Acts 16 tells two accounts of Philippians being saved under the preaching of Paul. First is a woman named Lydia:

One 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. And 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 ESV)

And again, of a jailor:

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

Both of these accounts tell of someone who comes to believe in the gospel, and subsequently a baptism follows. Both stories, however, also seem to leave some degree of ambiguity over who precisely who believes and who is saved.

In the former passage, Luke tells us that the Lord opened Lydia's heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. After this happened, Lydia was baptized--this much seems clear. By then, we encounter the phrase "and her household as well." Though there is no mention of the belief of her whole household, this phrase seems to imply that the whole household is baptized. After saying this, Luke switches again to the singular "If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay", ostensibly asking to be judged (by Paul and Luke) on the basis of only her faith.

Is this phrase "and her household as well" referring to baptism only, or to the Lord opening their heart as well? Modern-day Christian baptism is typically done for the one who becomes saved, but if this phrase refers only to the household being baptized (and not their faith), does this make Lydia's faith sufficient for the baptism of the whole house? Does it mean that her whole house is saved?

Again in the account of the jailor, a similar pattern is encountered. I will highlight the pronouns referring to the jailor and his house:

And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. 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, there is this strange switching between he (the jailor) and they (those in the house). What I see, however, is while Luke mentions that he and his family were baptized, and that he and his family rejoiced, he again only mentions that he (the jailor) "had believed in God".

What is going on here? Are we to understand these two passages to say that Paul would baptize entire households on the basis of the belief of one member? Or do we presume that, if the rest of the household is baptized, they must have made in unrecorded conversion?

  • Related information: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Infant_baptism Commented Dec 9, 2011 at 5:58
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    Interesting. I'd rather avoid modern-day infant vs believer baptism; I'm just trying to understand what scripture says.
    – Ray
    Commented Dec 9, 2011 at 12:19
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    They are inseparable in my experience. Infant baptism says that baptism's efficacy can hinge on the faith of another. Unfortunately, I can't really speak to the Biblical texts here (as I don't really think that much can be added beyond what you have said), I only know the behavior of the church in early through late antiquity. Commented Dec 9, 2011 at 19:59

6 Answers 6


To understand these passages, it is necessary to understand the way covenant functions in relation to individuals and groups in the Scripture.

  1. The Biblical mindset does not seem to be troubled by the same stark one/many dichotomy that plagues Western philosophy. Read through the Scriptures and you will find many instances that are unsettling to our Western individualism (the story of Achan, for example), and yet you will also find that collectivism is eschewed.
  2. Trinitarian theology must result in a balance of emphasis between the individual and the community.
  3. Volumes can be filled in the study of covenant theology. I take it here as a sufficient example to reference the fact that the fall into sin and the rescue from it each came through one man. This federal or representative theology is woven throughout Scripture.
  4. Interestingly, the relation of the benefits received in Christ displays a similar dynamic. When commingled, these benefits are destroyed (to conflate sanctification and justification is disastrous). However, to view them in separation also destroys them, allowing for many forms of pernicious error, such as a holding fast to justification by faith while downplaying the power of regeneration. It also shifts the onus off the person of Christ, emphasizing the discrete, impersonal benefits of the person rather than the person himself, which is misses the point of the Gospel: God himself is my inheritance.

Based on this type of thinking, we can make sense of the fact that people can enter the covenant community either as individuals (slaves or wives of unsaved men, for example) or as groups (when the covenantal representative or leader of the group professes faith).

Are we to understand these two passages to say that Paul would baptize entire households on the basis of the belief of one member?

Yes, if that one member was the head of the household. The silence of the passages as to the faith of the rest of the household shows that it was not necessary for them to profess faith as individuals to be included in the covenant community.

Do we presume that, if the rest of the household is baptized, they must have made in unrecorded conversion?

No. It can be demonstrated from other passages that the faith of the individual is necessary for the individual's salvation, and that inclusion in the covenant community does not necessarily imply salvation. Because of this, it should not be disconcerting that other members of the household would be baptized whether or not they professed faith (and perhaps some or all of them did, but this cannot be inferred from the passage).

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    +1 It's interesting that the various baptism controversies began arising when Western culture began to shift toward individualism. Commented Jan 5, 2012 at 23:09
  • Can you show that Mikveh/"baptism" was related to covenant? Or that justification by faith was associated with covenant? Which covenant? The covenants belong to the Jews and not to those justified by faith. Faith is not a covenant affair.
    – Ruminator
    Commented Sep 9, 2018 at 17:04
  • Creating doctrine based on Trinity dogma is also of necessity nonsense. Mikveh is a Jewish practice, not a Christian one. It involves ritual purity and does not at all contribute to justification by faith. The Catholic Church invented such "sacraments" to justify their paycheck. Period.
    – Ruminator
    Commented Sep 9, 2018 at 17:16

We must assume the salvation of the entire households in both cases cited.

In the case of Lydia, it is not certain her household included children, or if children they were infants. The phrase household may have included servants.

Regarding the conversion of Phillipian jailer:

Given the facts that 1. The Philippian jailer inquired into how to be saved. Paul and Silas replied, "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household (vs 31).” 2. Paul and Silas, spoke the word of the Lord to him, and to all who were in his house (vs 32). 3. The Jailer and his household rejoiced in his/their salvation. Some translations are not clear on vs 32 (see LEB) as to who all believed. I'm partial to the KJV's clearness in this case. It would be difficult to grasp if his household had not come to faith and yet rejoiced in his salvation.

Acts 16:34 And when he had brought them into his house, he set meat before them, and rejoiced, believing in God with all his house. (KJV)

The Covenant theologian's errors in infant baptism are based on presumptions that are unwarranted. Nowhere in scripture does it state that infants were baptized. Unlike the Abrahamic Covenant, children of God, born again believers, are not naturally born children of promise; they're supernaturally born into God's family (John 3:6-7, see also Rom 9). The Abrahamic Covenant of circumcision did not require a profession of faith, you were simply born descendants of Abraham and circumcised the eighth day. Believer's baptism is profession and identification that one has been buried with Christ in His death and risen with Him to new life (Romans 6:4). To baptize unregenerate children totally ignores the clear teaching of Mark 16:16:

Mar 16:16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.

Ref: John Gill's Commentary.

  • I think the middle ground here is that there was a definite concept of headship in the culture of the time. @Kazark is correct in that. The families submitted to the decision of their head. That they had true belief of their own in Christ is uncertain, but they had faith in the family member (was Lydia truly her family's head, or just the one leading them) who was bringing Christ to them. So just as baptism now is a symbol of our faith, so it was then a symbol of their allegiance. One can only hope that true belief came in time to all of them. I'm leaving infants out of this on purpose.
    – Joshua
    Commented Jul 28, 2015 at 12:59
  • Covenant theology creates two covenants out of thin air: "the Covenant of Works" (bogus) and "the Covenant of Grace" (also bogus). And everything they build on those fake covenants is of necessity bogus as well.
    – Ruminator
    Commented Sep 9, 2018 at 17:09

I had, prior to reading this, and concerning myself with the differences between various Bible version's translation of Acts 16:34, done a study of the verse and comparison of versions. My findings were that, in mostly randomly reviewing 20 different versions, 17 of them favored wording that indicated that all of the Philippian jailer's house believed. Only three, the ESV (which is a fairly recent translation (2001)), a Catholic version of the RSV and then a third one which I can't currently recall, had wording that stated (v.34) that only the jailer himself had believed. Worth noting, even this wording "he had believed in God" does not insist or prove that the others did not believe, but admittedly allows for that possibility. To my surprise, there seems to be not a lot of information on this discrepancy. I say to my surprise because obviously it is a pertinent verse in the discussion for or against infant baptism or even that salvation is or is not granted to some based on the belief of another (the latter being the easier thought to dismantle). Still, it is important to note that unlike the possibility of v.34 allowing for either the belief of "all" or only "he" if the chosen translation is "he believed" (as the ESV says), there is no possibility that all of the household members did not also believe if the chosen translation includes "all his house" (as the KJV and the majority of other translations that I have reviewed say). My own study supported 17 of 20 favoring a word choice consistent with all in the house believing. I would recommend anyone who wonders about this verse and its implications perform such a study on their own.

