The Great Deluge (The Flood) And Baptism

The passage of I Peter 3:20-21, which refers to Noah and the Great Deluge in relation to Christian salvation, illustrates nicely how obedience and faith both lead to salvation.

. . . 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. The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ . . . — 1 Peter 3:20-21

In Noah’s day, the world had fallen into complete decadence. God’s wrath rose high, and He decided He had seen enough wickedness in a world He had designed for His own good pleasure. But before He followed through with His decision, He devised a means by which He would save the last remnant of faithful people, those faithful being Noah and his family.

But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD. — Genesis 6:8

As stated thousands of years later by the apostle Paul:

. . . That being justified by his
(God’s) grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. — Titus 3:7

Of all the people on the face of the earth in that day, only Noah found that grace, and thus God offered His plan to save Noah and his family from the coming destruction.

And God said unto Noah, The end of all flesh is come before me; for the earth is filled with violence through them; and, behold, I will destroy them with the earth.  Make thee an ark of gopher wood; rooms shalt thou make in the ark, and shalt pitch it within and without with pitch. And this is the fashion which thou shalt make it of: The length of the ark shall be three hundred cubits, the breadth of it fifty cubits, and the height of it thirty cubits. A window shalt thou make to the ark, and in a cubit shalt thou finish it above; and the door of the ark shalt thou set in the side thereof; with lower, second, and third stories shalt thou make it. And, behold, I, even I, do bring a flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh, wherein is the breath of life, from under heaven; and every thing that is in the earth shall die. But with thee will I establish my covenant; and thou shalt come into the ark, thou, and thy sons, and thy wife, and thy sons’ wives with thee. And of every living thing of all flesh, two of every sort shalt thou bring into the ark, to keep them alive with thee; they shall be male and female. Of fowls after their kind, and of cattle after their kind, of every creeping thing of the earth after his kind, two of every sort shall come unto thee, to keep them alive. And take thou unto thee of all food that is eaten, and thou shalt gather it to thee; and it shall be for food for thee, and for them. Thus did Noah; according to all that God commanded him, so did he. — Genesis 6:13-22

Noah obeyed God’s command, acting only on God’s word and not according to any other indication he might have seen.

By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith. — Hebrews 11:7

Meanwhile, God, though angered with the vileness of the world as it spiraled farther and farther from Him, waited for Noah to complete the ark, a project that took him one hundred and twenty years.

. . . the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing . . . — 1 Peter 3:20

While working on the ark, Noah preached righteousness to his generation, in an effort to spare as many as he could from God’s coming wrath.

. . . And He [God] spared not the old world, but saved Noah the eighth person, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood upon the world of the ungodly. — 2 Peter 2:5

Here we see a type of how the flesh wars against the spirit. Noah, a spiritual man who loved God, tried to reason with his wicked, carnal contemporaries in an effort to save them. In the end, however, they were destroyed, and Noah was carried away by the flood to repopulate a new, cleansed world. In the same way, the spirit wrestles with our carnal self until we are washed clean and the old man is put to death, leaving the new, spiritual man to grow.

When at last the ark was complete, God directed Noah to fill the ark with animals, then to board the vessel himself. At long last, God opened up the fountains of the earth and the sky, and destroyed the wickedness of the fleshly men who had earned His wrath (as He stated before):

And the LORD said, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh . . . — Genesis 6:3

And God looked upon the earth, and, behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth. And God said unto Noah, The end of all flesh is come before me; for the earth is filled with violence through them; and, behold, I will destroy them with the earth. — Genesis 6:12-13

God’s anger was with man’s love for fleshly desires, the flesh being against God and accursed.

So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. — Romans 8:8

For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify (kill) the deeds of the body, ye shall live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. — Romans 8:13-14

But God preserved Noah for his faith, which was counted to him for righteousness because he obeyed through that faith and thus became heir to the life that comes of righteousness. — Hebrews 11:7

If Noah had believed that God was sending a flood to destroy the world, but had not obeyed in building the ark, his faith would have been to no avail.

Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. — James 2:24

Rather, Noah believed AND obeyed, making his faith a true, living faith. He obeyed BY faith, or, THROUGH faith. His faith is what brought about his obedience in building and entering the ark.

But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. — Hebrews 11:6

Noah was saved by his faith in God and his obedience to God’s commands.

. . .  once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein [in the ark] few, that is, eight souls WERE SAVED BY WATER. [Emphasis mine] — I Peter 3:20

Water saved Noah by holding up the ark which Noah built through faith in God’s word. The flood was a rebirth, a new beginning, a regeneration. The flood was for Noah a baptism, in the same way that the passage through the Red Sea was for the Israelites — by baptism in the flood Noah and his family were transferred from the old world to the new. They were saved from destruction and given the opportunity to start fresh. It destroyed a world of wickedness and brought them to a closer walk and reliance on God. They were saved from a distancing from God and brought into a new covenant with Him. Baptism, as described by Paul and Peter, accomplishes the same thing for us now.

