Question #338

I am struggling with baptism.

I am a college student studying at a liberal art college. I am a Christian and was saved and baptized in 7th grade. Now that I am in college I am trying to challenge my own beliefs so that I understand why I believe the way I do. I am doing this by reading different religious denominations way of thinking and referring back to the Holy Bible to see if it lines up. I understand that you all believe that baptism is essential to salvation. I believe baptism is to be done, however it alone does not save you. When reading on your website you referred to 1 Peter 3:21 to defend that salvation does in fact save you, however if you read the whole verse it says otherwise. 1 Peter 3:21 states "and this water SYMBOLIZES baptism that now saves you also-not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. You see, Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins and its through grace that we are saved through Jesus Christ. Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves it is the gift of God, not by works lest any man should boast. We cant earn our way into heaven by doing anything, including getting baptized, if we are not saved by excepting Jesus Christ to be our Lord and Savior. John 14:6 Jesus said unto him, I am the way the truth and the life: no man comes unto the father except through me. You see Jesus died on the cross for our sins and its through his grace that we can receive him. John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life. I do believe baptism is important however, without salvation to me its a public bath with clothing! I just though I would share this with you!

The Answer:

You ARE to be commended for wanting to challenge your beliefs in view of scripture. Scripture is the only standard for those who would be right with God. John 12:48. Your citation of 1 Peter 3:21 is from the NIV. Out of 10 translations checked the NIV and the TNIV are the only two that so translate the passage. When you come across a translation that is out of step with most translations you should be cautious. This is especially true when you find those translations in versions that are known for poor translation of the Greek. The next step that you should take is to seek out Greek lexicons to see what the Greek word is and how the lexicons define it. A Quick review of the same translations reveals that the word “symbol” appears in4 of them (CSB, ESV, NAS and NKJ) in 1 Corinthians 11:10. It is translated from the Greek word [“exousia”] which means:

authority, right, power; (1) as denoting the power of decision making, especially as the unlimited possibility of action proper to God authority, power (AC 1.7); (2) as denoting God's power displayed through the sphere of nature power, authority (RV 9.10, 19); (3) as denoting limited authority to act, given to Satan in his sphere of dominion power, sphere of power, dominion (AC 26.18); (4) as Jesus' divinely given and unrestricted exercise of freedom to act power, authority (JN 10.18); (5) as authority imparted to a community to act in ordering relationships within it right, control, authority (2C 13.10); (6) as those in whom authority for ruling rests, both supernatural and human, especially in the plural officials, authorities, dignitaries, (the) government (CO 1.16); (7) 1C 11.10 variously interpreted, including (a) a woman ought to have authority over her own head (to unveil) and (b) a woman ought to have (a sign or symbol of) authority on her head (a head-covering, pointing to the authority of her husband). The word the NIV translates “symbolizes” comes from [“antitupos”]. Friberg’s Analytical Greek Lexicon defines the term, “strictly struck back, echoed; hence answering to, corresponding to; neuter as an adverb; of baptism fulfilling a type presented in Noah's flood in a way corresponding to (1P 3.21); substantivally … copy, exact representation, antitype (HE 9.24). Louw-Nida’s Greek Lexicon of the New Testament defines it: pertaining to that which corresponds in form and structure to something else, either as an anticipation of a later reality or as a fulfillment of a prior type - 'correspondence, antitype, representation, fulfillment. [Greek of 1 Pet. 3:21] which corresponds to baptism which now saves you 1 Pe 3.21; [Greek of Heb. 9:24] 'a sanctuary ... made with hands ... corresponding to the true sanctuary' He 9.24. Bauer-Danker’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament defines it: 1. pert. to that which corresponds to someth. else, adj. corresponding to (Polyb. 6, 31, 8 [Greek for] I am placed opposite) someth. that has gone before ([“tupos”], cp. the oracular saying in Diod. S. 9, 36, 3 [tupos antitupos] and Ex 25:40). In a compressed statement, with rescue through water as the dominant theme … [Greek for], i.e. the salvation of Noah and family via water [“dia hudatos”]), which supported the ark, is the [“tupos”] for the salutary function of the water of baptism 1 Pt 3:21. A Platonic perspective (s. 2, below) is not implied in the passage.—PLundberg, La Typologie Baptismale dans l’ancienne Église, ’42, 110ff; ESelwyn, The First Epistle of St Peter, ’46, 298f; BReicke, The Disobedient Spirits and Christian Baptism, ’46, 144f. LHurst, JTS 34, ’83, 165-68, argues for the same mng. Hb 9:24 (s. 2 below).

  1. subst. copy, antitype, representation (ISyriaW 1855; pap, e.g. POxy 1470, 6; PYadin 23, 24 al.; Plotin. 2, 9, 6; Proclus on Pla., Cratyl. p. 76, 28 Pasquali; in different sense Just., D. 5, 2 [antitupian”] resistance), acc. to Platonic doctrine, w. ref. to the world of things about us, as opposed to the true heavenly originals, or ideas (the [“authentikon”]). So {Greek for] a sanctuary made w. hands, a (mere) copy of the true (sanctuary) Hb 9:24 (s. 1 above). The flesh is [“antitupos antitupos tou pneumatos”] 2 Cl 14:3a; the spirit, on the other hand, is [“to suthentikon”] vs. 3b.—RHanson, Allegory and Event, ’59, 67-69; CFritsch, TCVriezen Festschr. ’66, 100-107.—DELG s.v. M-M. TW. Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament defines it: [“antitupos”].

