I Peter 3:21 – Baptism is Not the Figure

I Pet 3:21 says baptism saves us, referring to water baptism. Some say it only saves figuratively since the word “figure” is in the KJV version of the verse. However if you read the text carefully, you see that the word “figure” is not referring to baptism, but to the eight souls being physically saved by water in Noah’s day which prefigures our spiritual salvation via water baptism.

So to be clear, the passage does not say that 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”).

Notice these translations and definitions that make that fact abundantly clear:

· NKJV – 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 that 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” (notice that baptism is not the symbol, but is what is being symbolized, the real).

· The King James translators indicated this with the word “whereunto,” which according to The Random House College Dictionary means “whereto” or “to what or what place or end.” So the passage is saying the figure (Noah’s family’s salvation by water) is to the place or end of water baptism. The figure points to baptism, not that the figure is baptism. See the difference?

Notice also, that if baptism is the type here, then the eight souls being saved by water is the antitype. Water baptism symbolized the flood – who believes that?

The NASV translates it, “And corresponding to that, baptism now saves you.” That’s easy to understand, isn’t it?

Conclusion: We are saved by the death of Christ when we are baptized in water, and not before.

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