Baptism: Answering or Asking?

The King James Version renders 1 Peter 3:21: “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.” The translation of the Greek word eperotema as “answer” has been declared by the vast majority of translations and lexicons to be inaccu­rate. Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words says it “is not … an answer. It was used by the Greeks in a legal sense, as a demand or appeal.”

Brother L.A. Mott, Jr. in his book Baptism in the Scheme of Redemption points out that this is the only place in the New Testament that this noun form of our word is used, but that “this noun has two verbs which are related to it with translations in our versions such as ‘to beseech, to ask, to pray, etc.’” The harmonious testi­mony of scholars proves the point that baptism is not “an answer of a good conscience;” rather, is an “inquiry or appeal of a good conscience.” Baptism does not answer, it asks.

It is this writer’s view that translating baptism as an “answer” has caused many to view its purpose as simply telling God that you have been saved, that you have a good conscience.

But the true meaning of this passage is more accu­rately portrayed in the NASB as “an appeal to God for a good con­science.” This agrees with the other pur­poses of baptism. Jesus placed baptism as the final step between being lost and being saved (Mark 16:16). Sin, of course, is what makes a man lost, and when a man is con­victed of sin, his conscience pains him. When sin is removed his bad conscience will be removed. Jesus said that takes place when he is baptized. This is what occurred in Acts 2:37. The Jews, having believed that Jesus was “both Lord and Christ,” were “pricked in their hearts.” Their consciences were affected be­cause they knew they were guilty of sin. There­fore, they ask, “What shall we do?” The answer given to alleviate their sin and their bad con­science was, “Repent and be baptized for the re­mission of sin” (Acts 2:38).

Saul was told to “be baptized and wash away thy sins” (Acts 22:16). First Peter 3:21 helps our under­standing by showing that the importance of baptism is not the cleansing of the flesh, but that a person having believed, repented, and confessed is now ready to appeal to God for a clear conscience. Baptism accomplishes this. As brother Mott concluded in his book, “Baptism is the way God has appointed for the believer to make his appeal to God for the cleansing of his conscience by the blood of Christ. The person who submits to bap­tism according to the Scriptures is the person who is relying upon the blood of Christ for pardon.”

Pat Jones