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1st Peter 4:6:

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 (KJV)

Who are the dead ones here? Are they the dead believers (Christians) or just anyone dead?

What kind of gospel had been preached to them? Was it the good news reported about Jesus' death and resurrection or was it something like the promise of the grace of God to come like in 1 Peter 1:10-12 ("Of which salvation the prophets have enquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace [that should come] unto you. Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow. Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things, which are now reported unto you...")?

When had the gospel been preached to them, while they were still alive or while they were already dead?

What was the purpose of preaching that gospel to them? It says "that they live according to God in the spirit". In case they were already dead while the gospel was being preached to them, how could they live according to God in the spirit while being dead? Does that mean that there is still a way of living somehow in the spirit even after one's physical death?

What are some possible interpretations of this verse that are allowed by the text itself (I mean without any admixture of any doctrine that is not based on the text)?

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The only interpretation that I have been able to accept that makes sense from all angles is that these 'dead' are referring to those who have physically died, especially in reference to the generation under Noah, where only a few were saved through the spirit of Christ's preaching to them by the judgment of the flood and the words of Noah. In other words Peter is NOT saying that Christ, after he died went to hell and preached to them, but Christ preached to those who died many years before he was incarnate. Peter is continuing this thought about the flood and the gospel of the Arc and Christ's ancient preaching to those who long ago died. He is continuing this thought into the verse in question:

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God 's patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 3:18-21, ESV)

The idea is that those who died before Christ, most symbolically represented by those who perished in the flood, actually heard the gospel through the Spirit of Christ. In fact the judgment came about as Christ's Spirit was grieved with them just as with all who die without him and is a judgment against sin and a sermon. Also Christ preached not only the law but the gospel through Noah. Noah preached 'the promise' as he invited any who would be saved, to be saved.

This judgment against sin is a kind of baptism and for those who believe he also judges our lusts and sins in our conscience and so purges us towards life in a good conscience by faith in Christ through grace.

Therefore Peter continues and says that while the world is 'flooded' with filth, we must arm ourselves to suffer and be saved by this trial, for the judgment, like the flood, saves the righteous just as it did for all who lived before and are now physically dead to us in this present world. It also condemns the wicked who while rejecting Christians and the gospel are actually spiritually being flooded into death as a current day judgment for rejecting the promised grace of Christ.

Peter is really just applying the dangers and victories of the flood to encourage believers to be ready for persecutions, difficulties, sneers and jeers from the unbelieving just as Noah suffered, but in a joyful hope of being protected in the Arc of Christ. All the dead, or generations before us have passed through a similar flood and baptism. So be ready.

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Consider Luke 15, the parable of the prodigal son:

24 for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’ And they began to celebrate. (NASB)

The prodigal son was not physically dead, but dead, as it were, to the rights of sonship. He was "spiritually dead."

And now, reread 1 Peter 4:

6 For the gospel has for this purpose been preached even to those who are dead, that though they are judged in the flesh as men, they may live in the spirit according to the will of God.

The word for "dead" in both passages is νέκρος, which can refer to physical or spiritual death. Based on the context of 1 Peter 4, wherein Peter is discussing those outside the family of God who were lost in sin, dead if you will, I would say that νέκρος is referring to the spiritual death, or the status of being dead in relation to the family of God.

A good point has been raised in the comments below concerning the tense of "the gospel has...been preached." The Greek word is εὐαγγελίζω (eu-angel-izo), and means, basically, "to announce good news." It comes from the root ἄγγελος, which is where we get "angel" or "messenger," and the "eu" in the prefix just means "good" or "well."

The question below concerns the tense of the verb. The verb is in the aorist passive indicative, which means that the preaching of the good news to the dead happened in the past, one time. The same is true for the passage in 1 Peter 3:18-21. What Peter is not saying is that when people physically die they hear the gospel. That would be a rebellious, non-contextual, non-present interpretation of this text. That wouldn't even be an interpretation, in fact, but an invention.

I'm sticking with the interpretation that Peter is talking about the spiritually dead in 1 Peter 4:6.

