Exegetical help on 1 Peter 3:18-22

Discussion in 'NT Epistles' started by timfost, May 9, 2016.

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  1. timfost

    timfost Puritan Board Junior

    Dear all,

    I've been teaching through 1 Peter and have come to 3:18-22. I would appreciate your thoughts on any or all of the points. For verse 21, I am coming from a paedobaptist perspective, though I'm not sure if this is relevant to the specific points below.

    1. 18. I'm inclined to think the phrase "made alive by the Spirit" is not referring to the Holy Spirit. The ESV reads "made alive in the spirit..." When I compare to 4:6b ("that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit"), the passage seems to be speaking more clearly concerning resurrection and new life rather than the Holy Spirit's involvement in the resurrection.

    2. 19. "...preached to the spirits in prison." "Spirits" here seems to refer to fallen angels, not human souls. This interpretation seems likely because:

    a. The context speaks to Christ having authority over "angels and authorities and powers" (v. 22)

    b. A similar reference is made in 2 Peter 2:4-5: "For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell and delivered them into chains of darkness [prison]... but saved Noah..."

    Concerning the word "preached": This seems to be better translated "proclaimed." If the spirits refer to fallen angelic beings, He did not preach the gospel to them (compare 4:6a), but rather that He proclaimed to these spirits His triumph over death.

    3. 21. The sacrament of baptism is the antitype here. The very word "antitype" would be proof that he is not speaking about baptismal regeneration, or else "antitype" would be a meaningless word. Peter seems to be speaking not only of the symbol here, since it is not the symbol that saves. Would it be correct to conclude that Peter is describing both the symbol and what the symbol represents (the washing of regeneration)?

    4. 22. The overall context deals with suffering, encouraging the saints that when they suffer for the sake of righteousness, they are being like Christ. In returning to Christ's suffering (v. 18), this context seems to start with Christ's weakness as One who suffered and progresses to Him going into heaven and "angels and authorities and powers... made subject to Him." In other words, we have a progression of weakness to strength. It seems to me that this fits in the context as we start in this position of weakness, suffer for righteousness, all the while looking to our "inheritance incorruptible" (1:4) and to the unchanging word which has made us alive (1:23-25). In comparing us to Christ who suffered, Peter seems to be preparing his listeners for the victory that they already have in Christ as well as looking forward to the final victory over death for which they are "kept by the power of God through faith for salvation" (1:5).

    Thoughts? Thanks in advance!
  2. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    You may find these posts (ongoing) helpful; they have come to the place you are studying:

    At the risk of personal embarrassment, I will post the notes from my own sermon on the passage, with hopes you will find something useful in it.

    Christ, Once Suffered, Is on God's Right Hand ch.3, fifth sermon (of 23 total for the whole epistle)

    Peter's words in v18 have direct relation to the claim or assertion of v17. All this material hangs together, of course. Peter is in the midst of an extended argument, an evangelical discourse presented for the encouragement of Christians in worldly-weak conditions, but who—so far from being spiritually destitute or weak—are “kept by the power of God through faith for salvation,” though the revelation of that ultimate blessing is waiting, hidden underneath a weak presentation and persecutions, until it is time for salvation's end-time revelation. So ch1:5.

    In the midst of trials, ordinary and extraordinary, believers should in all circumstances—but especially in trouble—be looking to Jesus Christ. The end-time reveal that brings us so much anticipated relief is less about we, the relieved, and more about our Savior. He gets fully revealed in all the glory which he possesses. Then he receives his due, both from those servants who honor him and the enemies who hated him. At the present time, we who acknowledge him unseen do not put off loving him, as if salvation could neither be had nor enjoyed until complete.

    It has always been tempting for Christians to hedge on their commitment, their devotion to the Lord God. Those with the weakest faith, even a strong-in-faith person at a weak and vulnerable moment—whoever we are—we listen to the voice of the world, the flesh, or the Devil which gets our attention on ourselves, and urges us to divert to some satisfaction promised by the moment. Why should you value that “good conscience” over the immediate goodwill of your erstwhile persecutors? Do you think you are better than your neighbors, your relatives?

