Jesus went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits ...?

Peter wrote the following in what we call his first letter (ch 3:18- 22)

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. After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits— 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, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.

Can anybody give me a thorough understanding of this passage? My amazing RZIMConnect page informs me that my topic is similar to “Do we have a second chance for salvation after death?” But that thread does not really speak to this particular passage.

Some specific questions;

  1. “He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit…” Were these two “events” simultaneous, or is this a summary of his death on the cross and his resurrection on the 3rd day? Did he suffer death in the sense of being separated from the Father, and entering into the realm of Death - was this a spiritual death? He defeated the power of Death, presumably on a spiritual level - wrestling the keys of this kingdom from its ruler - before rising physically, i.e. in bodily form to reveal himself to his disciples?

  2. " After being made alive, he went (in the spirit)…" what was the timing here? Was it prior to his physicl resurrection and escape from the burial clothes and grave, or after?

  3. “he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits” Do we have any clue as to what he proclaimed, or as other versions have it “preached” to these imprisoned spirits? Any other scriptures hinting about this happening, or what the message was, why he preached it, what the hoped for result would be - i.e. why He did this? We don’t read here of what effect this preaching had. Is there any other scriptural passage that tells us, or hints at it?

  4. “to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built.” This is a very specifically defined group of spirits. Do we take this to mean that this group was the only group of dead sprits that received the proclamation, or it illustrative of all who were disobedient prior to Christ’s crucifixion? Is this an indication, not so much of a “second chance” but a first “clear” chance for people who have never heard the gospel, to hear it?

  5. Peter seems to jump very abruptly from telling us about the proclamation to the ancient dead spirits, to telling his readers that the flood was a picture of baptism. I then become confused by which baptism … the ritual of water baptism that is performed in churches to day, or Jesus baptism “with the spirit and fire” - which John the Baptist maintained was very distinct from his own. And how did this picture of baptism relate to Jesus preaching to Noah-era dead people’s spirits?

  6. “this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also … It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ…” This formulation is very puzzling to me. The first part says (to me) that this baptism saves me. Which baptism? - my personal submission to physical water baptism; Christ’s own “baptism” of death and resurrection (cf. Jesus quesiton to the sons of Zebedee “are you able to be baptised with my baptism?”), and if so why does he then write "It (presumably refering back to baptism) saves you by (method/medium) the resurrection of Jesus? Prior to this passage, Peter is writing about suffering for doing good (vs 17) . In this context, is he suggesting that any suffering for doing good, is in fact a form of baptism - that “baptism” should be a daily experience for us? (“Offer yourselves daily as a living sacrifice…”; “deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me…”)

Help, please!


Let me offer a view that make sense to me. Michael Heiser is the current leading scholar today that makes the case for the view that Peter is using a ‘type’ analogy. Jesus was the second Adam for Paul and in the verse you cited Jesus is the second Enoch for Peter. It might be good to note that Enoch was a Jewish heavy weight in 2nd temple Jewish circles.

Here is where it gets tricky because we must go the book of Enoch. Now I know it’s not canon, but neither is CS Lewis and that never stops us from being informed by his thoughts and stories and the same would logically hold true for the 2nd temple crowd.

In the book of Enoch, God sends Enoch to the fallen Sons of God (GEN 6:1-4) held in captive (hell) to announce their doom for what evil they had wrought. With that in mind and understand that this was a thing that was understood in that day and believed I think you can see the analogy as Peter applied to Jesus.

Jesus (Peters second Enoch) descends to the spirits in prison to announce to them that they are defeated despite His crucifixion. The Kingdom of God was intact and on track and they (the fallen Son’s of God) had been utterly defeated.

I think verse 22 sums it up the best:

Christ Jesus, 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)

My thoughts.

Thanks @Jimmy_Sellers. I think I understand what you/Michael Heiser are saying. But then I have additional questions on this position.

I have no difficulty seeing “the Sons of God” as fallen spiritual beings - fallen angels or whatever. And therefore it is logical to see Jesus proclaiming to them (as part of the Satanic legions) that they are defeated. But the impression I get regarding “those who were disobedient” in the time of Noah, is that they were the spirits of deceased people - not exercising any kind of power within the kingdom of evil - rather they were the subjects. If so there would not be much point, would there, in telling them “you are defeated?” Surely they know that already. Are the Sons of God of Genesis 6 of the same ilk as those who were disobedient in Noah’s time, i.e. fallen angels, vs dead people? And in the passage, Peter mentions only those disobedient in the time of Noah.

