INTRODUCTION. One of the arguments used to justify the practice of Paedobaptism (Paedobaptism is the practice of sprinkling water on the head of an infant or a small child and calling that New Testament baptism) is based on the so-called “household baptisms” in the New Testament. Household baptisms appear in Acts 16:15 with Lydia’s household, in Acts 16:33 with the household of the Philippian jailer, and in 1 Corinthians 1:16 with the household of Stephanas in Corinth. This post will take a critical look at these passages and assess whether “household baptisms” provide any justification for the practice of Paedobaptism. The material used here will (hopefully) be part of a more complete work critiquing all the arguments attempting to justify Paedobaptism.
THE PAEDOBAPTIST ARGUMENT STATED
In my own words, the justification for Paedobaptism from household baptisms states that, in the New Testament there are clearly cases where whole households were baptized. These households are assumed to have contained infants or small children who could not repent or believe, but who were nevertheless baptized. From this, the Paedobaptists infer that it is biblically justified to sprinkle all infants and small children of believers.
THE METHOD OF CRITIQUE
To critique this Paedobaptist argument, we will question its major assumption, namely that there were unbelieving small children or infants in these households who were “baptized” (actually, sprinkled). It will be shown that, not only were there no unbelieving infants and small children (thus eliminating the need to sprinkle rather than properly immerse them), but in fact all those baptized were believers. The reason the members of these household were baptized was because the members were believers.
LYDIA’S HOUSEHOLD, ACTS 16:14-15. We begin by examining the verses about Lydia in Acts 16. In Acts 16:15, the Scriptures read, “And when she (Lydia) and her household had been baptized.” So, it is obvious that Lydia’s household was baptized. But now, for the Paedobaptist argument for infant baptism to hold, it must be shown that Lydia’s household included an unbelieving infant or small child. What is the evidence for this case?
- The most obvious clue against there being infants or small children in the household is that no children are mentioned in Acts 16:14-15. None. At all. So, for there to be any children, they must be inferred and inserted into the household. Is there any good reason to infer that there were small children?
- If there were children in Lydia’s household, there would need to be a father. This would necessitate Lydia having a husband, but there is no mention of a husband for Lydia. Ever. In the whole text, there is no suggestion that Lydia has a husband. In his typical detailed fashion, Luke tells us (16:14) Lydia’s name, where she is from (Thyatira), what she does for a living (seller of purple fabrics), that she was a worshiper of God, and that she was listening to Paul. Then, after “the Lord opened her heart” (16:14), we find out that Lydia has been judged to be faithful to the Lord (16:15), that she has a house that can accommodate a few travelers, and that she can invite male strangers into her home. In those days, it would have been scandalous for a woman to invite men into her home without her husband’s consent, unless, of course, there was no husband to ask.
- All of this evidence suggests not that Lydia was a mother of infants or small children, but rather that she was a single woman, a merchant of some means, whose heart had been opened by the Lord as Paul proclaimed the gospel to her by the river. There is no evidence for any unbelieving infants or small children.
- But it must be remembered that the central figure in this gospel scene is not an imaginary infant or small child, but is Lydia, the new believer. “The Lord opened Lydia’s heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul” (16:14). This certainly means that Lydia believed in the Lord Jesus Christ unto salvation. Then, following her coming to faith, she was baptized (16:15). According to the pattern given throughout the book of Acts, Lydia believed and was baptized (confirm Acts 2, twice in Acts 8, Acts 9 (Saul), Acts 10, twice in Acts 16, Acts 18, and Acts 19). And the only reason that Lydia was baptized was because she had believed in the Lord Jesus.
- Now, since the only reason the apostle Paul ever baptized anyone was because they had believed in the Lord Jesus, we can conclude that all in Lydia’s “household” were baptized because they had believed in the Lord Jesus, just as Lydia had.
