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Spirits in Prison

1 Peter 3:18-22

Who preached?

  1. Pronoun refers to nearest antecedent. Here – Spirit

  2. The Holy Spirit (through the person of Noah) preached

To whom was this preaching addressed?

  1. Disobedient, wicked, sinful world

  2. Who were in prison (under arrest of Divine justice)

What was preached?

  1. Gospel” (good news) – see 1 Peter 1:12; 4:6

  2. Change their life or face the flood

When did this preaching take place?

  1. In the days of Noah

  2. While the ark be being prepared

  3. During the longsuffering of God (Genesis 6:3 – 120 years)

Where did the preaching take place?

  1. On earth, before the flood

  2. Noah preached while building the ark

  3. Had there been repentance, the flood would have been avoided

Did Jesus go to hell after his death on the cross?

  1. Psalm 16:10 “Sheol” = grave, place of departed spirits

  2. Acts 2:27 “Hades” = unseen world, spirits reside after death until judgment

  3. Yes, Jesus went to Hades – not Hell

  4. Remember, Hades is divided into two parts – Paradise and Torments

  5. Jesus went to Hades, to Paradise. He did not go to Torments

Did Jesus preach to those who lived before the flood?

  1. No. This is a misunderstanding of the passage in 1 Peter 3:18-22.

  2. The Holy Spirit, in the person of Noah, did the preaching

Was there an offer of a second chance at repentance and salvation?

  1. No. The preaching took place before the flood

  2. The ark was still being prepared

  3. God was still longsuffering and patient for them to repent

Does this passage teach the idea of “purgatory” where souls go for a temporary time? Is there a 2nd chance to find forgiveness and change our eternal destiny?

  1. There is no hint of any teaching of purgatory in the Bible

  2. The “Great Gulf” clearly teaches no crossover will take place

  3. Ecclesiastes 11:3 – Where we are at death is where we will be

1 Peter 3:18 (NKJV)

18For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit,

Christ also hath once suffered—See the notes on Romans 5:6; Hebrews 9:28 (note).

Put to death in the flesh—In his human nature.

But quickened by the Spirit—That very dead body revived by the power of his Divinity. There are various opinions on the meaning of this verse, with which I need not trouble the reader, as I have produced that which is most likely.

1 Peter 3:19 (NKJV)

19by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison,

By which— Spirit, his own Divine energy and authority

He went and preached— By the ministry of Noah, one hundred and twenty years.

Unto the spirits in prison— The inhabitants of the antediluvian world, who, having been disobedient, and convicted of the most flagrant transgressions against God, were sentenced by his just law to destruction. But their punishment was delayed to see if they would repent; and the long-suffering of God waited one hundred and twenty years, which were granted to them for this purpose; during which time, as criminals tried and convicted, they are represented as being in prison—detained under the arrest of Divine justice, which waited either for their repentance or the expiration of the respite, that the punishment pronounced might be inflicted. This I have long believed to be the sense of this difficult passage, and no other that I have seen is so consistent with the whole scope of the place. That the Spirit of God did strive with, convict, and reprove the antediluvians, is evident from Genesis 6:3: My Spirit shall not always strive with man, forasmuch as he is flesh; yet his days shall be one hundred and twenty years. And it was by this Spirit that Noah became a preacher of righteousness, and condemned that ungodly world, Hebrews 11:7, who would not believe till wrath—Divine punishment, came upon them to the uttermost. The word
ðíåõìáóé, spirits, is supposed to render this view of the subject improbable, because this must mean disembodied spirits; but this certainly does not follow, for the spirits of just men made perfect, Hebrews 12:23, certainly means righteous men, and men still in the Church militant; and the Father of spirits,
Hebrews 12:9, means men still in the body; and the God of the spirits of all flesh, Numbers 16:22; 27:16, means men not in a disembodied state.

But even on this word there are several various readings; some of the Greek MSS. read ðíåõìáôé, in spirit, and one Ðíåõìáôé FÁãév, in the Holy Spirit. I have before me one of the first, if not the very first edition of the Latin Bible; and in it the verse stands thus: “by which he came spiritually, and preached to them that were in prison.”

In two very ancient MSS. of the Vulgate before me, the clause is thus: “in which, coming by the Spirit, he preached to those who were in prison.” This is the reading also in the Complutensian Polyglot.

Another ancient MS. in my possession has the words nearly as in the printed copy: “in which, coming spiritually, he preached to those who were SHUT UP in prison.”

Another MS., written about A.D. 1370, is the same as the printed copy.

The common printed Vulgate is different from all these, and from all the MSS. of the Vulgate which I have seen in reading , “to the spirits.”

In my old MS. Bible, which contains the first translation into English ever made, the clause is the following: In whiche thing and to hem that weren closid togyder in prison, hi commynge in Spirit, prechide. The copy from which this translation was taken evidently read with one of the MSS. quoted above, as closid togyder proves.

