Updated: Aug 22
Here is the verse that people love to quote:
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water..... for this reason the gospel was preached also to those who are dead, that they might be judged according to God in the spirit. I Peter 3:18-20 and 4:6
So, from this some traditions have it that Yeshua (Jesus) went and preached to the souls in holding (hell) during His time in the grave.
I have several problems with this tradition. First, it would thus say that He only preached to the poor lost souls that lived prior to the flood of Noah which took them all away. What about all the other poor souls that have died without knowing God after the flood? Is God such a respecter of persons that He doesn't care about Yeshua preaching forgiveness to any other poor lost souls of history other than the ones prior to the flood? Certainly not!
Second, this would indicate that the point that the Apostle Peter was trying to make in analogy about baptism in water, using Noah and the flood as an example, has been completely lost in this obscure tradition that Yeshua went and preached to souls held captive in hell.
Third, this would teach that people that are dead are living somewhere else, in paradise or hell. The Bible does not teach this at all. This is another false tradition. Instead, the Bible is consistent in its teaching, both old and new testaments, that man is in an unconscious state when he is dead.
So, what is the Apostle Peter saying in these verses?
The whole point of these passages is to speak of the forgiveness of sins by God because of the work of Yeshua. Then, we are baptized into His Name as a sign of the covenant and a good conscience toward God. We are in right standing with the Father because we accepted the word of His prophet, Yeshua, a prophet like Moses who was to come; and has come.
Now, believers in Messiah Yeshua traditionally have this believe that God cannot save anyone unless they have accepted Yeshua. But the truth is that 'salvation' for the people of God has been around a lot longer than Yeshua. When the children of Israel stood at the Red Sea Moses told them to be still and see the 'salvation' of YHWH. While Yeshua will bring salvation with Him when He returns, God has always had 'salvation' for His obedient children. Noah was righteous before God, Moses was righteous before God, so was Abraham, Sarah, the prophets and the list goes on and on.
Likewise, the wicked are those who were not obedient and who did not obey the commands given to them by God. The wicked were taken away in the flood because they would not heed the words of Noah, Enoch, Methuselah, and Lamech. They did not obtain His salvation from the flood.
Let's examine these scriptures more closely:
Peter 3:18-19 - For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison.
'by the Spirit', in this verse is - the Holy Spirit
'by whom' in this verse - The Holy Spirit is the "whom" in this verse. The scripture should read, " by the Holy Spirit also He went and preached to the spirits in prison".
"spirits in prison' in this verse - in Hebrew understanding sheol/the grave is like a pit or prison. It doesn't mean people are alive there it simply means they are in the grave. They are being held in the grave until judgment day. Peter will bring out the point about judgment shortly.
So, by the Holy Spirit someone went (most Bibles have the word 'he' capitalized to make it appear that it is Yeshua doing the preaching) and preached to the people being held in the grave. But when did the Holy Spirit preach to them? When they were alive!
Take it back to the Old Testament for clarity.
Zechariah 7:12 - Yea, they made their hearts as flint, lest they should hear the Torah, and the words which the LORD of hosts hath sent in His Spirit by the former prophets; therefore came a great wrath from the LORD of hosts.
Nehemiah 9:30 - Yet for many years You had patience with them, And testified against them by Your Spirit in Your prophets. Yet they would not listen, Therefore You gave them into the hand of the peoples of the lands.
Isaiah 24:22 - They will be gathered together, As prisoners are gathered in the pit, And will be shut up in the prison; After many days they will be punished.
Peter is trying to stress that the people who lived during the time of Noah have no excuse for their sin. The wrath of God was poured out upon them because they did not listen to the word of warning brought to them through the Holy Spirit, by the former prophets who lived during that day (listed above).
In addition, no other generation will have any excuses when they stand before God. If they rejected the warning to repent, brought by His prophets, then they will stand guilty as accused.
Peter says in 4:5-6 - They will give an account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For this reason the gospel was preached also to those who are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.
The dead, in their lifetime (of every generation), had the gospel of repentance preached to them just as the living do now, so that when Messiah comes they may be judged in the same way as those living at the time of His coming are judged, and that "they", "men in the flesh' who have died accepting the gospel during their lifetime on earth, will live in the Spirit though they experienced death of the flesh.
The judgment day is coming. Pay attention now because you won't get another chance when you are dead.
Yeshua did not go around the world ministering to people while He was in the grave. One tradition is that He went and preached to native Americans. Yeshua did not go and preach to wicked people living in some holding place while He was in the grave. So, what did He do while He was in the grave? Nothing! He was dead!
Until the third day.... UP FROM THE GRAVE HE AROSE!