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1 Peter 3:18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. 19After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits— 20to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built.

Jude 1:6 And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their proper dwelling—these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day.

Matthew 8:28 When he arrived at the other side in the region of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men coming from the tombs met him. They were so violent that no one could pass that way. 29“What do you want with us, Son of God?” they shouted. “Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?” 30Some distance from them a large herd of pigs was feeding. 31The demons begged Jesus, “If you drive us out, send us into the herd of pigs.”

Did the demons worry about being imprisoned by Jesus? Was there a prison for demons at Peter's time?

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  • The same text is referenced in Jude who also quotes Enoch. Enoch 10:5-9 (depending on version) is where in fact this imprisonments subject comes from. – Nihil Sine Deo Apr 3 at 1:04
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Are the imprisoned spirits in 1 Peter 3:19 human spirits or fallen angels?

Did the demons worry about being imprisoned by Jesus? Was there a prison for demons at Peter's time.

The apostle Peter identifies these spirits as those who had “once been disobedient when the patience of God was waiting in Noah’s days.” (1 Peter. 3:20) Clearly, Peter was referring to spirit creatures who chose to join Satan’s rebellion.

2 Peter 2:4 (DARBY)

4 For if God spared not [the] angels who had sinned, but having cast them down to the deepest pit of gloom has delivered them to chains of darkness [to be] kept for judgment;

Jude writes:

Jude 6 (NASB)

6 And angels who did not keep their own domain but abandoned their proper dwelling place, these He has kept in eternal restraints under darkness for the judgment of the great day,

Clearly, Jesus preached to the spirits after being made alive in the spirit, Jesus made a proclamation to the wicked spirits regarding the fully justified punishment they are due to receive. It was not preaching that held out any hope for them. It was preaching of judgment. (Jonah 1:1-2) " The word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, 2 “Arise, go to Nineveh, the great city, and cry out against it, because their wickedness has come up before Me."

1 Peter 3:18-19 (NASB)

18 For Christ also [a]suffered for sins once for all time, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; 19 in [c]which He also went and made proclamation to the spirits in prison,

Conclusion:

The spirits were fallen angels, they were already in chains of spiritual darkness kept for judgment. What they feared was the proclamation regarding the fully justified punishment that they are due to receive. Revelation 20:1-3, 10, 14

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  • 1 Peter 3 : " ... but made alive in the Spirit. 19 After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits— 20 to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water ... " -> While it is perhaps conceivable that the spirits here are "spirit creaures", I would NEVER have read it that way, and the mention of " while the ark was being built", & the subsequent reference to the 8 survivors strongly suggests that human-spirits are intended. – Russell McMahon Jul 2 at 6:40
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First, we need to follow Biblical rules for interpretation, including looking at context, comparing scripture with scripture, and letting the Bible interpret itself (all part of proper hermeneutics). We need to set aside our preconceptions or opinions and see if the Bible can explain this for us itself.

To get more of the context, let's go back a few verses and start with verse 15 of 1 Peter 3, then continue reading to verse two of the following chapter (the chapter divisions were arbitrary).

  • 3:15 But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear:

  • 3:16 Having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ.

  • 3:17 For it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well doing, than for evil doing.

  • 3:18 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:

  • 3:19 By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison;

  • 3:20 Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.

  • 3:21 The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ:

  • 3:22 Who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him.

  • 4:1 Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin;

  • 4:2 That he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God.

Beginning with the first verse of the above passage (3:15), compare it with this:

For I am the LORD your God: ye shall therefore sanctify yourselves, and ye shall be holy; for I am holy... (Leviticus 11:44)

To whom are these verses addressed? To the righteous or to the wicked? To men or to angels?

Now look at the next two verses of the passage (3:16-17) in parallel with these two verses:

Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience. (James 5:10)

For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. (1 Peter 2:20)

Notice that once again these verses address righteous people. After all, who else would be listening? Peter is addressing the righteous throughout the entire chapter previous to this as well, so he is still following the same theme.

