Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Did Christ Descend Into Hell? Part 3

Once more, we are asking the question: does the Bible teach that Jesus Christ descended into hell between his death and resurrection.

Part 1: Ephesians 4:7-10,
Part 2: 1 Peter 3:18-22,
Part 3: 1 Peter 4:4-6
Part 4: Romans 10:7 & Acts 2:24-28
Part 5: Theological Conclusion

Today, we want to look at 1 Peter 4:4-6. This passage is often taken with 1 Peter 3:18ff to say that upon his death Jesus descended into hell to preach to spirits in prison. We will argue this passage does not teach that.

1 Peter 4:4-6
1 Peter 4:4-6 4 In all this, they are surprised that you do not run with them into the same excesses of dissipation, and they malign you; 5 but they will give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. 6 For the gospel has for this purpose been preached even to those who are dead, that though they are judged in the flesh as men, they may live in the spirit according to the will of God.

The questions in this passage arise over the nature and timing of the preaching to the dead.
There are three basic options for understanding this passage:
(1) Jesus went and preached to the dead in Hades. In this reading the passage is interpreted in collusion with what we have shown to be a misunderstanding of 1 Peter 3:18-19.
(2) It is the spiritual dead to whom the gospel is preached.
(3) It is those who are dead now who had the gospel preached to them while they were living.

First, the passage does not say that Jesus went and preached the gospel. It only says “6 For the gospel has for this purpose been preached even to those who are dead,” In this verse the word for preached is euangelizomai which is the word used for gospel preaching for salvation and repentance. It is not the same word used in ‘preaching’ in 1 Peter 3:19. This seems then in our passage to be a real call to repentance and belief for salvation not merely a proclamation and announcement.

If this passage would be referring to Jesus ministering the gospel this would then be the only place where the offer of the gospel is held out to those who are dead. Nothing in the passage says that Jesus does the preaching in this passage, and nothing indicates that it is Old Testament saints or unbelievers who never had opportunity to hear the gospel as some use this passage to suggest. Scripture speaks against the notion that people who have died have opportunity to repent. Passages like Hebrews 9:29 indicate that after man’s death is judgment which would eliminate the possibility of postmortem offers of the gospel.
NAU Hebrews 9:27 And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment,
Luke 16 is clear that it is impossible for the righteous dead or the unrighteous dead to cross over to the side of the other and abide with them:
NAU Luke 16:26 'And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, so that those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.'
The second option that these are spiritually dead also inserts ideas into Peter’s words. Dead in verse 6 should mean the same thing that it does in verse 5. Peter is talking about those who are physically dead.

In the context, Peter speaks about unbelievers who are attacking and slandering the believing Christians—v.4 “they malign you.” Those who do such things will be called to account for their actions (v.5) because God judges both the living and the dead. This notion of judging the living and the dead show the impartiality of God.

Then v.6 begins with “for this reason also” “eis touto gar kai”. Peter is ground is next statement on the fact that God judges the living and the dead. These dead have the gospel preached to them and the result is (so that) “they are judged in the flesh as men, they may live in the spirit according to the will of God.” Here he is specifically talking about how these people are treated when they live versus how they are treated when they die.

In life, in the flesh they are judged by men. These may indicate, given “they malign you” in verse 4 that these dead were indeed judged harshly in this life by people who treated them cruelly. But the result of having had the gospel preached to them they ‘live according in the spirit according to God’.

Spirit should probably not be understood as disembodied existence. In 1 Peter pneuma generally refers to the Holy Spirit. The one exception would be 1 Peter 3:4 where “spirit” is modified by “quiet.” Spirit there refers to the inner attitude of a person not disembodied existence. The parallel to 4:6’s use of flesh and Spirit would be in 1 Peter 3:18. Life in the Spirit according to God is probably looking forward to resurrection life of those who are vindicated by the judgment of God.

It seems best then to emphasize the past tense of the preaching in 4:6. The gospel was preached to the dead. The idea is that the gospel was preached to those who are dead now. They may have been judged harshly and wrongly by men but because the gospel was proclaimed to them they will live for God in the resurrection. They will pass through God’s judgment. This is a natural reading of the text and I believe that it is other factors that we bring to the text that forces some to insist that the preaching people after their death. This is possible but it is not the best interpretation of the text.

Conclusion:
This passage does not even mention Jesus. It is not teaching that Jesus descended into hell and it does not teach a preaching of the gospel to the dead after they had died. Of course, this passage is debated and is difficult but it seems best that when read in context Peter is telling us that those who have been judged unfairly in this life 'in the flesh,' though dead now they had had the gospel preached to them so that might be vindicated by God in resurrection life.

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