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1 Peter 3:21 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the flesh but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,
In this verse, the apostle Peter explains the significance of baptism in the Christian faith. He says that baptism is not just a physical act of cleansing, but rather it is a symbol of the believer’s commitment to following Jesus and living a life that is pleasing to God. It is also a way of identifying with Jesus in his death and resurrection and is seen as an important step in the process of becoming a Christian.
Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you. There are some various readings here in the Greek text, but the sense is not essentially varied. Some have proposed to read (ῷ) to which instead of (ὅ) which, so as to make the sense ‘the antitype to which baptism now also saves us.’ The antecedent to the relative, whichever word is used, is clearly not the ark but water, and the idea is, that as Noah was saved by water, so there is a sense in which water is made instrumental in our salvation. The mention of water in the case of Noah, in connection with his being saved, by an obvious association suggested to the mind of the apostle the use of water in our salvation, and hence led him to make the remark about the connection of baptism with our salvation. The Greek word here rendered figure—ἀντίτυπον—antitype means properly, resisting a blow or impression, (from ἀντί and τύπος;) that is, hard, solid. In the New Testament, however, it is used in a different sense; and (ἀντί) anti, in composition, implies resemblance, correspondence; and hence the word means, formed after a type or model; like; corresponding; that which corresponds to a type.—Rob. Lex. The word occurs only in this place, and Heb. 9:24, rendered figures. The meaning here is, that baptism corresponded to, or had a resemblance to, the water by which Noah was saved; or that there was a use of water in the one case which corresponded in some respects to the water that was used in the other; to wit, in effecting salvation. The apostle does not say that it corresponded in all respects; in respect, e. g., to quantity, or to the manner of the application, or to the efficacy, but there is a sense in which water plays an important part in our salvation, as it did in his.
Baptism. Not the mere application of water, for that idea the apostle expressly disclaims, when he says that it involves not ‘putting away the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God.’ The sense is that baptism, including all that is properly meant by baptism as a religious rite—that is, baptism administered in connection with true repentance, and true faith in the Lord Jesus, and when it is properly a symbol of the putting away of sin, and of the renewing influences of the Holy Spirit, and an act of unreserved dedication to God—now saves us. On the meaning of the word baptism, see Notes on Matthew 3:6.
Now saves you. The water saved Noah and his family from perishing in the flood, to wit, by bearing up the ark. Baptism, in the proper sense of the term, as explained above, where the water used is a symbol, in like manner now saves us; that is, the water is an emblem of that purifying by which we are saved. It may be said to save us, not as the meritorious cause, but as the indispensable condition of salvation. No man can be saved without that regenerated and purified heart of which baptism is the appropriate symbol, and when it would be proper to administer that ordinance. The apostle cannot have meant that water saves us in the same way in which it saved Noah, for that cannot be true. It is neither the same in quantity, nor is it applied in the same way, nor is it efficacious in the same manner. It is indeed connected with our salvation in its own proper way as an emblem of that purifying of the heart by which we are saved. Thus it corresponds with the salvation of Noah by water and is the (ἀντίτυπον) antitype of that. Nor does it mean that the salvation of Noah by water was designed to be a type of Christian baptism. There is not the least evidence of that, and it should not be affirmed without proof. The apostle saw a resemblance in some respects between the one and the other, such a resemblance that the one naturally suggested the other to his mind, and the resemblance was so important as to make it the proper ground of remark.
[But if Noah’s preservation in the ark, be the type of that salvation of which baptism is the emblem, who shall say it was not so designed of God? Must we indeed regard the resemblance between Noah’s deliverance and ours, as a happy coincidence merely? But the author is accustomed to deny typical design in very clear cases; and in avoiding one extreme seems to have gone into another. Some will have types everywhere; and, therefore, others will allow them nowhere. See Supp. Note, Heb. 7:1]
The points of resemblance in the two cases seem to have been these: (1.) There was salvation in both; Noah was saved from death and we from eternal destruction. (2.) Water is employed in both cases—in the case of Noah to uphold the ark, in ours to be a symbol of our purification. (3.) The water in both cases is connected with salvation: in the case of Noah, by sustaining the ark; in ours, by being a symbol of salvation, of purity, of cleansing, of that by which we may be brought to God. The meaning of this part of the verse, therefore, may be thus expressed: ‘Noah and his family were saved by water, the antitype to which (to wit, that which in important respects corresponds to that) baptism (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, or the mere application of material water, but that purifying of the heart of which it is the appropriate emblem) now saves us.’
