Saturday, May 23, 2015

Water Baptism and 1 Peter 3:20-21

20Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water21The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ: 
Since Noah and those with him were “saved by water,” and since baptism “also now” saves us, then many are led to teach that water baptism is necessary for salvation; i.e. baptismal regeneration.  But as it happens, most are completely unaware of the fact that water baptism originally began under the Mosaic Law when Moses baptized Aaron and his four sons.[1]  It’s the first occasion where one individual baptized another.  But it wasn’t for salvation, but for ordination into the ministry.  It was when Aaron and his sons began to serve as priests.  In type, they were already saved; they had already been born into the children of Israel and the tribe of Levi, specifically, and so they were already counted as being one of God’s people before being baptized.  And as subsequent Levitical males came of age, they too were baptized.  This explains why Jesus was baptized by John.  But it wasn't for his salvation – as it would be heresy to suggest that it was – it was to mark the beginning of his public ministry, as required by Law.[2]     

But the confusion for many begins when baptism is used to represent the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  This is true, but it’s only symbolic.  It’s only representative of how Jesus secured our salvation.  It is an outward expression of an inward commitment that’s already been made.  But as briefly covered, baptism was for ordination and not salvation.  And so any verse or passage that seems to suggest that it is must be examined more closely.  Suffice it to say that salvation has always been by faith alone (Eph. 2:8-10 etc.).  But even without this knowledge, there are several problems in using 1 Pet. 3:20-21 to teach that water baptism is necessary for salvation. 

To begin, and reminiscent of the Levitical males and their calling, Noah was already a saved man: he was a preacher of righteousness (2 Pet. 2:5).  This means that while he was building the Ark, he was giving testimony as to what he was doing and why.  This might not seem like much, but at this time it hadn’t rained on the earth (Gen. 2:5-6).  And so Noah was testifying of impending judgment through natural causes that no one had ever seen or experienced.  Therefore let it be understood that Noah had a real testimony here; he wasn’t just some nut building a boat.

Second, the basic mechanics of the story are different.  In baptism, water is symbolic of the grave, but it wasn’t used as an instrument of judgment.  While in Noah’s Flood, it was.  The grave in baptism is (seemingly) an end while in the Flood the water was only a means to an end.  Baptism is one Christian baptizing another.  But Noah’s Flood was corporate.  Baptism is designed to draw individual believers closer to Christ.  But in Noah’s Flood, the water was used to separate the saint from the sinner.  In baptism, the saint is publicly testifying that what they heard about the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ was true.  But in Noah’s Flood, the unsaved were publicly denying this.  And in baptism, the Christian gets wet.  But in Noah’s Flood, the saints were kept dry while the ungodly drowned.  If the saints had gotten wet, they would have died in the judgment. 

Third, the means of salvation was different.  Since the waters were used as a means of judgment, it wasn’t the water that saved Noah, per se, but the Ark.  The Ark was the result of God’s plans sent down to earth.  The ark was then made from materials found in the earth, which was the vessel by which all who, by faith, were willing to enter.  Thus we have Jesus who came from God, was made after the fashion of an earthly man, who then secured salvation for those who’d “enter” into him (Php. 2:5-11).  For Noah, the water was a means of separation.  It was the “great gulf” between the saved and unsaved (Lu. 16:26).  Noah and his family were delivered by floating on top of the waters and not through them as found in baptism.  Again, baptism is symbolic of the grave, of which all saints, both physically and spiritually, will be delivered (1 Cor. 15:54-55).  Thus it was the Ark that really saved them.  The Ark was the vessel that was sent down from Heaven that Noah and his family, by faith, had to enter.  And once they had, they were held safe from the waters of judgment.  So what water baptism and Noah’s Flood have in common is water.  But beyond this, the same parallels can’t be drawn even though the same verbiage is used.   

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18For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: 19By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; 20Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water21The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ: 

But let’s look a little closer at the passage itself.  Verse 18 makes it clear that Jesus was a just man who died for the sins of the world even though he never sinned.  And having been put to death, he was then brought back to life by the Spirit.  Verse 19 reveals that while he was in Paradise, or Abraham’s bosom (Lu. 16:22), which is a temporary “holding cell” for the saint waiting for Heaven, as Hell is for the sinner on their way to the Lake of Fire, that he told them of how he was the fulfillment of all they’d believed.

