NT Baptism of Whole “Households” (vs. Lucas Banzoli)

NT Baptism of Whole “Households” (vs. Lucas Banzoli) September 26, 2022

Lucas Banzoli is a very active Brazilian theological writer, who denies that Jesus is immutable in His Divine Nature (i.e., judging by the standard of trinitarian classical theism, he denies that Jesus is God; hence cannot be classified as either a trinitarian or a Christian).

This is my 34th refutation of articles written by Lucas Banzoli. As of yet, I haven’t received a single word in reply to any of them (or if Banzoli has replied to anything, anywhere, he certainly hasn’t informed me of it). Readers may decide for themselves why that is the case. I use RSV for the Bible passages unless otherwise indicated. Google Translate is utilized to render Lucas’ Portugese into English. His words will be in blue.

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I’m replying to the relevant portions of Lucas’ article, “Devemos batizar os bebês?” [Should we baptize babies?] (8-14-12). Note my title. That question is specifically what I am addressing here: did these baptisms of “households” described in the Bible include children below the age of reason; infants, newborns, etc., and is it reasonable and plausible to deny this?

They preach the baptism of infants, who have no ability to discern between good and evil in order to repent of their sins, and thus repentance does not become a necessary precedent for baptism, any more than it is a precedent necessary for salvation. . . . 

As a newborn is not yet able to even know who Jesus is, much less believe in Him with all his heart, so he does not enter into the necessary condition required to be baptized. . . . 

To be saved (or baptized), one does not necessarily have to be aware of what is happening. For example, say a person was born with a severe brain defect and eventually died without ever having been capable of rational thought or communication. Is that person damned simply because of being unable to believe? I think not.

Most Protestants agree with Catholics that God’s mercy must extend to those who do not yet know or understand the gospel, or else all aborted babies, children who die at a young age, or before the age of reason, and so forth would go to hell (since they either cannot know or not properly understand the gospel). Therefore, to be saved is not necessarily to understand fully either the gospel or the means of grace by which one is saved (and Catholics, Orthodox, and most Protestants include baptism as a crucial factor in this salvation).

Furthermore, St. Paul in Colossians 2:11-13 makes a connection between baptism and circumcision. Israel was the church before Christ (Acts 7:38; Rom. 9:4). Circumcision, given to boys eight days old, was the seal of the covenant God made with Abraham, which applies to us also (Gal. 3:14, 29). It was a sign of repentance and future faith (Rom. 4:11).

Infants were just as much a part of the covenant as adults (Gen. 17:7; Deut. 29:10-12; cf. Matt. 19:14). Likewise, baptism is the seal of the New Covenant in Christ. It signifies cleansing from sin, just as circumcision did (Deut. 10:16, 30:6; Jer. 4:4, 9:25; Rom. 2:28-9; Phil. 3:3).

Critics of infant baptism like to point out that the Bible never specifically commands us to baptize infants. But neither does it tell us that we should baptize only adults, or those past the age of reason who can make their own “personal commitment” to Christ. It has examples of adults being baptized, of course (Lucas cites many of those), but then it also has examples of “households” being baptized, and these (at the very least in some instances!) almost certainly had children in them who were also baptized at that time. So we see both things.

[B]aptism is never disassociated from the “believing” factor. It is necessary to believe that Christ Jesus is the Son of the living God in order to be baptized.

If we’re gonna play the game of being hyper-literal about all the relevant biblical passages (as if only one interpretation across-the-board is possible), there are several that reference baptism without mentioning repentance, too:

Romans 6:3-4 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
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Galatians 3:26-27 You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
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1 Corinthians 12:13 For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body — Jews or Greeks, slaves or free — and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
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Titus 3:5 he saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit,
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John 3:5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.
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And in three other biblical passages, entire households are referred to as being saved:

Luke 19:9 And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham.”

Acts 11:14 he will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household.

Acts 16:31 And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.

Therefore, Catholic claims that babies were baptized in the biblical passages that show the entire household was baptized are entirely without foundation.
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Nonsense! Lucas has again made one of his many notorious, infamous “universal negative” declarations. The fact is, that baptism is not always directly associated with repentance in the Bible. I just provided five examples of that. So he can’t use a false premise in order to try to discount the presence of babies and infants in households, who were baptized along with everyone else.
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First, because in absolutely none of them is there any indication that there were newborns or babies in the house.
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This is implausible to the highest degree. Let’s run through the argument. First, we have the passages that refer to “households” being baptized:

Acts 16:15 . . . she was baptized, with her household, . . .

Acts 16:33 . . . he was baptized at once, with all his family.

