In 1 Pet 3:21 it says (NASB, emphasis added):

Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you—not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ

How is the phrase "baptism now saves you" explained by various interpreters, but more importantly, what really is the correct interpretation of what the author was communicating to his audience through this statement?

  • 1
    Baptism by definition means immersion into water.
    – Michael16
    Commented Jun 4, 2022 at 14:20

20 Answers 20


What does the text say?

This verse is fairly clear: baptism now saves you. However, there are two things worth noting:

  1. For the early church, faith and baptism were never intentionally separated. Occasionally there was a small gap between the two, but generally they were always held together. And so when we try and interpret these sorts of verses we have to remember that. Trying to interpret verses about either faith or water baptism in a way that imagines the authors didn't hold the two together is a potential error.

  2. Baptism was still a new word to the early church, and so we should be careful not to immediately eisegete two thousand years of subsequent theology into passages. βαπτίζω is a word which speaks of immersion or dipping, and wasn't exclusively a doctrinal word in the same sense as its modern equivalent. Translators just don't translate it, and so that can lead us to potential errors. We might interpret it differently if it were rendered: "Corresponding to that, immersion now saves you - not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ".

There can thus be a little bit of theological flexibility in interpreting it physically or spiritually, but this ought to be tempered by carefully weighing the evidence on how early Christians approached Baptism. As with all NT passages, we ought to aim to read these verses as early recipients would have received them.

What was the New Testament church's approach to baptism?

For the early church, baptism / water immersion was the normative means of entering the kingdom of God, and it went hand-in-hand with repentance and faith, simultaneously. This is analogous to a modern wedding ceremony - two people decide to pledge their lives to one another, and so they have a ceremony where they do this formally. In the same way, water immersion played this role in the early church - it was the moment when somebody pledged their life to Jesus.

This is evident again and again throughout the NT:

Matthew 28:18-20

"Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Acts 2:38

'Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.'

Acts 8:35-37

"Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus. And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?”"

So this is all very clear - for the intended recipients of 1 Peter, the two were never practically separated, and so there's no conflict between the two, and this verse is not intended to separate the two. The teaching here is that the special moment they all understood as (faith + repentance + baptism) was itself a saving moment - not because of the water, but because of how it functioned as an appeal to God through the resurrection of Jesus.

Therefore, how should we live today?

We need to be very careful interpreting a verse like this in such a different modern context from its original recipients.

  • For those who point at this verse and say "Look! Baptism is the point of salvation", that's a fair interpretation of the text, but it can lead to mis-applications. For an early church who never separated the two, of course it was always the moment of salvation, because that's just the way things were done. This is solid justification for endeavouring as a church to not separate these unnecessarily going forward, but is not necessarily justification for pointing at Christians of different denominations and insisting they are all wrong in this matter.

  • For those who point to the faith/grace alone verses as their means for re-interpreting the plain meaning of this verse, care must be taken that they're not playing Bible trumps, knocking out dozens of verses on the prominence of Baptism using competing verses on the prominence of salvation-by-faith. The early church did not separate the two - Paul did not have any problem saying that we are "justified freely by his grace" (Romans 3:24) and yet we were "buried [with Christ] by baptism" (Romans 6:4).

As far as the scriptures lead us to expect, we know that God does not turn away those who call on him through faith in the death and resurrection of Christ (Jesus himself once said to a woman - "your faith has saved you!", Luke 7:50), and yet we know that baptism is an expectation for Christians. Today it is common for Christians to come to a genuine faith ahead of their baptism, but that does not mean that we should normalise that separation.


There are texts in the New Testament which may suggest Christians can be saved before baptism (such as Cornelius in Acts 10), but Christians being saved without ever being baptised does not feature in the scriptures. Baptism was the plain and regular point of salvation for the typical first-century Christian, and regardless of our current doctrinal position we should not shy away from that fact. We must interpret verses like these cautiously, seeking to see them through the eyes of the original recipients before we try to understand them in our own contexts.

  • +1 -Regarding Cornelius, see the story of the Holy Spirit (HS) and the murderous King Saul (1 Sam 19:19-20:1). The HS gift of prophesy was given not to save Saul, but to save David. Having the HS come upon you doing miraculous gifts doesn't mean you are saved. Jesus explains you will not enter the kingdom if you call on Christ and do miracles, but not God's will (Mt7:21-23). Thus Peter insisted they be baptized. The HS wasn't sent because Cornelius was saved but to show that Jews should not stand in God's way for the Gentiles (Ac11:17), and so Peter immediately commanded them to be baptized.
    – Austin
    Commented Aug 15, 2021 at 4:50

In 1 Peter 3:21, the Greek word ἀντίτυπον ( antitypon) reveals that the water that saved the eight souls in the Great Deluge is an antitype of the water baptism that saves. This means that both the eight and all Christians received the same sort of salvation (rescue)away from the evil world not from any kind of sin or sins.

The immediate context shows that water baptism saves us ,not as a physical cleanser for our physical bodies but rather, as an answer (reply) to God from a clean conscience by means of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Hebrews 11:7 (NASB)

7 By faith Noah, being warned by God about things not yet seen, in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household, by which he condemned the world, and became an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith.

1 Peter 3:16-21 (KJV)

16Having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ. 17For it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well doing, than for evil doing. 18For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: 19By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; 20Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water. 21 The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ:

1 Peter 3:21 (NLT)

And that water is a picture of baptism, which now saves you, not by removing dirt from your body, but as a response to God from a clean conscience. It is effective because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

This reality is also evident in the greater context of Petrine Theology:

1 Peter 4:18 (NIV)

And, "If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?"

It is clear that an already saved person ( the righteous) had difficulty to be saved. Saved from what? It is salvation from the evil world as the immediate context shows Christians face sufferings on earth. The Syriac reads "If the rigtheous scarcely live."

