Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Household baptism in the Old Testament

Household baptism is a New Testament term and it may seem strange to associate it with the Old Testament. There are indeed five household (oikos) baptisms in the New Testament(Cornelius’, Acts 10:48; Lydia’s, Acts 16:15; the Philippian jailer’s, Acts 16:31; Crispus’, Acts 18:8; and Stephanus’, 1 Cor. 1:16). These five
household baptisms illustrate a principle seen throughout Scripture that, the obedience of the entire household is required as part of the obedience of the head. This is due to federal responsibility thus when the head of a household believed, baptism of his whole household followed.

As a note of interest at this point, these five baptisms are among only nine where baptism is specifically mentioned. In Acts there are 7: the Ethiopian eunuch, Simon Magus, Saul of Tarsus, Cornelius, Lydia, the Philippian jailer, and Crispus of Corinth. In 1 Corinthians there are 2: Gaius and Stephanas. Of these nine baptisms, there are two where no household was present: the Ethiopian eunuch and Saul of Tarsus. We are not informed about the households of two others: Simon Magus and Gaius. In the other five cases, the entire household was baptized. There is a clear principle that in every case where the apostles administered baptism to the head of a household, they also administered it to the entire household as well. For the Jews, the conversion and baptism of proselytes was on a household basis. In the case of the Philippian jailer the grammar emphasises the head of household’s action through singular verbs "rejoiced" and "believed" (Acts 16:34).

In addition to baptised households, there are also references to household
salvation: Zacchaeus’, Luke 19:6-10; the official’s, John 4:53; the 3,000 believers on Pentecost Sunday who were told that the promise of salvation was “for you and for your children,” Acts 2:38-39; and Onesiphorus’, 2 Tim. 1:16.

The solidarity of the household or posterity with the head is explicit in all the Old Testament covenants. It is made clear to Noah (Gen. 7:1; Heb. 11:7), to Abraham ("I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him", Gen. 18:19), to Jacob (Gen. 47:12), to Israel (Exod. 1:1), and to Rahab (Jos. 6:25). The word for household in Greek ,Oikos is used in the Septuagaint (the Greek translation of the OT) of Noah's family (Gen 7:19), of the covenant with Abraham and the circumcision and instruction of his household (Gen 17:13, 18:19), regarding the families in Passover (12:27), and David's descendants in the Davidic covenant (2Ch 21:7).

The household reference is frequently made:

- Gen 7:1 – Noah
- Gen 17:12-13, 23, 27 – Abraham
- Ex 12:27 – Passover
- Num 3:15 – Levites numbered according to household membership
- Deut 29:10-13 – Covenant renewal
- Joshua 24:15 – “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

There are also promises made to heads of households: Deut. 4:37-40; Psalm 78:4-7; 100:5; 102:28; 103:17-18; Isa. 44:3; 54:13; 59:21; 65:23; Jer. 32:38-39; 35:19; Ezek. 37:25; Zec. 10:6-7.

We should note, however, that there are also many instances in which God judges households in relation to the sin of the head of that household:
- Gen 20:17-18 – Abimilech
- Ex 20:5, 34:7 – Punishments for breaking the law
- Joshua 7:15, 24-25 – Achan
- 1 Sam 3:12-14 – Eli
- 2 Sam 12:10 – David

We should note also that neglect of the commandment of circumcision (the sign of household solidarity) incurred judgement (Gen. 17:14). The family is an organic unity, in which, if the head sins, all the parts of the organic unit are held to be sinful with it.

There is a particular ceremony in the Old Testament that parallels household baptism. It is the sprinkling of blood that was done at the time of the Exodus from Egypt. Pharaoh was willing to let the men go, but not the little ones (Ex. 10:7-11).

- It was a ceremony performed by the head of the household not for their own benefit but for the firstborn son who was liable to destruction as part of the nation of Egypt and under Pharaoh's dominion. The firstborn son did not do it for himself.
- It was a household action, lamb was to be taken by the head of the household and slain for the household who would partake of it. Noone feasted alone.
- It was a token or sign of the covenant which signified spiritual realities
- It was a family token.
- It distinguished the firstborn of Israel from the firstborn of Egypt (Ex 11:7).
- It solemnly signified that the firstborn of Israel belonged to a holy and ransomed nation.
- It signified the deliverance of Israel as houses (Ex 12:27) and their being gathered to serve and worship the Lord as a corporate unit.
- It was done in faith (Heb 11:28)
- It signified the blood of Christ and his merits and offered it to them(1 Cor 5:7)
It signified being under God's protection
It signified separation unto God from sin and the world. Not a hoof was to be left behind.
- It was the basis of instruction: Exod. 12:26 : "And it shall come to pass, when your children shall say unto you, What mean ye by this service? That ye shall say, It is the sacrifice of the Lord's passover, when he passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt; when he smote the Egyptians, and delivered our houses."
-It was open to Gentiles. Exod. 12:48: "When a stranger will sojourn with thee, and will keep the passover to the Lord, let all his males ba circumcised, and then let him come near and keep it; and he shall be as one that is born in the land. One law shall be to him that is home-born, and unto the stranger that sojourneth among you."
- It was a corporate action of the Church. The slaying of the lamb is ascribed to the "whole assembly of the congregation", because it was to be slain by their order, and in their name, for their use and in their presence (Ex 12:6).
- It signified deliverance from national judgement (as with the baptism of John the Baptist cp. 1 Cor.10.1 ff, exodus from Egypt; 1 Pet. 3.19-21, of the flood)
- It was like circumcision a sign of God's judgement if the stipulations of the covenant (including circumcision) were not kept. Thus a solemn judgement is also signified if baptised people do not enter into the reality of the blood of Christ and trample it under foot as an unholy thing.
- It was a seal of God's ownership.
- It was effected by sprinkling as with the purifications elsewhere described in Scripture (Exodus 24:1-8; Leviticus 14:4-7, 16, 49-53, 16:19; and Numbers 8:5-7,
19:18, 19; Hebrews 12:22-24; 1 Peter 1:2). The Old Covenant sprinkling of blood has been replaced by the New Covenant washing with water.
- It meant that the firstborn were sanctified and sacred to God
- It meant a general, external adoption of the nation to be God's firstborn (Exod 4:22)