1 Peter – Chapter Three XXVIII

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).

Our text from 1 Peter 3:19-20 presents us with several difficult questions…

  • First, this reference to “He” pertains to Jesus, as inferred from the previous verse. What was the subject of the message He preached?
  • Who were these spirits that comprised the audience for that message?
  • When did Jesus deliver that proclamation?
  • Why were these spirits imprisoned? What was the nature of their transgression?

These questions require prayerful forethought and careful study in order to develop an accurate understanding of this passage. Yet despite the difficulties posed by this text, this portion of Scripture serves a purpose that may not be readily apparent.

You see, these verses help explain why God does not simply present His Word in an abbreviated “question and answer” format. Difficult passages such as 1 Peter 3:19-20 compel us to seek God for the meaning and application of His Word. They also encourage us to seek insight from God-honoring leaders or Biblically based commentators who work to help us understand, remember, and apply God’s Word.

These difficult passages thus prompt us to develop a relationship with the Author of these texts. If the Bible was structured as a collection of answers to a series of frequently asked questions, such a relationship might not develop. While it may have been more convenient if God had organized His Word differently, convenience may not represent what’s best for us.

So while these passages are certainly challenging, they provide us with an excellent path to spiritual growth. With this in mind, we can best address this enigmatic passage if we take an inductive approach. The inductive Bible study model involves the use of three foundational tools: observation, interpretation, and application:

  • Observation: what does this portion of Scripture say?
  • Interpretation: what does this portion of Scripture mean?
  • Application: how should I apply this portion of Scripture?

If we begin with our first tool of inductive Bible study, we can observe the following…

  • Jesus went to a place of incarceration and preached a message.
  • His audience consisted of “spirits in prison who formerly were disobedient.
  • Their disobedience has a chronological link to Noah, the famous Old Testament personality.

We’ll begin our interpretative journey of discovery regarding this passage next.