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Out of 4 times when Peter is using νέκρος in his epistle, the first two are definitely related to the physical death, not spiritual death: "...the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead" (1st Peter 1:3), "...God, that raised him up from the dead" (1st Peter 1:21). In order to support the idea that in the other two cases of the same epistle (4:5, 4:6) Peter suddenly switches from physical to allegorical use of this word, some stronger argument must be presented rather than just an allegorical sense of νέκρος used in a parable written by another author (Luke). Plus, here is not a parable. –  brilliant Oct 30 '12 at 5:48
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Yes, very true. I think the first three cases of νέκρος are referring to physical death; only the instance in verse 6 refers to spiritual death. "Judge the living and the dead" of 5b is almost slang in koine, and it refers to physical death. It is quite impossible to be sure who these "dead" in 6 are; this is known to be one of the most difficult verses in the NT to interpret. The "has been preached" is in the aorist passive-a past completed action ("was preached"). Therefore, what this verse is not saying is that dead people continue hearing the gospel, as the universalists desire so. –  user831 Oct 30 '12 at 6:42
    
"The "has been preached" is in the aorist passive-a past completed action ("was preached"). Therefore, what this verse is not saying is that dead people continue hearing the gospel, as the universalists desire so" - You are saying something very important to me here. Can you, please, elaborate. What is aorist? Is it a grammatical tense of koine? –  brilliant Oct 30 '12 at 7:15
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The aorist is a grammatical tense of classical greek. When in the indicative (simple, "indicating") mood as it is above, unless it is part of a special "conditional clause," which in the above case it is not, it refers to a one time completed event in the past. Here's an example of the difference between the aorist and the normal past (imperfect): aorist: I was so happy that I jumped for joy, one time, really high; imperfect: I was so happy that I was jumping for joy. The first case represents something occurring once, the second, a continuous action. –  user831 Oct 30 '12 at 17:29
    
I see. Thank you!!! –  brilliant Oct 30 '12 at 23:41
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The use of aorist tense points out to a past event so it does not concern everybody who dies and would have a second chance to become a believer. Since God is just, He would not privilege only a certain group to hear the gospel again after their death.

So who are those deads ? Most certainly, christians who heard the gospel while they were living and then put to death by rebellious men. Peter then encourages christians not to fear persecution nor death because life in the presence of God follows.

The context of the epistle is persecution and martyrdom. In other words, the judgment of men of these believers was death (see James Ac.12:2 or Antipas Re.2:13). Here, Peter gives hope to the remaining living believers by adding that according to God, they are now living in the spiritual realm even if they are dead in their bodies.

So the main point of Peter saying that is to boost the moral of suffering believers seeing the brothers and sisters dying for the beliefs ; yes, they may be judged by men and put to dead in their bodies but for God they are living in his spiritual realm because God is not the God of the dead but of the living, like Jesus said.

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The verse says what it says and should be taken as written. Taking God's word and making a personal spin on it to suits one's doctrine serves no one. The gospel was preached to them that are dead. That's pretty straight forward.

Why was it preached to the dead? So that they could be judge just as the living, according to men who live in the flesh but live according to God in the spirit. In Romans 3:25-26, God forebears, restrains, is patient. He left the sins that had been committed beforehand unpunished to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time. To declare at this time his righteousness, that he might be just, and the justifier of him who believes in Jesus. He waited for a purpose, to withhold judgement on those who preceded the coming of Christ. Why did he wait, because he is just. Did Jesus preach to the dead, to those who preceded him? It would appear so.

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Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics. We aren't like other sites. We are expecting posts to work from the text and refrain from adding comments about ignoring what the text says. –  Frank Luke Dec 18 '13 at 3:13
    
"The gospel was preached to them that are dead. That's pretty straight forward" - How is that straightforward about whether the gospel was preached to them before they became dead or after? Such phrase as "Jack thought about those who are now dead" says nothing about whether Jack thought about those people while they were still alive or after they died. –  brilliant Dec 18 '13 at 7:42
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