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1 Peter 3:18-20: Saved by Baptism?

By Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson

1 Peter 3:18–20 says,“For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: by which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.”

Baptism “saves” only in that it is “an appeal to God,” an act of faith acknowledging dependence on Him. Verse 21 says that it comes not by washing of water but by an appeal to God. Christian author Bob L. Ross states that there is a four-step process of how both the ark and the ordinance of baptism symbolize the Christian’s salvation in Christ:

      1.   The ark’s occupants were inside before the waters came; the believer is likewise “in Christ” before water baptism.

      2.   The ark containing the occupants was surrounded by the waters of the flood, with water beneath and rain above; likewise, those in Christ go into the water.

      3.   Those in the ark had a resurrection from the waters; similarly, the believer is resurrected out of the water.

      4.   Those in the ark left behind their former world and started afresh; so also the believer, having risen from the waters of baptism, now goes forth to walk in newness of life. (Bob L. Ross, Acts 2:38 and Baptismal Remission, 65.)

It needs to be remembered that baptism, like partaking of the Lord’s Supper, is a work. It is something that an individual must personally perform. As such, it is not a requirement for receiving salvation under the guidelines of Ephesians 2:8–9. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast.”

BYU professor Charles R. Harrell makes another observation:

According to the LDS interpretation, during the three days that Christ’s body lay in the tomb, he went as a spirit to minister to departed righteous spirits and empower them to preach the gospel to disobedient spirits (D&C 138:28-30). Several elements in this passage pose problems with this interpretation. First, when the New Testament speaks elsewhere of Christ being ‘quickened by the Spirit’ (uppercase ‘S’), it refers to his resurrection from the dead (see Rom. 8:11). . . . If this passage is referring to Christ’s physical resurrection, then it wasn’t as a spirit that he visited the spirits in prison. (This is My Doctrine, p. 350).

He also writes,

A second complication with the conventional LDS interpretation is that, in 1 Peter, it was Christ himself who preached to those who ‘were disobedient . . . in the days of Noah (v. 20). This runs contrary to the current LDS view that Christ preached only to the righteous and didn’t personally go among the wicked.

See more on Acts 2:38 and 1 Peter 3:21.

For other passages discussing common passages used by Latter-day Saints, click here.

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