1 Peter 4:1, 12-19 (KJV)

1Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin;... 12Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: 13But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. 14If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified. 15But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men's matters. 16Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf. 17For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? 18And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear? 19Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator.


John says in his first letter, in verses 7 and 8, "For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement."

It is obvious that we are saved by the blood of Jesus Christ, in that our sins are fully payed for by the act of His death, and there no longer stands any accusation or record of wrong against us (Colossians 2:14, Romans 8:1). The [Holy] Spirit is given to us as a seal of our salvation, and a placeholder--a promise of our inheritance (Ephesians 1:13-14).

Peter explains how the water contributes to testify to our salvation in 1 Peter 3:19-22

After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits—to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes* baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.

The Greek word translated "symbolizes" in the NIV means "antitype". It is my opinion that our action of baptism is being compared here to Noah's building of the ark, and "this water" is a proper antitype of the water of baptism--in that the flood water was God's wrath poured out on the wickedness around Noah while he was hidden from it inside the ark, but in baptism, we follow Christ into the water of mercy, and passing through it, we are cleansed.

In short, baptism is the action by which we exercise faith to be saved, just as Noah did when he built the ark. Faith is the key.

If Noah heard from God and believed, but did not construct the ark in the manner prescribed, he would have died like everyone else. God also could have saved Noah without any work on Noah's part at all--in fact, He could have done it without even telling him. By God's design, just as we are condemned by our disobedience, we must submit in obedience to obtain redemption.

Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. (Romans 6:3-5)

and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. (Colossians 2:11-12)

Here Paul directly ties our act of obedience in baptism to Jesus obedience in death and subsequent resurrection and compares it to a spiritual circumcision, which was the act of obedience that God prescribed to Abraham and his descendents as a seal of their faith and share in the covenant.

  • Thanks Richard, for your Scripturally sound explanation. I believe baptism is the ceremony (like a wedding) that seals our faith in Christ who forgives our sins. The NT model was repentance, belief and baptism. If there was no repentance and faith —baptism would be worthless. An obedient faith submits to Christ who commanded His followers to be baptized into His death and resurrection (Rom 6:3-5). Commented Aug 2, 2015 at 2:23
  • "It is obvious that we are saved by the blood of Jesus Christ, in that our sins are fully payed for by the act of His death, and there no longer stands any accusation or record of wrong against us (Colossians 2:14, Romans 8:1)". Neither of these verses actually literally state what you suggest.
    – user33515
    Commented Apr 9, 2017 at 21:00
  • @user33515 I beg to differ. Colossians 2:14 clearly states that the certificate of debt that stood against us, with all its obligations, was completely cancelled and removed by Jesus' death on the cross. It is unmistakably clear from the previous verse that this "certificate of debt" refers our sin and the just sentence of death apart from God that it carries. Since Jesus removed and cancelled this debt by "nailing it to the cross", there is no future work to be done to ensure out forgiveness. Romans 8:1 simply states that once we are clean there is nothing that can make us guilty again. Commented Apr 20, 2017 at 18:52
  • Hi, @SamHazleton - which Greek phrase are you translating as "certificate of debt"? The Greek word for "debt" is ὀφείλημα. It doesn't appear in Colossians 2:14.
    – user33515
    Commented Apr 20, 2017 at 19:35
  • I think perhaps that you are also misreading Romans 8:1. The verse indeed starts, There is therefore no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, but one must not overlook who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. That which "can make us guilty again" (using your words) is walking after the flesh rather than the Spirit. See Chrysostom, On Romans, Homily XIII.
    – user33515
    Commented Apr 20, 2017 at 20:29

Never should 1 Peter 3:21 be separated from v20. Both verses should be quoted together:

(v20) who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, (v21) and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also--not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, (NIV)

Note that here we have an obvious double set of symbols. The water of Noah's flood (in which the survivors were NOT immersed) is used as a symbol of water of Christian baptism (in which believers ARE immersed), which in turn us used as a symbol of, according to the above verses:

  • pledge of a clear conscience toward God
  • Resurrection of Christ is what saves us

Note that literal baptism is NOT what saves us but it is a an outward sign of an inner change of heart - a "clear conscience toward God" and the hope of final resurrection on the basis of Jesus' resurrection (1 Cor 15:12-22). Just as the flood was a symbol of salvation, so immersion in Christ saves us symbolised by Christian baptism.

This is the heart of the problem. Our works cannot save us (Rom 3:20, 21) including baptism. Only Jesus saves us (Acts 4:12). Baptism as a symbol, is sometimes expressed as a “death” (and burial) to the old way of life and a resurrection to a new way of life in Christ. Rom 6:4-9, 1 Cor 10:2, 12:13, 14, Gal 3:27, Col 2:12, 13, 1 Peter 3:21. Thus baptism was used as an outward symbol of conversion - a new way of life dependant of Jesus and the imitation of Christ.

  • Mac's...You are correct. Typologies are never meant to be fully correspondent. Therefore, the flood = baptism, but only at certain specific elements--not all the elements apply. As you point out (which is pointed out in scholarship in detail), Noah's flood did not save nor wash Noah and his family or save nor wash everyone outside the ark. And If the flood washed, it was in a destructive way. Therefore, the washing in Noah's flood starts something anew (a new world under Noah) just like [ here is the typology ] baptism in the NT starts something anew ( a new life ).
    – XegesIs
    Commented Feb 24, 2019 at 22:09
  • @XegesIs, Presumably the flood saved Noah and the continuance of humanity from the extreme levels of evil and violence that prompted God to destroy the world in the first place.
    – Austin
    Commented Dec 22, 2021 at 2:40

Baptism corresponds to, or is the antitype of, the Flood. In verse 20 Simon writes that eight souls were saved through water (δι’ υδατος in Greek). Clearly then water is in view. Just as Noah and his small clan were rescued from the world of sin and debauchery described in Genesis 6:1-6 by the waters of the Flood, and so, were reborn, as it were, into a new, resurrected world, so then is the believer rescued through immersion from their personal world of sin and debauchery through the waters of baptism, so as to be reborn, spiritually, not into a new resurrected world, but this time, into the resurrected Son of God.

