A Biblical Worldview

One reason why our Baptist friends have a hard time seeing the significance of passages like Acts 2:39 is because unfortunately, they begin with the assumption that the principle of solidarity is no longer in effect – even though the Bible nowhere says this. Instead, what we find is that from Genesis to Revelation, God has taught His people the truth of this great reality. Everything that a man does inevitably has some effect upon his descendants, whether for good or for bad. In biblical terms, this means that the decisions a man makes are legally binding upon the members of his own household, especially as that man (or woman) covenantally represents his (or her) family before God.

But Reformed theologians often point out that solidarity is a principal that extends well beyond the family unit and into every sphere of life where covenant principals reside. Indeed, this Covenant Solidarity is not only seen in Adam, whose transgression affected all of his posterity (Rom. 5:19) but also finds repeated emphasis throughout the pages of Scripture – from Noah (Gen. 7:1) to Abraham (Gen. 18:17-19) to Moses (Ex. 34:7), and into the New Testament as well.

When Pontius Pilate washed his hands of Christ’s innocent blood, the Jews of our Lord’s day shouted,

His blood be upon us, and upon our children! (Matthew 27:25) 

But why did they speak this way? The answer again, is Covenant Solidarity. These men were deceived into thinking that their actions were pure and righteous in the sight of God, and so they confidently appealed to the sanctions of the Covenant (Ex. 34:6-7; Num. 14:18; Deut. 5:9-10), trusting that their faithfulness would preserve God’s blessings upon their generations.

After all, God Himself declares in Exodus 20:5-6,

I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.

The problem with the Jews, however, was that the blood of Christ was in fact innocent blood, so that they were found to be the lawless murderers of God’s only Son. They were right about one thing though: their actions would have a direct bearing upon their own posterity. Because of the principle of Covenant Solidarity, that innocent blood did in fact fall upon the Jews and upon their children after them.

Jesus made this very clear in Luke 23:28 when he said,

Daughters of Jerusalem, stop weeping for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.

On a more positive note, we know that the classic expression of the solidarity principle was recorded at the lips of faithful Joshua, who by his instructive words (Josh. 24:15) reminded Israel of intimate connection that exists between a man and his own household.

Says Joshua,

As for me and my house, we shall serve the Lord.

In short, Covenant Solidarity is more than just another argument, it’s an indispensable part of a biblical worldview.  And because this was the worldview of those to whom the New Testament authors were writing, we should expect to find an explicit removal of this principle somewhere in the New Testament, if all of a sudden (as our Baptist friends imagine) it was to be discontinued. But we find no such thing.

Where in the New Testament does it say that God’s dealings with his people are now restricted to individuals only, and that their children are no longer comprehended under the Covenant?  For the record, the Baptist is at a loss to demonstrate the validity of his claim to discontinuity, and therefore the Reformed maintain that the abiding, biblical principle of covenant solidarity stands as a mighty pillar for the paedobaptist position, especially when it comes time to examine the details of the household baptisms.

A Biblical Household

Now when we come to the accounts where entire households are baptized, the Baptist assumes that it is enough to prove that there were no children present in these accounts.  But this approach misses the point altogether.  The question is not whether children were present in these particular households, but whether or not the biblical term “household” includes or excludes children – whenever they are present.  This is the real issue.  So then, what saith the Scripture?

According to Word of God, a man’s household includes not only his wife, but also his children.

In Genesis 47:18-19 we read,

Pharaoh told Joseph, ‘take your father and your households and come unto me: and I will give you the good of the land of Egypt, and ye shall eat the fat of the land. Now thou art commanded, this do ye; take you wagons out of the land of Egypt for your little ones, and for your wives, and bring your father, and come.’

Notice here that because Joseph had children, these “little ones” were necessarily comprehended as part of his “household.”

But what about the New Testament household?  Are a man’s children all of a sudden excluded from his household because we are no longer under the Old Covenant?  Absolutely not.  In fact, the apostle Paul equated the two in 1 Timothy 3:4, when he wrote that an elder must be,

One that ruleth well his own household, having his children in subjection with all gravity.

Consider well that the apostle is here identifying a man’s household as his children.  Therefore if a man has children, they are certainly and necessarily comprehended under the term “household.” 

Household Baptisms

So now we come to the household baptism accounts recorded in the Bible.  And here the Baptist claim is that in every account, baptism was applied only to those who believed.  But I have found this to be an indefensible claim, since there are at least two cases in which we find multiple persons being baptized apart from any mention of their faith or even a profession of their faith.  These are the household baptisms of Lydia and the Philippian Jailer.  Let us briefly consider these accounts.

Acts 16:13-15

And on the Sabbath day we went forth without the gate by a river side, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down, and spake unto the women that were come together. And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple of the city of Thyatira, one that worshipped God, heard us: and the Lord opened her heart to give heed unto the things which were spoken by Paul. And when she was baptized, and her household, she besought us, saying, If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and abide there. And she constrained us.

To begin with, notice that the only person the text indicates was converted was Lydia, “The Lord opened her heart.”  Yet the text explicitly states that Lydia’s entire household was baptized with her. “And when she was baptized, and her household…”  As the text stands, (without the insertion of Baptist assumptions) this is the New Testament example of covenant solidarity par excellence.

Next, notice that the text indicates Paul judged Lydia alone to be faithful to the Lord, and was thereby compelled to abide at her house. “If ye have judged me to be faithful…”¹  Because we have here, not a household conversion but simply the conversion of a household head –  we find Lydia saying, “…come into my house.”  Once again, due to the principle of Covenant Solidarity, her conversion brought the authority of the Covenant (with all of its privileges and responsibilities) into full, visible realization on a household level.  Lydia was converted, and her entire household was baptized.

