Monday, March 29, 2010

1 Peter and Baptism

"For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God's right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him." - 1 Peter 3:18-22

This is one of the clearest texts showing that baptism does indeed save men. When dealing with this passage, I have heard several Reformed interpreters tell me that "this passage is just hard to understand" so that we should not base a doctrine off of it. However, the passage is clear to me.

Peter states directly that "baptism now saves you." These words should bear their obvious meaning. To make it even more clear, Peter gives an analogy from the old Testament. Noah was saved from God's wrath on mankind through water. In the same way, the Christian is saved from God's wrath through water. For those who say that baptism simply symbolizes our being saved I ask, did the water which Noah's ark floated on merely symbolize his salvation? No. Clearly, Noah, through the water, was actually saved. If the flood was a type of baptism, then was the type greater than its fulfillment? Was the water of the flood salvation from God's wrath yet baptism a mere symbol? This is not the way typology works. The fulfillment is always greater than the type. The water saved Noah from God's wrath, however, baptism is greater because it saves men from God's eternal eschatological wrath.

The argument most commonly used against the seemingly obvious meaning of the passage says that because Peter qualifies his statement by saying, "not the removal of dirt from the body", he must not refer to water baptism since water baptism does indeed remove dirt from the body. However, this is to miss the point of Peter's argument. The reason he uses the flood as an example is because water is what saved Noah. Would Peter be saying "God saved Noah through water which symbolizes your salvation through baptism, but not water baptism, baptism by the Spirit." This ruins the analogy. The point Peter is making here is that what saves us in our baptism is not the cleansing of the body, but the fact that through it our conscience is cleansed and we are united to the resurrection of Christ.

To say that what Peter means here is that though Noah was saved through water, we are saved by the resurrection of Christ which is symbolized by baptism destroys the argument.

If we are going to stick to the clear text of scripture it must be admitted that baptism does actually save the believer.


Anonymous said...

I don't know if you addressed this but what is the Lutheran view. Can you be saved if your not baptized?

Anonymous said...

Excellent post, what would your response be to the standard Reformed perspective on this text, namely that this is sacramental language and there is such a close link between the sign (baptism) and the thing symbolised (salvation) that the sign can be spoken of as the thing symbolised. In fairness this happens a lot with circumcision in the Old Testament.

Jordan Cooper said...

Yes it is possible to be saved without baptism. However, it is an ordinary means by which God works salvation. It is necessary for salvation, though not absolutely necessary in rare circumstances. True faith, however, will always lead to baptism (if one was not baptized earlier in life). I will post something tomorrow giving a fuller explanation of exactly what the Lutheran view is.

Jordan Cooper said...

This type of Reformed interpretation I have heard many times. Honestly, I think it is just a way to get around what the text says. Whenever something real is attributed to the sacrament, one can simply say "well that is only because there is such a connection between the sign and the thing signified." It does not deal seriously with the text. I don't buy it. The text does not make these qualifications.
As for the reference to circumcision, I believe the Old Testament talks in realistic terms about the effect of circumcision. It did more than just symbolize something as well. It was entrance into God's typological kingdom of Israel. Thus effectual language about circumcision refers to real blessings coming from the typological Mosaic covenant which one entered into through circumcision.