    The fouled consciences of typical worldlings are evidently viewed more as liabilities than assets. And the fact that you, being a Christian, have a clear or good conscience and intend to keep it so serves as some kind of goad to them. They must see it gone. Rather than finding in one's own conscience an asset, yours should be tarnished once more, in company with the rest.

    No, Peter says, but the Christian should hold on to the principle that “it is better to suffer for doing good,” than suffering as the price of membership in the familiar company of our former associates, even our family or friends if they are not Christians with us. Life with them, which believers have rejected, is doing evil all the time. Some of it, for the substance, is not inherently evil, but is still a God-dishonoring lifestyle. Acts of kindness, for example, done for vainglory, are sin. The rest of it is corrupt indulgence, or evil addiction, or wicked cruelty.

    Still, for anyone who does not know Christ or who has taken their eyes off of Christ, following that mode of life makes perverse sense. “Why think exclusively in 'good' terms? Why 'behave' yourself? It's for nothing, this 'good conscience' you value. This Jesus you hope for, he's a fake. Seize the day, because that's all that matters.”

    Against that reasoning, Peter asserts the gospel. He says to us, when we are tempted to give away our conscience asset, tempted to abandon the idea that it is better to suffer for doing good, “No, because even Christ suffered for doing good!” No one has ever done a greater good than our Lord did, when he “suffered for sins.” He suffered for sinners, for the “unjust” or unrighteous, ill-deserving people—the kind who richly deserved the products of their own wasted lives, the wages of their sin which is death, even eternal hell.

    He was the righteous One, who alone of all humanity deserved a just man's reward. His was a perfect obedience, and it was credited to the account of the guilty. So that, “he might bring us to God.” So that we could have that communion with God for which man was made, but which he lost in the fall. We, who have no other invitation—having lost all power or opening to fellowship with God in life, and even the holy desire for it—we now have an offering for our sin that is presentable to God. And thereby we are received.

    The gospel of our salvation is the rebuttal to the self-serving proposals of those who threaten you with harm for abandoning their rebellious cause. Never was there a more potent example of one who suffered for doing good. His loss was our gain. But, if that much is the whole gospel message, there is still an argument that it still is no better for him. For the suffering one. Sure, you got something out of it, but he's the one who did the “good deed,” and see what it got him. Seems like you Christians are the poster-children for “doing evil” and profitting handsomely.

    But the gospel word is completed with the concluding words of v18, “put to death in the flesh,” his agony of the cross; followed by “but made alive by (we might say according to) the Spirit,” or perhaps spirit here should be uncapitalized; either way the fact being spoken of has to do with the mode of existence. Christ has risen from the dead, his suffering was not merely for the benefit of others, but has been rewarded. In the new mode of life (no longer death for him) he experiences that which is better.

    That resurrection is expressly stated in the end of v21, and this gospel thought continued in v22. There the residue of the gospel is witnessed. There we read concerning his specific reward. Our attentions and devotions are directed to this One, our Mediator, [read v22]. He has attained to the place of glory (whence he came from first, and to which he belongs). He is beyond suffering there. He is at the right hand of God, that is to say the Father. He has taken the seat of utmost honor, obtaining the everlasting inheritance. And all dominion is in his hand, and every created intelligence, every order of man or spirit, every system and organization is his to use or dispose of.

    Indeed, it is better to suffer for doing good. And what falls in between those two bookend vv asserts the destinies of two kinds of people: 1) those who hearken to his call to follow him in suffering for good, who benefit from his sacrifice for them and his resurrection life; and 2) those who reject his offer of grace, who cling to their wickedness.

