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Preaching the Gospel to the Dead.
Because Christ also suffered for sins once, the righteous for the unrighteous, that be might bring us to God; being put to death in the flesh, but quickened in the spirit; in which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison, which aforetime were disobedient, when the long suffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water.”' Peter iii. 18-20. Rev. Ver.)
“ Who shall give account to him that is ready to judge the quick and the dead. For unto this end was the gospel preached even to the dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.” (1 Peter iv. 5, 6. Rer. Ver.)
The Common Version of these passages being familiar to all Bible students, we give here the Revised Version, as representing the emended Greek Text as now adopted by the generality of critics. The interpretation of these passages has been regarded usually as extremely difficult. But although some false readings of the Greek text have contributed to erroneous views heretofore, as now corrected and translated according to the opinions of nearly all scholars, the statements of the Apostle are sufficiently clear and precise to exclude all doubt as to his meaning, if only we are content to abide by the literal sense of his language. But these Scriptures, literally understood, are plainly opposed to certain dogmas long cherished; and thus, as Lange observes: " Various expositions, arising from dogmatical prejudice, have been set up with regard to these passages (Notes, 1 Pet. is. 6). The literal sense of these texts is opposed, e.g. 1. To the doctrine of no repentance nor salvation after death; and 2. The directly opposite doctrine of no sin nor punishment after death. If we insist on either of these dogmas, it is necessary to attach some symbolical or figurative meaning to St. Peter's language. But such eminent exegetes as Lange, Alford and others, powerfully sustain, for the most part, the strict, literal sense of these Scriptures; and it will be our aim in the present article to confirm this view. As preparatory to a correct exposition of the two texts, it will be necessary to submit,
I. Some Critical and Philological Notes upon them.
It will be noticed that the Revised Version of the first passage (1 Peter iii. 18-20) presents some remarkable deviations from the Common Version, and especially in the clauses uniting the eighteenth and nineteenth verses; thus, while the Common Version reads, “but quickened by the Spirit ; by which also he went and preached ;” the new version has : “but quickened in the spirit, in which also he went and preached." These variations arise trom the emendation of the Greek text. The so-called textus receptus has the article to before aveţuatı (vs, 18), thus ; “the Spirit,” meaning the Holy Spirit by which Christ was quickened, or made alive, and
by which (the Holy Spirit) also he went and preached.” But it is now held by the generality of critics that this article before nvzbuatı, “ spirit,” is spurious; so that the new version of these clauses is alone correct, that is, “ quickened (or made alive) in the spirit, in which also he went and preached.” In other words, it was in his own spirit and personality, that Christ was made alive, and it was in his own spirit, that he went and preached, whereas, according to the old text and version, he was made alive by the Holy Spirit, and by the Holy Spirit he went and preached. These variations, as we shall see, have a very important bearing upon this entire passage, essentially changing its meaning. There can be no doubt as to the correction of the Greek text, for the article is omitted by a host of MSS., such as A. B. C. K. L., the Codex Sinaiticus, etc. ; while none of the Uncials supply it (Alford, in loc.).
As will be understood, the term “ quickened,” which is retained by the Revisers, really means made alive ; and such is the sense of the Greek verb (wonoirosis, used in the original. Christ, then, was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which !:e went and preached to the spirits in prison
Turning now to the other passage (1 Peter iv. 5, 6.), in the phrase, “ is ready to judge the quick and the dead,” the term quick means simply the living ; thus, “ to judge the liv. ing and the dead." The original, Gorras, is present participle
cf ców, “ to live,” etc. In the sixth verse we have the expressions, “ according to men in the flesh,” and “ according to God in the spirit.” The Greek zarà, here “ according to," has the sense of “ in the manner of,” importing likeness, or conformity to some standard ; so Winer, citing this verse, remarks: - In 1 Peter iv. 6, xarà dvogonovs means “after the manner of men, and is more closely defined by the annexed caoxi; just as zatù drör means “after the manner of God,' which is more closely defined by πνεύματι, for God is πνεύμα.” 1 Jelf also, citing this phrase, observes : “ So more definitely, after the fashion of, like, as xatá žvhowrov.2 We may thus render this entire passage as follows: Who shall give account to him that is ready to judge the living and the dead. For to this end was the gospel preached also to the dead ; in order that (iva denoting purpose) they may be judged, indeed, after the manner of men in the flesh, but live after the manner (or likeness) of God in the spirit. With these remarks we are now prepared to take up the two passages in regular order, with the view to their correct exposition.
