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

Baptism is not salvation any more than the Lord’s Supper is salvation.

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.

 

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.

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