Tuesday, April 4, 2017
Does 1 Peter 3:21 Teach Baptismal Regeneration?
I have come across many articles, including posted by a Lutheran on Facebook, which claims that baptism is necessary for salvation, and that baptism itself saves (which is why infant baptism is important). The main proof text I’ve seen used lately to support their doctrine is 1 Peter 3:21.
Let’s look at the passage in context, beginning with verse 18 and ending with verse 22.
For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring you to God, after being put to death in the fleshly realm but made alive in the spiritual realm. In that state He also went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison who in the past were disobedient, when God patiently waited in the days of Noah while an ark was being prepared; in it, a few—that is, eight people—were saved through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the pledge of a good conscience toward God) through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Now that He has gone into heaven, He is at God’s right hand, with angels, authorities, and powers subjected to Him.
Notice the comparison: the ark to Jesus, the water of the flood to baptism. Noah was saved by the ark, Christians are saved by Christ. Baptism doesn’t clean you, but it is a “pledge of a good conscience toward God,” i.e., a symbol of your faith. Lastly, baptism only saves you “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” It is a matter of placing one’s faith in the resurrection FIRST, and the baptism is the pledge that we have done so, and symbolizes our faith in the salvation received. There is nothing about baptism which saves a person who has not placed their faith in the atoning work of Christ.
After making the above observation, I looked at some commentaries and found similar thoughts:
Henry M. Morris, The Defender’s Study Bible: Thus both the Flood, with its ark of safety, and baptism, with its emergence from the waters of burial, are like figures of the wonderful reality of the death and resurrection of Christ, as well as the death to sin and new life of the believer. Baptism in and of itself would, at most, be only a bath for washing off the filth of the flesh, but when experienced as a testimony of one’s saving faith in the atoning death and justifying resurrection of the Lord Jesus, it becomes “the answer of [appeal for] a good conscience” toward God (Hebrews 9:14), secured forever by Christ’s resurrection.
Spiros Zodhiates, Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible: The expression “baptism doth also now save” should be understood in light of verse twenty: “eight souls were saved by water.” Noah and his family, being in the ark, were able to pass safely “through” the waters (seen in the Greek word dia ). In the same way, the term “baptism” (v.21) should be understood as the visible representation of deliverance through Christ, just as the ark represented deliverance from the waters of the Flood. When a person accepts Christ, he is saved; when the believer is baptized, he is identified with the One who has delivered him (i.e., Jesus Christ).
NKJV Study Bible: an antitype which now saves us: The symbolic act of baptism is the answer of a good conscience of one who has been saved from the penalty of sin (see Rom. 4:1-6) by trusting in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ (see Rom. 6:4,5). The floodwaters symbolize the baptismal waters, which in turn symbolize salvation that can be obtained through Christ’s death (see Matt. 28:19, 20; Acts 2:38).
John MacArthur, The MacArthur Study Bible: an antitype which now saves us. In the NT, an antitype is an earthly expression of a spiritual reality. It indicates a symbol, picture, or pattern of some spiritual truth. Peter is teaching that the fact that 8 people were in an ark and went through the whole judgment, and yet were unharmed, is analogous to the Christian’s experience in salvation by being in Christ, the ark of one’s salvation. baptism…through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Peter is not at all referring to water baptism here, but rather a figurative immersion into union with Christ as an ark of safety from the judgment of God. The resurrection of Christ demonstrates God’s acceptance of Christ’s substitutionary death for the sins of those who believe (Acts 2:30,31; Rom.1:4). Judgment fell on Christ just as the judgment of the flood waters fell on the ark. The believer who is in Christ is thus in the ark of safety that will sail over the waters of judgment into eternal glory (cf. Rom. 6:1-4). not the removal of the filth of the flesh. To be sure he is not misunderstood, Peter clearly says he is not speaking of water baptism. In Noah’s flood, they were kept out of the water while those who went into the water were destroyed. Being in the ark and thus saved from God’s judgment on the world prefigures being in Christ and thus saved from eternal damnation. the answer of a good conscience toward God. The word for “answer” has the idea of a pledge, agreeing to certain conditions of a covenant (the New Covenant) with God. What saves a person plagued by sin and a guilty conscience is not some external rite, but the agreement with God to get in the ark of safety, the Lord Jesus, by faith in His death and resurrection (cf. Rom. 10:9,10; Heb.9:14; 10:22).
Other commentaries I consulted were:
The Apologetics Study Bible
The NET Bible
Ryrie Study Bible
The NIV Study Bible
Matthew Henry’s Commentary
Believer’s Bible Commentary, by William MacDonald
The Expositor’s Bible Commentary
The International Bible Commentary, Edited by F.F. Bruce
Jewish New Testament Commentary, by David Stern
The Books of James & First and Second Peter, by William Baker
The Epistles of Peter and Jude, by Kenneth C. Fleming
The Bible Expository Commentary, by Warren W. Wiersbe
The Bible Knowledge Commentary, editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck
Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, by Robert Jamieson, A.R. Fausset and David Brown
A Translator’s Handbook on the First Letter From Peter, by Daniel C. Arichea and Eugene A. Nida.
And then I quit consulting them because not a single one even hinted that this passage taught that baptism saves, i.e. baptismal regeneration.
I’ve seen so many lengthy, convoluted arguments “proving” that this text says baptism saves you — that it is a proof text for the doctrine of baptismal regeneration — that it really gets to be tiresome. All one has to do is just read the text for what it says and not bring a priori doctrinal ideas into the text. You won’t find support for baptismal regeneration here.
One is forced to ask why Christ never baptized anyone, and why Paul baptized only a few, if baptism was required for salvation? Faith in Christ alone is what saves us from sin (John 3:16, 36; John 5:24; John 6:47; John 20:31; Acts 16:31; Rom. 1:16; Rom. 3:22,25; Rom. 10:9; Tit. 3:5; Eph. 2:8-9, 16; et al). Baptism is only a symbol of that salvation accepted.