An Appeal to God: 1 Peter 3:21

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k) 1 Pet 3:21: This verse clarifies why Peter wrote about the flood (1 Pet 3:18–21).[1]

He associated people receiving the gospel and baptism with Noah coming safely through the waters (Gen 8:1, 15–19).[2]

The Apostle Paul also expressed continuity between the Old and New Testaments, citing an experience quite familiar to the original audience of Genesis. However, he linked baptism with Israel passing through the Sea of Reeds rather than with Noah’s experience (Ps 136:12–15; 1 Cor 10:1–2).[3]

Peter wrote to people who received salvation the same way that Noah did: by passing through the water to safety.[4]

God employed the flood which threatened to destroy Noah and his family as the instrument of their salvation. Likewise, Christians shall escape the terrors of final judgment due to Jesus’s vindicating resurrection and their union with him in baptism.[5]



When seeking to understand 1 Pet 3:21, one of the most difficult verses in the New Testament (NT),[6] we must remember the context of the larger passage.

Christ “was made alive in the Spirit” and “he went into heaven” (1 Pet 3:18, 22). Peter envisioned these two events as one divine act. Here he discussed the purpose of Jesus’s post-resurrection journey and its effect upon believers.[7]

Referring to the end of 1 Pet 3:20,[8] Peter wrote, “That [water] also corresponds to (antitypos) baptism, [which] now saves you.”

A “type” consists of an Old Testament (OT) person or event which presaged something in the NT era.[9]

Meanwhile, an “anti-type” refers to a NT individual or situation foreseen in the OT (Cf. Heb 9:24, translated as “a copy”). Thus, the water which supported the ark corresponds to baptism by resulting in salvation.[10]

Peter discussed conversion at length in this letter (1 Pet 1:17–2:5, 9–10, 24–25). Yet, he clearly mentioned baptism only in 1 Pet 3:21. Adding to the confusion, only here in the entire NT does anyone claim that this sacrament saves us.[11]

Considering how the flood parallels baptism proves helpful in unraveling Peter’s statement. Jesus described his impending death as a baptism (Luke 12:50; Mark 10:36–40; Acts 12:1–2). Paul made this connection explicit in Rom 6:1–14. He declared that in baptism, “All of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death” (Cf. Col 2:12).[12]



Peter approached how baptism saves from another angle.[13]

He added this explanatory information to prevent any misunderstanding: “not of flesh (sarx) the filth removing, but of a good conscience an appeal to God.”

By placing “of flesh” at the beginning of the phrase, he emphasized that word.[14]

“Flesh” has multiple meanings in the NT. These include “the material which covers our bones,” “a body,” “the part of us with physical limitations,” “the aspect of us which is prone to sin,” and “a living being.”[15]

Fortunately, the noun meaning “filth” (rupos) assists us. Although it does not appear elsewhere in the NT, it occurs four times in the Greek translation of the OT (Job 9:31; Job 11:14–15; Job 14:4; and Isa 4:4).[16] In three of these, the text concerns moral, not physical, filth.[17]

Furthermore, James used a related word (ruparia) which refers to moral defilement (Jas 1:21).[18]



Earlier in his letter, Peter warned his readers to “abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul” (1 Pet 2:11). We need spiritual cleansing, but baptism does not achieve it.[19]

Being washed in the waters of baptism does not transmit spiritual purity (1 Pet 2:1–3).[20]

Neither the washing in water nor the religious rite results in salvation.[21] By itself, baptism does not save a person.[22]

Instead, Peter appears to use baptism as a symbol of the entire process of hearing and accepting the gospel in faith.[23]



The Jewish historian Josephus (37–100 AD) adopted a similar view of baptism:

Now some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod’s army came from God, and that very justly, as a punishment of what he did against John, that was called the Baptist: for Herod slew him, who was a good man, and commanded the Jews to exercise virtue, both as to righteousness towards one another, and piety towards God, and so to come to baptism; for that the washing [with water] would be acceptable to him, if they made use of it, not…[for] the putting away [or the remission] of some sins [only], but for the purification of the body; supposing still that the soul was thoroughly purified beforehand by righteousness.[24]

