Baptism of Households


H. A. Ironside

Baptism of Households

If what I have penned in the foregoing be the mind of the Lord as revealed in Scripture, I see no difficulty whatever as to this.

Baptism, we have seen, is unto Christ's death, those to be baptized are "men and women" (Acts 8:12) who have professedly availed themselves of that wondrous provision for salvation, who, it is taken for granted, are risen with Christ, capable of being appealed to in such words as "Know ye not;" therefore by no means infants or persons incapable of understanding the truths of the gospel.

If "so many of us" were baptized, the same "many" are supposed to "walk in newness of life." Persons unable so to walk are never contemplated as having been baptized at all, either here or elsewhere in the Book. If so, it should be easy to point to them, but there are no such cases mentioned.

From Colossians we also see they are persons who have been circumcised by the circumcision of Christ and are subjects of "the inwrought faith of God."

Peter, too, presumes that they had the demand of a good conscience: by faith they had apprehended Christ as risen for their acceptance. If, then, Scripture speaks of households being baptized, and there is not a hint of one of the members being still "children of wrath," must I not take it for granted they were all professedly Christians?

In the case of the household of Cornelius, first in point of time, therefore the fitting precedent for all the rest, we are not left in doubt as to this, as Acts 10:44 clearly states that "while Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them that heard the word;" and in verse 47 the apostle asks, "Who can forbid water that these should not be baptized which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?" "And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord" (v.48). As to Lydia's household, in chapter 16, if the faith of the head be alone mentioned, why doubt that of the other members when God's order has been already declared? To sanction the baptism of infants, or unconverted adult members of a household by appeal to this passage one must first prove that Lydia was a married woman; second, that she was a mother; third, that her children did not believe; and fourthly, that a new but unrecorded revelation had been given to Paul, commanding the baptism of all such when the head of a house acknowledged Christ in this solemn ordinance.

It is noteworthy that in verse 40 we are told that Paul and Silas "went out of the prison and entered into the house of Lydia: and when they had seen the brethren (not the babies) they comforted them and departed." It is surely just as reasonable to suppose that these unnamed brethren composed the household of the "seller of purple" as that she had small children with her at this time!

As for the case of the jailer, though some would alter the translation to make it convey the thought that all the household rejoiced, yet he alone believed (!), many learned men agree that the 34th verse as it stands, gives a fair equivalent to the original text: " When he had brought them into his house, he set meat before them, and rejoiced, believing in God with all his house." And the 32nd verse plainly says, "They spake unto them the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house." All were capable of hearing the word, and all believed.

No wonder he and all his were baptized straightway! How one would rejoice at witnessing many such baptisms of households!

Another household remains to be noticed: that of Stephanas, which Paul mentions as having baptized, in 1 Cor.1:16, and which he does not forget to record "addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints," in chap.16:15. Many have been troubled over the fact that there is a slight difference in the Greek words translated " household " in the first chapter and " house" in the last. The former word is said by some to refer exclusively to the family, while the latter includes the servants, though not excluding the former. This does not affect the position here taken in the slightest degree, for no babes are mentioned as having been in Stephanas' household, and we dare not add unto the words of God (Prov.30:6). Paul's words in chap.1:14-16, "I baptized none of you save Crispus and Gaius ... and I baptized also the household of Stephanas" do not teach, as some would have it, that the latter were infants when baptized: but simply that they were not locally connected at Corinth at all times. They were "the first-fruits of Achaia," the province in which Corinth was located, but not necessarily local after addicting themselves to the ministry of the saints. There is not the slightest hint that any other than the baptism of professed believers had been practised in their case, while, as if to clinch the proof and ward off all objectors, in Acts 18:8 we are informed that "Crispus, the chief ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with all his house; and many of the Corinthians hearing, believed, and were baptized." Doubtless the household of Stephanas would be numbered among these.

That the children of believers are already in a sphere of blessing and not introduced into it by baptism is clear from 1 Cor.7: "For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband; else were your children unclean, but now are they holy" (v.14). That is, though the children of mingled Jewish and Gentile parentage were unclean until circumcised (see Paul's action in regard to Timothy, Acts 16:1-3), the child of one Christian parent is clean, outwardly holy, because of the parent's faith. To be born in a Christian family is to be born in a place of privilege, the limits of which are in no sense defined by baptism, much less is it the door into it.

Israel baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea (1 Cor.10) in no sense warrants the baptism of children, merely because they passed through the sea with their parents. That was a national baptism. Christian baptism is individual.

The fact that, in Eph.1:4-6, three circles are apparently mentioned, embracing, as many teach, and, so far as I can judge, correctly -- the Church, the sphere of profession, and creation -- does not warrant anyone putting people into the sphere of profession till they have something to profess. Simon Magus was the first person who, we know, was baptized while unconverted; and such a mistake is ever likely to occur, as the baptizer cannot read the heart, but it is bad enough to baptize people ignorantly who are in that condition; terrible, it seems to me, to do it knowingly.

As God would have it the church should include the entire sphere of profession. It is man who builds in wood, hay, and stubble (1 Cor.3). The divine order is ever that of Acts 18 above mentioned, "hearing, believed and were baptized."

This passage would clearly prove that the apostle did not mean to slight baptism when, in 1 Cor.1:17, he says, "Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel." Though this was quite in keeping with his commission (Acts 26:16-18), yet he evidently took care to see that his converts were baptized, though be did not always do it himself.

His reasons for being thankful that, at Corinth, he had baptized so few are given in vs.10-17, but twice he grounds appeals to these very Corinthians on the fact of their having been baptized as professed believers. In this chapter, when fellowship is in question and they were setting up other heads than Christ; he asks, "Is Christ divided! Was Paul crucified for you ? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?" (v.13)

The only name to which a believer should gather is the worthy Name to which he was baptized.

In chapter 15, where the resurrection is in question, how strong a point he makes when he speaks of