Was the Philippian jailor saved by hearing a one-sentence gospel message (Acts 16:31)? A sound handling of the passage answers this question definitively.
The Evangelistic Record (Up to Acts 16:31) of the Jailor’s Salvation
Following the miraculous events that took place (Acts 16:26), the Philippian jailor asked Paul and Silas, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (16:30). They responded, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house” (16:31).
Some believe that the jailor was saved by hearing only this one sentence. Many more seem to reflect this same view by using this one verse as if it was a one-sentence gospel message.
For example, a person argued with me years ago that the jailor was saved without testimony to the resurrection to the Jesus. He based his view on the fact that the passage does not say anything about Paul and Silas’ bearing testimony to the resurrection.
Biblical considerations from the rest of the passage as well as from other passages show that these views are unsound. These considerations become clear from various indications in Acts 16 and 26.
Indications from the Rest of Acts 16 of Additional Testimony beyond Acts 16:31
Following Acts 16:31, Luke writes, “And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house” (16:32). We know therefore that Paul and Silas testified more from the word of the Lord than just what verse 31 records.
Because Luke does not tell us what that additional testimony was, some may still argue that whatever else they said was additional testimony that was not necessary for him to hear to be saved. We can be certain, however, that this is a wrong handling of the passage because Acts 16:31 itself does not testify to either the crucifixion or the Resurrection of Jesus—truths that are essential parts of the gospel message (Cf. 1 Cor. 15:3-5).
The following verses implicitly confirm the interpretation that verse 32 signifies the communication of vital truths. Luke tells us that the jailor was baptized (16:33), but he does not tell us how it came about that he knew that he was to be baptized and consented to doing so. Plainly, we are to understand that Paul and Silas bore testimony to him to do so.
Furthermore, Luke concludes his record of this evangelistic encounter by saying, “And when he had brought them into his house, he set meat before them, and rejoiced, believing in God with all his house” (16:34). Although it is possible that Luke intends for us from this statement to believe that these people believed in Jesus as God, it is far more likely that this statement reflects their salvation through belief in testimony about God the Father’s raising Jesus from the dead and through their subsequent confession of Jesus as Lord (cf. Rom. 10:9-10).
Indications from Acts 26 of Additional Testimony to the Jailor beyond Acts 16:31
In addition to the additional considerations present in Acts 16, Paul’s testimony in Acts 26 about his evangelistic practice throughout his Christian life points conclusively to additional testimony given to the jailor beyond what Acts 16:31 records. Paul told King Agrippa that his obedience to his heavenly vision of the glorified Jesus (Acts 26:12-18) comprised his testifying to key truths to everyone everywhere from the beginning of his evangelistic ministry up to that very day:
Act 26:19 Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision:
20 But shewed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance.
21 For these causes the Jews caught me in the temple, and went about to kill me.
22 Having therefore obtained help of God, I continue unto this day, witnessing both to small and great, saying none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come:
23 That Christ should suffer, and that he should be the first that should rise from the dead, and should shew light unto the people, and to the Gentiles.
These verses make clear that Paul certainly challenged the jailor to “repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance” (26:20). We also can be certain that Paul testified to the jailor about both the suffering and the resurrection of Christ (26:23).
Because Acts 16:31 does not specify that Paul told the jailor to repent, we know that Acts 16:31 is not an exhaustive record of the gospel testimony that he received. Similarly, because Acts 16:31 does not specify that Paul testified to the jailor about the crucifixion and resurrection, we can be certain that it does not tell us all that he heard to be saved.
Because we know conclusively from several considerations that Acts 16:31 is not an exhaustive record of the gospel testimony that the jailor received, it is illegitimate to say that he was saved by hearing only the statement recorded in Acts 16:31. Moreover, based on essential biblical teaching about the gospel message, we can be certain that Acts 16:31 is not a one-sentence gospel message that by itself communicates all the truth that a sinner needs to hear to be saved.
A sound handling of Acts 16:31 shows conclusively that the Philippian jailor was not saved by hearing a one-sentence gospel message.