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1 Peter 3:20 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
20 who had formerly been disobedient when the patience of God was waiting in the days of Noah, while the ark was being constructed, in which a few people, that is, eight souls, were carried safely through the water.
Who had formerly been disobedient. Which were once, or formerly, (ποτε,) disobedient or rebellious. The language here does not imply that they had ceased to be disobedient or that they had become obedient at the time when the apostle wrote; but the object is to direct the attention to a former race of men characterized by disobedience and to show the patience evinced under their provocations, in endeavoring to do them good. To say that men were formerly rebellious, or rebellious in a specified age, is no evidence that they are otherwise now. The meaning here is, that they did not obey the command of God when he called them to repentance by the preaching of Noah. Comp. 2 Pet. 2:5, where Noah is called ‘a preacher of righteousness.’
When the patience of God was waiting in the days of Noah. God waited on that guilty race a hundred and twenty years, (Gen. 6:3,) a period sufficiently protracted to evince his long-suffering toward one generation. It is not improbable that during that whole period Noah was, in various ways, preaching to that wicked generation. Comp. Notes on Heb. 11:7.
While the ark was being constructed. It is probable that preparations were made for building the ark during a considerable portion of that time. St. Peter’s, at Rome, was a much longer time in building; and it is to be remembered that in the age of the world when Noah lived, and with the imperfect knowledge of the arts of naval architecture which must have prevailed, it was a much more serious undertaking to construct an ark that would hold such a variety and such a number of animals as that was designed to, and that would float safely for more than a year in a universal flood, than it was to construct such a fabric as St. Peter’s, in the days when that edifice was reared.
In which a few people, that is, eight souls —Noah and his wife, his three sons, and their wives, Gen. 7:7. The allusion to their being saved here seems to be to encourage those whom Peter addressed to perseverance and fidelity, in the midst of all the opposition which they might experience. Noah was not disheartened. Sustained by the Spirit of Christ—the presence of the Son of God—he continued to preach. He did not abandon his purpose, and the result was that he was saved. True, they were few in number who were saved; the great mass continued to be wicked, but this very fact should be an encouragement to us—that though the great mass of any one generation may be wicked, God can protect and save the few who are faithful.
Through the water. They were borne up by the waters and were thus preserved. The thought on which the apostle makes his remarks turn, and which leads him in the next verse to the suggestions about baptism, is, that water was employed in their preservation, or that they owed their safety, in an important sense, to that element. In like manner, we owe our salvation, in an important sense, to water; or, there is an important agency which it is made to perform in our salvation. The apostle does not say that it was in the same way, or that the one was a type designed to represent the other, or even that the efficacy of water was in both cases the same, but he says that as Noah owed his salvation to water, so there is an important sense in which water is employed in ours. There is, in certain respects—he does not say in all respects—a resemblance between the agency of water in the salvation of Noah and the agency of water in our salvation. In both cases, water is employed, though it may not be that it is in the same manner or with precisely the same efficacy.
By Albert Barnes and Edward D. Andrews