“Went and Preached to the Spirits In Prison”

By Jimmy Tuten


1 . The first epistle of Peter is known, loved and read for its attractiveness, and charm. It is richly filled with affection and tenderness.

2. It also consists of difficulties. The most controversial section is contained. in our text.

3. While some theologians have frankly confessed that they lie- do not know what the apostle Peter meant, other students (with more zeal than reason) have used this text as a springboard for speculation.

4. Many false doctrines and much confusion exist as to the meaning of these words. When carefully studied with an open mind this passage is not too difficult to understand.


I. Christ suffered for sins once (v. 18).

A. While “suffered” is not in the better manuscripts that contain “died” instead, no injustice is done since Jesus suffered in death.

1. “Once” is translated from hapav, meaning “once for all” (W.E. Vine; cf. Heb. 9:26-27, no repetition needed). This same word is found in:

a. Heb. 9:28 – Christ’s death.

b. Jude 3 – Deliverance of the faith.

c. Heb. 9:12,26 – Offering Christ’s blood.

d. Heb. 9:27 – Appointment to die.

e. Heb. 12:27 – Shaking the earth and heavens to remove them.

2. The suffering of Jesus:

a. Began in Gethsemane (Matt. 26:36-42).

b. Intensified by scourging (Matt. 27:26).

c. Constituted the righteous for the unrighteous (Rom. 5:6-8; 1 Cor. 15:3).

B. Christ’s sufferings were penal (for sins), vicarious (for the unjust) and propitiatory (to bring us to God).

II. Put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit (v. 18).

A. The contrast is between “flesh” and “spirit.” We all understand that the first part refers to the crucifixion and “flesh” means that death affected only his fleshly body.

B. To what does the term “spirit” refer? The three possibilities are:

1. The Holy Spirit.

2. The eternal part of man given at birth and which returns to God at death (Eccl. 12:7).

3. That inner principle which stands in contrast with flesh.

C. While Christ died physically upon the cross, his spirit continued to live (Matt. 27:50; Lk. 23:46).

1. “Made alive” refers to the resurrection, not to maintaining or prolonging life.

2. “In the spirit” refers to the spirit of holiness (Rom. 1:4; Heb. 9:4).

III. In which he went and preached unto the spirits in prison (v. 19).

A. The preaching was done “in the spirit.”

1 . “In which,” i.e., through the spirit already referred to.

a. Done outside the corporeal body.

b. Before his incarnation.

c. Through Noah (cf. v. 20).

d. To the antediluvians (1:10-11), i.e., O.T. Prophets through Christ (Gen. 6:3, striving done through Noah, 2 Pet. 2:5).

B. There is no stress to be placed on “he went.” He simply “preached.”

1. Not while dead and buried as erroneously concluded.

2. Jesus preached to the Gentiles (Eph. 2:17), but he did so through human instruments (1 Cor. 1:21). If Paul could speak of Christ preaching through the Apostles, then why not Peter referring to Christ through Noah?

C. Furthermore, there is no Scripture that even suggests that anyone had the gospel preached to them except in life. “Preached” is from kerusso which means an official announcement, not the gospel of salvation (Rom. 1: 16-17).

D. The “spirits in prison” meant:

1. The disembodied state at the time Peter spoke.

2. They had been disobedient (1 Pet. 3:20).

3. The disembodied spirits were awaiting the judgment (2 Pet. 2:4; Jude 6).

IV. The who and the when of the preaching is clearly stated.

A. By Christ, i.e., the spirit of Christ in the prophets (1 Pet. 1:9-11).

B. In the days of Noah (2 Pet. 2:5), while the ark was preparing (Gen. 6:3).

C. Antedeluvians had their punishment delayed to allow repentance. When no repentance was forthcoming, the flood destroyed the world (Gen. 6:5-7).

D. Death seals our destiny eternally (Lk. 16:26; Heb. 9:27-28).

E. Only Noah and seven others were saved as the result of this preaching (Heb. 11:7; 1 Pet. 3:20-21).


1. The text does not teach that Jesus descended into hell between the period of his death and resurrection to preach to the antediluvians as the Roman Catholic church dogmatically affirms.

2. Nor does it teach that at this time he descended into Tartarus and preached to fallen angels.

3. The text does not say that Christ personally preached in hades to disembodied spirits.

4. 1 Pet. 4:6 is unrelated to the text for those mentioned in that verse accepted the gospel.

5. Advocates of post-mortem gospel theories have difficulty in explaining why the preaching was restricted to the antediluvians. Is God a respecter of persons?

6. Why would Christ preach to disembodied spirits since death seals the eternal destiny of men (Lk. 16:26)?

7. There is no second chance, for after death comes the judgment (Heb. 9:27-28).

Guardian of Truth XXXII: 19, pp. 595, 597
October 6, 1988