20 who formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. 21 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 clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, (RSV)
Cait: Peter literally says the words, “baptism… now saves you.” It is not merely a symbol of a salvation already received, but the actual instrument through which our salvation comes about.
Evan: Peter goes on to say that it isn’t the act of baptism that saves us, not the “removal of dirt from the body,” but rather the “appeal to God for a clear conscience.” We are saved though the inner act, not the outer one.
Cait: Peter says that it is baptism which saves us, and the rest of the verse explains how. That’s why he uses the word “as.” Baptism saves us, “not as a removal of dirt from the body” (or not because it physically cleans us), but “as an appeal to God for a clear conscience” (or because baptism is an appeal to God). He’s not denying that baptism saves us, he’s just explaining how it saves us. It saves us “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
Evan: Notice the parallel Peter makes with Noah’s flood. He says that in the days of Noah eight people “were saved through water.” The water was involved in their salvation, but it wasn’t actually the water that saved them, it was the boat. Likewise baptism goes along with salvation, but it isn’t actually what saves us.
Cait: I understand that it might seem like a strange analogy, but it is the analogy the analogy that Peter chose to use. Even if the flood waters are not what we think of as saving them, Peter says that their counterpart does save. He does not merely say that baptism goes along with salvation, he says that it saves us. You could argue that Peter is making a bad analogy, or that he should not have said it saves us, but he does say it.
Cait: The Bible certainly makes it clear that nothing we do can earn salvation, but I see nothing in Scripture to rule out baptism as its instrumental cause. Many passages that mention baptism suggest that it saves us (Romans 6:4, Acts 22:16, Acts 2:38), and not one of them says that it doesn’t or that it’s just an outward sign. Baptism is the gift-wrapped box in which God hands us the gift of salvation. We receive the gift by opening the box, but that doesn’t make it any less of a gift, and it certainly doesn’t mean we’ve earned it.