The Evangelical Theological Society meets this week in San Diego for its Annual Meeting, November 19-21. This year's theme is "Ecclesiology." I'll be giving a paper on Wednesday at 4:30pm titled "Household Baptism in the New Testament: Assessing the Debate 50+ Years Later." For those who are interested, here is a summary of my paper.
The New Testament records three household baptisms – the household of Lydia (Acts 16:15), of the Philippian jailer (Acts 16:33), and of Stephanas (1 Cor 1:16). The number of household baptisms may be increased to six if we include three cases where a household context is implied – the baptisms of Crispus and Gaius (1 Cor 1:14; Acts 18:8) and of Cornelius (Acts 10:2; 11:13-18). In addition to the household baptisms, there are texts which speak of an adult believing (John 4:53; Acts 16:34; 18:8) or being saved (Acts 11:14; 16:31; Heb 11:7) along with their household. In 1949, Ethelbert Stauffer suggested that these texts employ what he called "the oikos formula." In 1958–1962, over the course of three monographs, Joachim Jeremias and Kurt Aland had a spirited exchange over this issue as part of a broader inquiry as to whether the early church baptized infants.
In this paper I review and assess the debate between Jeremias and Aland on the NT household baptisms, as well as the ways in which subsequent scholars have picked up their arguments in the continued polemics over infant baptism. I will argue that the debate has been sidetracked by unhelpful attempts on both sides to prove that infants were either included in or excluded from these household baptisms. It is my contention that a more helpful approach is to ask what "the oikos formula" itself implies with respect to the basis on which baptism was administered. My thesis is that the formula is rooted in the Old Testament as mediated by the Septuagint, and as such points to the Hebraic principle of household solidarity in regard to religion, that is, that the children are included in the religious community on the basis of the confession of faith of the head of the household. The New Testament's use of this formula suggests that baptism was administered in the apostolic age not only to adults on the basis of their profession of faith, but also to the children of believers on the basis of parental authority and household solidarity.
I plan to mention Meredith G. Kline who takes the recurring use of the oikos phrase in connection with faith, conversion and baptism as terminological evidence in the New Testament of "a standard missions policy according to which the covenant community would regularly be enlarged through the accretion of household authority units" (By Oath Consigned, p. 97). The key is "the household authority principle," that is, the principle that the head of the household has authority in the sphere of religion over the household subordinates under his or her authority (I say "her" as well because of cases like Lydia who is the head of her household).
But I'm most excited about the last part of the paper where I attempt to show that the oikos phrase ("he and his [whole] house") in the NT has a theological aura due to its origin in the Septuagint. To make this case, I appeal to the evidence that Luke’s Greek style was influenced by the Septuagint and that at times he even engaged in conscious imitation of Septuagint vocabulary, phrases, and constructions. The classic study on this subject was a pair of essays published in 1940 by the Swedish classical scholar, Albert Wifstrand, titled "Luke and Greek Classicism" and "Luke and the Septuagint."
Wifstrand argued that Luke's conscious imitations of Septuagint vocabulary and syntax gave "a certain solemn and hieratic tone to Luke’s diction, dignifying it and raising it above everyday life" and gave "his narrative an aura of sacred history." My thesis is that Luke's use of the oikos phrase is yet another one of these Septuagintisms and that this gives the phrase a theological significance, supporiting the concept of family solidarity in matters of religion.
My sense is that Baptists have more influence and that the covenantal/paedobaptist view is not well-represented at ETS. So I'm glad the organizers accepted my paper for inclusion. Should be fun!
[For those interested, English translations of Wifstrand's seminal essays may be found in Epochs and Styles: Selected Writings on the New Testament, Greek Language and Greek Culture in the Post-Classical Era (ed. Lars Rydbeck and Stanley E. Porter; translated from the Swedish Originals by Denis Searby; WUNT 179; Τübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2005), 17-27, 28-45. See also Loveday C. A. Alexander, "Septuaginta, Fachprosa, Imitatio: Albert Wifstrand and the Language of Luke-Acts," in Acts in Its Ancient Literary Context: A Classicist Looks at the Acts of the Apostles (LNTS 298; London: T&T Clark/Continuum, 2005), 231-53.]