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1 Peter 3:20-22: Two Saving Acts: Baptism and The Flood

Having just mentioned the disobedient in the days of Noah, Peter now wants to make a connection between what took place at the flood and what takes place today in Christian baptism.

Noah’s Salvation

Peter begins by describing the situation of the flood. The overwhelming majority of the world was wicked. In fact Peter states correctly that only 8 souls were saved.  The way they were saved is shocking.  We would expect Peter to say they were saved by the Ark. In our children stories and movies the Ark is the instrument that saves Noah and his family.  Now it is true the Ark saved them from destruction of the Flood, but Peter states that it wasn’t the Ark that saved Noah, but rather water.

How did the water save Noah?  The water saved Noah because it provided separation between Noah and sin, in his case the sinful wicked world around him.  Water destroyed that sinful world and therefore saved Noah from its wickedness.

Our Salvation

In verse 21 Peter ties the water of Noah with the water of baptism.  Just like Noah’s water saved him, Peter says “baptism now saves you.”  It is one of the clearest statements in Scripture with regards to the purpose of Christian baptism.

Peter clarifies his statement with a parenthetical remark.  Baptism is not simply ritual washing. Ritual washing was a part of the 1st Century Jewish experience.  Migvahs, which were baptistries, were common place throughout Palestine.  In fact, many priests had them built in their homes.  The purpose of Migvahs were to allow someone to dip before entering into service to God.  It cleaned the body from ritual impurity.  Peter states that this is not the purpose of Christian baptism.

Christian baptism is not the removal of impurities from the body, but rather the appeal of a good conscience toward God.  The phrase “good conscience” was used already in 1 Peter 3:16. In that case a good conscience was maintained when Christians conduct themselves in God honoring ways.  The initial achieving of this conscience happens at baptism.  Appeal for a good conscience could be equated with “calling on the name of the Lord” in Acts.  The idea is that once a person recognizes their sinfulness and need for salvation, they then put their trust in God for that salvation.  This is culminated when a person is baptized.

Peter ends by stating how baptism saves.  Peter is clear of the fact that baptism procures salvation, but it is not simply the act of being immersed in water that provides this status.  Rather Peter states that baptism saves because of the Resurrection of Jesus. Those who teach falsely that baptism is a meritorious work that earns salvation have separated baptism from Jesus work on the cross.  And those who teach that baptism is not needed for salvation make the same mistake.  Baptism saves because of its connection with the death of Jesus.


Peter proclaims clearly that baptism saves us.  It saves us like the waters of Noah’s day saved him.  It saves us by separating us from sin.  This salvation is made available because of Jesus Death and Resurrection.   Those who are baptized are putting their faith in Jesus as they enter the water believing that God is working on them with the result being their salvation.



  1. This writing about baptism is completly WRONG. 1st of all we are saved BY GRACE. ( Ephesians 2:8-9 )GRACE NOT works a GIFT from God, NOT of works so NO ONE can boast.
    we receive Salvation in NO ONE or ANYTHING ELSE but Jesus, For there is no other name in all of Heaven for people to call on to SAVE THEM ( ( Acts 4:12 )

  2. Wesley

    January 19, 2012 at 10:27 am


    I agree that salvation is a gift from God. I also agree we are not saved by our efforts. I believe that baptism is not a work to merit salvation, but our response to the gospel that allows us to receive the free gift!

    I’m going to have to agree with Peter “baptism saves us through the resurrection of Jesus” over you.

  3. “baptism does not save us but is a picture for the christian to show the wold he or she has accepted Jesus as Savior. you can be ducked a dozen times and not be saved

  4. Wesley

    January 24, 2012 at 7:23 pm


    Peter says otherwise.

  5. Roland and Eugene,

    The problem with this discussion arises when people use proof texts to explain why passages like 1 Peter 3:21 and a host of others can be dismissed. Assuming that the entire gospel message is encapsulated into one verse(which was divided by a human) can be a very dangerous mistake. You can certainly be baptized a hundred times and not be saved. However, you can also have faith and not be saved(James 2:14ff). Assuming you have the presupposition that all of scripture is the inspired word of God, you must see scripture in its entirety and not just through blinders set out to disprove what we want or don’t want to see. This means that baptism must be in response to faith, confession, repentance, etc. for it to be anything more than a meaningless bath.

