James P. Needham
Winter Park, Fla.
Would you please explain 1 Peter 3:18, 19? Give as much information on this passage as space will permit." Ohio
Let us first read the passage (I am including v. 20 also since h is a part of the same sentence):
"For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened 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, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water."
1. False Interpretations:
This passage is a favorite proof-text of those who advocate a second-chance salvation. It is given all kinds of wild and fanciful interpretations. It supposedly teaches that, during his death, Christ went to the hadean world and preached to the spirits of those who died in a lost condition, and gave them a second chance to be saved. The Mormons tie this in with baptism for the dead, and Catholic theologians try to use it as a proof-text for purgatory. It proves neither.
Again, we emphasize that all passages must be kept in their contexts. Too, we must give attention to what the text actually says, rather than reading into it what we want it to say.
II. The Truth of the Passage:
The text does not say that Christ preached to spirits in the hadean world. They were not in the spirit world when they were preached to; they were in the spirit world (prison cf. 2 Pet. 2: 4; Jude 6; Rev. 20: 7) when Peter wrote about them. The text says they were preached to "when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing." 2 Pet. 2:5 says Noah was "a preacher of righteousness." He preached 120 years (Gen. 6:3). The spirit of Christ was in him, as in all the Old Testament prophets (1 Pet.1:11).
Hence, the text is saying that by means of the Spirit, Christ went and preached to the antediluvians through Noah. When peter wrote about this event, the spirits of those disobedient antediluvians were held in the hadean realm of disobedient spirits.
III. The Second-chance Interpretation Contradicts the Bible:
1. It contradicts God's impartiality: The Bible says, "God is no respecter of persons" (Acts 10:34). The second-chance advocates say that Christ preached to these spirits when he went to the hadean world and offered them salvation. But notice that these spirits were of those who lived "in the days of Noah." If Christ's preaching offered salvation, it offered it to the antediluvians only, and yet they were not the only people who had died in a lost condition previous to Christ's death. How could God offer salvation to the antediluvians only, and remain consistent with His impartial nature?
2. It contradicts the Bible teaching that death seals one's eternal destiny: Hebrews 9:27 says, "... it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment." It does not say, "And after this, another chance to be saved." Then there is the problem of the impassable fixed gulf between the saved and the lost after death (Lk.. 16:26). Did Abraham tell the truth when he said, "they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence"? (Lk. 16: 26). Not if the lost can have a second chance at salvation after death.
3. It contradicts the Bible teaching that judgment will be on the basis of one's works done in the flesh: Paul spoke of the judgment in this manner: "For we must ALL appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad" (2 Cur. 5:10). "All" will not receive the things done in the body if between death and the judgment some were given or will be given a chance to remove the guilt of the evil deeds done in the body, unless they will receive the things done in the body even though they have been forgiven.
This passage is simple enough to understand for those who do not approach it with some preconceived theory to prove. Any interpretation of any scripture, which contradicts any other plain Bible teaching, has to be in error. A prime rule of interpretation is that a difficult passage must never he interpreted so as to contradict a plain one.
TRUTH MAGAZINE XIV; 45, pp. 10-11
September 24, 1970