The Laying on of Hands in 1 Timothy 5:22: A New Proposal -- By: Brian P. Irwin

Journal: Bulletin for Biblical Research
Volume: BBR 18:1 (NA 2008)
Article: The Laying on of Hands in 1 Timothy 5:22: A New Proposal
Author: Brian P. Irwin


The Laying on of Hands in 1 Timothy 5:22: A New Proposal

Brian P. Irwin

Knox College

In 1 Tim 5:22, the author of the letter tells the recipient to avoid “laying hands on anyone quickly.” Traditionally, this phrase has been understood to refer to an action related either to ordination or to the receiving back into fellowship of lapsed believers. Neither view, however, is without difficulties. This article examines the various uses of the phrase “lay hands on” in the LXX and the Greek NT and argues that the best understanding of the phrase in 1 Tim 5:22 is to associate it with the manner in which hands are imposed as a sign of accusation. Thus, the passage refers neither to ordination nor to receiving lapsed believers but stands as a caution against hastily accusing an elder of wrongdoing.

Key Words: ordination, laying on of hands, hands, accusation, Elder, LXX

In the Epistle of 1 Timothy, an author of the late first or early second century c.e. offers instructions to a younger co-worker laboring at Ephesus. In 5:22, this mentor advises his protégé to avoid “laying hands on anyone quickly” (χεῖρας ταχέως μηδενὶ ἐπιτίθει). The precise meaning of these words has posed, in the words of Meier, “a true crux interpretum.”1 A survey of the literature on this passage shows that the most widely held understanding of the laying on of hands relates to the ordination of an individual.2 So widespread is this view that even the NRSV, which tends

toward formal equivalency as a translation style,3 renders this verse, “Do not ordain anyone hastily.” Against this view, a minority of scholars hold that the laying on of hands here refers to the receiving back into the church of wayward believers.4 Neither of these views, however, is without shortcomings. The primary difficulty with the second view is that the first extant reference tying the laying on of hands to the receiving of lapsed believers hails from the third century c.e.5 Prior to this late date, no evidence whatsoever links the laying on of hands with the reception of penitent sinners.6 A similar problem besets the first view. Despite the widespread assumption that ...

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