Now compare 1 Peter 3:18 with these two texts:

So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation. (Hebrews 9:28)

By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. (Hebrews 10:10)

This helps us to see how we may be sanctified: it is through faith in Christ's atonement. Knowing that Peter is thinking of Christ's suffering and applying it to our sanctification is crucial for understanding his next verse.

Peter says: "By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison;" (1 Peter 3:19).

[But notice that the verse doesn't complete the sentence.]

Again, let us compare scripture with scripture to help us understand this verse. Consider carefully the following verses:

The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; (Isaiah 61:1)

They also that erred in spirit shall come to understanding, and they that murmured shall learn doctrine. (Isaiah 29:24)

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3)

Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. (Matthew 26:41)

O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? (Romans 7:24)

Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy? (James 4:5)

What does "spirit" mean in each of these? Does it seem from Romans 7:24 that Paul might imagine his spirit as being imprisoned within his body? What kind of "prison" does Isaiah mean in Is. 61:1?

Spiritual things must be spiritually discerned. Being spiritually in prison corresponds to being shackled or bound by sin or negative circumstances.

This is the very point where many do not follow and are led to misunderstandings. God is trying to sanctify His people. Their spirits are "poor." They have "erred in spirit." Their "spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak." This "spirit" "lusteth to envy." Paul reveals a sense of imprisonment in the carnal body, an imprisonment from which he longed to escape. Jesus came to proclaim liberty to the captives of sin, not from this world, not from a physical prison, but from the bondage to sin itself. It was by His suffering and resurrection that He witnessed most strongly to US--to our "spirits in prison."

But that sentence from verse 19 continues into verse 20:

". . . Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water." (1 Peter 3:20)

We'll look at these important verses in parallel with the above.

And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart. And the LORD said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them. (Genesis 6:5-7)

And the LORD said, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years. (Genesis 6:3)

Here Peter gives an example of "disobedient" spirits--the first major apostasy in earth's history. He starts by speaking of their disobedience, then recalls that God was longsuffering toward them and that God "waited" for them in Noah's day. Genesis tells us that God waited 120 years. Surely God was giving them every possible chance to repent and to receive His salvation which was being offered them.

And considering that the Flood which came baptized the earth, washing away its sin (sinners with it), we might think of this:

John answered, saying unto them all, I indeed baptize you with water; but one mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire: (Luke 3:16)

Peter likens the passage of Noah and his family through the water to baptism, and points out that we are still saved through the same figure, or symbol, "by the resurrection of Jesus Christ." There are several ways to apply Christ's resurrection to this, both symbolically and legally. We would not be able to enter the new life except for Christ's victory and resurrection, and baptism is a representation of death to the old man and resurrection as a new being.

The final verses of Peter's passage (3:22-4:2) can be compared with the following:

From that time forth began Jesus to show unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day. (Matthew 16:21)

Then he said unto them, O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory? And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself. (Luke 24:25-27)

And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And ye are witnesses of these things. (Luke 24:46-48)

Notice, from these, how Jesus suffered, died, and rose again the third day in order that we should also have hope of a resurrection and restoration to Him. We are now also to be witnesses with Him. It is as much our duty to preach to the "spirits in prison" (those held captive by sin) as it was Christ's privilege to do. Through Noah, Christ preached. He will also preach through us if we are willing to cooperate with His Spirit.

In summary, the passage has deep theological significance, and is directed most especially toward God's people, comparing what Jesus did to help sanctify sin's captives with what God's people everywhere should be doing. We have a duty to follow our Example in preaching liberty to the captives, per Isaiah 61:1.

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I believe the reference is to human spirits, for at least three reasons:

#1 People who died in the flood

I believe the 1 Peter passage makes a straightforward reference to people who died in the flood—it is helpful to consider verse 20 in its entirety to capture the contrast:

Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.

