Does 1 Peter 3:21 Teach Baptism Saves?
Written by John Carson
“Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the pledge of a good conscience toward God) through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 3:21)
Baptismal Regenerationists will zone in and put great emphasis on “Baptism… saves you” in 1 Peter 3:21, to “prove” baptism is required for salvation. Example, Wes McAdams from Radically Christian, stated:
- “Baptism saves us because it is an appeal for a clean conscience (1 Peter 3:21).”
These words, “Baptism… saves you”, taken in isolation, certainly makes it appear that this is what the word of God teaches. But does it?
Bible verses should never be used in isolation to build doctrines around, especially when portions of a verse quoted from are left out, or not even brought into consideration. Let's take a look at the full context. Is there a connection to the verses surrounding 1 Peter 3:21? Yes!
1 Peter 3:18-22
18 For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring you to God, after being put to death in the fleshly realm but made alive in the spiritual realm.
19 In that state He also went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison
20 who in the past were disobedient, when God patiently waited in the days of Noah while an ark was being prepared. In it a few—that is, eight people—were saved through water.
21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the pledge of a good conscience toward God) through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
22 Now that He has gone into heaven, He is at God’s right hand with angels, authorities, and powers subject to Him.
What is of most importance to notice, is that Christ suffered and died to bring us to God and to give us life. The proclamation of death to life through Jesus is announced throughout these verses. Notice:
- (Verse 18) When Christ suffered for sins once for all (Jesus died to pay for sins on the cross), Jesus brought spiritual life to those who were dead, and brought them near to God.
- (Verses 19 and 20) In the same state (death on the cross), He went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison of His victory on the cross, who were disobedient during the time of Noah.
- (Verse 20) During that time of Noah, God waited patiently while the ark was being prepared. He did not bring the destroying floods until the occupants—“that is, eight people”—were safe inside. They “were saved through water” meaning the destroying flood waters didn't harm them. God saved them through the waters by way of the ark. The waters therefore represents death, whereas the ark (because of God’s grace and provision) represents life.
- (Verse 21) Baptism, which corresponds to this scenario that was just given in verse 20, is a type, or symbolism of death by water. Baptism, then, is a symbolism of death, not life. Just as Noah and his family were not saved by the flood, but through it by way of God’s provision and grace, so it is that the Christian is not saved by this symbolism of death, but in actuality declares by the ritual of baptism, that he is no longer dead in his sins, but was made alive in Christ by way of “the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
- (Verse 22) The resurrected Jesus is at the Father’s right hand, where He saves completely those who come to God by Him because He intercedes for us. (See Hebrews 7:25)
Since baptism represents death, it cannot save. Rather, its ritual symbolizes that just as Noah and his family were rescued from death to life, so also we are rescued from death to life through Jesus Christ. Water baptism then, is the outward testimony of the believer's inward faith in Jesus Christ. The emphasis is that salvation is brought about by Jesus Himself, who is at the right hand of the Father and makes intercession for those who come to God by Him.
So what of Peter adding “not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience” (NASB)? Isn't that descriptive of what baptism does? No. Notice the contrast… outward (removal of physical dirt) versus inward (internal cleansing, which is the removal of spiritual filth). The latter is a description of what happened during salvation, which baptism symbolizes. We have already seen in 1 Peter 3:18, death to spiritual life was accomplished once for all by Christ’s shed blood. Verse 18 does not say baptism brings people to God; it reveals that it is Christ Himself who brings people to God.
Becoming inwardly cleansed to serve God is described in Hebrews 9:14:
- “How much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?”
The blood of Christ cleanses, not baptism. By what power was this cleansing accomplished?
- “… through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 3:21)
- “… what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 1:18-19)
Baptism is a public testimony where the believer declares through its ritual...
“Though I was dead in sin, I am now alive in Christ because of His shed blood. My resurrected Lord is the one Who gives me the strength to live for God. I am clean!”