Understanding The Bible
STUDY REFERENCE
Clarence E. Mason's "Earlier New Testament Epistles"
The Book of First Peter

TO WHOM DID CHRIST PREACH IN 3:19 AND WHEN?
An Exposition of 1 Peter 3:13-22

BY THE AUTHOR
Dr. Clarence E. Mason, Jr.
Philadelphia College of Bible
1971


FIRST EPISTLE OF PETER

TO WHOM DID CHRIST PREACH IN 3:19 AND WHEN?
An Exposition of 1 Peter 3:13-22

 

TO KEEP A GOOD CONSCIENCE IS BETTER THAN EXEMPTION FROM SUFFERING
(3:13-22; key vv. 16-17)

Christ's suffering (v. 18) brought salvation to others and glory to God and Himself (v.22). We should likewise suffer (v. 17; 4:1) that we may win others (3:15-16) and share Christ's glory (4:11, 13). Compare 4:14 with 3:14.

v.13
Most of our suffering (persecution) is brought upon us by ourselves -- by our inconsistencies -- our austerity -- over-insistence -- self-righteousness (holier than thou) or by our indifference.

v.14
But if
we suffer for righteousness, "HAPPY are ye!" Are we? We should be.

v.15
Real preparedness

v. 16
The best defense

v. 17
Better -- if the will of God be so
We are not to seek persecution; the warning was needed, for some people sort of "enjoy" it as a sign of superior devotion to Christ. In early times some (e.g., Justin) sought martyrdom.

v.18
A great verse -- an illustration of v. 17
He suffered! And His suffering ended (once for all) in triumph! Christ is again (as in 2:21-22) brought in as our example. Christ has suffered for us that He might bring us to God. He suffered not for "evil doing" (of His own), but for "well doing" (2:22-23; 3:17), "the just for the unjust" (our evil doing). Hence, we are to be willing to suffer for well doing, "if the will of God be so."

But before we go further in the exposition, let us examine:

THE FOUR VIEWS ON WHAT IS MEANT BY 1 PETER 3:19

NON-ORTHODOX VIEW (held by Jehovah's Witnesses, etc.)

  1. That Christ went, after His death, into the place of departed spirits and preached to them of the finished redemption of the Cross, offering salvation to those who would believe.

    Objections:

    1. The Bible knows nothing of a second chance after death (Hebrews 9:27; Luke 16:23-26).
    2. Why should only Noah's generation be granted this privilege?
      Verse 20 makes clear that those in v. 19 are nly Noah's generation, and that particular generation had been given a special opportunity to repent through Noah's prolonged preaching (2 Peter 2:5; Genesis 6:3).

ORTHODOX VIEWS

  1. It is held by some orthodox scholars that Christ went, after death, into the place of departed spirits and officially heralded the finished redemption of the Cross; not that any could be saved but that they were officially informed by Christ of what had taken place on the Cross. (This plays on the word "preached," emphasizing its meaning of "heralded."

    Objections:
     

    1. Why tantalize those already in torment? (Luke 16:23)
      Is this like Christ? Ezekiel (18:23)
    2. What purpose would there be in announcing or heralding this fact simply to Noah's generation, a very small fraction of the vast number of souls from Adam to the Cross?
       
  2. Dr. R. A. Torrey proposed as a solution the theory that these were not men at all, but "those (evil) spirits (angels) who kept not their first estate," and who united themselves with mankind (Jude 6: Genesis 6) in order to corrupt the race and make the coming of Messiah impossible. Hence, they are "kept in chains" awaiting the judgment (cp 2 Peter 2:4-5). These were the "bound" portion of the fallen angels (those still at liberty being called demons). So, the theory goes, Christ announced His triumph to those angels bound and awaiting judgment.

    Objection:
     

    1. The theory is ingenius but solves too much, in fact it misses any connection with the context in which a very personal application of all this is made to Peter's readers.
       
  3. It is held by many orthodox scholars that the passage means: Christ by the Holy Spirit through Noah once preached unto Noah's generation in Noah's day. This generation is NOW imprisoned because of non-repentance. "By the which (Spirit) Christ went and preached unto spirits (now) in prison, which (spirits) were onetime disobedient, when the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was preparing ..."

    When was this preaching done? The underline time words above make it clear -- before the flood.

    To whom was this preaching done? to Noah's generation as he prepared the ark and announced the flood.

    Where was this preaching done? This passage does not say that Christ preached in prison to spirits, but "to the spirits (now) in prison," which is quite a different thins. It is not a distinction without a difference. The first statement would tell where the preaching was done, the second statement does not tell where the preaching was done, leaving that to the context, but simply tells the present condition of those to whom He preached, i.e., they are now "spirits" and are now "in prison." The context shows they were men upon earth while the ark was preparing when they were preached to by Christ through Noah. They were not spirits when they were preached to, but were drowned and are not spirits because they rejected Noah's warning of judgment.

    The "which" of v. 20 limits the time of the preaching to Noah's generation ("when ... God waited") and the "which" of v. 19 tells how Christ preached to Noah's generation, i.e., "by which Spirit" through Noah.

THERE ARE THREE BASIC PRINCIPLES FOR INTERPRETING THIS PASSAGE

  1. Jesus Christ is seen to be raised from the dead by the end of verse 18, for the word "quickened" refers usually to bodily resurrection, and here necessarily so, because Christ's spirit did not die, so it was not "quickened" (made alive); but His body died and needed to be "quickened" and was! Therefore anything following verse 18 must be subsequent to His bodily resurrection (unless some words are stated in a dependent clause which indicate another time for this clause only).

