III. Baptism types – what is baptism foreshadowed or prefigured by in earlier times?
Typology is a method of biblical interpretation whereby an element found in the Old Testament is seen to prefigure one found in the New Testament. The initial one is called the type and the fulfillment is designated the antitype. Either type or antitype may be a person, thing, or event, but often the type is messianic and frequently related to the idea of salvation.
The whole intent of the First Testament was not just to reveal how Yahweh was working in the lives and events of the past but also how He was moulding them into types that would point the way to the coming of His Son. In this way all things are truly about Christ. (Lk. 24:25-27)
There are two basic baptism types found in the Old Testament (according to our definition above) that prefigure water baptism in the New Testament. The flood was for Noah a type of baptism even as the passage through the Red Sea was a type of baptism for the Israelites. We see both these instances clearly referred to in the New Testament by the apostles.
1 Pet. 3:18-22, NASB
For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, in order that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water. And corresponding to that, baptism now saves you — not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience — through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him,”
1 Corinthians 10:1-4
“I want you to know, brethren that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same supernatural food and all drank the same supernatural drink. For they drank from the supernatural Rock which followed them, and the Rock was Christ”.
The “baptisms” of both Noah and the Israelites served as types of a transition; that is, they moved people from the old world to the new, from the old covenant to the new covenant. It is not the water that saves, but the spiritual thing associated with that water that saves. For Noah it was faith in God. For Moses it too was faith in God.
Peter clarifies this verse for us with the phrase “not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience.” While Peter is connecting baptism with salvation, it is not the act of being baptized that he is referring to (not the removal of dirt from the flesh). Being immersed in water does nothing but wash away dirt. What Peter is referring to is what baptism represents, which is what saves us (an appeal to God for a good conscience through the resurrection of Jesus Christ). In other words, Peter is simply connecting baptism with belief. It is not the getting-wet part that saves but is the “appeal to God for a clean conscience” which is signified by baptism that saves us. The appeal to God always comes first. First belief and repentance, then we are baptized to publicly identify ourselves with Christ.
An excellent explanation of this passage is given by Dr. Kenneth Wuest, author of Word Studies in the Greek New Testament. “Water baptism is clearly in the apostle’s mind, not the baptism by the Holy Spirit, for he speaks of the waters of the flood as saving the inmates of the ark, and in this verse, of baptism saving believers. But he says that it saves them only as a counterpart. That is, water baptism is the counterpart of the reality, salvation. It can only save as a counterpart, not actually. The Old Testament sacrifices were counterparts of the reality, the Lord Jesus. They did not actually save the believer, only in type. It is not argued here that these sacrifices are analogous to Christian water baptism. The author is merely using them as an illustration of the use of the word ‘counterpart.’
“So water baptism only saves the believer in type…..Water baptism is the outward testimony of the believer’s inward faith. The person is saved the moment he places his faith in the Lord Jesus. Water baptism is the visible testimony to his faith and the salvation he was given in answer to that faith. Peter is careful to inform his readers that he is not teaching baptismal regeneration, namely, that a person who submits to baptism is thereby regenerated, for he says, ‘not the putting away of the filth of the flesh.’ Baptism, Peter explains, does not wash away the filth of the flesh, either in a literal sense as a bath for the body, nor in a metaphorical sense as a cleansing for the soul. No ceremonies really affect the conscience. But he defines what he means by salvation, in the words ‘the answer of a good conscience toward God,” and he explains how this is accomplished, namely, ‘by the resurrection of Jesus Christ,’ in that the believing sinner is identified with Him in that resurrection.”
Part of the confusion on this passage comes from the fact that in many ways the purpose of baptism as a public declaration of one’s faith in Christ and identification with Him has been replaced by “making a decision for Christ” or “praying a sinner’s prayer.” Baptism has been relegated to something that is done later. Yet to Peter or any of the first-century Christians, the idea that a person would confess Christ as his Savior and not be baptized as soon as possible would have been unheard of. Therefore, it is not surprising that Peter would see baptism as almost synonymous with salvation. Yet Peter makes it clear in this verse that it is not the ritual itself that saves, but the fact that we are united with Christ in His resurrection through faith, “the pledge of a good conscience toward God through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:21).
Therefore, the baptism that Peter says saves us is the one that is preceded by faith in the propitiatory sacrifice of Christ that justifies the unrighteous sinner (Romans 3:25-26; 4:5). Baptism is the outward sign of what God has done “by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5). S. Michael Houdmann