Bible Q&A: A Question About Baptism and 1 Peter 3:21

Please explain 1 Peter 3:21’s statement about baptism not removing dirt from the body but being an appeal to God for a good conscience.

“Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”

Some say this verse teaches a person has a good conscience BEFORE baptism, thus indicating that salvation precedes baptism.  This is not what the passage is saying for several reasons.

First, a good conscience in itself is not necessarily proof of salvation (cf. Acts 23:1).  So even if it could be proved that the good conscience came before baptism, that would not necessarily prove that baptism is not necessary for salvation.

Also, the term “good conscience” could be descriptive of a sincere heart, thus talking about one earnestly seeking to obey God.  Such a person would obey the command to be baptized.

The verse specifically says that baptism saves you, so any view about the rest of the verse cannot negate that fact.  The water might cleanse dirt from your body, but it’s not the water that cleanses your soul from sin.  Only the blood of Christ does that (Matt. 26:28; Eph. 1:7; Acts 22:16).

Rather, baptism is an “appeal” (eperotema, a request, a craving) for a good conscience, a clear conscience, a request for forgiveness which is always immediately granted to the penitent believer (Acts 2:38; Mk. 16:16).  Thus, the good conscience (indicating that salvation and forgiveness have been granted) comes AFTER baptism.

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