A gracEmail subscriber asks what Peter means when he speaks of baptism as “the pledge of a good conscience toward God” (1 Pet. 3:21).
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The Greek word translated “pledge” in this verse only appears here in the New Testament. Earlier in classical Greek and in the Greek Old Testament, the word meant an “inquiry,” “question,” or “demand.” Later in secular Greek, it refers to formal pleadings filed with a court. I think the better translation here is “an appeal to God for a good conscience.”
If that is correct, Peter says that by baptism the believer formally requests a clean conscience from God based on the atonement of Jesus, which God certified by raising Jesus from the dead. In the New Testament, gospel baptism is the formal means for expressing initial repentance and faith, for renouncing the old way of life, and for commiting oneself to follow Christ (Acts 2:38; 22:16; Col. 2:12; Rom. 6:3-4). It is also the believer’s dramatized request to God to wipe clean the guilty conscience, based on what God has done in raising Jesus from the dead.
This teaching is part of a larger theme in First Peter involving “suffering” and “glory” — rejection by man and vindication by God (1:6-7; 2:12; 2:19-24; 3:6, 13-22; 4:12-19; 5:10). Noah was mocked by his generation, but God vindicated him with the Flood. Jesus was condemned by his generation, but God vindicated him by raising him from the dead (1 Pet. 3:22). Similarly, the baptized person petitions God for a clear conscience based on Jesus’ resurrection. This clear conscience reminds the Christian, even though persecuted now, that God will reverse the world’s condemning judgment one day and replace it with the glory of Jesus Christ.