When God said in I Peter 3:21 that “baptism doth also now save us” he meant what he said. We have to be baptized to be saved. I Peter 3:21 does not mean we merit our salvation by being baptized. First, that would contradict the “salvation is not by works” passages. And second, the blood of Christ is what actually earns our salvation. But I Peter 3:21 does mean we have to be baptized in order to be saved. The salvation provided for by the death of Christ is conditional, and God has a right to place any conditions on that salvation that he wants to, doesn’t he?
Some say baptism only saves figuratively because that word is used in the verse. But I Peter 3:21 does not say baptism is a figure. The figure is Noah and his family’s salvation by water. Baptism is the real or antitype (defined by The Random House College Dictionary as "something that is foreshadowed by a type or symbol, as a NT event prefigured in the OT"). The following shows as much:
· NKJV translation – There is also an antitype which now saves us, namely baptism
· New Testament in Modern Speech – And, corresponding to that figure, baptism now saves you
· The Good News Translation – Which was a symbol pointing to baptism, which now saves you
· The New Living Translation – And this is a picture of baptism, which now saves you
· Thayer defines the word as, "a thing resembling another, its counterpart; something in the Messianic times which answers to the type prefiguring it in the Old Testament, as baptism corresponds to the deluge.”
· Vincent’s Word Studies says it is to be read as "which, the antitype or as an antitype; i.e., which water, being the antitype of that water of the flood, doth now save you, even baptism."
· Arndt and Gingrich’s Lexicon – Thus in I Peter 3:21 … means baptism, which is a fulfillment (of the type), now saves you, i.e., the saving of Noah from the flood is a …, or ‘foreshadowing’ …, and baptism corresponds to it.
· NIV – "and this water symbolized baptism that now saves you also" (baptism is not the symbol, but is what is being symbolized, the real).
If baptism is the type/figure, then the eight souls being saved by water would have to be the antitype/real, which is absurd. The NASV translates the phrase, "And corresponding to that, baptism now saves you." That should be easy enough to understand.
The former is a figure of the latter in that both involve water and both involve a salvation. The first involves a physical salvation while the second involves a spiritual salvation. Notice the latter part of the verse 21 lets us know that water baptism does not provide physical cleansing (“not the putting away of the filth of the flesh”) but spiritual cleansing (“an appeal to God for a good conscience” NASV).
Many have changed the word “now” to “not” so the phrase means “baptism doth also not save us.” But isn’t that just like Satan adding “not” (to God’s words) telling Eve in Genesis 3:4 that if she ate of the forbidden fruit “Ye shall not surely die”?