1 Peter – Chapter Four XIII

by Ed Urzi

“For this reason the gospel was preached also to those who are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit” (1 Peter 4:6).

1 Peter 4:6 introduces us to another challenging passage that can help us develop good analytical skills in our study of God’s Word. As mentioned earlier, these passages should motivate us to prayerfully seek God’s help in understanding and applying His Word. As we explore the different interpretations of this verse, we can identify those views that are Biblically valid, and thus promote our spiritual growth.

Several theories exist concerning this reference to “the gospel [that] was preached also to those who are dead.” For instance, some interpret this verse as an opportunity for the unrighteous dead to find salvation. This perspective allows for a second chance at eternal life for those who lived prior to the New Testament era. However, this view negates another portion of Scripture given to us in Hebrews 9:27: “…each person is destined to die once and after that comes judgment” (NLT). Thus, we can safely discard this approach.

Another interpretation of this passage alludes to 1 Peter 3:19-20 and its reference to those disobedient spirits who have been imprisoned. This view incorporates Jesus’ proclamation of victory over sin and death to a group of demonic entities who were active during Noah’s era. However, this approach seems doubtful in light of 1 Peter 4:6 and its reference to a gospel proclamation. In addition, the malevolent spirits mentioned in 1 Peter 3 are still very much alive and await their final judgment. Therefore, we would do well to continue our search for a more appropriate alternative.

A better option links this text with the righteous dead who departed from this life in the Old Testament era. Those who placed their faith in God during that period were patiently awaiting the fulfillment of His plan of salvation (Ephesians 4:8-10). Hence, Jesus proclaimed freedom and deliverance to those who were awaiting His work as the Messiah on their behalf. That sacrificial work granted freedom to those who had patiently waited for Him within the abode of the righteous dead.

In contrast to those who see this reference as a second chance for eternal life, this view interprets this verse as the fulfillment of God’s promise to those who were faithful to Him with their first chance. While this is a Biblically valid approach, there is another view of this passage that may provide a more likely explanation for this enigmatic verse. We’ll consider that view next.