Can Christians Today Lay their hands on the Sick to Heal them?

by Steven Chan

It is not uncommon to hear some believers today claim that they have the power to lay their hands on the sick in order to heal them. Does the Christian have the power today to lay their hands on the sick to heal them? It will be the purpose of this article to examine this subject.

It is important to differentiate between God’s “providential deliverance” in the recovery of a sick person in answer to our prayers, using the natural laws that God has put in place, and that of a person’s power of “direct healing” or ability to “directly, immediately and completely” heal a person from his sickness through the laying of hands or otherwise and hence, a “miraculous healing/deliverance”.

Throughout the history of the Bible, God has promised that He will deliver us when we are faced with life’s challenges when we pray to Him as outlined hereunder:-

1. Psa 34:19: “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD delivers him out of them all” ;

2. As expressed in David’s faith in God’s deliverance in 1 Sam 17:37: “The LORD, who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine”;

3. Paul’s faith in 2 Tim 4:17-18: “But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that the message might be preached fully through me, and that all the Gentiles might hear. And I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion. 18 And the Lord will deliver me from every evil work and preserve me for His heavenly kingdom. To Him be glory forever and ever. Amen!”

4. The apostle Peter’s re-affirmation of God’s promise of deliverance in 2 Peter 2:9: “the Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations and to reserve the unjust under punishment for the day of judgment”.

5. That’s why Christians are to come boldly to God in prayer as stated in Heb 4:16: “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” So we are not to be anxious under whatever circumstances but to always pray: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; 7 and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:6-7).

However, in contrast with the above “providential deliverance” in answer to prayers of the saints, where God uses the natural laws to deliver, the Bible tells us that the apostles were specifically empowered to “cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; 18 they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.” (Mark 16:17-18). In other words, the apostles could heal the sick “directly, immediately and completely” and hence, miraculously as in the following instances recorded in the book of Acts:-

1. How Peter healed the man who was lame from his mother’s womb as recorded in Acts 3:6-8: “Then Peter said, “Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.” 7 And he took him by the right hand and lifted him up, and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength. 8 So he, leaping up, stood and walked and entered the temple with them–walking, leaping, and praising God.”

The healing of the lame man was “direct, immediate and complete”; DIRECT in the sense that the lame man was able to walk in direct response to Peter saying, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.” There was no further treatment from doctors, etc. The Bible recorded thus: “IMMEDIATELY” his feet and ankle bones received strength – so he “leaped up, stood and walk”. He was COMPLETELY healed in that he was no longer lame.

In contrast with the healing performed by the apostle Peter, modern day healers have not been able to replicate such “direct, immediate and complete healing”. The nature of the healing was such that the Jewish rulers, elders and scribes conceded: “For, indeed, that a notable miracle has been done through them is evident to all who dwell in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it.” There was no doubt that the lame man was completely healed by the power granted to the apostle Peter. (Acts 4:16).

2. How the apostle Peter brought Dorcas back to life in Acts 9:40-41: “Peter put them all out, and knelt down and prayed. And turning to the body he said, “Tabitha, arise.” And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up. 41 Then he gave her his hand and lifted her up; and when he had called the saints and widows, he presented her alive.”

Now, how much faith is required from a dead person so that he or she could be raised from the dead? Truth is that the power to heal or to bring back to life those who were dead depended on whether the healer indeed had the power to heal and NOT on whether the dead person had faith.  In contrast with modern healing experiences, Dorcas did not slowly regain consciousness many days, or weeks or months after Peter asked her to “arise”. She opened her eyes and sat up immediately after Peter told her to “arise”.

3. How the apostle Paul healed a cripple in Lystra as recorded in Acts 14:8-10: “And in Lystra a certain man without strength in his feet was sitting, a cripple from his mother’s womb, who had never walked. 9 This man heard Paul speaking. Paul, observing him intently and seeing that he had faith to be healed, 10 said with a loud voice, “Stand up straight on your feet!” And he leaped and walked.”

In the present instance, the Bible mentioned that when Paul observed that the cripple “had faith to be healed”, he said to him: “Stand up straight on your feet!” And he leaped and walked.”  It was not gradual healing but “immediate and complete” healing.

4. How the apostle Paul brought back to life the youth Eutychus in Acts 20:9-12: “And in a window sat a certain young man named Eutychus, who was sinking into a deep sleep. He was overcome by sleep; and as Paul continued speaking, he fell down from the third story and was taken up dead. 10 But Paul went down, fell on him, and embracing him said, “Do not trouble yourselves, for his life is in him.” 11 Now when he had come up, had broken bread and eaten, and talked a long while, even till daybreak, he departed. 12 And they brought the young man in alive, and they were not a little comforted.”

The dead were brought back to life immediately.  The lame and cripple were healed immediately and completely.