That only is what makes baptism save: the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

This corresponds well to Romans 6:1-4. Believers are baptized into Christ's death, so that they may be raised from the dead and walk in the newness of life.

Christ's death was the ultimate symbol of His obedience to God the Father (See Philippians 2:1-11). If a believer desires to be obedient to God the Father, and have within him or her the mind of Christ, he or she must likewise become obedient, even unto death, but in this case, obedient to the death of Christ, so he or she, with Christ, may be raised and exalted. This is accomplished through baptism, provided that genuine faith and repentance exists prior to the immersion.

For a more in-depth study, go here.


In Acts 10:44 to 48 it is made clear that first, those who heard the words of the apostle Peter, received the Holy Spirit. That being evident, it is then that Peter says :

Can any man forbid water that these should not be baptized which have received the Holy Spirit as we ? Acts 10:47.

The new birth is not a matter of a ritual immersion. The immersion is only conducted as a signification that a new birth has been experienced.


Here is my translation of 1 Peter 3:19-22 (which I feel is a more neutral and less archaic one for exegetical purposes).

For Christ also for our sake died once for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God: being indeed put to death in the flesh, but made alive in spirit, in which going he preached to those who once would not obey, when God waited in patience in the days of Noah, while the ark was being constructed: in which a few (that is, eight) souls were saved through water—the counterpart of which, baptism, now saves you also: not by the putting off of dirt from the flesh, but by the appeal to God for a clear conscience through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, angels and powers being made subject to him.

We know he's speaking of Christian/water baptism, because he parenthetically quashes the notion than baptismal regeneration consists in the water simply "putting off" dirt from your flesh, and not as part of a sacrament whose essence is "the appeal to God for a clear conscience through [by the merits of] the resurrection of Jesus Christ." 'The cleansing affects of the water on the flesh are not the salvific element,' in other words, 'but the faith in God to save you through water and the Holy Ghost' (Jn. 3:5; cf. the unanimous identification of "water and the Holy Ghost" with water baptism by Christians in every century).

The typological parallel consists in that both use water to save, one for the temporal salvation of those aboard the ark seeking to escape the deluge, one to save the soul seeking to escape hell, by faith the power of God and the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Colossians 2:10-11 And you are made complete by him who is the Head of principality and authority: by whom also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the stripping down of the body of flesh, in the circumcision of Christ, being buried with him in baptism, in which also you were raised through faith in the power of God who raised him from the dead.

It's very simple, and Christians were unanimous on the significance and effects and necessity of baptism from the beginning of Christianity, it's a shame something God does through baptism is confused most erroneously with 'works we do in righteousness.' If such a conflation were legitimate, Noah was saved by works he did in righteousness, by appropriating the mercy of God which took the form of a physical object—an instrumental means of His mercy, just like baptism, where He is the efficient means, or 'the One who does' in both cases.


The word "baptism" was transliterated from the Greek. It is Strong's Gr. 908, "βάπτισμα", or "baptisma" and it means submersion, or immersion. The negative statement within the verse - "not the removal of dirt from the flesh" - confirms the act of a washing, but not for the purpose of bathing. So, this is immersion in water.

The word "baptisma" should have been translated for what it means - "immersion." But the 15th & 16th century English translators were afraid, and so they Anglicized the Greek word. If you say this word in Greece even today, the Greek people will understand its common meaning of submerging something most usually in water. It is the act of dunking completely under.

The early English translators avoided a political problem so as not to offend the religious leaders of the Catholic and Anglican churches, as well as the king of England, who had been taught to be "sprinkled" according to the teaching of the religious bishops and leaders of that time.

But, 1 Pet. 1:3 as well as every instance in the book of Acts makes it abundantly clear that immersion in water was the command to be born of the "water and the spirit."

"Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." (John 3:5, KJV)

When you believe that Christ is the Son of YHVH, and when you have repented of your sins, the act of immersion in water is the answer of the good conscience to YHVH's call. It is our obedience to the command Christ gave everyone.

"He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned." (Mark 16:16, KJV).

Correctly translated, it should read:

He that believeth and is immersed shall be saved; ....

This is what Annanias told Saul/Paul in Damascus.

"17 And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost.

18 And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was [immersed]." (Acts 9:17-18)

That is how Paul answered the call. That is still how we answer the call. Believing and being immersed. That is our new birth; when we are born of the water and the Spirit. The Holy Spirit then writes our name in the book of life (Phil. 4:3; Rev. 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:12, 15. etc), and He does the work of covering / clothing us. That is when we are covered by Christ's blood (the symbol of the Passover, the blood of the lamb over the door) (Rom. 4:7), and clothed in His righteousness (Matt. 22:11-13).

The immersion does not work repentance. We are the ones who must first repent. The immersion cleanses us once we repent, and continues to cleanse as we ask for forgiveness and if we truly repent from then on. (This is not permission to sin, and then ask God to forgive as Paul makes clear in Rom. ch. 5-6).

