Not Just Infant Baptism: Household Baptism

The other reason why I prefer the term Household Baptist to Infant Baptist is that it keeps the evangelistic focus of the church in view. I sometimes fear that the most ardent supporters of infant baptism become too inward focused. They have a hyper-commitment to the members of their family as over against reaching the lost. The first adult baptisms that I administered in the early days of our church plant included a father and mother in their 50s, together with their two teenaged children. The children were not resistant to receiving the covenant sign—albeit, most of my Baptist friends would have pressed for a more mature profession of faith from them. The reason that I baptized the entire family on the profession of the parents is that I was convinced of a Household Baptist position. The Apostle Paul made clear in 1 Cor. 7:14 that the children of even one professing believer are covenantally set apart to God as members of the visible church. If we limit the covenant sign to the infants of believers, then we inadvertently limit the scope of the New Covenant and the inclusion of the family members of the household of new professing believers. Read more»

Nick Batzig, “The Household Baptist” (June 18, 2018).


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    • Household help? No.

      In the Graeco-Roman culture to which the Apostles preached, there was indeed slavery, and the slave was bound to his owner’s house. However, as a great Presbyterian jurist, James Dalrymple, First Viscount Stair, observed, the category of “servitude” found in the Roman Law inherited by Scots Law was in most ways a dead letter throughout much of Christendom. Stair observed that the category of persons designated “servants” (servus) in Scotland were in fact a species of free laborers whose relations with their employers were governed by contract rather than servile status. (Institutions of the Laws of Scotland–1688).

      I also think that Paul and Peter deal with unbelieving spouses without calling for their being baptized.

    • Hi Marissa,

      I dissent from Peter a bit. I think the Abrahamic pattern continued in the New Covenant. We know that the household help were circumcised. So, then the question comes, on what basis would we interrupt that pattern? We hesitate to be consistent, I suppose, because we have been influenced by Baptistic ideas of discontinuity.

      Remember, the households in Acts 16 certainly had slaves who, the Greco-Roman world, were the property of and subsidiary to the householder (e.g., Lydia and the Philippian jailer). I’m not suggesting that we baptize those who are opposed or actively unbelieving but we should not weaken the biblical and Ancient idea of households, which was comprehensive and, as Nick says, included more than infants (see Acts 7:10; 10:2; 11:4; 18:8).

      In Acts 16:15, Lydia’s whole household was baptized. We are not told that all believed for professed faith. In 16:31 the promise of salvation was offered to the jailer and to his household. Again, we’re told that the whole household was baptized (v. 34). The only one who is explicitly said to have believed was the jailer. In 18:8, however, Crispus and his household are both said to have believed but they are not said explicitly to have been baptized. Perhaps (it seems likely) that they were in the “many” whom Luke goes on to mention, who were baptized but it isn’t expressed explicitly.

      As to the unbelieving spouse, yes, there’s no indication that unbelieving spouses were baptized but we do have every reason to think that, assuming the unbelieving spouse permitted, the children of that union were baptized. These cases, however are apples to the oranges, as it were, in Acts where we’re dealing with heads of households. In 1 Cor 7, we’re not dealing with the heads of households.

      Here’s one attempt to address this question (or a closely-related question):

  1. What is the best evidence that households in these baptisms included included infants? Baptists will say that peadobaptists argue solely upon inference in relation to these verses.

    • Toluwan,

      In both the old covenant and the new covenant, God speaks to households and “saves” them. In the language of the Bible, one’s house does not refer incidentally, but primarily to the children.61 The emphasis on “household” or “family” points to a continuity between the Old Covenant corporate view-point and that of the New covenant.62 Children are viewed as being part of a covenant household, a covenantal unit. The sign, in Scripture, is applied to the whole household unit.63

      Scripture uses this household formula in several clear passages which show a great deal of unity between old covenant practice and New Covenant (baptismal) practice.64 We know that when Luke wrote Acts he was selective in his reporting. So it is important to note that proportionally, when we compare the number of household baptisms to other baptisms in Acts, household baptisms are common. In Acts, as with circumcision in the old covenant, baptism is a household affair and the household texts prove it.

      Lydia, the Jailer, and Crispus.

