Salvation through Water: 1 Peter 3:20

salvation through water

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k) 1 Pet 3:20: In approximately 205 BC, a large Jewish population arrived in Asia Minor. These colonists noted that the name of one town included the word “ark.” This led them to believe that Noah’s ark had landed there. Although they were likely incorrect, Noah became the most widely known biblical figure in that region.[1]

Several Roman emperors (193–253 AD) even minted coins with their busts on the front and with Noah and his wife on the reverse side.[2]

In this verse, Peter shifted to slightly less obscure matters (Cf. 1 Pet 3:19).



He wrote that the spirits were disobedient, “when God was waiting patiently in the days of Noah [while] the ark was being built, in which a few, that is eight souls, were brought safely through water.”

The apostle focused upon three analogies from Noah’s era relevant to his original audience: God’s patience, judgment upon the wicked, and salvation through water.[3]

Despite human sin, the Lord exhibited patience and did not immediately destroy Noah’s contemporaries.[4]

An interval of approximately one hundred years gave people time to repent (Gen 5:32; Gen 7:6; Acts 14:13–18; Acts 17:30–31; 2 Pet 3:9).[5]

Accordingly, the Babylonian Talmud states, “There were ten generations from Adam to Noah; to show how patient the Lord is. So many generations had vexed him till he brought upon them the deluge.”[6]



Peter then shifted to the theme of salvation.[7] In his own era, God was patiently building a spiritual house (1 Pet 2:5).[8]

He noted, “only a few, that is, eight souls were saved” (Matt 7:13–14; Matt 22:14; 1 Pet 2:4, 7–8).[9] Noah, his sons, and their wives comprised a righteous remnant (Gen 6:8–10; Gen 7:13).[10]

The word “souls” (psychē) connotes multiple meanings in the New Testament. It can refer to “that which animates a person and departs after death,” “a person’s life in its entirety,” “that which possesses life,” and “inner human life.”[11]

When it appears in plural form in 1 Peter, “psychē” applies to people whom God set apart for salvation (1 Pet 1:8–9, 22–23; 1 Pet 2:11–12, 25; 1 Pet 4:19).[12]

Consequently, in this passage, a psyche consists of a whole person whom the Lord has chosen, who lives in obedience to God, and shall experience vindication at the last judgment.[13]

It does not comprise the inner part of a person distinct from the body.[14] After all, Noah and his passengers survived the flood in their entirety.[15]



Those eight souls “were brought safely through (dia) water.”

One can deduce two meanings in this phrase. Was the water the threat from which they were saved? Or was it the means of their salvation?[16]

Scholars remain divided on this issue. Some note that God used water to destroy the world.[17] Without the security of the ark, Noah and his family would have drowned.[18] Instead, the boat passed through the flood.[19]

Jewish interpreters typically understood that Noah and his family escaped by walking through the water (Gen 7:6–7).[20]

One first century rabbi made this observation, “[Noah] lacked faith: had not the water reached his ankles he would not have entered the ark.”[21]

In the Old Testament, water often represented God’s wrath toward sin (Ps 69:1–2, 14–15; Ps 88:7; Ps 144:7; Jonah 2:1–7). Noah and his family members were saved by the same overwhelming judgment which destroyed the ungodly. The flood separated the righteous remnant from the corruption of their peers.[22]

Thus, God saved them via water.[23]



The Shepherd of Hermas (ca. 100–160 AD) reported a vision of a strong tower—representing the church universal—built upon the water. When he asked the reason for the location, a lady told him, “Your life is saved and shall be saved by water.”[24]

Bolstering this view, Peter compared Noah’s experience to the rite of baptism (1 Pet 3:21).

