Does 1 Cor. 16: 15 prove that the house of Stephanas baptised by Paul (as recorded in chapter one) consisted only of adults?

This is a common belief among those who hold ‘believer’s baptism’, on account of the apostle’s commendation of the house of Stephanas in that “they have devoted themselves to the saints for service” (1 Cor. 16: 15)—clearly an adult occupation. However, this does not stand up to close scrutiny on three grounds: The Greek words for house, the terminology of the earlier reference in 1 Cor. 1: 14–16 and the context of that chapter.

   NT Greek has two words for house, oikos and oikia, and it is certain that the Spirit of God does not use these words indiscriminately (although, as in Luke 7: 6, 10, the reason for the choice is not always apparent). House can, of course, refer to a building, but when it is used in the sense of a household of persons, the Scriptures are quite exact in their usage. If family relationships (husband, wife, father, mother, son, daughter) are involved, the word is oikos, but when servants or slaves are meant, oikia is used.

   In the Septuagint, oikos is used for the “house of Jacob” and the “house of Judah” (Gen. 46: 27; 2 Sam. 2: 4) where the context shows that families are meant. The rich man’s house (see Luke 16: 27) is oikos for he had five brethren. The divided house in Luke 12: 52, 53 is also oikos for it involved relatives, but is replaced by oikia in the similar passage in Mark 3: 25 since no family members are identified. The house of God is always oikos, and this word is also employed in all the baptismal texts without exception.

   Oikia is used in the passages “his servant, the eldest of his house” (Gen. 24: 2) and “the bondman abides not in the house for ever” (John 8: 35). It is also used for Christians in “the household of Caesar” (Phil. 4: 22) as these were clearly servants.

   Now in “I baptised also the house of Stephanas” (1 Cor. 1: 16) the word is oikos, meaning his family. However, in “ye know the house of Stephanas, that it is the first–fruits of Achaia, and they have devoted themselves to the saints for service” (1 Cor. 16: 15) the word is not oikos but oikia and thus refers to adult servants or slaves. Let us now look at the detail of chapter one.

   There are two distinct groups: individuals, named as Crispus and Gaius, and houses. The wording is not “Stephanas and his house” along the pattern of “thou and thy house” (Acts 16: 31) in which the head of the house is included in the number. It is just “the house of Stephanas”—his family, but not him. A parallel case in 2 Tim. 1:16; 4: 19 regarding the “house (oikos) of Onesiphorus” shows that Onesiphorus is not included. Thus “the house of Stephanas” in 1 Cor. 1: 16 is restricted to the family and does not include Stephanas.

   Paul goes on in the same verse to say “for the rest I know not if I have baptised any other”. Now Greek has two words for other: allos meaning more of the same kind and heteros meaning more of a different kind. The word in v16 is allos and thus “baptised any other” means more of the same kind, that is other houses, not individuals. Hence we have two distinct groups: individuals and houses. There are two further points that enforce this distinction. Firstly, Paul does not refer to those he baptised as “Crispus, Gaius and the house of Stephanas” but speaks of the individuals first, and only refers to the house of Stephanas much later in the passage. Secondly, we know that “Crispus the ruler of the synagogue believed in the Lord with all his house (oikos)” (Acts 18: 8) and yet there is not a word about his house here—Paul only baptised Crispus, not his house.

   Why then these two separate groups, individuals and houses? There were divisions in the assembly at Corinth and Paul’s name was seemingly misused as having followers or disciples. As baptism and discipleship go together (see Matt. 28: 19; John 4: 1), he removes the possibility of such charges being made against him by maintaining that he had only baptised two of their number (hardly enough to form a party round his name). Now v16 is not a correction of v14 as is commonly supposed. “Baptised none of you” (v 14) that is, none in the assembly, is absolute bar two adult exceptions—Crispus and Gaius. If the house of Stephanas, and any other houses, consisted of adults (who would be in the assembly), then the large increase in numbers would fatally undermine the Apostle’s defence. Hence there is only one conclusion: the house of Stephanas consisted of children who could not be promoters of division in the assembly. The word Yes in v16 shows that it is in response to a supposed question. Yes he had baptised one household, perhaps more, but since they consisted of children it was hardly a case of baptising to his own name.