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    The answer needs support. Can you cite certain references for what you have read / studied?
    – Gina
    Commented Mar 28, 2018 at 9:20

Disagreements with Paedobaptists

Matthew 28:19

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭28:19‬ ‭ESV‬‬ http://bible.com/59/mat.28.19.esv

The Biblical Basis For Infant Baptism

I have spoke to an Abouna from the St Paul American Coptic Orthodox Church on this, (I go to a Modern Baptist Church, my wife is Coptic); and the Abouna’s contention was that the Copts Baptize babies because you as the parent are taking responsibility for their salvation. You are saying that you will bring them up in the church. They are ultra-concerned with the possibility that a baby might die, and not get the blessings which come from Baptism & the sacraments which come along with it.

Acts 1. Acts 2:37-38 2. Acts 8:12 3. Acts 18:8

This is one of the major issues I have with the Coptic Orthodox practice & have vocalized it with the Abouna & my wife, and have not had a serious theological response. It is my understanding that the whole point of Baptism is understanding that you are in need of salvation and thereby accepting Jesus Christ (the Son of Man / The Word Become Flesh) as your personal Lord & Savior.

The Eastern Orthodox Church, Oriental Orthodoxy and the Assyrian Church of the East also insist on the need to have infants baptised as soon as is practicable after birth. Similar to the Roman Catholic Church, they teach that baptism is not merely a symbol but actually conveys grace. - Wikipedia

The Copts believe that the center of the faith, the focal point is the Eucharist, where you “remember Jesus” by reliving this moment - actually reliving it, and communing with God after you have been purified through the process leading up to the Eucharist.

Orthodox Baptism

Is Infant Baptism Biblical?

For Protestants the Bible is the preeminent source of theology.  This arises from the doctrine of sola scriptura (Scripture alone).  But what does one do when Scripture is silent or the biblical text is not clear?  Protestants respond to this ambiguity in several ways: (1) some will argue that this makes the practice unbiblical and thus prohibited; (2) some will argue that this is a matter of liberty subject to personal opinion or conscience, and (3) some will attempt to rely on historical precedents to guide them.  This accounts for the wide array, even contradictory, positions Protestants hold on baptism, including infant baptism. Orthodoxy base its doctrines and practice on Tradition (with a capital ‘T’), a combination of oral tradition and written tradition (II Thessalonians 2:15).  Orthodoxy also relies on Christ’s promise that the Holy Spirit would guide the Church into all truth (John 16:13).  Thus, with respect to the Orthodox approach to infant baptism we find an ancient practice widely accepted that in time was formally acknowledged by the Ecumenical Councils.

My wife & I are expecting a child. We are in disagreement in this particular subject, as well as weather or not we will raise this child within the setting of the American Coptic Orthodox Church traditions or the Baptist Church traditions.

As a Baptist I believe that Baptism should occur in cognitive individuals who understand the decision they are making.

Baptism is an outward representation of an inner transformation, a physical expression of devotion with deep spiritual significance - Rock Harbor Costa Mesa

I am interested in this topic and would like to see this how this thread develops. If I am incorrect, please correct me.

  • Hi Stephen! Welcome to Hermeneutics.SE. This is not a thread - it is a specific question. If you have not taken the tour yet, you might want to in order to get an idea of how this site works. The question specifically asks about what is going on in Acts 16, but your answer does not mention anything about Acts 16.
    – colboynik
    Commented Oct 6, 2018 at 20:15

I recommend reading the early church fathers, especially those taught directly by the Apostles. Infant Baptism has been practiced sense the beginning of the Christian faith. It wasn’t challenged until after the Protestant Reformation by the anabaptists

  • Welcome to this site! In order to strengthen your answer, I suggest editing it to add some quotes of the early Church fathers to back up your point. Commented Sep 4, 2018 at 17:27
  • That is not an exegetical answer.
    – Ruminator
    Commented Sep 9, 2018 at 17:10

The account about Lydia is not about Christian baptism but rather about Jewish "Mikveh":

Pool of a medieval mikveh in Speyer, dating back to 1128

Mikveh or mikvah (Hebrew: מִקְוֶה / מקווה‬, Modern mikve, Tiberian miqweh, pl. mikva'ot, mikvoth, mikvot, or (Yiddish) mikves,1[2] lit. "a collection") is a bath used for the purpose of ritual immersion in Judaism[3] to achieve ritual purity.


The Jewish women were apparently gathered to pray and be cleansed from their menstrual blood:

NIV Acts 16:13 On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there.

So these were not Christian women but rather Jews because Paul was evangelizing:

NIV Acts 16:10 After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.

