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Tuesday, August 19, 2003

Edifier du Jour-1 Peter 3:18-22
18 For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; 19 in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, 20 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. 21 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, 22 who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him.
Verse 21 is hard to get around, for it challenges the standard evangelical definition of baptism if read literally. It would also seem to challenge the infant-baptizing bunch as well, for that appeal for a good conscience would seem to come from the baby, who's not in a position to coherently ask God for one. You could say that the parents, godparents and others involved in the baptism to be making the appeal for the tyke. In this reading, the first idea that flows is that something happens during baptism that gives your conscience an overhaul. That seems close to the idea of the baptism of the Holy Spirit that John the Baptist claimed was within Jesus' power and that showed up in Acts. That opens up the question of whether the baptism that Peter is talking about is water baptism or the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The baptism of the Holy Spirit (concurrent with salvation, not a secondary, later event) may be in play here, not a trip to the dunk tank or the sprinkle bowl. It is that interaction with the Spirit that informs our lives and leads us away from our sinful natures. That is what gives a good conscience. I'm not sure if my desired hermeneutic is leading my exegesis here, but it's the best way I can make sense of it.

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