1 Peter 3:19-20

What is the best way to understand these difficult passages?


@John_McKinney Great question :slight_smile: I really like the NET Bible’s note on this one - I think the argument that this passage is referring to Christ preaching through Noah to the wicked people in Noah’s own generation makes perfect sense. The reason being that Peter is exhorting his listeners to respond now - to be baptized in the righteousness of Christ so that they may escape the coming judgment just as Noah and his family did… So while the verse taken out of context is very confusing, I think that in context it does make sense.

And preached to the spirits in prison . The meaning of this preaching and the spirits to whom he preached are much debated. It is commonly understood to be: (1) Christ’s announcement of his victory over evil to the fallen angels who await judgment for their role in leading the Noahic generation into sin; this proclamation occurred sometime between Christ’s death and ascension; or (2) Christ’s preaching of repentance through Noah to the unrighteous humans, now dead and confined in hell, who lived in the days of Noah. The latter is preferred because of the temporal indications in v. [20a](javascript:{}) and the wider argument of the book. These verses encourage Christians to stand for righteousness and try to influence their contemporaries for the gospel in spite of the suffering that may come to them. All who identify with them and their Savior will be saved from the coming judgment, just as in Noah’s day.


Hi @SeanO,

I’ve heard from preachers/read this verse form parts of clues as to Christ was between his death and resurrection? in verse 18, it basically says Why Christ suffered (the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring us to God).

What are your thoughts on the phrase in verse 18 ‘being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit’?

For Christ also suffered[b] once for sins, 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, 19 in which[c] he went and proclaimed[d] to the spirits in prison, 20 because[e] they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water.

Do you think it can be literally interpreted, as Christ being in Hades (holding place of the death), although his earthly body did not start to decay? (as in Peter’s sermon in Acts 2, which quotes Psalm 16:10),

Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you [f]have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death; 24 whom God raised up, having [g]loosed the [h]pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it. 25 For David says concerning Him:

‘I foresaw the Lord always before my face,
For He is at my right hand, that I may not be shaken.
26 Therefore my heart rejoiced, and my tongue was glad;
Moreover my flesh also will rest in hope.
27 For You will not leave my soul in Hades,
> Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption.
28 You have made known to me the ways of life;
You will make me full of joy in Your presence.’

and the reference in Ephesians 4:8-10 as ‘taking captivity captive’, was Him making the way open for New Testament believers to go straight to be in God’s presence instead of in ‘Abraham’s bosom’: as Paul said ‘to be absent with the body, is to be present with the Lord’ (written after Jesus’ resurrection).

Or is the question more about who are these ‘spirits in prison’ to whom Christ preached; ??

(train of thought from https://www.gotquestions.blog/where-was-Jesus.html and https://www.gotquestions.org/spirits-in-prison.html)

thanks - sorry to turn it into a complicated question. (i do enjoy reading your analysis of scripture) :slight_smile: :slight_smile:


@matthew.western I think we need to be careful with the word literally :slight_smile: There is a translation issue here that has to be worked through - particularly in verse 20. Is the phrase about their disobedience describing when Christ preached to them or who Christ preached to - the NET Bible takes the view that it is describing when the preaching occurred.

I must admit I am not qualified to decide which translation is actually the most accurate, but I think that it fits the context better if it is describing Christ preaching through Noah - because Peter is exhorting his listeners to heed him just as those in the days of Noah should have heeded Noah.

This reflects a Greek participle, literally “having been disobedient formerly,” that refers to the “spirits” in v. [19](javascript:{}). Many translations take this as adjectival describing the spirits (“who had once been disobedient”; cf. NASB, NIV, NKJV, NLT, NRSV, TEV), but the grammatical construction strongly favors an adverbial interpretation describing the time of the preaching, as reflected above.

1 Peter 3:18-20 (NET Bible) - Because Christ also suffered once for sins,
the just for the unjust ,
to bring you to God,
by being put to death in the flesh
but by being made alive in the spirit.
19 In it he went and preached to the spirits in prison,

20 after they were disobedient long ago when God patiently waited in the days of Noah as an ark was being constructed.

1 Peter 3:18-20 - For Christ also suffered once for sins, 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, 19 in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, 20 because they formerly did not obey


I think that these verses are better understood in light of the book of 1 Enoch. The book was a well known piece of literature pre and post 1st century and is mentioned in the Dead Sea Scroll and it certainly informs both Peter and Jude in their writing. Here is a short summary of the Enoch story that parallels Peters writing.

First Enoch tells a similar but more elaborate tale. The Watchers were the fallen angels who had abandoned heaven (12.4), slept with human women (15.3), and produced children, referred to as “giants” from whose bodies “evil spirits” have come (15.9). These evil spirits have taught people “deeds of shame, injustice, and sin” (13.2) and will continue to corrupt the earth until “the day of the great conclusion, until the great age is consummated, until everything is concluded” (16.1). The Watchers appeal to Enoch to intercede with God on behalf of themselves and the evil progeny they have produced. Enoch obliges and returns with God’s proclamation to the Watchers: “[You will] not be able to ascend into heaven unto all eternity, but you shall remain inside the earth, imprisoned all the days of eternity.” Moreover, the Watchers would see the destruction of their sons (referred to as “the spirits”) because the petitions for themselves and for their sons (the spirits) will not be heard by God (14.5–6). These “spirits” that came from the bodies of the giants fathered by the Watchers through human women were the cause of the human evil that led to the great flood during the time of Enoch’s grandson, Noah.

Jobes, K. H. (2005). 1 Peter (p. 244). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

So in Peters use of this it is Jesus that is cast in the role that Enoch played and he goes to the captives and proclaims the same bad new that Enoch gave them. They are still defeated and God’ recue is right on schedule.

who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, with angels and authorities and powers having been subjected to him. (1 Pe 3:22)