Sunday Morning Greek Blog

December 4, 2011

Immersion (Baptism) that Saves: 1 Peter 3:18–22

I have a couple notes for blog readers before I get into the main post today.

  1. For all readers: Instead of customizing the hyperlinks or providing transliterations and pronunciations, I am going to start hyperlinking the first occurrence of each Greek and Hebrew word in my blog to the entry in http://www.blueletterbible.org. That Bible study site has numerous resources available, including a link to hear the Greek or Hebrew word pronounced and the option to get a complete concordance listing of all occurrences of the Greek or Hebrew word. If you’re not already familiar with the site, I trust you will find it useful and engaging. (I am not being compensated for promoting BlueLetterBible at this time.)
  2. For those readers who use the sentence diagrams: At least once a week, it seems like the search engine feature in WordPress lets me know that someone hit on my site by looking for a diagram of a particular verse. I am pleasantly surprised to find I’m not the only one who has an interest in diagramming, in spite of how much I griped about it in junior high. For those of you who use the diagrams, I would appreciate knowing what your interest is in them so that I can get a sense if I need to do anything different with them or provide a different kind of diagram. Are you just curious? Are you a student looking for help on an assignment? (If the latter, I trust you aren’t passing off my work as yours!) Are you a preacher looking to better explain the passage? Whatever your interest, please drop me a short note in the comments. There’s obviously some interest in them, and I’m happy to share the fruit of my labor with you.

Introduction

Growing up as a sprinkled Presbyterian, I was understandably intrigued when I came to understand my need for a personal relationship with Christ and discovered the concept of “believer’s baptism.” It was a completely new concept to me, as I had never been exposed to it before my high school years. In college, when I got involved with the restoration movement, I still had many questions about the practice when I went to that first meeting at 1633 Q Street (now a parking lot) just off the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus. That night, just a little over 30 years ago, I got shuffled off to the pastor’s office, where I met Terry & Kris Christlieb. I had several questions about baptism, and they answered them to my satisfaction that night, so much so that we invaded Capitol City Christian Church at 9 p.m., where I got immersed. I was sold from that point on.

I’ve had my ups and downs on immersion theology through the years. Is it an absolute necessity? Is it just a “work of the flesh”? When is the right time? Just what is the “effectiveness” of immersion when it comes to salvation? But when I ran across such passages as Romans 6 and 1 Peter 3:18–22, it was hard for me to diminish the importance of immersion in the life of a Christ-follower. And when I discovered the connection between Acts 2:38 and Matthew’s Last Supper account, I was convinced of the efficacy of immersion as part of the salvation and maturing experience of the Christ-follower.

1 Peter 3:18–22

Of all the passages on immersion, or baptism as many call it (βάπτισμα, βαπτίζω), 1 Peter 3:21 is the only one that comes out and says directly that immersion saves. Yet this gets overlooked so much, because those who are not convinced of the efficacy of immersion seem to think it means something other than what is plainly written on the page. But what is the author trying to communicate by connecting it to the Noahic flood? Is the flood what saves us, or the ark? The verse diagram in Figure 1 below places 1 Peter 3:21 in its larger context so that you can see what the connections are.

I want to jump down to 20b, where Peter says (my translation): “In the ark, a few, that is, eight people, were saved through water.” In this case, the water was destructive (see 2 Peter 2:5), but it had the power to save Noah by supporting the ark on its year-and-a-half voyage. The flood destroyed all living creatures except those on the ark and those that could already live in water, but the ark was the vessel that protected Noah, his family, and the other living creatures “through the water.”

Now for verse 21: The word for ark (κιβωτός) is feminine, but the relative pronoun that begins verse 21 is neuter, so it can’t refer to the ark. The most immediate antecedent to the relative pronoun is “water” (ὕδωρ; genitive is ὕδατος), which is neuter, so Peter is referring to the waters of the flood with this pronoun. So in verse 21, Peter says, “This water corresponds to immersion.” The word “corresponds to” (ἀντίτυπος) is actually an adjective in Greek that modifies βάπτισμα, so the phrase might be more accurately rendered, “This water is functional baptism” or more literally, “This water is typical baptism.”

Peter goes on to say that this baptismal water “now also saves you.” The “now also” is relative to the previous verse. Not only does the ark, then, typify salvation, but water does as well. Water is what destroyed sinful humanity, which is exactly what happens when someone is immersed into Christ. Romans 6:3–4 says, “Or don’t you know that all of us who were immersed into Christ Jesus were immersed into his death? We were therefore buried with him through immersion into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”

What I found interesting is that the part that follows “now also saves you” has two nominative case nouns. “Removal” (ἀπόθεσις) and “appeal” (ἐπερώτημα) are both nominative case, agreeing with the nominative case of βάπτισμα, so they are essentially appositives to βάπτισμα. Here’s how a literal translation might look: “This immersion now saves you, not the body-dirt removal immersion, but the clear-conscience-pledge to God immersion.” But this rendition is missing the most important part of the verse, the final phrase.

