By Leonard Lauriault : QCS columnist
Read 1 Peter 3:21, as well as all scriptures when cited.
Various Bible versions use different words — pledge (NIV), answer (KJV, NKJV), response (NIV footnote) — to indicate that baptism is something done after salvation as an outward sign of an already received inward grace, as some today describe it. But that’s not consistent with the context of 1 Peter 3:21, the surrounding verses, or the rest of the New Testament.
First, the symbol mentioned in 1 Peter 3:21 is the water of the flood, which symbolizes the water of baptism (1 Peter 3:18-20; John 3:22-30; Acts 19:1-5; 8:26-39; Ephesians 5:25-27; 1:13, 14).
Second, baptism has nothing to do with externals (outward signs — removal of dirt). It does have everything to do with internals – a repentant heart that’s obedient to God’s (Galatians 3:26-4:7; 1 Corinthians 12:13; Titus 3:4-7; Colossians 2:6-12; Romans 2:28, 29; 6:3-5).
Third, even the versions describing baptism as a pledge, response, or answer, state, “It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
Further, it does so without setting aside God’s grace (Galatians 2:20, 21; Ephesians 2:1-9). Since the concept that baptism is the outward sign of an already received inner grace based on the word “pledge,” “answer,” or “response” isn’t consistent with the rest of scripture, what’s going on?
The Bible, as it was written at first, originated with God and doesn’t contradict itself because God doesn’t change or contradict himself (James 1:17; 1 Peter 1:22-25).
Therefore, if a single verse seems contradictory, it’s either (and most likely) our misunderstanding and we need further study, or a very rare case of mistranslation.
In either case, we shouldn’t support contradiction by reinterpreting the rest of scripture; rather, we should go with the majority of scriptures and try to understand how the single verse fits.
I used my Bible software to check word meanings again (I use that a lot; thanks again to the dear friend who gave it to me).
Originally, the New Testament was written in Greek, the common language of that day.
The word translated “pledge/answer/response” in 1 Peter 3:21, “eperotema,” appears only once in the original New Testament, making a usage comparison difficult.
Another word having the same root form, “eperotau,” does occur over 50 times in the four gospels alone, translated each time “ask” or something similar.
In Matthew 22:46, the word “answer” also appears as “apokrinomai.” That word occurs at least 18 times in the gospels, each time translated “answer,” or something similar.
Even in 1 Peter 3:15, where the KJV has “answer,” Peter used “apologia.” The NIV is more accurate in that verse, using “reason.”
There’s another occurrence of “eperotema” in the Bible. Although the Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew, it was translated around 280 B.C. into a Greek version called the Septuagint.
The 72 translators were well-versed in both Hebrew and Greek, much like many New Mexicans, who are fluent in both English and Spanish.
Although they worked independently, their translations were remarkably consistent to each other. In Ecclesiastes 7:10, the Hebrew word “sha’al (inquire, request, beg)” was translated “eperotema.”
Jerome translated the Hebrew Old Testament and Greek New Testament into the Latin Vulgate (450 A.D.), translating both “sha’al” in Ecclesiastes 7:10 (7:11 in the Vulgate) and “eperotema” in 1 Peter 3:21 as “interrogation.”
The ASV, therefore, calls baptism the “interrogation of a good conscience toward God,” and the NASB has “an appeal to God for a good conscience.” This is consistent with the rest of scripture, including Romans 10:13, where Paul says, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved,” and Acts 22:16, where Paul was told, “And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sin away, calling on his name.”
Baptism doesn’t remove outward dirt; it removes the inward filth of past sin.
Questions about baptism’s place in salvation didn’t arise until the 1520’s A.D., when Huldreich Zwingli taught that every teacher since the apostles and the apostles themselves, were wrong.
Consider this: because the Holy Spirit is active in baptism, would denial that baptism has anything to do with salvation be included in what Jesus described as unforgivable (Matthew 12:22-32)?
The Pharisees wouldn’t attribute Jesus’ healing power to the Holy Spirit and Jesus called that speaking against the Holy Spirit. God tells us how to be forgiven (Acts 2:38, 39).
Do you think he’ll forgive anyone who hasn’t followed his directions (Luke 6:46-49; Matthew 7:21-23)?