This passage is often used to promote the doctrine of a second chance after one has died. They contend that this is an example of where Jesus went and preached to individuals who were lost, thus providing a second opportunity for salvation .
Consider some details from these verses:
v. 19 – “In which” means the Spirit of v. 18
What was preached is not stated.
“Spirits in prison” refers to disembodied individuals at the time of Peter’s writing, not at the time they were preached to (reason later)
“In prison” – denotes state of condition of those disobedient and are awaiting condemnation of the last day (cf. 2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6; Rev. 20:7).
Peter does not say they were spirits in prison when they were preached to. The next verse explains: (a) that they were once alive and (b) what period they lived in.
v. 20 – Four points about these “spirits”
(1) These spirits were once alive in the flesh
(2) They were once upon a time disobedient
(3) The period of their disobedience was when the ark was being prepared
(4) During this time Christ “preached” to them
a. what one does thru an authorized agent, he is said to do himself (cf. Matthew 8:5ff & Luke 7: 2ff)
b. In John 4:1 – we have to judge what a person preaches and it is said that if it is right, they are of God.
c. Therefore, Christ, in the person of Noah, preached to the antediluvians during the time that the ark was being built (cf. 2 Pet. 2:5; 1 Pet. 1:10)
d. Paul said that Christ “came and preached” to the Gentiles (“you who were afar off”) and to the Jews (“those that are near). Jesus never in the flesh preached to the Gentiles after the resurrection. This was done through the apostles, and more directly through Paul (cf. Galatians 1:16).
If Christ could preach through Paul, then He could also preach through Noah.
These then when they rejected the teaching all died in disobedience.
They were still under this judgement when Peter wrote this book.
Rephrased – verses 19 & 20
Christ preached; he preached in spirit to spirits now in prison: these spirits in prison had been wicked persons who lived while the ark was being prepared. The preaching which Christ did was by His Spirit through Noah. Those to whom the preaching was done were bound in the prison house of disobedient spirits at the time the letter of Peter was being written.
Let us consider some objections to the false theory that Christ, during the three days He was in Hades, preached to the Spirits He found in that Haden world:
1. Why was his preaching limited to spirits (in prison) of those who lived during the days of Noah before the flood? If it is true that God is no respector of persons (Romans 2:11; 1 Peter 1:17) then why this priviledge to a certain minority?
Besides, they already had 120 years to repent. Why would they deserve more time?
Why repeat the same message?
2. What would be the nature of Christ’s message?
a. Certainly it would not be a message of salvation, because that would contradict other passages that clearly teach that one’s death seals his destiny (Luke 16:19-31), and that judgment is based on deeds done here (John 5:28f; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Revelations 20:12).
b. In addition, if it was a message of salvation, who would be so foolish to reject the message? Certainly those who are in “torment” would take any chance to escape.
c. If not salvation, then why preach? To tell them what their lot is? They already know. Lazarus (Luke 16) knew where he was and why he was there.
A. This is a logical conclusion based on the text and context of 1 Peter 3. To contend that Peter is dealing with a group of individuals who received a second chance after their deaths makes no logical sense in the context of this chapter. What possible meaning would it have to these brethren?
B. This view best harmonizes with the general teaching of the Scriptures regarding, the state of the dead.
C. This harmonizes with earlier teachings of the epistle (1 Peter 1:11) that the Holy Spirit preached through the prophets, and is called the “Spirit of Christ.”
D. Noah was a preacher of righteousness (2 Pet. 2:5) and was therefore active in proclaiming God’s Word to the lost of his age. This preaching would have been done in harmony with God’s will and was, according to Peter’s teaching, inspired. It was inspired by Christ.
E. What then, is the purpose of this section? The key is in verse 18. Christ died for our sins because He is sincerely interested in our souls. His interest in souls is not new. He has always cared about souls, even before He came in the flesh. He provided a way of salvation to those in Noah’s day (i.e. the ark) and He has provided a way of salvation in our day (i.e. baptism). Now we have an opportunity to take that offer of salvation. If we do not, then we will join those spirits that are now in prison, because we will have been guilty of lawlessness (Matt. 7:21-23).
By Danny Petrillo