From:  Over 50 Interpreters Explain First Peter                             Return to Home 

By Roland H. Worth, Jr.  © 2018



List of All Sources Quoted At End of File






CHAPTER 3:13-22




3:13                                                     Translations

Weymouth:     And who will be able to harm you, if you show yourselves zealous for that which is good?

WEB:              Now who is he who will harm you, if you become imitators of that which is good?

Young’s:         and who is he who will be doing you evil, if of Him who is good ye may become imitators?

Conte (RC):    And who is it who can harm you, if

you are zealous in what is good?

3:13                 And who is he that will harm you.  The general experience of the world is, that good and benevolent men need anticipate no injury from the malice and violence of the wicked.  “Justice,” says Plato, “causes concord and friendship.”  Yet there are exceptions, as the next verse allows and experience proves.  [39]

The quotation ceases and the Apostle adds the question, the answer to which seems to him a necessary inference from it.  The form of the question reminds us of that of Romans 8:33-35, still more perhaps, of Isaiah 50:9, where the LXX version gives for “condemn the very word which is here rendered “harm.”  [38]

Meaning of the word “harm:  The verb rendered ‘harm’ is interpreted by some (e.g. Schott) in the more specific sense of making one out to be an evil-doer.  The point then would be that, however calumniated among men, they could not be made evil-doers in God’s sight.  The verb, however, usually means to do evil to one (Acts 7:6; Acts 7:19; Acts 12:1; Acts 18:10), and that with the strong sense of harsh, injurious treatment; and the idea, therefore, is that, however ungenerously dealt with, they shall yet sustain no real hurt; they shall still be in God’s safe keeping, and the blessedness of the new life within them will make them superior to the malice and enmity of men.   [51]

It is not without interest to note that the same word is used of Herod’s vexing the Church in Acts 12:1.  Peter had learnt, in his endurance of the sufferings that then fell on him, that the persecutor has no real power to harm.  [38]

                        if ye be followers of [zealous for, ESV, NASB] that which is good?  The better MSS give the word (zelôtai) which is commonly rendered “zealous for,” as in Acts 21:20; 22:3.  A word in frequent use among devout Jews, (as e.g. in the name of the Apostle Simon Zelotes).  The received reading, “followers,” or better, imitators, probably originated in the Greek word for “good” being taken as masculine, and, as so taken, referred to Christ.  In that case, “followers” suggested itself as a fitter word (as in 1 Corinthians 4:16; Ephesians 5:1; 1 Thessalonians 1:6) than “zealots.”  [38]
The general tone of the Epistle suggests that the Christians addressed were in great fear of persecution, but that the Apostle thought they overrated their danger, and in their terror forgot that there was a protecting Providence.  Peter himself is much more anxious lest [there] should be a failure of Christian conduct.  Verse 13 therefore means, “Do not forget that God protects His people, and that, if you fall away into sin, you forfeit that protection.  You may draw down ill-treatment upon yourselves by being abusive, over-reaching, and dishonest; but don’t call it persecution.  [45]   



3:14                                                     Translations

Weymouth:     But even if you suffer for righteousness' sake, you are to be envied. So do not be alarmed by their threats, nor troubled;

WEB:              But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you are blessed. "Don't fear what they fear, neither be troubled."

Young’s:         but if ye also should suffer because of righteousness, happy are ye! and of their fear be not afraid, nor be troubled,

Conte (RC):    And yet, even when you suffer

something for the sake of justice, you are blessed.

So then, do not be afraid with their fear, and do not

be disturbed.


3:14                 But and if [Even if, NKJV]  ye suffer for righteousness’ sake.  Better, “But even if ye suffer, blessed are ye,” as reproducing more closely the beatitude of Matthew 5:10.  [38]

“Not the suffering, but the cause for which one suffers, makes the martyr” [Augustine].  [20]

Speculation:  Does he have in mind suffering far beyond the current harassment to outright death?  So far are men’s attempts to “harm” us (by acts of malice ---to property or good name, &c.) from really injuring us, that even if it should come to be a matter of “suffering” we are to be congratulated.  What he means by this “suffering,” which is so much more than being “harmed,” may be seen from 1 Peter 2:21, 3:17; 4:1; 4:15.  He means the horrors of capital punishment.  He does not speak of this as something that was already occurring, nor as though it were something immediately and certainly impending, but as a case well supposable.  There had then as yet been no martyrdoms in Asia.  The letter is therefore earlier in date than the Apocalypse (Revelation 2:13).  It is a noticeable point that in all Paul’s Epistles the word “to suffer” occurs but seven times, and nowhere twice in the same Epistle; whereas it comes twelve times in this one short Letter of Peter.  [46]

                        for righteousness’ sake.  This passage appears to have been suggested by the beatitude, Matthew 5:10.  [16] 

                        The Greek idiom implies that it is not likely that they would suffer thus; not that it was wholly improbable that such cases would occur, but that to suffer [such] persecution would be a rare experience.  [45]

                        happy [blessed, NKJV] are ye.  That does not, of course, mean that one goes out and intentionally courts insults and threats for those who make such against you are all too likely to carry them out.  But your willingness to live right and believe right in spite of their ridicule and opposition means that God has a special regard for you as one who is being battle tested.  [rw]   

                        Happy are ye.—Quite the right word:  yet the use of it obscures the obvious reference to the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:10).  The reference to it is all the clearer in the Greek from the significant way in which Peter leaves his sentence incomplete, merely giving the catchword of the beatitude.  We might represent it to ourselves by putting “Blessed” in inverted commas, and a dash after it.  He makes sure his readers will catch the allusion.  There is no part of our Lord’s discourses which seems (from the traces in the earliest Christian literature) to have taken so rapid and firm a hold on the Christian conscience as the Sermon on the Mount.  [46]

                        and be not afraid of their terror [threats, NKJV].  Pointing to attempts by threats to frighten them into apostasy.  [39]

                        Peter warns also with the word of the Scriptures against the fear of men (Isaiah 8:12).  But instead of setting up against this the fear of God, as is done in Isaiah 8:13 (cf. Matthew 10:20), he applies this word to Christ, who can be worshipped as the divine Lord in our hearts only if through fear of Him we overcome all human fear.  [9]]]

Isaiah 8 and this text:  Isaiah 8:13a means, “Make Jehovah the sole object of your worship, faith, and fear.”  [45]

These, and the following words, “Sanctify the Lord God in your heart,” are plainly taken from Isaiah 8:12, and they are there an exhortation not to fear the Assyrians, nor to be dismayed, as those Jews were, who out of fear were desirous to confederate with them; and so accordingly they must here, signify, that Christians were not so to dread those by whom they suffered for the sake of righteousness, nor any that out of fear conspired with them to avoid persecution.  [4]

                        As in Isaiah 8:12 (Authorized [Version]), “Neither fear ye their fear, nor be afraid.”  “Their fear” may mean either “that of which they are afraid,” or “that of which they would make you afraid.”  The latter interpretation is the more probable, and is that of Alford and Wordsworth.  Bengel rather happily combines the two, “Fear not that which they fear themselves, and of which they would make you afraid.”  [44] 

                        neither be troubled.  Be agitated by no fears or apprehensions.  [39]

The [Greek] word used of Herod’s trouble (Matt. 2:3); of the agitation of the pool of Bethesda (John v. 4); of Christ’s troubled spirit (John 12:27).  [2]

The strong term expressive of agitation is used here, which describes the trouble of the disciples on the sea, Matthew 14:26; the trouble of Christ’s own spirit at the grave of Lazarus, John 11:33, etc.  At times the fear of man had been Peter’s deadliest snare and bitterest misery.  It is not strange that he should bear this witness to the inconsistency of such fear with the life of gladness and goodness.  [51]



3:15                                                     Translations

Weymouth:     but in your hearts consecrate Christ as Lord, being always ready to make your defence to any one who asks from you a reason for the hope which you cherish.

WEB:              But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts; and always be ready to give an answer to everyone who asks you a reason concerning the hope that is in you, with humility and fear:

Young’s:         and the Lord God sanctify in your hearts. And be ready always for defence to every one who is asking of you an account concerning the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear;

Conte (RC):    But sanctify Christ the Lord in your

hearts, being always ready to give an explanation to

all who ask you the reason for that hope which is in



3:15                 But sanctify.  Or “hallow,” i.e. set apart.  [3]

                        Treat Him as God, trust in Him to protect you and do for you what you need.  [14]

                        Namely, by fearing him more than men, how many or powerful soever they may be; by believing all his promises; by trusting in his wisdom, power, and goodness; by acknowledging his justice in the punishments which he inflicts, and by patiently bearing all the trials he is pleased to appoint.  By these dispositions, believers sanctify God in their hearts; they give him the glory of all his perfections.  See Isaiah 8:13.  [47]

the Lord God.  The better MSS. give the Lord Christ.  The original text was probably altered by transcribers to bring it into conformity with the LXX text of Isaiah.  To “sanctify Christ” or “God” was to count His Name as holy above all other names, His fear, as the only fear which men ought to cherish, and therefore as the safeguard against all undue fear of men.  [38]

The use made by the Apostle of Isaiah 8:13 expressly identifies Christ with the Jehovah of the Old Testament.  This point is lost by the Authorized Version which, following inferior manuscripts, has “sanctify the Lord God.”  [45]

in your hearts.  The words “in your hearts” are added by the Apostle to the text of Isaiah [8:12-13] as showing that the “hallowing” of which he speaks should work in the root and centre of their spiritual being.  [38]

“In your hearts” is not in the Hebrew or Septuagint, but it must evidently be understood; for no mere outward signs of fear are of any avail in the sight of the Searcher of hearts.  [41]

The words “in your hearts” are added in order to express the fact that this sanctification is not to be of a formal or external order, but to rest in the deepest seat of feeling.  [51]

and be ready always.  No exception as to time.  [39]

A most exacting demand upon the Apostle’s readers.  The “answer” which was to be so universally available must have been brief, simple, and—from the Christian standpoint—obviously convincing; a few main facts about Christ, perhaps also the few great religious truths which prove themselves to men of spiritual discernment, and, certainly, the personal experience of the answerer. [45]

to give an answer [defense, NKJV].  State the reasons why you believe the gospel and hope to be saved. [14]

