For Christ also died for sins once for all,
the just for the unjust,
in order that he might bring us to God,
having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit;
in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons were brought safely through the water. (1 Peter 3:18-20).

There have been a number of varied interpretations offered of this passage throughout the history of the church.



Clement of Alexandria (200 A.D.)

Christ went to hell in his spirit to proclaim the message of salvation to the souls of sinners who had been imprisoned there since the time of the flood (Stromateis 6:6).

Augustine (400 A.D.)

The preexistent Christ proclaimed salvation through Noah to the people who lived before the flood (Epistolae 164).

Cardinal Robert Bellarmine (1570), a Roman Catholic theologian

The spirit of Christ went to release the souls of the righteous who repented before the flood and had been kept in Limbo, the place between heaven and hell where the souls of the Old Testament saints were kept (DeControversiis 2:4,13).

Friedrich Spitta (1890)

After His death and before His resurrection, Christ preached to fallen angels, also known as "sons of God," who during Noah's time had married "daughters of men" (Genesis 6:2; 2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6).

Personally, I would suggest that most of these interpretations ignore the context of the passage. Therefore I propose an alternative.

The context of this passage is speaking of encouragement to believers to endure in the midst of suffering. The suffering of Christ is seen in contrast to the suffering of Christians who were to be ready to give a defense for their hope.

Our pattern is Christ. We suffer, and He also suffered. His suffering took place in the flesh (as does ours). And His victorious resurrection took place in the Spirit.

It was through this same Spirit that the proclamation was made to those who lived in the days of Noah. Does this mean that Christ went to make this proclamation after His resurrection? No. It simply means that the same Spirit that accounted for the resurrection also accounted for the preaching to these people in the days of Noah.

Peter has already spoken of the message of the Old Testament prophets and how "the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow" (1 Peter 1:11).

In the same way, the Spirit of Christ was in Noah as HE (Noah) "made proclamation to the spirits who are now in prison."

The Spirit

Made proclamation through the preaching of Noah to the spirits who are now in prison

Made Jesus alive after He had been put to death in the flesh

Makes us alive in a spiritual baptism (not merely a physical cleansing)


To sum up:

    1. Christ was made alive by the Spirit.
    2. It was this same Spirit who also spoke through Noah to the people of the world before the Flood.
    3. Those people who rejected the Spirit's preaching through Noah and who died in the Flood are "now in prison."
    4. The implication is that, if we will accept the Spirit's preaching through Jesus and His apostles, then we can be saved as Noah and his family were saved. Otherwise we will find ourselves in prison, too.

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