Q. I enjoy your website very much. We are studying in 1 Peter 3:18-20 at church and were wondering who Peter is referring to as the “spirits in prison” . If you please, give us your insights on this topic.
A. By most accounts these are the spirits of those who refused to get on the Ark and be saved from the Flood in the time of Noah. If so they would be in the Torment side of Sheol, opposite Paradise. It’s where the rich man went in the story of Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31)
Some believe they are the fallen angels whose illicit relationships with human females produced the Nephillim, since Peter also mentioned them in 2 Peter 2:4 as being spirits in prison. But there Peter used a word for hell that’s unique in all of Scripture. The Greek word he used is Tartarus and was thought to be as far below Hell as Hell is below Earth.
The Bible isn’t clear as to which prison Jesus was in, but I prefer the first view, since in 1 Peter 4:6 I believe Jesus was the one preaching the Gospel to the spirits in Paradise, saying that their faith had saved them. If so these are the ones He took to Heaven with Him after His Resurrection (Matt. 27:52-53) As the story of Lazarus explains, the place of Torments is in the same location as Paradise, where Jesus went when He died.