External acts of piety cannot make those with evil hearts right with God.[25] Inner cleansing by a new birth brings us into fellowship with the Lord and with his people (John 4:14; Acts 23:1; 1 Pet 1:1–5).[26]



The next part of the verse presents difficulties.[27]

We can translate the first word in the Greek text (syneidēsis) as either “consciousness,” as in awareness, or as “conscience” (1 Pet 2:19; Heb 10:2).[28]

By the first century BC, the second definition became the predominant meaning (Rom 2:14–15; 1 Cor 10:28–29; Heb 9:13–14).[29] Accordingly, Peter placed “of a good conscience” at the beginning of his definition of the sacrament.[30]

The word translated as “pledge” (eperōtēma) also raises questions. It occurs only here in the NT.[31] However, it is related to a common verb (eperōtaō) which means “to ask, interrogate, or appeal.”[32]

Hence, two possibilities exist for this phrase. One can translate it as “the request of a good conscience from God.” That would make baptism an appeal to God for purification.[33]

However, Peter asserted that the one receiving baptism already had a good conscience.[34] Therefore, interpreting the word as “a pledge” best fits the context of the passage (Cf. Heb 10:19–25).[35]

Furthermore, the activity was directed from people to God, not from God to people.[36] Thus, the apostle wrote of individuals who pledged to live uprightly after being baptized.[37]



We can compare Peter’s assertion that baptism saves to Christ’s declaration, “Your faith has saved you” (Matt 9:20–22; Mark 10:50–52; Luke 7:44–50).

Technically, the sacrificial death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ saves people.

Likewise, Peter cited baptism as the human response to God’s activity. A good conscience results from the work of the Holy Spirit within an individual’s heart, who also enables that person to obey the Lord (1 Pet 3:13–16; 1 Tim 1:5, 18–19).[38]

During Peter’s ministry, baptism served as the first and necessary response of faith (Acts 2:38).[39] As a result, the practice became identified as a rite of initiation into the Christian community.[40]

Nevertheless, faith and baptism remain distinct so that faith does not negate the need for baptism and baptism fails to make faith unnecessary (1 Cor 12:13; Gal 3:26–27).[41]



A document dated to approximately 200 AD describes the process for new believers and the rite of baptism in detail:

New converts to the faith, who are to be admitted as hearers of the word, shall first…be examined as to their reason for embracing the faith, and they who bring them shall testify that they are competent to hear the word. Inquiry shall then be made as to the nature of their life…

Let catechumens (new believers) spend three years as hearers of the word…They who are to be set apart for baptism shall be chosen after their lives have been examined…

They who are to be baptized shall fast on Friday, and on Saturday the bishop shall assemble them and command them to kneel in prayer. And, laying his hand upon them, he shall exorcise all evil spirits…They shall spend all that night in vigil, listening to reading and instruction…

At cockcrow prayer shall be made over the water. The stream shall flow through the baptismal tank or pour into it from above when there is no scarcity of water; but if there is a scarcity, whether constant or sudden, then use whatever water you can find.

They shall remove their clothing.[42] And first baptize the little ones; if they can speak for themselves, they shall do so; if not, their parents or other relatives shall speak for them. Then baptize the men, and last of all the women…

Let the candidates stand in the water, naked, a deacon going with them…He who baptizes him, putting his hand on him, shall say thus, “Dost thou believe in God, the Father Almighty?” And he who is being baptized shall say, “I believe.” Then holding his hand placed on his head, he shall baptize him once.

And then he shall say, “Dost thou believe in Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who was born of the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and was dead and buried, and rose again the third day, alive from the dead, and ascended into heaven, and sat at the right hand of the Father, and will come to judge the quick (living) and the dead?”[43] And when he says, “I believe,” he is baptized again.