[“antitupos”] [“antitupon”] ([“tupto”]), in Greek writings:

  1. properly, a. actively, repelling a blow, striking back, echoing, reflecting light; resisting, rough, hard. b. passively, struck back, repelled.

  2. metaphorically, rough, harsh, obstinate, hostile. In the N. T. language [“antitupon”] as a substantive means:

  3. a thing formed after some pattern ([“tupos”] (which see 4 a.)) (German Abbild): Heb. 9:24 (R. V. like in pattern).

  4. "a thing resembling another, its counterpart; something in the Messianic times which answers to the type" prefiguring it in the O. T. (German Gegenbild, English antitype), as baptism corresponds to the deluge: 1 Pet. 3:21 (R. V. text after a true likeness).*

As you can see from these (and others if you wish to check them) none defines the Greek word to mean “symbol” or “symbolizes.” That should tell you something. Then the definitions should tell you that symbolizes is a mistranslation of the Greek. While it is true that the English word “symbol” can mean something that represents something else by association, resemblance, or convention, that is far short of the meaning of the word “antitype” (note the resemblance to the Greek word “antitupos” as it is used in scripture. In scripture the “antitype” is preceded by the “type.” In scripture the “type” is often spoken of as the “shadow” while the antitype is the “reality.” See Heb. 8:5; 10:1. Baptism is the “like figure,” it “corresponds” to the waters of the flood. Just as Noah and his family are saved by baptism, so people are today saved by baptism. PLEASE UNDERSTAND THAT THIS DOES NOT MEAN THAT PEOPLE ARE SAVED BY BAPTISM ALONE. Baptism is for penitent believers absent which your description of baptism is correct – it is no more than a bath with clothes on. BUT NOTICE that Peter takes care to guard against such a conclusion. He says that baptism “is not the putting away of the filth of the flesh”; it is not a bath with clothes on. It is the answer of a good conscience toward God. One who rejects baptism’s relation to salvation cannot have a good conscience toward God. The truth is that the language here is too clear in its meaning to have to have this prolonged discussion. Even if you take the word “symbol” as the correct translation the passage still plainly says “baptism now saves you.” Never, ever do you find a command to be baptized because you are already saved. Everything that relates to salvation is by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. His death, burial, and resurrection are the foundations of grace without which the entire process would be worthless. Without them salvation on any basis is impossible.

Please listen to the audio sermon on this website, “That the Promise May be Certain.” I think that it will help you understand the relationship between grace, faith, repentance, and baptism, and that all are essential to the forgiveness of sins.

God's Plan of Salvation

You must hear the gospel and then understand and recognize that you are lost without Jesus Christ no matter who you are and no matter what your background is. The Bible tells us that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Before you can be saved, you must understand that you are lost and that the only way to be saved is by obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:8) Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6) “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

You must believe and have faith in God because “without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6) But neither belief alone nor faith alone is sufficient to save. (James 2:19; James 2:24; Matthew 7:21)

You must repent of your sins. (Acts 3:19) But repentance alone is not enough. The so-called “Sinner’s Prayer” that you hear so much about today from denominational preachers does not appear anywhere in the Bible. Indeed, nowhere in the Bible was anyone ever told to pray the “Sinner’s Prayer” to be saved. By contrast, there are numerous examples showing that prayer alone does not save. Saul, for example, prayed following his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:11), but Saul was still in his sins when Ananias met him three days later (Acts 22:16). Cornelius prayed to God always, and yet there was something else he needed to do to be saved (Acts 10:2, 6, 33, 48). If prayer alone did not save Saul or Cornelius, prayer alone will not save you. You must obey the gospel. (2 Thess. 1:8)

You must confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. (Romans 10:9-10) Note that you do NOT need to make Jesus “Lord of your life.” Why? Because Jesus is already Lord of your life whether or not you have obeyed his gospel. Indeed, we obey him, not to make him Lord, but because he already is Lord. (Acts 2:36) Also, no one in the Bible was ever told to just “accept Jesus as your personal savior.” We must confess that Jesus is the Son of God, but, as with faith and repentance, confession alone does not save. (Matthew 7:21)

Having believed, repented, and confessed that Jesus is the Son of God, you must be baptized for the remission of your sins. (Acts 2:38) It is at this point (and not before) that your sins are forgiven. (Acts 22:16) It is impossible to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ without teaching the absolute necessity of baptism for salvation. (Acts 8:35-36; Romans 6:3-4; 1 Peter 3:21) Anyone who responds to the question in Acts 2:37 with an answer that contradicts Acts 2:38 is NOT proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ!

Once you are saved, God adds you to his church and writes your name in the Book of Life. (Acts 2:47; Philippians 4:3) To continue in God’s grace, you must continue to serve God faithfully until death. Unless they remain faithful, those who are in God’s grace will fall from grace, and those whose names are in the Book of Life will have their names blotted out of that book. (Revelation 2:10; Revelation 3:5; Galatians 5:4)