5. How on the island of Malta, the apostle Paul was bitten by a poisonous snake and was not harmed by it as recorded in Acts 28:3-6:

“But when Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and laid them on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat, and fastened on his hand. 4 So when the natives saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, “No doubt this man is a murderer, whom, though he has escaped the sea, yet justice does not allow to live.” 5 But he shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm. 6 However, they were expecting that he would swell up or suddenly fall down dead. But after they had looked for a long time and saw no harm come to him, they changed their minds and said that he was a god.”

The power take up serpents and not be harmed was one of the signs given to the apostle as stated in Mark 16:18. Many claim the power to lay hands and heal but few dare claim the power to take up serpents – although some have tried and died trying. But all these signs were given to the apostles. If one claims to have the power to perform one of those signs then he or she ought to have the power to do the other signs as was the case with the apostle Paul.

6. How the apostle Paul healed the father of Publius, a leading citizen on the island of Malta as recorded in Acts 28:8-9: “And it happened that the father of Publius lay sick of a fever and dysentery. Paul went in to him and prayed, and he laid his hands on him and healed him. 9 So when this was done, the rest of those on the island who had diseases also came and were healed.”

The fever and dysentery were gone immediately after Paul had prayed and laid his hands on him and healed him. Paul also healed others on the island of Malta who had diseases.

Why did God give the apostles these powers? As revealed in the Scriptures, they were given to the apostles so that through these “signs” that the apostles were able to perform, their preaching of God’s Word may be “confirmed” as authentic or truly from God by these signs (Mark 16:20). The apostle Paul referred to them as signs of an apostle in 2 Cor 12:12: “Truly the signs of an apostle were accomplished among you with all perseverance, in signs and wonders and mighty deeds.”

Please note that the special power to “heal the sick, speak in tongues, take up serpents, drink poison, etc” were described as “signs” (Mark 16:17, 20) – i.e. signifying something – just like the miracles performed by Jesus were “signs” that Jesus was truly the Son of God (John 20:30-31). So, likewise, according to Heb 2:3-4: “how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him, 4 God also bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will?”

The word of the gospel of salvation was first spoken by the Lord, and then was confirmed by the apostles (“those who heard Him”) and also by God Himself “bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit”.

The apostles were eye-witnesses of the truth of the gospel. i.e. that Jesus was actually raised from the dead, which gives us the confidence that we have hope reserved in heaven for us. In Acts 1:8, Jesus promised His apostles: “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”  The apostles were to be witnesses of the teaching of Jesus while He was on earth, and specifically of His resurrection. That’s why when they chose another to replace Judas Iscariot, they said that the proper candidate would be one who had been with them from the time they had been with Jesus: “Therefore, of these men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22 beginning from the baptism of John to that day when He was taken up from us, one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection.” (Acts 1:21-23). It is important to note that there were many who had been with Jesus but only one was to be chosen to be an apostle – to be a witness of the teachings and resurrection of Jesus – underlining the significance of the role of the apostles.

Only the apostles were able to lay their hands on others to empower them with the gifts of the Holy Spirit as was evident when the apostles Peter and John had to travel to Samaria to lay their hands on those how had been baptized:

”Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. 18 And when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money, 19 saying, “Give me this power also, that anyone on whom I lay hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 8:17-19)

These miraculous gifts of the Spirit were meant to be temporal as the church was in its infancy stage with the apostles being commissioned to deliver the Word of the New Covenant, i.e. truth/faith, once for all time – the miraculous powers of the apostles were to confirm the authenticity of the Word preached by them (Mark 16:20; Heb 2:3-4). When the Word of the new Covenant was fully or completely delivered and written down, then we have the confirmed Word and the apostles had completed their work – and the powers to perform those signs also ceased thereafter. The temporariness of the miraculous gifts of the Spirit is clearly stated in 1 Cor 13:8-10:

“Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part. 10 But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.”

“That which is perfect” is contrasted with “partial knowledge” given through miraculous tongues and prophecies, and hence clearly implies the complete, final or perfect revelation of God’s will of the new covenant (James 1:23; Jude 3; Rev 22:18-19). In contrast with that which is partial or temporal, the apostle Paul said: “And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor 13:13). That which abides (as contrasted with that which is partial or temporal) is “faith, hope and love”. In view of the fact that faith and hope will abide when that which is perfect is come, the perfect cannot possibly refer to Jesus Christ at His Second Coming, as then, faith would become sight and hope would have been realized; they would no longer abide.

Given that the miraculous power to lay hands to heal were primarily given to the apostles for the purpose of confirming the Word preached by them and also that miraculous gifts have ceased with the complete revelation of the will of God or the new covenant mediated by Jesus Christ, according to the Scriptures, no one today possesses the miraculous power to lay hands on the sick to heal them. Of course, we can and ought to pray for the sick and request God to providentially deliver/heal us from sicknesses and diseases.