Not [however, answering] every trifling question or malicious cavil. Christ answered the governor not a word to some things, and yet he witnessed a good confession before Pontius Pilate, 1 Timothy 6:13.  [29] 

In this age, our unbelievers are well-read in books hostile to revelation, and nothing can be more imprudent than to let our young men go out into the world unarmed.  What can we expect but an abdication of the faith they were never taught to defend?  [30] 

“Answer” (apologia):  strictly a speech made by a prisoner in his defense, and so used of Paul’s speech to the hostile Jewish mob at Jerusalem, Acts 22:1; also Acts 15:16 (R.V., “defense”); and of Paul’s defense when tried at Rome, 2 Timothy 4:16.  So Plato’s Apology is in the form of a speech made by Socrates in his defense when tried for his life.  Later on Apologia came to be the title of treatises written in defense of the Christian faith.  Hence the science of Christian evidences is styled “Apologetics.”  This verse might serve for its motto.  The use of the term here implies that the inquirers would be critical or even hostile.  Current slanders had put Christianity on its defense.  [45]

As applicable to Peter’s own teaching:  Thus he does not propose to teach new truths, but declares that he will “be ready always” to put his readers in remembrance of the truth in which they are already established.  He regards this as his duty and more especially because his own death is approaching.  [7]

to every man that asketh you.  Anyone has a right respectfully to ask another on what grounds he regards his religion as true; for every man has a common interest in religion, and in knowing what is the truth on the subject.  If any man, therefore, asks us candidly and respectfully by what reasons we have been led to embrace the gospel, and on what grounds we, regard it as true, we are under obligation to state those grounds in the best manner that we are able.  We should regard it not as an impertinent intrusion into our private affairs, but as an opportunity of doing good to others, and to honor the Master whom we serve. Nay, we should hold ourselves in readiness to state the grounds of our faith and hope, whatever maybe the motive of the inquirer, and in whatever manner the request may be made.  [31]

a reason.  An intelligent, rational account.  The Romish response of “I believe because the Church believes,” is thus repudiated beforehand.  [39]

of the hope that is in you.  That is, of eternal glory, involving the basis of truth in fact and doctrine, upon which it rests. The answer thus became a defense of Christianity itself, seldom, indeed, with the learning and power of a Paul, a Justin Martyr, or a Tertullian, but always with intelligence and reason.  [39]

with meekness.  This seems to be added on the supposition that they sometimes might be rudely assailed; that the questions might be proposed in a spirit of evil; that it might be done in a taunting or insulting manner.  Even though this should be done, they were not manifest resentment or retort in an angry and revengeful manner.  [31]

The contempt and ridicule which many of the “inquirers” poured upon the faith made it very difficult for Christians to keep their temper and refrain from abuse.  Hence there was great need for these graces; the “fear” of God, the sense of a Divine presence, would keep them calm and courteous.  [45]

and fear.  Partly lest the truth should suffer through any infirmities in its defenders, partly because the spirit of reverential awe towards God was the best safeguard against such infirmities.  [38]

The “fear” which is to be coupled with it is best understood neither as the fear of God exclusively, nor as the fear of man specifically, but more generally as the dread of doing or saying anything out of harmony with the solemnity of the interests involved—“that reverential fear,” as Bishop Butler expresses it, “which the nature of religion requires, and which is so far from being inconsistent with, that it will inspire, proper courage towards men.”  While we are to be ready with our answer, it is not to be given in a forward, irreverent, or arrogant spirit.  Reference is appropriately made (by Alford, etc.) to the interpretation put upon this counsel by one who had the best title to speak, the hero of Augsburg and Worms:  “Then must ye not answer with proud words, and state your cause with defiance and with violence, as if you would tear up trees, but with such fear and humility as if ye stood before the judgment-seat of God; so shouldest thou stand in fear, and not rely on thy own strength, but on the word and promise of Christ.”  [51]


                        In depth:  Meekness in Greek philosophical thought and its deepening of meaning in Christian [51].  In the old Greek system of morals it had, indeed, a better place assigned it than was allowed to the quality of humility. In the ethical teaching of men like Plato, Aristotle, and Plutarch, it is commended as the virtue by which a man retains his equanimity, as the mean between the extremes of passionateness and insensibility, and as the opposite of rudeness, severity, harshness.  So far, therefore, it had a good sense, where humility had the reverse.  It remained, nevertheless, on a comparatively low platform, and with a value essentially superficial.

                        Christianity carried it far beyond this, giving it a deeper seat than natural disposition, a loftier sphere of action than our relation to other men, a happier connection with humble-mindedness (compare Ephesians 4:2; Colossians 2:12), at once a more inward and a more Godward aspect.

Having its roots in the Christian consciousness of sin, it is first of all a grace with a Godward aspect (compare Matthew 11:29; James 1:21), “the temper of spirit in which we accept His dealings with us as good, and therefore without disputing or resisting” (Trench).

It is, in the second place, the disposition to meet whatever demand is made upon us by the oppositions and sins of our fellow-men in the spirit which is born of the sense of our own ill-desert in God’s sight.  So it is set over against a contentious spirit (Titus 3:2), want of consideration for offenders (Galatians 6:1), and harshness toward opponents (2 Timothy 2:24), etc.



3:16                                                     Translations

Weymouth:     Yet argue modestly and cautiously, keeping your consciences free from guilt, so that, when you are spoken against, those who slander your good Christian lives may be put to shame.

WEB:              having a good conscience; that, while you are spoken against as evildoers, they may be disappointed who curse your good way of life in Christ. 

Young’s:         having a good conscience, that in that in which they speak against you as evil-doers, they may be ashamed who are traducing your good behaviour in Christ;

Conte (RC):    But do so with meekness and fear,

having a good conscience, so that, in whatever

matter they may slander you, they shall be

confounded, since they falsely accuse your good

behavior in Christ.


3:16                 Having a good conscience.  That is, a conscience that does not accuse you of having done wrong.  Whatever may be the accusations of your enemies, so live that you may be at all times conscious of uprightness.  The word properly means the judgment of the mind respecting right and wrong; or the judgment which the mind passes on the immorality of its own actions, when it instantly approves or condemns them.  A “good conscience” implies two things: 

                        (1) That it be properly enlightened to know what is right and wrong, or that it be not under the dominion of ignorance, superstition, or fanaticism, prompting us to do what would be a violation of the divine law; and,

                        (2) that its dictates must always be obeyed.

                        Without the first of these--clear views of that which is right and wrong--conscience becomes an unsafe guide; for it merely prompts us to do what we esteem to be right, and if our views of what is right and wrong are erroneous, we may be prompted to do what may be a direct violation of the law of God.  Paul thought he “ought” to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth, Acts 26:9; the Savior said, respecting his disciples, that the time would come when whosoever should kill them would think that they were doing God service, John 16:2; and Solomon says, “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death,” Proverbs 14:12; 16:25.  Conscience is not revelation, nor does it answer the purpose of a revelation.  It communicates no new truth to the soul, and is a safe guide only so far as the mind has been properly enlightened to see what is truth and duty.  [31]

Conscience is a sentiment:  i.e., it contains and implies conscious emotions which arise on the discernment of an object as good or bad.  In Scripture we are to view conscience, as Bishop Ellicott remarks, not in its abstract nature, but in its practical manifestations.  Hence it may be weak (1 Corinthians 8:7, 12), unauthoritative, and awakening only the feeblest emotion.  It may be evil or  defiled (Hebrews 10:22; Titus 1:15), through consciousness of evil practice.   It may be seared (1 Timothy 4:2), branded by its own testimony to evil practice, hardened and insensible to the appeal of good.  On the other hand, it may be pure (2 Timothy 1:3), unveiled, and giving honest and clear moral testimony.  It may be void of offence (Acts 24:16), unconscious of evil intent or act; good, as here, or honorable (Hebrews 13:18).  [2]

                        that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers.  They who are your enemies and persecutors.  Christians are not to hope that people will always speak well of them, Matthew 5:11; Luke 6:26.  [31]

                        It was natural that those who lived a purer life should be subject to the reproaches of the vile, as they felt the sharp rebuke which was administered to their folly by the very existence of virtues contrasting so brilliantly with their own degradation.  [40]   

                        The charge against the Christians was not merely that their religious views were unsound, but that their morals were bad, 2:12; and to this also they were to be “ready always to give answer,” even to masters or husbands, who were intimately acquainted with their lives; hence the need of a good conscience.  [45]

they may be ashamed.  May be shamed into silence.  Cf. Luke 13:17.  [37]

When? St. Peter is evidently thinking of the Christian at the bar of the curator or pro-consul, and the mortification of the delator, or spy, who had given information against him.  [46]

that falsely accuse your good conversation [conduct, NKJV].  “Being good” is never a guarantee that one won’t be criticized.  Sooner or later there is going to be someone who just flat dislikes you . . . or your religion . . . or something else . . . and will find an excuse to criticize what you do.  The most you can do is guarantee that they never have anything legitimate to work with.  [rw]

The verb, which the A.V. translates “falsely accuse,” occurs only twice again in the Received Text of the N.T., viz. in Matthew 5:44 (where, however, it is rejected by the best critics as insufficiently attested), and Luke 6:28, where it is rendered “despitefully use.”  As in classical Greek it has the sense of insulting, acting insolently to one, abusively threatening one, it is best rendered here “abuse,” or (with R.V.) “revile,” and the reference will therefore be to coarse and insolent misrepresentation of the way in which Christians live in the face of heathenism, rather than to “accusations” in the stricter sense.  [51]

in Christ.  i.e. in union with Him, and therefore after His likeness.  [38]

That is, which flows from faith in him.  [15]

Or:  The slanders against Christians reflected on the character and claims of Christ.  [45]

                        There are but three instances in Peter of the phrase “in Christ” so common in Paul, and yet it has its root in the discourses of our Lord.  “He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him,” is the first stance of its use.  Then it appears in the Parable of the Vine and the branches.  It is surprising that being known to Peter, he should not have employed it more frequently.  But “every man hath his proper gift of God.”  “The Spirit divideth to every man severally as He will.”  [41] 



3:17                                                     Translations

Weymouth:     For it is better that you should suffer for doing right, if such be God's will, than for doing evil;

WEB:              For it is better, if it is God's will, that you suffer for doing well than for doing evil.