  1. Another difference may (or may not) be that if the Sons of God were fallen angels, why would God be patient with them - as he was with those (people?) who were disobedient in the time of Noah. Elsewhere Peter (2 Peter 3:9) says the apparent slowness of God is in fact God exercising patience “not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” While I could understand this of disobedient people, I have never imagined “coming to repentance” as something available to Lucifer and his gang. Perhaps I’m wrong.

Do you have any thoughts on my questions 5 and 6? If so I would be happy to hear them.

Don’t feel too badly, @Mohembo, about struggling over this passage. It is widely regarded as one of the most difficult in all of the Bible with a variety of interpretations ranging from the strange to the stranger!

I will share with you one widely held view that is perhaps somewhere toward the tamer end of that range - feel free to take it (as you probably should most interpretations of this passage) for what it’s worth. I won’t deal too much with providing all of the defenses for this view, unless you ask for them. I’ll just try to keep it simple and give you the basic narrative.

The statement in verse 18 about being put to death in the flesh but quickened by the Spirit isn’t too hard - it just means that Christ did die physically on the cross, and was raised three days later in the power of the Spirit. When He cried, My God, why hast thou forsaken me? He experienced spiritual separation from God as He bore the sins of the world. Afterward, He could say, It is finished! The penalty for the sins of mankind had been fully paid. He did not need to descend into the torments of the damned in order to continue suffering. (I’ll stop with that topic lest I wander off track and create confusion - unless you have further questions about it - and there are planty to have!)

Verse 19, still talking about the Spirit by Whom He was quickened, says By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison. Here is where the passage starts getting complicated. How did Jesus preach by the Holy Spirit to the lost spirits in the prison of hell, and when did He do it?

Verse 20 suggests that Jesus preached to them while they had still been alive on earth before the Flood - He did this first through His Spirit speaking through Enoch (see Jude 1:14-15) and later through Noah (II Peter 2:5).

Verse 20 ends by talking about the eight souls, Noah’s family, being saved through the Flood of water. Then verse 21 says that this was figuratively like a baptism - a death, burial and resurrection. You see Paul use the same kind of figurative language in I Corinthians 10:1-2 when he likens the Israelites passing through the Red Sea to a baptism. In both cases, they have been as thoroughly delivered from their former existence into a whole new world as a person who experiences death and resurrection.

If you’ll set aside for a moment the parentheses in the middle that interrupts verse 21, the unbroken sentence around it says, The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us…by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The souls in the ark were brought through the judgment to life on the other side of the Flood, and that is, figuratively speaking, how the souls who are in Christ are brought through the judgment to eternal life on the other side of the grave.

Now let’s go back and look inside the parentheses which explain the baptism that really delivers people from death. Sometimes the New Testament uses the word baptism to mean an outward washing that is performed in a pool of water. It’s something that men can see which symbolizes an even greater baptism that only God can see on the inside.

Because sometimes baptism means the internal death and burial of the inner sinner in the heart, and the resurrection on the inside that happens at the moment of salvation - Romans 6:1-7. That is what I Corinthians 12:13 describes when it says that believers are baptized through the Spirit into the body of Christ. That’s what John the Baptist described when he said that the coming Messiah would baptize everyone - some with fire (that’s the fate of the unrepentant in the final judgment) - and some with the Holy Ghost (that’s the repentent who trust Christ and experience the baptism of the Spirit at salvation).

In this passage, the parentheses show that the real baptism that saves people from judgment - the one that Noah’s ark was a figure of - was not the one that merely washes away the filth of your flesh, but the one that really cleanses your conscience before God.

And His resurrection and ascension into heaven, His sitting above all authorities in this world and the next in verse 22, is both a preview and a promise of our eventual resurrection and ascension - our sitting with Him on His throne co-reigning with Him over all creation - Revelation 3:21, Romans 8:16-17.

When presented with multiple interpretions of difficult passages, I tend to favor the least complicated ones.

I hope these thoughts will help you as you evaluate the various responses you are likely to get on these interesting verses. I look forward to seeing them myself - because I’m always looking for a simpler explanation of difficult verses!


Herein lies one of the interpretational issues: this verse is translated variously in different Bible versons, to either “in the spirit” (small s) or “by the Spirit” (capital S). I do not speak or read classical Greek (not modern either for that matter). I am assuming the prepostion and the noun form are the problems. Unfortunately, the fact that (IMHview) there are many translators on either side, that personal preferences (in the implications) have played a big part in which preposition is used and which “spirit” is meant. Interestingly, the Complete Jewish Bible says “by the Spirit” while the Orthodox Jewish Bible writes “yet, in the Ruach Hakodesh, having been made alive.” I assume that Ruach Hakodesh was not Capitalised in the original. Am I seeing a storm in a tea cup, when I think there is a significant difference bewteen “in the spirit” and “by the Spirit?”

