Household Baptisms?

By: Mark Tabata (Evangelist)

When studying with friends regarding the subject of infant baptism, I usually try and share with them some of the many reasons why infant baptism is unscriptural.

For example, according to the New Testament Scriptures, the baptized person must:

• Hear the Word of God (Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 2:37; 8:35-38; Romans 10:14-17);

• Understand the Word of God (John 6:44-45);

• Believe in Jesus Christ (John 8:24; Mark 16:15-16);

• Repentof sin (Luke 13:3; Acts 2:38; 17:30-31);

• Be able to confess faith in Jesus Christ (Acts 8:37);

• Have sins that need to be forgiven (Matthew 26:28; Acts 2:38; 22:16; Ezekiel 18:20; 28:15; Romans 7:9);

• Be able to enter into relationship with the Lord (1 Peter 3:20-21);

• Personally personally choose to be baptized into Christ (Acts 2:41; 22:16; John 7:17)

There are, of course, other reasons which may be stated which demonstrate that infant baptism was not practiced under the New Covenant of Christ, and is incompatible with the teachings of the Word of God. in fact, infant baptism, as we will learn, was introduced later in the Christian Age, at a time when the Catholic Church (under heavy influence from pagan religions) was forming.

Nevertheless, when studying with denominational friends, the claim is often made that the examples of “household” baptisms in the New Testament demonstrate that infants and small children were baptized.

Is this true?

Do the “household baptisms” mentioned in the New Testament provide justification for infant baptism?

Let’s study.

Looking At The Household Baptisms

Let’s carefully study each of the household baptism narratives in the New Testament Scriptures.

Cornelius And His Household

The first example is Cornelius, the first Gentile household converted to Christ. An angel appeared to Cornelius with these words:

Acts 11:14-who will tell you words by which you and all your household will be saved.’

Did the household of Cornelius, mentioned here, include infants?

Acts 10:2-a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always.

Notice that “all” of Cornelius’ household “feared God.” Can an infant fear God?

Acts 10:44-While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word.

Those in Cornelius’ household are here characterized as those who “heard the Word.” Obviously, the meaning is that the household of Cornelius heard the Word of God, understood the Word of God, and believed the Word of God.

Can an infant do any of these things?

Acts 10:48-And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then they asked him to stay a few days.

Can an infant obey the command to be baptized in the name of the Lord?

Clearly, there was no “infant baptism” in Cornelius’ household.

Lydia And Her Household

The next example of “household baptism” in Acts is in regard to Lydia. She is introduced to us as one of a group of women (Acts 16:13). She is identified as a woman who is from the city of Thyatira, and a seller of purple (no doubt a businesswoman who travelled in selling clothes with colorful appearance). We are also told that she was a worshiper of God (Acts 16:14). Here we read:

Acts 16:14-15-Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God. The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul. And when she and her household were baptized, she begged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” So she persuaded us.

Who was in Lydia’s household?

Did it include infants?

The most obvious answer to the question “who is in Lydia’s household” is provided by the text itself: the household of Lydia is composed of the women who she was traveling and lodging with!

It also needs to be remembered that the text specifies that hearing the Word of God and personally submitting to the Word of God are directly stated in the text, so the implication seems to be that all the ones who were part of the household had the ability to hear and personally submit to the Word of God.

This, of course, strongly argues against infant baptism.

However, the clearest evidence that this household does not include infants is found at the end of the chapter:

Acts 16:40-So they went out of the prison and entered the house of Lydia; and when they had seen the brethren, they encouraged them and departed.

Paul and Silas entered the house of Lydia and there “encouraged” or “comforted” the brethren. Obviously, these brethren of Lydia’s household were able to be encouraged by the preaching and teaching of the Word of God.

Years ago, a Gospel preacher named G.K. Wallace pointed out some important considerations about this text while engaged in public debate with a Lutheran minister on whether or not infant baptism is scriptural:

“There could not have been infants in the household of Lydia as the text says Paul and Silas entered into the house of Lydia and when they had seen the brethren they comforted them. There were not children because it says they comforted them. This shows that by the teaching of Paul and Silas they were comforted. You can’t comfort infants by preaching-yet, the household of Lydia was thus comforted, therefore, there were no infants in her household. If there were infants in this household and infants cannot be comforted by preaching, how do you suppose Paul and Silas comforted these babies? Did Paul walk the floor with a little fellow and jiggle him up and down while Silas warmed the baby’s bottle? Paul was not a baby nurse. He was a gospel preacher and the comfort he brought to the house of Lydia was by preaching the word. All in her house were old enough to hear the word.” (G.K. Wallace & E.E. Staffer, Stenographically reported by Miss Crystal Norfleet, The Wallace-Stauffer Debate On Infant Baptism And The Lord’s Supper, 50-51 (Kindle Edition); reprinted by Cobb Publishing)

Clearly, there were no baptized infants present in the household of Lydia.