The last phrase of verse 21 parallels the “through water” at the end of verse 20. “Through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” is the qualifier that gives the water its power to save. Just as the ark saved Noah and his family through the flood waters, the resurrection is what carries us through the act of immersion. Again, I refer you back to Romans 6:3–4, where this is made abundantly clear. So if I complete my literal translation with that phrase, it would look something like this: “This immersion now saves you through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, not the body-dirt removal immersion, but the clear-conscience-pledge to God immersion” (emphasis mine).

So immersion is really a two-way street to God. If we just get immersed for show (the “body-dirt removal immersion”), immersion is ineffective. God is not into rituals without substance. But if we come to the waters of immersion pledging ourselves to live for him with a clear conscience, he effects the power of the resurrection in immersion and destroys the old self. He renews us and rescues us from the wages of sin.

A quick note on βαπτίζω

Some have tried to argue that βαπτίζω does not mean “completely immerse,” because that is what the related word βάπτω means. But the –ίζω ending on βαπτίζω is an intensifier. It is quite similar, in sound and function, to the difference between the musical directions forte (loud) and fortissimo (very loud). So βαπτίζω is an intense form of dipping, or immersion. I don’t have to time to list the many verbs in Greek that indicate a similar pattern, but I assure you, they are quite common in the NT.

Conclusion

So immersion is certainly not just a work of the flesh. Just as the ark supported and sustained Noah and his family through the flood, so too the resurrection sustains us through the act of immersion. But beware of the “dunk ’em and ditch ’em” philosophy. Noah and his family certainly did not sit idly by on the ark for a year and a half. They worked hard daily to keep the animals and themselves fed and healthy. Immersion is not a terminal point in the life of a Christ-follower. On the contrary, it is a watershed moment (pun intended) where we tell God, “I’m sold out for you.”

Peace,

Scott Stocking

Figure 1: Diagram for 1 Peter 3:18–22 (Greek and English)

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2 Comments »

  1. I Peter 3:21…Let’s take another look at this controversial Bible verse

    1 Peter 3:21 (ESV)

    1 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

    Ask an orthodox Christian what this Bible passage says and this will be his response, “Baptism saves you.” Pretty simple interpretation of the passage, right?

    Ask a Baptist or evangelical what this passage says, and he will say something like this: “Water baptism is a picture of our appeal to God for a clean conscience which occurs in our spiritual baptism: our decision for Christ/our born again experience. This passage is not talking about water baptism, it is talking about spiritual baptism.”

    Ok. Let’s take a look at another passage of Scripture:

    Hebrews 10:22 ESV

    let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.

    What is it that gives us the full assurance of faith according to this Bible passage? Our decision to accept Jesus into our hearts? Our decision to be born again? Our decision to make a decision for Christ? No. The simple, plain rendering of this passage of Holy Scripture tells us that our assurance of faith is based on God sprinkling our hearts, cleansing us of our evil conscience, AND washing our bodies with pure water!

    There can be only one explanation for the “when” of full assurance of salvation: WATER BAPTISM!

    Both of these passages talk about having our consciences cleansed, and the verse in Hebrews clarifies that this cleansing does not take place in our mind or as a public profession; it takes place in our heart, our soul; and this cleansing occurs at the same time as “pure” water is applied to our body! This is water baptism, Baptist and evangelical brothers and sisters! Stop twisting and contorting the plain, simple words of God to conform to your sixteenth century false teachings!

    Believe God’s plain, simple Word.

    Gary
    Luther, Baptists, and Evangelicals
    an orthodox Lutheran blog

    Comment by gary — September 16, 2013 @ 5:25 pm | Reply

    • Gary, thank you for your comment. I’m sensing that in the first part of your post, however, you’re putting words in my mouth by assuming I’m speaking only of some sort of spiritual baptism. I assure you, I am not. I believe in the efficacy of immersion. I also believe that immersion best represents the burial and resurrection that Romans 6 speaks of: you can’t be buried by sprinkling.

      The Hebrews passage you cite is not, in my opinion, a reference to baptism or immersion at all, but rather an allusion to the sacrificial practices of the OT. If you’re trying to use that passage to demonstrate sprinkling is the proper form of a Christian cleansing ritual, then you would have to convince me that ῥαντίζω is synonymous with βαπτίζω, which it’s not.

      See my other posts on the subject, namely the one about the connection between Acts 2:38 and Matthew 26:28: immersion is for the forgiveness of sins. Peter called on the crowd in a public setting to get immersed.

      Thank you.
      Scott

      Comment by Scott Stocking — September 16, 2013 @ 11:41 pm | Reply


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