It is written:
…who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water. 21 There is also an antitype which now saves us—baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, (1 Peter 3:20-21)
To understand better what Peter teaches us here about baptism, let’s familiarize ourselves with the context of the Book.
Throughout 1 Peter, the Apostle encourages Christians to not give in to despair when dealing with suffering for various reasons. These disciples to whom Peter was writing were undergoing very difficult times and trials. The Apostle wants them to understand that their suffering is not in vain-instead, God has a good purpose for allowing their hardships and heartbreaks.
Indeed, God is going to allow their suffering in order to bring about great good!
Suffering can help to demonstrate the genuineness of our faith, and this will lead to praise, glory, and honor when Jesus returns (1 Peter 1:6-7);
Suffering that we endure can lead to the conversion of sinners when they witness how Christians face the trials of life and persecution (1 Peter 2:12);
Suffering enables Christians to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, and allows us to learn to trust in God as He did (1 Peter 2:21-25);
Suffering for the sake of righteousness will lead to God blessing us (1 Peter 3:14);
Suffering for the Lord in the face of hostile neighbors can lead to opportunity to teach God’s Word to our enemies so that they may hopefully be “ashamed” and saved (1 Peter 3:15-16);
Suffering for Christ will lead us to rejoice in the good that God is going to bring (1 Peter 4:12-13);
Suffering for the Lord will lead to a greater display of the Holy Spirit in our lives (1 Peter 4:14);
Suffering helps us to learn to be humble and to cast all of our cares upon God (1 Peter 5:6-7);
Suffering for the Lord reminds us of the bond and fellowship that we have with other Christians around the world (1 Peter 5:8-9);
Suffering for the cause of Christ will help to perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle us (1 Peter 5:10).
Notice specifically that suffering can be allowed by God in order to save the lost. Peter specifically mentions this as a logical consequence of what Christ did on Calvary:
1 Peter 2:21-25-For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: 22 “WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH”; 23 who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously; 24 who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed. 25 For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
The amazing love of Jesus shown especially in His suffering leads people to return to Him like sheep who had gone astray.
In the same way, the suffering that we experience in life as we are persecuted for being Christians may lead others to be saved through our example and through our proclamation of God’s Word:
1 Peter 2:11-12-Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, 12 having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation.
Peter encourages the Christians to live Christ-like lives, and one reason is because of the hope that our enemies will “glorify God.”
What does this mean?
“We see the same contrast in Revelation between those who believe and glorify God (Rev 11:13) and those who refuse to repent and do not honor him (Rev 16:9). Peter exhorted believers to live noble lives because in doing so unbelievers will see their good works. Because they observe such works, some unbelievers will repent and believe and therefore give glory to God on the last day.28 The use of the participle “see” (from the verb epopteu) also suggests that salvation is in view, for the same term is used in 1 Pet 3:2, where the submission of wives is intended to lead to the salvation of unbelieving husbands. Peter was confident that some unbelievers will be saved when they notice the godliness of believers. The unbelievers may revile Christians, but as they notice the goodness in their lives, some will repent and be saved, and as a result of their salvation God will be glorified.” (Thomas R. Schreiner, The New American Commentary: 1, 2 Peter, Jude, Volume 37, 124 (Kindle Edition); Nashville, TN; B&H Publishing Group)
To “glorify God” means to convert to Him.
So through our suffering, the hope is that God will be glorified by people turning to Him and being saved.
With this in mind, Peter now is going to teach the Christians how Christ (between His death and resurrection three days later) had descended into Hades to preach the Word of God to the souls in that realm. He especially preached to the people of Noah’s day, who had perished in the Flood.
Combining what he had written about God’s redemptive purposes for suffering and the need for obedience, Peter now reminds these Christians about another relevant example: Noah! This faithful man of God had been willing to endure suffering and by faith had built the ark for the saving of his household (Hebrews 11:7).
The Apostle now draws the connection to baptism, showing us how Noah (by his obedience and suffering as seen in the Flood) foreshadowed salvation through baptism.
Let’s notice several facts.
