I have always read and understood household baptisms as not including infants because of my context of being familiar with baptism as something that only an older child or adult is capable of completing. Baptism at the churches I have attended since childhood is something that an infant or toddler is incapable of. I have always been aware that others baptize babies, but that was never familiar to me. I have always had this mindset when reading these passages.
I had this discussion a few months ago with a friend who is struggling about decisions regarding baptism in her family. A week or two later I sent her a message and asked her to find the error. I told her that I was going to an extended family event including my 2 elementary school aged daughters, my 2 elementary school aged nephews and other adult extended family members. I told her a little about what we were celebrating and then explained that the subject of politics would arise. (We live in the United States). I told her that everyone in my family votes, and everyone has passionate feelings about who the next president should be. I explained some about the various political opinions that my family holds. My friend read the message over and over and didn’t think that I made an error or stated a mistruth. Yet, when I asked her, she of course didn’t think that the 6-10 year old children were able to vote. She totally read my comment as “everyone in my family (old enough to vote) votes…”
I can think of occasions where someone told me “Everyone in the wedding party got drunk.” I knew this excluded the 5 year old flower girl and meant “Everyone in the wedding party (old enough to drink) got drunk.” I think we make these types of assumptions in our conversations more than we may realize. A fictional, but realistic example – a friend telling another friend “My uncle brought his new Porsche to the family barbecue and he let everyone take a turn driving it around the block.” Friend: “How did your 2 year old nephew reach the gas pedal?” Or more likely would the friend hear this story and realize that he meant “…he let everyone (old enough to drive) take a turn driving it around the block.”
When we look back to 1st Century Jewish culture with large extended family households with no concept of “Original Sin,” how did they understand baptism? While Jewish children participate in religious observances with their families, they do not become fully accountable for repentance or atonement until they are 12 if a girl and 13 if a boy. This is when they have the bat-mitzvah or bar-mitzvah and become an adult accountable to the law. Would this culture have immediately known that the infants and young children were now supposed to believe and repent for sins that up until this time they were considered innocent of? I am not aware of any Biblical examples of baptism without mention of belief and/or repentance. Could “everyone in the household was baptized” mean “everyone (old enough to believe and repent) was baptized.”
When we look at the mentions of household baptisms in the Bible, we see 2 that mention household baptisms, but don’t specify if everyone was baptized:
Acts 16:14-15 – One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira, named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. ‘If you consider me a believer in the Lord,’ she said, ‘come and stay at my house.’ And she persuaded us.
1 Corinthians 1:16 – (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.)
We see 2 examples that state that the whole household was baptized AND that the whole household believed:
Acts 16:30-34 – He then brought them out and asked, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ They replied, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved–you and your household.’ Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized. The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God–he and his whole household.
Acts 18:8 – Crispus, the synagogue leader, and his entire household believed in the Lord; and many of the Corinthians who heard Paul believed and were baptized.
Did these 2 households only consist of those old enough to believe? Or did the “whole” and “entire” refer only to those old enough to believe?
I don’t see any examples where we know that children who did not understand enough to believe were included in an “entire household.”
There are other Biblical examples of baptism that mention adults and exclude children:
Acts 8:12 - But when they believed Philip as he proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.
Were infants and young children included here?
I have often wished that the Biblical evidence was more clear.