This Sunday at LifePoint we’re handling 1 Peter 3:18-22, in week 15 of our “Letter to an Exile” series. This text is awesome. I’ve been looking forward to it for a number of months, and I haven’t been disappointed in my study of it this week. I think we can accurately say that at first glance this text is among the strangest in all of the New Testament.
The first verse is straight-forward and powerful:
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit,
I like the NIV rendering of the last phrase of verse 18 a little better than the ESV (the translation I used here). The NIV translators choose to say “made alive by the Spirit.” This is exactly what Peter is referring to here. Jesus died, but was brought back to life, resurrected by the Spirit of God.
Verse 19 is the point at which the text takes a strange turn:
19 in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, 20 because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. 21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ…
Who are the “spirits in prison?”
What did Jesus proclaim to them?
When did Jesus do this?
How is what Christ proclaimed in his resurrection applicable to “spirits” who disobeyed God in the days of Noah?
How does baptism save us?
Here is what a few scholars (all of whom are big hitters) say about this text:
I. Howard Marshall IVP Bible Background Commentary:
“[This is] a paragraph whose original meaning is as difficult to discover as that of any passage in the New Testament and which appears to speak a language far removed from modern people.”
‘A wonderful text is this, and a more obscure passage perhaps than any other in the New Testament, so that I do not know for a certainty just what Peter means.’
Edmund Clowney The Message of 1 Peter:
“His words were no doubt clear to those who first heard them, but they have been hard for later generations to understand.”
R.C. Sproul 1st & 2nd Peter:
“This is a text about which I am open to correction and reproof, and I will be quick to ask the Apostle when I see him in glory what he meant by these enigmatic words.”
It’s going to be a fun weekend @ LifePoint diving into this portion of Scripture. To be sure, the truths contained here are worth the energy it takes to excavate them.