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There seems to be only one verse in the New Testament that directly says what baptism is, spiritually: 1 Peter 3:21. But the critical phrase is translated in many different ways:

Baptism, ... now saves you, ... as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ (ESV)

an appeal to God for a good conscience (NRSV)

the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. (NIV)

a response to God from a clean conscience. (NLT)

the answer of a good conscience toward God (KJV)

the examination of a good conscience towards God (Douay-Rheims)

What is meant by this phrase "an appeal to God for a good conscience"? Is the "clean conscience" asking or promising something, or is the person asking God for a clean conscience? Or something else? And how is this related to Jesus' resurrection?

I have not studied Greek, but please reference what the meaning of the greek words and grammar behind this are.

  • JustSalt - I proposed a change to the title of the question - feel free to edit. However, this question might be a duplicate. Specifically, this might already be answered, here : Acts 22:16 - Is “washing away your sins” linked to baptism or calling on the Lord? ... or, that answer can be moved here, (Section 2, search for "Legal Appeal". – elika kohen Apr 23 '17 at 22:49
  • I would expect any good answer to this Question to be a natural good fit for the other question on 1 Peter 3:21. If anybody writes a complete Greek-focused answer, I'd suggest adding it to the other question and closing this one. – Steve Taylor Apr 25 '17 at 12:44
  • Peter said that some of Paul's writings were difficult but it seems to me that Peter often seems to make little effort to be understood! – Ruminator Apr 9 '18 at 16:38
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The Greek word translated as "appeal" (ESV, NRSV), "pledge" (NIV), "response" (NLT), and "answer" (KJV) is ἐπερώτημα - eperōtēma. This is the only place in the entire Greek Bible - Greek New Testament and Septuagint Old Testament - that the word appears, which is part of the reason why there may be some head-scratching here.

The Douay-Rheims is an English translation of the Latin Vulgate, not the Greek; "examination" translates the word interrogatio, with an obvious connection to questioning or enquiry. The Orthodox New Testament (Praxapostolos), which is translated out of the Greek, chooses the same English word ("examination") to translate ἐπερώτημα. A footnote in the latter volume states:

Both Bl. Theopylact [P.G. 125:373C (col. 1234)] and St. Bede [Commentary on 1 Peter, 104, 105] interpret this word as "examination." In the ancient Greek it never means "answer", but inquiry. It was also used in ancient times with the sense of approval or sanction after inquiry of a higher authority as the senate or Areopagos.1

Thus it would seem that the support for the NLT and KJV is somewhat weak here.

The "good conscience" (συνείδησις ἀγαθή) is one of the main subjects of Paul's First Epistle to Timothy, wherein he urges holding faith and a good conscience in the face of heresy (which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck; 1:19). Paul also couples a good conscience with faith unfeigned at the opening of the Epistle (1:5).

While one reading of 1 Peter 3:21 is that "the examination of a good conscience" is a sort of definition of baptism, another reading might be to understand this phrase not as a definition, but rather a condition that baptism be salvific. Bede, in his commentary on this verse, points out that although the waters of the flood cleansed the earth (v.20), only those of "good conscience" (Noah and his family) were saved. Thus, baptism accounts for nothing if one does not continue in "good conscience." Bede writes:

For where is a good conscience except where there is sincere faith? [cf. 1 Timothy 1:5]. The fact, therefore, that the water of the flood did not save those outside the ark but slew them without doubt prefigured every heretic who, although having the sacrament of baptism, is to be plunged into the lower world not by other waters but by those very waters by which the ark is raised up to the heavens.2


1 p. 463
2 Commentary on the Seven Catholic Epistles, tr. David Hurst (Cistercian Press, 1985), p.105

-1

in regard to 1 peter 3:21 nkj "the answer of a good conscience toward God." the scriptures on baptism clearly help us out here. firstly, the one having heard the gospel and believed, is commanded, in jesus name, with the full authority of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, to be baptized, matt. 28:18-20, and 1 peter 3:22. it is the believers act of "faith in the working of God", Colossians 2:11-13. it is the circumcision of Christ. and what is being cut off here is "the body of sin">Romans 6:6. now we know that only the blood of Jesus can wash away our sins, justifying us before God, giving us a clear conscience, accepted in the beloved, made alive.
this then leads me to Hebrews 9:14. the blood of Jesus cleanses our conscience from dead works. so, in obedience to the command of Jesus and His apostles, in the word of God, the believer, naturally, will "draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water." Hebrews 10:19-23, acts 22:16. we do this calling on the name of the Lord, to save us, knowing that He who promised is faithful. the one who gladly receives the message of the gospel, will appeal to God to receive freely all that is promised. it is all the work of God, received thru faith. acts 2:38-41 or you could say that having believed, and having acted in the obedience of faith, we have "peace" with God, we have "put on Christ". Galatians 3:26,27.

