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1 Peter 3:19 says that Jesus preached unto spirits in prison; are these spirits associated with the angels of 2 Peter 2:4 and Jude 1:6? If not who were the spirits that He preached to?

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You may want to check out the related question, "Does Peter suggest Jesus “descended into hell”?". –  Davïd Feb 18 '14 at 7:37

3 Answers 3

There are two key points to pick up on in 1 Peter 3.19-20, bold here:

ἐν ᾧ καὶ τοῖς ἐν φυλακῇ πνεύμασιν πορευθεὶς ἐκήρυξεν ἀπειθήσασίν ποτε, ὅτε ἀπεξεδέχετο ἡ τοῦ θεοῦ μακροθυμία ἐν ἡμέραις Νῶε κατασκευαζομένης κιβωτοῦ εἰς ἣν ὀλίγοι, τοῦτ’ ἔστιν ὀκτὼ ψυχαί, διεσώθησαν δι’ ὕδατος (NA28)

The author is talking about:

  1. spirits (πνεύμασιν)
  2. who disobeyed (ἀπειθήσασίν)
  3. in prison (ἐν φυλακῇ)
  4. during the days of Noah (ἐν ἡμέραις Νῶε)

Because of this cross-section, we have a very narrow context to work with, which restricts what the author could possibly be referring to. Let's compare this to the subject matter of 2 Peter 2.4-10, as suggested in the original question. While the language is not at all identical, we find ourselves in the same cross-section:

  1. angels (ἀγγέλων)
  2. who sinned (ἁμαρτησάντων)
  3. delivered to chains of gloomy darkness in Tartarus (σειραῖς ζόφου ταρταρώσας παρέδωκεν)
  4. comparable to 'the ancient world' (ἀρχαίου κόσμου) of 'Noah' (Νῶε)

While it is generally agreed among critical scholars that the author of 1 Peter was not the same author of 2 Peter, this overlap in content is quite similar.

Second Peter most probably borrowed from the epistle of Jude, which, in turn, definitely borrowed from the apocryphal 1 Enoch,1 which contains an lengthy elaboration of Genesis 6.1-4, hitting all of the same marks that we find in 1 Peter 3.19-20.

What or why Jesus is preaching to these spirits is one question, but based on that cross-section, we should understand the author to be referring to the angels that sinned in Genesis 6.1-4, as also according to the Jewish tradition we find represented in 2 Peter, Jude, and 1 Enoch, among other books from the Second Temple period.

1 I take this for granted, as do most critical scholars. See this answer to a related question.

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You could also mention that "angels" (ἄγγελοι) are equated to "spirits" (πνεύματα) in Psa. 104:4 (cp. Heb. 1:7). –  H3br3wHamm3r81 Feb 18 '14 at 4:53
+1, despite your comment about critical scholars, many (if not most) of whom have an axe to grind. Less metaphoric: their presuppositions are decidedly biased regarding the authorship of the various books of the Bible. Thanks to these "higher critics" concepts such as Deutero-Isaiah have gained a foothold in the ivory towers of many seminaries, and the very concept of the inspiration of Scripture is derided as risible. I'm obviously painting with a broad brush; a kernel of truth still applies, however. Again, kudos on a well-thought-out answer. Don –  rhetorician Feb 18 '14 at 9:31

The question as I understand it is,"Are pneuma the same as aggelos"?

To answer that question, one must understand the triparte being that man is:(1 Thess. 5:23)

And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

We 'live' in a body-our earthly tabernacle, we manifest our life through our soul, our 'pneuma' is the life of God(Gen. 2:7):

"And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul."

Therefore, men are living "spirits"(pneuma), who express their life through their souls, and are housed in a physical body until they die.

An "aggelos" is not an heir of salvation:(Heb. 1:14)

"Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?"

They 'dwell' in God's Presense continually-therefore, they are not needing 'salvation', they are ministers of salvation to those who believe.

'But what about those who rebelled, isn't that what this text(1 Pet. 3:19) refering to?

