“Saved Through Water”?

INTRODUCTION

If someone were to ask you to explain how Noah and his family were saved from the flood’s destruction, what would you say?  The answer may seem obvious, but what would your answer be?  The Bible’s answer is instructive.  By inspiration of God (2 Tim. 3:16), the apostle Peter wrote that Noah and his family were actually “saved through water” (1 Peter 3:20).

Now that’s an interesting answer–“saved through water.”  One might not think of the flood waters saving people while at the same time destroying people.  But they did.  The same water that obliterated the wicked world (Genesis 6:5) carried Noah and his family far above the destruction, and eventually brought them safely to rest on the mountains of Ararat (Genesis 8:4), thereby gaining legitimate credit for saving them.  Granted, the water wasn’t the only thing at work in their salvation.  God’s mercy and grace, the ark, and Noah’s obedience were all involved, as well.  The water didn’t save alone–it was one of several agents.  And yet, undeniably, it was involved in their salvation, for the Holy Spirit indicated through Peter that eight souls were “saved through water.”

But now to the hard part.  “Hard,” I say, because it contradicts popular opinion, and that’s often hard for us.  Right after revealing to us that eight souls were “saved through water,” Peter then writes, “There is also an antitype which now saves us–baptism…” (1 Peter 3:21).  After discussing the means of Noah’s physical salvation, Peter affirms the means of our spiritual salvation.  And, contrary to popular belief, he says baptism is involved.

BUT HE DOESN’T MEAN WATER BAPTISM DOES HE?

He must mean water baptism.  Context (along with other New Testament teaching) demands it.  Let’s consider the passage in greater detail.

What is  an “antitype”?

This question arises from Peter’s use of the term in 1 Peter 3:21 (NKJV).  “Antitype,” means “counterpart,” or “a thing resembling another.”  Peter is saying that baptism resembles the flood, and is a New Testament counterpart to that Old Testament event.  How so?  Well, it is sometimes argued that an invisible baptism with the Holy Spirit is what Peter is referring to, but water baptism more naturally fits.  What biblical practice could resemble a sinful world submerged in water (Genesis 7:19-20) more than a sinful person submerged in water? (“baptism,” from the Greek word “baptisma,” refers to “an immersion, submersion.”)  What’s more, the New Testament teaches that water baptism is the occasion at which sin is removed (Acts 2:38; 22:16), and we are regenerated (Titus 3:5).  Could there be a clearer counterpart to the flood, which also removed wickedness and then regenerated the world (2 Peter 3:6-7)?

“not the removal of the filth of the flesh”
(1 Peter 3:21)

Peter’s next affirmation about this baptism further clarifies its identity.  He writes that it is “not the removal of the filth of the flesh.”  In other words, this submersion is not to be misconstrued as being just a bath, or  a ceremonial washing (something with which the Jews to whom Peter was writing–“the Dispersion” of 1 Peter 1:1–would have been well-acquainted).  This point of clarification is telling.  Were the baptism under question a purely spiritual event, such explanation would hardly seem in order.

BAPTISM AND SALVATION

Though the above interpretation may disagree with common belief among many, it does harmonize with New Testament teaching concerning salvation.  Receiving forgiveness of sins, receiving the Holy Spirit, and entering into Christ are all preceded by baptism (although not only by baptism–just as the flood waters did not work alone to save Noah and his family, neither does the water of baptism work alone.  There must be genuine belief/faith (Mark 16:16), true repentance (Luke 13:3;  Acts 2:38), and clear confession (Romans 10:9)–these, along with water baptism, lead to full salvation.)  Consider the following passages:

Receiving Forgiveness of Sins

  • Acts 2:38- “Then Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins….”
  • Acts 22:16- “And now why are you waiting?  Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins….”

Note:  John the Baptist, the forerunner of Jesus, preached a baptism with water for the remission of sins (Mark 1:4-5).  Should it strike us as strange that the Savior would instruct His apostles in a similar practice?

Receiving the Holy Spirit

  • Matthew 3:16- “When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water;  and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him.”
  • Acts 2:38- “‘…be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins;  and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’”

Entering Into Christ

  • Romans 6:3- “Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus…?”
  • Galatians 3:27- “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”

BUT ISN’T THIS TEACHING SALVATION BY WORKS?

