Sunday, April 3, 2016

The Philippian Jailer's Baptism

And it happened that as we were going to the place of prayer, a certain slave-girl having a spirit of divination met us, who was bringing her masters much profit by fortunetelling. Following after Paul and us, she kept crying out, saying, "These men are bond-servants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation." And she continued doing this for many days. But Paul was greatly annoyed, and turned and said to the spirit, "I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her!" And it came out at that very moment. But when her masters saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the market place before the authorities, and when they had brought them to the chief magistrates, they said, "These men are throwing our city into confusion, being Jews, and are proclaiming customs which it is not lawful for us to accept or to observe, being Romans." And the crowd rose up together against them, and the chief magistrates tore their robes off them, and proceeded to order them to be beaten with rods. And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to guard them securely; and he, having received such a command, threw them into the inner prison, and fastened their feet in the stocks.
But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them; and suddenly there came a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison house were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone's chains were unfastened. And when the jailer had been roused out of sleep and had seen the prison doors opened, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul cried out with a loud voice, saying, "Do yourself no harm, for we are all here!" And he called for lights and rushed in and, trembling with fear, he fell down before Paul and Silas, and after he brought them out, he said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" And they said, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved, you and your household." And they spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all who were in his house. And he took them that very hour of the night and washed their wounds, and immediately he was baptized, he and all his household. And he brought them into his house and set food before them, and rejoiced greatly, having believed in God with his whole household.
Now when day came, the chief magistrates sent their policemen, saying, "Release those men." And the jailer reported these words to Paul, saying, "The chief magistrates have sent to release you. Now therefore, come out and go in peace." But Paul said to them, "They have beaten us in public without trial, men who are Romans, and have thrown us into prison; and now are they sending us away secretly? No indeed! But let them come themselves and bring us out." And the policemen reported these words to the chief magistrates. And they were afraid when they heard that they were Romans, and they came and appealed to them, and when they had brought them out, they kept begging them to leave the city. And they went out of the prison and entered the house of Lydia, and when they saw the brethren, they encouraged them and departed.
(Acts 16:16-40)
Let us examine the circumstantial evidence of our current passage. Paul and Silas were thrown in jail because God, through them, removed a spirit of divination from a young woman, thereby costing her masters their means of profit. After having been beaten, they were thrown in prison and the magistrates commanded the head jailer to "guard them securely" (v. 23). How did the jailer carry out this order? By "[throwing] them into the inner prison, and fastened their feet in the stocks" (v. 24). What does verse 24 tell us about the layout of the prison? Clearly there was an outer section—likely with cells for ordinary prisoners, and an inner section—for holding some prisoners more securely.

The Bible tells us that around midnight there was an earthquake that shook all the doors of the prison open. When the jailer woke up and saw all the prison doors open, he assumed that all the prisoners had escaped and was about to kill himself. Paul shouted at the jailer assuring him that all the prisoners were still there. What does the Bible say the jailer did next? "He called for lights and rushed in and, trembling with fear, he fell down before Paul and Silas, and after he brought them out, he said, 'Sirs, what must I do to be saved?'" (vv. 29-30). What did he bring them out of? Where did he bring them into? They were in the inner prison, so obviously the jailer brought them out of there and into the outer section of the prison.

After Paul and Silas answered his question and told him what he must do to be saved, what did he do? "He took them that very hour of the night and washed their wounds" (v. 33a). Then what happened? "Immediately he was baptized, he and all his household" (v. 33b). Wait! His entire household was baptized? How is this possible? Where was his household? Did Paul and Silas leave the prison in the middle of the night? Verses 32-35 are the most troubling of this passage. Verse 32 informs us that Paul and Silas "spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all who were in his house." Verse 33 informs us that "he and all his household" were baptized. Verse 34 informs us that "he brought them into his house and set food before them, and rejoiced greatly, having believed in God with his whole household." Let us come back to this.

Is it likely that the jailer's baptism was done by immersion? Do you think it would have happened in the prison? Do you think there would be sufficient water inside a prison for an immersion baptism? Have you ever heard of any prison having such facilities? I did not think so. There was a river near Philippi. Is it possible they went there to baptize the jailer? So, the jailer locked up all the other prisoners, took his entire household, went with Paul and Silas down to the river at approximately two o'clock in the morning to be baptized, all were fully immersed, and then they returned to the prison so the jailer could prepare a meal for the two disciples? Why not simply wait until daylight? What was the rush? Especially considering churches today will wait months even years before applying "believer's" baptism. Do you see the logistical difficulties here with the concept of baptism by immersion? But that is not all.

In the morning, the magistrates told the jailer to release Paul and Silas. What was their response? "But Paul said to them, 'They have beaten us in public without trial, men who are Romans, and have thrown us into prison; and now are they sending us away secretly? No indeed! But let them come themselves and bring us out.'" (v. 37). Why would Paul and Silas refuse to leave the prison until the magistrates came, if they had already been outside the prison during the night without the magistrates' permission? Add one more logistical difficulty log to the pile.

Here is another logistical difficulty that must be overcome. Paul and Silas had been lashed not many hours earlier. Do you not think that immersion would be quite the task for two men in their condition at such a late hour in the night?

Now, with regard to verses 32-35, what do you suppose the answer there is? The most likely answer is that the jailer had his own quarters. He was the commanding jailer, after all. I am not sure how many places are still like this today, but when I was younger, and in the past, it was not unreasonable or unheard of for the owner or property manager to have their own quarters on the grounds. Churches, hotels, apartment buildings, universities, etc. This is where we need to understand historical context and not try to see the passage through our eyes and experiences. There is no way baptism by immersion can be exegeted from this passage.