“In his letter to Timothy, Paul said that men are to pray, ‘lifting up hold hands’ to God (1 Tim. 2:8). Why don’t people lift up their hands when they pray today?”
The “lifting up holy hands” is most likely an expression borrowed from the Old Testament because of a common ancient practice. Though neither mandated or enforced as law, it was very common in ancient times for one to raise his hands when praying.
Examples of Israelites Praying with Lifted Hands
When Solomon prayed at the dedication of the temple, “he spread forth his hands toward heaven” (1 Kgs. 8:22).
In one of his prayers, David exclaimed:
“Hear the voice of my supplications, when I cry unto you; when I lift up my hands toward your holy oracle” (Psa. 28:2).
To the superficial, hypocritical worshippers in the era of Isaiah the prophet, the Lord God said:
“And when you spread forth your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; yes, when you make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood” (Isa. 1:15).
These passages illustrate the fact that on occasion the Hebrews held up their hands when they prayed.
But it wasn’t always the case that the Israelites raised their hands in prayer. Other postures and manners of praying are mentioned.
Prayer was made standing (1 Sam. 1:26), kneeling (1 Kgs. 8:54), lying down (1 Kgs. 18:42), audibly (Jn. 17:1; 18:1), silently (1 Sam. 1:13), bowing the head (Gen. 24:26), with uplifted eyes (Jn 17:1), etc.
It would be a mistake to think that any particular posture or manner of praying is preferred over others. Obviously, the manner of prayer was not a binding pattern.
What About Holy Hands?
Furthermore, literally speaking, there is no such thing as “holy hands.” This is a figure of speech known as the synecdoche (the part put for the whole). Holy hands stand for a holy person.
In Proverbs 6:16-19 several body components are used metaphorically to stress certain evil actions. Mention is made of “haughty eyes,” a “lying tongue,” murderous “hands,” a wicked “heart,” and mischievous “feet.”
The point being made in 1 Timothy 2:8 is this. Those who lead in the worship (and public worship is of the thrust of this context) must be holy men.
In view of this, how serious a responsibility it is for the men who are leading the church’s worship to be of the very highest spiritual quality. To employ worldly men for a lesser motive (e.g., a reward for some material service rendered, or to “encourage them to do better”) is a woefully misguided effort.
Is It Wrong to Lift Up Hands During Worship?
Some have inquired as to whether there is any wrong with people raising their hands when they pray, even in the public assembly?
In some churches this is becoming more common. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with this practice. Perhaps, however, a word of caution would not be out of place, and admittedly one must be cautious here.
First, this practice in the modern community of Christendom is generally identified with the hyper-emotional Pentecostal people who are known to thrust aside scriptural restraint for the so-called charismatic experience. One may wish to consider whether he wants to leave the impression that he is inclined in this direction.
Second, the phenomenon is finding some level of a comfort zone among the more liberal congregations of the Lord’s people. The hands-up posture may send a signal to some that more contemporary worship is being tested — something more emotional and less formal.
Third, one might consider whether such a novel practice might create a distraction for others.
These are matters of judgment, but it seems that a prudent Christian might want to reflect on them.