We then rise up out of that water a new creature (2 Cor. 5:17; Eph 4:24; Col. 3:10), resurrected into eternal life. As long as we continue to walk after Christ, to walk in His Way, to repent of our sins asking for forgiveness as we make mistakes, and continue faithfully, then when we die we are taken up into heaven to be with the rest of the saved forever more (1 Thess. 4:17. Rev. 14:13)

Without the covering of His blood, His sin-offering, His clothing, His wedding garments, His righteousness - we will be lost. We are promised His covering when we are immersed in water - "baptized."

Additonal Resources:

Here are the meanings of “baptizo” from reliable lexicons, as used in the original Koine (common) Greek at the time of Christ, in the first century A.D

Baptizo: “To make a thing dipped or dyed. To immerse for a religious purpose” (A Critical Lexicon and Concordance to the English and Greek New Testament, E.W. Bullinger).

Baptizo: “Dip, immerse, mid. Dip oneself, wash (in non-Christian lit. also ‘plunge, sink, drench, overwhelm. . . .’)” (A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, Arndt and Gingrich, p. 131).

Baptizo: “immersion, submersion” (A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, Grimm-Thayer, p. 94).

Baptizo: “to dip, immerse, sink” (Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament, Abbott-Smith, p. 74).

Baptizo: “dip, plunge” (A Greek-English Lexicon, Liddell & Scott, p. 305).

Baptizo: “consisting of the process of immersion, submersion and emergence (from bapto, to dip)” (Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words).

Baptizo: “immerse, sumberge. The peculiar N.T. and Christian use of the word to denote immersion, submersion for a religious purpose” (Biblico-Theological Lexicon of the New Testament Greek, Cremer).

Baptizo: “to dip, immerse; to cleanse or purify by washing” (The New Analytical Greek Lexicon, Perschbacher, p. 66).

Baptizo: “to dip, to immerse, to sink. . . . There is no evidence that Luke or Paul and the other writers of the New Testament put upon this verb meanings not recognized by the Greeks” (Greek and English Lexicon, Sophocles).

The Greek word “baptizo” comes from the primary verb “bapto” which means to overwhelm, to cover wholly with a fluid.

Even the Roman Catholic Church knew the practice was immersion in water. This was not changed until the Council of Ravenna officially allowed sprinkling in 1311 AD. Surely our Lord and Savior, Christ the Son of God is sufficient example. He went to John to the river Jordan to be immersed in water for obedience to the Father in all things.

Another post you might enjoy, "Baptism - Transliteration, Translation and Meaning" here

See also the post at my site, "Do You Need to be Baptized to be Saved" ShreddingTheVeil and "The Thief On The Cross" here.

  • @Gina...Simply because someone can read English does not make them an English interpreter or professor or lexicographer of English. Simply because someone can read Greek doesnt make them a lexicographer. Baptism does not always signify immersion. Immersion may be conveyed only when the context demands it, not otherwise. This is not my opinion Gina. This is well known in linguistics, Hebrew and Greek semantics. Your overall answer is indeed correct. However, you make a few blunders and run away with it.
    – XegesIs
    Commented Feb 24, 2019 at 19:29
  • No one in evangelical scholarship would agree with you and for extremely, very good reasons. It seems to escape from your reading that the criminal/thief/rebel on the cross was saved without being baptized. Also, there are more passages in the entire New Testament where salvation is explained in detail and phrased in a sentence where baptism is not referenced whatsoever. Salvation is solely based on faith. We are not saying, however, that no one should get baptized. Of course, you should get baptized if you're supposed to obey God. But, this doesnt prove your points.
    – XegesIs
    Commented Feb 24, 2019 at 19:39
  • @Gina...You also reference very suspicious resources. It's ok. I've been there, done that. But, it's not right. We're in 2019 and every believer should start to learn to take advantage of the Internet the right way. Please, read serious, careful scholarship--at least, start to learn doing so. In this case, I recommend you read Ph.D. Candidate Benjamin J. Snyder : asburyseminary.academia.edu/BenjaminSnyder/CurriculumVitae | and Dr. Eckhard J. Schnabel : gordonconwell.edu/academics/…
    – XegesIs
    Commented Feb 24, 2019 at 19:42
  • @Gina...Benjamin J. Snyder extensive paper on the Greek Baptizo : researchgate.net/publication/…
    – XegesIs
    Commented Feb 24, 2019 at 19:43
  • 1
    Sigh, indeed, Xegesis. We have all of those different and varying "interpretations" b/c they will not abide by the scriptures. They invent and twist and rationalize God's word to suit their own desires. See additional resources above. We are not allowed to interpret. Only God interprets His word, & it is revealed to us through His scriptures. They r the key, the code that must be used to understand all of His word. (Dan, 2:22, 28;4:9)
    – Gina
    Commented Feb 24, 2019 at 20:41

The Christian baptism has two sides: a visible - immersion in water - and invisible - taking in Christ's death and resurrection (Romans 6:3), that is to say, dying or getting crucified for sins and thus starting living for Christ, or better letting Christ live and operate in the heart with His transformative divine power (cf. Gal. 2:20). The same is said here by Peter as well, with a different language, but semantically the identical thing, for "appeal to God for a good conscience", that is what baptism is all about: the "good conscience" for Christians mean to live according to Christ's commandments, which are impossible for humans to fulfil unless Christ Himself working in their hearts after they have committed themselves in faith to die and be crucified for sins, which is figuratively also called the "circumcision of heart" by Paul (Romans 2:25-29).

Thus, to answer your question: yes, it means immersion in water outwardly, which signifies the invocation of divine power and affirmation of the commitment to become a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17), but invisibly it means a real touch of God's grace for renovation of life through death for sins and living with Christ taking in His Mind (cf. Phil. 2:5-8). In Peter's language, it means taking in a "good conscience from God", that is to say, illuminating one's conscience through enlightening it with the Mind of Christ, which some theologians equated with the Spirit of Christ, that is to say the Holy Spirit.


