Who is qualified to lay hands on others? What is the relevance of Mark 16:17-18?
There may be certain traditions in some denominations as to which Christians can lay hands on other Christians, usually elders and pastors, but in the Bible there is no limitation on the laying on of hands.
You cite one of the proofs of this statement in Mark 16:17-18. Included in the marks of a Christian is the laying on of hands. Jesus specifically refers to the result that people who are sick will recover.
Let’s look at the passages that talk about laying on of hands for healing.
- Jesus is implored by a ruler of the people to lay his hands on his daughter so that she will be healed (Mark 5:23).
- When Jesus is in his hometown and does few miracles because of the unbelief of the people, yet he can lay his hands on some who are sick and they are healed (Mark 6:5).
- A crowd expects Jesus to heal a man who is deaf and has a speech impediment (Mark 7:32). But Jesus takes him aside from the crowd seeking to see a miracle and sticks his fingers in his ears, spits, and touches his tongue. The man is healed.
- In the only two-step miracle in the Gospels Jesus took aside a man who was blind, spit on his eyes and laid hands on him, he said he could only see men as trees walking. Jesus repeats laying his hands on his eyes and the man can see (Mark 8:23, 25).
- Jesus tells the disciples that those who follow him will be able to do many signs, including laying their hands on the sick and seeing them healed (Mark 16:18).
- At dusk Jesus heals everyone brought to him by laying his hands on them (Luke 4:40).
- Jesus heals a woman who cannot stand up straight by laying his hands on her (Luke 13:13).
- Jesus tells one of his disciples, Ananias, to go to Paul after he has been converted on the road to Damascus to go to him and pray for him to be healed by the laying on of hands (Acts 9:12, 17).
- The father of Publius was sick with fever and dysentery and Paul prayed for him, laid his hands on him, and the man was healed (Acts 28:8).
But there are other results of Christians laying hands on others. In the book of Acts apostles laid their hands on others to receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:17; 19:6). Simon the sorcerer wanted this ability to lay hands on others and pray for them to receive the Holy Spirit and mentions laying on of hands to receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:17).
It is possible he saw the power of God through speaking in tongues, although speaking in tongues is not specifically mentioned. Whatever he saw was a visible sign that people received the Holy Spirit, and elsewhere in Acts that reception includes speaking in tongues (Acts on 1-4; 19:1-7).
In Acts 19:1-7 Paul asks if these disciples in Ephesus have received the baptism of the Holy Spirit and they say they haven’t heard about the Holy Spirit yet. After speaking about the Holy Spirit he lays hands on them to receive and they speak in tongues as evidence of the baptism (Acts 19:6-7).
Paul may be referring to the leadership gift when laying on of hands is mentioned or to charismatic gifts (1 Timothy 4:14; 2 Timothy 1:6). But it may have also been done to commission them for service to God. Timothy becomes his “son in the faith” as he trains him for pastoral ministry and a leadership role in the Church.
The laying on of hands was also for service to God (Numbers 8:10; Acts 6:6; Hebrews 6:2; 1 Timothy 4:14; 5:22; 2 Timothy 1:6). Paul cautions Timothy to not be hasty in the laying on of hands, probably to commission people for service to God (1 Timothy 5:22).
The laying on of hands was also to bless people (Matthew 19:13). Parents are trying to get their children in front of Jesus so he will lay his hands on them and bless them. The disciples tried to stop this from happening but Jesus rebukes them.
Since there are several applications for the practice of laying on of hands in the Bible Christians are given Jesus’ authority to lay their hands on people for these different purposes. Sometimes you see only the apostles executing this practice, for instance to acknowledge that God has called people into his service.
But many times Christians are expected to have the authority to lay their hands on the sick and see God heal them or lay their hands on people for them to receive the Holy Spirit. They can do this because the Holy Spirit is ministering through them to others.
You cannot give to others what you don’t have. Every Christian is indwelled by the Holy Spirit. Much more those who have received the baptism in the Holy Spirit can pray for others and lay their hands on them to receive the same baptism.
So we see these examples of how the laying on of hands became a practice in the church with these applications. For most of them we can see the apostles using the practice, but we are not forbidden from doing it as Christians who have faith at least for the applications of healing others and the baptism of the Holy Spirit in others.