The Wartburg Project

July 1st, 2023

91. The Guarantee of a Good Conscience

In 1 Peter 3:21, why does the EHV use the word “guarantee,” while other translations use various other words, such as “pledge” or “answer” or “appeal” or “request” or “question” or “promise”?

In 1 Peter 3:20-21, we read that at the time of the Flood, “eight souls or eight people in Noah’s ark were saved by water. And corresponding to that, baptism now saves you—not the removal of dirt from the body but the guarantee of a good conscience before God through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”

God’s Word declares there that “baptism now saves you.” Baptism is “not the removal of dirt from the body.” What is baptism, then? It is “the eperotema (Greek ἐπερώτημα) of a good conscience before God.

The meaning of the Greek term eperotema is debated, so translations vary. This is the only time eperotema appears in the New Testament. The usage of this Greek term outside of the New Testament throws little light on how it is used in 1 Peter 3:21 (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament). So, we need to find the meaning in this context.

Baptism is not “the removal of dirt.” The context calls for an appropriate contrast to that. That baptism is “the cleansing of sin” provides such a contrast. Cremer’s classic Greek lexicon (dictionary) helpfully states that the point here “is not what the baptized person does, but what baptism is to him.” In other words, the point in this passage is what baptism does to the baptized person, not what the baptized person does.

Cremer’s lexicon suggests that the meaning here is something like “the claim which a good conscience has upon God.” That sort of “legal claim” is, in our current way of speaking, essentially a “guarantee.”

If you buy an expensive appliance, it can be useful to receive a guarantee. A guarantee provides an owner with a legal claim in case something happens to go wrong.

In baptism God provides the believer with a legal claim or guarantee. The believer has “the guarantee of a good conscience before God.” The believer has this confident claim: “In baptism, you washed away my sins and adopted me as your forgiven child.”

The Liddell-Scott-Jones (LSJ) lexicon suggests that the Greek term equals the Latin term stipulation, which is a “promise” or “covenant.” In his German translation of the Bible, Martin Luther rendered it “der Bund,” which means “the covenant.” Several lexicons and translations suggest the word “pledge,” which works well in this verse as long as one understands that, in this context, baptism is God’s pledge to the baptized person, not the baptized person’s pledge to God.

The EHV translates with the word guarantee, yet offers two alternate options in a footnote: legal claim, or assurance. These are all quite similar in meaning.

Kretzmann's Popular Commentary of the Bible offers a clear and helpful explanation of 1 Peter 3:21:

This salvation, of course, does not consist in washing off the dirt which may have gathered on the skin of the body, but it cleanses the heart of sins; it is a pledge, a contract of a good conscience toward God; it guarantees to us that we may have, by virtue of its application, a clean conscience before God, thus being enabled to lift up our eyes to Him without the slightest trace of fear.

1 Peter 3:21 states that baptism saves. Scripture teaches that God washes away sin through baptism (Ephesians 5:26). Baptism is “not the removal of dirt from the body, but the “guarantee” or “legal claim” or “assurance” of a good conscience.” By faith, the baptized believer holds God to his word of promise and has “a good conscience before God through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”