ESV 1 Peter 3:19-20 "in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formally did not obey, when God's patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared,..".

There is another question on this site concerning these verses which asks: "Who did Jesus preach to in 1 Peter 3:19-20?" It has 4 answers which explore several theories but nowhere in them can I find some analysis of the word "when".

The word "when" links events e.g. The boy ran[A] when it was cold[B].

In 1 Peter 3:19-20 the "B" is surely: "when God's patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared".

What is the "A"?

If Bert says,"I told Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister, that he was good at cricket", do we know if he was Prime Minister when Bert said this? No. Bert put in "Prime Minister" to identify him from Boris Johnson the landlord of the local pub.

If the "spirits in prison" is a way of identifying who heard the proclaiming then it is not a description of where the proclaiming took place.

Could not the people who heard the proclaiming and who disobeyed it reasonably have done so "when" the ark was being prepared? i.e. The people who heard the proclaiming, disobeyed, [did not act on it], and later they died and their spirits went to prison/hell.

It appears to me that any explanation of 1 Peter 3:19-20 has to make the proclaiming, disobedience and preparing of the ark relate to each other as the word "when" tells us that they happened at the same time.

What other considerations are there which should change this view?


2 Answers 2


in which also to the spirits in prison having gone he did preach,

who sometime disbelieved, when once the long-suffering of God did wait,

in days of Noah -- an ark being preparing -- in which few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water;

[1 Peter 3:19-20 YLT]

Young's Literal Translation more clearly indicates that the spirits are identified by location and by Jesus going to that location. 'To the spirits in prison having gone - he did preach'. The preaching occurred at that location.

The disbelief ('disobedience') was at 'sometime' the time being 'when once the long-suffering of God did wait'.

The preaching and the recipients of that preaching are identified by location.

The behaviour which brought them to that location is identified by the timing of the behaviour.

The 'when' links to the occasion in time when the behaviour occurred.

The location of the preaching links to the place of punishment for the said behaviour.


I assume the OP is asking about the word ὅτε (hote) in the phrase:

ἀπειθήσασίν ποτε ὅτε ἀπεξεδέχετο ἡ τοῦ Θεοῦ μακροθυμία ἐν ἡμέραις Νῶε κατασκευαζομένης κιβωτοῦ

of 1 Peter 3:20. I would translate this phrase as:

having disobeyed at one time, when the longsuffering of God was waiting in the days of Noah, the ark being prepared ...

Thus, the "when" is discussing the disobedience of some during the time of Noah's ark being built, namely 120 years that Noah preached to these disobedient people.

This verse is somewhat controversial because of (inter alia) the understanding of the dative πνεύματι, the last word of 1 Peter 3:18. Should this word be translated, "in spirit", or, "by the Spirit"? The first appears odd because if the soul is always alive and indestructible, then one cannot be made alive in spirit because it is always the case. The second better fits with NT theology - Jesus was made alive by the Spirit who was the person that preached to the spirits in prison (v19). But this is the subject of another question.

  • one cannot be made alive in spirit because it is always the case.. so 'put to death in the flesh but made alive in the Spirit.' is wrong then? Or, you're violating to fit? (on several points)
    – Steve
    Nov 11, 2020 at 23:02
  • @user48152 - I do not understand your statement "violating to fit". However, leaving that aside, my comment was made ASSUMING the doctrine of the immortal soul to which I do not subscribe.
    – Dottard
    Nov 11, 2020 at 23:05
  • So why propagate such an erroneous concept of immortal soul? Jesus was made alive by the Spirit, isn't what the text says. He didn't die IN the spirit, he died in the flesh, so the he wasn't raised in flesh but in spirit - the BY who or what has nothing to do with this verse. Others do, but not this.
    – Steve
    Nov 11, 2020 at 23:10

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.