    This fact would make it necessary for those who urge that verse 19 is in point of time after verse 18 to be driven to the absurd position that Christ went to the place of departed spirits in His resurrection body, AFTER His resurrection. Of course, no one thinks this, but this is all one can hold if His preaching was done after death, for it was done after His resurrection also by the same reasoning. (Note the ASV translation "in the spirit," i.e., in Christ's human spirit. Though this is a possible translation by language rules, it is impossible in this context. "By the Spirit" is not only grammatically possible but is the only translation the context will sustain.)
     
  2. The solution to the problem lies in the fact that verses 19-21 form a parenthesis, verse 18 going right on to verse 22. There are four consecutive steps here noted:

    v.18 "Christ was put to death ... and made alive"
    v. 22 "Christ is gone into heaven and is on the right hand of God"
     
  3. The parenthesis (vv. 19-21) is inserted by Peter to give two interwoven illustrations of the sufferings and resurrection of Christ.

    The first illustration is the FLOOD (in connection with which the preaching is mentioned), and the flood reminds Peter of a second illustration, i.e., Christian baptism. This method of taking a key word or thought from something he has just said and proceeding to discuss it in the new clause is definitely Peter's particular style of writing. (See Introduction, 4, a, Dean Alford's note on Peter's style.) For instance, note "salvation" (1:5), "wherein" (1:6); "salvation" (1:9), "of which" (1:10); "prophets" (1:10), "unto whom" (1:12). So, "Spirit" (3:18), "by which" (3:19); "spirits" (3:19), "which" (3:20); "water" (3:20), "the like figure whereunto" (3:21).

RETRACING OUR STEPS, we find:

  1. Verse 18 - The CROSS portrays:
    1. God's hatred of, and unsparing judgment upon, sin
    2. But also His wonderful grace upon the (repentant) sinner. Grace and  judgment kissed each other at the Cross (Ps. 85:10).
      But Christ not only suffered. He was resurrected. This accomplishes our salvation and brings us to God.
       
  2. Verse 20 - The .FLOOD portrays:
    1. God's judgment on sin (and the antediluvian world)
    2. God's grace upon repentant sinners (Noah, etc.).
      Christ "suffered (long)" in the days of Noah when He waited (120 yrs.) for the repentance of that generation and, in type, as the ark (Christ) was deluged under the waters of God's wrath and judgment, yet it came through the flood victoriously, saving those within it (Christ). So Christ cried: "All thy billows and thy waves passed over me" (Jonah 2:3), yet came forth victorious in resurrection, saving those who were "in Him" during the storm of the Cross. And Noah in the ark (Christ) floated in peace on the very waters by which "all flesh" was judged! He was put beyond the reach of judgment by the judgment which fell on the ark. So with us! Hebrews 2:14-15; Galatians 2:20; etc.
       
  3. Verse 21 - CHRISTIAN BAPTISM likewise portrays these facts:
    In Christian Baptism we go into the waters of death (having, in heart purpose, gone through the deluge of judgment on the Cross), pictured by the flood, in the person of our Substitute, Christ (the Ark), and we come out of that scene of death to "walk in newness of (resurrection) life" (Romans 6:4-5,10).

    Baptism is said to be a "like figure" (with the flood) of that which saves us. That which saves us is Christ's death and resurrection (cp. "likeness of His death ... resurrection, " Romans 6:5).

    The phrase should read, literally, "the antitype to which baptism doth also save us, " that is:

    The TYPE Ark .... Its ANTITYPE Christ
    The TYPE Flood Waters .... Its ANTITYPE Water of Baptism

    By faith
    Noah and his entered the ark and were literally (physically) saved. Then came the flood waters that bore up, publicated, made prominently visible the ark that saved them.

    Even so, the sinner by faith enters into the Ark (Christ) and is spiritually saved; then come the waters of baptism that bear up, publicate, exhibit, make prominently clear the Ark (i.e., Christ -- dead, buried, and risen) by whom he is saved. That is: the Ark is to the Flood as Christ-received is to Baptism.

    But note the phrase: "the answer of a good conscience toward God." This is very misleading, for the word means the opposite. The ASV, however, in trying to correct this, made almost as bad a mistake by having it read "the interrogation of a good conscience, " which phrase does not make sense and gives the active force to a noun with passive force. It should read "the question of a good conscience toward God." "Interrogation" means a question expecting an answer. "Question" is a passive noun indicating that no answer is required. We have the same idiom in English. We say: "This is a question of principle and I will not yield. " Several other languages, including Greek, have this idiom.

    Thus Peter is saying: Baptism does not save (it is not the literality of water cleansing away "the filth of the flesh"), but baptism does picture that which saves (the death and resurrection of Christ), and it is therefore a matter or question of good conscience toward God. One who has believed will submit to the form as a matter of good conscience toward God, because of what the ordinance pictures. He will not refuse baptism (public confession of his faith) to avoid persecution.

    Finally, the general thought or line of argument for which the parenthesis (w. 19-21) is introduced seems to be not only to illustrate but to contrast, in that Christ's sufferings in the time of Noah yielded a harvest of only eight souls (type that it was), yet His sufferings on the Cross are yielding an innumerable harvest of souls, as his readers might see from the ever-increasing number of candidates for baptism who, despite persecution, rightly adjudge that to keep a good conscience (by doing that which is "a question of good conscience") is better than exemption from suffering (w. 14-17).

 

 

"Mason's Notes"


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