The Promise is to You and Your Children
Peter’s sermon in Acts 2 after the outpouring of the Spirit is indicative that baptism should be applied to the children of believers. I have written a far more detailed post addressing this passage, found here. Peter begins by quoting Joel 2, and by citing the outpouring of the Spirit that has started with the disciples as the explicit fulfilment of this passage. Remember Joel 2:28-29:
Joel 2:28-29 28 “It will come about after this That I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind; And your sons and daughters will prophesy, Your old men will dream dreams, Your young men will see visions. 29 “Even on the male and female servants I will pour out My Spirit in those days.
Then, upon the climactic conclusion of Peter’s message which indicts Israel for crucifying her saviour, many Israelites (and Jewish proselytes from other nations) are “pierced to the heart” and ask “Brethren, what shall we do?” To which Peter replies:
Acts 2:38a-39 “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.”
Peter said this with full awareness of the Old Testament scriptures that have already been discussed in this series of blog posts. He knew that the original promise made to Abraham followed this same pattern of you, your children, and the nations (compare Genesis 22:17-18), and that the Abrahamic covenant was an everlasting covenant. He doubtless remembered Jesus’s indignation (Mark 10:14) when he had tried to prevent small children and infants from coming to Jesus, as well as Jesus’s words that “the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” The Jews and proselytes (who entered the Mosaic covenant with their children – remember Exodus 12:48-49) were also fully aware of the Old Testament promises and prophecies concerning believers and their children. In this setting, Peter would have needed to explain very explicitly that, contrary to all Old Testament expectation, children are now excluded from the covenant until they too can repent and make a profession of faith!
The three groups to whom the promise (which is the Spirit – Acts 2:33) belongs are you (the adult Israelite males who could hear and respond to Peter’s sermon), your children, and all who are far off – as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself. Peter is not drawing a dividing line between those children old enough to verbally repent and those who cannot. If he were, it would be the first time in redemptive history that this occurred. Children, regardless of their age, go with their parents into the covenant, unless they explicitly reject it. Those who are below five years old do not belong with those who are “far off”, who Ephesians 2 describes as “separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.” Peter’s choice of words would be a bizarre way to communicate this totally foreign principle to a group of Israelites!
Household baptisms are another piece of evidence that has classically been used in favor of infant baptism. Although it is much debated, no one knows with certainty whether there were infants in these households or not. Therefore, these passages, when used, should be considered as secondary evidence. In and of themselves they do not prove one way or the other. However, it is worth noting that in the book of Acts and following, nine cases are given in which the person baptized is named. They are Simon Magus and the ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8), Paul (9), Cornelius (10), Lydia and the Philippian Jailer (16), Crispus (Acts 18 and 1 Corinthians 1), and Gaius and Stephanas (both 1 Corinthians 1). In two cases (the eunuch and Paul) the baptized person had no household to be baptized with them. In five of the remaining seven cases, the household is baptized with the believing head of the household (Cornelius, Lydia, the jailer, Crispus and Stephanas). In the remaining two, the household status of Simon and Gaius is unknown.
When household baptisms occur, the belief of the rest of the household is sometimes indicated clearly. This is the case with Cornelius and Crispus. Other times, it is not. No indication is given of the household of Stephanas. Of most interest are the accounts of Lydia and the Phillipian jailer, given in Acts 16:
Acts 16:14-15 14 A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshipper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul. 15 And when she and her household had been baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us.
Acts 16:31-33 31 They said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”32 And they spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all who were in his house.33 And he took them that very hour of the night and washed their wounds, and immediately he was baptized, he and all his household. 34 And he brought them into his house and set food before them, and rejoiced greatly with his whole household, having believed in God.
In Lydia’s case we are told that she believed, then she and her household were baptized. This would be thoroughly consistent with the pattern given to Abraham concerning circumcision and the rest of the evidence provided in this paper. Similarly the jailer’s entire household is baptized with him. Verse 34 shown above is translated differently in different versions of the Bible. That given above is an alternate translation in the NASB. The other version is “and rejoiced greatly, having believed in God with his whole household.” The version given above is actually a better translation of the original Greek. The order of the greek wording must be changed to create the impression that the household believed. In addition, the greek word “having believed” is in the singular. The Bible only tells us that the jailer believed, and his family rejoiced with him. (DISCLAIMER: I am not a Greek expert by any stretch of the imagination. I am relying on the conclusions of others.) The bottom line is the wording of household baptisms demonstrated throughout the New Testament fits perfectly in the overall perspective of continuity between the old covenant and new.