Preached To The Spirits In Prison
George P. Koshy; Ph.D, FASQ
“For [it is] better, if the will of God should will it, to suffer [as] well-doers than [as] evildoers; for Christ indeed has once suffered for sins, [the] just for [the] unjust, that He might bring us to God; being put to death in flesh, but made alive in [the] Spirit, in which also going He preached to the spirits [which are] in prison, heretofore disobedient, when the long suffering of God waited in [the] days of Noah while [the] ark was preparing, into which few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water: which figure also now saves you, [even] baptism, not putting away of [the] filth of flesh, but the demand as before God of a good conscience, by [the] resurrection of Jesus Christ, who is at the right hand of God, gone into heaven, angels and authorities and powers being subjected to Him.” (1 Peter 3:17-22)
Before we get into a brief but detailed discussion on this subject, let me say that this is not a doctrinal subject. This is an exposition of a scripture that deals with the Lord going to the prison and proclaiming to the spirits something after His death on the cross and before His resurrection. This is an interpretation using verses from the scriptures to understand what is meant by 1 Peter 3:17-22, especially verse 19. There is room to tolerate other views, if they are scriptural. All these are interpretations and such interpretations are to be as if cutting a road in a straight line, using the word of Truth. In doctrine we do not have the right to make such different views, but on other matters, we have. An example is the ‘doctrine of the cross’ and ‘the seven sayings of our Lord on the cross.’ The later is not a doctrine, but an exposition and/or meditation of the saying of our Lord in the light of the scriptures.
Out of these six verses in 1 Peter 3, one verse has generated a great deal of controversies among Christians. That verse is, “In which also going He preached to the spirits [which are] in prison,” (1 Peter 3:19). The lack of understanding that creates the controversy is about ‘what was preached,’ ‘who are the spirits,’ and ‘what or where is the prison.’ In order to understand the meaning of these, let us look into the internal evidence from the scriptures.
Apostle Peter did not write this in English. But he wrote it in Greek. Therefore we should look into the original to have a better understanding of what he wrote. Whenever we have difficulties in understanding the translation, this is an essential route to take. We will start with looking into this verse in Greek and it reads as (The Greek word and its English meaning are given alternatively): “en (en = in) w (o = which) kai (kai = also) tois (tois = to the) en (en = in) fulakh (fulake = prison) pneumasi (pneumasi = spirits) poreuqeis (poreutheis = going) ekhruxen (ekeruxen = He proclaimed)”
‘What was preached’: The Greek word that is translated as “He preached” is ‘ekhruxen’ (ekeruxen) And it means, ‘He proclaimed.’ The root Greek verb is ‘kerussw’ (kerusso) from ‘kerus’ (kerus) and it is to ‘proclaim as a herald’ without reference to the matter proclaimed and without including the idea of teaching. Let us also look into other Greek words that are used in connection with preaching or heralding. ‘Keru’ (keru) is ‘a herald.’ ‘Kerugma’ (kerugma) is that which is proclaimed. ‘Euangelixw’ (euangelixo) is to announce a joyful message; having regard to the matter announced and not the manner of the delivery of the message. ‘Katangellw’ (katangello) is to bring the word to anyone. It is to bring it forth by setting it forth. ‘Diangellw’ (diangello) is to make known through space, and to report further by spreading it far and wide. ‘Lalew’ (laleo) is to talk or use voice without reference to the words spoken. ‘Dialegomai’ (dialegomai) is to speak to and fro, alternatively, as in a discussion. ‘Akoh’ (akoe) is to hear or what is heard. ‘Logoi’ (logoi) is the word spoken as an expression of thought and not the thought itself.
From these, a better translation of 1 Peter 3:19 is, “In which also going He proclaimed to the spirits [which are] in prison.” This proclamation had no character of a joyful message, a discussion, a teaching, exhortation, etc. It was just a proclamation or a declaration and it will be safe to assume that the subject matter was something those who were in that prison were afraid off and had the knowledge of it. These spirits were anxiously anticipating its nearness.
‘Who are the spirits’: We do not read in the scriptures the use of the word ‘spirit’ for men. Man has a spirit, but he is not a spirit. In Luke 24:39 the Lord said that the spirit has no flesh and bones. Flesh and bones are the characteristics of the created beings on this earth. From the birth of a creature on earth, both the flesh and bones grow to maturity and join the dust at its death. In Psalms 31:5, Ecclesiastes 12:7; Luke 23:46; and Acts 7:59 we read that man’s spirit returns to God who gave it at his death. In 1 Corinthians 15:44, with regard to a believer, we read that at resurrection God gives it a body as it pleases Him. In 1 Corinthians 15:44 we read that at resurrection the body is a spiritual body and not a natural one.