The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ . . . — I Peter 3:21

People have argued that it was not the flood that saved Noah and his family, but the ark. But based on the above verses, it was not the ark, but rather the water. “Eight souls were saved by water.” (I Peter 3:20) Peter is using this example as an illustration of how water baptism is used in our own salvation. He points out clearly that Noah was “saved by water”, then moves on to specifically state that baptism saves us in the same way. This brings us, beyond doubt, to conclude that Peter is trying to tell us that baptism corresponds to (bears resemblance to) the flood that saved Noah. He also makes it clear that just as water was used in Noah’s saving, water is used in our own.

He also goes on to point out that the water baptism by itself accomplishes nothing. “Not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God.” (I Peter 3:21) Just being immersed in water means not one thing — else we’d be baptized every time we dove into a lake or took a really deep bath. What makes it matter to God is the heart (conscience) of the person being baptized. This brings us back to faith, represented by Noah’s ark. Baptism, in its true form, includes true repentance and sincere faith in Jesus. These three, by the power of Jesus’ own cleansing blood, save us.

Water saved Noah by carrying the ark, which held him and his family, up above the destruction, by buoying it up. Proper baptism that includes immersion in water, employs the water as a symbol (“in like manner now saves us”) –the water represents the purification we undergo so that we can emerge a new, clean person. It saves us, not as our own work, not as something we do to merit salvation, but as a clearly defined and indispensable condition God laid out for our salvation (John 3:5, Mark 16:16, Acts 2:38, Acts 22:16). Without a regeneration and cleansing of the heart (which baptism symbolizes along with Christ’s burial and resurrection), we can’t be saved.

Peter is not suggesting that water saves us in the same way it saved Noah. We aren’t building arks, and the water isn’t wiping out the world, so we know that’s not the case. But it is relevant in that it is a purifying element that does away with the old and brings up the new, as we are saved through a purifying and regeneration of the heart. The flood is a type, or allegory, or foreshadowing, of Christian water baptism.

There are three major similarities that we should note, however:

  • There is salvation in both. The flood saved Noah from death, while we are saved from eternal damnation.
  • Water is a major element in both cases.
  • Water and salvation are closely connected in both cases. In Noah’s case, it saved him by raising up the ark. In ours, it symbolically destroys the old man and raises up a new one (Colossians 2:12, Romans 6:4). Another way to express the passage in I Peter might read something like this: “Noah and his family were saved by water, the antitype to which (corresponding to that) baptism (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, or the simple use of water, but that purifying of the heart which it represents) now saves us.”

The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ . . . — I Peter 3:21

What does he mean by throwing in this qualifying phrase, “by the resurrection of Jesus Christ”? He is saying that baptism by water, salvation through faith and repentance, saves us THROUGH the resurrection of Jesus. That is where salvation and the entire point of baptism gets its power. Without the resurrection of Christ, faith, repentance, and baptism would be meaningless. There would be nothing to save us.

To summarize, the points regarding baptism established by I Peter 3:20-21 are as follows:

  • Christian baptism is water baptism. Just as the world was immersed and washed clean of impurity in Noah’s day, so are we immersed and cleansed of our spiritual impurity. Just as the ark, built by Noah through faith in God, carried him over the destruction of the flood, so our faith in Jesus raises us up so we can be set free from the old man and his inevitable fate. Peter makes is inescapably clear that baptism is essential to our salvation. Just as Noah had faith in God, so we should have faith in Jesus. Noah obeyed God in building the ark. We should obey Jesus in getting baptized. The flood renewed the whole world and gave Noah a new start. Christian baptism washes away our old sinful man so we can start our lives anew.
  • Baptism is more than just a rite. It isn’t just an “outward sign of an inward grace”. It isn’t a mere “putting away of the filth of the flesh”. It is all about the conscience, and water cannot accomplish what only our consciences can do.
  • The use of water in itself, whether ceremonial, religious, or day-to-day, has no ability to wash away sin. It is reliant on the “good conscience toward God” — a new heart and purified soul. There absolutely must be an inner working and renovation in the convert’s soul to make him acceptable to God. Otherwise, all the baptizing in the world will do him no good whatsoever. Having said that . . .
  • We must not conclude from the above that baptism is not important. It is. Peter has gone to great lengths to point out that it is very important. Noah was saved by water — and baptism, in a similar way, has a deep connection to our own spiritual salvation. The water saved Noah by lifting up the ark. Thus, water baptism represents our salvation. And when we are baptized with a changed heart (good conscience) it has just as much to do with our salvation as the flood’s buoying waters had to do with the salvation of Noah. No one, through an unprejudiced and objective application of Scripture, prove that baptism has nothing to do with salvation. No one can be saved without it. Through baptism we are buried into Christ’s death and do away with the old, fleshly man, so we can rise up to walk in newness of life, freed from the slavery of sin and destruction.

Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?  Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted (buried) together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin.  Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him: Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him. For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God. — Romans 6:3-10

FINAL NOTE: Again, we see in the story of Noah the three basic essentials for salvation: faith, repentance, and obedience. Noah had faith in God, which led him to desire deliverance from destruction (for us, repentance), and obeyed through building the ark.

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