There is nothing I want more than to know that my children are safe. Not only safe physically, emotionally, mentally, etc., but they are also safe spiritually. I want them to know God in all His beauty. I want them to not be separated from the goodness of God for all eternity.
There is a verse in Acts 16:31 that could provide comfort, “And they said, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.’”
Does that verse mean that if I’m saved, my family will be saved too?
What Is the Context of Acts 16:31?
When we try to answer emotionally charged and occasionally controversial texts, the first thing we need to do is consider the overall context of the passage.
If we can put our questions on hold for just a moment and consider the words in their original context, then we will be in a better position to come to the text with our question.
Paul and Silas are in Philippi. They are in jail in Gentile territory. There have been many converted in Philippi, and it is disrupting the community.
When a slave girl who had a “spirit of divination” is rescued from her demonic oppression, it causes issues for those who had been using and abusing her for profit. This caused an uproar in the city, and so Paul and Silas are jailed.
In Acts 16:25-40, Paul and Silas are singing hymns in prison and a great earthquake caused the prison doors to fly open. The guard, believing the prisoners had escaped, was about to commit suicide rather than have the disgrace of losing prisoners.
But Paul and Silas let him know that they were men of integrity. They could have escaped, but they stayed. This impacted the jailer, and he cried out, “What must I do to be saved”?
Acts 16:31 is the answer to the jailer’s question. What must I do to be saved? So, why does Paul not only say that the jailer would be saved but also his whole household? What is meant by household? And how does verse 32 impact our understanding of verse 31?
Does This Verse Mean a Whole Household Can Be Saved?
The Philippian jailer is the head of his household. This would mean that he was in authority over his family and likely a few servants.
What happens to the head, it is thought, is then transferred to those who are under his authority. Think of the picture of the Passover lamb in Exodus. The head of the household would spread the blood of the lamb on the doorpost, and this action would then cover the whole family.
Likewise, it is believed that when the Philippian jailer finds refuge in Christ — the Passover lamb — this act then covers his family with the blood of Christ.
One who holds this view would then read that idea into a text like Acts 11:14, where it is told of Cornelius that he will hear a message by which “you will be saved, you and all your household.” The same would be true for the Philippian jailer.
That makes some logical sense. But is that what the text says? Is this what we see happening?
In Acts 11, notice what happens when Peter shows up at Cornelius’ house. When Peter tells the story to his friends, he said, “As I began to speak the Holy Spirit fell on them…If then God gave the same gift to them…” (emphasis added).
Peter did not only preach to Cornelius, but he also preached to his entire household. And when he did, the Spirit fell upon them.The emphasis here is that not only were Jews given the Spirit, but when they received Christ, the Gentiles also received the gift of the Spirit.
Something similar happens in 16:31. Notice that Paul and Silas not only spoke the Word of the Lord to him but also to “all who were in his house.” And they baptized the entire family, and they all rejoiced that Silas had believed in God.
Not because his salvation automatically meant their salvation but because his salvation was the means by which they, too, came to hear and believe the good news of Christ. Spurgeon says it well:
“According to the run of the text the object of their joy was that they had believed. Believing obtains the pardon of all sin, and brings Christ's righteousness into our possession, it declares us to be the sons of God, gives us heirship with Christ, and secures us his blessing here and glory hereafter: who would not rejoice at this? If the family had been left a fortune they would have rejoiced, but they had found more than all the world's wealth at once in finding a Savior, therefore were they glad.”
If we simply look at what this text says, it seems best to understand Paul and Silas to say something like, “Mr. Jailer Man, this promise of salvation is not only for you. It’s for your entire family. It’s for everyone who calls on the name of the Lord.”
As these narratives unfold, we see the entire household coming to believe in Christ. It seems unnecessary for Luke to show us this if his point was to teach that all that was needed was for a patriarch to come to saving faith.
How Do We Apply This Text Today?
Though I do not believe this text teaches household salvation, I also do not believe it teaches nothing on the issue of salvation for a home. Yes, individuals must believe and put their faith and trust in Christ. God does not see us as a number. We have our own identities. We are uniquely created.
Yet, we are also not entirely separated from the whole. Family does matter. And we see this in that Paul and Silas are not concerned with only the jailer but also his entire family. He tells him that this promise is for them as well. They have an eye on saving his entire family.
In their book, Misreading Scripture with Individualist Eyes, Richards and James tell a story about sharing the gospel in a country that is more communal than individualistic. One of the people in attendance was impacted by the gospel but had a few questions.
“As soon as we were alone together, he asked, ‘Do you think I can become a follower of Jesus?’ I replied that yes, anyone can. He was silent for a while. I wondered whether he might next ask, ‘What do I need to do to be saved?’ He didn’t. Instead, deep in thought, he asked, ‘But how would that work, because nobody in my family has ever been a Christian?” I was silent for a while. I’d never been asked that question before, but I understood how important it was to him. He thought in “we.” He was thinking of how the stories of Jesus and the good news I had shared that night affected him as a member of a group.”
This helps us to see that what was taking place in Acts 16 wasn’t entirely individualistic. In one sense, it was a family decision to follow Christ.
And when the father of the household makes that decision, it will have a massive impact on the entire family. Yes, they’re individually trusting in Christ, but it’s not quite the same way we think of such a decision.
So, it might be difficult for us to entirely understand what is taking place in this passage. There was no automatic guarantee for the Philippian jailer that his entire household would not rebel.
But there was much more certainty that his faith would be departed to his family. That is just the way that things would work. We may have even less of a guarantee in our own culture.
Nevertheless, we know and acknowledge that God is sovereign. God is able to change hearts, and the means that he often uses to do this is believing parents. There is no guarantee that our family will come to faith in Christ just because we do.
But certainly, if our children and those who are considered part of our household are saturated with not only the words about Christ but also the words of Christ, surely, they will be in a good position to believe.
What Does This Mean?
Paul says this to the Philippian jailer because family matters. His decision to follow Christ would have a ripple effect on his whole family. It does not mean that they would be automatically saved — that is not how the narrative unfolds.
But it does mean that this salvation is big enough to transform his whole family. The jailer, moments from suicide, ended up rejoicing. And that same salvation is available to anyone today who trusts in Christ Jesus.
For further reading:
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Mike Leake is husband to Nikki and father to Isaiah and Hannah. He is also the lead pastor at Calvary of Neosho, MO. Mike is the author of Torn to Heal and Jesus Is All You Need. His writing home is http://mikeleake.net and you can connect with him on Twitter @mikeleake. Mike has a new writing project at Proverbs4Today.
The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of Salem Web Network and Salem Media Group.
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