Matt. 25:41 says,

"Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels."

Hell(everlasting fire) was prepared for Satan(the devil) and his angels-their judgement was immediate, there was no "waiting" for a Great White Throne Judgement. It's the souls w/the 'pneuma' of God who await their destiny at the Great White Throne Judgement.(Matt. 25:31)

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I haven't downvoted, but this answer relies on these different texts (1 Peter, 1 Thessalonians, Genesis, Hebrews, Matthew) using the same definitions for the relevant words. That falls under a systematic approach that needs to be shown, not assumed. –  Mark Edward Feb 22 '14 at 18:43
@MarkEdward-I'm not contesting your linguistic analysis but the evidence lies within the context of how the words are used. One cannot reconcile Heb. 1:14 and maintain that "spirits in prison" are in fact "angels" who according to Jude 1:6,"And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day." –  Tau Feb 23 '14 at 2:23

Who were the spirits that He preached to?

There are several interpretations of 1 Perter 3:19. I won’t go into detail on each view but let me list them here and then I will explain which one I hold.

  • St. Augustine held the view that the spirits are unbelieving contemporaries of Noah, to who the spirit of Christ in Noah, preached, or to whom the pre-incarnate Christ himself actually preached.

  • Christian Reformation and Enlightenment(Thomas Belsham) beliefs held the view that the “spirits in prison” were simply Gentiles in the “prison of ignorance (darkness)” to whom Christ is preached by the Apostles.

  • When Christ died, he went and preached to people in hell:
    sub-view 1: offering them a second chance of salvation.
    sub-view 2: proclaiming to them that he had triumphed over them and their condemnation was final.
    sub-view 3 (fallen Angels - not people): proclaimed triumph over the fallen angels (the Nephilim, i.e. Giants in the days of Noah) who had sinned marrying human women in the days before the flood.
    sub-view 4: proclaimed release to the people who had repented before they died in the flood, and took them from purgatory into heaven.

It is my stance that the verse is most clearly interpreted by cross-referencing Isaiah, looking at the context in which Peter wrote (i.e. specifically to whom did he write this to) and trying not to tie in the interpretations of (2 Peter 2:4, and Jude 1:6) which uphold sub-view 3 most strongly.

The key to me is the preceding verse in 1 Peter 3:18 (emphasis mine):

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:

The use of the word us in “that he might bring us to God” signifies the object, the human object, not fallen-angels of the next statement. Peter, a Jew, was still living in a world view held by the Jewish communities that God was for the Jews and no one else. It was still hard for the Jewish mind to let go of their selfish exclusivity on God and even the Gospel not to mention the Laws they lived by. He was reaching out to both Jewish and Gentile “elect” as we see in the first of his letter to whom it was addressed “…to the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia…”

This letter encourages the Elect in the audience — the mainly “gentile” audience — of these areas of the world. The gospel is preached to these folk who were by Jewish eyes those people who were “unclean” and sat in “outer darkness” of the ignorance of the true God.

Finally, let’s look at Isaiah who many years before prophesied of this exact occurrence in which Peter and others were bringing about through the preaching of the Gospel to the Gentile world.

Isaiah 42:6-7

I the LORD have called thee in righteousness, and will hold thine hand, and will keep thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles;

To open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, [and] them that sit in darkness out of the prison house.

This is the best example of God’s grace being shed upon the unbelieving world at large which sat in ignorance obeying their lusts which imprisoned them. This gospel should bring together all people regardless of ethnicity and at that time of Peter’s writing it was still a radical idea to think that Gentiles were worthy of hearing or could even hear the good news.

I hope this helps you and you can consider this view and hopefully it makes sense. Blessings.

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Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange! Be sure to take our site tour to learn more about us. We're a little different from other sites. –  Dan Feb 18 '14 at 15:07
Augustine's view makes most sense to me. Just as Christ preaches to men today by His pastors and teachers as they proclaim the Gospel, so He did in Noah's day through Noah. –  user5197 Feb 21 '14 at 4:03

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