Although this question is understandable, let the above verses first be considered in earnest.  Clearly, baptism is connected to forgiveness of sins, without which there can be no certain relationship with God.  Peter plainly states that baptism precedes reception of the Holy Spirit, just as it did with Jesus (Matthew 3:16).  And coming into Christ is clearly dependent upon being baptized.  Whatever questions we may have, we must not pit them, or their supposed implications, against understandable Scripture.  Questions should be asked in light of Scripture, not in spite of it.

But to the question directly.  No, this understanding of Scripture does not teach salvation by works.  Such a doctrine would, of course, be quite opposed to New Testament teaching (Ephesians 2:8-9).  What this understanding does acknowledge and affirm, however, is that God can and does call us to act in order to receive–as opposed to earn–His grace.  And lest this be misunderstood, or dismissed off-hand, let us consider the Lord’s practice while He walked the earth.

Jesus told the ten lepers, “‘Go, show yourselves to the priests.’”  “And so it was,” we read, “that as they went, they were cleansed” (Luke 17:14).  Did these men receive cleansing by works?  Certainly not!  Walking hardly cures leprosy.  Was their healing a gift from God?  Certainly it was!  Yet, would they have received cleansing had they not acted?  No.  “‘But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do the things which I say?’” (Luke 6:46).

Jesus commanded the blind man, “‘Go, wash in the pool of Siloam.’”  “And so,” we read, “he went and washed, and came back seeing” (John 9:7).  Did this man receive his sight by works?  Who would dare affirm such a thing?  Was his healing a gift from God?  There can be no doubt.  And, yet, the Lord put a condition on His grace.  The Lord wanted the man to do something–a disturbing doctrine to many religious people, but a common doctrine in the Bible (e.g. Exodus 14:13-16;  2 Kings 5:10;  Philippians 2:12-13).  And, what this newly-seeing man told those who questioned him could almost be the words of a newly-baptized believer:  “‘…I went and washed (compare Titus 3:5), and I received…’” (John 9:11).

God offers the gift of salvation to humanity, contingent only on submissive obedience to His commands:  to believe, repent, confess, and be baptized.  This does not demean His grace, nor deny that salvation is a gift–after all, since when does telling a child to pick up and unwrap a gift change the fact that it is a gift?  By way of another analogy:  were a man to offer you a briefcase containing one million dollars, stating that the money would be yours if you would but reach out and take the briefcase, and you took him up on the offer, who would afterward assert you had tried to work for the money?  No one.  All would understand your act of reaching out and taking the briefcase as simple compliance with a simple condition–and a gracious one at that.  So much for so little!  So it is with God’s plan for salvation:  “He who believes and is baptized (so little) will be saved (so much!)…” (Mark 16:16).

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19 thoughts on ““Saved Through Water”?”

  1. There are 2 and only two requirements for Biblical salvation which are succinctly outlined in Romans 10: 9 & 10. Confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and heart belief that God raised Jesus from the dead for our salvation. Any other requirements for salvation are only man’s attempts to explain away the simplicity of the gospel which even a child can experience.

    1. Hi Robert, thanks for your comment. Would you care to offer your interpretation of 1 Peter 3:21? “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.” I look forward to your response.

  2. Hi “M”:
    Thanks for the thoughtful comment. Was wondering if you would be willing to clarify one of your points for me. After quoting 1 Peter 3:21-22, you state that the story of Noah and baptism are both “pictures.” Please forgive me if I’m missing the obvious, or if I’m just allowing myself to get hung up on semantics, but do you mean by this that baptism is “the outward sign (‘picture’) of an inward change” (and thus Jesus grants salvation apart from water baptism)? Just wasn’t quite sure what you meant by the use of “picture.” Thanks!

  3. For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit,

    Jesus died in the flesh and was made alive in the spirit. He did this to deal with sin.

    The suffering of Jesus put sin to death.

    by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison, 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.

    They were saved “through” water, or “by” water.

    What was it about the water?

    It destroyed a world of sin.

    It put sin to death.

    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, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, angels and authorities and powers having been made subject to Him.

    How about;

    The story of noah is resembled by the picture of baptism. they are BOTH pictures, illustrating the SAME truth.

    That sin in the believer must be put to death.

    That sin in the believer has been put to death.

    That Jesus saves us out of sin.

    That just like Jesus died, we have died, to sin.

    etc etc.