Young’s:         for it is better doing good, if the will of God will it, to suffer, than doing evil;

Conte (RC):    For it is better to suffer for doing good,

if it is the will of God, than for doing evil.


3:17                 For it is better, if the will of God be so.  The Greek, as in verse 14, implies that such suffering was not likely to be a common experience.  [45]

                        Luther:  “Go thou on in faith and love; if the cross comes, take it up; if it comes not, do not seek it.”  [50]

                        The word rendered “better” here is one which does not mean exactly what is of better moral quality, but rather what is of greater power or importance, and so what is preferable or of greater advantage.  [51]

that ye suffer for well doing.  The defense of the Christians might be logically complete, they might demonstrate the reasonableness of their faith, and vindicate their innocence, and yet they might suffer.  But it was better, especially for the cause of Christ, that they should suffer thus than that they should provoke ill-treatment by bad behavior. [45]

than for evil doing.  The cause, and not the pain, makes the martyr.  What a sad thing was that related by Eusebius, that the cruel persecution under Diocletian was occasioned chiefly by the petulance, pride, and contentions of the pastors and bishops!  which gave occasion to the tyrant to think that Christian religion was no better than a wretched device of wicked men.  Lactantius to the like purpose crieth out, Nunc male audiunt castiganturque vulgo Christiani, quod aliter quam sapientibus convenit vivant, et vitia sub obtentu nominis celent: Christians are hardly spoken of, and deeply censured by the common people, because they live not as becometh wise men; but cover their vices under pretence of their religion. (De Opific. Dei, Proaem.)  [29] 



3:18                                                     Translations

Weymouth:     because Christ also once for all died for sins, the innocent One for the guilty many, in order to bring us to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit,

WEB:              Because Christ also suffered for sins once, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring you to God; being put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit;

Young’s:         because also Christ once for sin did suffer -- righteous for unrighteous -- that he might lead us to God, having been put to death indeed, in the flesh, and having been made alive in the spirit,

Conte (RC):    For Christ also died once for our sins,

the Just One on behalf of the unjust, so that he might

offer us to God, having died, certainly, in the flesh,

but having been enlivened by the Spirit.


3:18                 For Christ also hath once.  To suffer no more.  [15]

                        The design of the apostle in the reference to the sufferings of Christ, is evidently to remind them that he suffered as an innocent being, and not for any wrong-doing, and to encourage and comfort them in their sufferings by his example.  The expression, “hath once suffered,” in the New Testament, means once for all; once, in the sense that it is not to occur again.  Compare Hebrews 7:27.  The particular point here, however, is not that he once suffered; it is that he had in fact suffered, and that in doing it he had left an example for them to follow.  [31]

                        This gives a reason for thinking it no such formidable thing to suffer when one is innocent.  It has been tried before, and the precedent is encouraging.  “It is,” says Archbishop Leighton, “some known ease to the mind, in any distress, to look upon examples of the like or greater distress in present or former times . . . As the example and company of the saints in suffering is very considerable, so that of Christ is more than any other, yea, than all the rest together.”  If King Messiah (note that he does not call Him Jesus) could endure to be cut off (but not for Himself), was it for any one who clung to the promises to shrink from the like test?  [46]

suffered [died, NASB].  Documentary evidence is pretty evenly balanced between the verb “suffered” and the verb “died.”  Although the Revised Version retains the former, the latter is preferred by the majority of textual experts (Lachmann, Tischendorf, Tregelles, Westcott and Hort, Gebhardt).  [51]

for sins.  Not his own, but ours.  [15]

The precise Greek phrase “for sins” (literally, “concerning, or on account of, sins”) is used in Hebrews 10:6, 8, 18, 26, and in the LXX of Psalm 40:6, and was almost the technical phrase of the Levitical Code (Leviticus 4:33).  [38]

the just for the unjust.  The preposition in this case means “on behalf of,” and is that used of the efficacy of Christ’s sufferings in Mark 14:24, John 6:51, 1 Corinthians 5:7, 1 Timothy 2:6.  It is used also of our sufferings for Christ (Philippians 1:29), or for our brother men (Ephesians 3:1, 13), and therefore does not by itself express the vicarious character of the death of Christ, though it naturally runs up into it.  In the emphatic description of Christ as “the Just,” we have an echo of Peter’s own words in Acts 3:14; in the stress laid on the fact that He, the just, died for the unjust, a like echo of the teaching of Paul in Romans 5:6.  [38]

that He might bring us to God.  This, then, from Peter’s point of view, and not a mere exemption from an infinite penalty, was the end contemplated in the death of Christ.  “Access to God,” the right to come boldly to the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16), was with him as with Paul (Romans 5:2; Ephesians 2:18, 3:12), the final cause of the redemptive work.  The verb, it may be noted, is not used elsewhere in this connection in the New Testament.  [38]

Does this mean that he might bring us, after the final judgment, together with himself into heaven?  Or, that he might bring us into a state of reconciliation and communion with God in this world?  Dean Alford, quoting Bengel, adopts the former view, as though it were the only possible one; and it evidently accords with his interpretation of what follows.  It is true that Christ will bring all saved souls to heaven; but it does not seem to be taught here.  We prefer the second view, as bringing the death of Christ into close connection with its results, as in 1 Peter 1:3, 21; 2:24; Colossians 1:21, and elsewhere.  Indeed, it is what our Lord said (John 12:32) that if he were lifted up he would draw all unto himself.  [39]

being put to death in the flesh.  The words “in the flesh” are clearly designed to denote something that was unique in his death; for it is a departure from the usual method of speaking of death.  How singular would it be to say of Isaiah, Paul, or Peter, that they were put to death in the flesh!  It is the usual way of denoting the human nature of the Lord Jesus, or of saying that he became incarnate, or was a man, to speak of his being in the flesh.  See Romans 1:2, “Made of the seed of David according to the flesh.”  John 1:14, “and the Word was made flesh.”  1 Timothy 3:16, “God was manifest in the flesh.”  1 John 4:2,; “every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, is of God.”  2 John 1:7, “who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh.”  Then the expression “in the flesh” refers to him as a man, and means, that so far as his human nature was concerned, he died.  [31]

but quickened [made alive, NKJV] by the Spirit.  The expression means raised from the dead (verse 21).  [16]

“Made alive”” ζοωποιηθεὶς zoōpoiētheis  This does not mean “kept alive,” but “made alive; recalled to life; reanimated.”  The word is never used in the sense of maintained alive, or preserved alive.  [T]he Savior himself says, John 10:17-18, “I lay down my life, that I might take it again.  No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself.  I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.”  This must refer to his divine nature, for it is impossible to conceive that a human soul should have the power of restoring its former tenement, the body, to life.  The conclusion, then, to which we have come is, that the passage means, that as a man, a human being, he was put to death; in respect to a higher nature, or by a higher nature, here denominated Spirit he was restored to life:  As a man, he died; as the incarnate Son of God, the Messiah, he was made alive again by the power of his own Divine Spirit, and exalted to heaven.  [31]

“As Christ was conceived in the womb of his mother by the Holy Spirit, (Luke 1:35), so he was raised from the dead by the same Spirit; on which account he is said (1 Timothy 3:16) to have been justified by the Spirit; and (Hebrews 9:14) to have offered himself without spot to God, through the eternal Spirit.  It is true the resurrection of Christ is ascribed to the Father, 1 Corinthians 6:14; 2 Corinthians 4:14; Ephesians 1:20; but that is not inconsistent with Peter’s affirmation in this verse;” for the Father may, with the strictest propriety, be said to have done what his Spirit did, especially as it was done to show that God acknowledged Jesus to be his Son.  And our Lord’s words, John 2:19, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up, are to be understood in the same manner.  He raised it up by that Spirit which proceeded from him as well as from the Father.  [47]


                        In depth:  A concise overview of scenarios of interpreting verses 18-20 and the often overlooked need to interpret these verses in light of what Peter had just been saying [51].  The interpretations put upon the passage have been too numerous to admit of detailed statement, not to speak of criticism, here.  We shall notice only those of deepest interest.  It should at once be allowed that no exposition has yet succeeded in removing all the difficulties.  There are some writers (e.g. Steiger) who venture to speak of these difficulties as rather created by interpreters than inherent in the passage itself.  But these are few indeed.

Many of the greatest exegetes and theologians have held a very uncertain position on the subject, or have confessed themselves baffled by it.  Luther, for example, felt it to be a “dark speech,” and inclined to very different views of its meaning at different periods of his career.  It is at best a question of the balance of probabilities.

The great problems are these:  Does the section refer to a ministry of grace, a ministry of judgment, or a mere manifestation of Christ?

Is the ministry, if such is referred to, one that took place prior to the Incarnation, between the Death and the Resurrection, or after the Resurrection?

Are the men of Noah’s generation introduced in their proper historical position, or only as examples of a general class?

In considering these problems, two things are too often overlooked.  It is forgotten how precarious it is to erect upon one or two of the obscurities of Scripture a great system of doctrine, which is not in evident harmony with the general view of grace which clearly pervades the Bible.  It is forgotten, too, that the passage cannot fairly be dealt with as a doctrinal digression, but must be read in the light of the writer’s immediate object.  That object is the Christian duty of enduring wrong for righteousness’ sake, and the advantage of suffering for well-doing rather than for ill-doing.  [Note the earlier verses for the context.  rw]

It is with the view of confirming what he has said of this that Peter appeals to Christ’s own example.  The question consequently is, what exposition is best sustained by the detailed exegesis of the several terms, does most justice to the plainer elements in the paragraph, such as the historical reference to Noah and the building of the ark, etc., and is in clearest harmony with the writer’s design, namely, to arm believers smarting under the sense of wrongful suffering with Christ-like endurance? 


