1 Peter 4:6a New International Version

For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead

English Standard Version

For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead

Which translation is better?

A related question is Interpretation of the dead ones in 1 Peter 4:6?

  • What is the purpose of preaching the Gospel to the dead? Can the unsaved dead repent in the grave? Or is the preaching directed to saved dead people. To enlighten them about how they became saved without knowing how? Jan 31 at 0:34

There is no "now" in the Greek. A more literal translation is:

Because of this also the gospel was preached to the dead, so that

they were judged according to men in the flesh,

but they may live according to God in the spirit.

The bold is just two words: εὐηγγελίσθη νεκροῖς, or "evangelizing the dead", or "preaching the gospel to the dead".

This verse and the related one in Peter causes all sorts of problems for builders of systematic theologies, but from an exegetical perspective the text is clear. The gospel was preached to the dead.

  • 2
    Perhaps but your answer has not explored the range of meanings that are available here. See Barnes' comments which explains it well.
    – Dottard
    Jan 29 at 21:57
  • 1
    @Dottard You are right, and that is by design. Whenever we encounter a challenging passage like this, there is always the desire to put it into a box somehow, whether a dispensational box, or some other box, so as to leave our theology undisturbed. If the questioner asked for theological meanings, I'd be happy to cite early church fathers to Luther to modern commentaries. But the question was about the correct translation, so I left it at that.
    – Robert
    Jan 29 at 23:53
  • 2
    @Robert - Please do cite. Church fathers to Luther and Modern commentaries are and should be the lifeblood of this site, and provide important critiques and criticism of translation. Their justifications for their translation as well as criticism for why they get it wrong make for a more complete answer. At a minimum, citing scholars who support your position is valuable. Jan 30 at 0:33

Which one is better for literal translation

For a strict literal translation, I agree with the ESV translator who didn't add the word "now" as is obvious from the original Greek. But this is pushing the exegetical task to the reader, needing one to consult a commentary such as Crossway's own ESV Study Bible which has this on 1 Pet 4:6 (emphasis mine)

4:6 the gospel was preached even to those who are dead. Although some maintain that Peter offers a second chance after death for those who rejected Christ, this view is untenable since it contradicts both the clear teaching of Scripture throughout the rest of the Bible (e.g., Luke 16:26; Heb. 9:27; see note on 1 Pet. 3:19) and the immediate context, concerning the importance of perseverance of believers (4:1–6) and the coming judgment of “the living and the dead” (v. 5). Given the immediate context, “those who are dead” refers to Christians to whom “the gospel was preached” when they were alive but who have since died. This fits with the meaning of “dead” in v. 5. Even though believers will experience physical death (i.e., they are judged in the flesh the way people are), believers who have died live in the spirit the way God does (that is, they live in heaven now, and they will live as well at the resurrection when Christ returns).

Which one is better for dynamic translation

One major purpose of a dynamic translation is to help modern readers to cross language and cultural barrier so we can hear the words of the NT letters like how the first audience heard them spoken in the early church. In addition, they also knew something we don't, like their personal experience of suffering and their fellow Christians who recently died.

Applied to Peter's letter, the translator / interpreter must first determine the identity of the dead in 1 Pet 4:6a, which can be different than the identity of the "spirits in prison" in 1 Pet 3:19. This is one of the harder verses to interpret, as John Piper showed in his Lab posts on 1 Peter 3:19-20 and 1 Peter 4:4-6.

Most commentaries I consulted consider at least the following 2 options:

  1. They were still alive when the Gospel was preached to them but had since died when the letter was written
  2. "Spirits in prison" referred to in 1 Pet 3:19-20

Six commentaries I consulted prefer the first option (Baker Exegetical, NICNT, Paideia, Hermeneia, Bob Utley, and ESV Study Bible), while only one prefers the second option (Baylor). The Baker Exegetical Commentary has an extensive argument for option 1. Some excerpts:


The immediate contexts of 3:19 and 4:6 should take priority in informing their respective interpretations. ... Furthermore, the verbs are not the same in both verses, for the more general verb κηρύσσω (kēryssō, proclaim) stands in 3:19, but εὐαγγελίζομαι (euangelizomai, preach good news) is a more specific reference to preaching the gospel in 4:6. The weightiest reason the two verses are not directly related is that the audience in 3:19 is "the spirits" (pneumata), not "the dead" (nekrois) as in 4:6, and the two words are not synonymous. It was the assumption that Christ descended to Hades, as stated in the Apostles' Creed, that gave rise to the theory of postmortem conversion in 4:6 (see comments on 3:18-22).


