Spirits in prison
The spirits in prison is a recurrent minor subject in the writings of Christianity.
- 1 New Testament
- 2 Early Christian interpretations
- 3 Reformation and Enlightenment views
- 4 Modern Christian interpretations
- 5 Other religious traditions
- 6 See also
- 7 References
The subject takes its starting point from one obscure Bible reference:
- 1 Peter 3:19–20 "By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; (20) Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water." (KJV)
Early Christian interpretations
Reformation and Enlightenment views
Modern Christian interpretations
Wayne Grudem (1988) identifies five commonly held views on the interpretation of this verse:
- "View 1: When Noah was building the ark, Christ 'in spirit' was in Noah preaching repentance and righteousness through him to unbelievers who were on the earth then but are now 'spirits in prison' (people in hell)."
- "View 2: After Christ died, he went and preached to people in hell, offering them a second chance of salvation."
- "View 3:After Christ died, he went and preached to people in hell, proclaiming to them that he had triumphed over them and their condemnation was final."
- "View 4: After Christ died, he proclaimed release to people who had repented just before they died in the flood, and led them out of their imprisonment (in Purgatory) into heaven."
- "View 5: After Christ died (or: after he rose but before he ascended into heaven), he travelled to hell and proclaimed triumph over the fallen angels who had sinned by marrying human women before the flood."
These views revolve around the identity of the spirits in prison, the time in which the preaching took place, and the content of the preaching.
View 1. Augustinian interpretation
This is also found in Thomas Aquinas; Summa Theologica (3,52,2). A variant of this view is the view of the Rev. Archibald Currie (1871) that Christ through Noah preached to "the spirits in prison ;" meaning the eight persons interned in the Ark as in a place of protection.
Views 2. Harrowing of hell
The Anglican Edward Hayes Plumptre, Dean of Wells, in The Spirits in Prison starting from the verse in Peter argued for revival in the belief in the harrowing of Hell and the spirit of Christ preaching to the souls of the dead in Hades while his body was in the grave.
View 3. Proclaiming triumph
View 4. Release from purgatory
View 5. The spirits in prison are angels
- Jesus proclaimed triumph over the fallen angels
Support for the understanding that the spirits in prison are angelic beings and not people is confirmed by II Peter 2:4–5 and Jude 6, which refer to rebellious angels, punished by God with imprisonment, just as in I Peter 3. Just like I Pet. 3, II Pet. 2 goes straight on to refer to the time of Noah’s flood. Even the number of people saved in the ark is mentioned in both cases!
- Angels and the Book of Enoch
Friedrich Spitta (1890), Joachim Jeremias and others suggested that Peter was making a first reference to Enochic traditions, such as found again in the Second Epistle of Peter chapter 2 and the Epistle of Jude. Stanley E. Porter considers that the broad influence of this interpretation today is due to the support of Edward Selwyn (1946).
The concept that the dead await a general resurrection and judgment either in blessed rest or in suffering after a particular judgement at death was a common 1st century Jewish belief (see Lazarus and Dives and bosom of Abraham). A similar concept is taught in the Eastern Orthodox churches, was championed by John Calvin (who vigorously opposed Luther's doctrine of soul sleep), and is reflected in some Early Church Fathers.[who?]
Other religious traditions
- Hell in Christian beliefs
- Outer darkness
- Prayer for the dead
- The Spirits in Prison means Mankind
- Leonhard Goppelt A Commentary on I Peter p254
- Thomas Belsham A calm inquiry into the Scripture doctrine concerning the person 1817 p106 "Christ was raised to life by the spirit, that is, the power of God : by which spirit, after he was gone to heaven, he preached by the ministry of his apostles to the spirits in prison, not to the dead, but to the Gentile world who were .."
- Grudem notes: "'St. Augustine, Letter 164, chs. 15–17; Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, part 3, question 52, art. 2, reply to obj. 3; Leighton, pp. 354–366; Zahn, p. 289; W. Kelly, Christ Preaching to the Spirits in Prison (London: Morrish 1872), pp. 3–89; DG Wohlenberg... etc.
- Bo Reicke The Disobedient Spirits & Christian Baptism: A Study of 1 Peter 3:19 and Its Context 1946
- The First Epistle of Peter: an introduction and commentary
- Stanley E. Porter, Michael A. Hayes, David Tombs Resurrection p110
- The Scripture view of Christ preaching to the spirits in prison p80 ".. he acted to " the spirits in prison ;" the persons interned in the Ark as in a place of protection. "
- Edward Hayes Plumptre The Spirits in Prison ch.1 Descent into Hades
- Lenski p169
- Porter, Resurrection p110
- F. Spitta, Christi Predigt an die Geister Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1890
- William Joseph Dalton Christ's proclamation to the spirits: a study of 1 Peter 3:18–4:6 p46 1989 "The pioneer of this new tendency, Spitta, remained to some degree within the Augustinian hypothesis. While he identified the spirits in prison with the rebellious angels who instigate the wickedness of the flood, he followed Augustine.."
- Edward Selwyn, The First Epistle of St. Peter (London: Macmillan, 1946)