But Paul was not sent to baptize in water. His was a faith without works:

NIV 1 Corinthians 1:17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel--not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

He specifically and explicitly declares that for those who believe that Christ died for their sins and was resurrected by God there is nothing else to do because the believer is COMPLETE in Christ:

BSB Colossians 2:10 And you have been made complete in Christ, who is the head over every ruler and authority. 11 In Him you were also circumcised in the putting off of your sinful nature, with the circumcision performed by Christ and not by human hands.12 And having been buried with Him in baptism, you were raised with Him through your faith in the power of God, who raised Him from the dead.

As to the jailer and his household, we know that the jailer brought the wounded to his home and cleaned their wounds. This involved significant blood contact. For religious purity and/or physical safety it behooved him and his wife and servants (who presumably were involved) to immediately be washed from the blood of others. This would be standard Jewish practice.

There are no such external Jewish practices in the gospel of the grace of God. Grace is a free gift and nothing you can do besides faith in Christ's death for your sins and his resurrection.

The question is missing the context which Luke was careful to point out.

Here are the laws of Mikveh which show that the whole household likely needed to be purified:

ESV Leviticus 15:

19“When a woman has a discharge, and the discharge in her body is blood, she shall be in her menstrual impurity for seven days, and whoever touches her shall be unclean until the evening. 20And everything on which she lies during her menstrual impurity shall be unclean. Everything also on which she sits shall be unclean. 21And whoever touches her bed shall wash his clothes and bathe himself in water and be unclean until the evening. 22And whoever touches anything on which she sits shall wash his clothes and bathe himself in water and be unclean until the evening. 23Whether it is the bed or anything on which she sits, when he touches it he shall be unclean until the evening. 24And if any man lies with her and her menstrual impurity comes upon him, he shall be unclean seven days, and every bed on which he lies shall be unclean.

If her cycle is irregular there are additional rituals:

25“If a woman has a discharge of blood for many days, not at the time of her menstrual impurity, or if she has a discharge beyond the time of her impurity, all the days of the discharge she shall continue in uncleanness. As in the days of her impurity, she shall be unclean. 26Every bed on which she lies, all the days of her discharge, shall be to her as the bed of her impurity. And everything on which she sits shall be unclean, as in the uncleanness of her menstrual impurity. 27And whoever touches these things shall be unclean, and shall wash his clothes and bathe himself in water and be unclean until the evening. 28But if she is cleansed of her discharge, she shall count for herself seven days, and after that she shall be clean. 29And on the eighth day she shall take two turtledoves or two pigeons and bring them to the priest, to the entrance of the tent of meeting. 30And the priest shall use one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering. And the priest shall make atonement for her before the LORD for her unclean discharge.

31“Thus you shall keep the people of Israel separate from their uncleanness, lest they die in their uncleanness by defiling my tabernacle that is in their midst.”

32This is the law for him who has a discharge and for him who has an emission of semen, becoming unclean thereby; 33also for her who is unwell with her menstrual impurity, that is, for anyone, male or female, who has a discharge, and for the man who lies with a woman who is unclean.

So while the women were dealing with their menstrual uncleanness the servants, likewise contaminated would have had to perform Mikveh as well.

Now, I have show that Mikveh was required by the law and would have been practiced in the 1st century. Where is "baptism"? I mean, "baptism" that is not simply Mikveh?

But for Paul, Mikveh is performed with "hO LOGOS":

ESV Ephesians 5:

25Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.a

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    But also it is unclear how this answers the question about the singular/plural switching in the relevant passages. And evidence for the claim it concerns miqwa'ot is also missing.
    – user2672
    Commented Sep 4, 2018 at 1:47
  • I've shown that Mikveh was a Jewish practice of the 1st century. Can anyone show that there was a separate, unrelated practice called "baptism"? John ran a Mikveh, not a "baptistry". They call him "John the Baptist" but he wasn't a Baptist, he was a Jew. Jews practiced Mikveh. "Christian water baptism" adds nothing to the faith in the propitiatory death of Christ. The believer participates in Jesus' death, burial and resurrection by being joined to Christ (one spirit, one flesh).
    – Ruminator
    Commented Sep 9, 2018 at 15:57
  • Of course, people strain at gnat and swallow the camel of "Covenant Theology" based on bogus covenants, etc.
    – Ruminator
    Commented Sep 9, 2018 at 18:24

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