Friday, January 14, 2011

Baptismal Regeneration and 1 Peter 3:20-21

Catholics and most Protestants disagree on the question of whether baptism saves us – Catholics viewing baptism as a requirement for salvation. One text Catholics cite is 1 Peter 3:20-21:
who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water.

There is also an antitype which now saves us––baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

Before digging into the text a few preliminaries are in order. First, this passage is not part of an extended discourse on salvation, such as Paul undertakes in Romans and Galatians. Nor is Peter addressing the specific question of what must we do to be saved as Paul was in Acts 16:30-31. Rather, Peter is addressing the subject in passing as part of his larger discourse on suffering for Christ. Not to say that we cannot dig out little tidbits on salvation here; it’s just that we must be careful in doing so.

Second, Protestants believe that the scripture elsewhere teach justification by faith in such black and white terms that the sacramental view of salvation is ruled out. God promises to save believers and it would be wrong to think God would not save a true believer who was un-baptized. Now I do think contempt of baptism is a sign of unbelief. But if for some legitimate reason someone were to remain un-baptized (i.e. the thief on the cross) they will still be justified by their faith as God has promised.

On to the text... We have two reasons to believe Peter was speaking loosely when he says the waters of baptism save us: one in the inbound context and the other in the outbound context.

First, Peter says Noah and his family were saved by water. Strictly speaking, Noah was saved from water not by it. In light of this people have understood Peter’s statement in various ways. Some spiritualize the text by saying that the threat of water was the occasion on which Noah exercised faith and was justified. But this interpretation portrays Noah’s deliverance as spiritual rather than physical. The error in this view is plainly shown by the word ‘anittype’ - Noah’s physical deliverance from the flood typifies baptism rather than parallels it.

Others say Noah was saved ‘through’ water rather than by it. Thus Noah is being saved by something else while he passes through water. But that destroys the parallel with baptism as well, since with respect to baptism the passage says water saves us. Water is said to act in our salvation rather than simply to be around us as we are being saved.

Others say water buoyed up the ark or that water carried Noah to a new life. These views seem closer to being correct but these explanations are still not totally satisfying, since Noah would not have needed salvation in the first place if it were not for water and Noah’s life was not biologically different after the flood. In the final analysis, Peter is simply speaking loosely, water is a metonymy representing the whole business of God delivering Noah from the flood.

Second, Peter clarified what he was saying (i.e. not the removal of the filth of the flesh…). And this is a tell that Peter was speaking loosely and wanted to tighten up what he was saying a bit to avoid misunderstandings.

So what did Peter mean when he said water now saves us? I take water as a metonymy – both in the case of Noah’s salvation and ours. Strictly speaking water didn’t save Noah and it doesn’t save us, but it does represent our salvation and his. Baptism is a sign of the covenant. No one questions that; the question typically is if it’s more than that. In Genesis 17:13 God verbally substitutes His covenant for the sign of His covenant (i.e. I will put my covenant in your flesh). Here Peter substitutes the sign for the covenant.

One of the main reasons I take it that way is the expression “not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer [or pledge] of a good conscience toward God”. In baptism, we pledge ourselves to God and join the visible church. If a believer is baptized, they are expressing their faith and God is saving them. If an unbeliever is baptized, he is not saved by it.

Babies are an interesting case, but without getting into that issue it seems safe to say babies neither pledge themselves to God nor are they bothered by conscience, so to say this passage teaches infant baptismal regeneration is quite a stretch.


Gary said...

I grew up a fundamentalist Baptist preacher’s son, very well educated in Baptist doctrine. I became an evangelical in my twenties: same doctrines just with a more positive emphasis. I am now a conservative (confessional) Lutheran.

Why did I become a Lutheran if I was taught, and still believe, that salvation is received through faith alone, in Christ alone? How could I join a Church that believes that God saves and forgives sins in Baptism? Baptism is a work!

I became a conservative Lutheran when I realized that the reason Baptists and evangelicals do not and cannot understand infant baptism and baptismal regeneration is that they do not understand how a sinner obtains FAITH!