First, Peter here discusses how the the Noahs were saved through (Greek preposition dia, which means through the instrumentality of) the water. This was the same way that we are saved through baptism. Some argue that the Noahs were saved from the water, and this is certainly true in a sense; however, it is not what Peter is telling us here! Instead, there is a way that the Noahs were saved “through” the water.
Well, HOW were the Noahs saved through the water? Really, in only one way: they found themselves in an old sinful world: then-by means of the water-they were set down into a new cleansed state. In the same way, baptism saves us. Noah’s suffering had not been in vain-God had used it to save his household and there were still souls benefitting from his obedience!
In the same way, our obedience to God in the midst of suffering is not in vain.
Second, Peter is absolutely clear that baptism is part of God’s plan of salvation for us. Many in our world deny this, yet the Scripture still speaks: baptism saves! This is, indeed, in harmony with every other text of Scripture that we have examined in this study. In every passage of Scripture without exception, where baptism and salvation are mentioned together, baptism ALWAYS precedes salvation.
Third, Peter teaches us that baptism is an “answer” of a good conscience towards God. The Greek word translated here as “answer” in the New King James Version is eperotema. Now, when you study the way that this word is translated in other Bible translations, you will see that it is sometimes rendered as “answer,” sometimes as “appeal,” and sometimes as “inquiry.” The fact is, eperotema can mean all of these things!
Speaking of how baptism is like a “pledge” to God, Barclay writes:
“(2) Peter calls baptism the pledge of a good conscience to God (verse 21). The word Peter uses for pledge is eperōtēma. In every business contract, there was a definite question and answer which made the contract binding. The question was: ‘Do you accept the terms of this contract, and bind yourself to observe them?’ And the answer, before witnesses, was: ‘Yes.’ Without that question and answer, the contract was not valid. The technical word for that question-and-answer clause is eperōtēma in Greek, stipulatio in Latin. Peter is, in effect, saying that in baptism God said to those coming direct from the old religion: ‘Do you accept the terms of my service? Do you accept its privileges and promises, and do you undertake its responsibilities and its demands?’ And, in the act of being baptized, each individual answered: ‘Yes.’” (William Barclay, The New Daily Study Bible: The Letters Of James And Peter, 282-283 (Kindle Edition); Louisville, KY; Westminster John Knox Press)
Isn’t that beautiful? Baptism is (in effect) where we exchange our wedding vows with Jesus.
Ferguson also observes:
“The other difficult word in 1 Peter 3: 20-21 is what I have translated “pledge.” The noun’s basic meaning is “question,” from which comes the meaning “request” and so the usual translation of “appeal to God for a good conscience.” However, the word could be used for the “answer” to an inquiry. Accordingly, many prefer the translation “a pledge to God.” 602 The papyri contain instances where the word is the equivalent of the Latin stipulatio, the demand (in question form) made by a prospective creditor of a debtor and then the contract resulting from a positive response….A decisive consideration is the prepositional phrase “toward God,” placed with the word for “pledge” (or “appeal”) and not with “good conscience.” Whatever is indicated by the word under consideration, it is directed toward God, not received from him. Hence, I would opt for the secondary meaning of a stipulatio, the contract or pledge made in response to what is required. If this legal background is behind the usage in 1 Peter 3: 21, then the translation “pledge” (or something comparable, such as “agreement” or “undertaking to be loyal”) is established.” (Everett Ferguson, Baptism In The Early Church: History, Theology, And Liturgy In The First Five Centuries, 4093-4115 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company)
Baptism is certainly a “pledge” before God. However, it is not limited to this. Indeed, there is also a powerful case to be made that Peter intended the word translated here to carry with it the idea of “appeal.”