And again he shall say, “Dost thou believe in [the] Holy Ghost, and the holy church, and the resurrection of the flesh?” He who is being baptized shall say accordingly, “I believe,” and so he is baptized a third time…

And so each one…is immediately clothed, and then is brought into the church. Then the bishop…shall pray, saying, “O Lord God, who hast made them worthy to obtain remission of sins through the laver of regeneration of [the] Holy Spirit, send into them thy grace, that they may serve thee according to thy will.”[44]



Consequently, Peter reminded the recipients of his letter that they affirmed their commitment to Christ at the time of baptism.[45]

In the face of terrible suffering for their faith and the temptation to turn away from the Lord,[46] feeble commitment would not suffice.[47]

Indeed, the term “sacrament” derives from the Latin word meaning “a military oath.”[48]

People who entered the community of Essenes at Qumran also made pledges. According to a Dead Sea Scroll, “All those who embrace the Community Rule shall enter into the Covenant before God to obey all His commandments so that they may not abandon Him during the dominion of Satan because of fear or terror or affliction…

They shall practice truth and humility in common, and justice and uprightness and charity and modesty in all their ways…They shall atone for all those in Aaron who have freely pledged themselves to holiness.”[49]



In summary, baptism does not atone for moral impurity. It consists of a pledge to live in relationship with the Lord after receiving a clean conscience. Therefore, we must conduct ourselves in a way which brings honor to Christ, even in the face of a hostile world.[50]

Peter then wrote concerning what makes baptism effective in our salvation,[51] brilliantly circling us back to the beginning of this passage (1 Pet 3:18–22).[52]

It is “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who is at the right [hand] of God, after having gone into heaven after angels, and authorities, and powers had been subjected to him.”

Peter employed parallelism to correspond our situation with Noah’s.[53]

He wrote that it was “through water” and “through the resurrection,” not that it was “through water” and “through baptism.”[54]

Ultimately, Jesus’s resurrection and ascension saves us through our union with him. The rite of baptism does not (1 Pet 1:3–5; 1Tim 3:16; Col 3:1–4).[55]

As a result, salvation is available through a new birth for everyone who comes to God with a desire for forgiveness and union with Christ (Luke 23:39–43; John 3:16–21; Rom 8:31–34).[56]

Image via Wikimedia Commons


Read 1 Pet 3:21. How does baptism save us? What happens to God’s people who die before being baptized? How does the resurrection and ascension of Jesus impact believers?




Go to Seated at God’s Right Hand (1 Pet 3:22)

[Related posts include Overview of 1 Peter 3:18–22Death in the Flesh but Life in the Spirit (1 Pet 3:18); Interpretive Issues in 1 Pet 3:19–20; Early Church Fathers’ View of 1 Pet 3:19–20; Augustine’s View of 1 Pet 3:19–20; The Apostles’ Creed and 1 Pet 3:19–20; John Calvin’s View of 1 Pet 3:19–20; Ancient Jewish View Applied to 1 Pet 3:19–20; Modern Scholars’ View of 1 Pet 3:19–20; Summary of 1 Pet 3:19–20; Salvation through Water (1 Pet 3:20);; and Seated at God’s Right Hand (1 Pet 3:22)]

[Noah Found Favor (Gen 6:8); Righteous and Blameless (Gen 6:9–10); God Remembered Noah (Gen 8:1); Bring Them Out (Gen 8:15–19); Jesus, Remember Me (Luke 23:39–43); New Creatures in Christ (2 Cor 5:17); Receiving Christ’s Righteousness (2 Cor 5:21); Clothed with Christ (Gal 3:26–27); Ancient Literature; and Redemptive History]

[Click here to go to Chapter 8: Safely Through (Gen 8:1–19)]


[1]Marshall, 1 Peter, 1 Pet 3:21.

[2]Jobes, 1 Peter, 251.

[3]Davids, The First Epistle of Peter, 144.