CONCLUSION ABOUT LYDIA’S HOUSEHOLD, ACTS 16:14-15. After examining this occurrence of a “household baptism,” we have seen, first, that there is no valid reason to infer that there are unbelieving infants or small children in Lydia’s household in this scene, and second, that the reason that Lydia’s household was baptized was because Lydia’s household believed. Thus, the household baptism in Acts 16:15 provides no justification whatsoever for Paedobaptism and, in fact, is correctly understood as portraying household faith.
THE PHILIPPIAN JAILER’S HOUSEHOLD, ACTS 16:31-34. Once again, we see the occurrence of a household baptism in Acts 16:33. (As a technical note, the word for “household” does not appear in the Greek in 16:33, but it is certainly allowed and implied. The Greek actually reads “he was baptized and all his.”) An examination of this passage will reveal that it provides no support for Paedobaptism.
Paul answers the jailer’s question, “What must I do to be saved?” with a clear call to faith in Jesus: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household” (16:31). Any salvation for this jailer or his household is clearly dependent on believing in the Lord Jesus. If the jailer (or his household) is to be saved, he must believe in Jesus.
Having given the jailer the key to being saved, Paul and Silas “spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all who were in his house (Acts 16:32).” In the same way that Peter had preached to Cornelius and all those who had gathered in his house in Acts 10, now Paul preaches the word of the gospel to the jailer and all those in his house. Paul told the jailer to believe in Jesus (16:31), and now Paul is giving him the details of the gospel. He is explaining to him about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection and calling him (and his whole household) to faith in Jesus, the risen Savior. And because of what happens in 16:33 and what we read in 16:34, we know that the jailer and his household believed in God.
What happens next? In 16:33, the jailer washes Paul’s and Silas’ wounds (Maybe they go to the same place of prayer in the river where Paul first spoke the word to Lydia.) and then, since they have believed the message that Paul proclaimed, the jailer and his whole household are immediately baptized.
Their coming to faith is then celebrated with a meal as they “rejoiced greatly, having believed in God with his whole household” (16:34). Again, the reason that the whole household was baptized was because the whole household had believed, as is explicitly stated here.
CONCLUSION, ACTS 16:31-34. This passage about the Philippian jailer provides no justification for Paedobaptism. In fact, the only way to see Paedobaptism in this passage would be to forcibly introduce it into the text. Instead, what we see here is the power of the gospel to convert a hard and cruel man, and his household, to faith in Jesus Christ.
THE HOUSEHOLD OF STEPHANAS, 1 CORINTHIANS 1:16; 16:15. The final occurrence of household baptism is the household of Stephanas in 1 Corinthians 1:16. Paul writes, “Now I did baptize also the household of Stephanas.” Who is Stephanas, and does this baptism offer the Paedobaptist a justification for the practice of baptizing babies?
We find out who Stephanas and his household are by simply reading 1 Cor. 16:15-16: “Now I urge you, brethren (you know the household of Stephanas, that they were the first fruits of Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves for ministry to the saints), that you also be in subjection to such men and to everyone who helps in the work and labors.” It becomes immediately obvious from this glowing commendation from Paul and his testimony to their usefulness in his ministry, that “the household of Stephanas” was a household of believers, and that the reason Paul baptized them (1 Cor. 1:16) was because they had believed the gospel. No further comment needs to be made.
CONCLUSION, THE HOUSEHOLD OF STEPHANAS, 1 COR. 1:16; 16:15. Once again, there is no hint of Paedobaptism here in this text. Instead, we see that Paul baptized the household of Stephanas because the household of Stephanas believed the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. As is true of all baptism in the New Testament, the reason whole households are baptized is because whole households believed. There is no baptism in the New Testament apart from faith in the Lord Jesus Christ
Upon examination of the “household baptisms” in the New Testament, it has been shown that there is no basis for the Paedobaptist claim that these passages can be understood as justifying Paedobaptism. There are no hidden infants or small children in these household baptisms that were somehow given a faithless sprinkling. In these occurrences, the reason whole households were baptized because whole households believed. As is true of all baptisms in the New Testament, there is no baptism apart from faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
SDG rmb 1/21/2022 #487