“The key word here is appeal, which translates the Greek word eperotema (pronounced ep-eh-ROE-tay-mah). Unfortunately the word eperotema is not easy to translate, and it occurs nowhere else in the New Testament so that comparisons might be made with its use in I Peter 3:21…“A final view is that the word basically means an appeal to God for or by a good conscience (as in the NASB, the RSV, and the NEB). Variations of this are prayer (Moffatt’s translation) and request (Rotherham’s Emphasized New Testament). With so many variations suggested it is difficult to be dogmatic in our translation of the word, but my firm conviction is that the last view is the correct one. The NASB translation is correct; baptism saves as “an appeal to God for a good conscience.” The first reason for this choice is the fact that the common meaning for the verb forms of this word is “to ask, to inquire, to request,” both inside and outside the New Testament….“In the final analysis the meaning both warranted by the lexicons and consistent with the contextual requirements is that of baptism as an appeal or prayer to God for a good conscience. (In this understanding the phrase “to God” or “toward God” [Greek, eis theon] goes with “appeal,” not “conscience.” It is not “a good conscience toward God” but “an appeal to God,” as the Greek word order itself suggests.) An appeal is a kind of question, in the sense of a request. Greeven says this meaning may be seen in the verb in Matthew 16: 1, and that the noun form in I Peter 3: 21 may be translated “prayer.” 6 Thus baptism is a prayer to God for a good conscience. Even though this prayer is something done by the human participant in baptism, it is consistent with salvation by grace because by its very nature it points beyond itself to God and simply underscores the divine working that is the heart and essence of baptism. The person who submits to baptism is by that very act calling upon God to do what he has promised to do in that moment. Baptism saves because it is the prayer of the human heart crying out to God for spiritual cleansing by His grace. From the standpoint of the human participant this is the most that it can be, but that is enough. God himself does the rest. This leads to the third and final reason why appeal is the preferred meaning of eperotema in I Peter 3: 21, namely, because this idea is equivalent to the “calling on His name” of Acts 22: 16. As we saw in the study of this passage above, in connection with his baptism the sinner Saul was exhorted to call upon the name of the Lord for salvation. That is exactly the point of I Peter 3: 21. Baptism saves us not because it is something we ourselves are doing but just because it is a prayer that calls upon the name of the only one who has the power to save, our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Jack Cottrell, Baptism: A Biblical Study by Jack Cottrell, 2225-2277 (Kindle Edition); Joplin, Missouri; College Press Publishing Company)
In further studying about the word family of eperotema, we learn:
“ἐρωτάω (erōtaō), ask, ask a question, request (2263); ἐπερωτάω (eperōtaō), ask (2089); ἐπερώτημα (eperōtēma), question, request, appeal (2090). CL & OT 1. In cl. Gk. erōtaō means to ask, ask a question. eperōtaō means to consult a person or to put a question. Later Gk. used it technically for putting a formal question at a meeting or in the process of making a contract. It may even mean to accept the terms of a treaty. In religious contexts both vbs. can mean to put a question to an oracle or a god. The noun eperōtēma can mean a question put to another person or to someone in authority for a formal, binding answer. 2. In the LXX erōtaō commonly means ask (e.g., Gen. 24: 47, 57; Exod. 3: 13; Isa. 41: 28). eperōtaō is used for the same idea (e.g., Gen. 24: 23; 26: 7; Isa. 19: 3), including inquiry of God (e.g., 65: 1). eperōtēma occurs only in Theodotion’s version of Dan. 4: 14 and in Sir. 33: 3….“3. The noun eperōtēma is found in the NT only at 1 Pet. 3: 21 in respect of baptism: “This water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge [eperōtēma] of a good conscience toward God.” If “pledge” is an accurate meaning here, it denotes a statement of faith given by the one being baptized in answer to a formal question. This person should make such a statement with a clear conscience. Possibly it also means that baptism itself is a prayer to God for a good conscience. Or again, it may mean the answer by God to a such a question, i.e., the granting of a clear conscience toward God (cf. Heb 10: 19–25).” (Verlyn D. Verbrugge, New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology: Abridged Edition, 209-210 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; Zondervan)
There is thus a powerful case that baptism is the ultimate “sinner’s prayer.”
Truthfully, we see how eperotema in this passage can easily connote that baptism is an answer, an appeal, and a pledge. It is in the act of baptism that we are answering God’s invitation to be saved, appealing to Him for forgiveness, and pledging ourselves to Him.
In all of these ways, we see that baptism is part of God’s plan of redemption.
