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In Acts 13:3, it writes:

So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.

This is talking about Paul and Barnabas being commissioned to a certain ministry. Is it possible to deduce from the context if the laying of the hands was done by the entire Church or only by the presbyters?

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First, presbyters (πρεσβύτερος) are not mentioned anywhere in Acts 13. The previous mention of the "elders" (πρεσβύτερος) is in Acts 11:30 and the next is in Acts 14:23. The only church officers listed in Acts 13 are "prophets and teachers" as per V1.

Thus, the only indication of "who" did the "laying on of hands" are the "prophets and teachers", namely, "Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen, and Saul".

Whether others were involved we are not told. However, V2 specifically says that as "they were ministering", suggesting that the plural pronoun implies the five listed "prophets and teachers" of V1.

We are not told if this list of "prophets and teachers" is an exhaustive list of such office holders at Antioch; presumably, there were also presbyters and deacons also ministering as per Acts 6, which has possibly been replicated in Antioch.

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Laying on of Hands The "laying on of hands" for ministry impartation is usually connected with a Prophetic Word which gives a commission, direction, discernment or deliverance (See 1 Corinthians 14:24-25 for prophetic use during a church service that "reveals the heart of a man"). But while the prophecy can be given by anyone in the Church Body (who has the "gift of prophecy"), for major decisions or revelations (concerning persons or events), the Elders of a Church were employed (whether prophet, pastor, apostle, etc.; e.g. Agabus and the prophets, Acts 11:27-28).

Ananias ministered this way to Paul (Saul; Acts 9:10-16). The Antiochian elders ministered to Paul and Barnabas, giving direction from the Holy Spirit after prayer and fasting (Acts 13:1-3). Paul (and other elders) ministered to Timothy in like manner, and confirmed his style of ministry (gifting and calling as a teacher and evangelist; 1 Timothy 4:14, 2 Timothy 1:6).

Prophesying and Laying on of Hands is a practice going way back to the Old Testament kingdom days. Prophets anointed and laid hands on men whom God called for specific service. (Recall Samuel's call of David!)

In the O.T. tabernacle, and in the first century Temple, priests "laid hands on" the sacrificial animals as a sign of impartation (of sin). So this gesture was not a new thing for the Church elders to engage in while prophesying over someone. But in the Church, laying on of hands was a sign of impartation of anointing for service.

The fact that five "teachers and prophets" were mentioned at the commissioning of Paul and Barnabas brings out the important point that there is always "safety in numbers" (or "There is wisdom in having a multitude of counselors."--Solomon) A prophetic word is best confirmed with other elders present and agreeing that it is the Holy Spirit speaking, and not someone prophesying from his own spirit.

It seemed customary for the five-fold leadership ministry (Ephesians 4) to engage in laying on of hands; but this does not prevent prophetic words from coming from a member of the congregation---as long as it is "decent and in order". (1 Corinthians 134:29-30,40).

Modern Ordination This practice of Laying on of Hands has continued on in the Ordination of ministers in many Christian protestant and catholic denominations. Some have an accompanying Prophecy; others, a prescribed Blessing. While the "elders" do the Laying on of Hands, many churches have the congregation join in the prayer of blessing.

Addendum The qualifications for the "office" of Elder (presbyter) were not enumerated until the later Pauline epistles of Timothy and Titus, but this does not mean eldership was a function long time in coming. The early Christians were quite familiar with the Synagogue structure, which had Elders and a Ruling Elder. So the need for elders in a local congregation would have been recognized sooner than later.

This fact has elicited comment from one denomination:The Church was Presbyterian before it was Christian!

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  • The opening statement is factually incorrect. The laying on of hands is mentioned 31 times in the NT as follows: (see next comment)
    – Dottard
    Commented Sep 14, 2023 at 3:16
  • 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).
    – Dottard
    Commented Sep 14, 2023 at 3:16
  • @Dottard-The question of "Laying on of hands" mainly dealt with Acts 13:3 which did compass the ministry of these missionaries. And the Timothy references (1 Tim. 4:14, 2 Tim. 1:6) are considered by many pastors to be referring, not to the baptism of the Holy Spirit, but giftings for ministering boldly as a Preacher, Teacher, and Evangelist (2 Timothy 4:2-5). The total listing of LOHs is interesting and informative! Thanks. But "arresting, blessing children, healing" are not the topic of this posted Question. It concerns ministry of missionaries.
    – ray grant
    Commented Sep 14, 2023 at 20:48

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