            Call to me, *and i will answer you*..." Jeremiah 33:3
  • The OP clearly states 'please reference the meaning of the Greek words and grammar'. – Nigel J Apr 19 '18 at 13:18
-2

Your question is asking what the words "an appeal to God for a good conscience" means. As you said in your post there are a number of ways this critical phrase has been translated. By taking the KJV translation we read that the phrase mentioned is the last part of a parenthetical statement, the first part of the statement says "not the putting away of the filth of the flesh". When we read the entire statement in context with what Peter is discussing it becomes one place in the New testament that explains spiritually what baptism does.

Peter says in V.v. 15-17 of the same chapter that our good conscience enables us to give an answer to anyone who asks us of the hope we have in Christ. There would not be any guilty feelings that would prevent us from answering with confidence about our salvation. The reason why people would be asking us of this hope is because our lifestyle was one that endured suffering even though we did nothing to deserve it. They saw that we responded with love and they felt ashamed to the point of wanting to know about the gospel that saves.

After giving examples of people who suffered for doing the right thing and were delivered, he assures those he's writing to that their baptism will also deliver them. Christian baptism is not the external cleansing of the body that was so common under the Law of Moses but rather a internal cleansing of the conscience. How does the resurrection of Jesus cleanse the conscience? The answer is in verse 22 of the same chapter. It's because Jesus our High Priest was resurrected to enter the heavenly tabernacle (not with blood of bulls and goats but with his own blood) to purge our conscience from dead works that we might serve the living God. Unlike the Israelite's who remembered their sins every year on the Day of Atonement our sins and the guilt that went with them have been permanently taken away and remembered no more. When we ask to be baptized we are appealing to God to cleanse our hearts by the blood that Jesus shed on Calvary, that is why we can have a good conscience.

-2

I would translate 1 Peter 3:21 like this:

You are now also his counterpart, made whole by baptism ‒ not the putting off of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience towards God through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

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The expression being variously translated is: συνειδήσεως ἀγαθῆς ἐπερώτημα.

  1. συνειδήσεως: all agree it means "conscience"

  2. ἀγαθῆς: none of them disagree that this word means "good", but some prefer "clear conscience" or "clean conscience" as a contemporary expression for "good conscience".

  3. ἐπερώτημα: here we have the greatest variety of translation, which is not surprising since this verse is the only place the word is found in the NT. According to Strong it is a noun derived from the verb ἐπερωτάω (Strong's G1905 - eperōtaō), which means "to accost one with an inquiry" or "to put a question to" or "to interrogate".

Conclusion

Peter appears to be suggesting in 1 Peter 3:21, that a good/clear/clean conscience towards God would be the internal answer/response to self-examination in regard to whether what one has done, or wants to do, is right.

All of the translations, together, paint the bigger picture.

-2

Peter's baptism is not to be confused with Paul's. Peter (as was Jesus) is still a part of the Israel kingdom age which did not end until 70AD so any effort to make Peter's soteriology line up with Paul's is doomed from the start. Peter, unlike Paul does not blush when he says "baptism now saves us". Peter's gospel of repentance for Israel includes water baptism:

Act 2:38  Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.

Water baptism was essential for the Jews because Israel had been contaminated (not cleansed) by the death of Christ:

Act 2:22  Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know:  Act 2:23  Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain:  Act 2:24  Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it.

Num 19:11  He that toucheth the dead body of any man shall be unclean seven days.  Num 19:12  He shall purify himself with it on the third day, and on the seventh day he shall be clean: but if he purify not himself the third day, then the seventh day he shall not be clean.  Num 19:13  Whosoever toucheth the dead body of any man that is dead, and purifieth not himself, defileth the tabernacle of the LORD; and that soul shall be cut off from Israel: because the water of separation was not sprinkled upon him, he shall be unclean; his uncleanness is yet upon him.

This cleansing was only required for priests but in the kingdom program the nation was such that each Jew was a priest; a "kingdom of priests".

