1 Peter 3:20 says that, after the crucifixion, Jesus preached to:

[those who] sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing... (KJV)

NIV puts it in modern English, saying that Jesus preached:

to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built...

Questions have been raised already about which people the passage is referring to. Here I would like to raise the issue as to what the passage means in terms of the predestination of the Flood Judgment. I assume the passage refers to Jesus' preaching to the souls/spirits of the people who disobeyed during Noah's time.

It strikes me that the passage implies that God hoped the people in Noah's time would repent, and therefore that the Flood Judgment may have spared many more people than it did.

Such an interpretation supports the idea of Jewish tradition that Noah preached repentance to the people during the time he built the ark, but was rejected. The Jewish Encyclopedia sites various rabbinical authorities for its statement that:

On being informed of the end of the world, Noah exhorted his contemporaries to repentance, foretelling them that a flood would destroy the earth on account of the wickedness of its people.

But wasn't the Flood predestined to kill everyone but Noah's family?

The finality of prophetic predictions of doom may be tempered by scriptures such as Jer. 18:8 ("If that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will repent of the evil that I intended to do to it") and the Book of Jonah, which shows that God hoped his prediction regarding the destruction of Nineveh would not come to pass. So we are forced to wonder, when God says "I have determined to make an end of all flesh," (Genesis 6:13) whether, in reality, the Lord:

[was] not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)

What are the implications of 1 Peter 3:20 in terms of the scope of the Flood Judgement?

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    The question contains a number of difficulties - it assumes "predestination" and that the "spirits in prison" are people rather than demons. This makes it difficult to answer because of these unjustified assumptions. You must justify these before an answer can be made. Who said that all had to be killed by the flood?
    – Dottard
    Sep 28, 2022 at 21:25
  • @Dottard - I accept the critique. But I also see that the question has been closed. Wouldn't it serve the group better to present an answer that exposes the supposed unjustified assumptions and provides alternatives? Otherwise question get way too long IMO, requiring the inclusion of research that should be handled in the answers rather than the question. Oct 8, 2022 at 19:54
  • 1
    As a questioner I often learn from people criticizing my questions and upvote their answers even when I disagree with them, if they are well researched. Oct 8, 2022 at 19:55

3 Answers 3


In context:

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water. — 1 Peter 3:18–20 (NKJV)

Earlier, Peter spoke of the same situation:

For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell[Tartaros) and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment; and did not spare the ancient world, but saved Noah, one of eight people, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood on the world of the ungodly; — 2 Peter 2:4 (NKJV)

In both cases, Peter is referring to the fallen angels (spirits), not to any human beings.

Just as Noah preached repentance to doomed humanity, Jesus also, using God's holy spirit, preached to the doomed angels.

(It's not at all obvious that this occurred just after the crucifixion, as claimed in the question though.)

  • + 1 thanks for this. So is it the case in your opinion that fallen angels can repent and be saved? I suppose the same question arises if he were speaking to the spirits of human beings. Sep 28, 2022 at 22:19
  • @DanFefferman, "fallen angels can repent and be saved?" — that seems to be the implication. ¶ "speaking to the spirits of human beings" — I don't believe the Bible teaches that the spirits of the dead are conscious. Sep 28, 2022 at 23:19
  • 'Spirits' may convey disembodied human spirits, or angelic spirits. I think you need more than the above to prove your point.
    – Nigel J
    Sep 29, 2022 at 10:05
  • @NigelJ, is there any scripture indicating that "the spirits in prison" refers to anything other than the rebellious angels? Sep 29, 2022 at 13:37
  • This is the only reference to 'spirits in prison'. And one would need to show that it is not human spirits, disembodied after death.
    – Nigel J
    Sep 29, 2022 at 14:53

The Flood as a Type of Baptism

St. Peter's use of the Flood is typological in nature — the whole event foreshadowed the advent of the Christian church, and its exclusivity — if you aren't on the ark, you aren't saved — if you aren't in the church (on purpose), you aren't saved.

St. Peter argues (or rather teaches authoritatively and as inspired by God) that just like the waters cleansed the world from sin and bore Noah and his family safely above this, God's judgement on such (the destruction and desolation wrought on the world), "so also baptism now saves you... [being] the appeal to God for a clear conscience" so that, "having been buried with him in baptism ... you are risen again by the faith of the working of God" (Col. 2:12). (This is doubtless why St. Peter, although writing in Greek, uses the term "souls" instead of "persons" or "people," as it has a double meaning of "spirit" and of "person," hence "eight souls were saved.")

