Hebrews and the “Laying on of Hands”: A Disturbance to Contemporary Protestant Belief

File:Confirmation, from "The Seven Sacraments" Met DP889630.jpg

One section of the Bible that always struck me as somewhat of a serious disturbance to (late) non-sacramental forms of Protestant ecclesiology is Hebrews 6:1-2:

Therefore let us go on towards perfection, leaving behind the basic teaching about Christ, and not laying again the foundation: repentance from dead works and faith toward God, instruction about baptisms, laying on of hands, resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.

These verses do not explicitly scream the kind of sacerdotal sacramentalism of the historic Church, but I do think that it serves as a disturbance to non-sacramental soteriologists and ecclesiologists. Here’s why.

The author is saying that the repentance, faith, baptisms, laying on of hands, resurrection from the dead, and eternal judgment are the *foundation* of Christian faith, or the elementary doctrine of Jesus Christ. This means that they were fundamental and basic to all Christians. Secondly, baptisms and the laying on of hands are both on the same shelf as repentance, faith, the resurrection, and the future eschatological judgment. These latter items are essential teachings on soteriology and eschatology, rejection of which would have been manifest heresy to everyone. And yet, “instruction on baptisms” and the “laying on of hands” are put on the same shelf, and I would argue that this entails further that these two things are of the same value to the author of the Hebrews as “foundational”.

Obviously, baptism and the laying on of hands refers to the entrance of persons into the Christian church, and possibly to ordination (but the context suggests against this). And yet, what Protestant soteriology today would welcome the “laying on of hands” as such a unique item that can be categorically shelved together with repentance and faith? I am sure there are some, not least the Anglicans. Nevertheless, to the majority of Evangelicalism, the “laying on of hands” is not given the kind of specific doctrinal import as, say, repentance or baptism. To do so would mean that the laying on of hands has something essentially intrinsic about it to the attainment of salvation, just like baptism. An example would be for someone just to pick up standard Protestant systematic theologies and see what unmistakable dogmatic character exists for repentance, faith, resurrection, and the final judgment, and then see how the “laying on of hands” all of the sudden enters into the questionable, the unknown, the uncertain, and the non-dogmatic.

St. Jerome on the Primatus Petri at the Council of Jerusalem (A.D. 49)

St. Jerome

In a letter to St. Augustine, St. Jerome is found describing the process of decision-making at the Council of Jerusalem recorded by St. Luke in the 15th chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. The intention is to prove that St. Peter knew about the equality of Jews and Gentiles in the process of being saved by faith. In doing so, he reveals that he is of the interpretation that St. Peter took the seat of primacy during the proceedings. Now, lest the reader think that what is being suggested here is that St. Jerome believed in some invincible and everlasting Papal supremacy, let it be known that such a thing is not even remotely on his mind. Nevertheless, what he does write carries something to satisfy our interests:

“When there has been much disputing, Peter rose up, with his wonted readiness, and said, ‘Men and brethren… we shall be saved even as they’. And to this opinion the apostle James and all the elders gave consent. These quotations should not be tedious to the reader, but useful for to him and to me, as proving that, even before the apostle Paul, Peter had come to know what the law was not to be in force after the gospel was given: nay more, that Peter was the prime mover in issuing the decree by which this was affirmed. Moreover Peter was of so great authority that Paul has recorded in his epistle ‘Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter’…. proving that he would not have had confidence in his preaching of the gospel if he had not been confirmed by the consent of Peter and those who were with him… No one can doubt, therefore, that the apostle Peter was himself the author of that rule which he is accused of breaking” (Epistle 112)

Final Exchange on 2nd Nicaea

My recent post on responding to objections to 2nd Nicaea and the Papal claims of Pope Hadrian I had received a brief response by Craig Truglia, a blogger I would like to ignore if at all possible in light of a failure to engage in respectful dialogue. Therefore, this brief response to his response will be the last. If any reader has a sincere desire for me to address anything further, feel free to message me. Cheers.