When I read 1 Peter 3:20-21, I properly understand that water saves me the same way it saved Noah during the flood. When I go and read the account of the flood in Genesis, the only thing I find in association with the words "flood", "waters", and "water", are "destroy" and "destruction". The only thing , then, that water did during Noah's day, was literally destroy everything, including Noah if He had been in the water. The flood waters literally destroyed the lost, and and never saved anyone, as they were never intended to save; only to destroy. The church of Christs' doctrine concerning water baptism is that you are not in the presence of God ( saved ) until after water baptism. Since our baptism is likened unto the flood baptism in Noah's day, then, if this doctrine is correct, Noah should not have been in the presence of God until after the flood of baptism. When I read my Bible, I find that God , already in the ark,invited Noah into the ark before the baptism of the flood, therefore Noah was saved before the flood. The only thing the flood did, as my baptism does, is declare me to be saved, the same thing it did for Noah. The only way, then, that baptism saves me today, is the way it saved Noah; figuratively, just as 1 Peter 3:21 says it does. A figure is a picture of the reality, a pointing towards the reality. The reality in Noah's day was that the Ark actually saved Him, and the flood demonstrated and proved this fact to be true . God was not in the water; He was in the ark. No saving power nor life whatsoever was in the water; only destruction, but it was in the ark, for God was in the ark. That's my understanding of 1 Peter 3: 20-21. To teach 1 Peter 3:21 literally would demand that water, since it likens the water to the flood waters of Noah"s day, destroys the ones that are in the water, and never saves. I conclude , as the writer does, that this water " figuratively " saves you.

  • Your answer is excellent. As you answer questions, kindly hyperlink verses, so that we may check them with one click. Also, I followed your logic quite well, but I am guessing that most of the commentary is your view, but do you have any references? For example, how does the baptism of the great flood compare to the baptism into Moses, when the Israelites were saved from Egypt? Please use other references from the Bible to help us tie into your logic. In this way, there is more than one data point (beyond your particular view) to enable us to draw the correct inferences from the text. Thanks!
    – Joseph
    Commented Jun 28, 2015 at 22:05
  • I disagree in that the text literally states the 8 souls were saved by the water, not by the ark, which is not mentioned. Now, I'm not saying the ark wasn't clearly important, but the text of 1 Peter is what we're discussing. And that the text emphasizes that the water saved them communicates an interesting notion: that the water saved Noah, et al., from the sin covering the world. Indeed, I believe this is the first baptism example in the Bible: where God first begat the earth through water, and then the earth itself is "born again" when God baptizes the whole thing.
    – Kaelin
    Commented Mar 26, 2018 at 18:11

This may be the wrong question to ask of the passage.

One major theme of 1 Peter is responding correctly to unjust suffering: to being accused of doing wrong, and even punished, because your holy lifestyle doesn't fit with the culture of the society you live in. You can see this clearly in 2:12, 2:18-24, 3:14-18; and it makes good sense as the unifying underlying idea of 2:11-3:22.

If you accept that as the unifying idea, 3:18-22 gives us one or more reasons why it is "better ... [to] suffer for doing what is right". How does baptism fit in here? I suggest that it fits best if we follow those commentators who take επερωτημα to have the meaning attested in 2nd century papyri of something like "the process of formalising a contract".

The noun eperotema is found in the papyri on the occasion of sealing a legal contract to refer both to a formal question of willingness from one party and a positive response from the other ... If this second-century lexical evidence is allowed, it makes good sense of the contrast and fits the larger context as well. Peter is reminding his readers that when they were baptized, a question was asked about their faith in Christ, to which they gave a positive response.

Karen Jobes, 1 Peter (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament)

On this reading, Peter's point isn't about the soteriological value of water. Instead it's a reminder that if you have been baptised then you have entered into a covenant, in the presence of witnesses, which commits God to save you through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and commits you to live rightly, doing good rather than conforming to the world around you. So don't e.g. go back to visiting pagan temples so that people will stop calling you an atheist (contextualise as appropriate).


Distinguish different types of salvation

1. Physical Salvation

There are, without a shadow of a doubt, certain passages in the NT that speak about salvation which obviously refer not to eternal spiritual salvation, but to a physical salvation from peril/danger/illness or other physical trouble. A typical example is found in Acts 27:20, 31, and 43:

Acts 27:20: And when neither sun nor stars in many days appeared, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope that we should be saved was then taken away.

Acts 27:31 Paul said to the centurion and to the soldiers, Except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved.

Acts 27:43 But the centurion, willing to save Paul, kept them from their purpose; and commanded that they which could swim should cast themselves first into the sea, and get to land [...].

2. Spiritual Salvation

This is the type of salvation that the vast majority of NT writers are referring to in texts that refer to the words "saved" and "salvation". These include texts like Acts 4:12:

Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.

And Ephesians 2:8, 9:

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.

3. Moral Salvation

There are, nonetheless, a few verses that do not fit the picture. These are verses like 1 Timothy 4:16:

Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee.

Evidently, not speaking of spiritual salvation from wrath to come, because Paul clearly teaches that that salvation is not of our works, it is totally of faith. What he is referring to is a moral salvation, otherwise known as sanctification.

Compare 1 Peter 3:21 with Romans 6:1-6

In Romans 6:1-6, we read:

What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.

Here we have a clear image of what baptism is. It is, in a tangible (while yet symbolic) way, the representation not only of dying with Christ, but of rising in newness of life (sanctification). Hence, if we look once again at 1 Peter 3:21, we find that it fits not into the category of physical or spiritual salvation, but the category of moral salvation, salvation from the power of sin, also known as sanctification. Lastly, note the similarity of the language in 1 Peter 3:21 with Romans 6:

The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ: Who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him.


