We who preach the gospel must not think of ourselves as public relations agents sent to establish good will between Christ and the world. We must not imagine ourselves commissioned to make Christ acceptable to big business, the press, the world of sports or modern education. We are not diplomats but prophets, and our message is not a compromise but an ultimatum. A.W. Tozer
Therefore let God-inspired Scripture decide between us; and on whichever side be found doctrines in harmony with the word of God, in favor of that side will be cast the vote of truth. --Basil of Caesarea
Once you learn to discern, there's no going back. You will begin to spot the lie everywhere it appears.

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service. 1 Timothy 1:12

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 BibleThus 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 BibleThe 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 [1223]). 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 Biblean 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.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

This passage is a favourite of mine! I was once engaged in a pointless discussion of this with Rick Miesel of Biblical Discernment Ministries who I couldn’t get to see the difference between regeneration and salvation – not helped I admit by the rather loose use of the word ‘saved’ amongst evangelicals as a synonym for ‘born again’. I do believe in baptismal salvation based on this passage ...

Noah was justified by faith before he entered the ark, just as in believer’s baptism the believer is already born again and justified and reconciled to God. So baptism does not confer the new birth.

I do think it ‘saves’ in the sense of helping to effect that which it signifies. The end of the old life and the beginning of the new. A means of grace for the believer to start getting into the good of what Christ has done for him, ‘realising’ his spiritual assets. Saved from the penalty of sin, and the power of sin as the dominating influence in his life. Regeneration is in an instant, but salvation/being saved is an on-going process for the rest of the believer’s life.

I also think it marks out the believer as having left the jurisdiction of the powers of darkness, just as Noah had left the old world that was under God’s judgment. He has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved son in Col 1. I would suggest this explains why, for example, when Muslims are converted to Christ they may find themselves estranged from family and friends when they tell them, but real, serious persecution starts when they are baptised.

I think this is strongly implied by the statement at the end of the passage saved … through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers subject to him. Why would Peter mention that in connection with baptism?

I wouldn’t be too dogmatic about this, but as the whole world lies in the power of the evil one we need to be saved from this, and I do think baptism marks this out and publicly testifies to this before all of creation. A comforting and liberating doctrine for any believer who had dabbled in the occult before coming to Christ.

You may of may not agree, but this passage is not as complicated as it first appears if you don’t import other ideas into it such as baptismal regeneration.

Ken

Kathy Mokris said...

I am one of those Lutherans, grew up as a Baptist! My questions would be, "How does one know he's saved? How does he get that saving faith? How does he know for sure that he has it?"

For the soul that needs comfort - God has provided that comfort and assurance through the physical, whether it be the ark, lamb's blood on a doorpost, blood sprinkled on people, the fleece, baptism...

Christianity is taught and debated these days in a way that forgets that we have guilty souls, souls that struggle with desires and sin vs wanting to do good. The gospel message is that Jesus came to set us (and our guilty souls) free from that struggle, from that slavery to the law. We're to know His love, to look to Him, not inside ourselves to measure whether we actually have authentic, "good enough" faith. That's why Lutherans say, "Look to your baptism."

FYI - I like your blog; helps keep me informed of the craziness of popular teachings.

Glenn E. Chatfield said...

Ken,

There is NO sense whatsoever that baptism itself saves. Being baptized doesn't make one saved (and "saved" is indeed a synonym for "born again"), no matter how many babies have been baptized. Nor are you not saved if you aren't baptized (many people come to Christ long before they are finally baptized -- I am one of those who became a Christian in 1974 but didn't have an opportunity for baptism until 1988).

Baptism is only a symbol of the inward reality, and that is what this passage describes.

Glenn E. Chatfield said...

Kathy,

Having worshiped at LCMS churches for eight years, I'm very aware of Lutheran teaching of baptismal regeneration. I was told by a pastor that babies who aren't baptized before death go to hell, including those who are aborted. This is totally unbiblical.

How do we know we are saved? Because we place our faith in Christ's work. John 20:31. 1 John 5:13. In fact the whole of 1 John is a good treatise on how we can know we are saved. Baptism tells us nothing about our salvation, except that we were baptized to have that symbol, that mark confessing our beliefs which save us.

I'm thankful my blog can help you stay informed!

Martha said...

Amongst my Lutheran in-laws, infant salvation is a must if the soul is going to heaven. False theology, false hope, and false authoritarianism on the part of those who do not read and understand the Holy Scriptures. For those who sit at my table and brag and boast of their baptism and their new home that is too come (as the perceived outcome of their baptismal works), my question to them is always, "But wait, let's examine the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and those two thieves beside Him."

When we read the Scriptures, verse upon verse, of that scene at Calvary, it becomes clear, without one morsel of doubt, that the one thief who repented and recognized Jesus as his Savior, is clearly in His presence without the physical act of water baptism here on earth, for Jesus said so Himself.

Those words coming from our Savior, seals the deal for me, for I know that any physical work of the flesh cannot save me or any other human soul.

All was fulfilled in Jesus as my LORD and Savior. I cannot dare to argue with His truth.

Martha

Kathy Mokris said...

Glenn,

One LCMS pastor saying that unbaptized babies go to hell does not mean that's biblical or the LCMS position. See this: https://www.lcms.org/faqs/doctrine#infants-who-die

I have personal experience with people struggling with the question, "How do I know that I really have faith, that I really believe, that I'm really saved?" That's the question that baptism answers. To say, "You just believe" is not a comfort or assurance, especially to people who understand the depth of sin. People in the Bible asked God, "How do I know this is true?" God often gave them something outside of themselves to see.

