Isaiah 54.9, Wisdom 14: Which ἀντίτυπον of Baptism in 1st Peter 3.20-21?

In the Dialogue with Trypho the Jew, Justin writes:

“You know, then, sirs,” I said, “that God has said in Isaiah to Jerusalem: ‘I saved thee in the deluge of Noah.’5 By this which God said was meant that the mystery of saved men appeared in the deluge. For righteous Noah, along with the other mortals at the deluge, i.e., with his own wife, his three sons and their wives, being eight in number, were a symbol of the eighth day, wherein Christ appeared when He rose from the dead, for ever the first in power. For Christ, being the first-born of every creature, became again the chief of another race regenerated by Himself through water, and faith, and wood, containing the mystery of the cross; even as Noah was saved by wood when he rode over the waters with his household. Accordingly, when the prophet says, ‘I saved thee in the times of Noah,’ as I have already remarked, he addresses the people who are equally faithful to God, and possess the same signs. For when Moses had the rod in his hands, he led your nation through the sea. And you believe that this was spoken to your nation only, or to the land. But the whole earth, as the Scripture says, was inundated, and the water rose in height fifteen cubits above all the mountains: so that it is evident this was not spoken to the land, but to the people who obeyed Him: for whom also He had before prepared a resting-place in Jerusalem, as was previously demonstrated by all the symbols of the deluge; I mean, that by water, faith, and wood, those who are afore-prepared, and who repent of the sins which they have committed, shall escape from the impending judgment of God.

The only potion of Isaiah which comes close to what Justin is writing about is:

“For this is like the days of Noah to Me, When I swore that the waters of Noah Would not flood the earth again; So I have sworn that I will not be angry with you Nor will I rebuke you.  Isaiah 54:9 NASB

“Just as I swore in the time of Noah that I would never again let a flood cover the earth, so now I swear that I will never again be angry and punish you. Isaiah 54:9 NLT

Regarding Justin’s use of Scripture – while he knew Plato and Aristotle, I have my doubts on the reliability of his memory when it comes to the Greek Old Testament. (He was known to blame the Jews for removing Scripture that he absolutely knew was there.) I believe that Justin is confusing this portion of Scripture with what is written in Wisdom about Noah:

When the earth was flooded because of him, wisdom again saved it, steering the righteous man by a paltry piece of wood. (Wisdom of Solomon 10:4 NRSV)

However, I further believe that Justin is conflating the passage in his mind with this one:

Again, one preparing to sail and about to voyage over raging waves calls upon a piece of wood more fragile than the ship that carries him. For it was desire for gain that planned that vessel, and wisdom was the artisan who built it; but it is your providence, O Father, that steers its course, because you have given it a path in the sea, and a safe way through the waves, showing that you can save from every danger, so that even a person who lacks skill may put to sea. It is your will that works of your wisdom should not be without effect; therefore people trust their lives even to the smallest piece of wood, and passing through the billows on a raft they come safely to land. For even in the beginning, when arrogant giants were perishing, the hope of the world took refuge on a raft, and guided by your hand left to the world the seed of a new generation. For blessed is the wood by which righteousness comes. (Wisdom of Solomon 14:1-7 NRSV)

Coming to 1st Peter, we can see a similarity between what Peter is writing and what was the Jewish thought of generations past:

those who disobeyed God long ago when God waited patiently while Noah was building his boat. Only eight people were saved from drowning in that terrible flood.

And that water is a picture of baptism, which now saves you, not by removing dirt from your body, but as a response to God from a clean conscience. It is effective because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. (NLT)

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.

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, (NASB)

who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water.

And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you– not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

(NRSV)

Peter uses the word ἀντίτυπον (antitypos) to show that the flood of Noah, and indeed, the entire story, is a picture/prefiguring of what baptism now is. We then have to ask about Peter’s religious education. We find strong, and strengthening echoes as we leave past prejudices behind, connections between the New Testament and the Wisdom books in the Deuterocanon (Wisdom, Sirach, and Baruch), and measuring this passage by that  – remember, he is speaking to fellow Jews in a covenanting tone – we find a strong picture connection to Wisdom than Justin did with Isaiah 54.

Granted, God does bring humanity through the flood in Isaiah, but that is not the thrust of the Lord’s message. Instead, in Isaiah we find that the Lord is using His promises after the flood as a prefiguring to His promises that soon, Israel will be free of God’s wrath. It is not until Wisdom that we find a connection in the thought world of Peter to what he would have considered Jewish Scripture.

Post By Joel Watts (10,058 Posts)

Joel L. Watts holds a Masters of Arts from United Theological Seminary with a focus in literary and rhetorical criticism of the New Testament. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

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6 thoughts on Isaiah 54.9, Wisdom 14: Which ἀντίτυπον of Baptism in 1st Peter 3.20-21?

  1. Of course you know that the majority of scholars see 1 Peter as written to Gentile Christians…1 Peter 2:10,(see also, 4:3 etc.). “The elect who are sojourners of the Dispersion”, were perhaps both Jews and Gentiles, but indeed “the spiritual Israel”. But it does seem that the majority of the Epistle or letter was to the Gentile Christians. It should also be noted that Paul taught in two of these provinces, Asia & Galatia.

    • My stance on Peter’s audience would be that it had to be somewhat Jewish because of the language used. Further, since Paul was to the Gentiles and Peter to the Jews….

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