For Mac's Musing, see context; this shows salvation is a stake as it likens baptism to "the days of Noah" and passing through the waters of the Flood (waters above (rain) and below (flood water)) to be saved at that time [thus immersed in water]:-

NASB 1 Pet. 3:20 "who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water.

Some are 'born again' as in the passed but most Christians are not born again today as they do not hope of going to heaven to serve God alongside Jesus there as judges, kings and priests (2 Timothy 2:12; Rev. 20:6) but they will serve and worship God on earth forever and restore the earth back to a paradise as at the first in Eden:-

BEB Ps. 37:29 "The upright will have the earth for their heritage, and will go on living there for ever."

Also baptism now is a symbol of a person saying publicly that hence forth he/she is going to do God's will. This was one aspect of Jesus' baptism as it says at:-

NWT Hebrews 10:5-9 "So when he comes into the world, he says: “‘Sacrifice and offering you did not want, but you prepared a body for me. 6 You did not approve of whole burnt offerings and sin offerings.’ 7 Then I said: ‘Look! I have come (in the scroll it is written about me) to do your will, O God.’” 8 After first saying: “You did not want nor did you approve of sacrifices and offerings and whole burnt offerings and sin offerings”—sacrifices that are offered according to the Law— 9 then he says: “Look! I have come to do your will.” . . ."

After his baptism he was tested by The Devil in the wilderness and then started his preaching the Kingdom Good News, doing what God wanted him to do! This sets the pattern for his followers.

So baptism is fundamental to salvation as Peter shows. On the day of ones baptism one becomes God's minister no longer part of Satan's world and enter a life long service to help others to be saved.

  • Ethos, I was not sure if your answer is complete. Are you answering the OP about water immersion as a public symbol of Christ's death, burial & resurrection?
    – Gina
    Commented Feb 24, 2019 at 17:11
  • @Gina No. Belief in those things would move a person to dedicate themselves to do God's will because he did that form them.
    – user26950
    Commented Feb 24, 2019 at 17:19
  • This does not answer the question - Heb 10:5-9 does not mention baptism so why do you quote it? You make no comment about the text in 1 Peter 3:21.
    – user25930
    Commented Feb 27, 2019 at 10:40
  • @Mac's Musing see update.
    – user26950
    Commented Feb 27, 2019 at 13:41
  • @ Siju George See updtate.
    – user26950
    Commented Feb 27, 2019 at 13:42

Two waters are at issue here--liquid waters and invisible gaseous waters. These two states of waters are emphasized, beginning at Moses, and in the prophets, and in the Psalms, all referencing THE WORD OF GOD.

The "liquid" waters always typifies Jesus Christ--that WORD of God in the visible flesh on earth under the firmament, just as liquid water is located only on earth under the firmament. The gaseous waters are typical of the invisible eternal spirit WORD of God. That liquid water is personalized in the Jordan river which passes down through the land of Israel into Judah seeking out the lowly and into the Sea of Galilee (representing the people, nation and tongue of Israel), and finally where it deposits the impurities from the earth into the Dead Sea, leaving those impurities there when it ascends out of the Dead Sea in it's invisible gaseous form again.

This typifies Jesus as coming from above and becoming visible in the flesh as the Jewish Son of man/Son of God/Seed of the woman, who passes through the land of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, and David seeking out the lowly rather than the elevated. His destiny as the (liquid waters) Messiah was always toward His "death," "burial," "resurrection," and "ascension." That ascension was in a new spirit form of eternal man. This insures that he will come again to receive all those who believe in His work of redemption for the sin of mankind.

The visible liquid waters are those that John baptized with. Jesus, however, was to baptize with the HOLY GHOST--the waters which Jesus emphasized were living invisible moving gaseous waters that He described as the "wind" that "bloweth".

John, the Baptist stressed this point over and over again. Jesus, Himself, repeatedly declared the same thing. See: God’s Day-One Creation, A Type of the Word of God, Pages 19-29 for many references.


Jesus asked that the children be brought to Him and said that unless one had the faith of a little child, that they would not get into heaven (Mark 10:13-16; Matthew 18:3).

Since Jesus uses the faith of a little child as the standard of a saving faith, it is clear that a little child is capable of having faith. Further, since faith is the work of God alone, this faith does not depend upon the capabilities of the child to understand or intellectualize it (Psalm 71:5-6; 22:9; 8:2; Romans 9:15-16).

Christ said that anyone who receives one little child in His name receives Christ Himself (Matthew 18:1-6, 10)—the same type of standard that He uses at the last Judgment to identify the believer (Matthew 25:31-40). Then He issues a stern warning to anyone who causes a little one who believes in Christ to sin (Mathew 18:6; Mark 9:42).

This becomes even stronger when one considers that in Luke 18:15-17, a parallel account of Mark 10:13-16, Christ uses the Greek word brephos (Strongs Number NT:1025—an infant, properly, unborn, literally or figuratively) referring to the children that belong to kingdom of God. This same word is used in Luke 1:41, 44 for an unborn child and later in Luke 2:12, 16 to refer to the infant Jesus.

Likewise, John the Baptist leapt in faith in Elizabeth’s womb upon the entrance of Mary pregnant with the preborn Jesus (Luke 1:15, 41). So John, as a yet unborn child still in his mother’s womb, was able to have faith.

Faith does not contain knowledge nor is there any necessity to have knowledge to have faith, but rather is a gift of God. If it were not so, then those who are in a coma, have Alzheimer’s disease, are developmentally disabled or even those not so challenged but while asleep would not have faith. In Mark 10:15 we are even warned not to let reason get in the way of faith (see also II Timothy 3:7).

