II. A Biblical Household
Now while the proceeding might be all fine and good, we are Reformed Christians. We form our theology from the Bible, and the Bible alone. When it comes to the question of how we are going to understand the household baptisms of the NT, we must let the Bible define the issue for us. In fact our Confession states (WCF 1.9),
“The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself: and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly.”
So what is a household in the Bible? What is the Bible referring to when it says, “household?”
A. Household in the OT
For sake of time, we will not delve further into creation and its ramifications on how we understand a household, but rather let’s hit the most obvious and clearest passages which bear on this matter. In Genesis 45:17-19, after Joseph has proved himself to be a faithful and wise overseer for Pharaoh, we read,
And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Say to your brothers, ‘Do this: load your beasts and go back to the land of Canaan, and take your father and your households, and come to me, and I will give you the best of the land of Egypt, and you shall eat the fat of the land.’ And you, Joseph, are commanded to say, ‘Do this: take wagons from the land of Egypt for your little ones and for your wives, and bring your father, and come.
So on this account, the “household” included the little ones and…wives. In the account of David eating the showbread when he was on the run from Saul, and the help that Ahimelech had given him, we read in the next chapter, 1 Samuel 22, that Saul punished Ahimelech and condemnation came upon his household (1 Sam. 22:16, 19),
And the king said, “You shall surely die, Ahimelech, you and all your father’s house.”…And Nob, the city of the priests, he put to the sword; both man and woman, child and infant, ox, donkey and sheep, he put to the sword.
So here again, a “household” comprehended all the living members of the family: man and woman, child and infant. The head of the home made the determination—federally—for the rest of the family. The ramifications of the choices of the head of the family came upon the whole household. Thus we have Joshua declaring (Josh. 24:15), But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. And we have Ruth declaring her allegiance to, and submission under, Naomi’s new head-of-house status (Ruth 1:16-17):
“Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.”
So a household in the OT included all the men, women, children, and servants of the family. And as went the head of the household, so went the rest of the family.
B. Household in the NT
Has this changed in the NT? In fact it has not. The same household concept that is seen in the OT is found as clearly and definitely in the NT as well.
When Paul is laying down the qualifications for elders in 1 Timothy, he states that a man who is going to serve in that office (1 Tim. 3:4-5),
…must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church?
In the same letter, giving instructions to Timothy about welfare issues he says, (1 Tim. 5:4, 8):
But if a widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show godliness to their own household and to make some return to their parents, for this is pleasing in the sight of God…But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
In the NT children are comprehended in the definition of a “household”. And in fact God declares that His Church is His household, again from 1 Timothy (3:15):
…if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God.
So at this point an important question needs to be considered: Does God have children in His Household? Are children to be understood as part of the Church?
The resounding answer to that question is an undeniable “YES!”. Turn a moment to the book of Ephesians. In chapter 2 Paul says (Eph. 2:19):
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God,
Ephesians 3:6 This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.
Ephesians 3:14-15 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family (fatherhood) in heaven and on earth is named,
In chapter 4:11-14, he speaks about the nature of the Church and its Ministry, and that God has given ministers to the Church so that we may grow up to manhood and no longer be children tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine. This assumes that not all are mature in the Body of Christ and that there will be a need to grow up and mature to attain manhood. Not only is Paul speaking spiritually here, but as he goes on to address individuals in the body with specific instructions, it is clear that he is also addressing real parents and real children.
In 5:1 he begins, Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. (i.e. as members of the Household of God) And then what follows is instruction to every member of the household. In 5:22-25, Wives, submit to your own husbands, …Husbands, love your wives. In 6:1-4 Children, obey your parents…(again) Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, and then the instruction but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
You see, children are considered to be part of the body of Christ…they are being taught and addressed as members of the Body of Christ. And this again is ‘household’ language. In fact there is even the inclusion of “slaves” as part of the Body here (6:5-9) Slaves, obey your earthly masters. In fact in the parallel to this teaching that Paul gives to the Colossians he succinctly addresses all the members of the household in a few verses saying (Col. 3:18-22):
Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them. Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged. Slaves, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord.
Brothers and sisters, letting the Bible define its own terms, a biblical “household” includes husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, and children and slaves.