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The Philippian Jailer and His Household

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"Household Baptism" • GSB Observations

Recently, a correspondent asked me to comment on Geoffrey S. Bacon's June 2020 paper entitled "Household Baptism".  Below is the substance of my reply.

I was quite interested in Geoffrey's remarks about the development of traditional doctrines and practices related to baptism (during the time of the "church fathers" and thereafter), but I have serious concerns about a few significant statements in his paper.  The statements lay a foundation — historically and doctrinally — for the author's conclusions.

Firstly, Geoffrey writes concerning the Waldenses:  "They have been described as adherents of the original biblical, evangelical faith.  As to baptism, they appear to have practised the baptism of both infants and believing adults."  However, in this Britannica Encyclopedia article about the Waldenses, we read:  "Baptism was to be by full immersion in water and was not administered to infants."  I expect that this article was carefully vetted before publication.  And the book entitled "The Historic Baptist" establishes that the medieval Waldenses largely rejected the practice of infant baptism.

Secondly, Geoffrey writes, concerning the baptism of Lydia's house, the Philippian jailer's house, and Stephanas' house, "As regards baptism, is it accidental that we have three instances in the New Testament where the act is placed in a household setting?  These are Acts 16:15 and 33, and 1 Corinthians 1:16."  He writes further, "There does not appear to be sufficient textual evidence to confirm that every individual in the jailer's house believed in God; it may be so, but I suggest that this is one of those instances where we may be tempted to insert our own assumptions to maintain our own view."

  • Concerning Lydia and her house in Acts 16:15, the phrases "her house" and "my house" are used, referring to Lydia's house.  In the references to persons' houses in scripture, a house is associated with the husband's name in the case of a married couple.
    Lydia was a businesswoman — a seller of purple according to Acts 16:14.  It is likely that Lydia was either unmarried or a widow; there is no evidence that infants were present in Lydia's house.
  • Concerning the jailer and his house, see The Philippian Jailer and His Household and consider Bible translator J. N. Darby's remark:  "the gaoler himself is converted, and his family" (Synopsis of the Books of the Bible, volume 4, page 44).
  • Concerning Paul baptizing the house of Stephanas (1 Corinthians 1:16), we read, "But I beseech you, brethren, (ye know the house of Stephanas, that it is the first-fruits of Achaia, and they have devoted themselves to the saints for service,) that ye should also be subject to such, and to every one joined in the work and labouring."  1 Corinthians 16:15.  Darby's footnote is also helpful:  "The family of Stephanas had appointed themselves to the saints for service".
    The assembly in Corinth was founded during Paul's second missionary journey between 50 and 52 A.D.  Paul wrote the first epistle to the Corinthians in about 55 A.D., while in Ephesus during his third missionary journey.  This is an interval of 3 to 5 years, and there is no basis to assume that the house of Stephanas included infants when Paul baptized its members.
To raise doubts as to whether only believers were baptized in any of these settings is to question whether Paul, an elect vessel to Jesus according to Acts 9:15, would have disregarded Jesus' words in Matthew 3:13-15, Matthew 28:19, and Mark 16:16.

  1. In Matthew 3:13-15, when Jesus came "to the Jordan to John to be baptised of him, John urgently forbad him, saying, 'I have need to be baptised of thee; and comest thou to me'?  But Jesus answering said to him, 'Suffer it now; for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness'.  Then he suffers him."  Jesus' statement—"thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness"—is noteworthy.
  2. In Matthew 28:19, Jesus tells his disciples, "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptising them to the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit".  Here Jesus instructs his disciples to baptize "disciples".
  3. In Mark 16:16, Jesus says to the eleven disciples, "He that believes and is baptised shall be saved".  Undoubtedly, Jesus puts belief and baptism in this order for a reason.
In reading the scriptures, we should not only rely on "textual evidence" in one passage of scripture; we do well to consider other scriptures that bear on a subject.  I am reminded of Luke 24:27:  "And having begun from Moses and from all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself."  In Acts 17:11, the Bereans "were more noble than those in Thessalonica, receiving the word with all readiness of mind, daily searching the scriptures if these things were so."

— • —

"But I have a baptism to be baptised with, and how am I straitened until it shall have been accomplished!"  Jesus' words in Luke 12:50.

"Are you ignorant that we, as many as have been baptised unto Christ Jesus, have been baptised unto his death?  We have been buried therefore with him by baptism unto death, in order that, even as Christ has been raised up from among the dead by the glory of the Father, so we also should walk in newness of life."  Paul's words in Romans 6:3-4.

Stephen Hesterman
September 4, 2021


Observations About G. S. Bacon's "Household Baptism" Paper