So Baptism is God’s means of extending grace to children [and others] who are incapable of understanding otherwise what the Word of God says and thus come to faith by hearing (Titus 3:5; John 3:5; I Peter 3:21). This, then, gives fresh meaning to the concept that we become children of God through faith (Galatians 3:26-27).


What does “baptism now saves you” mean in 1 Peter 3:21?

If it is true that we should crucify our flesh daily (Gal 5:24). And if the mystic meaning of the inverted cross of Peter is something to take seriously. Then it follows that we need to crucify our flesh in the late afternoon every day from around 5-6pm, until we "die" around 10-11pm.

And if it also is true that water baptism is a baptism into Jesus' death, as Rom 6:3 says, then it stands to reason that a daily late afternoon/early evening whole body-wash would act as a helpful entrance into our daily flesh crucifixion regimen.

Rom 6:1-4 (NIV) What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

(5-7) For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.

1 Thess 5:1-3 (NIV) Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.

(4-11) But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

  • Gal 5:24 Doesn't say to crucify our flesh daily.
    – Austin
    Commented Dec 22, 2021 at 2:58
  • @Austin. You reckon that it is enough to crucify one’s flesh once a week? Or, that “once crucified, always crucified” is true? Commented Dec 22, 2021 at 3:49
  • @Constanthin, well the language in Gal 5:24 is of a completed act. Something done in the past. I understand it to have been done once when we were initially united with Christ. it's the circumcision that is made without hands - the putting off of the body of flesh in Col 2:11. It's the crucifixion of our old man such that the body of sin is brought to nothing talked about in Rom 6:6. These are the same as the completed act - the crucifixion of our flesh talked about in Gal 5:24. It's part of a running completed self-crucifixion theme in Galatians, see verse 2:20 and 6:14.
    – Austin
    Commented Dec 22, 2021 at 6:14
  • I think this is different from verses like Eph 4:22 that tell us "with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires;" This is something that we are "to do" as opposed to the assumption that as a Christian it was already done.
    – Austin
    Commented Dec 22, 2021 at 6:17
  • 1
    @Austin. I think I must have had Luk 9:23 in the back of my mind when interpreting that verse in Galatians. Commented Dec 22, 2021 at 8:54


It becomes immediately apparent, when reading this verse, that the ritual of water baptism, though symbolising a spiritual change that has taken place, is not the principal subject here. Peter informs us that he is NOT referring to "the physical removal of dirt from the flesh" (i.e. water baptism) but a spiritual reality of which water baptism is merely a picture.


Jesus had made known to his disciples that there is a spiritual (or 'true') baptism of which water baptism is only a symbol: "For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit" (Acts 1:5 NIV); (see also Matt 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16).


Peter has already made reference to the new birth in Christ as the basis for our hope and salvation: "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead" (1 Peter 1:3 NIV). This is taken up by Titus also who links it to the baptism of the Holy Spirit promised by Jesus as the basis of our salvation: "... he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit" (Titus 3:5).


Paul brings all of this together in his letter to the Christians in Rome when he states: "...don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life" (Rom 6:3-4).

  • 1
    If its not water baptism, why's it compared to the flood? I would also note in Acts 10, after Cornelius' house already received the Spirit, Peter commanded them to be baptized in water. Commented Oct 12, 2014 at 7:16
  • Richard, I lovingly disagree with your interpretation. The context is wet (water). In the early church, baptism was practiced immediately. Early Christians connected baptism with their salvation. Water baptism reflected their identification with the death of Christ and commitment to walk in a new life. Rom 6:3-4 "Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? "4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life" Commented Oct 15, 2014 at 4:42
  • 2
    I think there is more agreement than disagreement here. I also understand that water baptism is in mind as the symbol of what is effected through the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Water baptism is the outward witness we give to what God has accomplished within. It is the public demonstration and proclamation, by means of a physical act, that we are no longer our own but Christ's. Water baptism, though an important sign and ritual, is not the thing which unites us to Christ.
    – Richard
    Commented Oct 15, 2014 at 4:55
  • @davidbrainerd "why's it compared to the flood", because they are analogous. The flood is a 'cleansing' and 're-creative' event but not effective for regeneration (Peter is saying that essentially it only effected "…removal of dirt from the body…"). Peter emphasises regeneration by comparing and contrasting baptism with the flood — emphasising the internal (good conscience) aspect of baptism rather than the external. Commented Apr 11, 2017 at 8:55

"Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you—not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ"

This scripture appaears self-evidence in its' meaning, that of not being the passing through the physical water in and of itself, but all of the other things that constitute how a person is saved by Christ, which baptism is a part of.

Note the reference to a good conscience, which means that repentance of sin, and asking forgiveness for it, will results in a noticeable effect in the mind of the person who goes to Jesus to repent. His conscience will be cleansed, the Bible says, "by the blood of Jesus Christ", which is the only thing that can do this, and "which the blood of animals was never able to achieve'.

The baptism itself, was desscribed by the apostle Paul in this way, saying that going down in the water is how the person is united with Christ in his death, and coming up out of the water is how the person is united with Christ into Jesus' resurrection.

In this way, through the indication of the baptismal actions, a person is shown to pass from death to life.

  • "appeal to God through Jesus' resurrection' - because Jesus resurrected, the person being baptized can enter into all that Jesus bought with His blood.
    – Hello
    Commented Feb 23, 2015 at 20:39

He is making the distinction that baptism is not the same as cleaning up one's body. That it's a symbolic action.

It might have been a time when washing was starting to be seen as mostly an action for cleaning up one's body. From my reading of the law, it seems that washing had more of a ceremonial meaning, as when it mentions that a man who has had an emmision of semen overnight should wash and "will be pure in the evening" (if it had to do with being clean physically, why wasn't the man "pure" right after the "bath"?)

