Laying on of hands and other new church history website content

imagesI don’t know if you are following all the new releases on the JSP and Church History websites, but much of it is completely fascinating. For instance, did you see this story about “A Bit of Old String: Mary Whitmer’s Unheralded Contributions” by my favorite historian ever? Add it to your files about women in church history.

And then there’s this new entry  within the topic section of the Joseph Smith Papers site:

Laying on of hands


A practice in which individuals place their hands upon a person to bestow the gift of the Holy Ghost; ordain to an office or calling; or confer other power, authority, or blessings, often as part of an ordinance.1 The Book of Mormon explained that ecclesiastical authority was to be conferred through this practice.2 JS stated that on 15 May 1829, John the Baptist appeared to him and Oliver Cowdery to confer this authority upon them through the laying on of hands.3 The “Articles and Covenants” of the church directed elders to confirm individuals as members of the church and give them the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands.4 Members of the church could also have their children blessed “before the church” in this manner.5 Similarly, blessings of counsel, comfort, and healing were given by the laying on of hands.6 By 1842, some women were laying hands on the sick for healing.7 JS stated that it was “no sin for any body to do it that has faith, or if the sick has faith to be healed by the administration.”8 Beginning in the 1840s, JS directed church members to perform vicarious confirmations through the laying on of hands on behalf of the deceased.9 See also “Confirmation” and “Ordain.”

Cool, eh? And I’d be remiss now to not point you to some of our own BCCers work on this very subject. See here, here and especially here.


  1. David T says:

    Wow. This is cool. the Church History Department has been so full of WIN these past few years.

  2. J. Stapley says:


  3. Unhappy Bible Guy says:

    This is cool!
    Now if we can only get CES on the ball, and write some new manuals.

    EmJen, what’s your relationship to RoJen?

  4. He’s my HHH: hot historian husband.

  5. Thomas Parkin says:


  6. J. Stapley says:

    I just now had a chance to read Robin’s essay on Mary. That is a wonderful bit of writing, and I think it is really important. Material culture is something that I want to get a better handle on, and this was both inspiring and very informational.

  7. David T says:

    I’m super excited for the Documents series publications, which look to be the closest thing we’re going to have to a reliable super in-depth historical/contextual critical commentary on, among other things, the revelation texts in the D&C. It almost balances the unsurprising-but-still-disappointing reports coming in re the BYU NT commentary.

  8. EmJen, thanks for pointing this out, this is seriously awesome. Also, I’m going to have to steal your acronym and start calling Casey my HHH.

  9. VERY cool, actually. Now would it be too much to ask to have this entry replace the current entry in the LDS Bible Dictionary?

  10. Great idea, Clean Cut. The BD entry is actually pretty uninformative.

  11. Awesome is the right word. Thanks for pointing this out to us, Em.

  12. ErinAnn says:

    In my GD lessons a couple of weeks ago I mentioned that women used to be officially called as healers. I love that this is slowly becoming more mainstream. This is the stuff we should learn about in the “church history” year in Sunday School — not the same old regurgitation of D&C and Joseph Smith history.

  13. Christopher J. says:


  14. Love how the entry points out the bit of string was manufactured by a working mother (with I believe small children).

  15. Hurray for the JSPP and the HHH.

  16. Rachel E O says:

    Surprised that the entry didn’t even mention later church efforts to discourage the practice. If someone only read this, and didn’t actively research it further, they could logically conclude that women performing healing blessings by the laying on of hands was totally legit in this day and age.

    Which actually raises the question for me: where exactly is this practice formally prohibited (if it is)? It’s not in the Church Handbook 2, is it? Is it in Handbook 1? Has this ever been a matter for church discipline?

    Not a theoretical question (as I’m almost 7 months pregnant with my first child). My mother-in-law was once asked to participate together with her husband in a healing blessing for one of her children by her stake president, probably about 30 years ago (so not *that* long ago). It would be kind of cool if I could participate in healing blessings for my children (and spouse) also. I guess it might sort of freak people out if my kids tell on me. :P

  17. Very cool.

  18. And Rachel, I think this opens up future possibilities.

  19. Clean Cut has the right idea!

  20. Rachel, the JSP glossary entries only cover usage of the terms through about 1847 or so (the focus is primarily on Joseph Smith’s lifetime). The practice wasn’t discouraged until the twentieth century, which is outside the project’s scope, so that’s why the entry wouldn’t mention it.

  21. Thanks for the note and links. Very nice article on Mary Whitmer.

    I’ve been working through Lucy Mack Smith’s history that was just posted on the JSPP website. That’s a great read.

  22. Rachel E O says:

    Yeah, I see why the passage wouldn’t mention it because of the historical nature of the project. But I still find it interesting that there was no effort to “interpret” that history in a way that aligns more closely with contemporary practice by signposting future developments. It’s very reassuring from a historical perspective.

  23. I join with others here saying thanks for the informative post and “Horray for the Church History Department!” There is so much really great material coming out of there these days!

  24. Geoff - A says:

    Rachel, Book 1 says priesthood required to, anoint or bless sick, or blessings of comfort, performing blessings of babies, baptising and witnessing. Basically non priesthood holders are completely excluded from the religious ceremonial life of their children.

    Good to see the history dept. coming out with the truth, will they survive or are we acknowledging the past?

  25. sarah v. says:

    I am so afraid to voice my opinion on this anywhere other than the internet for fear of being esteemed by those who know me as an outsider (and losing my friends), but I would like to add that I will never feel like an equal to my husband in the church until women hold the priesthood and bless their children and others. I’ve heard it all, all the church’s reasoning, and my opinion hasn’t changed.

  26. Ok am I seriously the first person to add a hyperlink to J Stapley and Kristine Wrights article on female healing?

    There. Now go read. By the way page 84 has the reference to when Bruce R McConkie asked Camilla Kimball to assist in blessing her husband President Kimball.

    Thanks for this post Emily.

  27. Oops Emily, I didn’t see your third link their article linked already. (getting late) So consider this an extra shout out to J and Kristine!!!!

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