The fate of Noah and his family is contrasted with that of the people being discussed just before—these are people who were disobedient during Noah’s day and were not saved in the ark.

This then sheds light on the passage from 2 Peter 2:

4 For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment;

5 And spared not the old world, but saved Noah the eighth person, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood upon the world of the ungodly;

6 And turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrha into ashes...

He’s citing 3 different examples to establish a point—that God can and does punish sin—and since those who died in the flood are separated in Peter’s list from the angels in verse 4 the same way Sodom and Gomorrha are separated from those who died in the flood, the logical conclusion is that these are three different groups. (Otherwise we’re left trying to combine all three groups and explain how the wicked at Sodom & Gomorrha are the same as the people who died in the flood).

Peter’s examples also appear to be listed in chronological order. This is further substantiated if one holds (I do) that Isaiah 14:12-15, 2 Peter 2:4, Jude 6 (see also the Book of Enoch quoted by Peter & Jude), teach about the fall of Lucifer (and those who followed him) before the earth was created.

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Preaching to the dead is made more explicit in 1 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.

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#2 Disobedient long ago…in the days of Noah

“[T]o those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah” would be a very straightforward way to refer to people who were disobedient and died in the flood; it would be a very convoluted way to refer to beings who had been disobedient on the earth before that time, during that time, and since.

As noted above in the discussion of the parallel passage in 2 Peter 2, the angels in Jude 6 appears to be a reference to an event prior to the flood. The evil spirits in Matthew 8 may well be referencing the judgement of Rev 20, but I do not see any reason to tie them to the individuals in 1 Peter 3:19-20. The evil spirits of Matthew 8 were clearly still being disobedient in the present, and would not be referred to as “disobedient long ago…the days of Noah.”

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#3 The angel/human distinction

This one is more general; but at least tangentially interacts with the OP’s questions. I am not persuaded that a clear angel/human distinction is warranted by the Biblical texts. As noted by Gina here, the Hebrew “malak” and the Greek “aggelos” mean “messenger”, which can have a wide variety of applications. See also Jay Adam’s comments here regarding the influence of mythology on how some texts about angels may have been misread.

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Conclusion

I recognize that there are those who for a variety of reasons do not believe that the dead are conscious—some of my thoughts offering the opposite perspective are found here.

I suggest the dead are conscious as disembodied spirits and, absent a compelling reason to believe otherwise, texts such as 1 Peter 3:18-20, 1 Peter 4:6, and probably Isaiah 9:2 as well, which refer to preaching to the dead, say what they appear to say: the Gospel is preached to the dead. This then suggests the proclamation of 1 Peter 3:19 is not one of the arrival of condemnation, but one of good news (the meaning of “gospel”).

As I argued here, I understand that salvation is to be offered to all whether in this life or the next (doesn't say all will accept it). Some in the days of Noah apparently had no such opportunity in life.

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  • If we have humans alive spiritually from whatever age - what are the resurrections for? – user48152 May 15 at 10:15
  • @user48152 I understand physical death to be the separation of body and spirit; they are reunited at the resurrection. The resurrection 1) restores the body and raises it to an incorruptible state 2) brings people to the presence of God to be judged. – Hold To The Rod May 15 at 14:54
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Are the imprisoned spirits in 1 Peter 3:19 human spirits or fallen angels?

Answer: They are human spirits.

II. Did [demons] worry about being imprisoned by Jesus? Was there a prison for demons [in] Peter's time?

Answer: Demons are already imprisoned. The prison is Hades.

I would suggest that all imprisoned spirits were at one time human, and I will attempt to demonstrate that in this response.
Now, perhaps our first consideration should be this:

How could any angel in a paradise of absolute perfection, holiness, grandeur, and majesty, one who shares in the magnificence and intellect of an infinite God, possibly ever fall?
If they can do so, what does this say about our future with God? Could we, who are inferior to angels, not easily fall from heaven thus repeating the catastrophe in the Garden? And, why would God ever allow angels to fall? They are His ministering spirits (Heb. 1:14), not a band of traitorous, diabolical insurrectionists as many would have us believe (cf. 2 Pet. 2:10, Jude vs. 8: "reviling angelic majesties").

