Strangers And Aliens (17b): As It Was In The Days Of Noah (1 Peter 3:18–22)

18For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, 19in whom he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, 20because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. 21Baptism, 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, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him (1 Peter 3:18–22) 18ὅτι καὶ Χριστὸς ἅπαξ περὶ ἁμαρτιῶν ἔπαθεν, δίκαιος ὑπὲρ ἀδίκων, ἵνα ὑμᾶς προσαγάγῃ τῷ θεῷ θανατωθεὶς μὲν σαρκὶ ζῳοποιηθεὶς δὲ πνεύματι· 19ἐν ᾧ καὶ τοῖς ἐν φυλακῇ πνεύμασιν πορευθεὶς ἐκήρυξεν, 20 ἀπειθήσασίν ποτε ὅτε ἀπεξεδέχετο ἡ τοῦ θεοῦ μακροθυμία ἐν ἡμέραις Νῶε κατασκευαζομένης κιβωτοῦ εἰς ἣν ὀλίγοι, τοῦτ᾿ ἔστιν ὀκτὼ ψυχαί, διεσώθησαν δι᾿ ὕδατος. 21 ὃ καὶ ὑμᾶς ἀντίτυπον νῦν σῴζει βάπτισμα, οὐ σαρκὸς ἀπόθεσις ῥύπου ἀλλὰ συνειδήσεως ἀγαθῆς ἐπερώτημα εἰς θεόν, δι᾿ ἀναστάσεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, 22 ὅς ἐστιν ἐν δεξιᾷ [τοῦ] θεοῦ πορευθεὶς εἰς οὐρανόν ὑποταγέντων αὐτῷ ἀγγέλων καὶ ἐξουσιῶν καὶ δυνάμεων.

vv. 20–21: The Noahic Flood An Antitype To Baptism
Some approaches to this verse have misunderstood it because they see the expression “baptism now saves (σῴζει) you” as confirmation of something they already believe, i.e., that new life is necessarily (ex opere) conferred in the administration of baptism. This is the doctrine of “baptismal regeneration.” A version of this view is argued by Romanists on the basis of their doctrine that sacraments do what they because of their nature. Lutherans have argued that, because the sign of baptism is so closely identified with the gospel, and because the gospel creates new life, therefore baptism as a gospel sacrament necessarily creates new life. The self-described Federal Visionists teach that there are two parallel systems of salvation, decretal and covenantal. They argue that covenant baptism creates, for the baptized, a temporary, conditional election, justification, union with Christ, adoption etc. that must be retained by grace and cooperation with grace. In effect, the FV theology is covenantal Arminianism. They have a dialectical theology. One moment they speak as if they were Reformed regarding the decree but the moment they invoke the category of covenant, they begin speaking like Remonstrants.

These approaches, however, do not adequately account for the original context, which we described in the previous post. Peter was writing to congregations in Asia Minor (Turkey), who were facing informal persecution and pressure for the sake of Christ. He was also writing about the same time that Christians were being martyred by Nero in Rome. He has been explaining how we ought to suffer (for Christ’s sake) and how we ought not to suffer (for breaking civil law). For Peter we are in roughly the same place relative to the surrounding culture as Noah and his family, that small persecuted congregation, were relative to their culture. He is continuing to explain our Lord’s analogy, “as it was in the days of Noah” (Luke 17:26).

Just as Christ preached by his Holy Spirit through Noah, in the world that then was (2 Pet 3:6; ASV), so too he is preaching through Peter and the New Testament ministers today. In v. 21 Peter is explicit about the analogy he has drawing so far. “And baptism which now saves you is an antitype” (ἀντίτυπον). Antitype is a transliteration, i.e., in this case, the Greek noun Peter uses but expressed in English letters. An antitype is something, usually from a later point in history, that stands for or corresponds (ESV) to something from an earlier point in time. The meaning is essentially unchanged is we simply say type instead of antitype. The flood is a type or foreshadowing of baptism.

As mentioned above interpreters have often focused on the clause “which now saves you.” If, however, we remember that Peter has already set up the nature of the relation between baptism and the flood, the passage is clearer. Consider the flood. Did the flood actually actually save Noah and his family. No, it did not. Peter says expressly in the second part of v. 20, “in which” (εἰς ἣν) a few, i.e., eight souls were saved…”. The antecedent of “in which”  (or unto which) is the ark (κιβωτοῦ). They were saved “in” the ark.

They were saved (διεσώθησαν) “through the waters” (δι᾿ ὕδατος). What Peter says is that it was in the midst of the circumstance of the flood or from the flood that Noah and his congregation were saved. Peter is not saying that the water was an instrument of their salvation. He has already said that the ark was the instrument or means of their salvation. If you have ever been whitewater rafting or found yourself in rough waters in a canoe, you understand. The rapid waters do not save anyone. No one was saved by the rising flood waters in Hurricane Katrina. They were saved in the midst of them by clinging to a rooftop or by a brave member of the Coast Guard (known affectionately as “Coasties”) dangling from a helicopter.

God saved Noah and his congregation by means of the ark from the waters of judgment or in the midst of the flood. In that sense, metaphorically, they became to them the waters of salvation but that flood was a judgment upon “the world that then was” just as the return of Christ shall be a judgment, the final judgment, upon our world. To us who believe, the return of Christ and the judgment will be salvation. The flood waters, however, did not save them. Christ saved them.

We should also perhaps not be so quick to assume that when Peter mentions baptism, that he is thinking in the first instance about our baptism. There are good reasons for concluding that Peter is thinking first about Christ’s baptism, as it were, on the cross. After all, he went through the flood of judgment for us. Christ is the ark. Those who are in him by grace alone, through faith alone (sola gratia, sola fide) are saved from the wrath that was poured out on him. Those who are apart from him, who are outside the ark, they are shall have to endure the judgment on their own, just as in the days of Noah. This is exactly how Jesus spoke of the analogy between the Noahic flood and the final judgment: “They were eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all” (Luke 17:26; ESV). “Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming (Matt 24:24:40–42; ESV).

Baptism is not salvation any more than the Lord’s Supper is salvation. Baptism and the supper are sacraments of salvation, i.e., they are signs and seals of the salvation that was accomplished once for all by Christ for us and that is freely given to us and received through faith alone. Peter is using a literary device known as metonymy, where one thing is used to speak of another thing. Baptism is used in place of salvation but it is not literally salvation. After all, even in the case of the ark, not everyone believed (Gen 9:24–25). So it is now. Not everyone who receives the sign and seal of baptism receives what it signifies and seals. There is a distinction between the sign and the thing signified or else baptism would no longer be a sacrament but it would be the thing it signified. That is an absurdity but it has been a great temptation in the church, as it was for Israel with circumcision (Gal 5:2, 12), to think that by virtue of having received the sign that they automatically, necessarily had all that it signified, even though they did not believe.

Our Lord himself hotly disputed this assumption. The Jews said to Jesus, “Abraham is our father” (John 8:39). They said this, in large measure, because they were circumcised. Like the self-described Federal Visionists and others, they did not distinguish the two ways of being in the one covenant of grace, externally and internally (Rom 2:28–29). A Jew, as Paul says, is one who is a Jew inwardly, i.e., who believes the promises and has received the promised Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth. The reason that not all who receive the outward sign receive inwardly what it signifies, as Paul explains in Romans 9, is down to God’s secret election: “Not all Israel is Israel” (Rom 9:6) and “though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose in election might stand, not because of works but because of him who calls…As it is written, ‘Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated'” (Rom 9:11–13). As our Lord explained to the Jews, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did…Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad” (John 8:39–40, 56; ESV).

Notice that our Lord did not deny that the Jews were outwardly Abraham’s children. He denied that they, insofar as they rejected him, were inwardly or spiritually Abraham’s children. Thus, Peter says it is not the putting off (ἀπόθεσις) of dirt (ῥύπου) or washing that does anything. There is nothing here an ex opere operato (by the working it is worked) view of baptism. Indeed, he makes a sharp contrast (ἀλλὰ) between the outward washing of water and the appeal (ἐπερώτημα) of a good conscience (συνειδήσεως ἀγαθῆς) unto God (εἰς θεόν) not on the basis of our subjective state (e.g., sanctification) but rather on the basis or through (δι᾿) the resurrection of Jesus Christ (ἀναστάσεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ).