Acts 18:8 Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with all his household; . . .

1 Corinthians 1:16 (I did baptize also the household of Steph’anas. . . .

Moreover, many biblical passages connect household and children (if indeed such a demonstration is necessary, so obvious is it: especially for that culture and time):

Genesis 18:19 No, for I have chosen him, that he may charge his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice . . . (cf. 31:41)

Genesis 36:6 Then Esau took his wives, his sons, his daughters, and all the members of his household, . . .

Genesis 45:9-11 Make haste and go up to my father and say to him, `Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt; come down to me, do not tarry; [10] you shall dwell in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children, and your flocks, your herds, and all that you have; [11] and there I will provide for you, for there are yet five years of famine to come; lest you and your household, and all that you have, come to poverty.’

Genesis 47:12 And Joseph provided his father, his brothers, and all his father’s household with food, according to the number of their dependents.

Numbers 18:11 . . . I have given them to you, and to your sons and daughters with you, as a perpetual due; every one who is clean in your house may eat of it.

1 Chronicles 10:6 Thus Saul died; he and his three sons and all his house died together.

Matthew 19:29 And every one who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life. (cf. Mk 10:30)

1 Timothy 3:12 Let deacons be the husband of one wife, and let them manage their children and their households well;

On a Reddit AskHistorians page (“What was the average number of children a Christian family had around 0 – 100 A.D.?”), one of the historians stated: “Ancient Hebrew peasant families typically had 4-8 children, . . .”

Leo G. Perdue, in his book, Families in Ancient Israel (Westminster John Knox Press: 1997, p. 175) observed:
Family households did not consist of nuclear families in the modern understanding of a married couple and their children but rather, were multigenerational (up to four generations) and included the social arrangement of several families, related by blood and marriage, who lived in two or three houses architecturally connected. . . .
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Those who belong to the family household are mentioned a number of times in the Hebrew Bible (Gen. 7:1, 7; 36:6; 45:10; cf. Gen. 46:26; Ex. 20:8-10, 17; Deut. 5:12-15, 21; Josh. 7:16-18; Judg. 6:11, 27, 30; 8:20). These texts indicate that the family household was primarily a kinship system that included lineal descent and lateral extension: grandparents, adult male children and their wives and children, unmarried children, and widowed and divorced adult daughters who may have had children.
Thus, it’s not just a matter of a nuclear family (which already may have included 4-8 children), but of extended family (involving even more children), which makes it all the more likely that children would typically be present in a biblical “household.” This was before widespread contraception. Children were a blessing, both according to the biblical texts saying so, and economically: since children provided labor on the family farm or as a worker in its trade.
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But infants and newborns, as well as younger children who do not yet have the knowledge of Christ, are not eligible to be baptized because they cannot yet believe and repent of their sins. Therefore, there is no reason to think that there were babies in that house, . . . The “house” is then defined as “those able to understand, hear and believe”.
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Once again, this starts from a false premise, as I have already shown. Secondly, he builds a castle of sand from the false premise and then “concludes” that a biblical “household” could not possibly contain small children. He actually redefines the very word, according to his erroneous presupposition and wishful thinking. That’s backwards so-called “reasoning.” What we need to determine is exactly what I have done: ascertain the precise meaning of a biblical “household.” If they usually contained children (which I would affirm, and add, “almost always”), then the Bible describes infant baptism. Period. End of argument. Game, set, match . . .
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The biblical case for infant baptism is an argument from plausibility or antecedent probability. The deductions made lead one to conclude that a certain state of affairs is probable, more or less, but not absolutely proven. These deductive steps with regard to infant baptism are as follows:
  1. All agree that the Bible refers to entire households being baptized.
  2. It is reasonable to assume that most households (especially in the ancient world) would include children.
  3. The Bible specifically places children within the parameters of those persons included in a household (if this commonsense assumption even needs to be asserted), at least eight times (see above).
  4.  Therefore, it is quite likely that baptisms of entire households would include baptisms of children, at least in some cases, if not in all.
  5.  It is quite unlikely that baptisms of entire households (granting the premise that the households can and usually do include children) would never include children.
  6. Therefore, infants (in the greatest likelihood) were baptized.
  7. In which case, infant baptism is sanctioned in Scripture, by apostolic example.

Plenty of Protestant Bible commentaries concur with the argument I have made (since, after all, the historic overwhelmingly majority position among Protestants is infant baptism):

Barnes’ Notes on the Bible [for Acts 16:15]:

No mention is made of their having believed, and the case is one that affords a strong presumptive proof that this was an instance of household or infant baptism. Because:

(1) Her believing is particularly mentioned.