Some will immediately protest: "We know that Satan is a fallen angel!" Really? Just how do we know that? Naturally, we may then be lectured over at least two "go-to" passages that everyone uses to support this idea:

Isaiah 14:12: “How you have fallen from heaven, O star of the morning (often mistranslated "Lucifer" by Jerome), son of the dawn!"

"There you have it! Lucifer." Everyone who believes in "fallen angels" seems to overlook the fact that the taunt in Isaiah was against the king of Babylon:

Isaiah 14:4: "[You] will take up this taunt against the king of Babylon"

Add to that, the fact that the "morning star" is merely a reference to the planet Venus, and it should become apparent that the verse is not describing "Lucifer" - the purported name of Satan which itself is in error. Note how Christ describes Himself:

Revelation 22:16: "I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star."

Would Christ ever associate Himself with the Devil, especially through His very identity? Others will point to Ezekiel, chapter 28. What they also tend to overlook is that the taunt in that chapter is clearly to be spoken against the ruler of Tyre:

Ezekiel 28:2: "“Son of man, say to the leader of Tyre…"

It is a matter of fact that God often uses celestial imagery to describe His judgments on people and nations. There should be no mystery about this.


Here are some of the other common instances where we (understandably) draw conclusions about angels. Note the copious bracketed explanations:

Genesis 6:4: "The Nephilim [Nephilim were very large sons of Anak in Ex. 13:33] were on the earth in those days—and afterward as well—when the sons of God [godly lineage of Seth] had relations with the daughters of men [faithless female descendants of Cain]."

1 Peter 3:19-20: "[Christ was] made alive in the spirit; in which also He went and [preached through Noah to people whose] spirits [are now in prison as Peter writes his Letter], who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah"

Yes, disobedient human beings refused the message of Christ preached through Noah, and were lost, their spirits now languishing in the prison of Hades as Peter writes. This should demonstrate that there are, at this very moment, spirits in prison. (Later, as I attempt an explanation of demons; this will be valuable because it illustrates how the inhabitants in Hades exist in time whereas Hell is eternal.)

1 Peter 4:6: "For the gospel has for this purpose been preached even to those who are [now] dead [but were long enough to receive the Gospel], that though they are [were] judged in the flesh as men [all of us are so], they may live in the spirit according to the will of God [because they were saved while still alive, and now departed]."

2 Peter 2:4-10: "For if God did not spare angels [the line of Seth polluted by daughters of Cain?] when they sinned, but cast them into [Tartarus] and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment [in Hades]; and did not spare the ancient world [later during Noah, also a descendant of Seth], but preserved Noah [the last faithful man alive from Seth's lineage], a preacher of righteousness, with seven others, when He brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly [people]; and if He condemned the [people of the] cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to destruction by reducing them to ashes, having made them an example to those [people] who would live ungodly lives thereafter; and if He rescued righteous Lot, oppressed by the sensual conduct of unprincipled [people]…"

Jude vs. 5-7: "Now I desire to remind you, though you know all things once for all, that the Lord, after saving a people out of the land of Egypt, subsequently destroyed those who did not believe. And angels [priests, messengers, Korah among the Israelites] who did not keep their own domain [in rebellion to Moses], but abandoned their proper abode [station as priests], He has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day, just as [the people of] Sodom and Gomorrah and the [people of the] cities around them, since they in the same way as these indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh [sexual perversions], are exhibited as an example in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire."

Job 4:18: "'He puts no trust even in His servants; And against His angels [messengers, priests, etc.] He charges error."