The word translated "answer" and "response" and "examination" and such has two general usages:

ἐπερώτημα, ατος, τό (s. prec. entry; Hdt. et al.; ins, pap; Da 4:17 Theod.; Just., D. 45, 1).
① the content of asking, question (Hdt. 6, 67; Thu. 3, 53, 2; 3, 68, 1; Sir 33:3 v.l.; Just., D. 45, 1) ξένον ἐ. strange question PEg2 64. λαλεῖ αὐτοῖς κατὰ τὰ ἐ. αὐτῶν according to their questions Hm 11:2.
② a formal request, appeal (ἐπερωτάω 2) συνειδήσεως ἀγαθῆς ἐ. εἰς θεόν an appeal to God for a clear conscience 1 Pt 3:21. But cp. a pledge (s. L-S-J-M s.v. 3 with pap ref.; also the vb. in PYadin 17, 38) to God proceeding fr. a clear conscience (so GRichards, JTS 32, ’31, 77 and ESelwyn, 1 Pt ad loc.); cp. also BReicke, The Disobed. Spirits and Christian Baptism ’46, 182–86; NClausen-Bagge, Eperotaema ’41. DTripp, ET 92, ’81, 267–70, argues for a liturgical ‘stipulatio’ or injunction urging the baptismal candidate to turn sincerely to God’s way.—M-M. TW. Spicq.


Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., Bauer, W., & Gingrich, F. W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed., p. 362). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

The context of Peter's epistle is that of suffering innocently. He begins the discussion before the mention of baptism and continues without skipping a beat after:

KJV 1Pe 3:14  But and if ye suffer for righteousness' sake, happy are ye: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled;  1Pe 3:15  But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear:  1Pe 3:16  Having 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.  1Pe 3:17  For it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well doing, than for evil doing.  1Pe 3:18  For 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:  1Pe 3:19  By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison;  1Pe 3:20  Which 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.  1Pe 3:21  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:  1Pe 3:22  Who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him.  1Pe 4:1  Forasmuch 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;  1Pe 4:2  That he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God.  1Pe 4:3  For the time past of our life may suffice us to have wrought the will of the Gentiles, when we walked in lasciviousness, lusts, excess of wine, revellings, banquetings, and abominable idolatries:  1Pe 4:4  Wherein they think it strange that ye run not with them to the same excess of riot, speaking evil of you:  1Pe 4:5  Who shall give account to him that is ready to judge the quick and the dead.  1Pe 4:6  For for this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.

Peter is highlighting that those who suffered innocently were in a unique position to win the lost:

  • Noah preached to the lost for 100 years.

  • Jesus, when crucified went and preached to the angels in prison.

  • his fellow faithful Jews stand out in their separation from wicked behavior

In the middle of this discussion of the testimony of suffering innocently he says that their water baptism saves them, not by directly washing away filth (like the red heifer water) but by their participation in the repentant, suffering community in the midst of a hostile world, to whom they testify:

1Pe 3:8  Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous:  1Pe 3:9  Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing.  1Pe 3:10  For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile:  1Pe 3:11  Let him eschew evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and ensue it.  1Pe 3:12  For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil.  1Pe 3:13  And who is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good?  1Pe 3:14  But and if ye suffer for righteousness' sake, happy are ye: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled;  1Pe 3:15  But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear:  1Pe 3:16  Having 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.  1Pe 3:17  For it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well doing, than for evil doing.  1Pe 3:18  For 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:  1Pe 3:19  By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison;

So in Peter's view as they suffer before a hostile world they have grounds to appeal to God to save them:

Heb 6:9  But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak.  Heb 6:10  For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister.  Heb 6:11  And we desire that every one of you do shew the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end:  Heb 6:12  That ye be not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises.

2Ti 2:7  Consider what I say; and the Lord give thee understanding in all things.  2Ti 2:8  Remember that Jesus Christ of the seed of David was raised from the dead according to my gospel:  2Ti 2:9  Wherein I suffer trouble, as an evil doer, even unto bonds; but the word of God is not bound.  2Ti 2:10  Therefore I endure all things for the elect's sakes, that they may also obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.  2Ti 2:11  It is a faithful saying: For if we be dead with him, we shall also live with him:  2Ti 2:12  If we suffer, we shall also reign with him: if we deny him, he also will deny us:  2Ti 2:13  If we believe not, yet he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself.

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