Deep Dive: Acts 16:11-34


The baptism of Lydia and the jailer’s households

I’m not going to be able to answer the real question here, but hopefully some information will help you talk about it if it comes up. Twice in our text this week we see whole households get baptized, first with Lydia (16:15) and second with the Philippian jailer (16:33). The Roman idea of “household” included any servants or slaves in your house, but in the second instance it even specifies, “he was baptized at once, he and all his family.” Christians have rightly wonder, who all was baptized at that event? Was this just the believing adults in the jailer’s family, or was this everyone, including any children or infants? Unfortunately the text doesn’t specify, and gospel-believing Christians have differed over how to understand this passage. Some say this is a textual example for baptizing the children of believers—those same people point to Col. 2:11 and the similarities between baptism and circumcision, the latter of which was given to infants. Others say no children are mentioned here, so we can’t draw that conclusion. Again, I’m not going to be able to answer which position is perfectly correct; the disagreement has existed in the Church for at least 400 years. But hopefully we can admit that faithful, doctrinally-sound Christians fall on either side of the issue, so we don’t need to anathematize others over it.

Why did Paul drive out the demon in the slave girl?

While in Philippi, Paul and company are followed around by a slave girl with a “spirit of divination,” literally a “spirit of python,” perhaps connecting her to the oracle-giving serpent deity at Delphi. She followed them around, announcing that they were “servants of the Most High God.”(16:17) Now, you might wonder why this annoyed Paul, who drove out her divining spirit in the name of Jesus (16:18). But imagine Paul being followed around by a girl who is known to practice fortune-telling; people would’ve assumed she was a disciple, especially since she was announcing them everywhere they went. To keep a consistent gospel message, Paul had to disassociate with the demonic spirit, since fortune-telling is forbidden by God (Lev. 20:6). Also, in the Greek text of her repeated speech, “These men…proclaim to you the way of salvation,” there’s actually no definite article, “the,” before “way of salvation.” Biblical Greek used articles a little differently than we do, but it’s still likely that she was saying, “These men proclaim a way of salvation.” Such a pluralistic presentation of their message would’ve been antithetical to the message Paul was actually sharing, which would’ve warranted his response.

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