II. The Text I Peter iii. 18–20: or the spirits in prison.
Perhaps the exegesis most frequently held by those advocating a non-literal interpretation of this passage, assumes that Christ preached to the living men of Noah's times, not in his immediate person, but by the aid of the Holy Spirit through Noah's ministrations. This view received some support from the textus receptus, which supplies the article before nveúplati, “ spirit,” and which is represented by our Common Version. But the Greek text as now corrected, oinitting this article, and represented by the Revised Version, renders this exegesis impossible. 1st. Christ went and preached, not by the aid of the Holy Spirit, but in his own spirit and proper personality ; 2d. The preaching took place, not in Noah's times, but only after Christ had been put to death in the fleshi, and made alive in the spirit, in which, namely, his own spirit, the preaching was done ; 3d. Christ, as a spirit, went and preached to spirits (rtveúpucoi); and not to living men in the flesh ; that is 2 Gr. Gram. New Test. 7th Edit, p. 402, note 1. "Gr. Gram. 6th Edit. sec. 629, 3 g. to say, to the spirits in prison, who had been disobedient while Noah was constructing the ark. These spirits were those of the antediluvians who had refused to heed Noah's predictions of the deluge. These facts, with the emended Greek text, must forerer set at nought the scheme of exegesis here being considered.
Another theory of our text, adopted especially by many Universalist critics, regards the spirits in prison, not as the men of Noah's time, but as the Gentiles, or Jews and Gentiles, to wliom the Apostles preached through the spirit of Clirist bestowed upon them. The prison (quaaxi) is understood of those bound in the darkness of sin and error, yet still abiding in the flesh. But the same facts before urged apply as well to this exegesis: 1st, The preaching is done by Christ in his own person, and not a word is said about the Apostles ; 2d, The preaching is done by Christ, only after being put to death on the cross, and being made alive as a spirit, or in his own spirit; 3d, It was as a spirit after death that he preached to spirits, and not to living inen in the flesh ; 4th, The distinction between men in the flesh and spirits not in the body, is emphatic and constantly kept up throughout the passage. Thus it is only by pure assumption, without a shadow of prouf exc.pt preconceived ideas, that the literal sense of St. Peter's language is set aside. The identification of those whom the Apostle meant by “the spirits in prison," is too direct and plain for a school-boy to mistake in reference to it. They were those who liad been formerly disobedient, namely, during the days that Noah was building the ark. They were thus the contemporaries of Noah ; not thic Gentiles, nor Jews and Gentiles of the Apostolic period. Nor were they the living men of Noah's time ; for the preaching to them took place only after Christ's death on the cross, when they had been dead for ages. As to the nature of the prison in which, as spirits, they were confined, we need not refer to the Greek superstitions concerning Hades for an explanation. They were held in the darkness of sin and error, like men in the flesh, in the same moral condition. If quacexń can apply to
the living men of the Apostle's time, so to the spirits of men who lived in Noah's time. No Greek superstitions need be called to our aid here, for St. Peter wholly eschews them.
No other exegesis of this passage than those already reviewed, has the shadow of a claim to recognition as opposed to a literal interpretation. Thus we may adopt here the language of Dean Alford, as follows:
“From all, then, which has been said, it will be gathered that with the great majority of commentators, ancient and modern, I understand these words to say that our Lord, in his disembodied state did go to the place of detention of de. parted spirits, and did there announce his work of redemption, preach salvation, in fact, to the disembodied spirits of those who refused to obey the voice of God when the judgment of the flood was hanging over them.”3
The author, as we shall see, by no means limits Christ's preaching, after his death, to those spirits who had lived in Noah's times. To the same effect as the foregoing extract, is the language of Dr. Wordsworth, who fully agrees with Alford's exegesis of our passage, although, with singular inconsistency, he attempts to avoid the literal sense of the parallel text in the fourth chapter 4
III. The Text 1 Peter iv. 5, 6; The Gospel Preached to the Dead in General.
It should be remarked here that in the clause " is ready to judge the living and the dead” (vs. 5), the term for “ dead” is vexpoús, accusative, while in the clause, “ To this end was the gospel preached also to the dead (vs. 6), we have for the original vexpois, dative ; and the particle connecting these two clauses is yap, “ for," which opens the sixth verse, showing its dependence upon, and logical connection with, the 5th verse. This conducts us to the very judicious remarks by Alsord, in his notes on the sixth verse :
** In examining into the meaning of this very difficult verse, one thing may be laid down at the outset, as certain on any sure principles of exegesis, and thereby a whole class of in.
3 Gr. Test. Notes, in loc. 4 Gr. Test. Notes, in loc. Lange, also, as will be seen, supports the literal exegesis of this passage.