                        In depth:  The nature of Christ’s suffering and its implications for human sin [10].  We speak not of their quality, as corporeal, or spiritual, but of their nature as described in the text.  They were,

                        1.  Penal--Some affirm that the sufferings of Christ were only to confirm his doctrine, and to set us an example:  but these ends might have been equally answered by the sufferings of his Apostles.  But they were the punishment of sin:  and the wrath of God due to sin, was the bitterest ingredient in them.  We had merited the curse and condemnation of the law:  and he, to deliver us from it, “became a curse for us (Galatians 3:10,13).”  “He suffered for sins;” and though his punishment was not precisely the same either in quality or duration, as ours would have been, yet was it equivalent to our demerit, and satisfactory to the justice of an offended God.

                        2.  Vicarious--It was not for any sin of his own that Jesus was cut off (Daniel 9:26):  he was  a Lamb without spot or blemish” (1 Peter 1:19),  as even his enemies, after the strictest scrutiny, were forced to confess (John 18:38 and 19:6).  He died, “the just for, and in the room of, the unjust” (See Romans 5:7 in the Greek):  the iniquities of all the human race were laid upon him (Isaiah 53:6):  he was wounded for our transgressions, and bruised for our iniquities, and the chastisement he endured was to effect our peace (Isaiah 53:4).  He, who was innocent, became a sin-offering for us, that we, who are guilty, might be made righteous in him (2 Corinthians 5:21).

                        3.  Propitiatory--The death of Christ, like all the sacrifices under the Jewish law, was an atonement for sin.  It is continually compared with the Jewish sacrifices in this view (Hebrews. passim.).  We say not, that the Father hated us, and needed to have his wrath appeased by the interposition of his Son (for the very gift of Christ was the fruit of the Father’s love [John 3:16]); but we say, in concurrence with all the inspired writers, that when it was necessary for the honor of the Divine government that sin should be punished, either in the offender himself or in his surety, Christ became our surety, and by his own death made a true and proper atonement for our sins, and thus effected our reconciliation with God (Ephesians 5:2 and 1 John 2:2).  On any other supposition than this, the whole Mosaic ritual was absurd, and the writings of the New Testament are altogether calculated to deceive us. 


                        In depth:  Argument that the fact that Christ’s spirit was “quickened” prohibits the text from having any intention that He preached to the imprisoned spirits between His death and His resurrection [23].  The chief question is:  Did our Lord go to Hades in a disembodied state?  In fact, all depends on the question of what is the true meaning of the sentence, “quickened by the Spirit.”

Now, according to the interpretations of the men who teach that the Lord visited Hades, the spirits in prison, during the interval between His death and the morning of the third day, He descended into these regions while His dead body was still in the grave.  Therefore, these teachers claim that His human spirit was quickened, which [logically] necessitates that the spirit which the dying Christ commended into the Father’s hands had also died.  This is not only incorrect doctrine, but it is an unsound and evil doctrine.  Was the holy humanity of our Lord, body, soul and spirit dead?  A thousands times No!  Only His body died; that is the only part of Him which could die.

The text makes this clear: “He was put to death in flesh,” that is, His body. There could be no quickening of His spirit, for His spirit was [still] alive.  Furthermore, the word quickening, as we learn from Ephesians 1:20 and Ephesians 2:5-6, by comparing the two passages, applies to His physical resurrection, it is the quickening of His body [by the spirit].  The “quickened by the Spirit” means the raising up of His body.  His human spirit needed no quickening; it was His body and only His body.  And the Spirit who did the quickening is not His own spirit, that is, His human spirit, but the Holy Spirit.  Romans 8:11 speaks of the Spirit as raising Jesus from among the dead.


                        In depth:  When did the “quickening” of Christ by the resurrection occur [46]?  The interpreters of this sentence may be classified in two groups, according as they understand the fact referred to in the second clause to be (1) the resurrection of Christ, or (2) something which took place between His death and His resurrection.

Now, if we could accept the translation in the English Bible, “by the Spirit,” it would be pretty obvious to accept (1); and we should point to such passages as Romans 1:4, 8:11, to show that the resurrection of Christ was due to the action of the Holy Ghost.  It would not be possible to follow Oecumenius, Calvin, Beza, and Leighton, in taking “the flesh” to mean generally the human nature of Christ, and “the Spirit” by which He was quickened to mean His own divine nature; for Christ has a human spirit as truly as a human body and soul, and it would be heresy to call His divine nature His spirit, as though it occupied in Him the position which is occupied in men by the human spirit. 

But, as a matter of fact, we cannot translate it “quickened by the Spirit.”  It is literally, killed indeed in flesh, but quickened in spirit.  Now, how can “quickened in spirit” be a description of the Resurrection?  It cannot be answered (with Huther) that the “spirit” here means the resurrection body; for though that is indeed a spiritual body, yet it is playing fast and loose with words to identify “spirit” and “spiritual body.”  If the resurrection body be only spirit, where is the resurrection? 

Neither would the antithesis be correct between “flesh” and “spirit,” if by “spirit” is meant the new form of body given at the Resurrection.  Or, again, taking “spirit” in its true sense of the inward incorporeal self, could the Resurrection be described as a quickening of it?  True, the spirit itself will gain in some way by its re-incorporation (2 Corinthians 5:4); but as the spirit has been alive all along, but the flesh has been dead, the contrast would be very forced to express death and resurrection by “killed in flesh, but quickened in spirit,” instead of saying rather “killed in flesh, but soon quickened in the same.”

Thus we are driven to (2).  As a matter of fact, there is nothing in the words to suggest an interval between the quickening and the killing.  They both are parts of the same act, and both are used to explain the word “died.”  It is a kind of apology for having used the word death at all (for we have seen that Peter’s object is to help the future martyrs to despise death, 1 Peter 3:14):  “Died, do I say? yes, killed in flesh, it is true, but actually quickened to fresh energies in spirit by that very act of death.”  (Compare our Lord’s charge to the Twelve, Matthew 10:28.) 

But how can His death be said to have been a quickening of His human spirit?  Some take the word to mean simply “preserved alive,” a word almost identical, being used apparently in that sense in Luke 17:33, Acts 7:19.  The notion, however, would be too weak here; some energetic action seems required to balance “being killed.”  That Peter is speaking of something not altogether peculiar to Christ, but common to men, may still be inferred from his saying “Christ also.”  The doctrine, then, seems to be (as Bengel and others say) that the spirit, set free from the body, immediately receives new life, as it were, thereby.  To purely spiritual realities it becomes alive in a manner which was impossible while it was united to the flesh.  The new powers are exemplified in what follows immediately.  So long as Christ, so long as any man, is alive in the flesh, he cannot hold converse with spirits as such; but the moment death severs flesh and spirit the spirit can deal with other spirits, which Christ proceeded forth with to do.



3:19                                                     Translations

Weymouth:     in which He also went and proclaimed His Message to the spirits that were in prison,

WEB:              in which he also went and preached to the spirits in prison,

Young’s:         in which also to the spirits in prison having gone he did preach,

Conte (RC):    And in the Spirit, he preached to those

who were in prison, going to those souls


3:19                 By which [In which, ESV, NASB].  Evidently by the Spirit referred to in the previous verse--the divine nature of the Son of God; that by which he was “quickened” again, after he had been put to death.  [31]

                        In the spirit, as distinguished from his human life; therefore at some period other than that life.  [45]

                        Here, again, the A.V., following the Genevan alone among these earlier English Versions, wrongly renders “by which.”  The sense is, “in which,” i.e in the spiritual form of life which has just been noticed.  [51]

also He went and preached.  In short:  Literally, having gone.  Alford supposes local transference and personal preaching; but the case is paralleled in Ephesians 2:17, “And came [by the Holy Spirit] and preached [through the apostles] peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh.”  So Christ went by the Holy Spirit, and preached, through Noah, to the antediluvians.  He is the Jehovah who sent his Spirit to do his office of awaking to repentance the ungodly of that generation (Genesis 6:3), and to speak through Noah.  [39]

In more detail:  To wit, in the days of Noah.  No particular stress should be laid here on the phrase “he went.”  The literal sense is, “he, having gone, preached,” etc. πορευθεὶς  poreutheis.  It is well known that such expressions are often redundant in Greek writers, as in others.  So Herodotus, “to these things they spake, saying”--for they said.  “And he, speaking, said;” that is, he said.  The idea, however, would be conveyed by this language that he did this personally, or by himself, and not merely by employing the agency of another.  It would then be implied here, that though the instrumentality of Noah was employed, yet that it was done not by the Holy Spirit, but by him who afterward became incarnate. On the supposition, therefore, that this whole passage refers to his preaching to the antediluvians in the time of Noah, and not to the “spirits” after they were confined in prison, this is language which the apostle would have properly and probably used.  If that supposition meets the full force of the language, then no argument can be based on it in proof that he went to preach to them after their death, and while his body was lying in the grave.  [31]

preached.  The word used here (ἐκήρυξεν ekēruxen) is of a general character, meaning to make a proclamation of any kind, as a crier does, or to deliver a message, and does not necessarily imply that it was the gospel which was preached, nor does it determine anything in regard to the nature of the message.  It is not affirmed that he preached the gospel, for if that specific idea had been expressed it would have been rather by another word-- εὐαγγελίζω euangelizō.  [31]

unto the spirits in prison.  The words “in prison” designate not only the place but also the condition in which these spirits were.  [50]

Christ preached to them before they went to prison by His servant Noah, perhaps by some visible appearance of Himself, as He appeared to Isaiah.  [13]

                        Rebuttal:  These words unquestionably imply that the writer thought of a personal going to Christ, just as “having gone into heaven” (verse 22), admits of no other interpretation.  A preaching through Noah is accordingly excluded.  Besides, if this latter view be accepted, “in prison” has no intelligible sense, since to say that the spirits were “in prison” because they would not listen to Noah is to strain a figure too much, to say nothing of the unfitness of calling the living men of that time “spirits.”  [16]  But if the reference is to preaching to those who are now “spirits in prison,” then this problem is removed:  They had been preached to while in the flesh; rejecting the message, they now “rot” in prison.  [rw]    

                        Alternate approach:  Human spirits aren’t even in consideration:  “Preaching” here is not the word commonly used for preaching the gospel, but means “to herald” or “to proclaim.”  That which Christ heralded or proclaimed was His triumph over His enemies through the Cross (Colossians 3:13-15).  “Spirits” presumably, does not refer to men but angels, the evil angels who “kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation,” “in the days of Noah.”  [32] 

                        spirits.  The word “spirits” is used here, as in Hebrews 12:23, in the sense of disembodied spirits.  Elsewhere (e.g. Revelation 6:9; Revelation 20:4) the term “souls” is used to designate the departed.  [51]


                        In depth:  Case for Jesus personally preaching to those in Hades after His death—Overview of the issues envolved [6].  In this connection the apostle introduces two important articles of doctrine;--(a) That of the descent of Christ into hell, and the purpose of it, (chap. 3:21.)  About the interpretation of these articles a great variety of views have from very early times been formed.  This is especially the case with the first; and yet even the connection in which it stands indicates very clearly the true meaning. 