Glenn E. Chatfield said...

Kathy,

I'm fully aware of the LCMS official stance about babies, which is what leads to pastors saying things like that. But notice the official stance is that babies of unsaved people haven't the same hope, which is also unbiblical nonsense. I wrote an article BIBLICALLY addressing the status of babies and children who have not reached the point of understanding faith, etc:
http://watchmansbagpipes.blogspot.com/2011/04/what-about-babies-and-salvation.html

Again, the passages I gave as to how we can know we are saved are MUCH better than saying to look to your baptism. Your baptism does not save you. Baptizing babies doesn't save them and nowhere in Scripture will find baptism other than AFTER profession of faith. Baptism is only a symbol of one's profession of faith. It is not a saving rite.

Kathy Mokris said...

Glenn,

We'll have to agree to disagree. I can say, without a doubt, that God gives us His Word and He also gives us baptism. Who can trust his own heart? Who can trust his own mind? I've been there with a son who asked those questions and was not comforted by any arguments or words from the Bible regarding his own faith or own ability to believe. Then, he read the Lutheran Confessions.

Also, the statement you provided that one LCMS pastor said about infants dying before baptism, makes it sound like that's the LCMS position.

Glenn E. Chatfield said...

I did not intend for that one statement to be indicative of the official Lutheran position, rather it was indicative as to where the official position may lead.

The Bible gives us the reason for our hope; the entire N.T. is that reason. There is no need to look to baptism, which has no saving power. Reading the Lutheran confessions should not give any additional hope because they are the mere words of man, while the Bible is the Word of God.

God gives us baptism as a symbol, not as a promise of salvation. Baptism means nothing without an accompanying faith, and infants do not have said faith.

Anonymous said...

The repentant thief on the cross. Never baptized. But surely saved, and went to Paradise that very day with Christ.

The Bible is clear we are not to trust in ANY works for salvation. Not church attendance, not baptism, not taking the Lord's table. The Holy Spirit is who Himself gives the regenerated person confidence that they belong to Christ (Romans 8:16).

As Glenn rightly explained, we are to look to the Lord, and Him alone.

-Carolyn

Kathy Mokris said...

Yes, we look to the Lord alone, and how does He give us that faith? Is it a "poof" moment? One moment you don't believe and one moment you do? Think about how fickle we humans are - how many different churches have ever you visited, joined, and left, etc?

Shepherding the human heart is a delicate thing. Look how Jesus handled sinners. Often people get into these discussions and spout various verses to support a position and views, but they forget that there's a real person dealing with his sinful heart. Jesus came to comfort sinners, to save real sinners. It's not just academic. There are people who struggle with their faith because they are told just to believe, know that they believe...but they know how weak and fickle their belief is. They need something to look to that's outside of themselves. This is an aspect of salvation that those strong in faith, or who think they are, will miss. But God knows and He provides. Something as simple as water and words are means He uses to give faith - certainly more concrete than a "poof" moment - although words and hearing alone can also serve as means.

I often ask people, "Are you married? How do you know that you're married?" You had a ceremony. Hmmm...

Glenn E. Chatfield said...

Kathy,

Again, the baptism is not something to look at to prove one is saved. Those who were baptized as babies had no part in the baptism and the baptism provided nothing for them.

Nowhere in Scripture does it say that baptism is a means to give us faith -- that was made up by Rome and taken over by Luther. Again, the WORD tells us how we can know we are saved. We need nothing else to tell us that.

Marriages, by the way, don't always begin with ceremonies. Sometimes it's just a proclamation by a judge, sometimes it's just a proclamation between the couple.

Anonymous said...

Kathy,

As a believer, I always look outside myself: TO CHRIST, not to anything I've done.

If someone is wrestling with their faith, or struggling, Scripture tells us what to do: Jude 1:22, have mercy on those who are doubting.

How does one do this? Point them again and again to the finished work of Christ, and to nothing else.

A helpful hymn: My faith has found a resting place. Lyrics: my faith has found a resting place, not in device nor creed. I trust the Ever Living One, Whose wounds for me shall plead. I need no other argument I need no other plea, it is enough that Jesus died, and that He died for me.

How do I know I am married (and I am)? Because I and my beloved husband are one. I don't look to the ceremony! That was just a public proclamation of a loving commitment we had already made in our hearts! :)

And what Glenn said.

Hope this helps!

-Carolyn

Martha said...

Kathy,

Circumcision is of the heart, not of works under the New Covenant, Jesus Christ. If in fact, water was necessary for salvation, that thief on the tree next to Christ, would be in hell right now. Per Jesus' Words, He is in Paradise for His Word and promises are true.

Even those who are baptized struggle with their faith, and many of whom are baptized live lives apart from Christ, but are solely relying just on their "water baptism" as their way to Heaven. They have believed the lie that baptism equals salvation, yet are unrighteous according to the precepts of the Word.

I personally, am a product of Lutheranism, yet no longer follow the teachings of Martin Luther. After reading many of his penned quotes regarding women and the Jewish people, apart from his theological books, I found it difficult to even believe he was a follower of Jesus Christ. I have my doubts about him, so I was freed from his belief system and instead, turned to studying my Bible more as the best replacement possible. A very good choice for my soul.

Martha