  4. @Rick. The thief may have been baptized but I think that the answer is irrelevant in this case. Had he been baptized it would have been the baptism of John and there is record of believers in Christ that were baptized with John’s baptism being rebaptized (Acts 19:5). I agree that Peter’s charge in Acts 2:38 didn’t apply to the thief.

    It just seems to me that we should desire to follow the teaching provided that clearly points to baptism for the remission of sins but we should also understand that God can provide salvation to whoever his wishes and the thief falls in that category.

  5. Why do we assume that the thief was not baptized? Matt 3:5-6 says – “Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan, And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins.”

    Why is it not possible that the man was baptized a few years before he stole and was crucified for his crime?

    Like Jesus this man lived his life before the Comforter came at Pentecost. Jesus came to fulfill the Law not to start the church. Jesus, nor the thief, were ever Christians, only Jews under the law. The command to baptize Christians as a step towards salvation did not apply to the thief.

  6. Part II on why would you deny baptism when you believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that by believing you might have life in his name?

    The basic question is: why would there be any reference to baptism in the Scriptures at all if baptism didn’t have value?

    Followed by this question: Where in the bible was belief enough? Yes, the thief on the cross may be a good example, but where else? You know, the thief was not in a position to do much about his acknowledgement. Why some followers base their entire servant philosophy on a repentant criminal is a bit odd. Even the demons believe James tells us. So while belief has value, it is not reserved for the obedient.

    Finally, the Holy Spirit provides us with many gifts. For example, the fruit of the Spirit is what grows in followers because of the Spirit. But in Acts 2:38 it say that ‘you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’ First, we receive means that it is given not earned. Then, what about the gift? Well, the wages of sin is death, but the GIFT of God is eternal life…” I think that is what Peter was saying: “Hey guys, repent and change your lives, then be baptized because God has a special gift, an eternal gift to give to you. It’s life everlasting and he’s also going to do some great things in your life while you’re on earth.”

  7. Naaman, Elisha and the servant girl give a good illustration of the argument against baptism for the remission of sin and the gift of the Holy Spirit.

    Naaman, riddled with leprosy looked to Elisha and his God for healing at the recommendation of his servant girl. Elisha gave the simple request that Naaman dip seven times in the Jordan river. At first, Naaman balked in his his weakness. His servants gave him fantastic advise:

    2 Kings 5:13 Naaman’s servants went to him and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, ‘Wash and be cleansed’!”

    While I don’t believe that every Christian that denies baptism is doing it to be belligerent and disobedient, I do wonder why they often tend to argue so strongly. They can’t believe it is harmful or that baptism wasn’t included in virtually all of the post-Pentecost conversions. The response bears a strong comparison to Naaman, it seems.

    As for me, I do believe that baptism is obedience to the Gospel, that it is not a work of man but a work of God and His Spirit and that it is what God desires me to do. Nobody can say for certain that those not baptized are lost eternally because God can save whomever he pleases. But the simple fact that God can save who he pleases does not negate our responsibility to obey his baptismal instruction. I pray for those that follow the Scriptures up to baptism; I pray that their good intentions will extend to full obedience just as shown by Naaman.

  8. @Daniel Heisner Hi Daniel, thanks for responding. No, baptism does not save all who are baptized. Nor does faith save all those who believe. The purpose of the article is not to present baptism as a solitary ingredient for salvation. Rather, the article intends to present baptism as a necessary ingredient with divinely-ordained meaning that transcends the symbolic.

    Let’s put your challenge to the test: can we find water baptism within Pauline theology? Just as an aside, I believe such distinctions are a misnomer since Paul, John, Peter, et. al taught the fullness of the doctrine of Christ. Setting that aside, let’s think back to the conversion of Paul. Paul sat for three days in Damascus fasting and praying to God. When Ananias brought him instructions from Christ, Paul recalls Ananias saying, “And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16). Paul fasted and prayed for three days, yet he had sins that needed to be washed away. Ananias says his sins will be washed away in baptism and he will call on the name of the Lord. How does Paul’s conversion fit in your paradigm?

    I look forward to the response.

  9. Does baptism save all who are baptized? If so, the theology of Paul and John must be thrown out. Salvation, contrary to Rom.9:16, depends on the
    effort of those who bring their children for baptism. Unless Hitler and Stalin are lapsed Christians, then, contrary to to John 10: 27-30 they were able to pry the fingers of God open. If baptism is essential why didn’t Paul include it Rom.830; predestined, called, justified, glorified? We are baptized into Christ when we believe. We are saved. Water baptism represents our death and resurrection in Christ. Remember “to the man who does not work ( make a decision, get baptized) but trusts God who justifies the wicked his faith is credited as righteousness.