Still confused, and not completely satisfied…sorry.

I do think that prepositions in most languages are pretty flexible. The reason you see a fairly even divide between in the Spirit and by the spirit is because the meanings are virtually interchangeable with only minor nuances that may or may not have been at issue in the inspired mind of Peter when he penned it.

One might say that the phrase “raised by the Spirit” suggests that it was by the power of the Spirit that He was raised from the dead, while the phrase “raised in the spirit” suggests that He was under (or in) the control of the Spirit when He was resurrected. So was it by His Spirit, or was it the Spirit in Him, or Him in the Spirit, or even both?

Well, actually, Romans 8:11 says that if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal body by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.

So when he applies what happened to Christ as someday happening to Christians, he uses both prepositions interchangeably.

Storm in a teacup - I love that! Thanks!

As for whether the Spirit should be capitalized or not, I assume that the issue is whether we’re intending to imply that the Spirit we’re meaning is the Holy Spirit. Since the Greek New Testament was written in uncials (not upper and lower case, but an alphabet with a single case) then all such capitalizations will reflect the interpretations of the translators. But I think Romans 8:11 makes a sound case that the Holy Spirit certainly did raise Jesus just as He will raise us someday also. So I think that would be biblical corroboration for capitalizing it in I Peter 3:18.


Sorry for the delay but here goes.

This is the most important point in these verses. My recollection of past Sunday School lessons and preaching that I sat under was that these verses were rarely used and when they were taught/preached the term ‘disobedient spirits’ were identified as wayward dead humans, i.e. Noah’s neighbors.

You have to get your mind right i.e. understand Enoch as it was likely understood in those days or this will just sound even stranger.

The key for these verses is the 2nd temple belief that those “who were formerly disobedient, where the fallen angels. Here is an excerpt from the note of a course that I took giving by Heiser:

In the Second Temple period (that is, the intertestamental period), when Jewish writers there were talking about disobedient spirits, they don’t use that phrase of the people who died. They use it of the disobedient angels, the disobedient sons of God of Gen 6:1–4….In the Second Temple period, those were the disobedient spirits, or the disobedient angels. This is the way to go, because 2 Peter, the second epistle that bears Peter’s name, actually talks about this same episode, connected with the flood that we’re looking at in 1 Pet 3, and it refers to the angels that sinned. Even more specifically than that, the idea that these angels that sinned (or these “disobedient spirits,” to quote 1 Pet 3) are imprisoned nails down what Peter is thinking about, because in all of the Second Temple Jewish traditions, the angels that sinned, the disobedient spirits (referring back to the sons of God who sinned in Gen 6:1–4)—in all the traditions, they are put in prison, in an abyss; they are locked away, so to speak.

Heiser, M. S. (2016). BI161 Problems in Bible Interpretation: Difficult Passages I. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

It was Noah’s neighbors that God showed patience for not the ‘disobedient spirits”. This fits what Peter was thinking.

To your question 5, the ancient spirits were not dead, they were in prison in the abyss. From Peter’s POV, things were tough and getting tougher as you noted by his words of encouragement for the brethren. For Peter, this baptismal was a statement of loyalty and a conscientiousness to what was required to show this loyalty. In the church(s) that I have attended we call baptism ‘believers baptism’. By this, I mean publicly identifying with Christ in his death and his resurrection. In the early church, this was not the case and to support Peter’s view of what the baptism meant read what Tertullian had to say, “When entering the water, we make profession of the Christian faith in the words of its rule; we bear public testimony that we have renounced the devil, his pomp, and his angels.” I think that is should be obvious that public identification was only half enough you also were renouncing Satan and his minions. Something that comes to mind today might be dual citizenship (earthly), and how one can be loyal to both. The key to this thought is how we understand the Greek words for ‘appeal’ and ‘good conscience’.

Question 6, regarding the baptismal formulation. I am included a link to a thread that might help with this formulation.

Hope this helps. If we don’t at least allow for what the 2nd temple period folks read and understood I think we end up ‘water-boarding’ many difficult passages in scripture to somehow fit a 21st-century worldview. The obvious problem, of course, is did they (Peter and company) really believe what we today consider myth or stories from literate that we consider non-canonical? Or did it just inform the way they communicated to there audience?