Not as a removal of dirt from the flesh. Not a mere external washing, however solemnly done. No outward ablution or purifying saves us, but that which pertains to the conscience. This important clause is thrown in to guard the statement from the abuse to which it would otherwise be liable, the supposition that baptism has of itself a purifying and saving power. To guard against this, the apostle expressly declares that he means much more than a mere outward application of water.
But as an appeal to God for a good conscience. The word here rendered answer (ἐπερώτημα) means properly a question, an inquiry. It is ‘spoken of a question put to a convert at baptism, or rather of the whole process of question and answer; that is, by implication, examination, profession.’—Robinson, Lex. It is designed to mark the spiritual character of the baptismal rite in contrast with a mere external purification, and evidently refers to something that occurred at baptism; some question, inquiry, or examination, that took place then; and it would seem to imply, (1,) that when baptism was performed, there was some question or inquiry in regard to the belief of the candidate; (2,) that an answer was expected, implying that there was a good conscience; that is, that the candidate had an enlightened conscience, and was sincere in his profession; and, (3,) that the real efficacy of baptism, or its power in saving, was not in the mere external rite, but in the state of the heart, indicated by the question and answer, of which that was the emblem. On the meaning of the phrase ‘a good conscience,’ see Notes on ver. 16 of this chapter. Compare on this verse Neander, Geschich der Pflanz. u. Leit. der chr, Kirche, i. p. 203, seq., in Bibl. Reposi. iv. 272, seq. It is in the highest degree probable that questions would be proposed to candidates for baptism respecting their belief, and we have an instance of this fact undoubtedly in the case before us. How extensive such examinations would be, what points would be embraced, how much reference there was to personal experience, we have, of course, no certain means of ascertaining. We may suppose, however, that the examination pertained to what constituted the essential features of the Christian religion, as distinguished from other systems, and to the cordial belief of that system by the candidate.
Through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. That is, we are saved in this manner through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The whole efficiency in the case is derived from that. If he had not been raised from the dead, baptism would have been vain, and there would have been no power to save us. See this illustrated at length in the Notes on Rom. 6:4, 5. The points, therefore, which are established in regard to baptism by this important passage are these: (1.) That Christian baptism is not a mere external rite; a mere outward ablution; a mere application of water to the body. It is not contemplated that it shall be an empty form, and its essence does not consist in a mere ‘putting away of the filth of the flesh.’ There is a work to be done in respect to the conscience which cannot be reached by the application of water. (2.) That there was an examination among the early Christians when a candidate was about to be baptized, and of course such an examination is proper now. Whatever was the ground of the examination, it related to that which existed before the baptism was administered. It was not expected that it should be accomplished by the baptism. There is, therefore, implied evidence here that there was no reliance placed on that ordinance to produce that which constituted the ‘answer of a good conscience;’ in other words, that it was not supposed to have an efficacy to produce that of itself and was not a converting or regenerating ordinance. (3.) The ‘answer’ which was returned in the inquiry, was to be such as indicated a good conscience; that is, as Bloomfield expresses it, (New Test, in loc.,) ‘that which enables us to return such an answer as springs from a good conscience towards God, which can be no other than the inward change and renovation wrought by the Spirit.’ It was supposed, therefore, that there would be an internal work of grace; that there would be much more than an outward rite in the whole transaction. The application of water is, in fact, an emblem or symbol of that grace in the heart and is to be administered as denoting that. It does not convey grace to the soul by any physical efficacy of the water. It is a symbol of the purifying influences of Christianity and is made a means of grace in the same way as obedience to any other of the commands of God. (4.) There is no efficacy in the mere application of water in any form or with any ceremonies of Christianity to put away sin. It is the ‘good conscience,’ the renovated heart, the purified soul, of which baptism is the emblem, that furnishes evidence of the Divine acceptance and favor. Comp. Heb. 9:9, 10. There must be a deep internal work on the soul of man, in order that he may be acceptable to God; and when that is wanting, no external rite is of any avail. Yet, (5,) it does not follow from this that baptism is of no importance. The argument of the apostle here is that it is of great importance. Noah was saved by water; and so baptism has an important connection with our salvation. As water bore up the ark, and was the means of saving Noah, so baptism by water is the emblem of our salvation; and when administered in connection with a ‘good conscience,’ that is, with a renovated heart, it is as certainly connected with our salvation as the sustaining waters of the flood were with the salvation of Noah. No man can prove from the Bible that baptism has no important connection with salvation; and no man can prove that by neglecting it he will be as likely to obtain the Divine favor as he would by observing it. It is a means of exhibiting great and important truths in an impressive manner to the soul; it is a means of leading the soul to an entire dedication to a God of purity; it is a means through which God manifests himself to the soul, and through which he imparts grace, as he does in all other acts of obedience to his commandments.
By Albert Barnes and Edward D. Andrews