Are we to leap to the conclusion that all such passages are referring to "fallen angels?" Why can these not be further references to God's human messengers, those that make mistakes (there is an abundance of examples)? Do heavenly, angelic majesties make the same mistakes as human beings? It is possible. But that proves nothing relative to the concept of "fallen angels."

The term "angel" is very elastic, often (as the bracketed notation above suggests) simply meaning messenger, priest, prince, etc. There are other variations as well. I propose that too often, we tend to believe that every mention of angels is referring to God's angelic majesties. Some definitely are (cf. Job 1:6, 2:1). If we read a verse from Hebrews, it might at first appear that God gives no assistance to angels, which seems puzzling:

Hebrews 2:16: "For assuredly He does not give help to angels, but He gives help to the descendant of Abraham."

Someone might immediately claim victory: "Fallen angels! And they need help. Why? Because they 'fell'." Obviously, the assumption, one that seems valid, is that angels need help. But how do we know this? There is no doubt many other passages exist that one can find if they are determined to advance this concept. I, however, suggest they are making unwarranted assumptions without due consideration and evidence. It is easy to fall into the trap of believing something because you have repeatedly heard it many times before.


Finally, what about demons? What are they, exactly? Well, it turns out that we do have some information about them. Here is something from Luke's Gospel:

Luke 8:30-31: "And Jesus asked [the demon possessed man in the tombs], 'What is your name?' And he said, 'Legion'; for many demons had entered him. They were imploring Him not to command them to go away into the abyss."

Note the word "abyss" in verse 31. This is important because it appears we are cautioned against speculating over who may be saved, and who may be lost:

Romans 10:6b-7: "“DO NOT SAY IN YOUR HEART... ‘WHO WILL DESCEND INTO THE ABYSS?’" (cf. Deu. 30:12).

This is clearly not referring to angels, fallen or otherwise. It is referring to lost human beings that face the very real prospect of imprisonment in Hades. The more we contemplate the unlikelihood of "fallen angels," and instead focus on the identity of demons, the more it should become apparent that unclean spirits are "unclean" because they were never washed in the blood of he Lamb; they refused to accept God on His terms.

Instead, they rejected God's offer and now (1 Pet. 3:19) exist as nothing more than demons, spirits of the lost. They are not "fallen angels" despite the insistance otherwise. We have become so conditioned to this erroneous concept that we tend to resort to its use out of habit.

I do not have the ability to relate much more on demons in this response. But imagine a vicious, dead giant from the days of Noah, a blood thirsty killer that would never hesitate to destroy you, me, and everyone around him. What might he do if given one unique opportunity?

Luke 11:24: "When the unclean spirit goes out of a man, it passes through waterless places [the rich man in Hades pleaded for water] seeking rest, and not finding any, it says, 'I will return to my house [human body] from which I came [possessed].'"

It seems that unlike angelic majesties that have no sexual component (Matt. 22:30, Mk. 12:25) and cannot die (Lk. 20:36), demons always yearn to be clothed with a human body. Is it not at least plausible that a demon would feel most comfortable in human flesh because it was once similarly clothed?

There is so much more that could be discussed in this matter; I've merely scratched the surface in this lengthy response.

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  • If we have humans alive spiritually from whatever age - what are the resurrections for? – user48152 May 15 at 10:16
  • @user48152 The term "alive spiritually" is contrary to God's description of the lost. There will be conscious torment in Hell, but its inhabitants are hardly "alive." – Xeno May 15 at 10:20
  • Answer: They are human spirits. so what do you mean with that? – user48152 May 15 at 10:22
  • @user48152 Sorry, I am surprised this is new to you. No one experiencing spiritual death is considered "alive" by God. This is relatively fundamental to Scripture. I am not sure I understand the difficulty. Do you think that God considers someone burning in the flames of Hades alive? – Xeno May 15 at 10:25
  • I'm sorry, it must be me - I find you quite confusing, never mind. – user48152 May 15 at 10:30

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