Also, I tend to think that in the times of the Israelites, people didn't wash too often but instead used oils and perfumes (there are many references to oils and perfumes, including the gifts of the " 'Rab-Mag' " at Jesus' birth). So in those times (and probably much later, too), washing was seen as more of a ceremony than something one HAD to do.

It might also be good to look into the traditions of the Essenes, and perhaps the Pharisees. I seem to remember that they practiced "ceremonial washing." And some think John's baptism came from being influenced by the Essenes.

In short, it has to do with making a distinction, and making clear that baptism was not to be taken lightly.

  • Sanders devotes 9 pages of Judaism: Practice and Belief 63BCE-66CE to ceremonial washing, and observes that it was a subject on which there was (broadly speaking) unanimity among all groups of Palestinian Jews (not just Essenes and Pharisees), who practised purification by full immersion. Diaspora Jews seem mostly to have washed e.g. hands and feet rather than to have immersed themselves fully. Commented Aug 1, 2015 at 15:10

It is not a controversy in Evangelical scholarship that salvation in the NT is not based on water baptism anymore than circumcision in the OT produced salvation. Salvation in both the OT and NT are ultimately always and solely linked to faith and/or loyalty to YHWH and (in the NT) Jesus. Water baptism is a symbol that represents the Holy spirit and/or the Abyss/depths of the ocean. If water was poured on the head on someone in early Christianity as baptism, it might have been representative of the Holy Spirit coming down into the new believer in order to partake of his/her life. Now, in terms of Paul's usage in Romans 6:3-5 (ESV):

3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

In ancient Israel (as well as in the wider ancient Near East and Greco-Roman world), the underworld (Sheol / Seol / Abyss / Hades) was perceived to be under the earth or under the waters. Paul uses it that way in that immersion by water represents (death, burial and resurrection): Death = going under water, burial = staying a few seconds under water, resurrection = raising from water. It represents what Paul explains in different ways elsewhere in his letters about dying to the older man (flesh) and letting God control our new transformed life (Spirit). All of this is very well backed up through the OT, where references to the depths of the waters are interchangeable with where the dead reside (Sheol).

Lastly, Peter himself tells you what he means or doesn't mean: " not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience ".

Let me make some citations, lest you think I am incompetent at Exegesis:

Baptism is not asking God for “a good conscience”; it is rather “out of a good conscience,” or a pure heart, that a person submits to baptism. Heb 10:22 is a partial, although important, parallel: “Let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having sprinkled our hearts from an evil conscience and washed our body in pure water.” Sequence is not emphasized in this passage, and the author of Hebrews refers to approaching God in worship, not baptism. Yet a clear distinction is made between inward and outward cleansing (i.e., between “heart” and “body”). Peter, having presupposed from the start an inward cleansing among his readers (e.g., “consecrated by the Spirit for obedience and sprinkling with the blood of Jesus Christ,” 1:2; “having purified your souls by obeying the truth,” 1:22; “get rid of all malice, therefore,” 2:1), now turns explicitly to its outward expression. A “good conscience” is the product of the Spirit’s purifying work in a person’s heart on the basis of “obedience” to the Christian gospel, but “good conscience” by itself does not save. Only God can save, and God’s willingness and power to save are visibly and audibly invoked in baptism.

J. Ramsey Michaels, 1 Peter (vol. 49; Word Biblical Commentary; Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1998), 216.

A bit later in the same commentary section:

A purist might properly insist that only God “saves,” but salvation can be associated either with the divine initiative or the human response. The two parenthetical phrases set off by οὐ … ἀλλά not only define baptism for Peter, but qualify his statement that baptism “saves.” Although it does not wash away sins, it “saves” those with a “good conscience” by appealing on their behalf to God the only Savior.

J. Ramsey Michaels, 1 Peter (vol. 49; Word Biblical Commentary; Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1998), 217–218.

And a bit later once more:

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is what makes an appeal or pledge to God “out of a good conscience” efficacious, and guarantees eternal life to the one baptized. Unlike Paul, who characterizes baptism as a “death” with Christ (Rom 6:3–4a) to be followed by a “resurrection” identified as new life in the Spirit (Rom 6:4b–5; 8–11), Peter links baptism itself with Jesus’ resurrection, while Jesus’ death represents the inward change of heart that logically precedes it—i.e., “the removal of the filth of the flesh” which Peter so carefully distinguishes from the outward act of water baptism (cf. 4:1).

J. Ramsey Michaels, 1 Peter (vol. 49; Word Biblical Commentary; Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1998), 218.

I could cite other commentaries, papers, MA Thesis and Ph.D. dissertations--which I do have--but it gets too convoluted here.

In short, belief saves because God can and wants to save the one that believes. Belief in God/Jesus produces--in the NT--a Spirit indwelling, a Spirit baptism which changes your identity. This saves you. But, it's not water baptism that saves you, which is just a symbol of that inner reality--just like circumcision is a symbol in the OT covenant. Remember, Abraham believed/faith and it was accounted to him as righteousness (Gen 15.6) and God demands circumcision only later (Gen 17). Circumcision doesn't save.

In addition to all of this, check The Didache is an early Apostolic document that was probably composed/written and put into circulation between 100-150 C.E.:

  1. Now concerning baptism, baptize as follows: after you have reviewed all these things, baptize “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”23 in running water. (2) But if you have no running water, then baptize in some other water; and if you are not able to baptize in cold water, then do so in warm. (3) But if you have neither, then pour water on the head three times “in the name of Father and Son and Holy Spirit.” (4) And before the baptism, let the one baptizing and the one who is to be baptized fast, as well as any others who are able. Also, you must instruct the one who is to be baptized to fast for one or two days beforehand.

Michael William Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations (Updated ed.; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 259.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.