Saved by Water?
A Look at 1Kefa 3:20-21
by James Scott Trimm
In a recent discussion 1Kefa 3:20-21 came up. This passage is a stock "proof text"
used by the "Church of Christ" (i.e. "Cambelites" or those of the "Restoration
movement"). Those of this movement often use this verse to "prove" their doctrine
that a person cannot be saved unless they have been water baptized.
This false doctrine is rooted in the KJV wording of these verses:
3:20 Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God
waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is,
eight souls were saved by water.
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:
(1Peter 3:20-21 KJV)
The key phrases that these "Water Works" Salvationists home in on are "were saved by
water" and "baptism doth also now save us". Now it is very interesting how quickly this "proof text" evaporates when we look at it in the original Aramaic.
First of all lets look at 1Kefa 3:20 and at the Aramaic which correspond with the phrase "were saved by water". The Aramaic word for "were saved" is CHAYA (Strong's Heb. no. 2418) "to live:-- live, keep alive" which is often used to mean "salvation". The word for "by" is the Aramaic preposition B' which can have a wide variety of meaning "in, at, on, by or with". Now the Aramaic phrase in 1Kefa is best translated "were kept alive on the water" as it reads in the HRV rather than "were saved by water" as the KJV (and the Greek) reads. The Greek translator misunderstood the word CHAYA to mean "saved" and the preposition B' to mean "by" or “through” resulting in the errant translation meaning "were saved by water". On the contrary Noah and his family were not "saved by water" but were saved FROM water BY their trusting faithfulness. As we read in Hebrews:
By a work of faith Noach honored Elohim and prepared an ark to save his
house by which he was given a warning from Elohim from which was yet not seen by
which he condemned the world and inherited righteousness by a work of faith.
(Hebrews 11:7 HRV)
Thus we see that Noach and his house were saved BY faith FROM the water.
Let us next examine the phrase "The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us...". The HRV reads here "For also you live by the same type, by immersion...". Again the word "saved"/"live" is CHAYA (Strong's Heb. 2418).
This immersion was distinct from water immersion. Yochanan stated:
Behold I am only immersing you in water to repentance,
and he that comes after me us mightier than I, whose
sandles I am not fit to carry, and he will immerse you
with the fire of the Ruach HaKodesh.
(Mt. 3:11 HRV; See also: Mk. 1:8; Lk. 3:16 and Acts 11:16)
In Acts 19:2-4 Paul met some persons who had been immersed in water but
had not experienced this immersion of the Ruach HaKodesh.
We have been immersed into Messiah (Rom. 6:3-4; Gal. 3:27), we all have "the Spirit of Messiah", which is the Spirit which raised Messiah (Rom. 8:9-11) in our hearts (Gal. 4:6; Eph. 3:17). This is the "Spirit of Eloah" (1Jn. 4:12-13), or the "Holy Spirit" (1Cor. 6:19; 1Thes.4:8). Thus we were all saved by receiving the "baptism of the Holy Spirit" by faith. (see also Jn. 7:37-39; 14:7; Acts 10:44; 11:15-17; 15:8-9).
Kefa is actually referring to an allegory found in 4th Maccabees. Unfortunately the Aramaic text of 4th Maccabees has never been translated into English, all English texts to date have been translated from the Greek version.
However part of our work here at the Worldwide Nazarene Assembly of Elohim has been to recover the books of the “Apocrypha” (a small collection of Tanak books which were taken out of your Bibles) from the original Hebrew and Aramaic and publish a reliable English translation (A Hebraic Roots Version Apocrypha).
The portions Kefa was drawing from are as follows:
7:1 For like a swift ship captain, thus was the mind of the aged Eleazar. By way of the steering of the fear of Eloah, his thought was leading, over the great sea of torture and emotions.
7:2 And while threats and tortures of the Tyrant were coming upon him, and tumultuous waves of tribulation.
7:3 And in no way did he turn the rudder from fear of Eloah until he voyaged and arrived to the haven of victory that does not die.
7:4 No city besieged ever held out against mighty vassals coming against its walls and its various parts like this. He was dressed in all the armor. For while his soul was suffering, consumed by torture, and by tribulation, and by burning, he conquered the tribulation because of his mind was fighting with the shield of truth.
(4th Maccabees 7:1-4 HRV)
15:31 For like the ark of Noach, in the flood of all the world, were the throes within him. And he kept to the covenant and was sustained, and his strong word was fixed.
15:32 Thus also you keeper of the Torah, from every way overwhelmed with emotion you are drawn in and the violent winds of the torture of your sons, here and there weeping they blow. Strong is hope [over] the storm against shield of truth.
(4th Maccabees 15:31-32 HRV)
From these passages we see that the “water” represents “torture and emotions” with “waves of fear” and the Ark represents “the fear of Eloah” “the covenant” “Hope” and “the shield of truth” which in Ephesians 6 is called “the shield of faith”.
Note that 1Kefa 3:21 refers to “the resurrection of Yeshua…” while 4th Maccabees 7:3 refers to “the haven of victory that does not die”.
Lets look again at 1Kefa 3:20-21 in context from the Aramaic:
20 Those who previously were disobedient in the days of Noach, when [in] the longsuffering
of Eloah he commanded that an ark be made, upon the hope of their repentance,
and only eight nefeshot entered it and were kept alive on the water.
21 For also you live, by the same type--by immersion: not when you wash the body of
filth, but when you confess Eloah with a pure conscience, and, by the Resurrection of
Yeshua the Messiah,
22 Who is raised up to heaven and is at the right hand of Eloah: and the angels, and
authorities, and powers, are subject to Him.
1 If the Messiah therefore, suffered for your sake in the flesh, also arm yourselves with
this same mind: for whoever dies in his flesh has ceased from all sins,
2 That from now on, he should not live for the lusts of the sons of men for what time that
he is in the body, but for the will of Eloah.
3 For the time that has passed by, is sufficient--when you served in the will of the
heathen--in excesses, and in drunkenness, and in filthiness, and in music, and in the
service of shadim.
4 And behold, now they marvel and blaspheme against you, in that you do not burn with
passion [emotion] with them, in that previous excess—
(1Kefa 3:20-4:4 HRV)
Clearly 2Kefa refers to the material in 4th Maccabees:
1:1 The word of philosophy that I am about to discuss before you:
If the true mind of shalom (peace) is sovereign to the fear of Elohim. I am an upright adviser to you, that you should pay earnest attention in philosophy.
1:2 For it is also necessary for all men to suffer, more especially these are steps to virtue.
1:3 For I bear a good report:
If the mind of balance is over the emotions that stand against temperance, showing that the mind of virtue rules over gluttony [and] over lust.
1:4 And it is not only over the walk, but also over the other emotions that hinder righteousness. It is shown to be sovereign, over fornication [and] evil and over other emotions that impede courage, over rage, and that a man be not soft before tribulation, and over fear.
(4Macc. 1:1-4 HRV)
Note that the these of 4th Maccabees in general is “the true mind of shalom” While 1Kefa goes on to say: “If the Messiah therefore, suffered for your sake in the flesh, also arm yourselves with this same mind…” (1Kefa 4:1 HRV). Both passages focus on self control and especially over the emotions/passions.
1Kefa 3:20-21 has been totally misunderstood by the KJV and by “Water Works Salvationists” such as the “Church of Christ (Cambelite). But when we look at this passage in the original Aramaic in light of 4th Maccabees, suddenly the true meaning and depth of this passage emerges.
James Scott Trimm
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