On the other hand, In Hebrews 1:7, 14 angels are called spirits. It is also written, “For if God spared not [the] angels who had sinned, but having cast them down to the deepest pit of gloom has delivered them to chains of darkness [to be] kept for judgment; and spared not [the] old world, but preserved Noah, the eighth, a preacher of righteousness…” (2 Peter 2:4-5). In both the epistles of Peter the sin of the angels are related to the old world that was destroyed by flood at the time of Noah.
Let us look into Greek briefly about Noah in 2 Peter 2:5: “all (all = but) ogdoon (ogdoon = eighth) Nwe (Noe = Noah) dikaiosunhs (dikaiosunes = of righteousness) khruka (keruka = a herald) efulaxe (efulaxe = preserved).” Again the translators elected the English word ‘Preacher’ for the Greek word ‘keruka,’ resulting in our confusion. It could have been better to translate this passage as, “But preserved Noah, the eighth, a herald (proclaimer) of righteousness.”
In 2 Peter 2:4 we read that these angels that sinned were cast down to the deepest pit. Could this pit is what is termed as ‘the prison’ in 1 Peter 3:19? If it is, then the Lord going and proclaiming to the spirits in prison as in 1 Peter 3:19 cannot be the proclamation of Noah to men for 120 years, before the flood. The prison is where the angels that sinned were kept. These angels, who are in prison, were and are not free to travel as other evil spirits are allowed to do. Therefore, their sin was of a different nature before God.
All the angels that sided with the Lucifer did not commit the sin of the spirits that are in prison. Those who did not commit the sin of the ‘spirits in prison’ are those who are mentioned as demons and evil spirits at the time our Lord was on this earth. The spirit that committed the sin, whatever that may be, were cast into a prison, the deepest pit of gloom (tartaurus – Tartarus), similar to the bottomless pit (abusson – Abusson) in Revelation 20. In Revelation 20:1-2 it was to Abyss that Satan was cast into and he was in chain for a fixed period of 1000 years. Jude 6 and 2 Peter 2:4 indicates that this chain could be of darkness as the Egyptians experienced for three days. Revelation 20:7 tells us that the Abyss is a prison for Satan during those 1000 years will be.
The placing of a part of the angels that followed the Lucifer in his rebellion against Jehovah Elohim (Isaiah 14; Ezekiel 28) teaches that they committed additional sin that was not to be perpetuated by them or others with immunity. We get a glimpse of this in Jude 6-7. “And angels who had not kept their own original state, but had abandoned their own dwelling, He keeps in eternal chain under gloomy darkness, to [the] judgment of [the] great day; as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities around them, committing greedily fornication, in like manner with them, and going after other flesh, lie there as an example, undergoing judgment of eternal fire.” The sin of the angels that are kept under the chain of gloomy darkness is compared to that of Sodom and Gomorrah, ‘fornication’ and ‘going after other flesh.’
Fornication and adultery are not the same. Adultery is voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and a partner other than the lawful spouse (Webster’s II). This is not what the angels did. There is no marriage or married life in heaven. Our Lord taught us that in Matthew 22:30. Therefore, the angels that are kept in prison under the chains of darkness are not said to have committed adultery. They committed fornication. Fornication is the sexual intercourse between a man and a woman not married to each other (Webster’s II).
The angels who are kept for the day of the great judgment committed fornication. In Jude, we also read that fornication was ‘going after other flesh’ and it was similar to what was practiced in Sodom and Gomorrah. We read about it in Genesis 19:5-9. The people of Sodom and Gomorrah shamelessly practiced homosexuality and wanted to commit it with the two angels that were in Lot’s house.
Earlier, on that evening, Lot knowing the sexual behavior of the place compelled the two angels to come into his house. In the middle of the night, the people showed their character and conduct.
In Jude we are told that the angels that are under the chains of darkness committed such acts. This practice of fornication of homosexuality is called Sodomy.
In Genesis 6, we read about the act of these angels—the spirits—that committed this homosexual sin. There we read the historical record of what happened. The ‘sons of God,’ took ‘daughters of men.’
We do not read a similar act between the ‘sons of men’ and ‘daughters of God,’ for us to conclude that it was an act between men who were godly and women who were not. If it was so, in our days when believers have children with unbelievers, the children ought to be giants and renowned names. It is not so.
In Job 38:6-7 and Luke 20:36 tell us that the angels are called ‘sons of God.’ The angels were not begotten, but were created as Adam (Luke 3:38). In other places we read about ‘sons of God’ are: Job 1:6; 2:1; Psalms 29:1; 89:6; and Daniel 3:25). In all these places the Hebrew phrase is BENI HA-ELOHIM (= sons of God). In Hosea 1:10 the expression “sons of the living God” is BEBI EL-HAI and it is different from BENI HA-ELOHIM. Therefore, there is reason to conclude that the ‘sons of God’ in Genesis 6 are the angles that are kept under chains of gloomy darkness for the great Day of Judgment. These are the spirits in question. The cause and nature of their fall are given in Jude 6-7.