This implies alone that the Flood was universal, but let's review the overall context.

That the Flood's Scope is Universal

That the event was a global one (thus making its scope universal and thus a good image for the gospel) is plain from the text itself: "I will destroy man, whom I have created, from the face of the earth — from man even to beast, from the creeping thing even to the fowl of the air: for I regret having ever made them" (Gen. 6:7); "The end of all flesh is come before me, the earth is filled with iniquity through them, and I will destroy them with the earth." (ibid. v. 13); "I will bring the waters of a great flood upon the earth, to destroy all flesh, wherein is the breath of life, under heaven. All things that are in the earth shall be consumed." (ibid. v. 17) the two-by-two male and female creatures recapitulation of the original creation (Gen. 7:9) (which St. Peter notably calls "the world that then existed" — implying a complete reconstituion of the earth after/during the Flood); "the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished" (2 Pet. 3:6) the re-settlement of earth narrative/table of nations (Gen. 10; cf. Gen. 11); the very idea of constructing a gigantic vessel instead of simply telling Noah to move to another location outside the flood region; the fact that the flood waters covered mountains such that birds were necessary so that they could periodically check for visible land (i.e. that which birds will land on) — not even land you can land on, etc.

That the Flood was Predestined to Kill all but Noah

The text does not record whether people were warned besides Noah, but equivalently, it tells us that only Noah was suitable for the saving, being a just man. Therefore, it can be assumed that when it says they were all wicked, that they were all beyond repenting, as might be implied by language like: "God seeing that the wickedness of men was great on the earth, and that all the thought of their heart was bent upon evil at all times" implies a hopeless situation of utter corruptness.

Jesus compares the end of the world to Noah's Flood (since it was the end of the 'first world' — the earth from creation up to the Flood — or, as St. Peter calls it, "the world that then was," 2 Pet. 3:6), in that the world will be so corrupt as to be as hopeless as the world then—"the thought of their heart was bent upon evil at all times" (which is increasingly the case in our own times — new evils are invented at an ever-increasing rate). In that also they disbelieve in God or His judgement, they will also be taken by surprise by the sudden realization, when it comes. For "They ate and drink, they married, and were given in marriage, until the day Noah entered into the ark: and the flood came and destroyed them all" (lk. 17:27; cf. seq.) They were clueless by way of disbelief in what it was they ought to have known — God. They were not such people as can make use of a warning (cf. Jesus' parable in Luke 16 where He teaches that for certain levels of evil or godlessness, no warning is useful).

Rather than it 'not being fair' that God didn't send Noah to warn them (which we don't know for sure didn't happen, to be clear — writing existed, and the earth was not scattered yet), it was simply 'not compatible' with the state of humanity at that time — they were beyond even the category of caring about or serving or listening to God. Again, much like increasing numbers of people in our day.

This is further implied by he fact that Noah was considered the only real good person (and his family) that pleased God, and so chosen to be saved, meaning the reason the rest of humanity did not survive was that their rejection of God disentitled them to any warning (no warning of a judgement that is due is strictly necessary anyway, for obvious reasons) — they did not please God and were the reason the judgement was necessary to begin with instead of repentance — He knew they would not listen, and this was the only reason He instructed Noah to build an ark.

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    + 1 -- although I remain unconvinced by the argument, it is well constructed and useful Sep 28, 2022 at 22:21
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    Nobody needed to die. They just needed to build arks for their families. (Didn't need to worry about animals - Noah would do all that). Nobody - but nobody - needed to perish if they believed the Flood would come and if they prepared for it.
    – Nigel J
    Sep 29, 2022 at 14:56
  • @NigelJ That they needed to die is wrong. A valid question, however, is whether Noah was sent to, or did, preach to them (the earth was of one tongue at this point, and far less spread around the earth, as recorded in the Babel incident, for example). And whether the earth was so full of corruption and moral rot that warnings had no chance of being believed — for a certain base level of morality is required for respect for God's warnings to be meaningful. That is to say, did God, who didn't have to, issue a warning, or did He judge it meet to exercise His right to judge without such? Sep 29, 2022 at 16:32
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    2 Peter 2:5 Noah - a preacher of righteousness . . . . for over a century. Yes, the whole world would have heard it. And only 8 believed it.
    – Nigel J
    Sep 29, 2022 at 18:56
  • I don't think they had the internet yet, so maybe not the whole world ;-) I was thinking maybe some extra rooms on the big ark. Or sharing space with domesticated animals. Oct 8, 2022 at 19:58

For Christ also died for sins once for all, 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 preached to the spirits in prison ...