  10. @Don Smith Thank you for your thoughtful comments. I appreciate especially the last sentence you wrote, for truly Jesus is the door, the only entry, into our salvation. I have posted a link at the end of these thoughts to an article written on a similar topic. It may be edifying to you, as it certainly was me.

    The verse you reference in Matthew 3:11, points to three different baptisms. John baptized with water, but Jesus was going to baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. John came proclaiming that the kingdom of heaven was at hand. His baptism was unto repentance, but it did not come with the power of the Holy Spirit. We find in Acts 19 that John’s baptism looked forward to Jesus, and was replaced with a baptism “…in the name of the Lord Jesus.” (v.4-5) This baptism in the name of the Lord Jesus is the baptism being discussed in the article above.

    What then is the baptism with the Holy Spirit and by fire? Acts 1:5 and 11:16-18 shed light on the baptism with the Holy Spirit. Jesus tells his disciples in Acts 1:5 that not many days from now they would be baptized with the Holy Spirit. We find in Acts 2:1-4 that this very thing happened. Divided tongues, as of fire, sat on each one of them, and they were filled with the Spirit. A very similar event happened to the house of Cornelius in Acts 10:44-48. In Acts 11:16-18 Peter points back to the day of Pentecost when he and the other disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit, and states in verse 17, “If therefore God gave them the same gift as He gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God.” The Spirit fell on both the Jews (Acts 2) and the Gentiles (Acts 10) to signify that forgiveness of sins was available to all men who might believe and be baptized.

    The baptism with fire is a little less clear. Though I believe it points to Matthew 3:12, and shows that the judgment of Jesus will be a judgment of fire on those who will not believe. Hebrews 12:29 tells us that “Our God is a consuming fire.” Should we not obey Christ, and spurn the gift of the Holy Spirit, we will be consumed with the fiery wrath of God.

    The baptism with the Holy Spirit opened the door of salvation, showing the Jews and Gentiles that salvation was now available to them. Therefore, after the Holy Spirit fell on Cornelius’ house, Peter said, “Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” The anti-type spoken of in I Peter 3:21, which this article speaks of in great detail, is different than the baptism with the Holy Spirit in Matthew 3:11. The baptism of the Holy Spirit opened to all man the opportunity to be baptized in the name of the Lord for the remission of sins.

    Just a quick note. When Jesus was baptized by John’s baptism, it was to fulfill to important points. Firstly, it was to do the will of His Father. Mark 1:11 points out that the Father was well pleased with his Son for obeying His will. It also provides us with a good example. If our Lord and Savior was baptized for the remission of sin (of which he had none), then I too ought to be baptized. I Peter 2:21, “For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps.”

    http://www.onetruechurch.net/jesus-christ/the-way-the-truth-the-life/

  11. There are two baptizims in the bible. The first is spiritual, Jesus baptizes with fire and the holy spirit. Then, as to show as an open witness to the world, we baptize with water to represent what has happened on the inside. “Newness of Life”. We have become a Son of God with the first baptisim. That is the requirement for the physical water baptisim, to be a Son of God, as Jesus is. That’s why he was water baptized because he was the Son of God. Now, as Jesus was raised from the dead by the spirit of God, the ark was raised from the dead by the water. It’s the likeness of his ressurrection. I’m apart of that death, burial and ressurection of Jesus, because I’m in the ark, saved by his grace. And there was only one door in that big, huge ark. Jesus said “I am the door”.

  12. @John Thanks for the question John. There are only two cases where the Holy Spirit fell on the audience members prior to immersion — Acts 2:1-5 and 10:43-48. Prior to Acts 10 the gospel was only preached to those with a Jewish heritage. When the Holy Spirit fell upon the Gentiles in Acts 10:43-48, Peter and his companions concluded that God had made salvation available to the Gentiles just as it had to the Jews in Acts 2:1-5. When he defended his actions in Acts 11:1-17, those who heard his defense drew the same conclusion, “Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life.” (verse 18) Therefore the bestowal and manifestation of the Spirit prior to baptism was a sign to both Jew and Gentile that salvation in Jesus’ name was now open to each group. As I stated before, Acts 2 and 10 were the only two instances this occurred. In every other case, the manifestation of the Spirit took place after immersion (see Acts 8:14-17 and 19:1-6). In both of those cases, it required the laying on of an apostle’s hands in order to receive the manifestation of the Spirit.