The flood brought real, actual, literal death to many people. For the unbelieving, reprobate world of the time, the flood was a sort of sacrament, a sign and seal of their rejection of the God’s call through Noah to repent and believe. Baptism is a ritual death. It is an outward identification of the baptized person with Christ’s death. It is a mini-flood (perhaps this argues for effusion) the benefit of or the reality signified is received by those to whom God graciously gives new life and true faith.

The Christ in whom we believe, whom we trust, is he who went through the flood for us, who was dead, who was buried, but who, because he was truly righteous, was raised on the third day and vindicated as righteous. This is what Paul teaches in 1 Timothy 3:16 when he says that Christ was “vindicated (ἐδικαιώθη) by the Spirit.” The appeal of our good, believing conscience is that it looks to Christ. He was vindicated in his resurrection and we shall be vindicated too.

Here is the series on 1 Peter.

Related Post
Does Baptism Save?

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  1. Greatly appreciated Dr Clark. Paul also uses Israel’s passing through the Red Sea to show that their separation from the judged Egypt, was typical of water baptism. As you say, we live in a judged society, and as Moses was charged with leading Israel into, we have by baptism come out and apart to worship Him, and are travelling to the New Heaven & Earth.

    • Allan,

      I don’t think we disagree entirely but notice Paul’s language in 1 Corinthians 10:1–5:

      For I want you to know, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized (ἐβαπτίσθησαν) into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness (ESV).

      It wasn’t merely typical of water baptism. It was water baptism. The verb “to baptized” in the passive voice. It was done to them. God identified them all, outwardly, with Moses. Yes we have “come out” but perhaps it’s better to say that we have been brought out. Baptism is more about God’s word about us (“mine”) than our word about themselves or anything else. The verb for eating is, by contrast, in the active voice. It’s something they did.

      One final note: everyone in the Israelite community was baptism. There were infants in that community. Ergo, God baptized infants.

      Paul says (v. 11) these things happened for our instruction:

      Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.

  2. Thankyou. Not having the language training I greatly appreciate such explications.
    I grinned at your opportunism re the children’s baptism, but it was the naturally born who were brought out under Moses and then were baptised, whereas we come out one by one (Isa. 27:12. Jer. 3:14.) not en masse, each upon our spiritual birth, and are baptised.

    • Allan,

      That’s a great and unwarranted assumption, that those in the Mosaic covenant were only “naturally born.” That’s not at all how the Apostle Paul interprets things. Were that the case the whole parallelism that he makes in 1 Cor 10:1–5 would be destroyed.

      We cannot overlook the reality that there are always two ways to be in the visible covenant people, inwardly and outwardly. Paul taught that explicitly in Romans 2:28 and 9:6. Not all Israel is Israel but some Israel, i.e., some who were part of the national people, were Israel. That is surely one of the messages of Hebrews 11.

      Moses was a twofold administration of the covenant of grace. There were outward legal aspects but it was simultaneously an administration of the covenant of grace. Salvation was no more individual or corporate then than it is now.

      The difference between the old (Mosaic) covenant and the new is not corporate vs individual but rather types & shadows (see Hebrews) vs reality. We have the reality in Christ that was typified by the Mosaic sacrifices and ceremonies and by the 613 civil and ceremonial laws.

  3. Once again Dr you make me to say what I did not.
    However, the great difference of the New Covenant which the prophets promised was; “No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they ALL shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” Jeremiah 31:34. This very great difference, ie., there would be NO naturally born only, in the New Covenant community, I think fully makes my point.

    • Allan,

      I’m sorry. I’m trying to interpret what you’re saying.

      Re: Jer 31:31-34, we need to observe 2 things:

      1) Jeremiah uses hyperbole in the same way as Isaiah 52–53. Our Lord’s face was not literally so marred that no one could recognize him. Our Lord himself used the same sort of hyperbole. We cannot literally cast a mountain into the sea.

      2) The NT interprets Jer 31 and teaches us how to interpret it. Neither Paul nor Hebrews reads it as you do.

      I’ve worked through these issues here:

      Please read this and then we’ll talk.

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