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Is infant baptism biblical?

children of god

children of god

In today’s focus passage from Acts we encounter two Scripture references often used in support of the practice of infant baptism. We learn that upon Lydia’s conversion, she and her whole household were baptized (vs. 15) and that when the Philippian jailor believed, he and his entire family were baptized immediately (vs. 33).

The common objection from those who don’t believe infant baptism to be biblical is that in neither case are children, let alone infants, specifically mentioned. They therefore state that this is merely an argument from silence, and as such (excuse the pun), doesn’t hold any water.

Whilst it is true that these two examples are arguments from silence, when we look at the meaning of this passage in the original language (Koine Greek) and place it in the context of the ancient world generally, and first century Judaism specifically, it becomes rather compelling.

For starters, the Greek word for household (oikos) was frequently used to describe a family with children (e.g. 1 Tim 3:4-5, 12; 5:4). Also, whilst most English translations of this passage are ambiguous, due to our lack of differentiating between ‘you’ plural and ‘you’ singular, the original Greek is very clear; The Philippian jailor asked Paul and Silas’ “what must I do to be saved?” and they said “believe (singular) on the Lord Jesus and you (singular) will be saved, you and your household… then he and his entire family were baptised without delay… and he and his entire household rejoiced that he (singular)  had become a believer in God.

In the ancient world, when the head of the family acted, he did so for the whole family. Where the head went, the family followed, such was the solidarity of the family. Perhaps in the Philippian jailor’s case, it was only he who expressed faith, but his whole family was welcomed into the church through the waters of baptism. Thus, it can be argued, that all members of a believer’s family, including infants and children, were baptised, whereupon, at an appropriate age, they were able to make up their own minds whether or not to respond in faith to God’s gracious initiative.

This was most certainly the case when Gentiles converted to Judaism, and it is abundantly clear that the early church closely followed this practice. The language the rabbis used of newly baptised converts to Judaism is most telling. The newly baptised is ‘like a new born child,’ ‘a new creation,’ ‘raised from the dead,’ ‘born anew,’ whose ‘sins are forgiven.’ Sound familiar?

(For further reading see Michael Green’s Baptism: It’s Purpose, Practice and Power, chapter 5)  


Acts 16:11-40

The Conversion of Lydia

11 We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis,12and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district* of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days.13On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there.14A certain woman named Lydia, a worshipper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul.15When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, ‘If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.’ And she prevailed upon us.

Paul and Silas in Prison

16 One day, as we were going to the place of prayer, we met a slave-girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners a great deal of money by fortune-telling.17While she followed Paul and us, she would cry out, ‘These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you* a way of salvation.’18She kept doing this for many days. But Paul, very much annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, ‘I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.’ And it came out that very hour.

19 But when her owners saw that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the market-place before the authorities.20When they had brought them before the magistrates, they said, ‘These men are disturbing our city; they are Jews21and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to adopt or observe.’22The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates had them stripped of their clothing and ordered them to be beaten with rods.23After they had given them a severe flogging, they threw them into prison and ordered the jailer to keep them securely.24Following these instructions, he put them in the innermost cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.

25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.26Suddenly there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened.27When the jailer woke up and saw the prison doors wide open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, since he supposed that the prisoners had escaped.28But Paul shouted in a loud voice, ‘Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.’29The jailer* called for lights, and rushing in, he fell down trembling before Paul and Silas.30Then he brought them outside and said, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’31They answered, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.’32They spoke the word of the Lord* to him and to all who were in his house.33At the same hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptized without delay.34He brought them up into the house and set food before them; and he and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God.

35 When morning came, the magistrates sent the police, saying, ‘Let those men go.’36And the jailer reported the message to Paul, saying, ‘The magistrates sent word to let you go; therefore come out now and go in peace.’37But Paul replied, ‘They have beaten us in public, uncondemned, men who are Roman citizens, and have thrown us into prison; and now are they going to discharge us in secret? Certainly not! Let them come and take us out themselves.’38The police reported these words to the magistrates, and they were afraid when they heard that they were Roman citizens;39so they came and apologized to them. And they took them out and asked them to leave the city.40After leaving the prison they went to Lydia’s home; and when they had seen and encouraged the brothers and sisters* there, they departed.