Just for Catholics

Infant Baptism

Question: In the Bible we read that entire households were baptized at once. It is likely that there were infants in these households. Is this, therefore, good evidence for infant baptism?

Answer: There are five instances of household baptisms recorded in the Bible (see Appendix 1). None of them demonstrate infant baptism; at best they show the possibility thereof. It is possible that one or more of those households included infants, but it is also possible that they did not - we are not told. So it is presumptuous and speculative to positively infer infant baptism since these scriptures are silent on this matter.

Moreover, there is good evidence that the members of four of these families were all mature individuals, or at least that all those who were baptized had believed the Gospel message, as in the case of Cornelius household. Paul and Silas preached the Gospel to the jailer and “all who were in his house” - suggesting that all members were capable of understanding. Afterwards “he and all his family” were baptized, and “he rejoiced, having believed in God with all his household.” The “all” who were baptized included no infants because “all” believed in God. In the case of the household of Stephanas, Paul tells us that “they have devoted themselves to the ministry of the saints” and in the case of Crispus, it is explicitly stated that he “believed on the Lord with all his house.”

The household baptisms are at best a weak and inconclusive argument for infant baptism. Household baptism is appropriate when there is household conversion to Christ.

The main reasons why many Christians practice “believers’ baptism” are as follows:

  1. Christ commanded that “disciples” and those who “believe” should be baptized (Matthew 28:19; Mark 16:15, 16).

  2. All recorded baptisms in the Bible follow personal conversion to Christ as evidenced by such words as believe, repent and calling on His name. (Acts 2:38; Acts 2:41; Acts 8:12,13; Acts 8:36, 37; Acts 10:47,48; Acts 16:14,15; Acts 16:32-34; Acts 18:8; Acts 19:4,5; Acts 22:16). (See Appendix 2)

  3. The apostles link the significance of baptism in salvation to personal faith and an appeal to God for a good conscience. Clearly infants are incapable of such personal response to God. (See Colossians 2:11, 12; 1 Peter 3:21).

  4. The Old Testament sign of circumcision is replaced by the New Testament sign of baptism. A change in the sign was required because of a change in the covenant. God’s people in the Old Covenant were Abraham’s physical descendants and this was signified by the circumcision of male infants soon after birth (Genesis 17:7-13). God’s New Covenant people, the church, are made up of Abraham’s spiritual children, the believers. “Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are the sons of Abraham” (Galatians 3:7). Since baptism denotes the union of the believer with Christ, it is inappropriate to apply this sign to infants who are not “of faith.”

The Christian parents’ responsibility is to bring up their children in the training and admonition of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4). Children should be baptized only when they profess faith in Christ.

Who knows how many lost unbelievers consider themselves Christians simply because they were baptized in infancy? Having the external sign does not necessarily mean that you have what baptism signifies.


Appendix 1: Household baptisms

  1. [The angel said to Cornelius] “Call for Simon whose surname is Peter, who will tell you words by which you and all your household will be saved”…[Peter said] Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?" And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then they asked him to stay a few days (Acts 11:13,14; 10:47,48).

  2. Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God. The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul. And when she and her household were baptized, she begged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” So she persuaded us (Acts 16:14, 15).

  3. Then 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 stripes. And immediately he and all his family were baptized. Now when he had brought them into his house, he set food before them; and he rejoiced, having believed in God with all his household (Acts 16:32-34).

  4. Then Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with all his household. And many of the Corinthians, hearing, believed and were baptized (Acts 18:8).

  5. Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas. Besides, I do not know whether I baptized any other...I urge you, brethren- you know the household of Stephanas, that it is the first fruits of Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves to the ministry of the saints (1 Corinthians 1:16; 16:15).

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Appendix 2: Baptism follows conversion

  1. Acts 2:38 Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

  2. Acts 2:41 Then those who gladly[a] received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them.

  3. Acts 8:12 But when they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized.

  4. Acts 8:13 Then Simon himself also believed; and when he was baptized he continued with Philip, and was amazed, seeing the miracles and signs which were done.

  5. Acts 8:36 Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, “See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?”

  6. Acts 8:37 Then Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.”

  7. And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”

  8. Acts 10:47 “Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?”

  9. Acts 10:48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then they asked him to stay a few days.

  10. Acts 16:14 Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God. The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul.

  11. Acts 16:15 And when she and her household were baptized, she begged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” So she persuaded us.

  12. Acts 16:32-34 Then 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 stripes. And immediately he and all his family were baptized. Now when he had brought them into his house, he set food before them; and he rejoiced, having believed in God with all his household.

  13. Acts 18:8 Then Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with all his household. And many of the Corinthians, hearing, believed and were baptized.

  14. Acts 19:4 Then Paul said, “John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.”

  15. Acts 19:5 When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.

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Copyright Dr Joe Mizzi. Permission to copy and distribute this article without textual changes. < BACK TO Q&A