... who formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water.

1 Peter 3:18-20 RSV

There are two distinct ideas in verses 18 and 20, summarily, the dead christ made alive in or by the spirit, and unbelievers in the time of Noah.
Verse 19, perhaps clumsily connecting these two distinct ideas with the notion of christ alive in the spirit somehow being associated with preaching to those Noahidic unbelievers, who are moreover regarded as being "in prison".

... made alive in the spirit ...

... in which he went and preached to the spirits in prison ...

... who formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited ...

Most translations have nailed the subject in verse 19 - being the spirit. That spirit by which or in which Jesus was raised. In other words, the subject is absolutely not Jesus himself. That is, "made alive in the spirit in which or by which spirit also proclamation was made...".


At the same time, however, most translations have failed to acknowledge that the trailing clause should be rendered as "having gone did preach" or "having gone proclamation was made" instead of "having gone he did preach".
Again, the subject being the spirit through which or in which the christ was raised.

That is to say :

... Christ ... made alive in the spirit ...

... in/by/through which spirit proclamation was made to the spirits in prison ...

... who formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah ...

There is a consistency and a linear progression which suits and ties together the opening and closing ideas and I believe is much better supported.

Further, this is consistent with the introduction to 1 Peter :

Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care ...

... trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow.

It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.

1 Peter 1:10-12 NIV

Peter connecting the work of the prophets preaching the gospel, Noah being the archetype warning of the destruction to come, and labelling that spirit, "the spirit of christ" in them.
A perspective entirely consistent with the flow between verses 18 through 19 to 20 of chapter 3 and providing great weight to the idea of the spirit of christ, operating through the prophets, in this case Noah, condemning unbelievers.

Perhaps the only bone of contention being the curious labelling of those who "disbelieved in Noah's day", as "the spirits in prison", the pertinent question being, is there an equivalency between the two descriptions, i.e., can the unbelievers in Noah's day, be faithfully labelled as spirits in prison?

Consider Peter's phrasing as regards Korah :

For––if, God, spared not, messengers, when they sinned, but, to pits of gloom, consigning them, in the lowest hades, delivered them up to be kept, unto judgment,––

2 Peter 2:4 Rotherham

Not only is there a "borrowing" of the non-scriptural idea of ταρταρώσας - "the lowest hades" - but these rebels are considered "kept" or bound, and bound until some future time, when they will be judged.
Scripturally this is consistent with the notion of the re-animation of the dead, to judgement, through the spririt of the father, in a reversal of the process described by Solomon.
While their flesh might have decayed, their spirit is bound with the most high till that time. They are captive in every sense.

Scriptural principles observed.

These ideas are consistent throughout scripture.

Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.

Genesis 2:7 NIV

... and the dust returns to the ground it came from,
and the spirit returns to God who gave it.

Ecclesiastes 12:7 NIV

They laughed at him, knowing that she was dead. But he took her by the hand and said, “My child, get up!” Her spirit returned, and at once she stood up.

Luke 8:53-55 NIV

In other words the spirit of life that was breathed into Adam, and that returns at death, returns again at the resurrection.
In the boundaries of that framework, all the dead are bound by the removal and return of that spirit.
Spirits in prison, certainly when speaking of those who would be raised to condemnation, is not out of order.

For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing ...

... never again will they have a part in anything that happens under the sun.

Ecclesiastes 9:5,6 NIV

The dead are regarded as being asleep or unconscious in the grave until the resurrection.
And we are reliably informed that :

But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.

1 Corinthians 15:20 NIV

That is, neither Jesus nor any other deceased human could act nor plan to act while deceased.
There is no preaching of anything to the dead.
There is also no preaching of anything by the dead.
And of course 1 Peter, does not mention, the dead preaching nor being preached to, which would be unscriptural.

Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’

‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’

He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’

Luke 16:29-31 NIV

Clearly, the long since deceased unbelievers in Noah's day did not give heed to that particular prophet.

Jesus tells us plainly, even if someone rose from the dead, and were able to communicate with this class, that there would be no difference in outcome.
Not only is it an absurdity to suggest, unlike the parable, that this could happen, it is therefore obviously an absurdity that this would happen, there being no change in outcome.

And for those whose brains work, Jesus obviously was neither born nor deceased until some 2500 years after the flood.

Brothers and sisters, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults.

1 Corinthians 14:20 NIV

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