(2) it is not intimated that they believed.

(3) it is manifestly implied that they were baptized because she believed. It was the offering of her family to the Lord. It is just such an account as would now be given of a household or family that were baptized upon the faith of the parent.

Surveying the classic Bible commentaries with regard to their remarks about Acts 16:15 is instructive:

Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary states: “Here also is the first mention of a Christian household. Whether it included children, also in that case baptized, is not explicitly stated; but the presumption, as in other cases of household baptism, is that it did.”

Matthew Poole’s Commentary concludes:

And her household; when Lydia had right to baptism, by reason of her faith in Jesus Christ, all her family, whom she could undertake to bring up in the knowledge of Christ, were admitted to that ordinance also; as all the servants, and such others as were born in his house, or bought with his money, were circumcised with Abraham, Genesis 17:12,13. Now the gospel does not contract in any respect, but enlarges, the privileges of believers in all things. And if they might under the law have their children and servants admitted into a covenant with God, (which could not but rejoice religious parents and masters, who value the relation they and theirs have to God, above all earthly things), surely under the gospel none of our families are excluded, unless they willfully exclude themselves.

Expositor’s Greek Testament agrees:

[A]s in the case of Cornelius, so here, the household is received as one into the fold of Christ, cf. Acts 16:33 and Acts 18:8. We cannot say whether children or not were included, . . . but nothing against infant baptism, which rests on a much more definite foundation, can be inferred from such cases, . . .

Bengel’s Gnomen concurs: “Who can believe that in so many families there was not a single infant? and that the Jews, who were accustomed to circumcise their infants, and the Gentiles, to purify their infants by washings (lustrations), did not also present them for baptism?”

Pulpit Commentary: “This frequent mention of whole households as received into the Church seems necessarily to imply infant baptism. The exhortations to children as members of the Church in Ephesians 6:1, 2, and Colossians 3:20, lead to the same inference.”

Even critics of infant baptism deduced from the “household” passages fairly admit that it can’t be ruled out. Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers comments on Acts 16:15: “the utmost that can be said is that the language of the writer does not exclude infants.”

The 1909 Hastings’ Dictionary of the Bible (“Baptism”) makes a superb summary of all of these arguments and some more:

The NT contains no explicit reference to the baptism of infants or young children; but it does not follow that the Church of the 2nd cent. adopted an unauthorized innovation when it carried out the practice of infant baptism. There are good reasons for the silence of Scripture on the subject. The governing principle of St. Luke as the historian of the primitive Church is to narrate the advance of the Kingdom through the missionary preaching of the Apostles, and the conversion of adult men and women. The letters of the Apostles were similarly governed by the immediate occasion and purpose of their writing.

We have neither a complete history, nor a complete account of the organization, of the primitive Church. But of one thing we may be sure: had the acceptance of Christianity involved anything so startling to the Jewish or the Gentile mind as a distinction between the religious standing of the father of a family and his children, the historian would have recorded it, or the Apostles would have found themselves called to explain and defend it. For such a distinction would have been in direct contradiction to the most deeply rooted convictions of Jew and of Gentile alike.

From the time of Abraham onwards the Jew had felt it a solemn religious obligation to claim for his sons from their earliest infancy the same covenant relation with God as he himself stood in. There was sufficient parallelism between baptism and circumcision (cf. Colossians 2:11) for the Jewish-Christian father to expect the baptism of his children to follow his own as a matter of course. The Apostle assumes as a fact beyond dispute that the children of believers are ‘holy’ (1 Corinthians 7:14), i.e. under the covenant with God, on the ground of their father’s faith.

And among Gentile converts a somewhat different but equally authoritative principle, that of patria potestas , would have the same result. In a home organized on this principle, which prevailed throughout the Roman Empire, it would be a thing inconceivable that the children could be severed from the father in their religious rights and duties, in the standing conferred by baptism. Thus it is because, to the mind of Jew and Gentile alike, the baptism of infants and children yet unable to supply the conditions for themselves was so natural, that St. Luke records so simply that when Lydia believed, she was baptized ‘with her household’; when the Philippian jailor believed, he was baptized, and all those belonging to him. If there were children in these households, these children were baptized on the ground of the faith of their parents; if there were no children, then the principle took a still wider extension, which includes children; for it was the servants or slaves of the household who were ‘added to the Church’ by baptism on the ground of their master’s faith.

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Photo credit: Photograph by Kai Stachowiak [PublicDomainPictures.Net]

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Summary: Brazilian Protestant apologist Lucas Banzoli vainly & irrationally argues that baptism of whole “households” in the NT never in any instance included infant children.

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