Published April 16, 2016.

By John Aldworth

In the Roman Catholic Church the bishop lays his hands on the head of the kneeling candidate for confirmation who by this rite supposedly receives the Holy Ghost. The bishop then strikes the candidate lightly on the face to “make him or her a soldier of Christ” while also saying “peace be with you”.

Such confirmation, it is claimed, increases and deepens “baptismal grace”, strengthens links between souls receiving it and God, unites them to Christ, strengthens their bond with the Catholic Church and increases the gifts of the Holy Spirit within them.

A similar rite is practised in the Anglican Church. Indeed, nearly all major churches perform confirmation rituals of one sort or another. Likewise Pentecostal ministers lay hands on people claiming to impart the Holy Ghost and His gifts by doing so. As a consequence today countless millions trust that through this rite they are made right with God, have received the Holy Ghost and are bound to go to heaven when they die.

But what if such “confirmation” is based on a sad misunderstanding of scripture? What if the laying on of hands today imparts neither the Holy Ghost nor His spiritual gifts? What if God today has a very different way of confirming or establishing (both words translate the Greek word bebaioo) those who truly believe in Him? A way that is studiously ignored by Christendom, even though it is plainly set forth several times over in scripture?

If this is true then for the last 1900 years millions seeking to be approved by God have been sadly deceived about how to do so.  That is a tragedy and this study is offered in the hope of preventing further disaster. Of course, you, the reader, must be judge of whether the case it sets out is true or not. But rest assured every plank in the argument can be shored up by solid biblical evidence, the words of God “who cannot lie”.

To begin. let me shock you by quoting an eminent scholar’s definitive statement on what scripture says and doesn’t say about confirmation. W.E. Vine, author of the authoritative Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, writes:

Neither the laying on of hands nor the impartation of the Holy Ghost is mentioned in the New Testament in connection with (the two words translated confirm or to establish and their derivatives) sterizo or episterizo or with (the other word translated confirm) bebaioo.

Bluntly put, that means there is no bible backing at all for laying hands on someone to receive the Holy Ghost and to confer spiritual gifts and calling it “confirmation”. Just as there is also none at all for the widespread practice of infant water baptism.

That being so, one wonders where the practice came from. The answer, according to the Catholic Church is that “the “sacrament of confirmation is the special outpouring of the Holy Spirit as once granted to the apostles on the day of Pentecost”. But that can’t be so. The Pentecostal baptism was a once-only experience. Even the Catholics themselves say so. You see, only at Pentecost did tongues of fire descend on the heads of those “baptised with the Spirit”. They were not seen when the Holy Ghost “fell” on Gentiles converts in the house of Cornelius in Acts 10; nor have they been seen since. 

Careful reading of Acts 1 and 2 indicates that the tongues of fire sat only on the 12 apostles and that only they were baptized with the Holy Ghost and with power, not anyone else. Only to the apostles did Jesus promise, before his ascension, that they would “be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence” and they would “receive power” (Acts 1:5, 8). Hence only upon them did the Spirit fall. Disciples and other believers, upon repentance and water baptism, were to “receive the gift of the Holy Ghost”, quite a different thing.  This spiritual “gift” did not come suddenly and sovereignly. Rather it was conferred by the laying on of the apostles’ hands.

We find this truth in Acts 8:14:17, which is wrongly cited by Catholics as the basis of their confirmation rite:

Now when the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received then word of God they sent unto them Peter and John. Who when they were come prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Ghost. (For as yet he was fallen on none of them; only they were baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus).

Clearly the Holy Ghost was imparted by the apostles’ prayer. Now, an “apostle” is a “sent one” and in scripture only apostles pray for people to receive to receive the Holy Ghost. Accordingly, in Acts 9:17 Ananias is “sent” to pray for the newly converted Saul. And in Acts 10, Cornelius is told by an angel to “send” for Peter the Apostle.

And in Acts 19:6 we learn that it was only when the Apostle Paul “laid hands” on “certain disciples” at Ephesus that “the Holy Ghost came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied”. Only apostles had this power. In Acts 8 the deacon Philip was mightily used of God in the conversion of the Samaritans, doing miracles, but did not have authority to lay hands on them to receive the Holy Ghost. He had to wait for Peter and John to come.

Acts 8:18 states unequivocally that that “through the laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Ghost was given”. Nor is there any record of the apostles conferring this power on others. Did bishops and elders receive this power when they were ordained by the apostles? The Bible does not say they did. Nor does it record any example of believers other than apostles laying hands on converts that they might receive the Holy Ghost.

What’s more, halfway through Acts the Apostle Paul ceases to water baptise converts. In 1 Cor. 1: 14ff. he says: “Thank God I baptised none of you but Crispus and Gaius … also the household of Stephanas … For Christ sent me not to baptise but to preach the gospel … lest the cross of Christ be made of none effect.”

 Water baptism was on its way out and so was the laying on of hands on believers that they might receive the Holy Ghost. There is no scriptural record that the power to do so was conferred by Paul on anyone else. Indeed, in 1 Tim. 5:23 the apostle urges Timothy, “Lay hands suddenly on no man”, in reference to ordaining them in ministry but mentions nothing of the Holy Ghost.