The Jailor

The next example comes from the household of the jailor. Paul tells the jailor these words:

Acts 16:31-So they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.”

After hearing the Word of God, the jailor and his household are baptized (Acts 16:33).

Were there infants present in his household?

First, notice that we are told that all of the jailor’s household heard the Word of God.

Acts 16:32-Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house.

Can an infant receive the Word of God?

Second, we are told that all of the members of the jailor’s household “believed” in the Lord’s Word and were accordingly baptized:

Acts 16:34-Now when he had brought them into his house, he set food before them; and he rejoiced, having believed in God with all his household.

Clearly, there were no infants included in the baptisms here.

Crispus And His Household

Later in Acts, we read about Crispus:

Acts 18:8-Then Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with all his household. And many of the Corinthians, hearing, believed and were baptized.

Notice how Crispus and his household are said to have “believed on the Lord.” Obviously, there are no infants here.

Household Of Stephanas

The only other household baptisms referenced are in 1 Corinthians.

1 Corinthians 1:16-Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas. Besides, I do not know whether I baptized any other.

Were there infants in that household? To answer, we simply need to look at the last chapter of this great Epistle:

1 Corinthians 16:15-I urge you, brethren—you know the household of Stephanas, that it is the firstfruits of Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves to the ministry of the saints—

The household of Stephanas had “devoted themselves to the ministry of the saints.” Obviously, infants cannot do that!

There we have it friends. There were no infants in the household baptisms recorded in the New Testament.

When Infant Baptism First Arose

The first certain and definitive reference to infant baptism comes from the early third century. Scholar Everett Ferguson has written:

“Tertullian provides the first certain literary reference to infant baptism, and that because he opposed the practice (chap. 21)….Some second-century passages have been thought to imply infant or child baptism. Justin Martyr says he knew of “many men and women of the age of sixty and seventy years who were disciples of Christ from childhood and remain celibate” (1 Apology 15.6). His emphasis in context is on their sexual purity; being “disciples from childhood” says nothing about the age of their baptism, for someone raised in a Christian home could be spoken of in the same way. Similarly, Polycarp’s declaration, “Eighty-six years I have served my King and Savior” (Martyrdom of Polycarp 9.3), even if giving his age at the time, could have been spoken without dating his baptism. 1250 Nor does the Acts of Justin 4, which records the confession of two of Justin’s students that they received Christian instruction from their parents, say anything about the age of their baptism. Clement of Alexandria makes frequent use of the language of childhood in reference to Christians, but he apparently says nothing about baptism of actual children….Tertullian confronts an already definite scriptural argument for baptizing children, namely Jesus’ words in Matthew 19: 14. Tertullian’s response underscores the importance for him of teaching, learning, and personal knowledge of and commitment to Christ —the reasons for his advocacy of a delay of baptism until these conditions had been fully satisfied. He joins a host of earlier Christian writers in the affirmation of the innocence of children, 1255 a condition making infant baptism inconsistent in his view with the generally recognized meaning of baptism as bringing the forgiveness of sins.” (Everett Ferguson, Baptism In The Early Church: History, Theology, And Liturgy In The First Five Centuries, 7241-7282 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company)

Other authorities make mention of the same facts. For example, in the Harding -Wilkinson Debate, J.A. Harding provided the following testimony:

“Now to the authorities: Dr. George E. Stents, a well-known Lutheran, in his treatise on baptism (Herzog’s Encyclopedia, Vol. XV, p. 431) asserts that “among scientifically exegetes it is regarded as an established conclusion that not a trace of infant baptism can be discovered in the New Testament.” As was shown to you on the former proposition, the greatest of all these “scientifically exegetes” is Dr. H.A.W. Meyer. In his commentary on Acts 16:15, he says: “This passage, and verse 33, with 18:8, and 1 Cor. 1:16, are appealed to in order to prove infant baptism in the apostolic age, or at least to make it probable.” After making several remarks, showing clearly that these passages do no teach the doctrine, he adds: “The baptism of the children of Christians, of which no trace is found in the New Testament, is not to be held as an apostolic ordinance, as indeed it encountered early and long resistance; but it is an institution of the Church, which gradually arose in post-apostolic times in connection with the development of ecclesiastical life, and of doctrinal teaching, not certainly attested before Tertullian, and by him still decidedly opposed, and although already defended by Cyprian, only becoming general the time of Augustine in victory of that connection.” Meyer on Acts, pp. 311, 312. Neander, the greatest of Church historians, testifies: “Baptism was administered at first only to adults, as men were accustomed to conceive baptism and faith as strictly connected. We have all reason for not deriving infant baptism from apostolic institution, and the recognition of it which followed somewhat later, as an apostolic always tradition, serves to confirm this hypothesis.” Neander’s History Of The Christian Religion And Church, Vol.I, p. 311. Mosheim teaches (see his Ecclesiastical History , Book I, chap. 4, sec. 13,) that in the second century, people were not baptized till ‘after they had repeated what they called the creed (symbolism), and had renounced all their sins and transgressions, and especially the devil and his pomp.” He substantiates this by the quotations of a very full and complete account of their manner of receiving new converts into the Church, by Justin Martyr, which was written about the year 150 A.D. Dr. Schaffer (see History Of The Christian Church, chap. 4, sec. 37, p. 124) says: “The apostolic origin of infant baptism is denied not only by the Baptists, but also by many pedo-baptist divines.” He also says, on the same page, that “The New Testament contains no express command to baptize infants.” (Elder J.A. Harding (Disciple), Rev. T.L. Wilkinson (Methodist), Harding-Wilkinson Debate On Baptism: Examining Mode And Subjects, Stenographically Reported By G.B. Bradley, Esq., of Toronto, Official Reporter For The House Of Commons Of Canada, And Revised By The Respective Disputants, 173-174)

Even Roman Catholic officials acknowledge that infant baptism originated after the New Testament apostolic period! For example:

“It is difficult to give strict proof from the scripture in favor of it” (Catholic Dictionary, Addis and Arnold, 61).

“There is no express mention ;of the baptism of infants in the New Testament” (Question Box, 1929 Edition, 243).

“The baptism of infants is not positively directed in the Gospels” (Teaching of the Catholic Church, Smith, Sacraments and Sacramentals, 23).

Infant baptism had its’ origin-not with the religion of Jesus Christ-but with the paganism that infused and further compromised the Roman Catholic Church. For a very long time, the majority of early Christians taught what the New Testament did regarding the innocence of infants and small children, which is one reason why they did not practice infant baptism. For example:

“They are as infant children, in whose hearts no evil originates. Nor did they know what wickedness is, but always remained as children.” (Hermas, 150; 2.53)

“Who are they that have been saved and have received the inheritance? Those, doubtless, who believe God and who have continued in HIs love-as did Caleb of Jephuneh and Joshua of Nun-and innocent children, who have had no sense of evil.” (Irenaeus, 180; 1.502)

“Behold, Christ takes infants and teaches how all should be like them, if they ever wish to be greater. However, (the Gnostics point out that) the Creator, in contrast, let loose bears against children, in order to avenge His prophet Elisha, who had been mocked by them. This antithesis is impudent enough, since it throws together things so different as ‘infants’ and ‘children.’ The first is an age that is still innocent. The other is one already capable of discretion (able to mock, if not to blaspheme). Therefore, God is a just God.” (Tertullian, 207; 3.386)

“If you mean the (region in Hades of the) good, why should you judge the souls of infants and of virgins to be unworthy of such a resting place-those who by reason of their condition in life were pure and innocent?” (Tertullian, 210; 3.233)

What About A Person Who Has Been Baptized As An Infant?

Some of the people that I have been blessed to baptize into Christ were baptized as infants in various denominational churches. With each one of them, the realization that baptism in the New Testament did not include infant baptism led them to personally be baptized into Christ for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38).

