Acts 16:3-30

“…you will be saved, you and your household…”

30 Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 32 And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33 And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and hewas baptized at once, he and all his family. – Acts 16:30-33

This passage of scripture is brought up quite frequently when discussing various aspects of salvation and family.  It begins easy enough, with the question “what must I do to be saved?”  The answer is straightforward and consistent with the rest of the gospel message, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved…” Before we move on we really should pause and allow that statement to reinforce the truth that salvation is tied to believing, or the more common term “faith”.

But as we move along the passage becomes confusing. The immediate next statement is not only that the jailer will be saved, but he is told “you and your household.”  Because of this, some have interpreted it to mean that if the jailer believes, salvation will come not only to him but to all of his family.

First, I will say that it is self-evident that when a man gets saved the likelihood of his wife and children also getting saved appears to go up dramatically.  We can see this clearly even from the most casual observation of families where the Holy Spirit has truly, and with power, transformed the life of the patriarch.  However, our observations will certainly lead us to conclude is no guarantee.  The message delivered to the Phillipan Jailer is that his household…will be saved.

So perhaps there’s another way to look at it.  One that is more consistent with other scriptures that make it clear salvation is tied to individual belief.

Although it is possible to interpret this passage to mean that the entire household of the Jailer will be saved if he would only place his faith in Christ, it is just as reasonable to interpret the passage like this:

     What must I do to be saved?
       Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved
     How can those in my household be saved?
       In the same way, if they believe in the Lord Jesus, they will be saved as well 

Rather than seeing it as saying “If you believe in the Lord Jesus you will be saved and salvation will also come to your household through your belief”, we need to see it as “If you as an individual believe in Jesus you will be saved, and every individual in your household will be saved in the same way, through their own individual belief.”

The basis of this is found in an idea that was prevalent in many circles of thought in ancient Rome, that only certain people were blessed by the gods.  Slaves, who would have been part of the Jailer’s household, would have been considered by most as being rejected by the gods.  Children were though of as not being capable of obtaining the god’s favor. And women were oftentimes considered not worthy to attain to the graces of the gods.

So it is against this notion that the message goes out “every person in your household can be saved in the same way, “Believe in the Lord Jesus”.

It also seems consistent with what happened next, that “they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house.” If salvation would come to his household though the jailer’s faith in Jesus, then why the emphasis that the gospel was preached to everyone?

We also must be careful not to read into this text anything that is not there.  We do not know who would have been counted in the jailer’s household.  Some people use this verse when discussing infant baptism, but there’s no indication any infants, or children of any age were in his house.  I believe it is safe to assume this jailer would have owned slaves and those would have been considered members of the household.  However, even that is not in the text, and any speculation would be exactly that, speculation.

Therefore, although I see some validity in understating the statement “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household” as indicating through the faith of the jailer salvation will come to all members of his home, taking the passage as a whole, together with the rest of the New Testament, as well as an understanding of the prejudices of the first century Roman culture, I believe the message that was being communicated was that individual salvation comes through individual faith and that any member of an household, women, children and even slaves, can be saved if they “believe in the Lord Jesus.”

-KR