Does 1 Peter 3 Mandate Baptism?

Dear Lenny,

I see you have taken the traditional sectarian position on Baptism (see"Is Baptism Necessary for Salvation?) and have segregated the scriptures citing only those which serve your purpose. As you know all of God's Word is inspired and should you take the time to look you would notice that not one example of conversion was accomplished without the act of baptism. You say that baptism is an "outward sign of an inner grace" which sounds good, but the scriptures you cite do not exclude baptism, they just do not specifically mention baptism. Where you are determines what you need to know to be saved, as so in the case of Cornelius he asked "what doth hinder me to be baptized." In Saul's case he was told "arise, and be baptized and wash away your sins calling on the name of the Lord." Could Saul have been saved without "washing away" his sins? If we follow your logic he would have been, but then, God knew better. 1 Peter 3:21 is a good case in point, when you strip away all the adjectives, and get down to the subject and verb, which we know allows us to understand what the verse is saying it reads "baptism (noun) saves (verb). That my friend is not only a complete thought, but one that tells us the place of baptism in the plan of salvation. Even Jesus said "for thus it behooveth us to fulfill all righteousness" Can all righteousness be fulfilled short of doing what Jesus did "if then we have been in the like of his death.." Roman 6.

Thank you for writing and expressing your views. I'm glad you gave me a chance to respond to the baptism question. I think that this issue does need to be studied carefully and by so doing we can arrive at the truth. You state that there is no instance in the Bible of someone being converted but not baptized. I must first ask how many instances would it take for you to change your position. If there are ten places in the Bible where people were saved without baptism, then would you accept it isn't necessary? How about five? If there was even one place in the Scripture where someone was saved to Jesus Christ without baptism, wouldn't it prove that it isn't a requirement for salvation? If it is a requirement, then it would have to be there in every instance, right? I again bring your attention to the thief on the cross. He couldn't get baptized! Because he was saved by the testimony of Jesus Himself, we must then draw the conclusion that baptism is not a necessary component.

Now, let's look at others. Nicodemus was a Pharisee, and he came to Jesus by night because he didn't want anyone to see him talking with someone his peers reviled, yet we find in John 19:39 that he was a believer. I seriously doubt he came to be baptized, being in fear of the rulership, but he was a believer. The Samaritan woman Jesus met at the well believed in Him and was saved. She was in such a hurry to tell others about Jesus that she didn't wait to fill her waterpot, let alone being baptized. The blind man in John 9 believed in Jesus (John 9:35-38).

After the ascension of Jesus there were also many who were considered saved before they were baptized. In Acts 3, Peter preaches to a massive crowd at the temple porch. The priests seized Peter and John as they were speaking and threw them in jail. The Bible records, however, that about five thousand believed and were added to the church. Peter and John couldn't have baptized them, for they were in prison! Peter didn't even get to finish his sermon. The people are considered believers nevertheless.

Let's now look at 1 Peter 3:21. The verse reads "And corresponding to that, baptism now saves you—not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience - through the resurrection of Jesus Christ." Notice when you look at the entire verse that Peter specifically states he is not talking about the act of water baptism. He is talking about regeneration based on "an appeal to God." In other words, one is spiritually baptized into the body of Christ when they ask Him to forgive them of their sins. This is the baptism of the Spirit talked about in 1 Cor. 12:13. Notice that it is distinct from water baptism in that a man doesn't do it, but the Holy Spirit does. Like John's baptism was different from the disciples' baptism (ref . Acts 19:1-5), so the baptism of the Spirit is distinct from water baptism.

The difficulty in these passages comes from the fact that water baptism generally happened at the time of salvation. It then becomes hard to distinguish the differences between the two. However, because they are recorded as being contiguous in most of the book of Acts, doesn't mean they are the same thing at all. Because women perspire while giving birth does not mean that it is necessary to perspire for birth to occur. You see, baptism is an act of identification with a person, group or cause. This was well understood in the days of the disciples, for many Greek cults also had baptisms, as did John the Baptist. Like receiving a diploma at a graduation ceremony signifies that one has completed all his required study appropriately, baptism is a sign to others that a change has occurred. The ceremony does not make one a graduate, but is an outward display of what has already happened.

This is such an important issue because it asks if Christ alone saves us or if it is Christ plus baptism. The Bible is ardently clear on this point: nothing other than the finished work of Christ is responsible for our salvation. It is entirely God's doing. To say that I help to save myself is heretical at the least.

Please ponder these issues. I pray that you will give thought to all these discussions and I am confident that the Lord will guide us into all truth if we prayerfully seek His guidance.

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Sean McDowell, PhD:

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