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  • Writer's pictureTrey Talley

Do New Testament Household Baptisms include Babies?

Updated: Mar 25

(1st article of Baptizing Babies is not Biblical)

Baby baptizers often argue that the household baptisms in the Book of Acts can justify the practice. Do such clear examples of baby baptism exist in Scripture? Are such passages meant to teach us that if an adult is saved and baptized, everyone in the home must also be baptized? Can a mother or father put their babies into the New Covenant through baptism? Let's look at these "household" baptism passages and see if they give any support to the baptism of babies.

Example #1: Cornelius' Household:

Peter had received a vision from the Lord and was immediately invited into the home of the Roman Centurion Cornelius. Cornelius had recently received a visit from an angel, telling him to send for Peter because Peter was to deliver a message of salvation. As Peter proclaims the gospel to those in Cornelius’ home, they are saved, and their salvation is accompanied by evidence sufficient to convince Peter, his colleagues, and even the Jewish council that salvation has come to the Jews. This account indeed mentions the salvation and baptism of the household, but does it mention any babies? Let’s cut to the end of Peter’s message to see who is saved and baptized.

43To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name." 44While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. 45And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. 46For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, 47 "Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?" 48And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days. (Acts 10:44-48)

13And he told us how he had seen the angel stand in his house and say, 'Send to Joppa and bring Simon who is called Peter; 14he will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household.' 15As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. 16And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, 'John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.' 17If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God's way?" (Acts 11:13-17)

Does this passage prove that babies should be baptized because a parent is being baptized? Well, if we look back over the passage, we see that no baby is ever mentioned. In fact, the only people who were baptized were those who were not babies. How do I know this? There are multiple descriptive statements that would exclude the inclusion of babies. All of those who were baptized that day are the ones who heard the gospel and received the Holy Spirit. All baptized dramatically received the Holy Spirit, just as Peter and his companions had Pentecost when they were instantly given the ability to speak fluently in other languages. No babies were included in the 120 believers that spoke in tongues at Pentecost, and no babies are mentioned in the home of Cornelius. It is also said that those baptized feared the Lord[1] and received forgiveness of sins. Would any baby baptizer be bold enough to apply all of these descriptions of Cornelius' household to the "baby" who was supposedly present?

Did the "baby," who was supposedly baptized, hear, understand, and believe in the gospel for salvation before he could comprehend words? Did the baby have a fear of the Lord like all who were in his household? Did the baby speak in tongues like all those who believed and were baptized that day? As preposterous as this may sound, the baby baptizer has to acknowledge that those who were baptized in Cornelius' household also spoke in other known languages. If babies in the home began speaking fluently in another language, as the believers did on Pentecost, Luke would probably have written about it.

The formula for this household baptism is also complicated and problematic for baby baptizers because if there was a baby present, the baby believed, received forgiveness of sins, and was saved before baptism, not after. Salvation preceding baptism would prove, once again, that only believers were baptized. Cornelius was told that Peter would "declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household.' All of his household would be saved by Peter’s message, and we see that the same household was baptized after they believed.

This goes far beyond what most baby baptizers hope to prove in its citation. While baby baptizers claim that baptizing a baby places the baby into the covenant, nothing in Acts 10 or 11 mentions such a thing. If babies in the household were included, then this would mean that a baby had full saving faith before baptism, just like Cornelius and the others who were baptized. Why? Because all who were baptized were saved and even professed the glories of God in another language and were subsequently baptized.

Instead of trying to force a baby into the group of believers who were baptized that day, it would be better to realize that such descriptions of those who were saved cannot apply to babies being present. Do all households today have babies? Of course not; many households come to mind of friends and families with no baby in the home. For instance, I have a teenager and a young adult in my home. If I said that our household went to church, I would certainly not be including any babies.

To insert a baby in this text is forced and goes beyond what is revealed in Scripture. To insert words into Scripture to prove a theological conviction is extremely dangerous and wrong. Imagine if Baptists were to read this passage and teach that all who were in the household of Cornelius were 19 years of age and older. On what basis? None. When this passage is examined in detail, it has nothing to do with baby baptism but advocates only for a believer's baptism.

Example #2: Lydia's Household:

Paul preached the gospel to a group of ladies in Phillipi. God opened the heart of Lydia, and she was saved. The same day, both she and her household were baptized. Will this passage prove that babies were included in the baptism? Let’s examine the passage closely to see how many babies were baptized.

