What Was Peter Saying?

Q. Would you please comment on 1 Peter 3:19 because this is new to me. Can you help me understand what Peter was talking about?

A. Let’s put verse 19 in the context of those that surround it. 1 Peter 3:18-20 says,

For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built.

There are two main interpretations of this passage. One says it means that after Jesus died, He went in the Spirit to preach to the spirits of those who disobeyed God during the time Noah was building the ark and are in prison for their disobedience.

Since the Greek word translated prison in verse 19 actually means to watch or guard, some claim the verse refers to a group of angels called “the watchers” in extra-Biblical writings. According to these sources the watchers were assigned the task of observing the behavior of early humans and reporting what they observed. They say the rebellious angels who took on human form and had offspring with human women came from this group. These offspring were called the Nephilim (Genesis 6:4) and were a major cause of the Flood of Noah. If this interpretation is correct then they’re the same imprisoned spirits mentioned again in 2 Peter 2:4. Jude spoke of them in verse 6 of his letter as well.

The other view holds that the verse is translated awkwardly and Peter intended to say that Jesus was also made alive by the Spirit during the time of Noah and preached to disobedient humans on Earth while Noah was building the Ark. These humans failed to get on the ark and their bodies perished in the flood. Their spirits are now eternally imprisoned among the lost.

Since Jesus is the eternal Son of God who only became human for a period of time in order to redeem humanity, both these interpretations could theoretically be correct.

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