1 Peter 3:21

Does 1 Peter 3:21 teach that (water) baptism is necessary for salvation?

Edited from the ministry of GotQuestions.org. Used by permission

As with any single verse or passage, we discern what it teaches by first filtering it through what we know the Bible teaches on the subject at hand. In the case of baptism and salvation, the Bible is clear that salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, not by works of any kind, including water baptism (Ephesians 2:8-9).

So, any interpretation which comes to the conclusion that baptism, or any other act as necessary for salvation, is a faulty interpretation.

Those who believe that baptism is required for salvation are quick to use 1 Peter 3:21 as a proof text verse because it states, “baptism now saves you”.

Was Peter really saying that it is ”water” baptism that saves you?

If he were, he would be contradicting many other passages of Scripture that clearly show people being saved (as evidenced by their receiving the Holy Spirit) prior to being baptized or without being baptized at all, like the thief on the cross in Luke 23:39-43.

Another good example of someone who was saved before being “water” baptized is Cornelius and his household in Acts 10:44-45.

We know that they were already saved before being water baptized because they had received the baptism of the Holy Spirit, which was the evidence of their salvation in Acts 11:15-16; 15:7-9.

In fact, it was that evidence of their salvation which was the very reason that Peter commanded them to be “water” baptized in Acts 10:47.

Again, the Churches of Christ tend to think of baptism as being first and only with h2o or water, as though the biblical definition of baptism (to dip, plunge, or immerse) implies being dipped, plunged or immersed in the medium of water.

But again in all four gospels and twice in the book of Acts the Word of God tells us that while John baptized with water, that Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ Matt. 3:11, Mark 1:8, Luke 3:16, John 1:33, Acts 1:4-5 and Acts 11:16

Here in 1 Peter 3:21 the question that should be asked is whether or not Peter was referring to h2o or “water” baptism, or true or actual Holy Spirit” baptism.

Considering the context of 1 Peter 3:21, the baptism the writer had in mind is the real or actual baptism of the Holy Spirit:

“For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water. There is also an antitype (i.e. superior water) which now saves us- baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ…”

The Scripture often refers to the Holy Spirit as “the living water” that God provides, both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament.

In John 4 Jesus said, “Everyone who drinks this water (h2o) will be thirsty again, but those who drink the water I give them (the Holy Spirit) will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

Also in John 7 Jesus said, ”Let anyone who is thirsty come to Me and drink. Whoever believes in Me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” By this He meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were later to receive.”

Thus, it seems apparent “this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you” is talking about the anti-type or superior “water” baptism, i.e. the baptism of the Holy Spirit baptism that now saves you.

May I also point out that if the writer were simply referring to h2o baptism, then the wrong people in this passage were “water” baptized. For just as the example of Pharaoh and his army in 1 Cor. 10:1-4, the only ones who had h2o baptism applied to them were those who perished in the flood!

So while it is true that water baptism points us to the spiritual reality of the believer’s Holy Spirit baptism, we dare not be trusting in it (the symbol) to save us. For just as there are those within the body of the church who administer the rite of water baptism to new believers (Matt. 28:18-19), it is the baptism of the Holy Spirit that actually places us into the body of Christ:

For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body- whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free- and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.” 1 Cor. 12:13