In Jude 6-7 we read that these angels did not keep their first state. Their first state was to serve God as He wished. How did they leave their first state is given in the scriptures in places such as, Ezekiel 28, Isaiah 14, etc. They followed Lucifer in his rebellion to be equal with God and he and his angel followers were thrown out of their place. In the Book of Revelation we learn that it is about one-third of all the created angles.
Out of those who did not keep their first estate, some of them ‘abandoned their original dwelling place,’ or as we read in KJV, “but left their own habitation.” The Greek phrase is, “alla (alla = but) apolipontas (apolipontas = having deserted) to (to = the) idion (idion = own) oikhthrion (oiketerion = dwelling place).” What do we understand by this ‘oiketerion’ that is translated in KJV as ‘habitation?’ This word appears in 2 Corinthians 5:2 and we read in KJV, “For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven.” From 1 Corinthians 5:1, we could understand that the reference to the ‘house’ is in connection with the body that we are to receive. That body is called ‘oiketerion.’ In 1 Corinthians 15:44 the word used is swma (soma = body). This ‘swma’ or ‘oiketerion’ is what we long to put on. We also read that the angels ‘left’ (‘apolipontas’ = having deserted) their dwelling place. We see this word in 2 Timothy 4:13, 20 we see this word translated as “left,” and it was in connection with Apostle Paul’s cloak and parchment at Troas, and Trophimus at Mellitus. Other places of interest in addition are Hebrews 4:6-9 and 10:26. Therefore, we could conclude the meaning of ‘left’ in the verse is ‘to leave behind.’
We come to the third and final phrase under consideration and it is ‘what or where is the prison’?” The word that is translated as ‘prison’ is ‘fulakh’ (phulake) and its meaning is ‘a place of guarding.’ Out of the many places this word appears in the New Testament, in Revelation 20:7 it is used in relation to Satan when he was released from the Abyss, before his judgment and casting into the Lake of Fire. A prison, for Satan and the spirits, is the place they are bound and kept for a future judgment.
What is this prison in which the spirits were kept, as we read in 1 peter 3:19? We have the answer from Peter in 2 Peter 2:4, “God spared not [the] angels who had sinned, but having cast them down to the deepest pit of gloom …” The ‘pit of gloom’ in Greek is ‘tartarow’ (tartaroo = Tartarus) and it appears only in 2 Peter 2:4. In KJV it is translated as ‘hell’ along with geenna (geenna = Gehenna). They are not the same place.
Gehenna is from ‘the Valley of Hinnom.’ The meaning of Hinnom is ‘to make self drowsy.’ It could also mean ‘behold them.’ Fire is associated with Gehenna as we read in Matthew 5:22, 29; 18:9; …James 3:6. Disobedient men are said to be cast into Gehenna and not to Tartarus. The angels that sinned are kept in Tartarus and not in Gehenna.
Hades (adhs = the unseen world) is another place were men are to go. In Acts 2:31 we read that the soul of our Lord Jesus Christ was not left in Hades. The rich man in Luke 16 was left in Hades. In KJV, the Greek word ‘hades’ is also translated as ‘hell.’
Christ went to Tartarus and not to Gehenna and His soul was not left in hades. In Tartarus the spirits, angels that did not kept their first state and abandoned their dwelling place, were told something by the Lord. If we remember the Old Testament passages, then we could conclude that it was about the crushing of the serpent’s head by the ‘Seed of the woman,’ and the impending judgment by the Son of Man, the Son of God—the only begotten of the Father. It was to Him all the judgments were given by the Father. The victorious ‘Seed of the woman,’ who proclaimed earlier, “It is finished,” to the universe, including Satan and his angels who are free to roam, did this proclamation of the victory personally to the spirits kept in the deepest pit of gloom, in prison. Tartarus is a pit of gloom, because those spirits that are kept there, as prisoners have nothing but the judgment by the Son of God to look forward to.
Therefore, 1 Peter 3:19 could be paraphrased, “In Spirit, Christ going into the pit of gloom (Tartarus) and proclaimed the message of victory of the Seed of the woman over the leader (Satan) of the spirits that are kept in a guarding place for abandoning their place of dwelling (oiketerion) and their impending judgment by the Son of God.”
(Indebted to: H. Alford, E.W. Bullinger, J.N. Darby, A.S. Geden, F.W. Grant, J. Green, C. Hodge, J.B. Jackson, F.C. Jennings, T. Kelley, W. Kelley, R.F. Kingscote, J.R. Littleproud, C.H. Mackintosh, H.K. Moulton, W.F. Moulton, H. Olshausen, C. Stanley, C.E. Stuart, R. Young, G.V. Wigram, H.F. Witherby)