Verse 20 reveals that the people in Abraham’s bosom were at one time disobedient.  They were once like the people of Noah’s day.  They had heard the gospel and of the judgment to come, but had repented whereas the people of Noah’s day didn’t.  There’s often a period of time between when we first hear the gospel and when we actually accept it.  This was true of Noah’s day as there was time between when he first started building and when he closed the door.  This time period is described in Peter as God’s “longsuffering... while the ark was a preparing”.  Most reject the gospel when first hearing it, and they often do many times before making their final rejection, but only God knows when this occurs.  But the point here is that God is patient, but not so patient that there won’t come a time when it’s too late.  As 2 Cor. 2 teaches, now is the acceptable time... 

But then v. 20 says that Noah and his immediate family were “saved by water.”  But as explained, the waters of Noah’s Flood were used in judgment against the sinner rather than salvation for the saint.  Salvation for the saint was found in the personal decision to enter the Ark.  As individuals, Noah and his family weren’t saved by the waters, they were saved by the Ark.  He was already safe in the Ark when the waters came and so the waters didn’t save him.  He wasn’t saved by the waters, he was saved from the waters.  The Ark is what was given him as the safe place to stay.  And once he entered, he was never in danger of judgment.[3]  But the verse still says that they were “saved by water”!

The context of the passage is not one of personal salvation, per se, but of the corporate or universal judgment that will eventually come upon all men.  Verse 18-19 speaks of those who have already died while v. 20 speaks of those that are alive and those yet to be born.  Everyone will either go to Heaven or Hell as symbolized by Noah’s waters of judgment.  God’s people will be kept safe and sound in the Ark (Jesus).  They will be held above God’s judgment (floating safely on top) until God’s judgment against the unsaved is complete (Flood waters recede; unsaved cast into the Lake of Fire), at which time God’s people will safely land again on the earth and exit the Ark onto a new heaven and a new earth – just like Noah.[4]  So when v. 20 speaks of them being saved by water, it’s referring to end times’ judgment at which time all of the unsaved will have been cast into the Lake of Fire and not personal salvation.  It’s the preservation of the entirety of God’s people from his eternal judgment against the unsaved.  It’s the complete removal of all those offend from the presence of God and his people, forever! 

Peter then makes this clear in v. 21.  The decision to step onto the Ark was a personal decision.  But once all men are dead, then an eternal judgment is all that remains.  This is why he then says, “The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us”.  Salvation is a personal decision.  But based on that decision, we will either be judged corporately with all the saints or judged corporately with all the sinners.  He’s telling his reading audience that this was true of both the saints that died before and those who’ll die after.  But from what he’s written, he knows that people are going to misinterpret it as water baptism being necessary for salvation, and so he reiterates that salvation has nothing to do with the washing the physical body (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh” ; but instead, “the answer of a good conscience toward God” and “by the resurrection of Jesus Christ”. 

Thus it should be clear.  This passage has nothing to do with water baptism for personal salvation.  This is doctrinally impossible because baptism was for ordination and not salvation, the ritual is different and the context of this passage is one of eternal salvation for the godly and eternal judgment against the ungodly and not salvation of individuals.  Selah.

[1] Ex. 29:1-9; 40:11-16; Lev. 8:1-9
[2] Spiritually, we’re all priests unto the Lord (1 Pet. 2:9-10).  But practically, we’re not.  Aaron and his sons were called out from God’s people to minister his Word back to them, and there were qualifications involved (Lev. 21; Num. 4).  Same today.  There are those who are called out from among his people to minister his Word back to them (Eph. 4:11-15).  But not everyone is qualified.  For just as the Old Testament had qualifications, so too does the New (1 Tim. 2:11-3:13; Tit. 1:5-9).  We’re spiritually all priests unto the Lord, but we’re not all “teaching priests” on earth.  And as some may be aware, Jesus was of the tribe of Judah and not Levi.  This was not sin.  The fundamental principles associated with the priesthood have remained the same, but its application has changed.  So when Jesus was baptized, he was revealing that there would soon be a change in the priesthood.  Selah.        
[3] Thus teaching that a Christian cannot lose their salvation.
[4] Is. 65:14-18; 2 Pet. 3:10-14; Rev. 21:1-5

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