14One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. 15And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, "If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay." And she prevailed upon us. (Acts 16:14-15)

Though this passage does use the word household, there needs to be more context to help us define what her household consisted of. But we can use the previous household baptism passage regarding Cornelius’ household to safely assume that the only ones who were baptized were believers. Lydia heard the gospel, had her heart opened by God to receive the gospel, believed, and was baptized. From this, we can safely assume that those in her household who were baptized followed the same pattern as Lydia of belief and then baptism. There is nothing here to prove that Lydia had babies in her household or that anyone was baptized without first believing.

Example #3: The Philippian Jailer's Household:

Paul and Silas had been beaten, arrested, and put into the jail of Phillipi. While in jail, they sang hymns and prayed. During the night, an earthquake opened up the doors of the jail. The jailer who would be held accountable for the loss of prisoners was about to take his own life when Paul stopped him and let him know that they were all still there. Having heard the hymns and prayers of Paul and Silas, the man had come to an understanding of sin and the need for salvation and brought Paul and Silas out to speak with them.

30Then he brought them out and said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" 31And they said, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household." 32And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. 34Then 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. (Acts 16:30-34)

As with the other household passages, we see no mention of a single baby being baptized. However, there is a clear statement that those who were baptized were older than babies, able to understand the gospel that was delivered to them, believe, and express joy in the salvation of the jailer. How do we know this? Because the same "household that was baptized also "rejoiced…that he had believed God." Those in the jailer’s household were able to rejoice that he had been saved. Such rejoicing requires comprehension, understanding, and the ability to communicate appropriately. This is a detail that is often overlooked by those attempting to use the passage to include the baptism of babies. Babies cannot express joy in the salvation of others.

From verse 34, we read that all of the jailer’s household was baptized, but we also see from verse 31 that all his household was saved, as he was through belief, before they were baptized. Once again, this is a household of believers who were baptized.

Example #4: Crispus' Household:

Paul was sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with the Jews in Macedonia but left due to heavy opposition. He then traveled to Corinth, where he continued to share the gospel. It was during this time that the ruler of the Jewish synagogue was saved and not only him but his entire household.

8Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with his entire household. And many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized. (Acts 18:8)

Though the "household" passages are all easily shown to be proof for only believers’ baptism, not baby baptism, this one is the easiest. Crispus certainly believed in the Lord. The same is said of his household. How old those in his home were, we simply do not know, but one thing we do know is that they believed in the Lord. After Luke records their belief, he describes the only acceptable model of baptism given: “many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized.” There is no mention of anyone other than believers being baptized.

Example #5: Stephanus’ Household:

The last example of a baptized household comes from the book of 1 Corinthians. There is not a lot of information given about the household, especially in the first mention. Still, at the end of Paul's letter, he adds details about the household that help clarify who he baptized, and it did not include babies.

16I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else. (1 Corinthians. 1:16)

15Now I urge you, brothers—you know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints— 16be subject to such as these, and to every fellow worker and laborer. (1 Corinthians 16:15-16)

There is no doubt that Paul baptized the household of Stephanas, but once again, we do not find that any baby was ever mentioned. We can safely assume that those baptized must have been somewhat older because, at the end of Paul’s letter, he speaks of the same individuals again. This time, reminding the Corinthians that the household of Stephanas was a great example of how they “devoted themselves to the service of the saints.” Can a baby devote himself to the service of the saints? Had a baby been actively serving the other Corinthian believers? Of course not. This clarifying statement tells us that the household baptized in chapter one must have consisted of those old enough to serve the other believers actively.

Before we leave this passage, we must look at a critical statement in verse 16 that adds further light to dispel the notion that babies were included in those baptized. Paul calls upon the Corinthians to be subject to the household of Stephanas. Would Paul call upon the Corinthians to be subject to a baby? Of course not. The two details given at the end of Corinthians about the household of Stephanas remove any possibility of babies being included in the household baptism. The same household members who were baptized were actively devoted to the service of the saints, and other believers were called upon to be subject to them. Once again, we see that those baptized must have been believers. Paul would certainly not call upon the Corinthians to exemplify the devotion and service of an unbelieving, baptized baby, much less call upon them to be subject to one. Could you imagine if the Corinthians church was called upon to be subject to a baby, an unbelieving baby? Those baptized in the household of Stephanas were believers who had become outstanding Christian examples for others to follow.

Question: Biblically, does a "household" have to include every single person?

In Genesis 17, God gave Abraham circumcision as a sign of their covenant. In the circumcision commands, we do see that everyone, or at least every male, in the household was to be circumcised.

23Then Abraham took Ishmael his son and all those born in his house or bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham's house, and he circumcised the flesh of their foreskins that very day, as God had said to him. (Gen. 17:23)

We also see that when there were male babies in the household, they were to be circumcised on a specific day.

