Understanding The Bible
Clarence E. Mason's "Earlier New
The Book of First Peter
TO WHOM DID CHRIST
PREACH IN 3:19 AND WHEN?
An Exposition of 1 Peter 3:13-22
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BY THE AUTHOR
Dr. Clarence E. Mason, Jr.
Philadelphia College of Bible
FIRST EPISTLE OF PETER
TO WHOM DID CHRIST PREACH IN 3:19
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.
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.
But if we suffer for righteousness, "HAPPY are ye!" Are we? We
The best defense
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.
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
But before we go further in the
exposition, let us examine:
THE FOUR VIEWS ON WHAT IS MEANT BY 1
NON-ORTHODOX VIEW (held by Jehovah's
- 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
- The Bible knows nothing of a
second chance after death (Hebrews 9:27; Luke 16:23-26).
- 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).
- 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."
- Why tantalize those already
in torment? (Luke 16:23)
Is this like Christ? Ezekiel (18:23)
- 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?
- 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
- 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.
- 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
- 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.)
- 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"
- 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
- Verse 18 - The CROSS
- God's hatred of, and
unsparing judgment upon, sin
- 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.
- Verse 20 - The .FLOOD
- God's judgment on sin
(and the antediluvian world)
- 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.
- 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).
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