The questions are, 1st, Whether [between] the descent of His death and His resurrection, or after His resurrection.  In favor of the first of these views the connection speaks decidedly.  For the point to be shown is, that suffering itself is advantageous to the righteous.  And this is done in the instance of Christ, first, by showing that the putting to death of his flesh served to quicken the spirit of Jesus, on which he then went and preached; and secondly, by showing that his resurrection immediately followed, and after it his ascension into heaven. 

In the same way the apostle thinks that suffering in the flesh may in our case also be subservient (a) to glorification, (chap. iii. 17,) and (b) (chap. 4:1, etc.) even anterior to that, to an emancipation of the spirit, inasmuch as, in the case of the unbelievers at the time of the flood, this judgment was, by the accession of the preaching of the gospel, made subservient to the interests of the spirit, (verse 4, 6.) 

2d, Another question which is debated relates to what Christ did in hell.  There is one view according to which he there also suffered penal torments on our behalf.  Of this, however, 3:20 and 4:6 say nothing; and, in fact, when still upon the cross, Jesus declared, “it is finished.”  Rather was it His intention in the interval between his death and his resurrection, to labor still for the salvation of the world, but only as an evangelist in hell.  The Lutheran catechism for children connects with this his triumph over hell, (comp. Col. 2:15,) which is at any rate in so far true, that His descent into it, though for the sole purpose of preaching the gospel, was yet a real triumph.

3d, There is a question as to the application which we may venture to make of this descent into hell for the             purpose of preaching the gospel to the unbelievers of the time of Noah, and of thereby effecting their salvation--viz., whether it admits of wide extension, or must be restricted to the unbelievers specified according to the letter of the passage.  Now, there can be no doubt that, under such an extension, it might be going too far to draw from it the general inference, that in the other world there is an interval designed for the supplementary conversion of all who there manifest a capacity for it. 

At the same time, it is not an unwarrantable stretch of the doctrine to suppose, that just as Christ Himself, in the interval between His death and resurrection, still preached to those worst of unbelievers, so was the same benefit in some other way vouchsafed to others, who, in the period before His advent, did not hear the Word of grace, and consequently that in the world beyond the grave the same benefit is also destined for those who, since His advent, have in this world, within or without the precincts of Christianity, not heard the gospel at all, or at least not the true gospel.  From this, however, no inference can be drawn as to the case of those who might have heard, but did not choose to hear it.


Overview of theories of what and who was preached to by Jesus while in Hades in 3:19-20 and 4:6—a statement of the rival positions [50].

The Descent of Christ, the Risen God-Man, into Hades

                        As has been seen, we closely connect 1 Peter 3:19-20 and 1 Peter 4:6.  The history of the interpretation of these two passages would fill a large volume.  A brief history is given by Steiger, Huther, Alford, Wiesinger, Mombert (in Lang-Fronmueller) and Gloag.  The following outline of the various views held by commentators may be of interest to the student:


A.     Christ preached personally in Hades.

1.      As to the time.

(a)  After His death, in the spirit, before His body was made alive.  So Bengel, Weiss, Lechler, Schmid, Fronmueller, Alford, Wordsworth, and others.

(b)  After His body was made alive, with soul and body re-united.  So De Wette, Brueckner, Schott, Huther, Zezschwitz, Keil, Luther, Thomasius, Quenstedt, Hollaz, Hutter, Baier, Buddeus, Krauth, and others.


2.      As to the purpose of this preaching.

(a)  To free the O.T. saints, referring also 1 Peter 3:19-20 to this event.  So Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Gregory the Great, and the Greek Church, Anselom, Thomas Aquinas, most Roman Catholic theologians, Zwingle, Calvin (in his commentaries), Bishop Browne, and others.   

            (b)  To free those who repented at the last moment, at the time of the deluge.  So Bengel, Horsley, Estius, Bellarmine, Osiander, Hutter, Luther (Genesis, 1536; on Hosea 4:2, in 1545), and others.   

(c)  To announce to the ungodly souls their condemnation.  So Flacius, Calovius, Buddeus, Hollaz, Luther (in some places), Zezschwitz, Keil, and others.

(d)  To the wicked and the good, bringing condemnation to the wicked, consolation to the good.  So Athanasius, Ambrose, Erasmus, Clavin (Institutes), and others.

(e)  To the disobedient of Noah’s time, giving them another opportunity for salvation.  With some variations, so De Wette, Brueckner, Huther, Weiss, Wiesinger, Reuss, Fronmueller, Alford, Wordsworth, Plumptre, Farrar, Cook, Gloag, and others.  This view is generally connected with the idea that some accepted this new offer of salvation. 


B.     Christ preached through others.

1.  Through Noah, to the unbelieving at the time of the deluge.

2.  Through the Apostles to the unbelieving world, spirits in prison denoting the spiritual bondage of Jews and Gentiles.  So Socinus, Grotius Schottgen, Bishop Burnett, Luther (with much uncertainty in 1 Peter, 1523), and others. 


                        Another overview of theories of what and who was preached to by Jesus while in Hades in 3:19-20 and 4:6—with brief objections to them [37]. Other interpretations of this confessedly difficult passage are

                        A. That it does refer to the descent into Hell, but [1] the “preaching” was a proclamation of condemnation and not an offer of pardon.  The objections to this view are that in 1 Peter 4:6 (which most probably refers to the same “preaching”) good tidings (εὐαγγελίσθη) is stated to have been preached to the dead.  Also κηρύσσειν is the word used in the Gospels of “proclaiming the Gospel of the kingdom” Matthew 4:23, “preaching repentance” Matthew 4:17, “preaching deliverance to the captives . . . and proclaiming the acceptable year of the Lord” Luke 4:18-19.  In the Acts and Epistles it is constantly used of preaching the Gospel or preaching Christ, but there is no instance of its use for proclaiming condemnation, and it would be hardly intelligible in that sense here without some words to explain it.

                        Or [2] that the good news was only preached in Hades to the spirits of the righteous, such as Abel, Abraham and other O.T. saints.  This was a favorite idea in early writers (e.g. the Gospel of Nicodemus, Irenaeus, Hippolytus, Tertullian).  But the context expressly defines the spirits to be “those who were disobedient in the days of Noah.”  There is no hint whatever that O.T. saints in general are intended, nor, as Calvin suggested, the watch tower from which the souls of the righteous in Hades were eagerly looking for the advent of their deliverer.

                        Or [3] that the passage does refer to those who perished in the Flood, but only to those who turned to God in their dying agony.  But Peter makes no allusion whatever to their repentance, but only to their disobedience.

                        Or [4] a more tenable interpretation would be to explain “the spirits in prison” as meaning evil angels whose influence was paramount in the world in the days of Noah, cf. Genesis 6:2, “The sons of God saw that the daughters of men were fair,” etc.  This seems to have been generally understood of immoral intercourse between angels and women, which caused the destruction of the world by the Flood.  In the Book of Henoch [= Enoch] there are constant references to this sin of the angels, and in Chapter lxvii. “the angels who have shown injustice and who led astray are shown to Noah enclosed in a flaming valley, but the waters of judgment are a healing of the angels and a death to their bodies.”  Jude, who quotes the Book of Henoch by name, says, “Angels which left their proper habitation, he hath kept in everlasting bonds under darkness unto the judgment of the great day.”  But this would give no support to the view that the spirit of Christ preached to them during His descent into Hell.         


                        Even if Jesus did preach to the dead from Noah’s day after His own death, that provides no legitimate reason to expect that anyone else will be given that opportunity [22].  This difficult passage has been given two interpretations.  The more common view is that Jesus, after his suffering, during the interval before his resurrection, went without the body in a spirit form, to these antediluvians and preached to them.  If this view is correct, it only teaches that an offer of salvation was then made to these disobedient ones who had never before heard of Christ before their final judgment.  It furnishes no comfort to those that have an opportunity and reject it in this life. It only shows that one opportunity is given to all.  The other view is that Christ went “in spirit” in the person of Noah and by him preached to those who were afterwards held in prison on account of their disobedience. The first view seems more in harmony with the context; the second furnishes fewer theological difficulties.


                        Even if Jesus did preach to the dead from Noah’s day after His own death, that provides no legitimate reason to claim that anyone OTHER THAN that generation was ever preached to [31].   Who are referred to by spirits?  The specification in the next verse determines this.  They were those “who were sometimes disobedient, when once the long-suffering of God waited in the days of Noah.”  No others are specified; and if it should be maintained that this means that he went down to hell (Hades), or to Sheol, and preached to those who are confined there, it could be inferred from this passage only that he preached to that portion of the lost spirits confined there which belonged to the particular generation in which Noah lived.  Why he should do this; or how there should be such a separation made in Hades that it could be done; or what was the nature of the message which he delivered to that portion, are questions which it is impossible for any man who bolds to the opinion that Christ went down to hell after his death to preach, to answer.

            However [34]:   It is impossible to give any reason, if Jesus offered salvation to any departed spirits, why, of all the generations of the dead, the contemporaries of Noah alone were preached to in their prison. 