12He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, 13both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. 14Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant." (Gen. 17:12-14)

There certainly is something to be said of the household circumcisions of the Abrahamic Covenant, at least including every male. But even in this use of "household," we see that no females were included in the sign of the covenant. As we can see, sometimes "house" or "household" may not include every single person. Consider this text:

21The man Elkanah and all his house went up to offer to the LORD the yearly sacrifice and to pay his vow. 22But Hannah did not go up, for she said to her husband, "As soon as the child is weaned, I will bring him, so that he may appear in the presence of the LORD and dwell there forever." 23Elkanah her husband said to her, "Do what seems best to you; wait until you have weaned him; only, may the LORD establish his word." So the woman remained and nursed her son until she weaned him. (1 Samuel 1:21-23)

The passage says that "Elkanah and all his house" went to make a sacrifice. However, in the next verse, we read that Hannah and her child did not go with the rest to make the sacrifice. This means that although the passage says, "all of his house," two people were not included. What is most likely meant is that most of his house went with him for the sacrifice. How does this apply to the household baptism passages? It is possible that a baby, though not mentioned, was a member of a household that was baptized, yet not included in those that were baptized. Since believers’ baptism is the only baptism taught by Jesus or the Apostles, it would be a given fact that the reader knew who was meant when a household was baptized, believers.

Question: Should the household rules of circumcision in the Abrahamic Covenant be transferred to the households of the New Covenant?

Under the Abrahamic Covenant, Israelites were to circumcise all males within their home as a sign of the covenant. Should we expect the same thing to be practiced regarding baptism in the New Covenant? Unlike the Old Covenant, the New Covenant comprises only true believers who have believed, repented, have forgiveness of sins, and have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Jesus did not teach that all family members should be regarded as unified in the New Covenant because a parent had been saved. In fact, Jesus warned of the division that the gospel could bring to a family.

34 "Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. 36And a person's enemies will be those of his own household. (Matt. 10:34-36)

51Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. 52For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. 53They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law." (Luke 12:51-53)

These are difficult passages for baby baptizers to reconcile with their theology. Jesus said that families would be divided, and there could be enemies of the faith within a family unit. Notice that Jesus does not teach anything about an entire household being made right with God because a parent was saved. Nor does he teach that all household members should be baptized because a parent was saved. Does Jesus say anything about assuming that everyone is in the faith now that Dad was saved? Not at all. Jesus encourages believers to see their families rightly and not to be fooled because family connections are not necessarily equivalent to faith connections. As Paul writes, "Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham." [2] It is personal belief that unites people to Abraham and other believers, not genetics or being in the same household.

Question: Why does it matter if a baby was included in the "household" passages?

Since baby baptism is never commanded in Scripture, baby baptizers often cast much hope on the possibility that a baby could have been included in the household baptism examples just given. However, these passages do not provide a single example of a baby being baptized. So, if baby baptism is not taught or practiced in Scripture, then we have a doctrine and a practice created by man and not of God.

This is highly problematic for those who attend churches that practice baby baptism and are led to believe that baby baptism is Biblically substantiated. Parents of such churches are led to believe that baptizing their babies is commanded by God and practiced in the Scriptures. They are told that there are wonderful benefits to baptizing their babies. But what are the benefits? What would this mean for those parents who choose not to baptize their children until and unless the child believes in Christ for salvation? In the end, some churches are right, and some churches are wrong. Some parents are right, and some parents are wrong. How do we know which practice is Biblically correct? Hint, hint, the Bible. If the Bible never teaches baby baptism or gives examples of it, then establishing it as doctrine and practice is wrong. As we will see, the only way to substantiate the baptism of babies (even though it is a false substantiation) is to create a theological system that rises higher than the authority of the Bible.

Question: What about the "you and your children" passage?

38And Peter said to them, "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself." 40And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, "Save yourselves from this crooked generation." 41So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. (Acts 2:38-41)

This passage is often used in conjunction with the "household" baptism passages to attempt to prove that all children of believers are included in the promise. Two things should be examined: 1. What is the promise? 2. Who is included in the promise?

One, what is the promise? The promise is the sending of the Holy Spirit, which Peter proclaimed earlier in the passage when he said, "Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing." [3] This was a well-known promise that was announced many times.

3He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. 4And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, "you heard from me; 5for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now." (Acts 1:3-5)

37On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. 38Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” 39Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. (John 7:37-39)

48You are witnesses of these things. 49And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:48-49)

The promise was the sending of the Holy Spirit, which was first accomplished on Pentecost and is now fulfilled every time a person is saved.