Most contemporary interpreters no longer claim an association between 4:6 and 3:19 (Achtemeier 1996: 291; Bandstra 2003: 123; Dalton 1965: 42–51; Dalton 1979; Davids 1990: 154; J. H. Elliott 2000: 730–31; Hillyer 1992: 122; Kistemaker 1987: 163–64; Michaels 1988: 237–38).


Therefore, if we choose the first interpretation option, rendering 1 Pet 4:6a as "For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead ... " is better, which is the option also used by modern dynamic translations such as NIV, NLT, CSB, NET, MSG, etc.

  • The Baker commentary you adduce is so plainly biased, for the immediate context of the 4:6 exactly indicates that Christ is Lord over living and dead and has authority to judge both (4:5), and immediately it is followed that to the dead the preaching came, so it should be the same "dead" necessarily as in the 5:5, unless one wishes to pull wool over eyes of unexperienced readers, as Baker ignobly does. But what to do? Not he alone is so: it is a grave spiritual malady that befall all Western civilisation to deny the immortality of soul and soul's survival of bodily death. Jan 31 at 8:51
  • @LevanGigineishvili The Baker and Hermeneia commentaries are very much aware of theological readings of the text, even included potential awareness of the Enoch-Noah tradition which St. Augustine wasn't aware, extensive discussion on the descensus ad inferos (harrowing of hell) view of the Alexandrian fathers, NT vs. Platonic terms of body & soul, Luther & Calvin's comments, a modern minority commentator (Goppelt) who argues for option 2, etc. The excerpt I included is merely about 3% of the whole comments of 3:13 - 4:11, so it may appear biased. Jan 31 at 16:13
  • Their decisions were based on lexical, grammatical, contextual, and OT + NT horizon rather than later theological positions read into the text, which include the fate of those who haven't heard the gospel both before and after Christ's advent, purgatory, the intercession of saints, etc. Also, it's unfair to say that those commentators deny the immortality of soul; rather they try to be faithful to what the apostles (as opposed to later church fathers) understood to be the nature of soul from how they used NT Greek terms + elucidation by contemporary Jewish & Greek writings. Jan 31 at 16:26
  • The apostolic fathers, Justin, Origen were far closer to the Apostles than Mr. Baker; and if the very research is already done from a certain bias, then its outcome will be as ignoble as that initial bias. Now here in this ad hoc passage, it is clear that the νέκροι of the 4:6 is the same as νέκροι of the 4:5, and if 4:5 says that Jesus is judge of those, He cannot not be judge of non-existents, but existents, whose bodies are dead but they are still judgeable, and so, alive, and bodiless essence which can be judged, as well as evangelized, can be called "soul" or "spirit". Jan 31 at 17:11
  • It is not an unimportant question whether after death and before resurrection a person a) disappears/ceases to exist or b) continues to exist and think and perceive. The a) is a wrong idea and as such cannot be, in principle supported by Holy Scripture; yet, as Luther said, Bible has a rubber nose, which you can move to any side. Unfortunately modern day Christians move it to a side of Zeitgeist, which tends to materialism and denial of immortality (through divine grace not per se) of human invisible core/essence, which can also be called traditionally soul or spirit. Jan 31 at 18:37

What is written, is written: the Gospel was preached to the dead, and it is a forceful twisting of text to interpret it in the way that Peter referred to people who were alive when Gospel was preached to them, but have died for the moment when Peter speaks about them. Rather, Peter says that Gospel was preached to those who already have been dead at the moment of preaching to them.