    The water is not magical, and God could certainly save man otherwise considering the fact that he is all powerful. However, baptism seems to be the mode by which God cleanses us from our sins(Acts 22:16), places his Spirit upon us(Acts 2:38), and adds us to his kingdom(John 3:3-5). And Eugene, thank you for quoting the Ephesians 2:8-9 and Acts 4:12 passages. The ability to have our sins washed away in baptism certainly is a gift of God that expresses his grace perfectly, allowing us to die to our sins and rise up a new creature just as Christ allowed us to do with his death on the cross!

  6. Thanks for a clear and concise examination of the passage. All too often, I find convoluted explanations regarding this Scripture that conclude Peter actually meant the exact opposite of what he wrote!

    I would ask one question of those who claim that this passage teaches that it was the ark (and not the water) that saved Noah – are you then claiming that Noah was saved by his works? And make no mistake, building the ark was work!

  7. I believe that the Greek word ‘dia’ in verse 20 is the same as ‘dia’ in verse 21, being a likeness (Genitive-Instrumental Case). By faith Noah built the ark (Hebrews 11), however, God is the one who raised it up (being in control of the water, Genesis 6:17). Had Noah not obeyed God in building the ark the way God specified, then, I believe God (by the waters) would have sank the ark.
    It is quite clear that the element is water and not the ark. We are not baptized in a baptistry of arks nor do we take baths in tubs filled with arks. Not to mention that water is specifically mentioned. Peter does not negate the saving properties of the ark nor does the Hebrew writer negate the saving properties of the water. The ‘negations’ occur in our interpretations, and, are thereby wrong. Both perspectives must be considered and not pitted against each other or changed.
    The comparison here is between the waters of the flood and the waters of baptism. This is tied to the raising of the ark by the waters (Genesis 7:17; 2 Peter 2:5), the resurrection of Christ (verse 21; Romans 6:3-7;6:17-18) and Baptismal resurrection (Colossians 2:12). 2 Peter 2:5 sheds more light on the saving perspective. The use of ‘spared’ and ‘saved’ comes from the positive aspect of salvation and not the destructive aspect. The word ‘not’ is used with ‘spared’ to denote destruction, but, from a salvation standpoint. 2 Peter 2:5 tells us that both the ‘spared not’ and the ‘saved’ were accomplished by the flood itself. 2 Peter 2 is about deliverance and how God was involved.

  8. BTW, water baptism is when we call on the name of the Lord:
    Acts 22:16 And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.
    We are not free from sin until God says we are:
    Romans 6:17-18 But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. (18) Being THEN made FREE FROM SIN, ye became the servants of righteousness.
    This FORM of doctrine is water baptism that Paul had just explained to them in Romans 6:3-7.
    Faith is not the point of salvation as the scriptures clearly point out.
    Romans 10:14 How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?
    Notice that you must believe or have faith BEFORE you can call on the Lord.
    Romans 10:13 For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.
    Notice that salvation comes AFTER we call on the name of the Lord.
    Again, baptism is when we call on the name of the Lord:
    Acts 22:16 And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.

  9. Let’s examine just what the Bible says about this. Gen. 6.17; “And I, behold, I do bring the flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh, wherein is the breath of life, from under heaven; everything that is in the earth shall die.” Gen. 7.17; “And the flood was forty days upon the earth; and the waters increased, and bare up the ark, and it was lifted up above the earth.” Notice that everything on the earth (land) would die and the waters lifted up the ark off the face of the earth (land).

    Now let’s look at 1 Peter 3; “(20) That aforetime were disobedient, when the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water: (21) which also after a true likeness doth now save you, even baptism, not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the interrogation of a good conscience toward God, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ”. The eight souls on the ark were saved by water. Look at v. 21, referring to water, “WHICH also after a true likeness doth now save you, even baptism”. The word water here clearly shows that this is water baptism, not Holy Spirit baptism.

    One last thing, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to his great mercy begat us again unto a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead”. (1.3) John 3.5; “Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except one be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”

    1. We must be born of water and the spirit.
    2. The waters of baptism saves us by the resurrection of Christ, which is the same way that
    3. we are born again, that is, by the resurrection of Christ.

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