Question:

I read your answer: What is the doctrine of laying on of hands? and it really helped me understand how the gifts of the Holy Spirit were passed on. When I shared it with my Pentecostal friend, she agreed but pointed to the 1 Timothy 4:14 verse "Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the eldership" to point out that the eldership could pass on the gifts of the Holy Spirit. I do not believe she is correct but I must admit the wording of the Scripture is a bit odd and I did not know how to respond.

I read how "laying of hands" resembled approval and I agree with that, but I don't get that from this verse. This is how I break it down: "Do not neglect the gift that is in you" means to use the gifts God had given you to the fullest. The second part "...which was given to you by prophecy with the laying of hands of the eldership" makes absolutely no sense to me. How are the gifts of the holy spirit "given by prophecy"? If one of the gifts of the spirit is prophecy how could prophecy give the gift of prophecy? Can you also explain how the eldership comes into play? I've tried my best to understand it but the wording confuses me.

Also how do we know the "only" ones to pass on gifts were the apostles? "...Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. And when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles' hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money, saying, "Give me this power also, that anyone on whom I lay hands may receive the Holy Spirit."" Sure the apostles passed them on through the laying of hands, but how come ONLY them? Why not disciples also?

I apologize for the lengthy not just trying to fully understand this topic. Thank you


Answer:

Two verses talk about the same event:

  • "Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands" (II Timothy 1:6).
  • "Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the eldership" (I Timothy 4:14).

At first glance it would appear that the elders passed on the gifts of the Spirit, which would be puzzling since it is clearly stated that the gifts were given by the hands of the Apostles. "And when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles' hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money, ..." (Acts 8:18). However, notice that I Timothy 4:14 says the gift was given to Timothy by prophecy and was accompanied with the laying on of the elders hands. In the Greek, the word dia ("by") denotes the channel through which something happened. The word meta ("with") denotes something that accompanied another. "Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by (dia) prophecy with (meta) the laying on of the hands of the eldership" (I Timothy 4:14).

The other statement of Paul confirms this. "Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands" (II Timothy 1:6). Again the word dia ("through") is used. The channel through which Timothy received the gifts of the Spirit was prophecy and the laying on of Paul's hands. In other words it was through Paul while he was prophesying that Timothy received his gifts from the Spirit. I Timothy 4:14 merely tells us that the elders also laid their hands on Timothy to signify their blessings on the young man while Paul was doing this, but they weren't the channel through which the gift came to Timothy.

"Even Simon himself believed; and after being baptized, he continued on with Philip, and as he observed signs and great miracles taking place, he was constantly amazed. Now when the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. For He had not yet fallen upon any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they began laying their hands on them, and they were receiving the Holy Spirit. Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was bestowed through the laying on of the apostles' hands, he offered them money, saying, "Give this authority to me as well, so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit" (Acts 8:13-19).

You are correct that by itself, the fact that "the Spirit was bestowed through the laying on of the apostles' hands" is not sufficient to prove that this was the only way the Spirit was passed on. In addition to Paul mentioning that he passed on the gifts of the Spirit to Timothy through the laying on of his hands (II Timothy 1:6), there is also Paul's statement, "For I long to see you so that I may impart some spiritual gift to you, that you may be established" (Romans 1:11). Though the church in Rome already existed, Paul saw the need for a visit so that he could impart spiritual gifts to them. Now, add to that the fact in Acts 8, Philip was already in Samaria and demonstrated that he had the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Yet, apostles had to come from Jerusalem to impart the spiritual gifts. "Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them, who, when they had come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit" (Acts 8:14-15). Philip could not pass on the gifts. Two apostles came in order to pass on the gifts. Simon saw that it was by the laying on of the apostles' hands that the gift was passed on. It is the sum of all this evidence that shows that only the apostles had the ability to pass on the gifts.

To prove otherwise is to find an instance where someone who was not an apostle passed on the gifts and such a passage doesn't exist. There are two instances where the gifts were given directly to the apostles by the Holy Spirit: to the apostles in Acts 2 and to Cornelius and his household in Acts 10. Both cases are unique in history; that is, the Spirit directly giving gifts was a rare and notable event. See: Cornelius Received the Holy Spirit.

Wow! Thank you very much. I found that explanation very helpful! Especially that verse in Romans. Can you clarify the last part of the verse though? What does Paul mean when he says "you may be established." Is he saying they aren't fully functional until they have the gifts of the Holy Spirit among them?

Also, I know that not everybody had the gifts of the Holy Spirit (I Corinthians 14:5). Well, if the apostles could freely pass along the gifts, wouldn't they try to pass them along to everybody in the church? Then I assume that the gifts of the Holy Spirit an individual were given were not decided by them.

I wanted to ask you one more question about the gifts of the Holy Spirit. What is the purpose of speaking in tongues (different languages)? I understand why it was necessary in Acts 2 on Pentecost because there were multitudes of people who all spoke completely different languages. But other than that I don't see any purpose to the gift. Why speak in a language nobody understands, if everybody in the church assembly all speak the same language to begin with? Even with an interpreter, why not just say whatever you were going to say in the language everyone already understands to being with? So if I lived back then and I was in the church of Corinth, and I spoke a tongue (let's say the language was Chinese), an interpreter (someone who understood Chinese) would translate what I just said. My point is if the whole Church speaks Greek, why did I have a tongue in Chinese to begin with?

Sorry to pester you. I'm just trying to understand how this gift could be useful if in a setting where everyone already speaks the same language.

Thank you for your time!

What you are forgetting is the environment the gifts of the Spirit were used within. The church had been established on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2), but the New Testament had not yet been written. One purpose of the gift was to serve as a stop-gap measure until the completion of God's perfect message (James 1:25). "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. For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away. When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known. And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love" (I Corinthians 13:8-13).

Paul wanted to impart a gift to the brethren in Rome so they would have some knowledge of God's will before it was completed. Notice that the gift he wishes to give is singular. Later in Romans, Paul stated, "Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret since the world began but now has been made manifest, and by the prophetic Scriptures has been made known to all nations, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, for obedience to the faith" (Romans 16:25-26). Paul wanted the Romans better grounded in the gospel. That means he was planning to teach them more deeply, help them reach more people in their city, and perhaps also pass on the gifts so that they could know of God's will, even after Paul leaves.

The gifts were not just used by Christians to know God's will. The gifts were also the way God proved that the teachers of His will, such as the apostles and prophets, were really from God. "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, God also bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will?" (Hebrews 2:3-4). God never expected people to accept some man who claimed he had a message from God. Those messengers brought with them proof that God was with them.

The gift of tongues (languages) served a very important role in the rapid spreading of the gospel. The gospel didn't stay just among the Greek speakers of the world, it rapidly spread. Historical traditions says that Paul not only went to Gaul (modern-day Spain) but also reached England. Thomas is said to have died in India after having visited China. Matthew is said to have gone to Ethiopia and Philip went to Carthage. Being able to converse with anyone about the gospel made sure that there was no barrier to the spread of the message.

You are correct that the gift of tongues was not useful in a congregation where all spoke the same language. This was the topic of Paul in the first half of I Corinthians 14. In such a situation, the gift of prophecy (speaking the words of God) was more important since the New Testament wasn't completed at that time.

The gifts of the Spirit were determined by the Holy Spirit and not by the receiver or the apostle giving the gifts. "But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills" (I Corinthians 12:11). Not everyone received gifts from the Spirit. "And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?" (I Corinthians 12:28-30).

You will probably be interested in the following studies: