1 Peter Chapter 3:13-22 Antique Commentary Quotes

John Calvin
1 Peter 3:13
13Who is he that will harm you He further confirms the previous sentence by an argument drawn from common experience. For it happens for the most part, that the ungodly disturb us, or are provoked by us, or that we do not labor to do them good as it behoves us; for they who seek to do good, do even soften minds which are otherwise hard as iron. This very thing is mentioned by Plato in his first book on the Republic, “Injustice,” he says, “causes seditions and hatreds and fightings one with another; but justice, concord and friendship.” However, though this commonly happens, yet it is not always the case; for the children of God, how much soever they may strive to pacify the ungodly by kindness, and shew themselves kind towards all, are yet often assailed undeservedly by many.

Pulpit Commentary
1Pe_3:13
And who is he that will harm you? The apostle, as he began his quotation from Psa_34:1-22, without marks of citation, so adds at once his inference from it in the form of a question. The conjunction “and” connects the question with the quotation. If God’s eye is over the righteous, and his ear open to their prayers, who shall harm them? St. Peter does not mean—Who will have the heart to harm you? He knew the temper of Jews and heathens; he knew also the Savior’s prophecies of coming persecution too well to say that. The words remind us of the Septuagint rendering of Isa_50:9, Κύριος βοηθήσει μοι τίς κακώσει με; None can do real harm to the Lord’s people; they may persecute them, but he will make all things work together for their good. If ye be followers of that which is good; rather, if ye become zealous of that which is good, with the oldest manuscripts.

The Authorized Version adopts the reading μιμηταί, followers or imitators, which is not so well supported. The genitive τοῦ ἀγαθοῦ admits the masculine translation, “of him that is good,” but it is probably neuter in this place (comp. Isa_50:11). With the masculine rendering, comp. Act_22:3, “and was zealous toward God (ζηλωτὴς ὑπάρχων τοῦ Θεοῦ).”

Albert Barnes
1 Peter 3:13
And who is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good? – This question is meant to imply, that as a general thing they need apprehend no evil if they lead an upright and benevolent life. The idea is, that God would in general protect them, though the next verse shows that the apostle did not mean to teach that there would be absolute security, for it is implied there that they might be called to suffer for righteousness” sake. While it is true that the Saviour was persecuted by wicked people, though his life was wholly spent in doing good; while it is true that the apostles were put to death, though following his example; and while it is true that good people have often suffered persecution, though laboring only to do good, still it is true as a general thing that a life of integrity and benevolence conduces to safety, even in a wicked world. People who are upright and pure; who live to do good to others who are characteristically benevolent and who are imitators of God – are those who usually pass life in most tranquillity and security, and are often safe when nothing else would give security but confidence in their integrity. A man of a holy and pure life may, under the protection of God, rely on that character to carry him safely through the world and to bring him at last to an honored grave. Or should he be calumniated when living, and his sun set under a cloud, still his name will be vindicated, and justice will ultimately be done to him when he is dead. The world ultimately judges right respecting character, and renders “honor to whom honor is due.” Compare Psa_37:3-6.

John Calvin
1 Peter 3:14
14. Hence Peter adds, But if ye suffer for righteousness’ sake The meaning is, that the faithful will do more towards obtaining a quiet life by kindness, than by violence and promptitude in taking revenge; but that when they neglect nothing to secure peace, were they to suffer, they are still blessed, because they suffer for the sake of righteousness. Indeed, this latter clause differs much from the judgment of our flesh; but Christ has not without reason thus declared; nor has Peter without reason repeated the sentence from his mouth; for God will at length come as a deliverer, and then openly will appear what now seems incredible, that is, that the miseries of the godly have been blessed when endured with patience.

To suffer for righteousness, means not only to submit to some loss or disadvantage in defending a good cause, but also to suffer unjustly, when any one is innocently in fear among men on account of the fear of God.

Be not afraid of their terror He again points out the fountain and cause of impatience, that we are beyond due measure troubled, when the ungodly rise up against us. For such a dread either disheartens us, or degrades us, or kindles within us a desire for revenge. In the meantime, we do not acquiesce in the defense of God. Then the best remedy for checking the turbulent emotions of our minds will be, to conquer immoderate terrors by trusting in the aid of God.

But Peter no doubt meant to allude to a passage in the eighth chapter of Isaiah; [Isa_8:12;] for when the Jews against the prohibition of God sought to fortify themselves by the aid of the Gentile world, God warned his Prophet not to fear after their example. Peter at the same time seems to have turned “fear” into a different meaning; for it is taken passively by the Prophet, who accused the people of unbelief, because, at a time when they ought to have relied on the aid of God and to have boldly despised all dangers, they became so prostrate and broken down with fear, that they sent to all around them for unlawful help. But Peter takes fear in another sense, as meaning that terror which the ungodly are wont to fill us with by their violence and cruel threatenings. He then departs from the sense in which the word is taken by the Prophet; but in this there is nothing unreasonable; for his object was not to explain the words of the Prophet; he wished only to shew that, nothing is fitter to produce patience than what Isaiah prescribes, even to ascribe to God his honor by recumbing in full confidence on his power.

I do not, however, object, if any one prefers to render Peter’s words thus, Fear ye not their fear; as though he had said, “Be ye not afraid as the unbelieving, or the children of this world are wont to be, because they understand nothing of God’s providence.” But this, as I think, would be a forced explanation. There is, indeed, no need for us to toil much on this point, since Peter here did not intend to explain every word used by the Prophet, but only referred to this one thing, that the faithful will firmly stand, and can never be moved from a right course of duty by any dread or fear, if they will sanctify the Lord.

But this sanctification ought to be confined to the present case. For whence is it that we are overwhelmed with fear, and think ourselves lost, when danger is impending, except that we ascribe to mortal man more power to injure us than to God to save us? God promises that he will be the guardian of our salvation; the ungodly, on the other hand, attempt to subvert it. Unless God’s promise sustain us, do we not deal unjustly with him, and in a manner profane him? Then the Prophet teaches us that we ought to think honourably of the Lord of hosts; for how much soever the ungodly may contrive to destroy us, and whatever power they may possess, he alone is more than sufficiently powerful to secure our safety. Peter then adds, in your hearts. For if this conviction takes full possession of our minds, that the help promised by the Lord is sufficient for us, we shall be well fortified to repel all the fears of unbelief.

Albert Barnes
1 Peter 3:14
But and if ye suffer for righteousness” sake – Implying that though, in general, a holy character would constitute safety, yet that there was a possibility that they might suffer persecution. Compare the Mat_5:10 note; 2Ti_3:12 note.

Happy are ye – Perhaps alluding to what the Saviour says in Mat_5:10; “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness” sake.” On the meaning of the word happy or blessed, see the notes at Mat_5:3. The meaning here is, not that they would find positive enjoyment in persecution on account of righteousness, but that they were to regard it as a blessed condition; that is, as a condition that might be favorable to salvation; and they were not therefore, on the whole, to regard it as an evil.

And be not afraid of their terror – Of anything which they can do to cause terror. There is evidently an allusion here to Isa_8:12-13; “Neither fear ye their fear, nor be afraid. Sanctify the Lord of hosts himself; and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread.” See the notes at that passage. Compare Isa_51:12; Mat_10:28. “Neither be troubled.” With apprehension of danger. Compare the notes at Joh_14:1. If we are true Christians, we have really no reason to be alarmed in view of anything that can happen to us. God is our protector, and he is abundantly able to vanquish all our foes; to uphold us in all our trials; to conduct us through the valley of death, and to bring us to heaven. “All things are yours; whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come,” 1Co_3:21-22.

John Calvin
1 Peter 3:15
Though this is a new precept, it yet depends on what is gone before, for he requires such constancy in the faithful, as boldly to give a reason for their faith to their adversaries. And this is a part of that sanctification which he had just mentioned; for we then really honor God, when neither fear nor shame hinders us from making a profession of our faith. But Peter does not expressly bid us to assert and proclaim what has been given us by the Lord everywhere, and always and among all indiscriminately, for the Lord gives his people the spirit of discretion, so that they may know when and how far and to whom it is expedient to speak. He bids them only to be ready to give an answer, lest by their sloth and the cowardly fear of the flesh they should expose the doctrine of Christ, by being silent, to the derision of the ungodly. The meaning then is, that we ought to be prompt in avowing our faith, so as to set it forth whenever necessary, lest the unbelieving through our silence should condemn the religion we follow.

But it ought to be noticed, that Peter here does not command us to be prepared to solve any question that may be mooted; for it is not the duty of all to speak on every subject. But it is the general doctrine that is meant, which belongs to the ignorant and the simple. Then Peter had in view no other thing, than that Christians should make it evident to unbelievers that they truly worshipped God, and had a holy and good religion. And in this there is no difficulty, for it would be strange if we could bring nothing to defend our faith when any one made inquiries respecting it. For we ought always to take care that all may know that we fear God, and that we piously and reverently regard his legitimate worship.

This was also required by the state of the times: the Christian name was much hated and deemed infamous; many thought the sect wicked and guilty of many sacrileges. It would have been, therefore, the highest perfidy against God, if, when asked, they had neglected to give a testimony in favor of their religion. And this, as I think, is the meaning of the word apology, which Peter uses, that is, that the Christians were to make it evident to the world that they were far off from every impiety, and did not corrupt true religion, on which account they were suspected by the ignorant.

Hope here is by a metonymy to be taken for faith. Peter, however, as it has been said, does not require them to know how to discuss distinctly and refinedly every article of the faith, but only to shew that their faith in Christ was consistent with genuine piety. And hence we learn how all those abuse the name of Christians, who understand nothing certain respecting their faith, and have nothing to give as an answer for it. But it behoves us again carefully to consider what he says, when he speaks of that hope that is in you; for he intimates that the confession which flows from the heart is alone that which is approved by God; for except faith dwells within, the tongue prattles in vain. It ought then to have its roots within us, so that it may afterwards bring forth the fruit of confession.

Cambridge Bible Plumptre
1 Pet 3:15. but sanctify the Lord God in your hearts] The better MSS. give the Lord Christ. The original text was probably altered by transcribers to bring it into conformity with the LXX. text of Isaiah. To “sanctify Christ” or “God” was to count His Name as holy above all other names, His fear, as the only fear which men ought to cherish, and therefore as the safeguard against all undue fear of men. The words “in your hearts” are added by the Apostle to the text of Isaiah as shewing that the “hallowing” of which he speaks should work in the root and centre of their spiritual being.

be ready always to give an answer] The words imply that the disciples of Christ were not to take refuge in the silence to which fear might prompt. They were to be ready with a defence, a vindication, an apologia, for their faith and hope. And this answer was to be given not in a tone of threatening defiance, but “in meekness” as regards the interrogator, whether the questions were put officially or in private, and “in fear,” partly lest the truth should suffer through any infirmities in its defenders, partly because the spirit of reverential awe towards God was the best safeguard against such infirmities.

Pulpit Commentary
1Pe_3:15
But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts. From Isa_8:13. The reading of the best and oldest manuscripts here is Κύριον δὲ τὸν Ξριστόν, “Sanctify the Lord Christ,” or, “Sanctify the Christ as Lord.” The absence of the article with Κύριον is in favor of the second translation; but the first seems more natural, more in accordance with the original passage in Isaiah, and the common expression, Κύριος ὁ Θεός, is in its favor. Whichever translation is adopted, St. Peter here substitutes the Savior’s Name where the prophet wrote, “the Lord of hosts, Jehovah Sabaoth”—a change which would be nothing less than impious if the Lord Jesus Christ were not truly God. “Sanctify him,” the apostle says (as the Lord himself teaches us to say, in the first words of the Lord’s Prayer); that is, regard him as most holy, awful in sanctity; serve him with reverence and godly fear; so you will not “be afraid of their terror.” The holy fear of God will lift you above the fear of man. “Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread” (Isa_8:13; see also Le Isa_10:3; Isa_29:23; Eze_38:23). St. Peter adds the words, “in your hearts,” to teach us that this reverence, this hallowing of the Name of God, must be inward and spiritual, in our inmost being. And be ready always to give an answer to every man; literally, ready always for an apology to every man. The word ἀπολογία is often used of a formal answer before a magistrate, or of a written defense of the faith; but here the addition, “to every man,” shows that St. Peter is thinking of informal answers on any suitable occasion. That asketh you a reason of the here that is in you; literally, an account concerning the hope. Hope is the grace on which St. Peter lays most stress; it lives in the hearts of Christians. Christians ought to be able to give an account of their hope when asked, both for the defense of the truth and for the good of the asker. That account may be very simple; it may be the mere recital of personal experience—often the most convincing of arguments; it may be, in the case of instructed Christians, profound and closely reasoned. Some answer every Christian ought to be able to give.

With meekness and fear. The best manuscripts read, “but with meekness and fear.” The word “but” (ἀλλά) is emphatic; argument always involves danger of weakening the spiritual life through pride or bitterness. We must sometimes “contend earnestly for the faith;” but it must be with gentleness and awe. We should fear lest we injure our own souls by arrogant and angry controversy; we should seek the spiritual good of our opponents; and we should entertain a solemn awe of the presence of God, with a trembling anxiety to think and to say only what is acceptable unto him.

Albert Barnes
1 Peter 3:15
But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts – In Isaiah Isa_8:13 this is, “sanctify the Lord of hosts himself;” that is, in that connection, regard him as your Protector, and be afraid of him, and not of what man can do. The sense in the passage before us is, “In your hearts, or in the affections of the soul, regard the Lord God as holy, and act toward him with that confidence which a proper respect for one so great and so holy demands. In the midst of dangers, be not intimidated; dread not what man can do, but evince proper reliance on a holy God, and flee to him with the confidence which is due to one so glorious.” This contains, however, a more general direction, applicable to Christians at all times. It is, that in our hearts we are to esteem God as a holy being, and in all our deportment to act toward him as such. The object of Peter in quoting the passage from Isaiah, was to lull the fears of those whom he addressed, and preserve them from any alarms in view of the persecutions to which they might be exposed; the trials which would be brought upon them by people. Thus, in entire accordance with the sentiment as employed by Isaiah, he says, “Be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled; but sanctify the Lord God in your hearts.” That is, “in order to keep the mind calm in trials, sanctify the Lord in your hearts; regard him as your holy God and Saviour; make him your refuge. This will allay all your fears, and secure you from all that you dread.” The sentiment of the passage then is, that the sanctifying of the Lord God in our hearts, or proper confidence in him as a holy and righteous God, will deliver us from fear. As this is a very important sentiment for Christians, it may be proper, in order to a just exposition of the passage, to dwell a moment on it:

I. What is meant by our sanctifying the Lord God? It cannot mean to make him holy, for he is perfectly holy, whatever may be our estimate of him; and our views of him evidently can make no change in his character. The meaning therefore must be, that we should regard him as holy in our estimate of him, or in the feelings which we have toward him. This may include the following things:

(1) To esteem or regard him as a holy being, in contradistinction from all those feelings which rise up in the heart against him – the feelings of complaining and murmuring under his dispensations, as if he were severe and harsh; the feelings of dissatisfaction with his government, as if it were partial and unequal; the feelings of rebellion, as if his claims were unfounded or unjust.

(2) To desire that he may be regarded by others as holy, in accordance with the petition in the Lord’s prayer, Mat_6:9, “hallowed be thy name;” that is, “let thy name be esteemed to be holy everywhere;” a feeling in opposition to that which is regardless of the honor which he may receive in the world. When we esteem a friend, we desire that all due respect should be shown him by others; we wish that all who know him should have the same views that we have; we are sensitive to his honor, just in proportion as we love him.

(3) To act toward him as holy: that is, to obey his laws, and acquiesce in all his requirements, as if they were just and good. This implies:

(a) That we are to speak of him as holy, in opposition to the language of disrespect and irreverence so common among mankind;

(b) That we are to flee to him in trouble, in contradistinction from withholding our hearts from him, and flying to other sources of consolation and support.

II. What is it to do this in the heart? Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts; that is, in contradistinction from a mere external service. This may imply the following things:

(1) In contradistinction from a mere intellectual assent to the proposition that he is holy. Many admit the doctrine that God is holy into their creeds, who never suffer the sentiment to find its way to the heart. All is right on this subject in the articles of their faith; all in their hearts may be murmuring and complaining. In their creeds he is spoken of as just and good; in their hearts they regard him as partial and unjust, as severe and stern, as unamiable and cruel.

(2) In contradistinction From a mere outward form of devotion. In our prayers, and in our hymns, we, of course, “ascribe holiness to our Maker.” But how much of this is the mere language of form! How little does the heart accompany it! And even in the most solemn and sublime ascriptions of praise, how often are the feelings of the heart entirely at variance with what is expressed by the lips! What would more justly offend us, than for a professed friend to approach us with the language of friendship, when every feeling of his heart belied his expressions, and we knew that his honeyed words were false and hollow!

III. Such a sanctifying of the Lord in our hearts will save us from fear. We dread danger, we dread sickness, we dread death, we dread the eternal world. We are alarmed when our affairs are tending to bankruptcy; we are alarmed when a friend is sick and ready to die; we are alarmed if our country is invaded by a foe, and the enemy already approaches our dwelling. The sentiment in the passage before us is, that if we sanctify the Lord God with proper affections, we shall be delivered from these alarms, and the mind will be calm:

(1) The fear of the Lord, as Leighton (in loc.) expresses it, “as greatest, overtops and nullifies all lesser fears: the heart possessed with this fear hath no room for the other.” It is an absorbing emotion; making everything else comparatively of no importance. If we fear God, we have nothing else to fear. The highest emotion which there can be in the soul is the fear of God; and when that exists, the soul will be calm amidst all that might tend otherwise to disturb it. “What time I am afraid,” says David, “I will trust in thee,” Psa_56:3. “We are not, careful,” said Daniel and his friends, “to answer thee, O king. Our God can deliver us; but if not, we will not worship the image,” Dan_3:16.

(2) If we sanctify the Lord God in our hearts, there will be a belief that he will do all things well, and the mind will be calm. However dark his dispensations may be, we shall be assured that everything is ordered aright. In a storm at sea, a child may be calm when he feels that his father is at the helm, and assures him that there is no danger. In a battle, the mind of a soldier may be calm, if he has confidence in his commander, and he assures him that all is safe. So in anything, if we have the assurance that the best thing is done that can be, that the issues will all be right, the mind will be calm. But in this respect the highest confidence that can exist, is that which is reposed in God.

(3) There will be the assurance that all is safe. “Though I walk,” says David, “through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me,” Psa_23:4. “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? Psa_27:1. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble: therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof,” Psa_46:1-3. Let us ever then regard the Lord as holy, just, and good. Let us flee to him in all the trials of the present life, and in the hour of death repose on his arm. Every other source of trust will fail; and whatever else may be our reliance, when the hour of anguish approaches, that reliance will fail, and that which we dreaded will overwhelm us. Nor riches, nor honors, nor earthly friends, can save us from those alarms, or be a security for our souls when “the rains descend, and the floods come, and the winds blow” upon us.

And be ready always – That is:

(a) Be always able to do it; have such reasons for the hope that is in you that they can be stated; or, have good and substantial reasons; and,

(b) Be willing to state those reasons on all proper occasions.

No man ought to entertain opinions for which a good reason cannot be given; and every man ought to be willing to state the grounds of his hope on all proper occasions. A Christian should have such intelligent views of the truth of his religion, and such constant evidence in his own heart and life that he is a child of God, as to be able at any time to satisfy a candid inquirer that the Bible is a revelation from heaven, and that it is proper for him to cherish the hope of salvation.

To give an answer – Greek, “An apology,” (ἀπολογίαν apologian.) This word formerly did not mean, as the word apology does now, an excuse for anything that is done as if it were wrong, but a defense of anything. We apply the word now to denote something written or said in extenuation of what appears to others to be wrong, or what might be construed as wrong – as when we make an apology to others for not fulfilling an engagement, or for some conduct which might be construed as designed neglect. The word originally, however, referred rather to that which was thought not to be true, than that which might be construed as wrong; and the defense or “apology” which Christians were to make of their religion, was not on the supposition that others would regard it as wrong, but in order to show them that it was true. The word used here is rendered “defense,” Act_22:1; Phi_1:7, Phi_1:17; answer, Act_25:16; 1Co_9:3; 2Ti_4:16; 1Pe_3:15; and clearing of yourselves in 2Co_7:11. We are not to hold ourselves ready to make an apology for our religion as if it were a wrong thing to be a Christian; but we are always to be ready to give reasons for regarding it as true.

To every man that asketh you – Anyone has a right respectfully to ask another on what grounds he regards his religion as true; for every man has a common interest in religion, and in knowing what is the truth on the subject. If any man, therefore, asks us candidly and respectfully by what reasons we have been led to embrace the gospel, and on what grounds we, regard it as true, we are under obligation to state those grounds in the best manner that we are able. We should regard it not as an impertinent intrusion into our private affairs, but as an opportunity of doing good to others, and to honor the Master whom we serve. Nay, we should hold ourselves in readiness to state the grounds of our faith and hope, whatever maybe the motive of the inquirer, and in whatever manner the request may be made. Those who were persecuted for their religion, were under obligation to make as good a defense of it as they could, and to state to their persecutors the “reason” of the hope which they entertained. And so now, if a man attacks our religion; if he ridicules us for being Christians; if he tauntingly asks us what reason we have for believing the truth of the Bible, it is better to tell him in a kind manner, and to meet his taunt with a kind and strong argument, than to become angry, or to turn away with contempt. The best way to disarm him is to show him that by embracing religion we are not fools in understanding; and, by a kind temper, to convince him that the influence of religion over us when we are abused and insulted, is a reason why we should love our religion, and why he should too.

A reason of the hope that is in you – Greek, “an account,” (λόγον logon.) That is, you are to state on what ground you cherish that hope. This refers to the whole ground of our hope, and includes evidently two things:

(1) The reason why we regard Christianity as true, or as furnishing a ground of hope for people; and,

(2) The reason which we have ourselves for cherishing a hope of heaven, or the experimental and practical views which we have of religion, which constitute a just ground of hope.

It is not improbable that the former of these was more directly in the eye of the apostle than the latter, though both seem to be implied in the direction to state the reasons which ought to satisfy others that it is proper for us to cherish the hope of heaven. The first part of this duty – that we are to state the reasons why we regard the system of religion which we have embraced as true – implies, that we should be acquainted with the evidences of the truth of Christianity, and be able to state them to others. Christianity is founded on evidence; and though it cannot be supposed that every Christian will be able to understand all that is involved in what are called the evidences of Christianity, or to meet all the objections of the enemies of the gospel; yet every man who becomes a Christian should have such intelligent views of religion, and of the evidences of the truth of the Bible, that he can show to others that the religion which he has embraced has claims to their attention, or that it is not a mere matter of education, of tradition, or of feeling. It should also be an object with every Christian to increase his acquaintance with the evidences of the truth of religion, not only for his own stability and comfort in the faith, but that he may be able to defend religion if attacked, or to guide others if they are desirous of knowing what is truth. The second part of this duty, that we state the reasons which we have for cherishing the hope of heaven as a personal matter, implies:

(a) That there should be, in fact, a well-founded hope of heaven; that is, that we have evidence that we are true Christians, since it is impossible to give a “reason” of the hope that is in us unless there are reasons for it;

(b) That we be able to state in a clear and intelligent manner what constitutes evidence of piety, or what should be reasonably regarded as such; and,

(c) That we be ever ready to state these reasons.

A Christian should always be willing to converse about his religion. He should have such a deep conviction of its truth, of its importance, and of his personal interest in it; he should have a hope so firm, so cheering, so sustaining, that he will be always prepared to converse on the prospect of heaven and to endeavor to lead others to walk in the path to life.

With meekness – With modesty; without any spirit of ostentation; with gentleness of manner. This seems to be added on the supposition that they sometimes might be rudely assailed; that the questions might be proposed in a spirit of evil; that it might be done in a taunting or insulting manner. Even though this should be done, they were not to fall into a passion, to manifest resentment, or to retort in an angry and revengeful manner; but, in a calm and gentle spirit, they were to state the reasons of their faith and hope, and leave the matter there.

And fear – Margin, “reverence.” The sense seems to be, “in the fear of God; with a serious and reverent spirit; as in the presence of Him who sees and hears all things.” It evidently does not mean with the fear or dread of those who propose the question, but with that serious and reverent frame of mind which is produced by a deep impression of the importance of the subject, and a conscious sense of the presence of God. It follows, from the injunction of the apostle here:

(1) That every professing Christian should have clear and intelligent views of his own personal interest in religion, or such evidences of piety that they can be stated to others, and that they can be made satisfactory to other minds;

(2) That every Christian, however humble his rank, or however unlettered he may be, may become a valuable defender of the truth of Christianity;

(3) That we should esteem it a privilege to bear our testimony to the truth and value of religion, and to stand up as the advocates of truth in the world. Though we may be rudely assailed, it is an honor to speak in defense of religion; though we are persecuted and reviled, it is a privilege to be permitted in any way to show our fellow-men that there is such a thing as true religion, and that man may cherish the hope of heaven.

John Calvin
1 Peter 3:16
16With meekness This is a most necessary admonition; for unless our minds are endued with meekness, contentions will immediately break forth. And meekness is set in opposition to pride and vain ostentation, and also to excessive zeal. To this he justly adds fear; for where reverence for God prevails, it tames all the ferocity of our minds, and it will especially cause us to speak calmly of God’s mysteries. For contentious disputes arise from this, because many think less honourably than they ought of the greatness of divine wisdom, and are carried away by profane audacity. If, then, we would render approved of God the confession of our faith, all boasting must be put aside, all contention must be relinquished.

Having a good conscience What we say without a corresponding life has but little weight; hence he joins to confession a good conscience. For we see that many are sufficiently ready with their tongue, and prate much, very freely, and yet with no fruit, because the life does not correspond. Besides, the integrity of conscience alone is that which gives us confidence in speaking as we ought; for they who prattle much about the gospel, and whose dissolute life is a proof of their impiety, not only make themselves objects of ridicule, but also expose the truth itself to the slanders of the ungodly. For why did he before bid us to be ready to defend the faith, should any one require from us a reason for it, except that it is our duty to vindicate the truth of God against those false suspicions which the ignorant entertain respecting it. But the defense of the tongue will avail but little, except the life corresponds with it.

He therefore says, that they may be ashamed, who blame your good conversation in Christ, and who speak against you as evil-doers; as though he had said, “If your adversaries have nothing to allege against you, except that you follow Christ, they will at length be ashamed of their malicious wickedness, or at least, your innocence will be sufficient to confute them.”

Pulpit Commentary
1Pe_3:16
Having a good conscience. This word “conscience” (συνείδησις) is one of the many links between this Epistle and the writings of St. Paul. St. Peter uses it three times; St. Paul, very frequently. There is a close connection between this clause and the preceding verse. A good conscience is the best reason of the hope that is in us. An apology may be learned, well-expressed, eloquent; but it will not be convincing unless it comes from the heart, and is backed up by the life. Calvin (quoted by Huther) says, “Quid parum auctoritatis habet sermo absque vita.” That, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers. The Revised Version follows the Sinaitic Manuscript in reading, “Wherein ye are spoken against,” and omitting “as of evil-doers? It is possible that the received reading may have been interpolated from 1Pe_2:12, where the same words occur; except that there the mood is indicative, here, conjunctive, “wherein they may possibly speak evil of you.” They may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ; rather, as the Revised Version, they may be put to shame; that is, “proved to be liars”. The word translated “falsely accuse” is that which is rendered “despitefully use” in Mat_5:44. Luk_6:28. It is a strong word. Aristotle defines the corresponding substantive as a thwarting of the wishes of others out of gratuitous malice (‘Rhet.,’ Luk_2:2). For “good conversation,” see 1Pe_1:15, 1Pe_1:18. The Christian’s life is in Christ, in the sphere of his presence, he dwelling in us, and we in him.

Albert Barnes
1 Peter 3:16
Having a good conscience – That is, a conscience that does not accuse you of having done wrong. Whatever may be the accusations of your enemies, so live that you may be at all times conscious of uprightness. Whatever you suffer, see that you do not suffer the pangs inflicted by a guilty conscience, the anguish of remorse. On the meaning of the word “conscience,” see the notes at Rom_2:15. The word properly means the judgment of the mind respecting right and wrong; or the judgment which the mind passes on the immorality of its own actions, when it instantly approves or condemns them. There is always a feeling of obligation connected with operations of conscience, which precedes, attends, and follows our actions. “Conscience is first occupied in ascertaining our duty, before we proceed to action; then in judging of our actions when performed.” A “good conscience” implies two things:

(1) That it be properly enlightened to know what is right and wrong, or that it be not under the dominion of ignorance, superstition, or fanaticism, prompting us to do what would be a violation of the divine law; and,

(2) That its dictates must always be obeyed. Without the first of these – clear views of that which is right and wrong – conscience becomes an unsafe guide; for it merely prompts us to do what we esteem to be right, and if our views of what is right and wrong are erroneous, we may be prompted to do what may be a direct violation of the law of God. Paul thought he “ought” to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth Act_26:9; the Saviour said, respecting his disciples, that the time would come when whosoever should kill them would think that they were doing God service, Joh_16:2; and Solomon says, “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death,” Pro_14:12; Pro_16:25 Under an unenlightened and misguided conscience, with the plea and pretext of religion, the most atrocious crimes have been committed; and no man should infer that he is certainly doing right, because he follows the promptings of conscience.

No man, indeed, should act against the dictates of his conscience; but there may have been a previous wrong in not using proper means to ascertain what is right. Conscience is not revelation, nor does it answer the purpose of a revelation. It communicates no new truth to the soul, and is a safe guide only so far as the mind has been properly enlightened to see what is truth and duty. Its office is “to prompt us to the performance of duty,” not “to determine what is right.” The other thing requisite that we may have a good conscience is, that its decisions should be obeyed. Conscience is appointed to be the “vicegerent” of God in inflicting punishment, if his commands are not obeyed. It pronounces a sentence on our own conduct. Its penalty is remorse; and that penalty will be demanded if its promptings be not regarded. It is an admirable device, as a part of the moral government of God, urging man to the performance of duty, and, in case of disobedience, making the mind its own executioner.

There is no penalty that will more certainly be inflicted, sooner or later, than that incurred by a guilty conscience. It needs no witnesses; no process for arresting the offender; no array of judges and executioners; no stripes, imprisonment, or bonds. Its inflictions will follow the offender into the most secluded retreat; overtake him in his most rapid flight; find him out in northern snows, or on the sands of the equator; go into the most splendid palaces, and seek out the victim when he is safe from all the vengeance that man can inflict; pursue him into the dark valley of the shadow of death, or arrest him as a fugitive in distant worlds. No one, therefore, can over-estimate the importance of having a good conscience. A true Christian should aim, by incessant study and prayer, to know what is right, and then always do it, no matter what may be the consequences.

That, whereas they speak evil of you – They who are your enemies and persecutors. Christians are not to hope that people will always speak well of them, Mat_5:11; Luk_6:26.

As of evildoers – See the notes at 1Pe_2:12.

They may be ashamed – They may see that they have misunderstood your conduct, and regret that they have treated you as they have. We should expect, if we are faithful and true, that even our enemies will yet appreciate our motives, and do us justice. Compare Psa_37:5-6.

That falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ – Your good conduct as Christians. They may accuse you of insincerity, hypocrisy, dishonesty; of being enemies of the state, or of monstrous crimes; but the time will come when they will see their error, and do you justice. See the notes at 1Pe_2:12.

John Calvin
1 Peter 3:17
17For it is better This belongs not only to what follows but to the whole context. He had spoken of the profession of faith, which at that time was attended with great danger; he says now that it is much better, if they sustained any loss in defending a good cause, to suffer thus unjustly than to be punished for their evil deeds. This consolation is understood rather by secret meditation, than by many words. It is what indeed occurs everywhere in profane authors, that there is a sufficient defense in a good conscience, whatever evils may happen, and must be endured. These have spoken courageously; but then the only really bold man is he who looks to God. Therefore Peter added this clause, If the will of God be so For in these words he reminds us, that if we suffer unjustly, it is not by chance, but according to the divine will; and he assumes, that God wills nothing or appoints nothing but for the best reason. Hence the faithful have always this comfort in their miseries, that they know that they have God as their witness, and that they also know that they are led by him to the contest, in order that they may under his protection give a proof of their faith.

Albert Barnes
1 Peter 3:17

For it is better, if the will of God be so – That is, if God sees it to be necessary for your good that you should suffer, it is better that you should suffer for doing well than for crime. God often sees it to be necessary that his people should suffer. There are effects to be accomplished by affliction which can be secured in no other way; and some of the happiest results on the soul of a Christian, some of the brightest traits of character, are the effect of trials. But it should be our care that our sufferings should not be brought upon us for our own crimes or follies. No man can promote his own highest good by doing wrong, and then enduring the penalty which his sin incurs; and no one should do wrong with any expectation that it may be overruled for his own good. If we are to suffer, let it be by the direct hand of God, and not by any fault of our own. If we suffer then, we shall have the testimony of our own conscience in our favor, and the feeling that we may go to God for support. If we suffer for our faults, in addition to the outward pain of body, we shall endure the severest pangs which man can suffer – those which the guilty mind inflicts on itself.

John Calvin
1 Peter 3:18
18For Christ also It is another comfort, that if in our afflictions we are conscious of having done well, we suffer according to the example of Christ; and it hence follows that we are blessed. At the same time he proves, from the design of Christ’s death, that it is by no means consistent with our profession that we should suffer for our evil deeds. For he teaches us that Christ suffered in order to bring us to God. What does this mean, except that we have been thus consecrated to God by Christ’s death, that we may live and die to him?

There are, then, two parts in this sentence; the first is, that persecutions ought to be borne with resignation, because the Son of God shews the way to us; and the other is, that since we have been consecrated to God’s service by the death of Christ, it behoves us to suffer, not for our faults, but for righteousness’ sake. Here, however, a question may be raised, Does not God chastise the faithful, whenever he suffers them to be afflicted? To this I answer, that it indeed often happens, that God punishes them according to what they deserve; and this is not denied by Peter; but he reminds us what a comfort it is to have our cause connected with God. And how God does not punish sins in them who endure persecution for the sake of righteousness, and in what sense they are said to be innocent, we shall see in the next chapter.

Being put to death in the flesh Now this is a great thing, that we are made conformable to the Son of God, when we suffer without cause; but there is added another consolation, that the death of Christ had a blessed issue; for though he suffered through the weakness of the flesh, he yet rose again through the power of the Spirit. Then the cross of Christ was not prejudicial, nor his death, since life obtained the victory. This was said (as Paul also reminds us in 2Co_4:10) that we may know that we are to bear in our body the dying of Christ, in order that his life may be manifested in us. Flesh here means the outward man; and Spirit means the divine power, by which Christ emerged from death a conqueror.

Cambridge Bible Plumptre
1 Pet 3:18. For Christ also hath once suffered for sins] As in the previous chapter (2:21-25), so here, the Apostle cannot think of any righteous sufferer needing comfort without thinking also of the righteous Sufferer whom he had known. And here also, as there, though he begins with thinking of Him as an example, he cannot rest in that thought, but passes almost immediately to the higher aspects of that work as sacrificial and atoning. Every word that follows is full of significance—“Christ suffered” (better than “hath suffered,” as representing the sufferings as belonging entirely to the past), once and once for all. The closeness of the parallelism with Heb_9:26-28 might almost suggest the inference that St Peter was acquainted with that Epistle, but it admits also of the more probable explanation that both writers represent the current teaching of the Apostolic Church. The precise Greek phrase “for sins” (literally, “concerning, or on account of, sins”) is used in Heb_10:6, Heb_10:8, Heb_10:18, Heb_10:26, and in the LXX. of Psa_40:6, and was almost the technical phrase of the Levitical Code (Lev_4:33).

the just for the unjust] The preposition in this case means “on behalf of,” and is that used of the efficacy of Christ’s sufferings in Mar_14:24, Joh_6:51, 1Co_5:7, 1Ti_2:6. It is used also of our sufferings for Christ (Php_1:29), or for our brother men (Eph_3:1, Eph_3:13), and therefore does not by itself express the vicarious character of the death of Christ, though it naturally runs up into it. In the emphatic description of Christ as “the Just,” we have an echo of St Peter’s own words in Act_3:14; in the stress laid on the fact that He, the just, died for the unjust, a like echo of the teaching of St Paul in Rom_5:6.

that he might bring us to God] This, then, from St Peter’s point of view, and not a mere exemption from an infinite penalty, was the end contemplated in the death of Christ. “Access to God,” the right to come boldly to the throne of grace (Heb_4:16), was with him as with St Paul (Rom_5:2; Eph_2:18, Eph_3:12), the final cause of the redemptive work. The verb, it may be noted, is not used elsewhere in this connexion in the New Testament.

being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit] The change of the preposition and the mode of printing “Spirit” both shew that the translators took the second clause as referring to the Holy Spirit, as quickening the human body of Christ in His resurrection from the dead. The carefully balanced contrast between the two clauses shews, however, that this cannot be the meaning, and that we have here an antithesis, like that of Rom_1:3, Rom_1:4, between the “flesh” and the human “spirit” of the man Christ Jesus, like that between the “manifest in the flesh” and “justified in the spirit” of 1Ti_3:16. By the “flesh” He was subject to the law of death, but in the very act of dying, His “spirit” was quickened, even prior to the resurrection of His body, into a fresh energy and activity. What was the sphere and what the result of that activity, the next verse informs us.

Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown
1 Peter 3:18
Confirmation of 1Pe_3:17, by the glorious results of Christ’s suffering innocently.
For — “Because.” That is “better,” 1Pe_3:17, means of which we are rendered more like to Christ in death and in life; for His death brought the best issue to Himself and to us [Bengel].

Christ — the Anointed Holy One of God; the Holy suffered for sins, the Just for the unjust.

also — as well as yourselves (1Pe_3:17). Compare 1Pe_2:21; there His suffering was brought forward as an example to us; here, as a proof of the blessedness of suffering for well-doing.

once — for all; never again to suffer. It is “better” for us also once to suffer with Christ, than for ever without Christ We now are suffering our “once”; it will soon be a thing of the past; a bright consolation to the tried.

for sins — as though He had Himself committed them. He exposed Himself to death by His “confession,” even as we are called on to “give an answer to him that asketh a reason of our hope.” This was “well-doing” in its highest manifestation. As He suffered, “The Just,” so we ought willingly to suffer, for righteousness’ sake (1Pe_3:14; compare 1Pe_3:12, 1Pe_3:17).

that he might bring us to God — together with Himself in His ascension to the right hand of God (1Pe_3:22). He brings us, “the unjust,” justified together with Him into heaven. So the result of Christ’s death is His drawing men to Him; spiritually now, in our having access into the Holiest, opened by Christ’s ascension; literally hereafter. “Bring us,” moreover, by the same steps of humiliation and exaltation through which He Himself passed. The several steps of Christ’s progress from lowliness to glory are trodden over again by His people in virtue of their oneness with Him (1Pe_4:1-3). “To God,” is Greek dative (not the preposition and case), implying that God wishes it [Bengel].

put to death — the means of His bringing us to God.

in the flesh — that is, in respect to the life of flesh and blood.

quickened by the Spirit — The oldest manuscripts omit the Greek article. Translate with the preposition “in,” as the antithesis to the previous “in the flesh” requires, “IN spirit,” that is, in respect to His Spirit. “Put to death” in the former mode of life; “quickened” in the other. Not that His Spirit ever died and was quickened, or made alive again, but whereas He had lived after the manner of mortal men in the flesh, He began to live a spiritual “resurrection” (1Pe_3:21) life, whereby He has the power to bring us to God. Two ways of explaining 1Pe_3:18, 1Pe_3:19, are open to us:

(1) “Quickened in Spirit,” that is, immediately on His release from the “flesh,” the energy of His undying spirit-life was “quickened” by God the Father, into new modes of action, namely, “in the Spirit He went down (as subsequently He went up to heaven, 1Pe_3:22, the same Greek verb) and heralded [not salvation, as Alford, contrary to Scripture, which everywhere represents man’s state, whether saved or lost, after death irreversible. Nor is any mention made of the conversion of the spirits in prison. See on 1Pe_3:20. Nor is the phrase here ‘preached the Gospel’ (evangelizo), but ‘heralded’ (ekeruxe) or ‘preached’; but simply made the announcement of His finished work; so the same Greek in Mar_1:45, ‘publish,’ confirming Enoch and Noah’s testimony, and thereby declaring the virtual condemnation of their unbelief, and the salvation of Noah and believers; a sample of the similar opposite effects of the same work on all unbelievers, and believers, respectively; also a consolation to those whom Peter addresses, in their sufferings at the hands of unbelievers; specially selected for the sake of ‘baptism,’ its ‘antitype’  (1Pe_3:21), which, as a seal, marks believers as separated from the rest of the doomed world] to the spirits (His Spirit speaking to the spirits) in prison (in Hades or Sheol, awaiting the judgment, 2Pe_2:4), which were of old disobedient when,” etc.

(2) The strongest point in favor of (1) is the position of “sometime,” that is, of old, connected with “disobedient”; whereas if the preaching or announcing were a thing long past, we should expect “sometime,” or of old, to be joined to “went and preached.” But this transposition may express that their disobedience preceded His preaching. The Greek participle expresses the reason of His preaching, “inasmuch as they were sometime disobedient” (compare 1Pe_4:6). Also “went” seems to mean a personal going, as in 1Pe_3:22, not merely in spirit. But see the answer below. The objections are “quickened” must refer to Christ’s body (compare 1Pe_3:21, end), for as His Spirit never ceased to live, it cannot be said to be “quickened.” Compare Joh_5:21; Rom_8:11, and other passages, where “quicken” is used of the bodily resurrection. Also, not His Spirit, but His soul, went to Hades. His Spirit was commended by Him at death to His Father, and was thereupon “in Paradise.” The theory – (1) would thus require that His descent to the spirits in prison should be after His resurrection! Compare Eph_4:9, Eph_4:10, which makes the descent precede the ascent. Also Scripture elsewhere is silent about such a heralding, though possibly Christ’s death had immediate effects on the state of both the godly and the ungodly in Hades: the souls of the godly heretofore in comparative confinement, perhaps then having been, as some Fathers thought, translated to God’s immediate and heavenly presence; but this cannot be proved from Scripture. Compare however, Joh_3:13; Col_1:18. Prison is always used in a bad sense in Scripture. “Paradise” and “Abraham’s bosom,” the abode of good spirits in Old Testament times, are separated by a wide gulf from Hell or Hades, and cannot be called “prison.” Compare 2Co_12:2, 2Co_12:4, where “paradise” and the “third heaven” correspond. Also, why should the antediluvian unbelievers in particular be selected as the objects of His preaching in Hades? Therefore explain: “Quickened in spirit, in which (as distinguished from in person; the words “in which,” that is, in spirit, expressly obviating the objection that “went” implies a personal going) He went (in the person of Noah, “a preacher of righteousness,” 2Pe_2:5 : Alford’s own Note, Eph_2:17, is the best reply to his argument from “went” that a local going to Hades in person is meant. As “He CAME and preached peace” by His Spirit in the apostles and ministers after His death and ascension: so before His incarnation He preached in Spirit through Noah to the antediluvians, Joh_14:18, Joh_14:28; Act_26:23. “Christ should show,” literally, “announce light to the Gentiles”) and preached unto the spirits in prison, that is, the antediluvians, whose bodies indeed seemed free, but their spirits were in prison, shut up in the earth as one great condemned cell (exactly parallel to Isa_24:22, Isa_24:23 “upon the earth … they shall be gathered together as prisoners are gathered in the pit, and shall be shut up in the prison,” etc. [just as the fallen angels are judicially regarded as “in chains of darkness,” though for a time now at large on the earth, 1Pe_2:4], where 1Pe_3:18 has a plain allusion to the flood, “the windows from on high are open,” compare Gen_7:11); from this prison the only way of escape was that preached by Christ in Noah. Christ, who in our times came in the flesh, in the days of Noah preached in Spirit by Noah to the spirits then in prison (Isa_61:1, end, “the Spirit of the Lord God hath sent me to proclaim the opening of the prison to them that are bound”). So in 1Pe_1:11, “the Spirit of Christ” is said to have testified in the prophets. As Christ suffered even to death by enemies, and was afterwards quickened in virtue of His “Spirit” (or divine nature, Rom_1:3, Rom_1:4; 1Co_15:45), which henceforth acted in its full energy, the first result of which was the raising of His body (1Pe_3:21, end) from the prison of the grave and His soul from Hades; so the same Spirit of Christ enabled Noah, amidst reproach and trials, to preach to the disobedient spirits fast bound in wrath. That Spirit in you can enable you also to suffer patiently now, looking for the resurrection deliverance.

R.B. Terry
1 Peter 3:18

TEXT: “Christ also suffered for sins”
EVIDENCE: B K P Byz Lect
TRANSLATIONS: KJV ASV RSVn NEBn TEVn
RANK: D

NOTES: “Christ also suffered for sins on our behalf”
EVIDENCE: 81 104
TRANSLATIONS: NEBn

NOTES: “Christ also died for sins”
EVIDENCE: earlier vg
TRANSLATIONS: ASVn RSV NASV NIV NEBn TEV

NOTES: “Christ also died for sins on our behalf”
EVIDENCE: S C2(vid) 33 614 630 945 1739 1881 syr(h) cop(north)
TRANSLATIONS: NEBn

NOTES: “Christ also died for sins on plyour behalf”
EVIDENCE: p72 A 1241 2495 (“on behalf of sins”)
TRANSLATIONS: none

NOTES: “Christ also died for our sins”
EVIDENCE: C*(vid) lat later vg syr(p) cop(south)
TRANSLATIONS: NEB

OTHER: “Christ also died for plyou on behalf of sins”
EVIDENCE: Psi
COMMENTS: Although it is possible that “suffered” was borrowed from 1Pe_2:21, it was natural for copyists to change “suffered” to “died” next to “for sins.” The words “our,” “on our behalf,” and “on plyour behalf” (the last two of which were pronounced alike in later Greek) were natural expansions of the kind copyists often made.

1 Peter 3:18
TEXT: “that he might bring plyou to God”
EVIDENCE: p72 B P Psi 1241 2495 Byz one lat syr(p,h)
TRANSLATIONS: NIV TEV
RANK: C

NOTES: “that he might bring us to God”
EVIDENCE: Sc A C K 33 81 104 614 630 945 1739 1881 Lect most lat vg cop
TRANSLATIONS: KJV ASV RSV NASV NEB

OTHER: “that he might bring to God”
EVIDENCE: S*
COMMENTS: In later Greek the words for “plyou” and “us” were pronounced alike, so this variation is due to a mistake of the ear. Copyists were more likely to change “plyou” to “us” than vice versa, since “us” is more inclusive.

Albert Barnes
1 Peter 3:18
For Christ also hath once suffered for sins – Compare the notes at 1Pe_2:21. The design of the apostle in the reference to the sufferings of Christ, is evidently to remind them that he suffered as an innocent being, and not for any wrong-doing, and to encourage and comfort them in their sufferings by his example. The reference to his sufferings leads him 1Pe_3:18-22 into a statement of the various ways in which Christ suffered, and of his ultimate triumph. By his example in his sufferings, and by his final triumph, the apostle would encourage those whom he addressed to bear with patience the sorrows to which their religion exposed them. He assumes that all suffering for adhering to the gospel is the result of well-doing; and for an encouragement in their trials, he refers them to the example of Christ, the highest instance that ever was, or ever will be, both of well-doing, and of suffering on account of it. The expression, “hath once suffered,” in the New Testament, means once for all; once, in the sense that it is not to occur again. Compare Heb_7:27. The particular point here, however, is not that he once suffered; it is that he had in fact suffered, and that in doing it he had left an example for them to follow.

The just for the unjust – The one who was just, (δίκαιος dikaios,) on account of, or in the place of, those who were unjust, (ὑπὲρ ἀδίκων huper adikōn;) or one who was righteous, on account of those who were wicked. Compare the Rom_5:6 note; 2Co_5:21 note; Heb_9:28 note. The idea on which the apostle would particularly fix their attention was, that he was just or innocent. Thus, he was an example to those who suffered for well-doing.

That he might bring us to God – That his death might be the means of reconciling sinners to God. Compare the notes at Joh_3:14; Joh_12:32. It is through that death that mercy is proclaimed to the guilty; it is by that alone that God can be reconciled to people; and the fact that the Son of God loved people, and gave himself a sacrifice for them, enduring such bitter sorrows, is the most powerful appeal which can be made to mankind to induce them to return to God. There is no appeal which can be made to us more powerful than one drawn from the fact that another suffers on our account. We could resist the argument which a father, a mother, or a sister would use to reclaim us from a course of sin; but if we perceive that our conduct involves them in suffering, that fact has a power over us which no mere argument could have.

Being put to death in the flesh – As a man; in his human nature. Compare the notes at Rom_1:3-4. There is evidently a contrast here between “the flesh” in which it is said he was “put to death,” and “the Spirit” by which it is said he was “quickened.” The words “in the flesh” are clearly designed to denote something that was unique in his death; for it is a departure from the usual method of speaking of death. How singular would it be to say of Isaiah, Paul, or Peter, that they were put to death in the flesh! How obvious would it be to ask, In what other way are people usually put to death? What was there special in their case, which would distinguish their death from the death of others? The use of this phrase would suggest the thought at once, that though, in regard to that which was properly expressed by the phrase, “the flesh,” they died, yet that there was something else in respect to which they did not die. Thus, if it were said of a man that he was deprived of his rights as a father, it would be implied that in, other respects he was not deprived of his rights; and this would be especially true if it were added that he continued to enjoy his rights as a neighbor, or as holding an office under the government. The only proper inquiry, then, in this place is, What is fairly implied in the phrase, the flesh? Does it mean simply his body, as distinguished from his human soul? or does it refer to him as a man, as distinguished from some higher nature, over which death had no power Now, that the latter is the meaning seems to me to be apparent, for these reasons:

(1) It is the usual way of denoting the human nature of the Lord Jesus, or of saying that he became in carnate, or was a man, to speak of his being in the flesh. See Rom_1:2; “Made of the seed of David according to the flesh.” Joh_1:14; “and the Word was made flesh.” 1Ti_3:16; “God was manifest in the flesh.” 1Jo_4:2; “every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, is of God.” 2Jo_1:7; “who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh.”

(2) So far as appears, the effect of death on the human soul of the Redeemer was the same as in the case of the soul of any other person; in other words, the effect of death in his case was not confined to the mere body or the flesh. Death, with him, was what death is in any other case – the separation of the soul and body, with all the attendant pain of such dissolution. It is not true that his “flesh,” as such, died without the ordinary accompaniments of death on the soul, so that it could be said that the one died, and the other was kept alive. The purposes of the atonement required that he should meet death in the usual form; that the great laws which operate everywhere else in regard to dissolution, should exist in his case; nor is there in the Scriptures any intimation that there was, in this respect, anything special in his case. If his soul had been exempt from whatever there is involved in death in relation to the spirit, it is unaccountable that there is no hint on this point in the sacred narrative. But if this be so, then the expression “in the flesh” refers to him as a man, and means, that so far as his human nature was concerned, he died. In another important respect, he did not die. On the meaning of the word “flesh” in the New Testament, see the notes at Rom_1:3.

But quickened – Made alive – ζοωποιηθεὶς zoōpoiētheis. This does not mean “kept alive,” but “made alive; recalled to life; reanimated.” The word is never used in the sense of maintained alive, or preserved alive. Compare the following places, which are the only ones in which it occurs in the New Testament: Joh_5:21 (twice); Joh_6:63; Rom_4:17; Rom_8:11; 1Co_15:36, 1Co_15:45; 1Ti_6:13; 1Pe_3:18; in all which it is rendered “quickened, quicken, quickeneth;” 1Co_15:22, “be made alive;” 2Co_3:6, “giveth life;” and Gal_3:21, “have given life.” “Once the word refers to God, as he who giveth life to all creatures, 1Ti_6:13; three times it refers to the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit, or of the doctrines of the gospel, Joh_6:63; 2Co_3:6; Gal_3:21; seven times it is used with direct reference to the raising of the dead, Joh_5:21; Rom_4:17; Rom_8:11; 1Co_15:22, 1Co_15:36, 1Co_15:45; 1Pe_3:18.” See Biblical Repos., April, 1845, p. 269. See also Passow, and Robinson, Lexicon. The sense, then, cannot be that, in reference to his soul or spirit, he was preserved alive when his body died, but that there was some agency or power restoring him to life, or reanimating him after he was dead.

By the Spirit – According to the common reading in the Greek, this is τῷ Πνεύματι tō Pneumati – with the article the – “the Spirit.” Hahn, Tittman, and Griesbach omit the article, and then the reading is, “quickened in spirit;” and thus the reading corresponds with the former expression, “in flesh” (σαρκὶ sarki,) where the article also is lacking. The word “spirit,” so far as the mere use of the word is concerned, might refer to his own soul, to his divine nature, or to the Holy Spirit. It is evident:

(1) That it does not refer to his own soul, for:

(a) As we have seen, the reference in the former clause is to his human nature, including all that pertained to him as a man, body and soul;

(b) There was no power in his own spirit, regarded as that pertaining to his human nature, to raise him up from the dead, any more than there is such a power in any other human soul. That power does not belong to a human soul in any of its relations or conditions.

(2) It seems equally clear that this does not refer to the Holy Spirit, or the Third Person of the Trinity, for it may be doubted whether the work of raising the dead is anywhere ascribed to that Spirit. His special province is to enlighten, awaken, convict, convert, and sanctify the soul; to apply the work of redemption to the hearts of people, and to lead them to God. This influence is moral, not physical; an influence accompanying the truth, not the exertion of mere physical power.

(3) It remains, then, that the reference is to his own divine nature – a nature by which he was restored to life after he was crucified; to the Son of God, regarded as the Second Person of the Trinity. This appears, not only from the facts above stated, but also:

(a) from the connection, It is stated that it was in or by this spirit that he went and preached in the days of Noah. But it was not his spirit as a man that did this, for his human soul had then no existence. Yet it seems that he did this personally or directly, and not by the influences of the Holy Spirit, for it is said that “he went and preached.” The reference, therefore, cannot be to the Holy Spirit, and the fair conclusion is that it refers to his divine nature.

(b) This accords with what the apostle Paul says Rom_1:3-4, “which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh,” that is, in respect to his human nature, “and declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness,” that is, in respect to his divine nature, “by the resurrection from the dead.” See the notes at that passage.

(c) It accords with what the Saviour himself says, Joh_10:17-18; “I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.” This must refer to his divine nature, for it is impossible to conceive that a human soul should have the power of restoring its former tenement, the body, to life. See the notes at the passage. The conclusion, then, to which we have come is, that the passage means, that as a man, a human being, he was put to death; in respect to a higher nature, or by a higher nature, here denominated Spirit (Πνεῦμα Pneuma,) he was restored to life. As a man, he died; as the incarnate Son of Gods the Messiah, he was made alive again by the power of his own Divine Spirit, and exalted to heaven. Compare Robinson’s Lexicon on the word Πνεῦμα Pneuma, C.

John Calvin
1 Peter 3:19
19By which also Peter added this, that we might know that the vivifying power of the Spirit of which he spoke, was not only put forth as to Christ himself, but is also poured forth with regard to us, as Paul shews in Rom_5:5. He then says, that Christ did not rise only for himself, but that he made known to others the same power of his Spirit, so that it penetrated to the dead. It hence follows, that we shall not less feel it in vivifying whatever is mortal in us.

But as the obscurity of this passage has produced, as usual, various explanations, I shall first disprove what has been brought forward by some, and secondly, we shall seek its genuine and true meaning.

Common has been the opinion that Christ’s descent into hell is here referred to; but the words mean no such thing; for there is no mention made of the soul of Christ, but only that he went by the Spirit: and these are very different things, that Christ’s soul went, and that Christ preached by the power of the Spirit. Then Peter expressly mentioned the Spirit, that he might take away the notion of what may be called a real presence.

Others explain this passage of the apostles, that Christ by their ministry appeared to the dead, that is, to unbelievers. I, indeed, allow that Christ by means of his apostles went by his Spirit to those who were kept as it were in prison; but this exposition appears incorrect on several accounts: First, Peter says that Christ went to spirits, by which he means souls separated from their bodies, for living men are never called spirits; and secondly, what Peter repeats in the fourth chapter on the same subject, does not admit of such an allegory. Therefore the words must be properly understood of the dead. Thirdly, it seems very strange, that Peter, speaking of the apostles, should immediately, as though forgetting himself, go back to the time of Noah. Certainly this mode of speaking would be most unsuitable. Then this explanation cannot be right.

Moreover, the strange notion of those who think that unbelievers as to the coming of Christ, were after his death freed from their sin, needs no long refutation; for it is an indubitable doctrine of Scripture, that we obtain not salvation in Christ except by faith; then there is no hope left for those who continue to death unbelieving. They speak what is somewhat more probable, who say, that the redemption obtained by Christ availed the dead, who in the time of Noah were long unbelieving, but repented a short time before they were drowned by the deluge. They then understood that they suffered in the flesh the punishment due to their perverseness, and yet were saved by Christ, so that they did not perish for ever. But this interpretation cannot stand; it is indeed inconsistent with the words of the passage, for Peter ascribes salvation only to the family of Noah, and gives over to ruin all who were not within the ark.

I therefore have no doubt but Peter speaks generally, that the manifestation of Christ’s grace was made to godly spirits, and that they were thus endued with the vital power of the Spirit. Hence there is no reason to fear that it will not flow to us. But it may be inquired, Why he puts in prison the souls of the godly after having quitted their bodies? It seems to me that φυλακὴ rather means a watchtower in which watchmen stand for the purpose of watching, or the very act of watching, for it is often so taken by Greek authors; and the meaning would be very appropriate, that godly souls were watching in hope of the salvation promised them, as though they saw it afar off. Nor is there a doubt but that the holy fathers in life, as well as after death, directed their thoughts to this object. But if the word prison be preferred, it would not be unsuitable; for, as while they lived, the Law, according to Paul, (Gal_3:23,) was a sort of prison in which they were kept; so after death they must have felt the same desire for Christ; for the spirit of liberty had not as yet been fully given. Hence this anxiety of expectation was to them a kind of prison.

Cambridge Bible Plumptre
1 Pet 3:19. by which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison] We enter here on a passage of which widely different interpretations have been given. It seems best in dealing with it to give in the first place what seems to be the true sequence of thought, and afterwards to examine the other views which appear to the present writer less satisfactory. It is obvious that every word will require a careful study in its relation to the context.

(1) For “by which” we ought to read “in which.” It was not by the instrumentality of the Holy Spirit, but in His human spirit as distinct from the flesh, that He who had preached to men living in the flesh on earth now went and preached to the spirits that had an existence separate from the flesh.

2) The word “went” is, in like manner, full of significance. It comes from the Apostle who was the first to proclaim that the “spirit” or “soul” of Christ had passed into Hades, but had not been left there (Act_2:31). It agrees with the language of St Paul in the Epistle to which we have found so many references in this Epistle, that He had “descended first into the lower parts of the earth,” i.e. into the region which the current belief of the time recognised as the habitation of the disembodied spirits of the dead (Eph_4:9). It harmonises with the language of the Apostle who was St Peter’s dearest friend when he records the language in which the risen Lord had spoken of Himself as having “the keys of Hades and of death,” as having been dead, but now “alive for evermore”  (Rev_1:18). Taking all these facts together, we cannot see in the words anything but an attestation of the truth which the Church Catholic has received in the Apostles’ Creed, that Christ “died and was buried and descended into Hell.” And if we accept the record of St Peter’s speeches in the Acts as a true record, and compare the assured freedom and clearness of his teaching there with his imperfect insight into the character of our Lord’s work during the whole period of His ministry prior to the Resurrection, we can scarcely fail to see in his interpretation of the words “thou shalt not leave my soul in hell,” the first-fruits of the method of prophetic interpretation which he had learnt from our Lord Himself when He expounded to His disciples the things that were written concerning Himself in the Law, and the Prophets, and the Psalms (Luk_24:44), when He spoke to them of “the things pertaining to the kingdom of God” (Act_1:3). In the special truth on which the Apostle now lays stress, we must see, unless we think of him as taking up a legendary tradition, as writing either what had been revealed to him, “not by flesh and blood, but by his Father in heaven” (Mat_16:17), or as reporting what he had himself heard from the lips of the risen Lord. Of the two views the latter seems every way the more probable, and accepting it, we have to remember also that it was a record in which he was guided by the teaching of the Spirit.

And he “went and preached.” The latter word is used throughout the Gospels of the work of Christ as proclaiming “the Gospel of the kingdom” (Mat_4:23), preaching “repentance” (Mat_4:17), and the glad tidings of remission of sins as following upon repentance. It would do violence to all true methods of interpretation to assume that the Apostle, who had been converted by that preaching and had afterwards been a fellow-worker in it, would use the word in any other meaning now. We cannot think of the work to which the Spirit of Christ went as that of proclaiming an irrevocable sentence of condemnation. This interpretation, resting adequately on its own grounds, is, it need hardly be said, confirmed almost beyond the shadow of a doubt by the words of ch. 4:6, that “the Gospel was preached also to the dead.” Those to whom He thus preached were “spirits.” The context determines the sense of this word as denoting that element of man’s personality which survives when the body perishes. So, in Heb_12:23, we read of “the spirits of just men made perfect;” and the same sense attaches to the words in Luk_24:37, Luk_24:39, Act_23:8, Act_23:9, and in the “spirits and souls of the righteous” in the Benedicite Omnia Opera. And these spirits are in “prison.” The Greek word, as applied to a place, can hardly have any other meaning than that here given (see Mat_14:3, Mat_14:10, Mar_6:17, Mar_6:27, Luk_21:12), and in Rev_20:7 it is distinctly used of the prison-house of Satan. The “spirits in prison” cannot well mean anything but disembodied souls, under a greater or less degree of condemnation, waiting for their final sentence, and undergoing meanwhile a punishment retributive or corrective (see note on 2Pe_2:9). Had the Apostle stopped there we might have thought of the preaching of which he speaks as having been addressed to all who were in such a prison. The prison itself may be thought of as part of Hades contrasted with the Paradise of God, which was opened, as in Luk_23:43, Rev_2:7, to the penitent and the faithful.

Pulpit Commentary
1Pe_3:19
By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; rather, in which (εν ᾦ). The Lord was no longer in the flesh; the component parts of his human nature were separated by death; his flesh lay in the grave. As he had gone about doing good in the flesh, so now he went in the spirit—in his holy human spirit. He went. The Greek word (πορευθείς) occurs again in 1Pe_3:22, “who is gone into heaven.” It must have the same meaning in both places; in 1Pe_3:22 it asserts a change of locality; it must do the like here. There it is used of the ascent into heaven; it can scarcely mean here that, without any such change of place, Christ preached, not in his own Person, but through Noah or the apostles. Compare St. Paul’s words in Eph_4:9 (the Epistle which seems to have been so much in St. Peter’s thoughts), “Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth?” And preached (ἐκήρυξεν). It is the word constantly used of the Lord from the time when “Jesus began to preach (κηρύσσειν), and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mat_4:17). Then, himself in our human flesh, he preached to men living in the flesh—to a few of his own age and country. Now the range of his preaching was extended; himself in the spirit, he preached to spirits: “Πνεύματι πνεύμασι; spiritu, spiritibus.” says Bengel; “congruens sermo.” He preached also to the spirits; not only once to living men, but now also to spirits, even to them. The καί calls for attention; it implies a new and additional fact; it emphasizes the substantive (καὶ τοῖς πνεύμασιν). The preaching and the condition of the hearers are mentioned together; they were spirits when they heard the preaching. It seems impossible to understand these words of preaching through Noah or the apostles to men who passed afterwards into the state of disembodied spirits. And he preached in the spirit. The words seem to limit the preaching to the time when the Lord’s soul was left in Hades (Act_2:27). Huther, indeed, says that “as both expressions (θανατωθείς and ζωσοποιηθείς) apply to Christ in his entire Person, consisting of body and soul, what follows must not be conceived as an activity which he exercised in his spirit only, and whilst separated from his body.” But does θανατωθείς apply to body and soul? Men “are not able to kill the soul.” And is it true, as Huther continues, that the first words of this verse are not opposed to the view that Christ preached in his glorified body, “inasmuch as in this body the Lord is no longer ἐν σαρκί, but entirely ἐν πνεύματι”? Indeed, we are taught that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; “and that that which “is sown a natural body is raised a spiritual body” (σῶμα πνευματικόν); but Christ himself said of his resurrection-body, “A spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have” (Luk_24:39). He preached to “the spirits in prison (ἐν φυλακῇ).” (For φυλακή, comp. Rev_20:7; Mat_5:25, etc.). It cannot mean the whole realm of the dead, but only that part of Hades in which the souls of the ungodly are reserved unto the day of judgment. Bengel says, “In carcere puniuntur sontes: in custodia servantur, dum experiantur quid facturus sit judex?” But it seems doubtful whether this distinction between φυλακή and δεσμωτήριον can be pressed; in Rev_20:7 φυλακή is used of the prison of Satan, though, indeed, that prison is not the ἄβυσσος into which he will be cast at the last.

Albert Barnes
1 Peter 3:19

By which – Evidently by the Spirit referred to in the previous verse – ἐν ᾧ en hō – the divine nature of the Son of God; that by which he was “quickened” again, after he had been put to death; the Son of God regarded as a Divine Being, or in that same nature which afterward became incarnate, and whose agency was employed in quickening the man Christ Jesus, who had been put to death. The meaning is, that the same “Spirit” which was efficacious in restoring him to life, after he was put to death, was that by which he preached to the spirits in prison.

He went – To wit, in the days of Noah. No particular stress should be laid here on the phrase “he went.” The literal sense is, “he, having gone, preached,” etc. πορευθεὶς poreutheis. It is well known that such expressions are often redundant in Greek writers, as in others. So Herodotus, “to these things they spake, saying” – for they said. “And he, speaking, said;” that is, he said. So Eph_2:17, “And came and preached peace,” etc. Mat_9:13, “but go and learn what that meaneth,” etc. So God is often represented as coming, as descending, etc., when he brings a message to mankind. Thus, Gen_11:5, “The Lord came down to see the city and the tower.” Exo_19:20, “the Lord came down upon Mount Sinai.” Num_11:25, “the Lord came down in a cloud.” 2Sa_22:10, “he bowed the heavens and came down.” The idea, however, would be conveyed by this language that he did this personally, or by himself, and not merely by employing the agency of another. It would then be implied here, that though the instrumentality of Noah was employed, yet that it was done not by the Holy Spirit, but by him who afterward became incarnate. On the supposition, therefore, that this whole passage refers to his preaching to the antediluvians in the time of Noah, and not to the “spirits” after they were confined in prison, this is language which the apostle would have properly and probably used. If that supposition meets the full force of the language, then no argument can be based on it in proof that he went to preach to them after their death, and while his body was lying in the grave.

And preached – The word used here (ἐκήρυξεν ekēruxen) is of a general character, meaning to make a proclamation of any kind, as a crier does, or to deliver a message, and does not necessarily imply that it was the gospel which was preached, nor does it determine anything in regard to the nature of the message. It is not affirmed that he preached the gospel, for if that specific idea had been expressed it would have been rather by another word – εὐαγγελίζω euangelizō. The word used here would be appropriate to such a message as Noah brought to his contemporaries, or to any communication which God made to people. See Mat_3:1; Mat_4:17; Mar_1:35; Mar_5:20; Mar_7:36. It is implied in the expression, as already remarked, that he did this himself; that it was the Son of God who subsequently became incarnate, and not the Holy Spirit, that did this; though the language is consistent with the supposition that he did it by the instrumentality of another, to wit, Noah. “Qui facit per alium, facit per se.” God really proclaims a message to mankind when he does it by the instrumentality of the prophets, or apostles, or other ministers of religion; and all that is necessarily implied in this language would be met by the supposition that Christ delivered a message to the antediluvian race by the agency of Noah. No argument, therefore, can be derived from this language to prove that Christ went and personally preached to those who were confined in hades or in prison.

Unto the spirits in prison – That is, clearly, to the spirits now in prison, for this is the fair meaning of the passage. The obvious sense is, that Peter supposed there were “spirits in prison” at the time when he wrote, and that to those same spirits the Son of God had at some time “preached,” or had made some proclamation respecting the will of God. Since this is the only passage in the New Testament upon which the Roman Catholic doctrine of purgatory is supposed to rest, it is important to ascertain the fair meaning of the language here employed. There are three obvious inquiries in ascertaining its signification. Who are referred to by “spirits?” What is meant by “in prison?” Was the message brought to them while in the prison, or at some previous period?

I. Who are referred to by spirits? The specification in the next verse determines this. They were those “who were sometimes disobedient, when once the long-suffering of God waited in the days of Noah.” No others are specified; and if it should be maintained that this means that he went down to hell (Hades), or to Sheol, and preached to those who are confined there, it could be inferred from this passage only that he preached to that portion of the lost spirits confined there which belonged to the particular generation in which Noah lived. Why he should do this; or how there should be such a separation made in hades that it could be done; or what was the nature of the message which he delivered to that portion, are questions which it is impossible for any man who bolds to the opinion that Christ went down to hell after his death to preach, to answer. But if it means that he preached to those who lived in the days of Noah, while they were yet alive, the question will be asked why are they called “spirits?”

Were they spirits then, or were they people like others? To this the answer is easy. Peter speaks of them as they were when he wrote; not as they had been, or were at the time when the message was preached to them. The idea is, that to those spirits who were then in prison who had formerly lived in the days of Noah, the message had been in fact delivered. It was not necessary to speak of them precisely as they were at the time when it was delivered, but only in such a way as to identify them. We should use similar language now. If we saw a company of men in prison who had seen better days – a multitude now drunken, and debased, and poor, and riotous – it would not be improper to say that “the prospect of wealth and honor was once held out to this ragged and wretched multitude. All that is needful is to identify them as the same persons who once had this prospect. In regard to the inquiry, then, who these “spirits” were, there can be no difference of opinion. They were that wicked race which lived in the days of Noah. There is no allusion in this passage to any other; there is no intimation that to any others of those “in prison” the message here referred to had been delivered.

II. What is meant by prison here? Purgatory, or the limbus patrum, say the Romanists – a place in which departed souls are supposed to be confined, and in which their final destiny may still be effected by the purifying fires which they endure, by the prayers of the living, or by a message in some way conveyed to their gloomy abodes – in which such sins may be expiated as do not deserve eternal damnation. The Syriac here is “in Sheol,” referring to the abodes of the dead, or the place in which departed spirits are supposed to dwell. The word rendered “prison,” (φυλακῇ phulakē,) means properly “watch, guard” – the act of keeping watch, or the guard itself; then watchpost, or station; then a place where anyone is watched or guarded, as a prison; then a watch in the sense of a division of the night, as the morning watch. It is used in the New Testament, with reference to the future world, only in the following places: 1Pe_3:19, “Preached unto the spirits in prison;” and Rev_20:7, “Satan shall be loosed put of his prison.”

An idea similar to the one here expressed may be found in 2Pe_2:4, though the word prison does not there occur: “God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment;” and in Jud_1:6, “And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains, under darkness, unto the judgment of the great day.” The allusion, in the passage before us, is undoubtedly to confinement or imprisonment in the invisible world; and perhaps to those who are reserved there with reference to some future arrangement – for this idea enters commonly into the use of the word prison. There is, however, no specification of the place where this is; no intimation that it is purgatory – a place where the departed are supposed to undergo purification; no intimation that their condition can be affected by anything that we can do; no intimation that those particularly referred to differ in any sense from the others who are confined in that world; no hint that they can be released by any prayers or sacrifices of ours. This passage, therefore, cannot be adduced to support the Roman Catholic doctrine of purgatory, because:

(1) The essential ideas which enter into the doctrine of purgatory are not to be found in the word used here;

(2) There is no evidence in the fair interpretation of the passage that any message is borne to them while in prison;

(3) There is not the slightest hint that they can be released by any prayers or offerings of those who dwell on the earth. The simple idea is that of persons confined as in a prison; and the passage will prove only that in the time when the apostle wrote there were those wire were thus confined.

III. Was the message brought to them while in prison, or at some previous period? The Romanists say that it was while in prison; that Christ, after he was put to death in the body, was still kept alive in his spirit, and went and proclaimed his gospel to those who were in prison. So Bloomfield maintains, (in loc.,) and so (Ecumenius and Cyril, as quoted by Bloomfield. But against this view there are plain objections drawn from the language of Peter himself:

(1) As we have seen, the fair interpretation of the passage “quickened by the Spirit,” is not that he was kept alive as to his human soul, but that he, after being dead, was made alive by his own divine energy.

(2) If the meaning be that he went and preached after his death, it seems difficult to know why the reference is to those only who “had been disobedient in the days of Noah.” Why were they alone selected for this message? Are they separate from others? Were they the only ones in purgatory who could be beneficially affected by his preaching? On the other method of interpretation, we can suggest a reason why they were particularly specified. But how can we on this?

(3) The language employed does not demand this interpretation. Its full meaning is met by the interpretation that Christ once preached to the spirits then in prison, to wit, in the days of Noah; that is, that he caused a divine message to be borne to them. Thus, it would be proper to say that “Whitefield came to America, and preached to the souls in perdition;” or to go among the graves of the first settlers of New Haven, and say, “Davenport came from England to preach to the dead men around us.”

(4) This interpretation accords with the design of the apostle in inculcating the duty of patience and forbearance in trials; in encouraging those whom he addressed to be patient in their persecutions. See the analysis of the chapter. With this object in view, there was entire propriety in directing them to the long-suffering and forbearance evinced by the Saviour, through Noah. He was opposed, reviled, disbelieved, and, we may suppose, persecuted. It was to the purpose to direct them to the fact that he was saved as the result of his steadfastness to Him who had commanded him to preach to that ungodly generation. But what pertinency would there have been in saying that Christ went down to hell, and delivered some sort of a message there, we know not what, to those who are confined there?

John Calvin
1 Peter 3:20
Thus far the Apostle’s words seem to agree together, and with the thread of the argument; but what follows is attended with some difficulty; for he does not mention the faithful here, but only the unbelieving; and this seems to overturn the preceding exposition. Some have for this reason been led to think that no other thing is said here, but that the unbelieving, who had formerly persecuted the godly, found the Spirit of Christ an accuser, as though Peter consoled the faithful with this argument, that Christ, even when dead, punished them. But their mistake is discovered by what we shall see in the next chapter, that the Gospel was preached to the dead, that they might live according to God in the spirit, which peculiarly applies to the faithful. And it is further certain that he repeats there what he now says. Besides, they have not considered that what Peter meant was especially this, that as the power of the Spirit of Christ shewed itself to be vivifying in him, and was known as such by the dead, so it will be towards us.
Let us, however, see why it is that he mentions only the unbelieving; for he seems to say, that Christ in spirit appeared to those who formerly were unbelieving; but I understand him otherwise, that then the true servants of God were mixed together with the unbelieving, and were almost hidden on account of their number. I allow that the Greek construction is at variance with this meaning, for Peter, if he meant this, ought to have used the genitive case absolute. But as it was not unusual with the Apostles to put one case instead of another, and as we see that Peter here heaps together many things, and no other suitable meaning can be elicited, I have no hesitation in giving this explanation of this intricate passage; so that readers may understand that those called unbelieving are different from those to whom he said the Gospel was preached.

After having then said that Christ was manifested to the dead, he immediately adds, When there were formerly unbelievers; by which he intimated, that it was no injury to the holy fathers that they were almost hidden through the vast number of the ungodly. For he meets, as I think, a doubt, which might have harassed the faithful of that day. They saw almost the whole world filled with unbelievers, that they enjoyed all authority, and that life was in their power. This trial might have shaken the confidence of those who were shut up, as it were, under the sentence of death. Therefore Peter reminds them, that the condition of the fathers was not different, and that though the multitude of the ungodly then covered the whole earth, their life was yet preserved in safety by the power of God.

He then comforted the godly, lest they should be cast down and destroyed because they were so few; and he chose an example the most remarkable in antiquity, even that of the world drowned by the deluge; for then in the common ruin of mankind, the family of Noah alone escaped. And he points out the manner, and says that it was a kind of baptism. There is then in this respect also nothing unsuitable.

The sum of what is said is this, that the world has always been full of unbelievers, but that the godly ought not to be terrified by their vast number; for though Noah was surrounded on every side by the ungodly, and had very few as his friends, he was not yet drawn aside from the right course of his faith.

When once the long-suffering of God waited This ought to be applied to the ungodly, whom God’s patience rendered more slothful; for when God deferred his vengeance and did not immediately execute it, the ungodly boldly disregarded all threatenings; but Noah, on the contrary, being warned by God, had the deluge for a long time before his eyes. Hence his assiduity in building the ark; for being terrified by God’s judgment, he shook off all torpidity.

Cambridge Bible Plumptre
1 Pet 3:20. which sometime were disobedient] The words that follow, however, appear to limit the range of the preaching within comparatively narrow boundaries. The “spirits” of whom St Peter speaks were those who had “once been disobedient:” the “once” being further defined as the time when “the long-suffering of God was waiting in the days of Noah.” We naturally ask as we read the words,

(1) why the preaching was confined to these, or

(2) if the preaching itself was not so confined, why this was the only aspect of it on which the Apostle thought fit to dwell?

The answer to the first question cannot be given with any confidence. It is behind the veil which we cannot lift. All that we can say is that the fact thus revealed gives us at least some ground for seeing in it a part of God’s dealings with the human race, and that it is not unreasonable to infer an analogous treatment of those who were in an analogous condition. The answer to the second question is, perhaps, to be found in the prominence given to the history of Noah in our Lord’s eschatological teaching, as in Mat_24:37, Mat_24:38, Luk_17:26, Luk_17:27, and in the manifest impression which that history had made on St Peter’s mind, as seen in his reference to it both here and 2Pe_2:5, 2Pe_3:6. It is a conjecture, but not, I think, an improbable or irreverent one, that the disciple’s mind may have been turned by our Lord’s words to anxious enquiries as to the destiny of those who had been planting and building, buying and selling, when “the flood came and took them all away,” and that what he now states had been the answer to such enquiries. What was the result of the preaching we are not here told, the Apostle’s thoughts travelling on rapidly to the symbolic or typical aspect presented by the record of the Flood, but the notes on ch. 4:6 will shew that his mind still dwelt on it, and that he takes it up again as a dropped thread in the argument of the Epistle. It will be noted, whatever view we may take of the interpretation of the passage as a whole, that it is the disobedience, and not any after-repentance at the moment of death, of those who lived in the days of Noah that is here dwelt on. Such is, it is believed, the natural and true interpretation of St Peter’s words. It finds a confirmation in the teaching of some of the earliest fathers of the Church, in Clement of Alexandria (Strom. vi. 6), and Origen, and Athanasius (cont. Apollin. i. 13), and Cyril of Alexandria (in Joann. xvi. 16); Even Augustine, at one time, held that the effect of Christ’s descent into Hades had been to set free some who were condemned to the torments of Hell (Epist. ad Euodium, clxiv.), and Jerome (on Mat_12:29, Eph_4:10) adopted it without any hesitation. Its acceptance at an early date is attested by the apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus, nearly the whole of which is given to a narrative of the triumph of Christ over Hades and Death, who are personified as the Potentates of darkness. It tells how He delivered Adam from the penalty of his sin, and brought the patriarchs from a lower to a higher blessedness, and emptied the prison-house, and set the captives free, and erected the cross in the midst of Hades, that there also it might preach salvation. Legendary and fantastic as the details may be, they testify to the prevalence of a wide-spread tradition, and that tradition is more naturally referred to the teaching of St Peter in this passage as the germ out of which it was developed than to any other source. As a matter of history, the article “He descended into Hell,” i.e. into Hades, first appeared in the Apostles’ Creed at a time when the tradition was almost universally accepted, and when the words of the Creed could not fail to be associated in men’s minds with the hope which it embodied.

It must be admitted, however, that the weight of many great names may be urged on behalf of other interpretations, and that some of them display, to say the least, considerable ingenuity. The common element in all of them is the desire to evade what seems the natural inference from the words, that they point to a wider hope of repentance and conversion as possible after death than the interpreters were willing to admit. They divide themselves into two classes:

(1) those who accept the words as referring to a descent into Hades, and

(2) those who give them an entirely different interpretation. Under (1) we have

(a) the view already noticed that the “preaching” was one of condemnation, anticipating the final judgment. It has been shewn to be untenable, and has so few names of weight on its side that it does not deserve more than a passing notice,

(b) The view that Christ descended into Hades to deliver the souls of the righteous, of Seth, and Abel, and Abraham, and the other saints of the Old Testament, can claim a somewhat higher authority. It entered, as has been seen, into the Gospel of Nicodemus. It was adopted by Irenæus, Tertullian, Hippolytus. It was popular alike in the theology of many of the Schoolmen, and in mediæval art. It was accepted by Zwingli and Calvin among the Reformers, and receives a partial sanction from the teaching of our own Church as seen in the original form of Art. iii. as drawn up in 1552; and in the metrical paraphrase of the Apostles’ Creed which was at one time attached with a quasi-authority to the Prayer-Book, and in which we find the statement that Christ descended into Hell that He might be “To those who long in darkness were The true joy of their hearts.”

It is obvious, however, that whatever probability may attach to this speculation as such, it has scarcely any real point of contact with St Peter’s words. He speaks of “the days of Noah:” it takes in the whole patriarchal age, if not the whole history of Israel. He speaks of those who had been “disobedient.” It assumes penitence and faith, and at least a partial holiness. The touch of poetry in Calvin’s view that the word for “prison” should be taken as meaning the “watch-tower” upon which the spirits of the righteous were standing, as in the attitude of eager expectation, looking out for the coming of the King whom they had seen, as afar off, in the days of their pilgrimage, cannot rescue it from its inherent untenableness.

(c) A modification of the previous view has found favour with some writers, among whom the most notable are Estius, Bellarmine, Luther, Bengel. They avoid the difficulty which we have seen to be fatal to that view, and limit the application of St Peter’s words to those who had lived in the time of the Deluge, and they make the preaching one of pardon or deliverance, but, under the influence of the dogma that “there is no repentance in the grave,” they assume that the message of the Gospel came to those only who turned to God before they sank finally in the mighty waters. It need hardly be said that this was to strain Scripture to make it fit in with their own theories, and to read into the words something that is not found there. St Peter, as has been urged above, would have said, “to those who were sometime disobedient and afterwards repented” if this had been what he meant to say.

(2) The other interpretation avoids all these minor difficulties by going altogether on a different track. It has the authority of some great representative theologians, Augustine among the Fathers (ut supra), Aquinas among the Schoolmen (Summ. Theolog. iii. Qu. LII. Art. 3), Bishop Pearson among Anglican divines. It starts with denying that there is any reference at all to the descent into Hades. Christ, it says, went in Spirit, not in the flesh, i.e. before His Incarnation, and preached to the spirits who are now in prison under condemnation, or were then in the prison-house of selfishness and unbelief, or simply in that of the body. He preached in Noah’s preaching, and that preaching was without effect except for the souls of Noah and his household. There is something, perhaps, attractive in the avoidance of what have been regarded as dangerous inferences from the natural meaning of St Peter’s words, something also in the bold ingenuity which rejects at once that natural meaning and the Catholic tradition which grew out of it: but, over and above the grave preliminary objection that it never would have suggested itself but for dogmatic prepossessions, it is not too much to say that it breaks down at every point. It disconnects the work of preaching from the death of Christ with which St Peter connects it. It empties the words “he went” of all significance and reduces them to an empty pleonasm. It substitutes a personal identification of the preaching of Christ with that of Noah for the more scriptural language, as in ch. 1:11, that the Spirit which prompted the latter was one with the Spirit which Christ gave to His disciples. The whole line of exegesis comes under the condemnation of being “a fond thing vainly invented” for a dogmatic purpose. A collection of most of the passages from the Fathers bearing on the subject will be found in the Notes to “Pearson on the Creed” on the Article “He descended into Hell,” and in the Article Eschatology by the present writer in Smith’s Dictionary of Christian Biography.

wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water] The last words admit of being taken either locally “they were saved, i.e. were brought safely, through the water,” “were delivered from the destruction which it brought to others,” or instrumentally, “they were saved by means of the water.” The latter interpretation presents, at first, the difficulty that it represents the waters of the deluge, as well as the ark, as a means of deliverance. The parallelism between the type and the antitype in the next verse, leaves, however, no doubt that this was the thought which St Peter had in his mind. He saw in the very judgment which swept away so many that which brought deliverance to others. In the stress laid upon the “few” that were thus saved, we may legitimately recognise the impression made by our Lord’s answer to the question, Are there few that be saved? (Luk_13:23). The Apostle looked round him and saw that those who were in the way of salvation were few in number. He looked back upon the earliest records of the work of a preaching of repentance and found that then also few only were delivered. In the reference to the “long-suffering” of God as waiting and leading to repentance, we find a striking parallel to the language of 2Pe_3:9, and in both we cannot doubt that the thought present to the writer’s mind was that “God was not willing that any should perish.”

Pulpit Commentary
1Pe_3:20
Which sometime were disobedient, when once 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 by water. Omit the word “once” (ἅπαξ), which is without authority. Wherein; literally, into which; they were saved by entering into it. The last words may mean, “they were carried safely through the water,” or, “they were saved by water;” that is, the water bore up the ark (Gen_7:17, Gen_7:18). The argument of 1Pe_3:21 makes the second interpretation the more probable. The verse now before us limits the area of the Lord’s preaching: without it we might have supposed that he preached to the whole multitude of the dead, or at least to all the ungodly dead whose spirits were in prison. Why does St. Peter specify the generation that was swept away by the Flood? Did they need the preaching of the Christ more than other sinful souls? or was there any special reason why that grace should be vouchsafed to them rather than to others? The fact must have been revealed to the apostle; but evidently we are in the presence of a mystery into which we can see only a little way. Those antediluvians were a conspicuous instance of men who suffered for evil doing (see 1Pe_3:17); as Christ is the transcendent Example of one who suffered for well-doing. It is better to suffer with him than with them: they are in prison. His chosen are with him in Paradise. But St. Peter cannot rest in the contemplation of the Lord’s death as an example; he must pass on to the deeper, the more mysterious aspects of that most stupendous or’ events. The Lord suffered concerning sins, for the sake of unrighteous men; not only did he die for them, he did not rest from his holy work even while his sacred body lay in the grave; he went and preached to some whose sins had been most notorious, and most signally punished. The judgment had been one of unexampled awfulness; eight souls only were saved in the ark, many thousands perished. It may be that St. Peter mentions the fewness of the saved to indicate one reason for this gracious visit. It seems that the awful destruction of the Deluge had made a deep impression upon his mind; he mentions it twice in his Second Epistle (1Pe_2:5; 1Pe_3:6); he saw in it a solemn anticipation of the last tremendous judgment. Doubtless he remembered well how the Lord, in his great prophetic discourse upon the Mount of Olives, had compared the days of Noah to the coming of the Son of man (Mat_24:37-39); those words seem to give a special character to the Deluge, separating it from other lesser judgments, and investing it with a peculiar awfulness. It may be that the apostle’s thoughts had dwelt much upon the many mysterious problems (such as the great destruction of infant life) connected with it; and that a special revelation was vouchsafed to him to clear up some of his difficulties. These spirits, in prison at the time of the descent into Hades, had aforetime been disobedient. The Greek word (ἀπειθήσασι) means literally “disbelieving;” but here, as in 1Pe_2:7 and elsewhere, it stands for that willful unbelief which sets itself in direct opposition to the will of God. They were guilty of unbelief, and of the disobedience which results from unbelief. Noah was a “preacher of righteousness” (2Pe_2:5, where the Greek word is κῆρυξ, the substantive corresponding with the verb ἐκήρυξεν here); the vast structure of the ark was a standing warning as it rose slowly before their eyes. The long-suffering of God waited all those hundred and twenty years (Gen_6:3), as now the Lord is “long-suffering to usward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2Pe_3:9). But they heeded neither the preaching of Noah nor the long-suffering of God; and at last “the Flood came, and took them all away. So shall also the coming of the Son of man be.” Eight only were saved then; they doubtless suffered for well-doing; they had to endure much scorn and derision, perhaps persecution. But they were not disobedient. “By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house.” The eight were brought safe through (διεσώθησαν); they were saved through the water; the water bore them up, possibly rescued them from persecution. But the rest perished; the destruction of life was tremendous; we know not how many thousands perished: they suffered for evil-doing. But the degrees of guilt must have varied greatly from open pro-faulty and hostility to silent doubt; while there were many children and very young persons; and it may be that many repented at the last moment. It is better to suffer for well-doing than for evil-doing; but even suffering for evil-doing is sometimes blessed to the salvation of the soul; and it may be that some of these, having been “judged according to men in the flesh,” now “live according to God in the spirit” (1Pe_4:6). For it is impossible to believe that the Lord’s preaching was a “concio damnatoria.” The Lord spoke sternly sometimes in the days of his flesh, but it was the warning voice of love; even that sternest denunciation of the concentrated guilt and hypocrisy of the Pharisees ended in a piteous wail of loving sorrow. It cannot be that the most merciful Savior would have visited souls irretrievably lost merely to upbraid them and to enhance their misery. He had just suffered for sins, the Just for the unjust: is it not possible that one of the effects of that suffering might have been “to bring unto God” some souls who once had been alienated from God by wicked works, but had not wholly hardened their hearts; who, like the men of Tyro and Sidon, Sodom and Gomorrah, had not the opportunities which we enjoy, who had not been once enlightened and made partakers of the heavenly gift and the powers of the world to come? Is it not possible that in those words, “which sometime were disobedient,” there may be a hint that that disobedience of theirs was not the “eternal sin” which, according to the reading of the two most ancient manuscripts in Mar_3:29, is the awful lot of those who have never forgiveness? The Lord preached to the spirits in prison; that word (ἐκήρυξεν) is commonly used of the heralds of salvation, and St. Peter himself, in the next chapter, tells us that “the gospel was preached (εὐηγγελίσθη) to them that are dead.” The gospel is the good tidings of salvation through the cross of Christ. The Lord had just died upon the cross: is it not possible that, in the moment of victory, he announced the saving power of the cross to some who had greatly sinned; as at the time of his resurrection “many bodies of the saints who slept arose”? There is one more question which forces itself upon us—What was the result of this preaching? Did the spirits in prison listen to the Savior’s voice? Were they delivered from that prison where they had been so long confined? Here Scripture is almost silent; yet we read the words of hope in 1Pe_4:6, “For this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.” The good news was announced to them that they might live; then may we not dare to hope that some at least listened to that gracious preaching, and were saved even out of that prison by the power of the Savior’s cross? May we not venture to believe, with the author of the ‘ Christian Year,’ that even in that dreary scene the Savior’s eye reached the thronging band of sou]s, and that his cross and Passion, his agony and bloody sweat, might (we know not how or in what measure) “set the shadowy realms from sin and sorrow free?” It seems desirable to add a brief summary of the history of opinion on this much-controverted passage. The early Greek Fathers appear to have held, with one consent, that St. Peter is hero speaking of that descent into Hades of which he had spoken in his first great sermon (Act_2:31). Justin Martyr, in his’ Dialogue with Trypho’ (sect. 72), accuses the Jews of having erased from the prophecies of Jeremiah the following words: “The Lord God of Israel remembered his dead who slept in the land of the tomb, and descended to them to preach to them the good news of his salvation.” Irenseus quotes the same passage, attributing it in one place to Isaiah, in another to Jeremiah, and adds that the Lord’s purpose was to deliver them and to save them (extrahere eos et salvare cos). Tertullian says that the Lord descended into the lower parts of the earth, to make the patriarchs partakers of himself (compotes sui; ‘De Anima,’ c. 55). Clement of Alexandria quotes Hermas as saying that “the apostles and teachers who had preached the Name of the Son of God and had fallen asleep, preached by his power and faith to those who had fallen asleep before them” (‘Strom.,’ Jer_2:9). “And then,” Bishop Pearson, from whose notes on the Creed these quotations are taken, continues, “Clement supplies that authority with a reason of his own, that as the apostles were to imitate Christ while they lived, so did they also imitate him after death, and therefore preached to the souls in Hades, as Christ did before them.” The earliest writers do not seem to have thought that any change in the condition of the dead was produced by Christ’s descent into Hades. The Lord announced the gospel to the dead; the departed saints rejoiced to hear the glad tidings, as now the angels rejoice over each repentant sinner. Origen, in his second homily on 1 Kings, taught that the Lord, descending into Hades, brought the souls of the holy dead, the patriarchs and prophets, out of Hades into Paradise; no souls could pass the flaming sword till he had led the way; but now, through his grace and power, the blessed dead who die in the Lord enter at once into the rest of Paradise—not yet heaven, but an intermediate place of rest, far better than that from which the saints of the old covenant were delivered. In this view Origen was followed by many of the later Fathers. But St. Peter says nothing of any preaching to departed saints. Christ “went and preached,” he says, “unto the spirits in prison, which sometime were disobedient.” Hence Jerome, Ambrose, Augustine, and others were led to suppose that the Lord not only raised the holy dead to a higher state of blessedness, but preached also to the disobedient, and that some of these believed, and were by his grace delivered from “prison.” Some few, as Cyril of Alexandria, held that the Lord spoiled the house of the strong man armed (σεσύλητο τῶν πνευμάτων ὁ ᾅδης), and released all his captives. This Augustine reckoned as a heresy. But in his epistle to Euodius Augustine, much exercised (as he says, “vehementissime commotus”) by the difficulties of the question, propounded the interpretation which became general in the Western Church, being adopted by Bode, Thomas Aquinas, De Lyra, and later by Beza, Hammond, Leighton, Pearson, etc. “The spirits in prison,” he says, “are the unbelieving who lived in the days of Noah, whose spirits, i.e. souls, had been shut up in the flesh and in the darkness of ignorance, as in a prison [comp. ‘ Paradise Lost,’ 11:723]. Christ preached to them, not in the flesh, inasmuch as he was not yet incarnate, but in the spirit, i.e. according to his Divine nature (secundum divinitatem).” But this interpretation does not satisfy St. Peter’s words. The hypothesis that Christ preached through the instrumentality of Noah does not adequately represent the participle πορευθείς; the word φυλακή cannot be taken metaphorically of the flesh in which the soul is confined. If, with Beza, we understand it as meaning “who are now in prison,” we escape one difficulty, but another is introduced; for it is surely forced and unnatural to make the time of the verb and that of the dative clause different. The words ἐν φυλακῇ must describe the condition of the spirits at the time of the Savior’s preaching. Some commentators, as Socinus and Grotius, refer St. Peter’s words to the preaching of Christ through the apostles. These writers understand φυλακή of the prison of the body, or the prison of sin; and explain St. Peter as meaning that Christ preached through the apostles to the Jews who were under the yoke of the Law, and to the Gentiles who lay under the power of the devil; and they regard the disobedient in the time of Noah as a sample of sinners in any age. But this interpretation is altogether arbitrary, and cannot be reconciled with the apostle’s words. Other views are—that our Lord descended into hell to triumph over Satan (on which see Pearson on the Creed, art. 5.); that his preaching was a concio damnatoria—an announcement of condemnation, not of salvation (which is disproved by 1Pe_4:6); that the spirits in prison were holy souls waiting for Christ, the prison being (according to Calvin) “specula, sire ipse excubandi actus;” that they were heathens, who lived according to their light, but in idolatry. We may mention, in conclusion, the monstrous explanation of the heretic Marcion, that they were those who in the Old Testament are called ungodly, but were really better than those whom the Old Testament regards as saints.

Albert Barnes
1 Peter 3:20
Which sometime were disobedient – Which were “once,” or “formerly,” (ποτε pote,) disobedient or rebellious. The language here does not imply that they had ceased to be disobedient, or that they had become obedient at the time when the apostle wrote; but the object is to direct the attention to a former race of people characterized by disobedience, and to show the patience evinced under their provocations, in endeavoring to do them good. To say that people were formerly rebellious, or rebellious in a specified age, is no evidence that they are otherwise now. The meaning here is, that they did not obey the command of God when he called them to repentance by the preaching of Noah. Compare 2Pe_2:5, where Noah is called “a preacher of righteousness.”

When once the long suffering of God waited in the days of Noah – God waited on that guilty race for 120 years, Gen_6:3, a period sufficiently protracted to evince his long-suffering toward one generation. It is not improbable that during that whole period Noah was, in various ways, preaching to that wicked generation. Compare the notes at Heb_11:7.

While the ark was a preparing – It is probable that preparations were made for building the ark during a considerable portion of that time. Peter’s, at Rome, was a much longer time in building; and it is to be remembered that in the age of the world when Noah lived, and with the imperfect knowledge of the arts of naval architecture which must have prevailed, it was a much more serious undertaking to construct an ark that would hold such a variety and such a number of animals as that was designed to, land that would float safely for more than a year in an universal flood, than it was to construct such a fabric as Peter’s, in the days when that edifice was raised.

Wherein few, that is, eight souls – Eight persons – Noah and his wife, his three sons and their wives, Gen_7:7. The allusion to their being saved here seems to be to encourage those whom Peter addressed to perseverance and fidelity, in the midst of all the opposition which they might experience. Noah was not disheartened. Sustained by the Spirit of Christ – the presence of the Son of God – he continued to preach. He did not abandon his purpose, and the result was that tie was saved. True, they were few in number who were saved; the great mass continued to be wicked; but this very fact should be an encouragement to us – that though the great mass of any one generation may be wicked, God can protect and save the few who are faithful.

By water – They were borne up by the waters, and were thus preserved. The thought on which the apostle makes his remarks turn, and which leads him in the next verse to the suggestions about baptism, is, that water was employed in their preservation, or that they owed their safety, in an important sense, to that element. In like manner we owe our salvation, in an important sense, to water; or, there is an important agency which it is made to perform in our salvation. The apostle does not say that it was in the same way, or that the one was a type designed to represent the other, or even that the efficacy of water was in both cases the same; but he says, that as Noah owed his salvation to water, so there is an important sense in which water is employed in ours. There is in certain respects – he does not say in all respects – a resemblance between the agency of water in the salvation of Noah, and the agency of water in our salvation. In both cases water is employed, though it may not be that it is in the same manner, or with precisely the same efficacy.

John Calvin
1 Peter 3:21
21The like figure whereunto I fully think that the relative ought to be read in the dative case, and that it has happened, through a mistake, that ὃ is put, and not ᾧ. The meaning, however, is not ambiguous, that Noah, saved by water, had a sort of baptism. And this the Apostle mentions, that the likeness between him and us might appear more evident. It has already been said that the design of this clause is to shew that we ought not to be led away by wicked examples from the fear of God, and the right way of salvation, and to mix with the world. This is made evident in baptism, in which we are buried together with Christ, so that, being dead to the world, and to the flesh, we may live to God. On this account, he says that our baptism is an antitype (ἀντίτυπον) to the baptism of Noah, not that Noah’s baptism was the first pattern, and ours an inferior figure, as the word is taken in the Epistle to the Hebrews, where the ceremonies of the law are said to be antitypes of heavenly things, (Heb_9:9.) Greek writers apply the same word to sacraments, so that, when they speak of the mystical bread of the holy Supper, they call it the antitype. But here there is no comparison made between the greater and the less; the Apostle only means that there is a likeness, and as they commonly say, a correspondence. Perhaps it might more properly be said to be correspondency, (ἀντίστροφον,) as Aristotle makes Dialectics to be the antistrophè of Rhetoric. But we need not labor about words, when there is an agreement about the thing itself. As Noah, then, obtained life through death, when in the ark, he was enclosed not otherwise than as it were in the grave, and when the whole world perished, he was preserved together with his small family; so at this day, the death which is set forth in baptism, is to us an entrance into life, nor can salvation be hoped for, except we be separated from the world.

Not the putting away of the filth of the flesh This was added, because it might be that the greatest part of men would profess the name of Christ; and so it is with us, almost all are introduced into the church by baptism. Thus, what he had said before would not be appropriate, that few at this day are saved by baptism, as God saved only eight by the ark. This objection Peter anticipates, when he testifies that he speaks not of the naked sign, but that the effect must also be connected with it, as though he had said, that what happened in the age of Noah would always be the case, that mankind would rush on to their own destruction, but that the Lord would in a wonderful way deliver His very small flock.

We now see what this connection means; for some one might object and say, “Our baptism is widely different from that of Noah, for it happens that most are at this day baptized.” To this he replies, that the external symbol is not sufficient, except baptism be received really and effectually: and the reality of it will be found only in a few. It hence follows that we ought carefully to see how men commonly act when we rely on examples, and that we ought not to fear though we may be few in number.

But the fanatics, such as Schuencfeldius, absurdly pervert this testimony, while they seek to take away from sacraments all their power and effect. For Peter did not mean here to teach that Christ’s institution is vain and inefficacious, but only to exclude hypocrites from the hope of salvation, who, as far as they can, deprave and corrupt baptism. Moreover, when we speak of sacraments, two things are to be considered, the sign and the thing itself. In baptism the sign is water, but the thing is the washing of the soul by the blood of Christ and the mortifying of the flesh. The institution of Christ includes these two things. Now that the sign appears often inefficacious and fruitless, this happens through the abuse of men, which does not take away the nature of the sacrament. Let us then learn not to tear away the thing signified from the sign. We must at the same time beware of another evil, such as prevails among the Papists; for as they distinguish not as they ought between the thing and the sign, they stop at the outward element, and on that fix their hope of salvation. Therefore the sight of the water takes away their thoughts from the blood of Christ and the power of the Spirit. They do not regard Christ as the only author of all the blessings therein offered to us; they transfer the glory of his death to the water, they tie the secret power of the Spirit to the visible sign.

What then ought we to do? Not to separate what has been joined together by the Lord. We ought to acknowledge in baptism a spiritual washing, we ought to embrace therein the testimony of the remission of sin and the pledge of our renovation, and yet so as to leave to Christ his own honor, and also to the Holy Spirit; so that no part of our salvation should be transferred to the sign. Doubtless when Peter, having mentioned baptism, immediately made this exception, that it is not the putting off of the filth of the flesh, he sufficiently shewed that baptism to some is only the outward act, and that the outward sign of itself avails nothing.

But the answer of a good conscience The word question, or questioning, is to be taken here for “answer,” or testimony. Now Peter briefly defines the efficacy and use of baptism, when he calls attention to conscience, and expressly requires that confidence which can sustain the sight of God and can stand before his tribunal. For in these words he teaches us that baptism in its main part is spiritual, and then that it includes the remission of sins and renovation of the old man; for how can there be a good and pure conscience until our old man is reformed, and we be renewed in the righteousness of God? and how can we answer before God, unless we rely on and are sustained by a gratuitous pardon of our sins? In short, Peter intended to set forth the effect of baptism, that no one might glory in a naked and dead sign, as hypocrites are wont to do.

But we must notice what follows, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ By these words he teaches us that we are not to cleave to the element of water, and that what is thereby typified flows from Christ alone, and is to be sought from him. Moreover, by referring to the resurrection, he has regard to the doctrine which he had taught before, that Christ was vivified by the Spirit; for the resurrection was victory over death and the completion of our salvation. We hence learn that the death of Christ is not excluded, but is included in his resurrection. We then cannot otherwise derive benefit from baptism, than by having all our thoughts fixed on the death and the resurrection of Christ.

Cambridge Bible Plumptre
1 Pet 3:21. The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us] The MSS. present two readings; one that of the Textus Receptus, answering to the English Version as giving the relative pronoun in the dative, the other, supported by the better MSS., giving the pronoun in the nominative, “which also” (sc. the element of water) “the antitype [of the deluge,] doth even now save us,” and then he adds, as explaining what was the antitype, the word “baptism” in apposition with the subject of the sentence. At first it seems hard to see the parallelism between the flood which destroyed and the baptism which saves, but reflection will shew that the Apostle may well have thought of the deluge as burying the old evils of the world and giving the human race, as it were, a fresh start, under new and better conditions, a world, in some sense, regenerated or brought into a new covenant with God, and therefore new relations to Him. Does not the teaching of the previous verse suggest the inference that he thought of the flood as having been even for those who perished in it, not merely an instrument of destruction, but as placing even the souls of the disobedient in a region in which they were not shut out from the pitying love of the Father who there also did not “will that any should perish”?

not the putting away of the filth of the flesh] The Greek word for “putting away” may be noted as one of those common to the two Epistles (see note on 2Pe_1:14). The implied protest against the notion that this was all that was meant by Christian baptism, though it might be necessary both for Jewish and heathen converts, gains immensely in its significance if we think of the Epistle as addressed mainly to the former class. They were in danger of looking upon baptism, not as the sacrament of a new birth, but as standing on the same level as the “washing” or “baptism” (the same word is used) of the older ritual. So, even during the ministry of the Baptist, there was a dispute between some of his disciples and the Jews “about purification” (Joh_3:25), obviously rising out of that confusion of thought. So it formed part of the elementary instruction of Christian catechumens that they should learn the “doctrine of baptisms” (Heb_6:2), i.e. the distinction between the Jewish and the Christian rites that went almost or altogether1 by the same name. St Peter warns men against the perilous thought that they washed away their sins by the mere outward act. So far as he may have contemplated heathen converts at all we may remember that they too thought of guilt as washed away by a purely ceremonial institution. So Ovid, Fast. ii. 45, “Full easy souls who dream the crystal flood Can wash away the deep-dyed stain of blood.” [Ah, nimium faciles qui tristia crimina caedis  Fluminea tolli posse putetis aqua.]
Comp. also Juven. Sat. vi. 522, Persius, Sat. ii. 15, Horace, Sat. ii. 3.290.

History records but too many instances of the revival of a like superstition. The tendency to postpone baptism in order to cancel the sins that were in the meantime accumulating, and avoid the danger of postbaptismal sin, of which we see conspicuous instances in the lives of Constantine and Augustine, the mediæval dogma still lingering in popular belief, that unbaptized infants are excluded from salvation; these are examples of ways of looking at baptism more or less analogous to that which St Peter condemns. With him the saving power of baptism varies with the activity and purity of the moral consciousness of the baptized.

but the answer of a good conscience toward God] The words admit of very different interpretations.

(1) The Greek word translated “answer” means primarily “question,” “enquiry.” If this sense be admitted here, there would then rise the question whether the words “of a good conscience” were in the genitive of the subject or the object. If the former, the condition on which St Peter lays stress would be equivalent to

(a) the enquiry of a good conscience, the seeking of the soul after God; if the latter, that condition would be

b) the prayer addressed to God for a good conscience. Neither of these interpretations, however, is satisfactory. It is against

(a) that it is the idea of baptism that men are no longer seeking God but have found Him. It is against

(b) that it is also the idea of baptism that it is more than the asking for a gift. A true solution is found partly in the forensic use of the Greek word for question, as including, like our word “examination,” both question and answer, and so applied to the whole process of a covenant, the conditions of which were determined by mutual interrogatories and affirmative or negative replies, and partly in the fact that at a date so early that it is reasonable to infer an Apostolic origin, the liturgical administration of baptism involved interrogatories and answers, in substance identical with those that have been in use in the Church at large and are in use still. “Dost thou renounce Satan?” “I do renounce him.” “Dost thou believe in Christ?” “I do believe in Him,” the second question sometimes taking the form “Dost thou take thy stand with Christ?” and the answer, “I do take my stand.” In this practice of interrogation then we find that which explains St Peter’s meaning. That which is of the essence of the saving power of baptism is the confession and the profession which precedes it. If that comes from a conscience (see notes on chaps. 2:19, 3:16) that really renounces sin and believes on Christ, then baptism, as the channel through which the grace of the new birth is conveyed and the convert admitted into the Church of Christ, “saves us,” but not otherwise. The practice of Infant Baptism, though the scales of argument both as regards Scripture and antiquity turn in its favour, presents, it must be admitted, an apparent inversion of the right order, though the idea is still retained in the questions put to the sponsors who answer in the infant’s name, as his representatives. If the question is asked, What then is the effect of Infant Baptism? the answer must be found, that it is, in the language of Scripture, as a new birth, the admission into new conditions of life, into, as it were, the citizenship of a new country. It gives the promise and potency of life, but its power to save the man that grows out of the infant varies with the fulfilment of the conditions when consciousness is developed. Now, as when St Peter wrote, it is not the “putting away the filth of the flesh” that saves, but “the answer of a good conscience towards God.”

by the resurrection of Jesus Christ] So far the words have brought before us the human side of baptism. But the rite has also a divine side and this the last words of the verse bring before us. Baptism derives its power to save from the Resurrection of Christ. It brings us into union with the life of Him who “was dead and is alive for evermore” (Rev_1:18). We are buried with Him in baptism, planted together with Him in the likeness of His death, that we may be also in the likeness of His resurrection (Rom_6:4, Rom_6:5).

Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown
1 Peter 3:21
whereunto — The oldest manuscripts read, “which”: literally, “which (namely, water, in general; being) the antitype (of the water of the flood) is now saving (the salvation being not yet fully realized by us, compare 1Co_10:1, 1Co_10:2, 1Co_10:5; Jud_1:5; puts into a state of salvation) us also (two oldest manuscripts read ‘you’ for ‘us’: You also, as well as Noah and his party), to wit, baptism.” Water saved Noah not of itself, but by sustaining the ark built in faith, resting on God’s word: it was to him the sign and mean of a kind of regeneration, of the earth. The flood was for Noah a baptism, as the passage through the Red Sea was for the Israelites; by baptism in the flood he and his family were transferred from the old world to the new: from immediate destruction to lengthened probation; from the companionship of the wicked to communion with God; from the severing of all bonds between the creature and the Creator to the privileges of the covenant: so we by spiritual baptism. As there was a Ham who forfeited the privileges of the covenant, so many now. The antitypical water, namely, baptism, saves you also not of itself, nor the mere material water, but the spiritual thing conjoined with it, repentance and faith, of which it is the sign and seal, as Peter proceeds to explain. Compare the union of the sign and thing signified, Joh_3:5; Eph_5:26; Tit_3:5; Heb_10:22; compare 1Jo_5:6.

not the, etc. — “flesh” bears the emphasis. “Not the putting away of the filth of the flesh” (as is done by a mere water baptism, unaccompanied with the Spirit’s baptism, compare Eph_2:11), but of the soul. It is the ark (Christ and His Spirit-filled Church), not the water, which is the instrument of salvation: the water only flowed round the ark; so not the mere water baptism, but the water when accompanied with the Spirit.

answer — Greek, “interrogation”; referring to the questions asked of candidates for baptism; eliciting a confession of faith “toward God” and a renunciation of Satan ([Augustine, The Creed, 4.1]; [Cyprian, Epistles, 7, To Rogatianus]), which, when flowing from “a good conscience,” assure one of being “saved.” Literally, “a good conscience’s interrogation (including the satisfactory answer) toward God.” I prefer this to the translation of Wahl, Alford and others, “inquiry of a good conscience after God”: not one of the parallels alleged, not even 2Sa_11:7, in the Septuagint, is strictly in point. Recent Byzantine Greek idiom (whereby the term meant: (1) the question; (2) the stipulation; (3) the engagement), easily flowing from the usage of the word as Peter has it, confirms the former translation.
by the resurrection of Jesus — joined with “saves you”: In so far as baptism applies to us the power of Christ’s resurrection. As Christ’s death unto sin is the source of the believer’s death unto, and so deliverance from, sin’s penalty and power; so His resurrection life is the source of the believer’s new spiritual life.

Albert Barnes
1 Peter 3:21
The like figure whereunto, even baptism, doth also now save us – There are some various readings here in the Greek text, but the sense is not essentially varied. Some have proposed to read (ῷ hō) to which instead of (ὅ ho) which, so as to make the sense “the antitype to which baptism now also saves us.” The antecedent to the relative, whichever word is used, is clearly not the ark, but water; and the idea is, that as Noah was saved by water, so there is a sense in which water is made instrumental in our salvation. The mention of water in the case of Noah, in connection with his being saved, by an obvious association suggested to the mind of the apostle the use of water in our salvation, and hence led him to make the remark about the connection of baptism with our salvation. The Greek word here rendered “figure” – ἀντίτυπον antitupon – “antitype” means properly, “resisting a blow or impression,” (from ἀντί anti and τύπος tupos;) that is, hard, solid. In the New Testament, however, it is used in a different sense; and (ἀντί anti) in composition, implies resemblance, correspondence and hence, the word means, “formed after a type or model; like; corresponding; that which corresponds to a type” – Robinson, Lexicon. The word occurs only in this place and Heb_9:24, rendered “figures.” The meaning here is, that baptism corresponded to, or had a resemblance to, the water by which Noah was saved; or that there was a use of water in the one case which corresponded in some respects to the water that was used in the other; to wit, in effecting salvation. The apostle does not say that it corresponded in all respects; in respect, e. g., to quantity, or to the manner of the application, or to the efficacy; but there is a sense in which water performs an important part in our salvation, as it did in his.

Baptism – Not the mere application of water, for that idea the apostle expressly disclaims, when he says that it involves not “putting away the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God.” The sense is, that baptism, including all that is properly meant by baptism as a religious rite – that is, baptism administered in connection with true repentance, and true faith in the Lord Jesus, and when it is properly a symbol of the putting away of sin, and of the renewing influences of the Holy Spirit, and an act of unreserved dedication to God – now saves us. On the meaning of the word “baptism,” see the notes at Mat_3:6, Mat_3:16.

Doth also now save us – The water saved Noah and his family from perishing in the flood; to wit, by bearing up the ark. Baptism, in the proper sense of the term, as above explained, where the water used is a symbol, in like manner now saves us; that is, the water is an emblem of that purifying by which we are saved. It may be said to save us, not as the meritorious cause, but as the indispensable condition of salvation. No man can be saved without that regenerated and purified heart of which baptism is the appropriate symbol, and when it would be proper to administer that ordinance. The apostle cannot have meant that water saves us in the same way in which it saved Noah, because that cannot be true. It is neither the same in quantity, nor is it applied in the same way, nor is it efficacious in the same manner. It is indeed connected with our salvation in its own proper way, as an emblem of that purifying of the heart by which we are saved. Thus, it corresponds with the salvation of Noah by water, and is the (ἀντίτυπον antitupon) “antitype” of that. Nor does it mean that the salvation of Noah by water was designed to be a type of Christian baptism. There is not the least evidence of that; and it should not be affirmed without proof. The apostle saw a resemblance in some respects between the one and the other; such a resemblance that the one naturally suggested the other to his mind, and the resemblance was so important as to make it the proper ground of remark.

(But if Noah’s preservation in the ark, be the type of that salvation of which baptism is the emblem, who shall say it was not so designed of God? Must we indeed regard the resemblance between Noah’s deliverance and ours, as a happy coincidence merely? But the author is accustomed to deny typical design in very clear cases; and in avoiding one extreme seems to have gone into another. Some will have types everywhere; and, therefore, others will allow them nowhere. See the supplementary note at Heb_7:1; M. Knight’s Essay, viii. Sect. v., on the laws of typical interpretation, with his commentary in loco)

The points of resemblance in the two cases seem to have been these:

(1) There was salvation in both; Noah was saved from death, and we are saved from hell.

(2) Water is employed in both cases – in the case of Noah to uphold the ark; in ours to be a symbol of our purification.

(3) The water in both cases is connected with salvation: in the case of Noah by sustaining the ark; in ours by being a symbol of salvation, of purity, of cleansing, of that by which we may be brought to God.

The meaning of this part of the verse, therefore, may be thus expressed: “Noah and his family were saved by water, the antitype to which (to wit, that which in important respects corresponds to that) baptism (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, or the mere application of material water, but that purifying of the heart of which it is the appropriate emblem) now saves us.”

Not the putting away of the filth of the flesh – Not a mere external washing, however solemnly done. No outward ablution or purifying saves us, but that which pertains to the conscience. This important clause is thrown in to guard the statement from the abuse to which it would otherwise be liable, the supposition that baptism has of itself a purifying and saving power. To guard against this, the apostle expressly declares that he means much more than a mere outward application of water.

But the answer of a good conscience toward God – The word here rendered “answer” (ἐπερώτημα eperōtēma) means properly a question, an inquiry. It is “spoken of a question put to a convert at baptism, or rather of the whole process of question and answer; that is, by implication, examination, profession” – Robinson, Lexicon. It is designed to mark the spiritual character of the baptismal rite in contrast with a mere external purification, and evidently refers to something that occurred at baptism; some question, inquiry, or examination, that took place then; and it would seem to imply:

(1) That when baptism was performed, there was some question or inquiry in regard to the belief of the candidate;

(2) That an answer was expected, implying that there was a good conscience; that is, that the candidate had an enlightened conscience, and was sincere in his profession; and,

(3) That the real efficacy of baptism, or its power in saving, was not in the mere external rite, but in the state of the heart, indicated by the question and answer, of which that was the emblem.

On the meaning of the phrase “a good conscience,” see the notes at 1Pe_3:16 of this chapter. Compare on this verse Neander, Geschich der Pfianz. u. Leit. der chr, Kirche, i. p. 203ff, in Bibl. Reposi. iv. 272ff. It is in the highest degree probable that questions would be proposed to candidates for baptism respecting their belief, an we have an instance of this fact undoubtedly in the case before us. How extensive such examinations would be, what points would be embraced, how much reference there was to personal experience, we have, of course, no certain means of ascertaining. We may suppose, however, that the examination pertained to what constituted the essential features of the Christian religion, as distinguished from other systems, and to the cordial belief of that system by the candidate.

By the resurrection of Jesus Christ – That is, we are saved in this manner through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The whole efficiency in the case is derived from that. If he had not been raised from the dead, baptism would have been vain, and there would have been no power to save us. See this illustrated at length in the notes at Rom_6:4-5. The points, therefore, which are established in regard to baptism by this important passage are these:

(1) That Christian baptism is not a mere external rite; a mere outward ablution; a mere application of water to the body. It is not contemplated that it shall be an empty form, and its essence does not consist in a mere “putting away of the filth of the flesh.” There is a work to be done in respect to the conscience which cannot be reached by the application of water.

(2) That there was an examination among the early Christians when a candidate was about to be baptized, and of course such an examination is proper now. Whatever was the ground of the examination, it related to that which existed before the baptism was administered. It was not expected that it should be accomplished by the baptism. There is, therefore, implied evidence here that there was no reliance placed on that ordinance to produce that which constituted the “answer of a good conscience;” in other words, that it was not supposed to have an efficacy to produce that of itself, and was not a converting or regenerating ordinance.

(3) The “answer” which was returned in the inquiry, was to be such as indicated a good conscience; that is, as Bloomfield expresses it, (New Testament in loc.,) “that which enables us to return such an answer as springs from a good conscience toward God, which can be no other than the inward change and renovation wrought by the Spirit.” It was supposed, therefore, that there would be an internal work of grace; that there would be much more than an outward rite in the whole transaction. The application of water is, in fact, but an emblem or symbol of that grace in the heart, and is to be administered as denoting that. It does not convey grace to the soul by any physical efficacy of the water. It is a symbol of the purifying influences of religion, and is made a means of grace in the same way as obedience to any other of the commands of God.

(4) There is no efficacy in the mere application of water in any form, or with any ceremonies of religion, to put away sin. It is the “good conscience,” the renovated heart, the purified soul, of which baptism is the emblem, that furnishes evidence of the divine acceptance and favor. Compare Heb_9:9-10. There must be a deep internal work on the soul of man, in order that he may be acceptable to God; and when that is missing, no external rite is of any avail.

(5) Yet, it does not follow from this that baptism is of no importance. The argument of the apostle here is, that it is of great importance. Noah was saved by water; and so baptism has an important connection with our salvation. As water bore up the ark, and was the means of saving Noah, so baptism by water is the emblem of our salvation; and when administered in connection with a “good conscience,” that is, with a renovated heart, it is as certainly connected with our salvation as the sustaining waters of the flood were with the salvation of Noah. No man can prove from the Bible that baptism has no important connection with salvation; and no man can prove that by neglecting it he will be as likely to obtain the divine favor as he would by observing it. It is a means of exhibiting great and important truths in an impressive manner to the soul; it is a means of leading the soul to an entire dedication to a God of purity; it is a means through which God manifests himself to the soul, and through which he imparts grace, as he does in all other acts of obedience to his commandments.

John Calvin
1 Peter 3:22
22Who is on the right hand of God. He recommends to us the ascension of Christ unto heaven, lest our eyes should seek him in the world; and this belongs especially to faith. He commends to our notice his session on the Father’s right hand, lest we should doubt his power to save us. And what his sitting at the right hand of the Father means, we have elsewhere explained, that is, that Christ exercises supreme power everywhere as God’s representative. And an explanation of this is what follows, angels being made subject to him; and he adds powers and authorities only for the sake of amplification, for angels are usually designated by such words. It was then Peter’s object to set forth by these high titles the sovereignty of Christ.

Cambridge Bible Plumptre
1Pet 3:22.
who is gone into heaven] The parallelism between the substance of this verse and that of 1Ti_3:16, and of both with the closing clauses of the second section of the Apostles’ Creed, leaves scarcely any room for doubt that we have here a precious fragment of the baptismal profession of faith of the Apostolic Church. The train of thought of the previous verse naturally led on to this. This was what the answer of a good conscience towards God involved. In the union of confession with the mouth and belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, in Rom_10:9, we may probably trace a reference to a like formulary. The word for “he is gone” is the same participle as that in verse 19 and is important as determining its meaning. If there was a real Ascension into Heaven, there was also a real descent into Hades. St Peter seems to echo the words of St Paul, “Now that he ascended, what is it but that He also descended first into the lower parts of the earth?” (Eph_4:9.)
angels and authorities and powers] Here again the phraseology reminds us of that of the twin Epistles of St Paul (Eph_1:21, Col_1:16). “Authorities” and “powers” are used as comprehensive terms, including the whole hierarchy of heaven, Cherubim, Seraphim and the like; probably also, looking to Col_2:15, Php_2:10, and the manifest sequence of thought from verse 19, the powers of evil who had been subdued by the conquering Christ in His descent into Hades.

Pulpit Commentary
1Pe_3:22
Who is gone into heaven. The word here rendered “gone” is that used in 1Pe_3:19, “he went and preached (πορευθείς)” (comp. Eph_4:9, “Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth?”). And is on the right hand of God (comp. Psa_110:1; Rom_8:34; Col_3:1; Eph_1:20; Heb_1:3). It is better to suffer for well-doing than for evil-doing, for he who is the signal Example, who suffered, the Just for the unjust, is now exalted to the right hand of the Majesty on high; and “is able to save them to the uttermost that come to God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.” Angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him. God “hath set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come.” All the angels of God, in the various grades of the heavenly hierarchy, are made subject to Christ. The words seem to include, especially when read in comparison with Col_2:15, the evil angels also; they are made subject against their will to Christ; they asked him once if he was come to torment them before the time. He can restrain their malice and save his people from their power.

Albert Barnes
1 Peter 3:22
Who is gone into heaven – See the notes at Act_1:9.

And is on the right hand of God – See the notes at Mar_16:19.

Angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him – See the notes at Eph_1:20-21. The reason why the apostle here adverts to the fact that the Lord Jesus is raised up to the right hand of God, and is so honored in heaven, seems to have been to encourage those to whom he wrote to persevere in the service of God, though they were persecuted. The Lord Jesus was in like manner persecuted. He was reviled, and rejected, and put to death. Yet he ultimately triumphed. He was raised from the dead, and was exalted to the highest place of honor in the universe. Even so they, if they did not faint, might hope to come off in the end triumphant. As Noah, who had been faithful and steadfast when surrounded by a scoffing world, was at last preserve by his faith from ruin, and as the Redeemer, though persecuted and put to death, was at last exalted to the right hand of God, so would it be with them if they bore their trials patiently, and did not faint or fail in the persecutions which they endured.

From the exposition given of the important 1Pe_3:18-21, we may derive the following inferences:

(1) The pre-existence of Christ. If he preached to the antediluvians in the time of Noah, he must have had an existence at that time.

(2) His divinity. If he was “quickened” or restored to life by his own exalted nature, he must be divine; for there is no more inalienable attribute of the Deity than the power of raising the dead.

(3) If Christ preached to the pagan world in the time of Noah, for the same reason it may be regarded as true that all the messages which are brought to people, calling them to repentance, in any age or country, are through him. Thus, it was Christ who spake by the prophets and by the apostles; and thus he speaks now by his ministers.

(4) If this interpretation is wellfounded, it takes away one of the strongest supports of the doctrine of purgatory. There is no stronger passage of the Bible in support of this doctrine than the one before us; and if this does not countenance it, it may be safely affirmed that it has not a shadow of proof in the sacred Scriptures.

(5) It follows that there is no hope or prospect that the gospel will be preached to those who are lost. This is the only passage in the Bible that could be supposed to teach any such doctrine; and if the interpretation above proposed be correct, this furnishes no ground of belief that if a man dies impenitent he will ever be favored with another offer of mercy. This interpretation also accords with all the other representations in the Bible. “As the tree falleth, so it lies.” “He that is holy, let him be holy still; and he that is filthy, let him be filthy still.” All the representations in the Bible lead us to suppose that the eternal destiny of the soul after death is fixed, and that the only change which can ever occur in the future state is that which will be produced by development: the developement of the principles of piety in heaven; the development of the principles of evil in hell.

(6) It follows, that if there is not a place of purgatory in the future world there is a place of punishment. If the word prison, in the passage before us, does not mean purgatory, and does not refer to a detention with a prospect or possibility of release, it must refer to detention of another kind, and for another purpose, and that can be only with reference “to the judgment of the great day,” 2Pe_2:14; Jud_1:6. From that gloomy prison there is no evidence that any have been, or will be, released.

(7) People should embrace the gospel at once. Now it is offered to them; in the future world it will not be. But even if it could be proved that the gospel would be offered to them in the future world, it would be better to embrace it now. Why should people go down to that world to suffer long before they become reconciled to God? Why choose to taste the sorrows of hell before they embrace the offers of mercy? Why go to that world of woe at all? Are people so in love with suffering and danger that they esteem it wise to go down to that dark prison-house, with the intention or the hope that the gospel may be offered to them there, and that when there they may be disposed to embrace it? Even if it could be shown, therefore, that they might again hear the voice of mercy and salvation, how much wiser would it be to hearken to the voice now, and become reconciled to God here, and never experience in any way the pangs of the second death! But of any such offer of mercy in the world of despair, the Bible contains no intimation; and he who goes to the eternal world unreconciled to God, perishes for ever. The moment when he crosses the line between time and eternity, he goes forever beyond the boundaries of hope.

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