The expression that is the title of this article is one that we hear all the time. It’s synonymous with words like “obviously” or “of course.” It is to assume that all parties in the discussion understand certain facts to be in evidence without the need to express them. However, sometimes that assumption is wrong. We’ve all been in the situation where someone points out an obvious fact or bit of reasoning that, up until that moment, wasn’t obvious at all.
It is just as easy to miss an obvious point from God’s word as it is in any other discussion. For instance, consider an oft-quoted verse from Peter’s first letter: “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” (1 Pet. 3:21).
We often quote this verse when discussing the subject of salvation and the necessity of baptism. I don’t believe I have ever heard a Christian misuse the verse – as it applies to baptism. Yet, the verse forms the summation of a point and the explanation of both an illustration and an event — on both of which there is much confusion that can lead to error. We’ve “gone without saying” much in regard to those two, and so “it goes without saying” that quite a few of us are confused by the passage.
To begin with, the inspired statements that Peter made which brought him to his summary remarks about baptism include: “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; in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison” (v. 18,19). This is a statement that is guaranteed to be puzzling to many. Catholics and Calvinists alike take this to mean that Christ briefly went to hell and, while there, He preached. The teaching is prominent in The Apostle’s Creed (which Catholics, Lutherans, Anglicans, Presbyterians, and Methodists all subscribe to).
Peter did not say that Jesus personally preached in the days of Noah (v. 20), but rather that it was done by the spirit of Christ (v. 18,19). In other words, the work of Christ was carried out by someone other than Christ – in this case, Noah. Just as God does things today through our service and our good deeds (Eph. 2:10), Christ did things through the hands of those who served Him. John tells us that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was baptizing more people than John, yet the very next verse tells us that it wasn’t Jesus but His disciples who were baptizing (Jn. 4:1,2). Similarly, Paul noted of Jesus that “He came and preached peace to you” in his letter to the Ephesians. Jesus never went to Ephesus in the days of His flesh; but after His ascension, His believers did – and they did it in His name. In fact, Peter had, earlier in the letter, noted that the prophets had proclaimed salvation and grace, but it was actually “the Spirit of Christ within them” (1 Pt. 1:10-12). When Noah, “a preacher of righteousness” (2 Pt. 2:5) preached the message he was told to preach, he was the agent by which the Spirit of Christ preached to that generation. The preaching occurred during their lifetime, by the mouth of Noah and of the Spirit of Christ. Their disobedience sealed their fate, and now their spirits are in prison. The verb tenses of the text are clear. “He went and made proclamation (past tense) to the spirits now (present tense) in prison” (v. 19). Where is this prison? It is the Hadean realm, the same realm that Jesus spoke of where Abraham, Lazarus, and the rich man are – a place where souls remain and cannot pass from one side to the other, until final judgment.
The illustration of the worldwide flood and Noah’s salvation points to the need for baptism. Still, some of us misunderstand what happened and what didn’t. It was not that Noah’s soul was saved and his sins were forgiven by the waters that bore him and his family up – they saved his life, not his soul; and they spared his life, but they did not wash away his sins. What saved His soul was his faithful obedience and trust in God.
However, the illustration of his life being saved by the waters of the flood points to the spiritual truth that at baptism our souls are saved by washing away our sins (Acts 22:16) and “by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5). The illustration of a life saved points to the greater value of a soul saved.
Because it does not necessarily go without saying – we need to say that Jesus did not descend into hell and preach to the generation contemporary with Noah, and we need to say that the flood waters did not save the souls or wash away the sins of Noah and his family. We need to say that the Spirit of Christ used Noah to preach to his generation, and they were judged by their response to that preaching. We need to say that God once used the water to bear up the ark and save the lives of Noah and his family, and today God uses our submission to the command to be baptized as the way in which we make an appeal to God for a clean conscience.
However, it goes without saying that I will end this article in the way that I always do…
Keep studying! DC Brown ©2013