We need to realize that Jesus calls us to put Him first (Luke 14:26). Jesus had left the glories of Heaven to live among mankind and die for each sinner on the cross of Calvary (1 Timothy 2:6). He had been buried, and arose from the dead on the third day (1 Corinthians 15:1-8). Calling believers to repent of their sins and confess their faith in Him as the Son of God (John 8;24; Acts 8:35-38), Jesus promises forgiveness to all who choose to follow Him (Mark 16:15-16). Likewise, believers who are baptized into Christ and who sin afterwards are called upon to repent of their sins and confess them to the Lord in prayer, even as they are restored to the church (1 John 1:9-2:2; Acts 19:18).

One former Roman Catholic nun, Joanne Howe, underwent a life-transforming experience when she began to study with a minister of the church of Christ, Paul Coffman. In one of her books, she describes how shocked she was when she learned the truth about baptism as taught in the New Testament, versus what she had always taught (and had been taught):

“For years I had taught that the sacrament of baptism was absolutely essential. The Roman Catholic Church allowed no child within its influence to depart from this life without being baptized. I was proud that everyone in my family had been baptized and was assured of salvation unless a member became guilty of mortal sin. Never before had it occurred to me to ask what scripture the Roman Catholic Church used to validate the sacrament of baptism and to identify the chief conditions of becoming a follower of Christ and a member of His church. I read Acts 2: 38 most carefully. It states: “You must repent and be baptized, each one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, that your sins may be forgiven; then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” As an infant, I could not have believed, repented, or confessed Jesus as Lord, for I was not mentally competent to do so. Infants are born pure and holy. They have not transgressed a law and do not bear any transgressions of their ancestors, as explained earlier in this chapter. Jesus said of little children: “of such is the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 19: 14). To believe, repent, confess Jesus as Lord, and be baptized are commands to mature persons who are lost and in need of salvation. The attempts by my godparents to effect a spiritual connection between me and God were clearly unacceptable Scripturally. No one could repent of my sins for me, believe in Jesus for me, or be baptized for me! I questioned the authenticity of my own baptism! Remembering that the Bible never contradicts itself, but reveals itself with clarity and simplicity, I carefully examined the Scriptures on baptism. The man who believes in it and accepts baptism will be saved; the man who refuses to believe in it will be condemned (Mark 16: 15,16). Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old order has passed away; behold, all is new! (II Corinthians 5: 17). All of you who have been baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with him (Galatians 3: 27). In baptism you were not only buried with him but also raised to life with him because you believed in the power of God who raised him from the dead (Colossians 2: 12). You are now saved by a baptismal bath which corresponds to this exactly. This baptism is no removal of physical stain, but the pledge to God of an irreproachable conscience through the resurrection of Jesus Christ (I Peter 3: 21). Are you not aware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Through baptism into his death we were buried with him, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live a new life. If we have been united with him through likeness to his death, so shall we be through a like resurrection (Romans 6: 3-5). According to the Bible, it was clear that Jesus placed both faith and baptism before salvation. Baptism was the means appointed by God for the “new birth.” When one is born of the Spirit, the heart is regenerated following baptism with new and holy principles of life, with the love of sin abandoned. This process begins when the Gospel is preached and the hearer believes. Confessing that Jesus is Lord and Savior, the penitent believer is immersed in the water of baptism to walk from the kingdom of Satan (the world) into the kingdom of Christ (the church) that Jesus said He would build (Matthew 16: 18), and to which He added “those who were being saved” (Acts 2: 47). These revelations were all so new! I would not be whole until I entered into Christ. To join Him, I would have to come in contact with His blood. Only baptism (no other provision) is the means by which a person can get “into Christ.” In view of all I had read, I knew I had to make a decision. I weighed that knowledge heavily, and counted the cost. I had always been sincere about serving God; but I was learning that God required more than sincerity. Proverbs 14: 12 states, “There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof is the way of death.” I had been convinced before that I was worshiping God in an acceptable way. My new studies now taught me that my way was not God’s way and that it would lead to death. In Romans 10: 1-2, the apostle Paul said: “Brothers, my heart’s desire, my prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. Indeed, I testify that they are zealous for God though their zeal is unenlightened.” Just being religious was insufficient in God’s eyes. I prayed for strength to obey His commands and submit to His will.” (Joanne Howe, A Change Of Habit: The Autobiography Of A Former Catholic Nun, 1730-1765 (Kindle Edition); Nashville, TN: Gospel Advocate Company)

Joanne made the decision to surrender to the Lord and be added by Him to His church. Why not follow her example and obey Jesus today?

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.

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