                        In depth:  Other Biblical texts that allude to Jesus’ presence in Hades and what happened there [37].   In the Gospels the only passage which bears upon the subject is the promise to the penitent thief, “To-day shalt thou be with me in Paradise,” Luke 23:43.

                        In Paul we have three possible allusions to the subject:

                        Romans 10:7, “Say not . . . who shall descend into the abyss, that is to bring Christ up from the dead?”

                        Romans 14:9, “For to this end Christ died and lived again that He might be Lord of both the dead and the living.”

                        Ephesians 4:9, “Now this, He ascended, what is it but that He also descended into the lower parts of the earth?”  This verse might, however, merely mean that Christ came down from heaven to the lower sphere of this earth, and so refer to the Incarnation (but see Robinson, ad loc.).

                        In Peter,

                        Acts 2:27, 31, In his speech on the day of Pentecost St Peter quotes Psalm 16:8-11, “Thou wilt not leave my soul in Hades,” and shows that it was true of Christ.

                        In this Epistle:

                        1 Peter 3:19 states that Christ, being put to death in the flesh but quickened in spirit, went in that spirit and preached to the spirits in prison who were disobedient in the days of Noah.

                        1 Peter 4:6 states that good tidings was preached to the dead in order that, despite their judgment in the flesh, they may live according to God in the spirit.

                        The only N.T. writer therefore who says anything about the object of our Lord’s descent into Hades or of His work there is Peter.  We have, however, no evidence as to the source from which he derived his teaching.  According to early Jewish conceptions there were social and national distinctions in Sheol, and in the second century B.C. moral and ethical distinctions between the righteous and the wicked among the dead were introduced, but there was no idea of any moral improvement or possibility of change in the condition of the dead.  Unless, therefore, we are prepared to treat Peter’s words merely as a pious conjecture, we must believe either that he learned these mysterious facts from the mouth of the Risen Lord Himself, or that it was specially revealed to him “not by flesh and blood but by the Father in heaven.”


                        In depth:  An alleged now missing Old Testament source for Peter’s teaching about Jesus preaching to the spirits [45]?  The very obscurity and ambiguity of the passage show that the Apostle is not announcing a new truth, but referring to some narrative familiar to himself and his readers.  No such narrative, which could have existed in Peter’s time, is now extant.  Early Christian literature contains a very large number of references to the “descent into hell;” but they are large imaginative expansions of the present passage; and it is very difficult to be certain that any of their statements rest on primitive tradition independent of 1 Peter. 

                        According to some of the Fathers, however, there was a passage in the Old Testament which, according to the exegesis of the first two or three centuries of the Christian era, would certainly have been regarded as a prediction of the descent into Hades.  Justin Martyr, in his Dialogue with Trypho a Jew, chapters 71, 72, alleges that the Jews had removed from the Old Testament many passages which would have testified to the truth of Christianity; thus he states that “From the sayings of . . . Jeremiah these have been cut out:  ‘The Lord God remembered His dead people of Israel who lay in the graves; and He descended to preach to them His own salvation.’ ” 

                        The words which Justin states were cut out are quoted four times by Irenaeus, once as from Jeremiah (IV. 36), once as from Isaiah (III. 22), once as from a prophet (V. 31), and once as said by others (IV. 55).  Irenaeus applies the words to Christ as a proof of his divinity and of his descent into Hades. 

                        Justin’s statement that this and other passages had been cut out by the Jews is generally rejected.  It is more likely that Christian scribes interpolated them into some manuscripts of the Old Testament.  The passage cited may have been constructed on the basis of 1 Peter 3:19.  It should be noted, however, that nothing is said in it about Noah or the Flood.

                        If there actually were such a text, one can easily imagine traditionalist Jews interpreting it Messianically as an indication that God mourned the unfaithful Jews who were now in their graves and would send the Messiah in an effort to redeem them.  Alternatively, that the people were currently (spiritually) dead and God would send the Messiah to awaken them from their sins--the living sinful from their burial inside evil. 

            As a proof text of Jesus it would not impress those who rejected the Lord:  A traditionalist Jew would surely have argued that the real Messiah would do just such preaching to the physically (or spiritually) dead; unfortunately (for the Christians) Jesus wasn’t that Messiah who did such.  In other words, they would consider the argument check-mated.

                        As to the possibility of Christian interpolation, we are talking about a date in the 150s.  Would it be at all likely that their attention would be so much on the copying of the Old Testament—which would surely have been available from traditionalist Jewish businesspeople—as assuring that the writings of their own apostles and prophets be maximally circulated?  The closest to an interpolation theory that might make sense is the scenario of “proof text collections” circulating within the community and that some sloppy copyist “remembered” the passage and did not bother to check the accuracy of his memory before adding it to his collection.  [rw]   


                        In depth:  An alleged Pauline or rabbinical source for Peter’s teaching about Jesus speaking to the spirits [45].  There are two passages in the Pauline Epistles which are sometimes supposed to refer to this subject.  In Ephesians 4:9 we read, “He descended into the lower parts of the earth;” but this may merely refer to the Incarnation, the descent to the earth.  Again, Colossians 1:20 speaks of Christ “reconciling . . . things in the heavens.”  In the Slavonic Book of the Secrets of Enoch, the fallen angels are confined in a prison in the Second Heaven.  This may represent a current idea known to Paul, and by the “things in heaven” which needed “reconciling” he may mean the fallen angels.  (So Charles, Secrets of Enoch, page 41.) 

                        The clause “descended into hell,” in the so-called Apostles’ Creed, is not found in all the ancient copies of that creed, and probably was not part of it in its older editions.  The clause has no equivalent in the Nicene Creed.

                        Rabbinical passages are quoted (Weber and Kuhl, in loco) which speak of the prisoners in Gehenna as rejoicing at the sight of the Messiah, and rising from hell with the Shechinah, the manifestation of the Divine presence, at their head.


                        In depth:  Post-Biblical ancient church traditions on what Jesus did in Hades after His death [37].   In the Early Fathers the descent of Christ to Hades is constantly referred to.

                        In the Apocryphal Gospel of Peter three men are seen coming forth from the tomb, two of them supporting the other, and a cross following them; and the head of the two reached to heaven, but that of Him who was led by them overpassed the heavens.  And they heard a voice from the heavens saying, “Thou didst preach to them that sleep,” and a response was heard from the Cross, “Yea.”

                        Ignatius (ad Magn. IX.) says, “Even the prophets, being His disciples, were expecting Him as their teacher through the Spirit.  And for this cause He whom they rightly awaited when He came raised them from the dead” (cf. ad Philad. IX.).

                        Justin Martyr (Dial. 72) quotes a passage from Jeremiah, “The Lord God remembered His dead people of Israel, who lay in the graves and descended to preach to them His own salvation.”  This passage he accuses the Jews of having cut out from their copies of the Scriptures.  It does not, however, occur in any extant MSS of the LXX.

But Irenaeus quotes it several times (once as from Isaiah, once as from Jeremiah, and in other passages anonymously (see iii. 20, iv. 22, 33, v. 31), in the last of which he definitely connects the preaching with the three days between the Crucifixion and the Resurrection).  Irenaeus says nothing, however, about the Jews having cut out the words, and, from the fact that he assigns them to two different prophets, it would seem that the words were not contained in the current text of the LXX.  If we could assume that this passage was known to Peter, he might be referring to it, but there is no sufficient evidence for this, and Peter’s reference to those who were disobedient in the days of Noah would not be explained by this passage.

Irenaeus also (iv. 27) relates a discourse which he heard from “an elder” (i.e. a Christian of the generation before his own) who had heard it from personal companions of the apostles and their disciples, “that the Lord descended to the parts beneath the earth preaching His Advent there also and declaring remission of sins as available for those who believe in Him; but those have believed in Him whose hopes were set on Him, that is, those who foretold His Advent, just men and prophets and patriarchs.”

Hermas (Sim. IX.) describes the apostles and first teachers of the Gospel as preaching to those who had previously fallen asleep, of whom he mentions the prophets and the ministers of God as well as the first two generations of mankind which preceded them.

Clement of Alexandria (Strom. II. 9), quoting the above passage of Hermas, extends the preaching to pious heathen as well as Jews, and in Strom. vi. 6 he says that the Apostles followed the example of our Lord by preaching in Hades, but, while Jesus preached there only to the Jews, they addressed themselves to the righteous heathen.

In the Apocryphal Preaching of Thaddeus to Abgarus King of Edessa, quoted in Eusebius H. E. I. 13, Christ is stated to have descended into Hades and burst the bars which from eternity had not been broken, and raised the dead, for He descended alone, but rose with many, and thus ascended to His Father.    

Tertullian, de Anima 55, speaking of the days between the death and resurrection of Christ, says “He descended to the lower parts of the earth that there he might make patriarchs and prophets partakers of Himself.”

Hippolytus, de Antichristo 45, represents John the Baptist after his death as preaching in Hades that the Savior will come there also to deliver the souls of the saints.

Origen (contra Celsum II. 43) says, “With His soul stripped of His body Christ associated with souls stripped of their bodies, converting to Himself those even of them who were willing or those who for reasons which He Himself knew were more fitted for it.”

In the Apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus, the date of which is uncertain, but which may be based upon a second century work, the two sons of the aged Symeon are described as having been raised from the dead, and giving an account of Christ’s work in Hades, that He delivered Adam from the penalty of his sin, and brought the patriarchs from a lower to a higher blessedness, and emptied the prison house and set the captives free, and erected the Cross in the midst of Hades that there also it might preach salvation.

Marcion accepted the descent of Christ into Hades, but, according to his opponents, regarding the Demiurge, the God of the O.T., as a different God from the God of the N.T., he maintained that the righteous men and prophets under the old dispensation, as being subjects of the Demiurge, refused to listen to Christ’s preaching, and only Cain and the other wicked characters of the O.T. listened and were saved.

Athanasius (de Incarnatione), arguing against the Apollinarians, who denied that Christ had any human spirit (πνεῦμα), says that the Lord appeared in Hades in an incorporeal state to show the souls there present the presence of His own soul as having received the bonds of death, so that He might burst the bonds of the souls which were held fast in Hades.

