In Genesis 17:9–13 we read:

9 And God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. 10 This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. 12 He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, 13 both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. (ESV)

I understand this passage to say that male household slaves and the male children of household slaves were to be circumcised, regardless of any "statement of faith."

In modern times we don't see many examples of household slaves or servants. However, several hundred years passed between the beginning of the Reformation and widespread prohibitions on chattel slavery in the West. Other forms of generational household servitude continued even longer.

Many Reformers affirm that baptism is the new sign of the covenant, replacing circumcision, and therefore practice infant baptism (or paedobaptism) for the children of believers (WCF 28-4). Thus, my questions:

  1. Do any Reformed paedobaptists, past or present, explicitly argue that members of one's household, including one's household slaves or servants, ought to be baptized (even if they make no statement of faith)?
  2. In the absence of any examples of (1), do any Reformed paedobaptists, past or present, explicitly explain why household slaves and servants ought not to be baptized?

2 Answers 2


In a limited sense, yes, some Reformed paedobaptists have supported this: the presentation of slave children for baptism by their masters was practiced and supported in the Presbyterian Church in the USA in the antebellum period. However, I find no evidence that adult slaves were baptized except upon their own conversion (that is, not when the master was converted, nor when the slave was purchased by a Christian master).

A resolution by the General Assembly in 1816 concluded that slave children should be presented for baptism by their masters if the latter were in a position to "train them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord":

  1. That it is the duty of masters who are members of the Church, to present the children of parents in servitude to the ordinance of baptism, provided they are in a situation to train them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, thus securing them the rich advantages which the gospel promises.
  2. That it is the duty of christian ministers to inculcate this doctrine, and to baptise all children of this description, when presented to them by their masters.

The Synod of New York and Philadelphia made a similar declaration in 1786, holding that Christian masters had the "duty" to have "children of their household" baptized, even those "born of parents not in the communion of any Church."

The Testimony and Practice of the Presbyterian Church in Reference to American Slavery, pages 122 and 123.


Gen14:14 When Abram heard that his kinsman had been taken captive, he led forth his trained men, born in his house, 318 of them, and went in pursuit as far as Dan.

Abraham had a gigantic household – 300 men of fighting age, not including children or the elderly. That was a lot of cirumcisions – and problematic for those who teach that God's everlasting covenant with Abraham was merely about a genetic people group since of the hundreds circumcised, only Isaac and Ishmael were descendants of Abraham.

Not much of a notion of religious freedom in those times, so everyone in Abraham's household (probably 1000+) would have been taught the ways of Abraham's God.

In our time, certainly, it's a bit different. Even if the Brady Bunch converted to Christianity, I doubt they would have forced Alice to convert or expect her to be baptized with them. They probably would have taught her some of what they were learning...but ultimately she was more of an employee who ran her private life autonomously.

The real question, though, is what view of religious freedom was held by 1st century Jews. When Lydia converted there was no mention of her household believing, yet the bible does teach their baptism. When devout Jews like Paul and Peter – who certainly had Abraham's story memorized and woven tightly into their cultural worldview - taught the baptism of “households”, they certainly would have had a cultural understanding of “households” that was closer to Abraham's. As such, their notions of households would have included extended family – who were more likely to share a household in those days than now – and servants/slaves (including any infants of either group). If the head of the household announced that they had converted to a new religion, then the entire household would have been discipled in those new teachings.

Baptism is for disciples, just as circumcision was. While Baptists suggest that they baptize only believers, that was not true in NT times and it is not true now. The baptized NT church included the likes of Ananias and Sapphira, Simon Magus, Hymenaeus and Alexander (with their shipwrecked faith), the apostates in 1John 2:19 who left the church and thereby showed they never really believed, and guys like the one in 1Cor5 who was shacked up with his stepmom and had to be removed from the church. In the OT times, not all Israel was true Israel...and as the Bible describes the OT people of God and the NT people of God with the same language, it is no surprise that such a situation continues to be true.

I do think Jesus practices “believer’s baptism.” Jesus knows what is in our hearts. When Jesus washes us with his Spirit (when we are “baptized into Christ” in a baptism without human hands) there is a perfect 1:1 correspondence with saving faith. The same was true of circumcision - “circumcision of the heart” was a perfect correlation with true saving faith in the OT, while Jews were admonished not to trust in physical circumcision.

That is what the new covenant passages are teaching - “And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me...” But while Baptists believe that applies to how they run their churches, they baptize non-believers (because unlike Jesus, they cannot perfectly see our hearts) and continue to recruit pastors and Sunday School teachers. I get that they mean well but you simply cannot administrate the Church like that with fallen people involved. (and don't get me started on how Baptists assume everything in the OT is the “old covenant” - Heb8:9 specifies that the old covenant is the one made with Moses. God's covenant with Abraham is fulfilled and reaffirmed in the NT. In what sense is Abraham the “father” of gentiles today? He’s not my genetic father. He’s not my spiritual father (that would be God). Romans4 and Galatians3 seem to be pointing out that the Abrahamic covenant was not just for the OT.

Eph2:11 Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh—who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands— 12 that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ…19 Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone…)

While modern households include notions of DINKs and SINKs and empty-nesters, I don't believe Paul and Peter were teaching and writing with these notions in mind.

So if Baptists deny their young children autonomy in this matter (as I think they should) and drag them to church when they are young even if it's a bit unwillingly sometimes, then I think it is right to baptize their babies as they will be discipled and brought up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (just as the people of God did in the OT.) Circumcision and baptism are both signs that point to the need for justification by faith (“that faith makes you clean”) and both are appropriate for application to infants who lack the facility to express faith.

More discussion is here if you really are hung up on the servant/slave aspect:


  • Welcome to Stack Exchange, we are glad you are here. Please consider registering an account to fully take advantage of what this site has to offer. Also, be sure to check out the site tour to learn what we are about.
    – ThaddeusB
    Commented Aug 10, 2015 at 1:19

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .