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Monday, March 02, 2015

Debunking Baptismal Myths #5: Faith By Proxy

Tired of this yet? Me too. I promise: last one.

We’re looking in depth at a series of objections raised by one of our readers to the Protestant argument that one must be a believer to be baptized.

Two of these are specific to a single verse in Acts 16, so we’ll deal with them together. They concern the baptism of a woman from Thyatira and those of her household.
“Acts 16:15 — Paul baptized Lydia and her entire household. The word ‘household’ comes from the Greek word ‘oikos’ which is a household that includes infants and children.”

“Acts 16:15 — further, Paul baptizes the household based on Lydia’s faith, not the faith of the members of the household. This demonstrates that parents can present their children for baptism based on the parents’ faith, not the children’s faith.”
Okay. So what’s at stake here is whether faith may be exercised by proxy, or does Lydia’s faith count for everyone else she lives with?

Let’s see. There are only three “household baptisms” in the New Testament for infant baptizers to reference (two where the word ‘household’ is used). We have already dealt with the “household” of Cornelius in our most recent post on the subject. Surprisingly, the subject of the “household of Stephanas” has not come up yet, and since in most translations the statement about their baptism takes up a whole eight words, I’m not sure there’s much anyone can reasonably infer from it.

So, Lydia. What can be said about Lydia’s household? Can we conjecture that it was full of infants, perhaps?

What’s an Oikos?

Our friend says the Greek ‘oikos’ refers to a household that includes infants and children. But Wikipedia (hey, why not?) says:
“An oikos (ancient Greek: οἶκος, plural: οἶκοι; English prefix: eco- for ecology and economics) is the ancient Greek equivalent of a household, house, or family.”
A “household” or “family” COULD include infants. It certainly doesn’t HAVE to. In Lydia’s case, as I am about to demonstrate, this seems really unlikely.

The Whole “Household” Thing

Pardon me for stating the obvious, but if you refer to, say, the “household of Frank”, or the “household of Fred”, one might reasonably infer that Fred or Frank has a wife and children, and that their households are (potentially at least) teeming with infants.

However, when a family is referred to as the “household of Lydia” (particularly in a historic time and geographic location associated by our modern Leftist friends with all manner of patriarchy and lack of respect for women), it seems obvious that the aforementioned Lydia lacked a husband. If she had one, her household would surely have been referred to by his name, not hers.

Now, since she had a household to baptize, we might speculate that Lydia was at one point married. And since she was a “seller of purple goods”, she was likely a fairly prominent woman (she would hardly have been prominent as a single mother in first century Philippi. Women of that period, as Wikipedia tells us, had no citizenship rights and no political rights). 

Yes, Wikipedia surprisingly concurs with me on this:
“Because women did not possess the same equality rights as modern women, it appears unusual that Lydia would be capable of inviting a group of foreign men to her house without a man’s consent. ‘The fact that there is no mention of a man has been used to deduce that she was a widow, but this has been challenged as a patriarchal interpretation’. Lydia’s evident social power exemplified by her control of a household and ownership of a house (which she offered to St. Paul and his companions) indicates that she was most likely a free woman and possibly a widow.”
Further, as a prominent merchant living away from home (Lydia was from Thyatira but met Paul in Philippi), it’s very possible that her “household” consisted of more servants than immediate family members. Servants, by virtue of having to serve to be useful, are rarely infants or small children.

Speculation, Speculation …

Okay, let’s be fair: my deductions about Lydia, no matter how much we may value the weight of Wikipedia’s opinion, are admittedly speculative. That said, they at least have some basis in the chapter of the Bible that we are referencing (and even in lowest-common-denominator pseudo-history).

The theory that “household” invariably implies infant children is considerably more speculative than anything I’m offering here.

Let me state the obvious, once again: If Lydia was, in fact, a widow, the chances of her being a recent widow (and therefore the potential mother of an infant) are rather slim. She could arguably have been a grandmother, but on what basis would we reasonably assume her grandchildren to be members of her household?

I’m just not seeing infants here, folks.

The Faith of Another

Here’s where the infant baptism advocates get really conjectural. Our reader says “Paul baptizes the household based on Lydia’s faith, not the faith of the members of the household”.

Actually, Lydia’s household, which we have already demonstrated was unlikely to include infants, was baptized by someone who was probably not Paul. But how we could infer that a whole household was baptized based on Lydia’s faith is quite mysterious and not what Luke says at all. Far more likely, she went home with a testimony and those who lived with her believed it. Far more likely something took place along the lines of what happened in the house of Cornelius, with or without the tongues. But it really doesn’t matter how it happened. We’re not told and there’s no reason to guess (unless you have nothing else upon which to hang the doctrine of infant baptism, in which case by all means flail away).

I mean really, if God had wanted Christians to “baptize” infants on some basis other than personal repentance or faith, might he not have spelled it out for us rather than leaving us to make wild guesses? And that is all we have.

Practice, Not Doctrine

I hesitate to even bring this last point up because it feels like piling on, but we ought to remember that what Luke records in Acts is not the teaching of the Lord or the apostles about how Christian baptism is to be conducted in the Church Age. Rather, it is simply a record of what actually took place in particular locations in the first century AD. When Luke tells us that Lydia and her household were baptized, he does not tell us that it was at Paul’s behest. He does not tell us that everyone baptized was genuine in faith and continued to follow Christ afterwards. He definitely does not tell us that their conversion experience was normative for all subsequent believers. He simply records that Lydia paid attention to what was said by the apostle and responded accordingly, and that her household followed suit. Is this something all Christians throughout history ought to emulate? Who knows? That’s the problem with trying to find doctrine in historical passages. That’s also what the epistles are for. 

How a moment in church history morphs into a practice by which water is regularly dribbled on babies for centuries afterward is a matter for historians and theoreticians. I’m just telling you what the book of Acts actually says, which is considerably less than is usually made of it.

Faith By Proxy

But here’s the bottom line: nobody else’s faith can save you. As a father, it might ease my spiritual concern for my sons or my daughter if I were allowed step up to the plate on their behalf. But that is simply not the case. I cannot speak for them. They cannot speak for me.

Let’s let the psalmist have the final word:
“Truly no man can ransom another, or give to God the price of his life,
for the ransom of their life is costly and can never suffice,
that he should live on forever and never see the pit.”

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