Why? Because by this time the Lord was imparting Himself to indwell believers as the “Holy Ghost” without the laying on of hands. This is made clear in 1 Cor. 1:4-8. Let us study the passage:

I thank my God always on your behalf for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ. That in everything ye are enriched by Him. Even as the testimony was confirmed in you. So that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Here we see the act of confirming, or confirmation, now carried out by Christ Himself with no laying on of hands to execute it. Clearly the “grace of God” here is the impartation of Christ Himself as “the Holy Ghost”. It is also the enrichment of the Corinthians in spiritual gifts, particularly in utterance (tongues) and knowledge (supernaturally given by Christ Himself).

Notice that from here onwards the Lord Himself does all the confirming that is necessary. “Who shall also confirm you unto the end.” No need then for bishops, priests or pastors to lay hands on anyone when Christ is doing the work Himself.

Indisputably Christ did give spiritual gifts such as tongues, miracles, healing, prophesy and discernment of spirits during the Pentecostal dispensation. This was in line with Mark 16:20 “The Lord working with them and confirming the word with signs following”. But all such manifestations ceased toward the end of the Book of Acts. The last “laying on of hands” took place on Malta when the shipwrecked Apostle Paul healed Publius’ father of a bloody flux (Acts 28:8. After this the apostle’s power to impart the Holy Ghost and to heal ceased. 

Which is why, in 1 Tim. 5:23 Paul advises Timothy to “drink no longer water but use a littler wine for thy oft infirmities”. Why couldn’t the apostle just heal him? And in Titus 4:20 the apostle had to leave Trophimus at Miletum “sick”. Again, why couldn’t Paul have healed him?

We have found that in the Acts period “the grace of God” and the “confirmation” was manifested in signs, wonders, the receiving of the Holy Ghost through the laying on of hands and in spiritual gifts. All these ceased with the setting aside of Israel as an instrument of God and the sending of the salvation of God to the Gentiles in Acts 28:28

A very different way of being confirmed or established (both words translate the same Greek word (bebaioo) came into being in the new and unprophesied dispensation of the grace of God and the mystery of Christ proclaimed by Paul in his prison epistles (Ephesians 3:1-4).

Consider Col. 2:6-7:

As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in Him. Rooted and built up in Him and stablished in the faith as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving.

The word stablished here translates the Greek word bebaioo which is also translated confirm in Mark 16:20, 1 Corinthians 1:6, 8 and 2 Cor. 1:21 which says:

Now He which stablisheth (i.e. confirms) us with you and hath anointed (has imparted the Holy Ghost and spiritual gifts) is God.

Accordingly, we learn that even laying on of hands to receive the Holy Ghost, heal and perform miracles was still in order, the confirmation and establishing was done by God Himself. However, in the revelation of the mystery then confirmation comes from God, and God alone. No humanly executed ritual such as laying on of hands is required to receive it because, as Eph. 2:8-9 insists:

By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works lest any man should boast.

Serious Bible students will notice that while signs and wonders, miracles and healings and speaking in tongues “confirmed” the gospel in the Acts period a very different confirmation takes place in the mystery dispensation.

Returning to Col. 2:6-7, note that saints saved solely by faith (not works such as repentance, water baptism or impartation by the laying on of hands) are from the start rooted in the love of Christ. Thus, Eph. 3:17 declares that “the faithful in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 1:1) are “rooted and grounded in love” and in Col. 2:7 they are “rooted and built up in Him”. Rooted translates the Greek word rhizoomai found only in these two verses. Rhizo is an important root word, prefixing many added words, for its very meaning is root and from it we get the English word rhizome meaning a root or underground word shoot. The word is used only in Eph. 3:17 and Col. 2:7, nowhere else. This confined its spiritual meaning to the mystery revelation.

It means that right from the get-go the saved and faithful are “rooted in Christ”. Not only that they are “built up in Him”. Not only are they built on “the chief cornerstone” (Eph. 2:20) but they are now “built up” by “God and the word of his grace” (Acts 20:32). Note that it is by God Himself and his word, not by miracles, impartations of the Holy Ghost or the laying on of hands. Accordingly, saints in the mystery are “stablished in the faith as ye have been taught”.

In Acts preachers who were apostles and miracle workers were needed to confirm believers. In the prison epistles of Paul which set out the mystery revelation it is the doctrine of “sound words” which saves, sanctifies and confirms (2 Tim. 1:13, 2 Tim. 4:1-3, 1 Tim. 4:16). Not only must believers be confirmed by the truths of this new dispensation; they must be taught them by a teacher. And that teacher is of course the Apostle Paul (1 Tim. 2:7) and those who in turn commit his “sound words” to “faithful men who shall be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:1).

What are these “sound words”? Why, the gospel of the grace of God as preached by Paul and the “preaching of Jesus Christ according to the revelation of the mystery” (Rom. 16:25, Eph. 3:Eph. 3:2-3).

Returning to Col. 2:7 we see that while saints are rooted and built up in Him, they also need to be “stablished (or confirmed, if you will) in the faith”, that is “the form of sound words” that Timothy was urged to “hold fast to”, a phrase which enunciates the core meaning of confirm as being to “set fast”.

So how do saints under this new administration become stablished or set fast? Answer: by the revelation of the mystery given to Paul for us Gentiles. And how do they get qualified to become ministers of that truth to others. Not by going to a bible college or seminary, still less by being “ordained” by the laying hands. No, they must in the words of 2 Timothy 2:15:

Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be shamed, rightly dividing the word of truth”.

Thus it is the word of God as revealed to Paul, the stablishing of the “preaching of Jesus according to the revelation of the mystery” and the studying of it that confirms, indeed approves, believers today – not the laying on of hands known in Christendom as “confirmation”.