Jesus’ instructions in the Great Commission should settle an important issue about baptism. With the phrase “baptizing them” we have a pronoun. Pronouns in both Greek and English have referents. In this case, we go back to the immediate command: “them” refers to the people who are made disciples. Unless you have made someone a disciple of Jesus, Jesus has not authorized you to baptize them.
But those arguing for infant baptism often seek support for their practice in the household baptisms in Acts. This is an argument from silence, and therefore a very weak argument. Can we be certain that there are any infants? Examining the household baptisms exposes evidence counter to the infant baptism case.
However, if you are accustomed to looking at these household baptisms in such discussions, you may find a surprise in the ESV of Acts 16:34. The ESV reads:
And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God. (Acts 16:34, ESV)
The NASB represents the reading or meaning which is also found in the KJV, NKJV, and NIV.
… and rejoiced greatly, having believed in God with his whole household. (Acts 16:34, NASB)
The translation issue is the Greek adverb πανοικεί (panoikei, G3832) which is translated “with his whole/entire household.” What in Greek is an adverb is a prepositional phrase in English. Does this adverb modify the verb “he rejoiced,” the participle “having believed,” or both? Although the adverb occurs after “he rejoiced” and before “having believed,” most translations put it at the end of the sentence in English to indicate both. The ESV shows the position of the adverb, but Greek is not as sensitive to position within a sentence as English is. I would favor a translation like the NASB here, but even if we keep the ESV, a rejoicing household doesn’t help the infant baptism position.
What do we learn as we look through the accounts of the household baptisms?
- The household feared God. Acts 10:2
- The household heard the word of God. Acts 10:44
- The household heard the word. Acts 16:32
- The household rejoiced, believed, or both. Acts 16:34.
- The household believed. Acts 18:8
These seem consistent with Jesus’ instructions in the Great Commission: baptize those who have been made disciples.