    First, the latter. Once he mentions the Spirit-mode of existence, being energized by life-in-God, his thoughts turn to the beginning of God's dealing with mankind. All this need is brought about by the original rebellion. That original rebellion was culminated in a world-wide, cataclysmic judgment, the Flood. It wasn't final judgment, but it witnesses to it. It was in his spiritual-mode, through Holy Spirit that he (even the Son of God) preached the first urgent message.
    Noah was the preacher, but the Spirit of Christ was in him. Those to whom he preached are now in prison, because they refused to believe his word and warning, and accept the offer of salvation (the ark).

    v21 turns to us. Here we have an interesting cross-over. The signs and the things signified are related, as are the signs themselves (correlated) OT on one side, NT on the other; and the things signified the same way. So, four points on a square, related up-down and side-to-side. But Peter does something interesting: he connects (as by an X, a cross-connection) the OT sign (flood) and the NT thing signified by baptism. He thus ties the OT and the NT together...

    Indeed, our “good conscience” is worth every suffering...​

    Hope these suggestions are helpful. I am not addressing any of your specific points, I realize.
  3. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    Christ physically rose from the dead, so I don't think we have any basis for a flesh/spirit dichotomy. "Flesh" simply means the human nature, with the nuance of "feebleness." "Spirit" is not the immaterial part of His humanity, but refers to the divine nature. That "agency" is in view is clarified in verse 19, when it says, "by which," i.e., by the agency of the Spirit by which He was made alive.

    The spirits were the disobedient people to whom Christ preached by the agency of His Spirit in the days of Noah. Christ did not preach to them when He was "put to death in the flesh." The contrast requires that the disobedient have had their day of preaching and are now suffering in the prison of hell; whereas believers, like the household of Noah, will be saved.

    Salvation in the waters of judgment is the type, and the antitype is salvation by the resurrection of Christ. Baptism is a like figure of salvation by the resurrection of Christ, which requires the answer of a good conscience and not the mere symbol of outward washing. It is a "good conscience" which ties in this section with the overall exhortation of the passage.

    Salvation is future in 1st Peter. Judgment is a present reality. Affliction and suffering form part of the trial. Christ's suffering and resurrection has a moral bearing on the believer's carriage in the present judgment. It was for the sake of righteousness that He suffered and died. A believer's hope in Christ requires suffering for righteousness as part of the trial in hope of the resurrection.
  4. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    I should note that there is an alternative interpretation of this view which regards the "prison" as a place of keeping, namely, the ark; and so the preaching would have been to the household of Noah. The fact the word "prison" is related to the word used in 2 Pet. 2:5, which is translated saved/preserved, in connection with Noah being a preacher of righteousness, gives it some weight worthy of consideration.
  5. timfost

    timfost Puritan Board Junior

    I wasn't thinking of a "flesh/spirit dochotomy" in this way. Certainly the flesh refers to His human nature, particularly emphasizing the weakness or "feebleness" as you put it. It seems likely that the "flesh" in this context includes His human soul. Jesus says "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit" (John 3:6). It seems plausible that the spirit that is referenced here relates to new life, or in the context, a resurrected body.

    I understand this to be a popular view. (I'm also not dogmatically opposed to it!) Here are some problems that I haven't been able to reconcile with this interpretation, most of which are taken from Simon Kistemaker's commentary:

    1. It seems that if the text is referring to the souls of people, it would read "the spirits... [of those] who formerly were disobedient..." With this omission (in brackets), the use of "spirits" may be more easily interpreted as "evil spirits" (e.g. Mark 3:11).

    2. Hell is not referred to in Scripture as "prison" in relation to the souls of men. However, "prison" references fallen angels in 2 Peter 2:4 and Jude 6 indirectly and in Rev. 20:7 directly (although admittedly it gets tricky with Revelation's imagery).

    3. The word "also" (v. 19a) follows both "put to death" and "made alive" in v. 18. This seems to suggest that the "preaching" followed His death and resurrection. If He preached the gospel to the spirits of those who died in unbelief in the days of Noah, "also" would be problematic since the preaching would have occcured prior to His resurrection.

