Author: Ron Graham
Four Things To Say
—1 Peter 3:18-22
Please open your Bibles to read 1 Peter 3:18-22. It is the last part of verse 20, and all of verse 21 that I would like to discuss in this lesson. Here, Peter has four important things to say about baptism.
1 Baptism as an antitype
Baptism saves us as the antitype of the water through which Noah and his family were brought to safety.
The marginal reading of the American Standard Version states, "Eight souls were saved through water, which also in the antitype doth now save you." We are saved through water in the antitype, in Greek αντιτυπος (antitupos). And just what is water in the antitype? "Even baptism," says Peter.
Peter is not making the point that baptism is a symbol, or figure, be that as it may. It is not baptism, but the water through which Noah and family were saved that Peter makes figurative in this passage. Even where other scripture does speak of baptism as a symbol or figure, it certainly does not speak of it as non-essential to salvation.
As an example, take Romans 6. In verses 17-18, salvation came through obeying from the heart a "form of doctrine". This "form", in the Greek, is τυπος (tupos) or ‘type’. The word refers to baptism as discussed in the preceding verses where Paul is talking of both symbolism and salvation. To take one of these out of the passage is to render the passage wholly inarticulate.
However, people cannot argue to advantage that baptism is a figure in 1 Peter 3:21, because Peter does not make that point. The point he makes is that baptism saves. (Of course, baptism is not the only thing that saves.) It will do no good to shift the argument to the line that the outward form is not true baptism anyway; that true baptism is something inward. Remember that it was the outward form that Paul was talking about in Romans 6.
Now let us establish what Peter is talking about in 1 Peter 3:21, when he uses the word "baptism". In this passage, Peter is digressing from this theme. The digression occurs at the point, "saved through water" (1Peter 3:20b). From here, Peter gets off on to the subject of baptism. (They say "church of Christ people are always getting off on to the subject of baptism").
Now here is the point: Peter has no reason to digress thus unless baptism is understood by him to directly involve water. Noah and his family being "saved through water" immediately makes Peter think of baptism. Why this association, unless there is in baptism a corresponding salvation through water?
About this correspondence in the antitype — the Greek words, tupos and antitupos, type and antitype, mean a seal and the impress of a seal. A modern counterpart is a rubber stamp or metal types and the ink impression. Now between the type and the impression we can see the closest possible correspondence.
So it is with scriptural types and antitype. There is always the closest correspondence between them. In the case under consideration, the corresponding elements are found in the phrase, "saved through water." Peter saw both the "saved" element and the "water" element in baptism. Otherwise he could not have seen sufficient correspondence to call it the antitype.
Baptism, as Peter knew it, involved water. This carries over into the second important statement Peter makes about baptism.
2 Baptism and the body
Baptism saves, but not because it removes dirt from the body. Baptism, Peter carefully explains, is "not the putting off of the filth of the flesh." This explanation would be quite uncalled for —unless baptism, to Peter and his readers, bore some resemblance to bathing, so that it involves the body and water.
Some people think Peter said, "baptism is not the immersion of the body in water." Such people are very poor readers, certainly preconceptive of mind. What Peter is trying to get us to understand is that baptism is a physical act with a spiritual purpose.
As a further point, before we notice Peter's third great statement about baptism, Peter commanded water baptism in Acts 10:47. Why should he be against it in 1 Peter 3:21? Especially since the rule in his day was, "There is one baptism" Eph. 4:4).
3 Baptism and the conscience
Baptism saves us because it is "the answer" and pledge (επερωτημα eperotema) to God "of a good conscience". Any one who reads Peter as saying anything about "baptism of the conscience in God," or any similar concept of a non-physical baptism, are further examples of preconceptive readers.
Another thing that Peter simply does not say is that if your conscience feels good there is no need to get baptized in water.
What Peter's statement does say to us is that if we have not received water baptism, we have not given our answer to God. Either that or our answer is wrong. No matter what your conscience may tell you, you have not made your pledge to God until you have obeyed Him in the gospel's first principles.
Peter now makes his fourth statement about baptism.
4 Baptism and the resurrection
Baptism saves us "through the resurrection of Christ". If Christ had not risen, we could not be saved by any means. But Christ did rise from the dead, so we can be saved.
But how do we appropriate the power of his death and resurrection? By being "buried with him through baptism into death, that like as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we also might walk in newness of life, born of water and the Spirit" (Romans 6:4-5, John 3:5).