    For more information, I would recommend the following links:

    http://www.onetruechurch.net/media-archive/2010-video-blogs/september-video-blog/
    http://www.onetruechurch.net/holy-spirit/gifts-of-the-holy-spirit/

  13. Would please explain Acts 10:43thru48 where the Holy Ghost fell on all of them which heard the word before they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ for the remission of sins….Thank You for save thru water in his name. Bible truth

  14. @Katrece Freeman-Watson
    Thanks for all the great remarks everyone! Katrece, I’ve always been amazed how so many can miss one of the most conspicuous teachings of the New Testament. If it wasn’t necessary why is there so much teaching on what it means and what it accomplishes. We all need to get back to the Word which is able to make us wise unto salvation.

  15. He writes that it is “not the removal of the filth of the flesh.” In other words, this submersion is not to be misconstrued as being just a bath, or a ceremonial washing (something with which the Jews to whom Peter was writing–“the Dispersion” of 1 Peter 1:1–would have been well-acquainted).”

    I have heard an additional point from another angle. Some acknowledge water immersion as a first century tradition, one that was a carryover from the apostle’s Jewish heritage. According to this reasoning, the apostles continued teaching and practicing a water immersion that was symbolically valid but salvationally unnecessary.

    When Jesus’ authority was questioned by the chief priests and elders in Matthew 21:23, he offers the following response, “I also will ask you one thing, which if you tell Me, I likewise will tell you by what authority I do these things: The baptism of John–where was it from? From heaven or from men?” And they reasoned among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From men,’ we fear the multitude, for all count John as a prophet.” (Matthew 21:24-26)

    To assert water immersion was a salvationally irrelevant, first century Judeo-Christian tradition commits a similar error. We might well ask, “The baptism taught and practiced by Paul or Peter: what it from heaven or from men?” If we have never been immersed in Jesus’s name for our sins’ remission, our response either gives us great cause for concern or reason to reevaluate all apostolic teaching.

    The Bible teaches that the apostles’ doctrine was from heaven. Jesus promised His apostles, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.” (John 14:26) He further amplifies this promise in John 16:12-15, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. (13) However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. (14) He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. (15) All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you.”

    So, was the baptism taught and practiced by the apostles from heaven or from men?

  16. Additionally, we might consider Colossians 2:11-12, “In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, (12) buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.”

    Baptism is typified by the flood, by Christ’s death, and, as this passage points out, the covenant of circumcision. Just as circumcision removed a piece of flesh, so baptism removes the body of sin from man’s eternal record. Notice once again the connection drawn by Paul: baptism is a removal, or remission, of the sins we committed. Furthermore he connects our baptism’s unification with Jesus’ death and resurrection, “buried with Him in baptism in which you raised with Him”. Finally, we see the necessity of faith. One enters and exits the waters of baptism confident in, “the working of God”. Like the lepers or the blind man, when the condition is faithfully met, the work of God, “who raised [Jesus] from the dead,” validates, sanctifies, and completes the process.

  17. The discussion on the concept of an antitype that is used in I Peter reminds me of a similar use in Romans 6. By inspiration of the Holy Spirit Paul reveals that the act of baptism (burial in water) is like Christ’s death (the ultimate victory over sin and death). Paul uses the word “likeness” in Romans 6:5 to denote this. (“For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection,”) But, to set this all up Paul begins the sixth chapter with a very important question. “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?” To answer his question he reveals that just as Christ died and was buried; we too should be dead to our previous life, to our sins. (“Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” Romans 6:4) This simile implies several concepts. First it reaffirms that it is in the act of baptism that we shed our sins and, “walk in newness of life.” Secondly, if you want to be united with Christ you must be “untied in the likeness of his death” or you must be baptized. Third Paul states that those who want to be with Christ in heaven must be baptized. Romans 6:5 “For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection” Plainly stated, if you have been united with Christ in baptism you will meet him in the heavens: “in the likeness of His resurrection”. (For further evidence compare the ascension of Christ in Acts 1:9 with the description of the second coming of Christ in 1Thessalonians 4:17. )
    To summarize baptism:
    1. Facilitates the removal of sin.
    2. Unites us with Christ.
    3. Allows us access to eternal life with Christ.

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