Two, who is included in the promise? Baby baptizers will often cite the "to your children" portion of this passage to attempt to prove that all of the children within a home where the parents are saved are included in the promise. Is that what this passage is teaching? Let's look again at verse 39, "For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself." Does this passage teach that the children of the adults who received the Holy Spirit are now children of the promise? If so, the same hermeneutic should be applied to the clause that follows it as well: "and for those who are far off." Who are those who are far off? This would be the Gentiles. To use this incorrect hermeneutic consistently, they would have to say that not only are all the children of those who were saved that day, but also all Gentiles will receive the promise of the Holy Spirit.

It is crucial to see that those who will receive the promise are tied to the clause "everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself." Is it more consistent to interpret this passage as "all" children of believers and all Gentiles will receive the Holy Spirit? Or all whom the Lord calls to himself from among the Jews and the Gentiles, including not just the present generation of adults, but other generations? Those who receive the promise of the Holy Spirit are those whom the Lord calls to salvation. Unbelievers do not receive the Holy Spirit. God promised no Jew or Gentile to receive the Holy Spirit except those the Lord would call to Himself. It is a dangerous doctrine to remove the sovereignty of God from salvation. No matter how much baby baptizers would like to believe it, reception of the Holy Spirit is not passed down through genetics to all the children of believers. However, the promised Holy Spirit is received by every single person whom the Lord calls to Himself.

Consider these words by Joel Beeke: Peter's words in Acts 2:39 are therefore a covenantal formula. "Unto you and to your children" simply restates "between me and thee and thy seed after thee" (Gen 17:7).

These words assert the identity of the covenant of grace under all dispensations and the continuity of the covenant pattern in which promises made to believers are extended to their children. [4]

Though Beeke is often correct with his interpretation of Scripture, we can see that this one is loaded with errors. Peter does not mention Beeke's mythical "covenant of grace," nor can it be found anywhere in Scripture. Peter is talking specifically about the New Covenant, which was inaugurated by the giving of the Holy Spirit. Beeke also confuses the promises of the Old and New Covenants. All those who are in the New Covenant receive the promised Holy Spirit. This is not the case under the Old Covenant. Peter's emphasis was not on "all" generations to come of those being saved that day and receiving the promise, but on those whom the Lord would call to himself. Peter is making the point that the promised Holy Spirit was not only for those who received the promise that day whom the Lord had called, but the promise was for people not even present (future generations and those far off) whom the Lord would call. To take Beeke's words at face value, one would see that he is teaching that "promises made to believers are extended to their children." This is a classic case of covenantal confusion. Though God had declared that the Abrahamic covenant was "between me and you and your offspring after you," a critical qualifier is added in the New Covenant that the promise is given only to those whom the Lord calls to Himself. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is given to every person whom the Lord calls.

Consider the words of Jesus describing "all" of those that will come to Him and be raised up:

37All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. 38For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 39And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. …

44No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. (John 6:37-40, 44)

Notice that nothing is mentioned about "all" the babies and children that come from a believing parent. That is because Jesus never taught such a thing. Instead, the emphasis on Jesus is on personal, individual belief in Him. The same people who believe in Jesus for salvation are the same people that the Father gives to the Son, who will never be cast out, and who will be raised up on the last day. The Lord calls to Himself all those that the Father has given Him, and all of them will be raised up.

Long story short, Peter's words, "For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself," cannot be used to promote baby baptism. Of the 3000 people who believed and were baptized that day, there is no record of any of them being a baby. Why not? It would seem obvious that if the people took Peter's words and interpreted them as Beeke and other baby baptizers do, then the believers with children should have also baptized their babies that day. Whole “households” would have been baptized. However, none of them took Peter's words to mean that. Instead, we see only those who believed and repented being baptized. How do we know whom the Lord has called to Himself and who will receive the promise? It is those who believe and repent. Both belief and repentance are gifts of God given to those whom He has regenerated unto salvation. That is how they knew whom the Lord had called that day and who was to be baptized. Nothing is mentioned about households being baptized, but only those who believed Peter's message and repented. In Acts 2, we have another clear case of believers’ baptism, and not one single baby is mentioned as being baptized.

Summary: Though these passages are often cited to help bolster the practice of baby baptizing. After examining each one of the passages closely, we can see that there is no reference to one single baby being baptized. Instead, we see a consistent pattern of only believers being baptized. Such "household baptism" passages cannot be honestly used to support the belief that the New Testament gives examples of babies of believers being baptized. To teach such a thing is to impose a man-made doctrine into God’s Word. To claim that the Word of God teaches a doctrine when it does not is to misrepresent the Bible and its Author.

Dr. Trey Talley, Lead Pastor and Elder

[1] Acts 10:2

[2] Galatians 3:7

[3] Acts 2:33

[4] Beeke and Lanning

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