The Household Baptisms

June 8, 2018

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.


An Interconnected World

September 12, 2014

A 1967 Psychology Today article first proposed the idea of six degrees of separation. In his experiment, Stanley Milgrim asked volunteers from Nebraska and Kansas to pass a package to two people in Massachusetts by passing the package to a social acquaintance that they believed were “closer” to the target. The participants received the name and a vague clue as to where the target person lived. Milgrim found that the packages arrived by passing through the hands of just five other people. Thus the term six degrees of separation—we are separated from anyone in the United States by just six people.

A study published in Science also demonstrated this connectedness. The study enlisted 61,000 participants in 166 countries for the experiment. The participants were to pass a message to one of 18 people. They were to use the Internet by contacting a social acquaintance of theirs that they thought might be “closer” to the target person. On average, it took about five to seven intermediate steps to reach the target. This phenomenon was dubbed the small world effect.

A study by Microsoft analyzed 30 billion instant messages sent by 240 million people in June of 2006. The study found that 6.6 steps linked these people, and a study done of Facebook found people there linked by only three degrees of separation.

God has given us the staggering task of taking the gospel to the whole world (Matthew 28:19-20, Mark 16:15). With a world population over seven billion it may seem overwhelming. The task challenges our faith.

God is wiser than we are. He knows that it is a smaller world than we might first think. Maybe if we with faith reach out to the people we know, and they in turn reach out to the people they know… Maybe everyone could hear the gospel if we live by faith. It’s an interconnected world.


Go and Make Disciples

March 21, 2014

I have heard in a few sermons the following remark: “Although our English Bible says ‘Go and make disciples,’ the Greek would be better translated ‘As you go, make disciples.’” However, there are good reasons why most of our English translations actually say “Go and make disciples.”

The remark contains a partial truth. The verb translated “go” is actually an aorist participle in Greek. It is followed by an aorist imperative (make disciples). But knowing that the first word is a participle is just the beginning. The question is what does it mean in this construction with a command immediately following.

I thought about this recently because of Daniel Wallace’s blog on this subject which I happened to read after I had read Matthew 28. (Wallace is the author of Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics and his blog will give a fuller explanation. It may better to hear it from someone who has written a grammar than merely one who has read one.) I had noticed that Matthew 28:7 has the same construction as Matthew 28:19: an aorist participle with an aorist imperative. The ESV reads: “Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead” (Matthew 28:7).

I don’t think the message of the angel to the women was “As you go quickly, tell his disciples…” It is a bit more purposeful than that. I don’t think the women thought they could do anything they wanted before finding the apostles. Similar constructions can be found in Matthew (this is from a quick check in Accordance and only listing the other occasions in Matthew).

  • 2:8 — Go and search diligently
  • 2:13 — Rise, take the child and his mother
  • 2:20 — Rise, take the child and his mother
  • 9:6 — Rise, pick up your bed
  • 9:18 — come and lay your hand on her
  • 11:4 — Go and tell John
  • 17:27 — Take that and give it
  • 21:2 — Untie, bring to me.

In each of these narratives, the participle is usually rendered into English as a command. That is because in this kind of construction the participle takes on the force of the command that follows it.

To say that it would be better translated “As you go” is to make what is probably a first or second year Greek student’s error. By the way, I’ve made those kinds of errors too. I’ve even made this error at a point in my life. As several professors have warned: “a little Greek is a dangerous thing.” The bottom line is: “Go and make disciples” is the better way to say it in English.


The Misunderstood Commission

July 12, 2013

If I were to give you their names, you probably wouldn’t recognize the list: Shammua, Shaphat, Igal, Palti, Gaddiel, Gaddi, Ammiel, Sethur, Nahbi, and Geuel. Add two more names, Joshua and Caleb, and many Bible students would suddenly have a flash of recognition – the twelve spies.

The setting is after the Exodus from Egypt. Israel is in the wilderness. They are camped outside the Promised Land. The spy mission is God’s idea: “Send men to spy out the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the people of Israel” (Numbers 13:2, ESV). Moses also states their commission:

Go up into the Negeb and go up into the hill country, and see what the land is, and whether the people who dwell in it are strong or weak, whether they are few or many, and whether the land that they dwell in is good or bad, and whether the cities that they dwell in are camps or strongholds, and whether the land is rich or poor, and whether there are trees in it or not. Be of good courage and bring some of the fruit of the land. Numbers 13:17-20, ESV

It is interesting to note that in the commissioning of the spies the issue is never whether we can take the land or not. Taking the land is a given. God has promised.

The ten spies failed not because they reported strong peoples and fortified cities in the land. Their failure was saying, “We are not strong enough; we can’t do it.” The issue had never been Israel’s strength. The issue always was God’s strength, and what could be accomplished by faith. They misunderstood their commission.

We too have a commission – a great one in fact. It is about going into all the world, making disciples, baptizing, and teaching. It would be failure for us to say, “We are not strong enough; we can’t do it.” It is not about our strength. It is about God’s strength, and what can be accomplished by faith. For this commission too comes with a promise: “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20, ESV).