    Thanks for this. I'll chew on it. :)

    Please know that I'm only posing challenges to some of the above so that I can tackle the pros and cons of each position.
  6. timfost

    timfost Puritan Board Junior

    Very interesting... What writers take this position?
  7. timfost

    timfost Puritan Board Junior

    I should also add that I am paying close attention to this passage in particular because one of our regular visitors, an elderly gentleman (who has adopted some less-than orthodox positions) uses these verses to promote post-mortem salvation and post-mortem gospel preaching. He normally doesn't come to the bible instruction hour before the service, but occasionally he does.

    In addition to my desire to teach the encouragement that this passage offers, I also want to have a clear head in relation to what the passage does not teach.

    Any brief arguments that may be helpful to gently counter such assertions would be appreciated.
  8. timfost

    timfost Puritan Board Junior

    One other question regarding v. 21:

    Is the qualification "not the removal of the filth of the flesh" a reference to a) the sacrament itself or b) a shower/bath/physical washing? In other words, is Peter countering the notion of the saving efficacy of the sacrament itself by speaking about the "filth of the flesh" or is he distinguishing between the water of the sacrament and water used for physical cleansing?

    Obviously this passage considers the sacrament, but it seems to go further by speaking about the change in the life of a believer that as he has been regenerated (washed) as he now has a clear conscience.

  9. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    Peter is definitely speaking of the rite of baptism, but he is "reducing" it to the bare sign in order to emphasize that the salvation-through-judgment testified by the sacrament (and by the OT sign of the flood) is the result not of human ritual, even obediently followed; but is of God himself.

    The whole phrase, "not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God," is one of Scripture's clearest-drawn distinctions between sign and signification: that which is outward/visible/accessible to the sense and a pointer, versus that which is spiritual/invisible/accessible to faith and which is pointed unto.

    And in fact, the form of the phrasing describes not the acts themselves--as if he said "not the pouring of water but the pouring of the Spirit"--but rather the results or effects of the pouring. The standard effect of simple water on the flesh is clean skin; but the standard effect of the Spirit-gift upon the inner man results in right-standing before God. Both flesh and conscience give an "answer" to the question, "What happened?"

    "Baptism" is the divisible term. Peter states that what he specifically has in mind is the signification, the baptism God performs. We confess the answers ought to speak with one voice, so that a person should be able to point to the sign (water) and by it acknowledge the signification (regeneration). Regardless of when we were baptized, the issue is always immediate: does the sign given to me testify to the reality of my salvation through judgment? Is this what I believe? What difference has it made?

    And yes, active conscience enters in, when I face the reality of ongoing sin in my life and temptations to it. I must a) acknowledge that my recent sin too must be expunged by that "crimson tide" of Jesus' blood, of which baptism's water was witness, even once and for all; and b) that my standing as "cleansed" demands constant battle against the forces that would tarnish my "good conscience."
  10. timfost

    timfost Puritan Board Junior

    Thank you. This is how I was leaning in interpretation and you drawing it out confirms it for me.

  11. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    I hope I was clear. When I say he "reduces" baptism, I'm only saying he separates sign/signification in the parenthesis. He is bold to call the entire sacrament (which has three parts: 1.sign, 2.signification, 3.bond between them) "baptism," and call it the antitype of the OT sign. It is not that one part is baptism, or the other is, and the second is merely associated to the original; or that the Spirit does a "real" baptism, whereas the church does an "unreal" activity.

    That is the doctrine of some churches; and our Baptist brothers typically go further in this direction than the Reformed/Presbyterians ought to go. That description is what Lutherans and others (who, as we see them, tend to over-merge sign and signification into an indivisibility) tend to think of all who deny that a "proper" sacrament of the church's rite is in the nature of the (every) case a literal salvation-instrument.

