Reflections On “Baptism Now Saves Us” In 1 Peter 3:21 -- By: Mike Stallard
JMAT 22:2 (Fall 2018) p. 5
Reflections On “Baptism Now Saves Us” In 1 Peter 3:21
My remembrance of Dr. Bill Arp: Dr. William (Bill) Arp was one of my closest friends at Baptist Bible Seminary where I taught for 22 years. I remember when I interviewed for the theology position in the spring of 1994, the first home where I had a meal was Bill’s. I learned immediately of his love for family, and his home became a place of peaceful repose whenever I had the occasion. Bill’s teaching specialty was Greek and New Testament. He was considered our “go-to guy” for many of the epistles. There was clarity as he used discourse analysis to highlight serious observation of the text for his students as he followed grammatical-historical interpretation. The last eight years of my time at the seminary, I served as Dean and had the opportunity to call upon Bill to help out in various academic capacities in addition to his teaching of students. Bill was known for his love for working through difficult passages in the Bible. In light of this, I asked him from time to time to lead the faculty in a discussion of selected New Testament “problem” verses. On one occasion I asked him to lead the faculty through a discussion of the knotty problems in 1 Peter 3:18–22. We never finished our discussion – we ended up mired in the discussion of the spirits in prison! But Bill’s leadership on the issues at hand was always helpful. I have chosen in this article to explore briefly one phrase in 1 Peter 3:21 -- “baptism now saves us.” By this discussion I hope to honor my good friend.
While the gospel mentioned in 1 Peter 3:18 is itself controversial, there are several other details in verses 18–21 that have made the interpretation of these verses among the most difficult in the New Testament.2 First,
JMAT 22:2 (Fall 2018) p. 6
in verse 18 the text says that Jesus was “made alive in the spirit.” Is this referring to the agency of the Holy Spirit, or is it a reference to Jesus’ being made alive in his human spirit. A more thorny issue is the identification of the “spirits now in prison” (v. 19) to whom Jesus went to make proclamation. What is the content of his proclamation? Is it the gospel or is it a statement of victory? Where is the location of the prison? Is it Hades or some other place? When did this take place? Between...
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