As I said above, I was a Baptist preacher’s son. When I was nine years old, I got into trouble, and my mother gave me a well-deserved spanking. After the spanking, she talked to me about sin and that I needed to be saved. She led me in a prayer to ask Jesus to forgive me of my sins, come into my heart, and be my Lord and Savior. I remember feeling so good after finishing that prayer. I was saved!

I was then told that God would now speak to me or move me or lead me to do things to follow his will for my life. All the Christians around me were talking about God moving them, leading them, speaking to them…but I just didn’t have the same intensity of feelings that most of them seemed to have. So when I was about 15, hearing a good Baptist sermon, I asked myself this, “Maybe the reason God doesn’t speak to me like he does other Christians is probably because I am not really saved! I didn’t really believe the first time. Maybe I didn’t fully repent. Maybe I didn’t have enough faith.” So I prayed the equivalent of the Sinner’s Prayer again, with all sincerity and contrition for my sins. I felt that rush of good feelings again. I was happy. I now knew that I was definitely saved!

But then in my early 20′s I attended a non-denominational evangelical church (with Baptist doctrine). The people in this church REALLY had God. They would sway with the hymns, hands toward heaven, their eyes rolling back in the heads. "Wow! God REALLY speaks to these people! So why doesn’t he speak to me like that? There must be something wrong with me, because I don’t FEEL saved anymore!"

I left the Church altogether.

I was not the only Baptist/evangelical to undergo several born again experiences because we didn’t FEEL saved. My mother, the pastor’s wife, several years later, the person who had “led me to Christ”, decided that she wasn’t really saved either, so she repeated her born again experience just to be sure. And several other people in my church repeated their born again experience for the same reason: they weren't sure that they had done it right. If you go on your computer and google “how many times have you prayed the Sinner's Prayer?” you will find other Baptists/evangelicals who have gone through the same experience.

The problem with the Baptist/evangelical Doctrine of Faith is that it is based on US! Our salvation is based on us having the maturity and intelligence to make a free will decision to accept Christ into our hearts, So if later on in life we start to question our salvation due to not FEELING saved, what do we have to fall back on? Ourselves! Did I really repent? Did I really have true faith or was I trusting in my own faith? At nine years old did I really have the maturity to make a decision? MAYBE I DIDN’T DO IT RIGHT! So just to be on the safe side, I’ll sincerely repeat a version of the Sinner’s Prayer, and make 100% sure that, this time, I do everything right!

So, in this plan of salvation, which is supposed to be a FREE gift from God, we turn it into something that depends on us…on us doing the born again experience correctly!
To read the rest of this article, click here:

God bless,
Luther, Baptists, and Evangelicals

Godismyjudge said...


How do you know for sure you were given real faith?

God be with you,

Gary said...

I Corinthians 15:29

Otherwise, what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf?

This is a very odd passage of Scripture. The Mormons use this passage as the basis for their belief in Baptism for the Dead. I will present the orthodox Christian/Lutheran view of this passage below, but first I would like us to look at something else in this passage that is odd:

If the Church in Corinth had been taught by the Apostle Paul that the manner in which one is saved is to pray (verbally or nonverbally) a sincere, penitent, prayer/petition to God, such as a version of the Sinner's Prayer, why does this passage of God's Holy Word discuss baptisms for the dead and not "prayers for the dead", specifically, praying a version of the Sinner's Prayer for the dead?

Isn't that really odd? No matter what activity was actually going on in the Corinthian church regarding "the dead", why is the discussion/controversy about baptism and not the "true" means of salvation according to Baptists and evangelicals: an internal belief in Christ; an internal "decision" for Christ?

And even more odd...why didn't Paul scold the Corinthians for focusing so much on baptism which he had surely taught them (according to Baptists and evangelicals) was nothing other than an act of obedience; a public profession of faith??

Why so much emphasis on baptism?

Is it possible that the reason that the Corinthians were so concerned about baptism is that they had been taught by the Apostle Paul and other Christian evangelists that salvation and the promise of the resurrection of the dead and eternal life are received in Baptism, just as orthodox Christians, including Lutherans, have been teaching for almost 2,000 years??

Luther, Baptists, and Evangelicals