Baptism in 1 Peter 3
Following my post earlier this week on the Lutheran doctrine of baptismal regeneration, I thought it would be good to address some of the texts they use to justify it. Offhand, two come to mind: Titus 3:5–7 and 1 Peter 3:18–22. Since I honestly don’t know why anyone would think Titus 3 is about baptism, I’ll go straight to 1 Peter.
For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; 19 in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, 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. 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, 22 who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him.
Peter has spent the first part of the chapter admonishing his readers to live righteously, not in order to gain any merit for themselves—“by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified” (Romans 3:20)—but for the sake of the gospel. They are to be prepared, so that when they are persecuted for righteousness, the will be able to give a defense, not of themselves, but of the gospel, “the hope that is in you,” the cause for which they are being persecuted.
That hope, that gospel, is that “Christ died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; in which he also went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, 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.” This is a rather curious passage. It’s hard to say exactly what Christ said or where he went to say it. But that is hardly the point. We are reminded here of the wickedness of man in the time of Noah (see Genesis 6:1–7) and the catastrophic judgment that came upon them for their wickedness. And we are reminded that a chosen few were “brought safely through the water.”
Now Peter gets to our point: “Corresponding to that,”—or better, “The like figure” (KJV) —“baptism now saves you.”
We need to pause now to consider what the word baptize means. It is a word that, unfortunately, translators have chosen not to translate, so we tend to think of it almost exclusively as water baptism. (This is where Lutheran hermeneutics fail: the presupposition that “baptism” always refers to water, and conversely, as in the Titus 3 passage mentioned above, water always means baptism.) To baptize means to submerge. A sunken ship is baptized. It can mean to cleanse or wash by immersion. It is not always associated with water. Christ, speaking of his crucifixion and burial, said, “I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is accomplished!” (Luke 12:50, cf. Mark 10:38–39) This is exactly the baptism spoken of by Peter.
So, to summarize in the briefest possible way:
The physical salvation of Noah and his family through the flood is an antetype (αντιτυπον, translated “the like figure” in the KJV) of our spiritual salvation through the death of Christ. The flood is the judgment of God. The ark is Christ. Jesus said, “I have a baptism to undergo.” If we “have been crucified with Christ” (Galatians 2:20), and “raised us up with him” (Ephesians 2:5–6; Colossians 3:1), we have gone through that baptism (flood) with him, in him; he is our ark. Therefore, “a few . . . were brought safely through the water. Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you . . . through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
It’s not about water baptism at all. It’s about the cross, and union with Christ, of which water baptism is a symbol.
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