[4]Davids, The First Epistle of Peter, 143.

[5]Jobes, 1 Peter, 252.

[6]Davids, The First Epistle of Peter, 143.

[7]Michaels, 1 Peter, 199–200.

[8]Michaels, 1 Peter, 213–4.

[9]Leonhard Goppelt, “τυπος, ἀντιτυπος” (typos, antitypos), TDNT 8:246–59, 252–3.

[10]Arndt, Danker, and Bauer, “τυπος, ἀντιτυπος” (typos, antitypos), BDAG, 90–1.

[11]Michaels, 1 Peter, 214.

[12]Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, 193–4.

[13]Davids, The First Epistle of Peter, 144.

[14]Michaels, 1 Peter, 214–5. Koine Greek and Hebrew authors placed what they wished to emphasize at the beginning of a sentence or phrase. “Of flesh” is a noun in the genitive case.

[15]Arndt, Danker, and Bauer, “σαρξ” (sarx), BDAG, 914–6.

[16]JResult of Logos 7 word study on ῥύπος (rupos).

[17]Jobes, 1 Peter, 254.

[18]Arndt, Danker, and Bauer, “ῥυπαρια” (ruparia), BDAG, 908.

[19]Michaels, 1 Peter, 216.

[20]Marshall, 1 Peter, 1 Pet 3:21.

[21]Davids, The First Epistle of Peter, 144.

[22]Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, 195.

[23]Marshall, 1 Peter, 1 Pet 3:21.

[24]Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews, 18.5.2, Italics mine.

[25]Marshall, 1 Peter, 1 Pet 3:21.

[26]Leonhard Goppelt, “ứδωρ” (hudor), TDNT 8:314–33.

[27]Jobes, 1 Peter, 255.

[28]Arndt, Danker, and Bauer, “συνειδησις” (syneidēsis), BDAG, 967–8.

[29]Christian Maurer, “συνειδησις” (syneidēsis), TDNT 7:899–919, 902.

[30]Michaels, 1 Peter, 216.

[31]Result of Logos 7 word study of “ἐπερωτημα” (eperōtēma).

[32]Arndt, Danker, and Bauer, “ἐπερωταω” (eperōtaō), BDAG, 362.

[33]Davids, The First Epistle of Peter, 144–5.

[34]Michaels, 1 Peter, 217.

[35]Arndt, Danker, and Bauer, “ἐπερωτημα” (eperōtēma) BDAG, 362.

[36]Michaels, 1 Peter, 217.

[37]Jobes, 1 Peter, 255.

[38]Michaels, 1 Peter, 216–7.

[39]Scott McKnight, Galatians (NIVAC; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 198.

[40]Ronald Y. K. Fung, The Epistle to the Galatians (NICNT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988), 172.

[41]Richard N. Longenecker, Galatians (WBC; Dallas: Word, 1998), 155–6.

[42]Another text called the Didascalia Apostolorum (ca. 200–250 AD) indicates this is why female deacons participated in the baptism of women (16, 78–9,

[43]This, along with the declaration in the next paragraph, is virtually identical to the Old Roman Form of the Apostles’ Creed (

[44]Hippolytus, The Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus (trans. Burton Scott Easton; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1934), 16–17, 20–1, 41–7, Http:// Italics mine.

[45]Davids, The First Epistle of Peter, 145.

[46]Jobes, 1 Peter, 255.

[47]Davids, The First Epistle of Peter, 145.

[48]Jobes, 1 Peter, 255.

[49]Vermes, The Dead Sea Scrolls in English, 1 QS 1, 5, 70, 75,; Italics mine.

[50]Jobes, 1 Peter, 255–6.

[51]Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, 194.

[52]Michaels, 1 Peter, 218.

[53]Michaels, 1 Peter, 218.

[54]Jobes, 1 Peter, 252.

[55]Davids, The First Epistle of Peter, 144.

[56]Marshall, 1 Peter, 1 Pet 3:21.