Take the 2-minute tour ×
Christianity Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for committed Christians, experts in Christianity and those interested in learning more. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I was taught in Sunday school to pray hands folded. On the other hand, there's no biblical mention of the practice (as far as I know). It actually doesn't seem to matter which position we pray in.

How did folding hands come to be a common practice? Is there some reasoning behind it?

Gevouwen handen
Gevouwen handen by Rob van Hilten (CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0)

share|improve this question
1  
I'd think it's a rather "natural" (not specifically christian, nor modern) gesture for praying. At least, I've seen the "variation" of hands together, palm-to-palm, in japanese (non christian) people. –  leonbloy Sep 5 '11 at 0:20
1  
BTW, a trivial curiosity I noticed once: some people fold hands with right thumb up, others left thumb up; but each person (I think) uses always the same position. I wonder if that's correlated with left-right handness, or any other factor. –  leonbloy Sep 5 '11 at 0:23
3  
Just something to add: Scripture talks about kneeling to pray (Daniel 6:10) or standing to pray (Mark 11:25), but it never mentions folding of hands. –  Roy Tinker Sep 5 '11 at 6:10
3  
I thought it was just taught to children to stop them fidgeting! –  Wikis May 21 '12 at 14:40
add comment

4 Answers 4

up vote 10 down vote accepted

Very interesting question. I did some browsing and came up with the following information.

First of all, this link has some content on the topic:

http://answers.google.com/answers/threadview/id/271624.html

Here is one quote from that thread, but I recommend reading it and judging the content for yourself:

The Talmud relates how the Babylonian Sage, Rabba (Abba ben Joseph, C. 280-352), used to pray with his hands folded.

So "folding hands" could have come down from the Jewish heritage of Christians. Others also distinguish between "praying hands" and "folding hands".

And for the meaning of it, I came across the following web page:

http://www.stjosephsite.com/SJS_Articles_prayinghands.htm

It mentions the following information (pasted in fragments):

Such a prayer gesture is a symbol of obedience, submission, sincerity and repentance.

...

Nathan Ausubel, in his book "Book of Jewish Knowledge said that this prayer gesture is not exclusive to Christians alone. He said the Jews even before the time of Jesus Christ, practiced it: "It has also been commonly assumed that folding the hands in prayer is exclusively a Christian custom. This is not the historical fact at all. As early as the post-Exilic period, when Jews prayed, they folded their hands, and they observed this custom for several centuries even after it had been adopted by Christians."

Jesus, being a Jew, also prayed with clasped hands. You must have seen pictures or images of Him in the garden of Gethsemani in this prayer gesture. In other art works, you can also see the Virgin Mary and angels with their hands clasped as well.

...

The Pope mentioned the custom during feudal times of placing one's joined hands into the hands of his ruling lord as a sign of his fidelity and loyalty. So when we fold our hands in prayer, we are symbolically pledging to God our fidelity and loyalty and placing our hands in His.

And another viewpoint here:

http://www.trivia-library.com/a/why-does-a-person-join-his-hands-when-praying.htm

The joining of hands "leads back to men's early desire to subjugate each other and developed out of the shackling of hands of prisoners!

"Though the handcuffs eventually disappeared, the joining of hands remained as a symbol of man's servitude and submission and his inability (or even lack of inclination) to grasp a weapon."

Christianity adopted "the gesture representing shackled hands as a sign of man's total obedience to divine power."

Another reference (and a selective quote from it):

http://www.answerbag.com/q_view/421928

"Religious historians trace the gesture back to the act of shackling a prisoner’s hands with vine or rope: joined hands came to symbolize submission. In ancient Rome, a captured soldier could avoid immediate death by joining the hands together. Just as waving a white flag today, the message was clear. “I surrender.” Centuries later, subjects demonstrated their loyalty and paid homage to their rulers by joining their hands. In time, clasping the hands together communicated both an acknowledgement of another’s authority and one’s own submission to that authority."

Books by Nathan Ausubel:

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=ntt_athr_dp_sr_1?_encoding=UTF8&sort=relevancerank&search-alias=books&field-author=Nathan%20Ausubel

share|improve this answer
add comment

It originated around the 11th or 12th century, when peasants would beg for work from the feudal lord. This was a gesture of utmost humility & pleading. You can read about it Edward Schillebeeckx's book "The Church with a Human Face." It is very briefly mentioned, but it's in there. (also, i'm sure it helps kids to not get distracted so easily) :)

share|improve this answer
1  
Hi Ned, welcome to Christianity.SE! That's a very interesting bit of research. I don't suppose you have a link to where the book would be available? If so, could you please edit it into your question? Thanks. –  Mason Wheeler Apr 3 '13 at 23:58
    
you can find it on amazon or ebay, im sure. –  Ned Apr 3 '13 at 23:59
add comment

Though this is speculative response to the question of why hands are place facing each other in prayer, it is not a form of begging or humility, but instead represents the joining of "who we were born to become (true nature) - represented in the left hand" and "who we are actually becoming (fulfilled spirit of experiences) - represented by the right hand".

By praying with our hands placed against each other - the symbolism of this act is a reminder that when communicating with God, we are requesting that (as Jesus Christ fulfilled his purpose on Earth) we are also guided to fulfill our true purpose on Earth, to ensure that when our spirit leaves our physical body, that we bring "home" the experiences and learnedness that was expected of us during our time on Earth.

In the Lord's Prayer, this is also represented by the phrase "thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven". In Heaven (or our original home) we were missioned to fulfill a specific purpose on Earth (as was expected of Jesus Christ) - so the prayer states (rephrased slightly) let me be on Earth as it was planned for me in Heaven.

So - the praying hands are the reminder that we are to live every day on Earth (right hand) as our purpose was planned in Heaven (left hand).

share|improve this answer
1  
Welcome to C.SE. This is an insightful answer, although it would benefit from additional sourcing - meaning that if you could find other theologians who've shown similiar stuff, it would make it amazing. As it is, I suspect Gregory of Nyssa would be proud :)When you get the chance, I'd recommend you check out our tour and see how we are different –  Affable Geek Aug 10 '13 at 16:12
    
You aren't related to Evan Carroll, btw, are you? –  Affable Geek Aug 10 '13 at 16:12
add comment

The bible doesn't mention anything on hands clasped. We can pray kneeling or standing while our hands are raised and spread toward heaven as the scriptures say:

1 Kings 8:22 And Solomon stood before the altar of the LORD in the presence of all the congregation of Israel, and spread forth his hands toward heaven

There are other scriptures that explain the same. All this other non sense of where it came from should be null and void if it is not in the scriptures. Hands clasped is a tradition of men not of GOD.

share|improve this answer
    
Welcome to the site! However, this doesn't answer the question, it's more of a comment on whether it matters. This really isn't a discussion forum, it's a Q and A site with a specific format. I do hope to see more from you, but when you get a chance, please see How we are different than other sites? and What makes a good supported answer? –  David Stratton Mar 15 at 17:00
add comment

protected by Community Jul 19 at 10:29

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality answers, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site.

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.