      In Philippi, in a “place of prayer,” Paul and his co-workers met Lydia, a Gentile who was called “a God-fearer,” i.e. someone on the fringes of the synagogue but not a full-member.65 After hearing the gospel, “the Lord opened her heart” and “she and the members of her household were baptized.” It cannot be argued reasonably that there were no children in this “household.” 66

      Paul was jailed for his ministry to a demon possessed girl. Jesus delivered them from jail by sending an earthquake. Their jailer hears the gospel and professed his faith.

      Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his family were baptized….he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God -he and his whole family (Acts 16: 33,34).
      As in the case of Lydia, Luke communicated the covenantal nature of baptism through the use of the oikos (household formula).

      After Paul had been rejected by the synagogue in Corinth he went “next door” to the house of Titius Justus, another “God-fearing” Gentile. There “Crispus, the synagogue ruler, and his entire household believed in the Lord; and many of the Corinthians who heard him believed and were baptized” (Acts 18:8).

      These patterns were identical with what occurred in Israel for 2000 years: The adult Gentile converts were circumcised along with their male children in accordance with Genesis 17:10-14. Certainly those adult converts had to confess their faith.67 Both believing adults and their children are described by the word “household.”68

      Gen 36:6 in the LXX (the Greek trans. of the OT, a major background and influence on the NT) is typical: “καὶ πάντα τὰ σώματα τοῦ οἴκου αὐτοῦ” ( all the members of his household). There were no infants in Pharaoh’s household (Acts 7:10)?

      The evidence that “household” (οικος) was inclusive of infants. These are large corporations. Abraham’s household was essentially a small town. He was a minor royal figure. We’re not talking about small, modern nuclear families but about extended families, servants, and their children.

  2. To push this a little, if a woman admits she does not believe, but is willing to be baptized wth her newly believing husband, and her kids as well, this is consistent wth the reformed notion of baptism?

    • If someone said, “I do not believe” I would not initiate them into the visible covenant community.

      Remember, baptism isn’t communion. It’s initiation, entrance into the visible church.

      Profession is associated with communion.

      Part of the problem is that we’re not told much in Acts. So, I’m drawing inferences. Further, I’m not claiming that this approach is the Reformed approach. It’s been debated in the history of the Reformed churches.

  3. Dear Dr Clark,

    Thanks for posting the excerpt from Batzig’s article. I have a question which is somewhat related to Bjohnson’s query.

    In my family, I am the only baptized believer in a confessional Reformed church, but my mother and brothers are not believers, and they do not attend church. Should they be baptized? From the discussion above, I am under the impression that appears that those within the household who profess faith could be baptized, whereas those who openly declare they do not believe ought not to be baptized.

    Hope to seek your clarification on this matter.

    David Han

    • David,

      What we see in Scripture is heads of households circumcising or the subsidiary members being baptized. As a brother one isn’t the head of a household ordinarily.

  4. J.I. Packer writes, “it is unrealistic, if not actually evasive, to suppose that when the apostles and others baptized households (Act 16:15, 31-34; I Cor. 1:16) there were no very young children in any of the families.”

  5. Thank you for the reply R. Scott Clark. I have never been a part of a church that baptised a whole household, including everyone, at one time, but it seems to be consistent with the Abrahamic Covenant and the New Testament. The other question that is related but not the subject at hand that has always interested me, is that of paedo communion. I understand that there is clear evidence to fence the table based on a profession and ability to discern the body and blood of Christ. What is not consistent, is that Jews all, young and old, participate in the Passover sedar. Do you have any material on that difference?

  6. Dr. Clark,

    Regarding the accounts of Lydia and of the jailer and their respective households, it seems to me that those two accounts in Acts 16 are very compressed in nature, with a strong implication that the gospel was preached to each household (in the jailer’s case, this is explicitly said in Acts 16.32) before any baptisms took place. I think it’s reasonable to assume that there were positive responses to the gospel before the baptisms occurred. Would Paul have baptized someone in one of those households who openly resisted the gospel, just because he or she was a member of the household?

  7. Dr. Clark,

    One Baptist objection that always had some weight to me. The objection, if I’m understanding it rightly, goes something like this:

    In the Old Covenant, the grandchildren of believers were still considered covenant members, even though we might have an intervening generation of apostasy. The grandchildren of New Covenant members, however, are not considered to be covenant members, even though the grandparents’ clearly are, due to the rejection of the same by the parents. By extension, perhaps even white, secular New Englanders writing horrific, historical fiction might be covenant members, by virtue of their lineal descent?

    I’m probably not communicating this objection very well at all, but do you understand what I’m trying to get at, and how would you respond to it?

    Thank you!

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