This means that even after physical death they retain their living personalities who can understand the Gospel and be gladdened by it, for εὐανγέλιον means "gladdening news". Those living personalities who can understand and be gladdened by that what they understand can also be called traditionally "souls", or "spirits" (as Peter does in 1 Peter 3:19), both words being metaphoric words for indicating the invisible and dynamic in human essence.

But who preached to them? Apostles could not go to the threshold of Hades like Ulysses and summon them from there, to be sure, but Jesus Himself, who is Lord over the living and dead (Romans 14:9), went to them and preached to them the good news about abolition of the reign of sin and death (cf. 1 Cor. 15:55-57).

There is a heresy that crept in Christian thought already in early times that souls co-die with bodies, which heresy was called "thnetophsychism" ("soul-dying") (2nd-3rd century), but correct vision is that human persons' invisible core does not co-die with body but survives body and is transformed in a different dimension, with different conditions, better or worse. That's why to pray for the amelioration of the condition of the dead loved ones is an indispensable aspect of mainstream Christian traditions, like Catholics and Orthodox (I do not know how exactly in the versatile spectrum of Protestant tradition, but there also), who include in their liturgical course the prayers for the dead, and also prayers to the dead saints who are in a position of boldness before God so as to be able to help us.

How otherwise?! Jesus is Lord and God of living and dead simultaneously (1 Cor. 15:55-57). Now, what is more reasonable to believe, a) Jesus is actual Lord of only a minority of humans, who live at any given moment of history, while only prospectively, after their resurrection at the end of history, the Lord of also the majority, who are no more alive physically at a given moment of history; or b) Jesus is actual Lord of all, both the minority of now living humans and majority of the passed away, and all are alive before Him, for He is God of living, not dead, for all (the deceased Abraham and Isaac etc. included) are living for Him (Mark 12:27)?

Surely, the second is more reasonable and biblical, for if the first is correct, then we get a monstrosity: God remembers a dead person, who no more exists, and at the final resurrection will not resurrect the guy, but in fact, re-create him according to His memory. But then why should He re-create sinners? For what is sin? Sin is a damage of inner self, so we shall get God who creates a damaged inner self, a damaged and sinful person, which is a plain calumny on God and as such a blasphemy.

But let us return to sound theology and affirm the traditional theological position of immortality (not natural but by grace of God) of souls, which not only Christians but even Greek philosophers realised by following dialectics. In fact, death is always, necessarily, an outcome of a damage, to the effect that what is not damaged cannot die in principle. Now, when body dies, we understand that it is damaged and that's why it ceases to function, and we can describe this damage. But the most important aspect of our essence, the moral integrity, the love of truth, sense of justice, admiration of God - all those invisible and most important features that make our inner self, are they destroyed when body is killed? Impossible, because oftentimes in history humans choose rather to die physically, but keep those features intact and healthy; that is to say, they even rescue the health of those features at expense of physical life. Thus, those features cannot die for they are not damaged, moreover, they are even protected and rescued at expense of the physical life, for a person who gave life for them, those features, deemed life and welfare of those features higher than his physical life.

Now, is not it utterly unreasonable to think that while those features that truly embellished this person are rescued, the person who has rescued them in himself is annihilated and ceases to exist? For if the foundation of those features' sustenance which is the person's will is annihilated, then those features will also be annihilated; but given that they are not, due to the fact that their damage was prevented by, say, a heroic death, then we must necessarily conclude that the decision-maker in him, the rescuer of those divine features in himself, also survived the physical death. Those are not my arguments, but I made a freestyle elaboration of core argument of Plato in his "Republic".

What do the great Christian saints and martyrs like St Ignatius of Antioch thrown to lions in Colosseum, or St Sebastian, or St Justin the Martyr think when they see that some of their misguided co-christians do not believe that they at this very moment stand before God and pray to Him and can aid their brethren and sistern who are now historically living? Do they smile, or are angry, or filled with a pity to the point of tears?

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