Gregory Nazianzen inquires whether we are to suppose that Christ, appearing in Hades, did save all without exception, or did save there, as He does here, only such as believed.

Cyril of Alexandria, in commenting on John 16:16, says, “After three days He came to life again, having preached also to the spirits in prison.  For thus there was the fullest manifestation of His love to men, I mean, in the fact that He not only saved those who were still alive upon the earth, but also to those who had already departed and were seated in darkness in the recesses of the abyss He preached deliverance as it is written.”

Also [in] de Incarnatione he says that the soul of Christ went to Hades and appeared also to the spirits there.

Jerome, commenting on Ephesians, says that our Lord and Savior descended into Hell that He might lead with Him in triumph to heaven the souls of the saints that were shut up in prison.

Augustine, in his letter to Euodius 164, argues that the prophets and patriarchs were already in happiness and enjoyed the presence of God, and therefore needed no translation by the descent of Christ to Hades.  Others who were in the pains of hell were released, but it would be very rash to suppose that Christ released all whom He found there.  But Augustine confesses himself to be very doubtful whether 1 Peter 3:19 can be satisfactorily explained as referring to the descent into Hell, and he suggests the possibility of its referring to the Spirit of Christ preaching to the world in the days of Noah.

                        In Creeds the clause “He descended into Hell” is not contained in the Nicene Creed.   It occurs first in the creed drawn up by the Homoeans at Sirmium to be presented to the Western Council at Ariminum 359, “He descended into Hell (εἰς τὰ καταχθόνια) and disposed matters there; at the sight of whom the door-keepers of Hades trembled.”

                        In Western Creeds the clause first occurs in the Creed of Aquileia, as given by Rufinus about 400 A.D.  He states that it was not contained in the Creed of Rome nor in the Eastern Creeds, but argues that it was meant to be included in the statement that Christ was buried.  He quotes this passage of Peter in support of it.



3:20                                                     Translations

Weymouth:     who in ancient times had been disobedient, while God's longsuffering was patiently waiting in the days of Noah during the building of the Ark, in which a few persons--eight in number--were brought safely through the water.

WEB:              who before were disobedient, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, while the ship was being built. In it, few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water.

Young’s:         who sometime disbelieved, when once the long-suffering of God did wait, in days of Noah -- an ark being preparing -- in which few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water;

Conte (RC):    who had been unbelieving in past

times, while they waited for the patience of God, as

in the days of Noah, when the ark was being built.

In that ark, a few, that is, eight souls, were saved

by water.

3:20                 Which sometime were disobedient.  Either because they, the fallen angels or the antediluvians, committed sins which broken God’s moral law, or because the antediluvians refused to listen to Noah when he urged them to repent:  cf. on “preacher of righteousness,” 2 Peter 2:5.  [45]

The language here does not imply that they had ceased to be disobedient, or that they had become obedient at the time when the apostle wrote; but the object is to direct the attention to a former race of people characterized by disobedience, and to show the patience evinced under their provocations, in endeavoring to do them good.  To say that people were formerly rebellious, or rebellious in a specified age, is no evidence that they are otherwise now.  The meaning here is, that they did not obey the command of God when he called them to repentance by the preaching of Noah.  Compare 2 Peter 2:5, where Noah is called “a preacher of righteousness.”  [31]

when once the longsuffering of God.  God did not have to wait.  On the other hand, this would have denied the masses one final opportunity to reform.  Hence He chose patience while their behavior cried out for punitive justice.  [rw]

The delay experienced by the Christians in the manifestation of the Divine justice was illustrated by the similar delay before the Flood; both were due to God’s forbearance; both would issue in vindication of that justice by the punishment of the disobedient and the deliverance of believers.  [45]

waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing.  It is stated in Genesis 6:3, that the long suffering of God waited 120 years.  [22]

The reference is to an interpretation of Genesis 6:3 which was prevalent when 1 Peter was written, and is still held by many scholars; according to which “yet shall his days be an hundred and twenty years” meant that the antediluvian race should be allowed to exist for another hundred and twenty years before it was swept away by the Flood.  Thus the Targum of Onkelos (an Aramaic or Chaldee translation of the Pentateuch, compiled in the second century A.D.) translates Genesis 6:3:  “Jehovah said, This evil generation shall not abide before me forever:  . . . a respite of an hundred and twenty years shall be given them to see if they will repent;” and the LXX has:  “My spirit shall not abide in these men for ever.”  [45]  The LXX rendering requires the implication that an unspecified period of time would pass before the Flood.  Hence the only legitimate question that might be raised is how long?  Hence there seems nothing here to undermine or challenge the Hebrew text’s statement of the duration--it makes specific what the LXX leaves as vague.  [rw] 

waited.  This refutes Alford‘s idea of a second day of grace having been given in Hades.  [20]

The “waiting” is given in the imperfect tense to bring out its lengthened continuance.  It is expressed, too, by a verb for which Paul has a particular fondness, and which conveys the idea of the intenseness or patience of the waiting.  It is applied to the “earnest expectation” of the creation (Romans 8:19), the “waiting” of those who have the first-fruits of the Spirit (Romans 8:23, 25), the waiting for “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:7), or for “the hope of righteousness by faith” (Galatians 5:5), the looking “for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20).  Outside Paul it occurs only here and in Hebrews 9:28.  [51]

wherein few, that is, eight souls.  Only eight; very “few” compared with the vast number that might have escaped.  [39]

Eight persons - Noah and his wife, his three sons and their wives, Genesis 7:7.  The allusion to their being saved here seems to be to encourage those whom Peter addressed to perseverance and fidelity, in the midst of all the opposition which they might experience.  Noah was not disheartened.  He continued to preach.  He did not abandon his purpose.  [31]

were saved by [through, NKJV] water.  Revision, through.  Some take this as instrumental, by means of water; others as local, by passing through the water, or being brought safely through the water into the ark.  Rev., in margin, were brought safely through water.  [2]

                        The Apostle compares baptism to the deluge, because it lies between the believer and his old worldly life, as Noah’s flood lay between the old world and the new which emerged from its waters.  [33]

                        There may possibly be the somewhat subtle idea that while the waters drowned the wicked, the righteous were saved through the water carrying the ark on its surface.  A rabbinical tradition says that, although Noah built the ark, he did not believe that there would be a flood, and would not enter the ark till he was driven into it by the rising water.  Thus he would be saved by the water sending him into the ark.  But it is not likely that any such legend underlies Peter’s words.  [45]



3:21                                                     Translations

Weymouth:     And, corresponding to that figure, the water of baptism now saves you--not the washing off of material defilement, but the craving of a good conscience after God--through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

WEB:              This is a symbol of baptism, which now saves you--not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

Young’s:         also to which an antitype doth now save us -- baptism, (not a putting away of the filth of flesh, but the question of a good conscience in regard to God,) through the rising again of Jesus Christ,

Conte (RC):    And now you also are saved, in a

similar manner, by baptism, not by the testimony

of sordid flesh, but by the examination of a good

conscience in God, through the resurrection of

Jesus Christ.


3:21                 The like figure.  That is, the ark was a figure of baptism, which saveth you from the death of the soul; and as no one was saved from the waters of the deluge but those few eight persons who were in the ark, so no one can enter into heaven if he hath not been baptized, or hath had a desire of it when come to the use of reason.  And such persons as are capable of knowing what they receive, must come with the dispositions of faith and a true repentance, which is here called the examination (literally, the interrogation) of a good conscience, who therefore are examined whether they believe in one God and three Persons.  [12]

                        whereunto even baptism doth also now save us.  In the ark only eight souls escaped, saved by the very water which destroyed the impenitent and which purified the ancient world.  So we believers are saved by the water of baptism, if by baptism we mean not a mere external rite but a spiritual cleansing which ends the old life of sin and begins a new life of holiness.  Such salvation is communicated to us by the faith which is confessed at the time of baptism; it has been made possible through the resurrection of Christ, who gives new life to believers.  [7]

                        The water of the flood, inasmuch as it carried the ark, thus saving Noah and his family, is a type; the water of baptism is the antitype; the one saved few, the other saves the many; but it is the water of baptism which saves [in contrast to the waters of the Flood, which destroyed].  [50]

                        not the putting away.  As much as to say, that baptism has not its efficacy, in order to salvation, from its washing away any bodily filth or dirt; but from its purging the conscience from sin:  when accompanied with suitable dispositions in the party, to answer the interrogations made at that time, with relation to faith, the renouncing of Satan with all his works, and the obedience to God’s commands.  [12]

of the filth.  [Greek:]  Only here in New Testament.  In classical Greek signifying especially dry dirt, as on the person.  [2]

                        of the flesh.  Christian baptism did not, like the Jewish ceremonial washings or baptisms, consist in the removal of any material uncleanness contracted by contact with unclean substances. [45]

                        Peter does not here discuss the whole subject of baptism, but only states more particularly in what sense it brings salvation, and this he does first negatively and then positively.  It is not an outward cleansing, but an inward, spiritual cleansing.  [50]

Aside:  What is meant is generally understood to be the putting off of the filth which belongs to the flesh. The peculiar order of the words in the original, however, gives not a little plausibility to another rendering which is adopted by Bengel, Huther, etc.,—the flesh’s putting off of uncleanness, i.e the laying aside of its own uncleanness by the flesh itself.

but the answer [interrogation, ERV; appeal to God for, ESV, NASB; pledge, Holman, NIV] of a good conscience toward God.  “Interrogation” only occurs here in the N.T.; in the LXX of Daniel 4:17 it is used in the sense of “demand.”  The corresponding verb is often used in the N.T. for “ask a question;” and once for “request” in Matthew 16:1:  “The Pharisees and Sadducees . . . requested him to show them a sign from heaven.”  As alternatives, therefore to “interrogation” or “asking a question” we have “request” or “requesting,” and—as it is maintained by some on the strength of a usage in medieval or Byzantine Greek—“pledge.”  [45]

