1 Peter 3:19-20, "the spirits in prison"

Discussion thread for 1 Peter 3:19-20 Who were the “spirits in prison”? Comment: Not trying to just provoke debate. It’s the text for my SS lesson for Sunday. So get back to me right away! :)

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Jim's picture

http://www.christianmonthlystandard.com/index.php/preached-to-the-spirit... Preached To The Spirits In Prison (1 Peter 3:18-20)

But let us go back to the original theme and ask: what do these teachings have to do with suffering? How does this information help the reader who is suffering for doing good? Even if these interpretations have merit, the problem is that these interpretations only work outside of the context but do not fit the flow of Peter’s instructions on how to deal with suffering for doing good. So what is Peter teaching?

I think we have missed the focus of the text. We have become so consumed with the meaning of the spirits in prison and Jesus’ proclamation that we have missed how suffering fits into Peter’s point. Do you think Noah had a life of suffering? The scriptures declare him to be a preacher of righteousness. He lived in a day when the thoughts of humanity were continually wicked. Only eight people were saved from God’s judgment. Noah went around preaching to people to repent of their sins and warned them that it was going to rain so much that the earth would be flooded. It had never rained on the earth before. How much ridicule did Noah endure? How much mockery came his way year after year as he built an enormous boat to keep animals and people? Day after day, month after month, and year after year for 120 years, Noah and his family are building a large boat to save the world from a flood. Christ was preached through Noah to those who chose to be disobedient. I submit to you that this is the simplest way to understand the text. Jesus went and preached to those disobedient in the days of Noah through Noah himself and only eight believed. Peter used this language earlier in 1:10-12 where Christ spoke through the prophets about suffering and the subsequent glories.

This is the view that makes the most sense to me.

Jim's picture

3 Views ... later 2 are orthodox


  1. 2nd chance of salvation: This interpretation, however, is in direct contradiction with other Scripture (cf. Luke 16:26; Heb. 9:27) and with the rest of 1 Peter and therefore must be rejected on biblical and theological grounds
  2. The spirits are the fallen angels who were cast into hell to await the final judgment. Reasons supporting this view include:
    1. Some interpreters say that the “sons of God” in Gen. 6:2–4 are angels (see note on Gen. 6:1–2) who sinned by cohabiting with human women “when God's patience waited in the days of Noah” (1 Pet. 3:20).
    2. Almost without exception in the NT, “spirits” (plural) refers to supernatural beings rather than people (e.g., Matt. 8:16; 10:1; Mark 1:27; 5:13; 6:7; Luke 4:36; 6:18; 7:21; 8:2; 10:20; 11:26; Acts 5:16; 8:7; 19:12, 13; 1 Tim. 4:1; 1 John 4:1; Rev. 16:13–14; cf. Heb. 1:7).
    3. The word “prison” is not used elsewhere in Scripture as a place of punishment after death for human beings, while it is used for Satan (Rev. 20:7) and other fallen angels (2 Pet. 2:4; Jude 6). In this case the message that Christ proclaimed is almost certainly one of triumph, after having been “put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit” (1 Pet. 3:18).
    4. “spirits” (Gk. pneumasin, plural) as referring to the unsaved (human spirits) of Noah's day.
      1. Christ, “in the spirit” (1 Pet. 3:18), proclaimed the gospel “in the days of Noah” (v. 20) through Noah.
      2. The unbelievers who heard Christ's preaching “did not obey … in the days of Noah” (v. 20) and are now suffering judgment (they are “spirits in prison,” v. 19).
      3. Several reasons support this view:
        1. Peter calls Noah a “herald of righteousness” (2 Pet. 2:5), where “herald” represents Greek kēryx, “preacher,” which corresponds to the noun kēryssō, “proclaim,” in 1 Pet. 3:19.
        2. Peter says the “Spirit of Christ” was speaking through the OT prophets (1:11); thus Christ could have been speaking through Noah as an OT prophet.
        3. The context indicates that Christ was preaching through Noah, who was in a persecuted minority, and God saved Noah, which is similar to the situation in Peter's time: Christ is now preaching the gospel through Peter and his readers (v. 15) to a persecuted minority, and God will save them.

Jack Hampton's picture

Jim, I say that the ESV Study Bible note # 2 is the correct understanding.

Who were the “spirits in prison”?

Although human beings are said to have a "spirit" they are not usually called "spirits." Even when disembodied the usual name for them is "souls" (Rev.6:9).

It is the angels who are usually referred to as "spirits" (see Hebrews 1:7,14). In Acts 8 "an angel of the Lord" (v.26) is referred to as "the spirit" at verse 29.

Paul S's picture

The identity of the "spirits in prison."

I believe the answer is to be found from the context.

"Christ . . . by the Spirit: By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, . . . For for this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit." (1 Peter 3:. . .18, 19 . .. . 4:6.) [That, with the understanding Jesus in the Spirit was preaching to saints which died in the flood because of their disobedience. To them the gospel could be preached. ]

They being identified as "the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose." (Genesis 6:2.) And so also being identified as "men in the flesh."

Suggesting the saints were marring women who were unbelievers. Which from the admonition of the Apostle Paul to the Corinthian church, "Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: . . . what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?" (2 Corinthians 6:14, 15, . . .) Which, I think, would show the moral lesson God was teaching in bringing the flood.

The only true God is, who is, the only self evident truth not contingent on any thing else.

"[There is] no wisdom nor understanding nor counsel against the LORD." -- Proverbs 21:30.