Monday, August 24, 2009

some notes on 1 Peter 3:18-20 | compiled by geoffrey r. kirkland


1 Peter 3:18-20 18 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; 19 in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, 20 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.


  • Did Christ really descend into hell after his death and preach?
  • Does this teach that people in hell will have a “second chance” to repent?
  • Why would Jesus need to go to hell if His work was “finished” and “accomplished?”

“Problem” Passages:

  1. The Apostles’ Creed—There are some old manuscripts of an early Christian document containing Christian doctrines (or, beliefs) from about 200AD. There is a phrase in some of the later manuscripts (from about 650 AD; that’s 450 years after the originals!) where the document reads: “Christ, he descended into hell.” The original Greek manuscripts have a word for hell which most often is translated “grave” or “the ground.”
  2. Acts 2:27—Peter is preaching and he quotes Psalm 16:10 and the simple point he is making is that Christ died and was buried in the ground (Sheol) and then was raised again. He simply endeavors to prove that Christ died and rose from the grave.
  3. Romans 10:6-7—Paul refers to Christ “descending into the abyss”. But the passage does not teach that Christ descended into hell. Rather, it teaches that Christ is not too far from you to believe in Him. You don’t have to ascend to the heavens, or descend far into the depths of the earth to find Him—he is near you!
  4. Ephesians 4:8-9—Paul says: “What does he [Christ] ascended mean except that he also descended into the lower, earthly regions?” The best meaning here is that Christ descended to earth (=incarnation, his human life) when he was born as a man. The passage in Eph 4 speaks of his incarnation as a human, not his descent to hell after his death.
  5. 1 Peter 3:18-20—Known as the “proof” text to some (i.e., JW’s) that after Jesus’ death on the cross, that he went to hell and preached to the spirits in prison and gave them a 2nd chance to repent and be saved.

*Accurate Interpretation Given the Context of 1 Peter:

The best interpretation of 1 Peter 3:18-20 given the immediate context of 1 Peter is that the passage is referring NOT to something Christ did between his death and resurrection, but to what he did ‘in the spiritual realm of his existence’ at the time of Noah (Gen 6-9).

In 1 Peter 1:11, Peter says that the “Spirit of Christ” was speaking in the OT prophets. This suggests that Peter could have thought that the ‘Spirit of Christ was speaking through Noah as well. Also, in 2 Peter 3:5, he calls Noah a “preacher of righteousness” (using the common Greek word for “preacher”). So it seems likely that when Christ ‘preached to the spirits in prison, he did so through Noah in the days before the flood (v.20).

Furthermore, the people to whom Christ preached through Noah were unbelievers on the earth at the time (cf. Gen 6:5-7), but Peter says that they are “spirits in prison” because they are now in the prison of hell awaiting that future day of eternal judgment where they’ll be cast into the eternal Lake of Fire (cf. Rev 20:11-15). However, when Noah was preaching to them, they were humans on earth but they died having rejected Noah’s message of repentance (cf. 2 Pet 3:5).

Given the context of 1 Peter 3:13-22 where Peter just told them to always be ready to give an answer to those who ask for the hope that is within them, this interpretation fits well because the believers are to continue preaching Christ and speaking the gospel regardless of how people respond (just as Noah continued to preach in his day to the people who rejected him therefore incurring God’s judgment by a universal flood).

Therefore, the conclusion is that 1 Peter 3:18-20 is referring to Christ preaching ‘in his Spirit’ through Noah when he preached to his contemporaries in Genesis 6—9 though they rejected him and his message. They died without God, without believing in him and are now in “prison” awaiting that future day when they will be eternally judged to the Lake of Fire.


Jason Alligood said...

Great interpretive work my friend!

Hope you and yours are well!

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