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What does baptism now saves you mean in

1 Peter 3:21 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,

Does baptism here refer to immersion in water? Is this verse saying that immersion in water is the act that procures the repentant believer the new birth ( born again experience )?

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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.

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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.

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  • 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 Feb 24 '19 at 22:09
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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  • 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 Feb 24 '19 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 Feb 24 '19 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 Feb 27 '19 at 10:40
  • @Mac's Musing see update. – user26950 Feb 27 '19 at 13:41
  • @ Siju George See updtate. – user26950 Feb 27 '19 at 13:42
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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.

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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.

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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.

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  • @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 Feb 24 '19 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 Feb 24 '19 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 Feb 24 '19 at 19:42
  • @Gina...Benjamin J. Snyder extensive paper on the Greek Baptizo : researchgate.net/publication/… – XegesIs Feb 24 '19 at 19:43
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    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 Feb 24 '19 at 20:41

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