    Those views so identify sign and signification that the church by its sacraments cleanses the conscience. Lutherans play up the role of the Spirit in that work and focus on the sacrament rather than the minister; whereas the Papists play up their own role as dispensers of the grace in the sacrament. Either way, the baptized-of-water are thereby saved. Which necessarily leads to the doctrine of lost-salvation (really held, really lost).​

    It is only after Peter has referred to the whole sacrament as the antitype (inasmuch as he is focused on the theology of baptism) that he then makes an effort to further delineate the sign/signification distinction. Peter is teaching powerfully robust biblical-theology here, reaching all the way back into Genesis, bounding all the way forward to the eschatological implications of baptism, which thing forms an important NT era handle for theological grasping of truth.

    So, I say by way of addition: as Reformed/Presbyterians, we stand apart from the memorial-nominalists to the left, and the operative-realists to the right, trying to find the proper balance point for our sacramental theology. We affirm that God is pleased to work by mundane and ordinary means; but we refuse to affirm that God has bound himself to our fallible performances. The Spirit bloweth where he wills, Jn.3:8; and the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable, Rom.11:29. The saving acts of God, even through sacramental means, are appointed only to the elect when and where the bond is formed; and are effectual exclusively unto faith.
  12. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    It took a while to find this again. It was in The Scripture View of Christ preaching to the Spirits in Prison by Archibald Currie, a 19th c. Free Church minister. Calvin's view is another variation which extends the preaching to the whole Old Testament and the "prison" as a watchtower keeping OT believers.
  13. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    These counter-points are in the interest of bringing everything to bear on the interpretation. They are not meant to be combative in any way.

    There is nothing in the context to allow for evil spirits, so there is no reason for reading them into the text; whereas the immediate reference to the "souls" who were saved makes it natural to take "spirits" as referring to human persons.

    If Tartarus is "hell," and the chains of 2 Peter 2:4 suffices as a synonym of "prison," then 2 Peter 2:4 makes the case for taking prison as hell. But there is nothing to verbally connect "chains" with "prison," so the argument from 2 Peter 2:4 and Jude 6 equally has no verbal link to commend it. This means overall there is less reason for taking "spirits" as evil spirits in 1 Pet. 3:19 than there is for regarding them as human persons. The connection of "angels" with the "evil spirits" of the Gospels is a connection the Bible itself does not make. So one has to have a preconceived theological construct for introducing evil spirits so accidentally into the flow of thought.

    The conjunction "also" on its own gives no indication of sequence. The aorist participle, πορευθεὶς, however, is suggestive of something having taken place, just as in v. 22. Taken together with the past reference to the days of Noah it gives a lot of weight to seeing the action as something prior to being quickened by the Spirit.
    Last edited: May 13, 2016
  14. timfost

    timfost Puritan Board Junior

    Yes, you were, but I found your further qualifications very helpful.

  15. timfost

    timfost Puritan Board Junior

    Rev. Winzer,

    Thanks for finding and sending along the information for the alternate interpretation!

    I have a couple comments on the proceeding post as well below.

    Thank you for the comments. I really appreciated them and yesterday briefly presented this view (I believe it was Augustine's interpretation), even though I don't fully agree with it. Likewise, please do not take below as compabitive in any way.

    I think the context does allow for evil spirits. In v. 22, he says: "... who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, angels and authorities and powers having been made subject to Him."

    The wording is very similar to Eph. 6:12 "For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places."

    Furthermore, such triumph over the forces of darkness is a clearly spelled out biblical doctrine: "Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them" (Col. 2:15).

    Therefore, it seems likely that in publishing to the evil spirits his victory over death is completely consistent with the angels, authorities and powers being made subject to Him (v. 22). It would easily fit into the broader context of encouraging the suffering believers, who look at Christ and see that after He suffered, He was exalted.
  16. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    It is a popular view that the evil spirits are fallen angels, but when one looks into holy Scripture there is nothing which actually teaches it; and there are plain statements concerning the judgment of fallen angels, like those found in 2 Peter 2:4 and Jude 6, which work against it. But even if we grant the association, the context in 1 Peter 3 seems to offer nothing to suggest the idea of evil spirits could contribute anything meaningful to the flow of thought.
    Last edited: May 16, 2016
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