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1 Peter 3:19,20 ...by which he also went and preached unto the spirit in prison,which sometimes were disobedient when once the longsuffering of god waited in the days of noah while the ark was preparing,wherein few,that is eight souls were saved by water
This passage is frequently cited by Mormons and Evangelicals to prove the conscious existence of the dead as "disembodied spirits". It is alleged that when Jesus died, he preached to these spirits in prison.
How can the "spirit" go back to God who gave it, (Ecc. 12:7) and yet be imprisoned in hades?
The word "spirits" never signifies disembodied persons in Scriptures. Even angels who are called "spirits", (Heb. 1:7) are bodily beings. Lot called them "men", (Gen. 19:1,8) and Jacob wrestled with one of them. (Gen. 32:24). Similarly, the Apostle John admonishes believers to "try the spirits", (1 John 4:1) but the same verse identifies the spirits with false prophets.
"Spirits in prison" is an expression for a person in bondage to sin and death. Prison has this association in the following passages:
"I the LORD have called thee [Christ] . . . to open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house." (Isa. 42:6,7).
"The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound." (Isa. 61:1).
See also Eph. 2:1,2 - Prior to becoming believers, Paul told the Ephesians: "And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins: Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience.
The Mormon and Evangelical interpretations of this passage are shown to be false since they both require an opportunity for dead persons to respond to instruction. Scripture is clear: "It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment." (Heb. 9:27); "They that go down into the pit cannot hope for thy truth." (Isa. 38:18): "the dead know not anything". (Ecc. 9:5). The "dead" in 1 Pet. 4:6 were alive when preached to by Noah, but dead at the time of Peter's writing.
The "spirits in prison" proves too much for the Mormons. Mormons practise proxy baptisms only for relatives who die in ignorance of the gospel. The "spirits in prison" however, were not ignorant, but disobedient, condemned by the preaching of Noah. (1 Pet. 3:19,20 cf. 2 Pet. 2:5; Heb. 11:7). Why was Christ's mission confined to those disobedient in the days of Noah (who had a preacher - Noah) at the expense of all the ignorant who died before and after the time of Noah?
The passage does not state that Jesus personally preached to the spirits in prison, but rather, "by which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison." (vs. 19). It was the "Spirit of Christ" in Noah which preached to the spirits in prison (live persons in bondage to sin and death) many years before Jesus was born in the days of Herod the King. (Matt. 2:1). By means of the Holy Spirit given to the prophets (2 Pet. 1:21) they were able to speak as though they were Christ.
Consider the following passages:
"For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption." (Psa. 16:10 cf. Acts 2:26-27).
"Behold, I and the children whom the LORD hath given me." (Isa. 8:18 cf. Heb. 2:13).
"A body hast thou prepared me. " (Heb. 10:5 cf. Psa. 40:6).
Literally there was no flesh and body of Christ when these words were written. The Spirit of Christ in the prophets enabled them to testify "beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow." (1 Pet. 1:11). Noah, "a preacher of righteousness" (2 Pet. 2:5) "being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith." (Heb. 11:7).
Peter by inspiration draws a figure. He says "the like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us . . ." (1 Pet. 3:21). The whole human race stands as a community of prisoners condemned to death on account of sin. Even while awaiting the inexorable judicial sentence they are "all their life-time subject to bondage". (Heb. 2:15). The way of escape from this prison is by baptism into Jesus Christ, the anti-typical ark. "For as many of you as have been baptised into Christ have put on Christ." (Gal. 3:27).
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