical leap - "ordination" is never mentioned in the passage in Acts 6:1-7, nor anywhere else in the NT. Therefore, we cannot call it "ordination".
    – Dottard
    Apr 30, 2023 at 21:10
  • And when they had ordained them elders in every church and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord (Acts 14:23, KJV). Practically every English Bible since Tyndale translated χειροτονέω as "ordain" up until the RV in 1885. Even the Geneva Bible.
    – user33515
    Apr 30, 2023 at 23:22
  • the word in the original is Χειροτονήσαντες which means to appoint by voting and raising the hand as in the Greek senate. No laying on of hands nor ordination is mentioned.
    – Dottard
    May 1, 2023 at 1:30
  • But Acts 6:6 doesn’t use Χειροτονήσαντες—it says ἐπέθηκαν αὐτοῖς τὰς χεῖρας—basically “they laid hands on them”. It’s a different verb which I think is what Dottard is pointing out.
    – bob
    May 1, 2023 at 2:17
  • I was refuting the claim that the term "ordination" is never mentioned in the New Testament. This clearly is untrue. Further, a definition of "ordination" from the OED is to appoint to an office, so I will stand by my choice of words. As for whether ordination of the other offices involved laying on of hands, cf. 1 Tim 4:14, 2 Tim 1:6, but that is not the subject of this particular question.
    – user33515
    May 1, 2023 at 3:58
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In addition to its use in conferring the Holy Ghost, the laying on of hands was a means of commissioning & authorizing someone for a specific service in God's work.

Several examples of this include:

Moses appointing Joshua:

22 And Moses did as the Lord commanded him: and he took Joshua, and set him before Eleazar the priest, and before all the congregation:

23 And he laid his hands upon him, and gave him a charge, as the Lord commanded by the hand of Moses. (Numbers 27:22-23)

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Paul & Barnabas being sent as missionaries:

2 As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.

3 And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away. (Acts 13:2-3)

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Timothy's appointment to the ministry:

14 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)

6 Wherefore I put thee in remembrance that thou stir up the gift of God, which is in thee by the putting on of my hands. (2 Tim. 1:6)

(note the context is Paul's counsel to Timothy in his role in the ministry)

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Early church historian Eusebius understood the laying on of hands in this way, and reported that this remained customary in Christianity well after the first century:

Commenting upon the passage in the OP he stated:

And there were appointed to the diaconate, for the service of the congregation, by prayer and the laying on of the hands of the apostles, approved men, seven in number (Church History 2: chapter 1)

Describing the ordination of Origen of Alexandria:

Then, as the most distinguished bishops of Palestine, and those of Cæsarea and Jerusalem, judged Origen worthy of the first and highest honour, they ordained him to the presbytery by the imposition of hands. (Church History 6 : chapter 8)

(In many religious traditions, as noted by user33515, the term "ordination" is used to describe this. The concept of ordination is consistent with Jesus' commissioning of the apostles, e.g. Mark 3:14, John 15:16, though these passages do not specify the mechanics of how ordination occurred. The more verbose Eusebius explicitly links the terms "ordination" & "laying on of hands").

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In the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the early church, the laying on of hands was an ordinance used to commission/authorize someone for a specific service.

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