1 Peter – Chapter Three XXIX

by Ed Urzi

“by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water” (1 Peter 3:19-20).

One important step on the road to understanding this passage begins with a definition of the word “preached.” This word carries the following definitions in the original language of this passage…

to be a herald, to officiate as a herald.
1a) to proclaim after the manner of a herald.
1b) always with the suggestion of formality, gravity and an authority which must be listened to and obeyed.
2) to publish, proclaim openly: something which has been done.
3) used of the public proclamation of the gospel and matters pertaining to it, made by John the Baptist, by Jesus, by the apostles and other Christian teachers.

To this, one Biblical scholar adds, “The Greek word for ‘preached’ here is not the word for ‘preached the gospel’ (eyaggelizo) as in 1 Peter 1:12,25; 4:6, but rather kerusso, which means ‘proclaimed’ (Lk 12:3) or ‘published’ (Lk 8:39).” (2) This seems to eliminate the possibility of an offer of salvation for these imprisoned spirits.

A well-known portion of Scripture from the New Testament book of Hebrews also supports this conclusion: “People are destined to die once and then face judgment” (Hebrews 9:27 CEB). While the idea of a second chance at salvation after death is undoubtedly appealing to many, the Scriptures do not allow for that possibility. Thus, as we’re told in the Biblical book of 2 Corinthians, “…the ‘right time’ is now. Today is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2 NLT).

This brings us to one of the more ambiguous portions of this text: who are these imprisoned spirits? Unlike the word “preached” discussed earlier, a look at the word “spirits” in the original language of this verse offers little help. You see, this reference to “spirits” may be associated with human beings, angelic beings, or demonic beings. (3) Therefore, it is difficult to identify these individuals based on the language that is used to describe them.

With this in mind, we would do well to stay with the facts as we know them until we reach the next stage of our inquiry: “We know three things for sure about the spirits mentioned in 1 Peter 3:19. They are incorporeal, they are imprisoned, and their sin was committed before the Flood. Their relation to Jesus and the nature of His announcement to them are open to speculation.” (4)

(1) G2784 kerysso Strong’s Greek Lexicon https://www.blueletterbible.org/lexicon/g2784/kjv/tr/0-1/

(2) Kenneth S. Wuest, Word Studies in the Greek New Testament [1 Peter 3:19] Copyright © 1942-55 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

(3) G4151 pneuma Strong’s Greek Lexicon https://www.blueletterbible.org/lexicon/g4151/kjv/tr/0-1/

(4) GotQuestions.org, “Who were the spirits in prison?” Retrieved 05 January, 2024 from https://www.gotquestions.org/spirits-in-prison.html