Remember! Whether or not there are children explicitly mentioned in the text is a non-issue, because the biblical definition of a household comprehends children whenever they are present.  This means that Lydia may or may not have had children.  But contrary to the Baptist claim, the language of the text still indicates that there were members of her household who were baptized, and yet there is no record of them being converted, repenting, believing, or professing to believe.  And the silence is deafening.

Acts 16:29-34

Then he called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas, And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway. And when he had brought them into his house, he set meat before them, and rejoiced, believing in God with all his house.

Now on the surface of the passage it appears that every member of the Jailer’s household believed, and were therefore baptized; the Jailer was “believing with all his house.”  The problem here is that the grammatical nuances cannot be seen clearly from many English translations (including the KJV).  For this reason, the Baptist interpreter who attempts to support his thesis from this passage, may be building his house on an inaccurate reading of the text.  

When we consult the original language, we find that the Greek text uses the singular verb – (pepisteukos) – not the plural, to describe the action of believing.  This is highly significant, because if Luke was attempting to communicate to his readers that every member of the household believed, he could have simply used the plural form of the verb (especially if he was seeking to depart from more than 2000 years of Covenant history)!  But he didn’t.  Instead, when the text is accurately translated, we see Luke showing us that the Jailer alone believed, and as a consequence, he “and all his” were baptized.

Fortunately however, the Reformed interpretation is not entirely without witness, because in the English Standard Version of the Bible, Acts 16:34 is translated correctly according to the Greek construction.

Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.

Again! Whether or not there are children explicitly mentioned in the text is a non-issue, because the biblical definition of a household comprehends children whenever they are present. This means that the Jailer may or may not have had children.  The language of the text nonetheless indicates that there were members of his household who were baptized and yet, like the members of Lydia’s household, there is no record of them being converted, repenting, believing, or professing to believe.  The text simply teaches that the Jailer believed, and his entire household was baptized.  

If by chance there were children in his household, then they too (in line with 2000 years of uninterrupted Covenant history) became visible members of the New Covenant – “for to such belongeth the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:14)!


Endnotes:

¹ Apparently Lydia’s “faithfulness” had to do with the subjecting of her household to the Covenant of the Lord through baptism.  And I say “apparently” because there was simply no other action on her part mentioned in the text.

About The Author

Profile photo of Paul Liberati

I am the guy who knows in part, and sees through a glass darkly.

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8 Responses

  1. Matt Powell

    Very good, thanks. I think the idea of the household as still being a relevant unit in God’s economy is a very important idea. That’s why the households matter- whether or not infants were actually present- the fact that they speak at all of a baptism of households shows the principle that households still matter. On Baptist presuppositions why speak of the baptism of households at all?

    Reply
    • Profile photo of Paul Liberati
      Paul Liberati

      Hi Matt, thank you for your comment. I am glad to see that my point on the presence or absence of infants was clear. It’s always an encouragement when people actually understand your arguments – let alone agree with them! Blessings!

      Reply
  2. Amy Mantravadi

    I don’t much like getting involved in this baptism debate, because it divides me from a lot of people whom I deeply respect and who are very well-meaning, biblically devoted Christians. I believe that the issues of continuity and/or discontinuity between the covenants are a bit more muddy than either side would care to admit. Hence, all the confusion. The only response I would offer, because I really have no desire to start a fight, is that there is a bit more evidence for an individualized aspect of the New Covenant than this essay would suggest. By no means am I denying the corporate aspect – this is a complicated issue. However, one passage that might have some bearing on the present issue is Ezekiel 18. In and of itself, it doesn’t really prove anything, but it is worth reading. Well, all of God’s Word is worth reading in any case!

    Reply
    • Profile photo of Brad Mason
      Brad Mason

      Not my article, but I can chime in to say that there ought not be devision even though there is legitimate debate. And knowing Paul well, I assure you he intends no such division.

      Reply
      • Amy Mantravadi

        Yes, I did not think he was being divisive. Rather, I was just clarifiying that I do not want to be divisive.

      • Profile photo of Paul Liberati
        Paul Liberati

        Thanks Amy! I appreciate you giving me the benefit of the doubt. And as Brad mentioned, my goal is not to divide. The fact is that I have a burden for this subject, since I spent the greater part of my Christian life (which included regular teaching) as a Baptist. And in fact, I spent much time fighting against paedobaptism in the process. But when I came to understand the Covenant from a Reformed perspective, it literally changed my whole life and deepened my walk with Jesus Christ.

        My desire now is to share that with my Baptist friends and brothers in Christ. The nature of such a mission, however, is almost necessarily apologetic, and yet, as Brad mentioned, there should always be room for legitimate debate between us without anyone taking offense at the nature of the discussion. Obviously at one time I was on the other side of the “table” on this topic, and it was an apologetic approach to the discussion that really challenged me and caused me to reconsider. By God’s grace I’m the better for it!

    • Profile photo of Paul Liberati
      Paul Liberati

      Hi Amy, thank you for your comment. I respect the fact that you try to avoid the whole “baptism debate.” And based upon what you have presented here in your comment, I see no reason to corner you into a theological “fight.” You mentioned Ezekiel 18, and suggested that it might have some bearing on the discussion as a whole. I couldn’t agree more. As to what that bearing is, however, is going to differ depending on one’s overall understanding of the Covenant, and how baptism relates to it. With that said, thanks again for your comment!

      Reply

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