1 Peter 3:20-21 reads, “. . . In the days of Noah . . . few, that is, eight souls were saved by water. The 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.”
Grammatically, the comparison is not between the ark of old and baptism today. The comparison is between what the waters of old did and what baptism does for man today.
What is the comparison? The comparison is that both save. The same waters that destroyed the wicked of Noah’s day, also carried Noah and his family to safety. Water was the delineating mark between the lost and the saved then, and even so now. “Baptism doth now save.”
The parenthetical words, “(not the putting away of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God)” speaks of the dissimilarity between the waters of old, and the waters of the New Testament baptism. The waters of the old immediately removed Noah’s family from all external wickedness and sinful flesh. The term “flesh” is herein being used, just as it was in the historical account of the flood. Look at Genesis 6:11-17: “The earth was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence. And God looked upon the earth, and behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth. And God said unto Noah, the end of all flesh is come before me; for the earth is filled with violence through them; and, behold, I, even I, do bring a flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh. . .” Peter says concerning the flood, “The world that then was . . . perished” (2 Peter 3:6). When Noah and his family set foot off the ark, they entered a new pristine physical world. All persecution and influence of wicked flesh was gone. The waters of the old cleansed the planet of wicked flesh. New Testament baptism will not do this for us. The waters of baptism do not make this world any less harsh. We, following baptism, still have to live, for now, in this physical world. There are still wicked men around us. [Note: Some have the idea that this verse means “baptism is not like taking a bath.” The E.S.V. reads “Not as the removal of dirt from the body”. The N.A.S.B. reads “Not the removal of dirt from the flesh”. The N.I.V. reads “Not the removal of dirt from the body”. This rendering has two problems – (1) it misses the connection with the Genesis flood; (2) it assumes the personal bathing is in view, when such does not fit the context.]
What does baptism, then, do for us? It is (. . . the answer of a good conscience toward God).” The original word rendered “answer,” Thayer defines to mean, “1. An inquiry, a question . . . 2. A demand . . . 3. As the terms of inquiry and demand often include the idea of desire, the word thus gets the idea of earnest seeking, i.e. a craving, an intense desire . . .” Vines: “Note: Eperotema, 1 Peter 3:21 is not, as in the K.J.V., an ‘answer’. It was used by the Greeks in a legal sense, as a ‘demand, or appeal’”. Arndt and Gingrich indicates the word can mean, “request, appeal . . . an appeal to God for a clear conscience, 1 Peter 3:21”.
Here is what some other translations have done with the wording. The A.S.V. translates this, “The interrogation (footnoted ‘or inquiry or appeal’) of a good conscience toward God.” The N.A.S.B. renders this, “. . . an appeal to God for a good conscience”. Charles Estes’ The Better Version of the New Testament words it, “. . . the seeking of a good conscience toward God.” Hugo McCord’s New Testament Translation of The Everlasting Gospel translates it, “. . . the appeal to God of a clear conscience”. The E.S.V. reads “. . . an appeal to God for a good conscience”.
Let’s look at some other occurrences of this original term in the sacred scriptures. The word appears in the LXX (Septuagint – Greek translation of the Old testament) in 2 Samuel 11:7: “And when Uriah came unto him, David demanded of him how Joab did, and how people did, and how war prospered.” The word rendered ‘demanded’ is the same word in the LXX. Related words appear in Acts 5:27 (there rendered ‘asked’): Matthew 12:10 (rendered ‘asked’); Matthew 16:1 (rendered ‘desired’).
The point is this: (1) Both waters of the Old and the waters of New testament baptism save. (2) the waters of Old saved Noah from wicked flesh. It cleansed the physical world. New Testament baptism does not do this. (3) In New Testament baptism, the inner man is cleansed. Our sins are washed away (Acts 22:16; Acts 2:38). The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (abridged in one volume) says, “Baptism does not confer physical cleansing but saves us as a request for forgiveness.”
Baptism does not remove this wicked world: But, it does remove our guilt of past sins, so that we may have a good conscience toward God. We can rejoice knowing our sins are completely forgiven (Acts 8:36-39 cf., Hebrews 9:7-9, 13-14, 10:3-4, 22).
Bryan, are you teaching salvation by water? Yes, I am, but not salvation by the power of water itself. Look again at 1 Peter 3:21, “. . . by the resurrection of Jesus Christ”. None of us could be saved without the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. That is the power that saves. But the question is: Has God asked us to do anything before we receive this power? The answer is yes!
Think of Naaman. Did water have something to do with his cleansing? Yes, certainly it did. Was the power in the water itself? No! The power was not in the water itself, but in God. Naaman understood this fact (2 Kings 5:15). But, the cleansing came when he complied with what God made as a condition for healing. Even so, it is here. The power is in God and the blood of Christ. The question is: When does God apply such to our lives? Baptism is inseparably linked with the blood of Christ (1 Peter 3:21; Rev. 7:14; Acts 22:16; Rom. 6:3-4).