Question Box: Household Baptisms

If they baptized whole households they had to baptize infants and children. So… what happens to the children when they die, the mentally deranged who cannot reason?  If you can answer these reasonably well, I will pay for you to come and re-baptize me. Please answer each question. Thanks Brett.

Thanks Brett for the challenging questions, and it’s so good to see that you take these matters so seriously. No need to offer to pay our fares, we’d be so happy to come!

However, your questions are in some sense incapable of a yes / no answer, for the simple reason that I’m not the Judge of all the earth. There is no question that God can save whom He likes, as He likes, when He likes.. "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?"

All I can comment on is what the Bible teaches. There is clearly an association between baptism into Christ, and salvation. For salvation is only "in Christ". So far as we are able, we need to learn the Gospel, repent, and be baptized by immersion. What will happen to those without the opportunity to have done this? That’s a question which I think is outside our possibility of answering. God is the judge, and He is the Saviour of men, through His Son.

However, what we don’t have the right to do is to take things into our own hands by changing the clear meaning of Scripture to make it fit into our own fears or expectations. I think this is just what’s happened by those who interpret the references to baptisms of households as "proof" for sprinkling babies. Firstly, baptism as a word means immersion - not sprinkling. And secondly, the Biblical records show that true baptism is always preceded by belief, and a baby certainly can’t believe; because belief in anything requires some level of comprehension of the issues involved. He who believes and is baptized shall be saved, according to Mk. 16:16. Paul says we were buried with Christ in baptism, in which we also were raised with Him "through faith in the working of God" (Col. 2:12). Baptism therefore requires that we believe that God is going to work through what we are doing. A baby can’t do this.

The examples of "household baptisms" in the New Testament don’t state that babies were baptized. That’s an assumption. In each example of "household baptism" the people who were baptized were ones who had been taught the Gospel (Acts 10:34-43; 16:14, 32; 1 Cor. 1:16-18; 16:15-16). The baptism of Lydia’s "household" is often referred to. But let’s note that Lydia did not live in Philippi (she was from Thyatira, on the other side of the Aegean Sea). Since she was on business, she probably did not bring her children with her, if she had any. The word "oikos" translated "household" also means "property". So it seems to me that it was her slaves / servants who were in her retinue who were baptised.

The "household" of the jailer in Philipi is another example. But the candidates for baptism were those who had "heard the word" (Acts 10:44,47)- and "hearing" often implies "understanding", rather than merely hearing sounds. Acts 16:32 says that Paul and Sills "spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house"; and only then did the jailer "rejoice, having believed in God with all his household" (v.34).  

1 Cor. 7 says that there were cases where a family was divided between a believing husband and an unbelieving wife, and vice versa. This shows that first century conversion wasn't just the whole family following their head. The call of Christ is a call to individuals. And individuals respond personally by being baptized. Their family situation may encourage or discourage this, but ultimately it’s a personal response. All the New Testament baptisms that are recorded follow personal conversion to Christ. This is why they are associated with such words as believe, repent and calling on His name (Acts 2:38, 41; 8:12,13,36, 37; 10:47,48; 16:14,15,32-34; 18:8; 19:4,5; 22:16). The call of Christ is to individuals who are capable of hearing and responding to that call. How a God of love may save any others is not revealed to us.

Duncan Heaster

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