The apostle taught that the return of Christ will bring salvation to the faithful few while destroying sinners who fail to repent.[25]

Peter’s original audience consisted of tiny groups of people living as exiles among those who oppressed and persecuted them (1 Pet 1:1–2; 1 Pet 2:12, 16; 1 Pet 3:1; 13–17; 1 Pet 4:3–4, 12–14; 1 Pet 5:8–10). Despite their small numbers, they could count upon God to deliver them (2 Pet 2:9).[26]

God brought Noah and his passengers safely through by means of the flood. Peter similarly employed the metaphor of fire (1 Pet 1:7).[27]

When judgment comes, God’s people can rest in security (1 Pet 1:1; 1 Pet 2:12).[28]

Therefore, we can bear up under trial,[29] knowing that we suffer temporarily. We await certain victory, for Jesus has triumphed over death, the grave, and every evil force (Rom 16:20; Col 2:8–15; 1 Cor 15:50–58).[30]

Image via Wikimedia Commons


Read 1 Pet 3:20. Why would Noah’s situation have encouraged Peter’s original audience? Was Noah saved by the ark or by the water? Why do you think that? Summarize the meaning of 1 Pet 3:18–20 in a sentence or two.





Go to An Appeal to God (1 Pet 3:21)

[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; An Appeal to God (1 Pet 3:21); and Seated at God’s Right Hand (1 Pet 3:22)]

[Ancient Near Eastern Genealogies (Gen 5:1); Seeking Relief (Gen 5:28–32); Sons of God or Sons of the Gods? (Gen 6:1–2); Descendants of Seth as the Sons of God (Gen 6:1–2 cont.); Fallen Angels as the Sons of God (Gen 6:1–2 cont.); Kings as Sons of the Gods (Gen 6:1–2 cont.); Taking Wives for Themselves (Gen 6:1–2 cont.); Limiting Human Life Spans (Gen 6:3); Nephilim in the Land (Gen 6:4); Noah Found Favor (Gen 6:8); Righteous and Blameless (Gen 6:9–10); Satan Vanquished (Rom 16:20); Perishable Flesh and Blood (1 Cor 15:50); We Shall Be Changed (1 Cor 15:51–52); Victory over Death (1 Cor 15:53–55); Our Certificate of Debt (Col 2:13–14); A Minority Religion (1 Pet 3:1–2); Rebellious Angels (Jude 6–7); and Ancient Literature]

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


[1]Jobes, 1 Peter, 245.

[2] Ancient Numismatic Mythology, “Coins Depicting Noah and the Biblical Flood Narrative,”

[3]Michaels, 1 Peter, 200, 212.

[4]Davids, The First Epistle of Peter, 141.

[5]Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, 191.

[6]Leo Auerbach, trans., The Babylonian Talmud in Selection (New York: Philosophical Library, 1944), b. Aboth 5.2, 41,

[7]Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude (Vol. 37, 191.

[8]Michaels, 1 Peter, 200–1.

[9]Michaels, 1 Peter, 213.

[10]Davids, The First Epistle of Peter, 142.

[11]Arndt, Danker, and Bauer, “ψυχη” (psyche), BDAG, 1098–100.

[12]Eduard Schweizer, “ψυχη” (psychē), TDNT 9:608–67, 652.

[13]Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, 191.

[14]Michaels, 1 Peter, 213.

[15]Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, 191.

[16]Michaels, 1 Peter, 213.

[17]Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, 192.

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

[19]Davids, The First Epistle of Peter, 142.

[20]Davids, The First Epistle of Peter, 142, note 44.

[21]H. Freedman, trans., Maurice Simon, ed., Genesis (vol. 1 of Midrash Rabbah Translated into English, 10 Vols.; London: Soncino, 1939), 32:6, 253, Https://

[22]Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, 192–3.

[23]Michaels, 1 Peter, 212.

[24]J. B. Lightfoot, trans., “The Shepherd of Hermas,” in The Apostolic Fathers (ed. J. R. Harmer; London; New York: MacMillan, 1891), 3.11.5, 412, Https://

[25]Carson, “1 Peter,” in Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, 1039.

[26]Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, 192.

[27]Michaels, 1 Peter, 213.

[28]Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, 180.

[29]Marshall, 1 Peter, 1 Pet 3:19.

[30]Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, 180.