                        And:  The words admit of very different interpretations.  (1) The Greek word translated “answer” means primarily “question,” “enquiry.”  If this sense be admitted here, there would then rise the question whether the words “of a good conscience” were in the genitive of the subject or the object.  If the former, the condition on which Peter lays stress would be equivalent to (a) the enquiry of a good conscience, the seeking of the soul after God; if the latter, that condition would be (b) the prayer addressed to God for a good conscience.  Neither of these interpretations, however, is satisfactory.  It is against (a) that it is the idea of baptism that men are no longer seeking God but have found Him.  It is against (b) that it is also the idea of baptism that it is more than the asking for a gift.  [38]  NOTE:  His solution is to argue that it refers to both “question” and “answer,” believing the text alludes to the later custom of having a preset series of questions and answers to go through prior to baptism.  [rw]

                        The word επερωτημα, here rendered answer, signifies rather interrogation, and is said by Archbishop Leighton to be a judicial word, and to signify interrogations used in the law for a trial, or executing a process, and has been thought by some commentators to refer to certain interrogations, said by Cyprian and other ancient writers to be put to persons who offered themselves to baptism, concerning their faith in Christ, and their renunciation of Satan with all his works, and the vanities of the world.  But it does not appear, Macknight thinks, that these questions and answers were used in the apostle’s days; and if they were not, the apostle could not refer to them.  “Allowing, however,” he says, “that the word question is here put for the word answer, this answer of a good conscience, being made to God, is an inward answer, and means the baptized person’s sincere persuasion of the things which, by submitting to baptism, he professed to believe; namely, that Jesus, in whose name baptism is administered, arose from the dead, and that at the last day he will raise all from the dead to eternal life, who sincerely obey him.  This signification of baptism the Apostle Paul hath taught, Romans 6:4-5; and therefore he calls it, our begun confidence, Hebrews 3:14; and exhorts the Hebrews to hold it steadfast to the end.”  [47]

                        a good conscience toward God.  This good conscience is the aim sought for in baptism.  It does not exist before baptism, but is received and effected by baptism.  [50]

by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  So far the words have brought before us the human side of baptism.  But the rite has also a divine side and this the last words of the verse bring before us.  Baptism derives its power to save from the Resurrection of Christ.  It brings us into union with the life of Him who “was dead and is alive for evermore” (Revelation 1:18).  We are buried with Him in baptism, planted together with Him in the likeness of His death, that we may be also in the likeness of His resurrection (Romans 6:4-5).  [38]


                        In depth:  A more detailed summary of efforts to explain the meaning of “the answer [interrogation, ERV; appeal to God for, ESV, NASB; pledge, Holman, NIV] of a good conscience toward God [51].  This sentence has greatly perplexed the commentators.  The difficulty lies mainly in the use of the word rendered “answer” by the A.V.  This term occurs nowhere else in the N.T.  The A.V. stands alone among the old English Versions in translating it “answer.”  Wycliffe gives “the asking of a good conscience in God;” Tyndale and Cranmer have “in that a good conscience consenteth to God;” the Genevan has “in that a good conscience maketh request to God;” the Rhemish renders it “the examination of a good conscience toward God.”

The only meanings of the word which can be verified are these two, viz. (1) an interrogation or question, which is the classical sense (e.g. Herod. vi. 67; Thucyd. iii. 53, 68), and (2) a petition, demand, or the thing asked by petition, in which sense it occurs once in one of the old Greek Versions of Daniel.

The question, therefore, is—What results from this for the sentence as a whole?  Among other renderings which have been proposed are these:

(1) the request (i.e for salvation or grace) addressed to God by a good conscience;

(2) the questioning, or examination, to which a good conscience is subjected before God;

(3) the request made to God for a good conscience;

(4) the inquiry made by a good conscience after God, or, the act of a good conscience in seeking after God;

(5) the promise, or pledge, to keep a good conscience toward God;

(6) the contract, or relation, entered into with God by a good conscience.

The last two interpretations find favor with many of the best exegetes (Grotius, de Wette, Huther, Plumptre, etc.), and are supported more or less by some of the old versions.  The Syriac, e.g., takes the sense to be = when ye confess God with a pure conscience. 

The form mentioned last of all has the undoubted advantage of giving a clear and pertinent idea, viz., that “the person baptized, by the reception of baptism, enters into a relation—as it were of contract—with God, in which he submits in faith to God’s promise of salvation” (so Huther, who now prefers this view).  It does not make the phrase a “good conscience” a synonym here for a “reconciled conscience,” but retains for it the simpler sense which is more in harmony with similar expressions in Hebrews 13:18; Acts 23:1; 1 Timothy 1:5; 1 Timothy 1:19; 1 Timothy 3:9; 1 Peter 3:16, viz., that this is done with a pure intention.

It also founds upon the primitive practice of addressing certain questions to the applicant for baptism and obtaining certain replies from him, such, e.g., as these: Dost thou renounce Satan?I do renounce him.  Dost thou believe in Christ?I do believe in Him.  So Neander (Ch. Hist., vol. i. pp. 424, 427, Bohn) regards this as the clearest trace within the New Testament itself of a confession of faith which had to be made from the first at baptism, and thinks that the passage according to the most natural interpretation “refers to the question proposed at baptism, the word ‘question’ being used here by metonymy for the ‘pledge or answer to the question.’ ”

This interpretation, however, is open to an objection that is almost fatal, namely, that the use of the word which is rendered ‘answer’ in our A.V. in this sense of stipulation, contract, or covenant, is entirely foreign to the Bible, and indeed to early Ecclesiastical Greek, and belongs to the juristic terminology of a later period.

More or less difficulty attaches to the other views.  Thus (4), which is adopted by Alford, etc., and (3), which is preferred by Weiss, Hofmann, etc., are both sustained by the analogous use of the cognate verb in 2 Kings 11:7, where it is said that “David inquired after the peace of Joab.”  They also yield good meanings.  But they both do so at the cost of departing somewhat from the known sense of the noun, while the former further identifies the phrase “good conscience” with the more definite, theological idea of a “reconciled conscience.”

Perhaps the meaning is simply this:  the interrogation which is addressed to God by a good conscience.  This resembles the interpretation numbered (1), which is that of Bengel, Steiger, etc.  It adheres, however, to the strict sense of the noun, where that is modified by Bengel.  It also gives effect to the peculiar order of the original, instituting a comparison between the flesh with the putting off of uncleanness which is ascribed to it, and the conscience with the interrogation which it is said to direct to God.  Further, it retains for the phrase “good conscience” here the general sense which it has in the 16th verse of the same chapter.

Hence what Peter intends seems to be to explain that, when he speaks of baptism as having a saving efficacy, he does not mean a mere ceremonial washing, but one which carries a moral value with it, a baptism which means that in all pureness of conscience and sincerity of desire the soul’s interrogation about salvation itself is submitted to God, and God’s response closed with.  [51]



3:22                                                     Translations

Weymouth:     who is at God's right hand, having gone into Heaven, angels and authorities and powers having been made subject to Him.

WEB:              who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, angels and authorities and powers being made subject to him.

Young’s:         who is at the right hand of God, having gone on to heaven -- messengers, and authorities, and powers, having been subjected to him.

Conte (RC):    He is at the right hand of God,

devouring death, so that we may be made heirs to

eternal life. And since he has journeyed to heaven,

the Angels and powers and virtues are subject to him.


3:22                 Who is gone into heaven.  At his ascension, to take his place as crowned King, to send the Holy Spirit, and to exercise kingly power in bringing men to God.  [39]

                        The verb is the same as the “went” in Peter 3:19—with the important difference, however, that here the going is not said to have been “in spirit” or “spirit-wise.”  The phrase is important, as it presupposes, if it does not expressly state, Peter’s affirmation of Christ’s Ascension.  [51]                                                                                                    and is on the right hand of God.  Jesus now as our Redeemer, and as man, sitteth on the right hand of God, (see Mark 16:19. Colossians 1; Hebrews 1:3) having swallowed up (devoured or destroyed) death; having conquered and triumphed over the devil, sin, and death.  [12]

The place of honor; in 1 Kings 2:19 the queen-mother sits at the right hand of Solomon.  Christ is often spoken of as sitting at the right hand of the Father, Luke 22:69; Acts 7:55-56; Romans 8:34; Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 3:1; Hebrews 1:3, 8:1, 10:12, 12:2.  The figure is borrowed from Psalms 110:1:  “Jehovah saith unto my lord, Sit thou at my right hand.”  According to the Messianic application of that Psalm current in the New Testament times, “my lord” was the Messiah.  Hence the verse is applied to Christ in Mark 12:36 and parallels (by Christ himself), Acts 2:34; Hebrews 1:13.  [45]

angels and authorities and powers.  i.e., various classes of angels.  Cf. Jude [verse] 8.  [45]

“Authorities” and “powers” are used as comprehensive terms, including the whole hierarchy of heaven, Cherubim, Seraphim and the like; probably also, looking to Colossians 2:15, Philippians 2:10, and the manifest sequence of thought from 1 Peter 3:19, the powers of evil who had been subdued by the conquering Christ in His descent into Hades.  [38]

These terms, and others of a similar kind, are often used, especially by Paul, as designations of the various powers of the heavenly world (cf. Romans 8:38; Ephesians 1:21-22; Colossians 1:16; Colossians 2:10; 1 Corinthians 15:27; Hebrews 2:8).  Whether they describe these simply according to their several relations to God and to the world, or according to their several ranks and orders, is not easy to determine.  In favor of the latter view, however, appeal is made to Christ’s own words in Matthew 18:10, which are taken by many (e.g. Meyer) to assume differences of rank or class among the angels.  The application of these two terms authorities and powers to the angels is peculiar to Paul, the present being the only non-Pauline instance.  The three names are used here not with the view of expressing any particular relation in which they stand one to another, but simply as names covering generally all the heavenly powers over which Christ is supreme.  [51]

being made subject unto Him.  [This] is almost universally supposed to be a protest against the doctrines of aeons held by the Gnostics, but may it not rather be inserted to show that Christ has now all power in heaven and in earth, so that He can carry out all His gracious designs respecting His people by any ministry, heavenly or earthly, which He chooses?  [41]










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