Fourth, notice again that baptism is tied in directly with the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. Peter is adamant that these things are what gives baptism its meaning and power. It is not that the water used in the rite of baptism is somehow holy or sacred: instead, it is in this rite that God cleanses the sinner, saving him and imparting new life, by the work of Christ Jesus.
Fifth, the text seems to imply a connection between baptism and spiritual warfare. The text connects baptism with the defeat of the fallen angels and powers.
Michael Heiser is a remarkable scholar of the Word of God, yet sadly denies the Bible truth that baptism is part of God’s plan of redemption. Nevertheless, his comments on this text in 1 Peter are worthy of consideration.
While discussing how Peter references the events of Genesis 6:1-4 in our passage in 1 Peter, Heiser reiterates that the fallen angels were defeated at Calvary by Christ (cf. Colossians 2:16). While denying that baptism is part of the plan of redemption (despite the clear testimony of Peter), Heiser discusses how when a person is baptized, he renounces Satan and his forces which are at work in the world:
“Every baptism is a reiteration of their doom in the wake of the gospel and the kingdom of God. Early Christians understood the typology of this passage and its link back to the fallen angels of Genesis 6 . Early baptismal formulas included a renunciation of Satan and his angels for this very reason. 7 Baptism was—and still is—spiritual warfare.” (Michael S. Heiser, The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible, 6278-6283 (Kindle Edition); Bellingham, WA; Lexham Press)
Paul had also connected baptism with victory over Satan by the cross in Colossians 2:12-16, so Peter’s declaration here fits in perfectly well with these facts. However, where Heiser’s illustration breaks down is in the fact that according to both Peter and Paul, the Cross of Christ has the power to provide pardon even for the fallen angels if they would repent.
Colossians 1:16-20 (NKJV)-16 For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. 17 And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. 18 And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence. 19 For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, 20 and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross.
What Jesus did at Calvary has the power to bring reconciliation to not only those on Earth, but even to those in Heaven-specifically, thrones and dominions and principalities and powers. These were all Jewish expressions used in the first century to reference the fallen angels and demonic powers:
“Rather, we should suppose a hierarchy of heavenly powers -“thrones” superior to “lordships,” and so on (see particularly Lightfoot 151-52). The “thrones” are assuredly to be located in heaven (cf. Dan. 7:9; Rev. 4:4; though cf. Wis. 7:8), not least because the word is used for heavenly beings in Testament of Levi 3:8 (in the seventh heaven, with “authorities”); 2 Enoch 20:1; and Apocalypse of Elijah 1:10-11. Likewise the “dominions” (xvptotirltiES) are almost certainly to be taken as referring to heavenly powers, in the light of Eph. 1:20-21 (also I Enoch 61:10 and 2 Enoch 20:1; F. Schroger, EDNT 2.332). But the same must be true of the “principalities” (apxai) and “authorities” (~4ovaiat) in the light of 2:10 and 15, not to mention the other New Testament parallels (I Cor. 15:24; Eph. 1:21 again; 3:10; 6:12; see also on 2:10). The fact that all four terms thus refer only to the invisible, heavenly realm23 and the repeated emphasis on Christ’s supremacy and triumph over the “principalities and powers” in 2:10 and 15 do therefore strengthen the likelihood that the two lines were inserted by the author(s) of the letter, sacrificing the balance of the hymn in order to add a further reference to Christ’s superiority over all beings in heaven as well as on earth.” (James D.G. Dunn, The New International Greek Commentary: The Epistles To The Colossians And To Philemon, 1292-1301 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company)
Nevertheless, Heiser does make a valid argument that in baptism, we are renouncing Satan and his hierarchy in the world and in that sense, baptism could certainly be considered as spiritual warfare.
Finally, this passage of Scripture teaches us something that we have seen in other texts of God’s Word: baptism was not something which a person grasped perfectly when baptized into Christ. Rather, there was growth in the Word of God that took place after baptism as new realities were learned and erroneous beliefs were unlearned. In these passages, the disciples were readily acknowledged as disciples of Christ with no need of rebaptism. While rebaptism may sometimes be necessary, it must be carefully decided and individually chosen.
Through Christ, we have the victory!
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. Amen.