I have quoted all these authorities from the most authentic and correct copies of the Vulgate, to show that from them there is no ground to believe that the text speaks of Christ’s going to hell to preach the Gospel to the damned, or of his going to some feigned place where the souls of the patriarchs were detained, to whom he preached, and whom he delivered from that place and took with him to
paradise, which the Romish Church holds as an article of faith.

Though the judicious Calmet holds with his Church this opinion, yet he cannot consider the text of St. Peter as a proof of it. I will set down his own words: “The opinion which states that Jesus Christ descended into hell, to announce his coming to the ancient patriarchs, and to deliver them from that
species of prison, where they had so long waited for him, is incontrovertible; and we (the Catholics) consider it as an article of our faith: but we may doubt whether this be the meaning of St. Peter in this place.” Some think the whole passage applies to the preaching of the Gospel to the Gentiles; but the
interpretation given above appears to me, after the fullest consideration, to be the most consistent and rational, as I have already remarked.

1 Peter 3:20 (NKJV)

20who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water.

When once the long-suffering of God waited—In Pirkey Aboth, cap. v. 2, we have these words: “There were ten generations from Adam to Noah, that the long-suffering of God might appear; for each of these generations provoked him to anger, and went on in their iniquity, till at last the deluge came.”

Were saved by water—While the ark was preparing, only Noah’s family believed; these amounted to eight persons; and these only were saved from the deluge äé›äáôïò, on the water: all the rest perished in the water; though many of them, while the rains descended, and the waters daily increased, did undoubtedly humble themselves before God, call for mercy, and receive it; but as they had not repented at the preaching of Noah, and the ark was now closed, and the fountains of the great deep broken up, they lost their lives, though God might have extended mercy to their souls.

1 Peter 3:21 (NKJV)

21There is also an antitype which now saves us—baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,


1 Peter 3:21

The like figure whereunto, etc.—Dr. Macknight has translated this verse so as to make the meaning more clear: By which (water) the antitype baptism (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience towards God) now saveth us also, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

He remarks that the relative ´ being in the neuter gender, its antecedent cannot be êéâùôïò, the ark, which is feminine, but ›äùñ, water, which is neuter.

There are many difficulties in this verse; but the simple meaning of the place may be easily apprehended. Noah believed in God; walked uprightly before him, and found grace in his sight; he obeyed him in building the ark, and God made it the means of his salvation from the waters of the deluge. Baptism implies a consecration and dedication of the soul and body to God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He who is faithful to his baptismal covenant, taking God through Christ, by the eternal Spirit, for his portion, is saved here from his sins; and through the resurrection of Christ from the dead, has the well-grounded hope of eternal glory. This is all plain; but was it the deluge, itself, or the ark, or the being saved by that ark from the deluge, that was the antitype of which St. Peter speaks? Noah and his family were saved by water; i.e. it was the instrument of their being saved through the good providence of God. So the water of baptism, typifying the regenerating influence of the Holy Spirit, is the means of salvation to all those who receive this Holy Spirit in its quickening, cleansing efficacy.
Now as the waters of the flood could not have saved Noah and his family, had they not made use of the ark; so the water of baptism saves no man, but as it is the means of his getting his heart purified by the Holy Spirit, and typifying to him that purification. The ark was not immersed in the water; had it been so they
must all have perished; but it was borne up on the water, and sprinkled with the rain that fell from heaven. This text, as far as I can see, says nothing in behalf of immersion in baptism; but is rather, from the circumstance mentioned above, in favor of sprinkling. In either case, it is not the sprinkling, washing, or cleansing the body, that can be of any avail to the salvation of the soul, but the answer of a good conscience towards God—the internal evidence and external proof that the soul is purified in the laver of regeneration, and the person enabled to walk in newness of life. We are therefore strongly cautioned here, not to rest in the letter, but to look for the substance.


1 Peter 3:22 (NKJV)

22who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, angels and authorities and powers having been made subject to Him.

Who is gone into heaven—Having given the fullest proof of his resurrection from the dead, and of his having accomplished the end for which he came into the world.

On the right hand of God—In the place of the highest dignity, honor, and influence.

The Vulgate, one copy of the Itala, Augustine, Fulgentius, Cassiodorus, and Bede, have the following remarkable addition after the above words: “Having abolished (swallowed down) death, that we might be made heirs of eternal life.” But this addition is found in no Greek copy, nor in any other of the ancient versions.

Angels and authorities and powers—That is, all creatures and beings, both in the heavens and in the earth, are put under subjection to Jesus Christ. He has all power in the heavens and in the earth. He alone can save; and he alone can destroy. None need fear who put their trust in him, as he can do whatsoever he
will in behalf of his followers, and has good and evil spirits under his absolute command. Well may his enemies tremble, while his friends exult and sing. He can raise the dead, and save to the uttermost all that come unto the Father through him.

If he have all power, if angels and authorities and powers be subject to him, then he can do what he will, and employ whom he will. To raise the dead can be no difficulty to him, because he has power over all things. He created the world; he can destroy it, and he can create it anew. We can conceive nothing too
difficult for Omnipotence. This same omnipotent Being is the friend of man.

Why then do we not come to him with confidence, and expect the utmost salvation of which our souls and bodies are capable?


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