A study of 1 Peter 3:18-22

1 Peter 3:18-22 (NASB) For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; 19 in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, 20 who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water.21 Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you—not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him.

Introduction:                                                                                                                                    In today’s post I want to explore the Apostle Peter’s and Holy Spirit’s amazing words in 1 Peter 3:18-22.  1 Peter 3:18-22 is among the most difficult texts to interpret and is among the most richest texts to study, interpret, apply and live. For today I want to take the Greek text of 1 Peter 3:18-22 (Nestle Aland 28th Edition of the Greek New Testament) and offer a translation.

Note to reader: You are invited to explore a different and condensed version of this post at http://pastormahlon.blogspot.com/2013/11/1-peter-321-22-what-baptism-is-isnt.html   To God be the Glory!

Now why translate something that was already translated so well by the NASB above? Translation and working through each word causes us to slow down and meditate on what God is saying through the text he inspired and moved upon the author to write. The below translation will include some commentary to help bridge the way of interpretation to application. At the end of this post a simple outline of the passage will be proposed that can be used for teaching, preaching or devotional use. To God be the glory!

Part #1. Translation and exegetical commentary on 1 Peter 3:18-22                    18 ὅτι καὶ Χριστὸς ἅπαξ περὶ ἁμαρτιῶν ἔπαθεν,   “Because Christ as suffered once and for all for sins….”                                                                                                                              Comment: This verse appears to be explaining 1 Peter 3:17 in terms of why it is better to suffer for doing good according to God’s will than for doing evil. The main focus as to do with Jesus Christ’s accomplishment.  Once again Jesus Christ is used as the believer’s model and reference point for explaining what are often times the painful truths of evil and suffering in this world. 

δίκαιος ὑπὲρ ἀδίκων,                   “The just for the unjust
ἵνα ὑμᾶς προσαγάγῃ τῷ θεῷ      for the purpose to bring us to full access to God                      θανατωθεὶς μὲν σαρκί,           by way of being put to death in regards to the flesh                     ζῳοποιηθεὶς δὲ πνεύματι·      while being quickened by the Spirit”                                           Comment: The purpose of Jesus’ accomplishment was to reconcile “you” (Nestle-Aland text) or “us” (NASB above) to God.  Both pronouns point to believers whom have been introduced and presented to God through the blood of Jesus applied to them at saving faith.  The word translated “full access” (προσαγάγῃ = pros-a-gag-ei) is defined in Thayer’s Lexicon, page 544 “that friendly relation with God whereby we are acceptable to Him and have assurance that He is favorably disposed towards us.”

19ἐν ᾧ καὶ τοῖς ἐν φυλακῇ πνεύμασιν πορευθεὶς ἐκήρυξεν                                                                “by whom he preached while advancing towards those spirits in prison                              Comment: 1 Peter 3:18 defines the purpose of Christ’s accomplished work, now 3:19-20 will define the proclaimed victory of that work.  The phrase ἐν ᾧ (“in hoe” = “in whom” or “by means of whom”) refers back to “The Spirit” in the phrase of 3:18 ζῳοποιηθεὶς δὲ πνεύματι (“zoe-poy-ei-theis day pnoo-ma-tee” = “while being quickened by the Spirit”.  Jesus Christ is proceeding in His activity following His death “in the Spirit”.  Another text that uses this similar terminology is Hebrews 9:14 where we see Christ offering Himself without blemish to God “through the Spirit”.                                                                                  
Two other words to note in this text are the terms φυλακῇ (“foo-la-kee” = prison) and ἐκήρυξεν (“e-kay-roo-xen” – proclaim aloud. preach). The first term, φυλακῇ , is found 43 times in the New Testament with reference to holding cells for accused people prior to final sentencing or execution. Revelation 18:2 uses this term to refer to prophetic Babylon in the future tribulation period that will somehow function as a “holding cell, prison, habitation” for demons. Revelation 20:7 is the only text in the New Testament that explicitly uses this word to describe the holding cell where Satan will be held during the Millennial reign of Jesus Christ.  The second term translated “preached” speaks of a proclamation in the city from a messenger concerning news from a battle field.  The verb in question is in the “aorist” or Greek past tense and speaks of an event Christ did.              
So Jesus Christ, having just accomplished salvation on the cross, died and went somewhere. I would suggest that He in his human nature went by the agency of the Holy Spirit (with Whom He is united along with the Father in absolute Deity) into the presence of the Father to present His once for all sacrifice of sin. (Hebrews 9:14). Next He proceeded to journey down into the holding cells where some of the demons who rebelled against God and lost their estate. (2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6)  The next verse will identify who these demons are and for how long they have been there.                                         
20ἀπειθήσασίν ποτε, ὅτε ἀπεξεδέχετο ἡ τοῦ θεοῦ μακροθυμία ἐν ἡμέραις Νῶε                       κατασκευαζομένης κιβωτοῦ εἰς ἣν ὀλίγοι, τοῦτ’ ἔστιν ὀκτὼ ψυχαί, διεσώθησαν δι’ ὕδατος

“that at one time disobeyed during the time when the long suffering of God endured in the days of Noah when he built an ark for a few people, this meaning eight souls.  They were saved through the water…”                                                                                                                       Comment: These “spirits in prison” had disobeyed at a particular time, during the days of Noah and the flood.  Genesis 6:1-4 gives the background and activity for this text. Evidently a corrupt group of men (presumably from Seth’s bloodline) opened themselves up to be possessed by fallen angels, leading to sensual and immoral behavior with the godly or just plainly female members of Seth’s bloodline (i.e daughters of men).  Such an act produced the “nephilim” or fallen ones, a mutated race of Giants that roamed the earth in Noah’s day. Such an abomination garnered the specific judgment by God on these spirit beings. These were the “worst of the worst: we could say. Their activities through their compliant hosts resulted in many souls being led astray and undoubtedly caused great hardship for Noah as the “Spirit of Christ” bore witness to the lost of His day. (compare 1 Peter 1:10-12) 

These comments serve to explain the proclamation of victory Christ was preaching to those demons incarcerated in this holding cell.  The sermon he preached was not one of salvation, but of victory.  It appears Jesus did this to guarantee the words He had told His disciples while still with them in His ministry in Mark 16:18, namely how the gates of hell will not be able to prevail against the church. We also know too that the statement in Colossians 2:14-15 ties together the cancellation of the penalty of the law against believers to the victory of Christ over the cosmic forces of darkness.  Christ’s accomplishment on the cross not only reconciles all who by God’s grace believe and repent of their sins, but also is reinforced by the disarming of the forces of hell that attempt to overwhelm believer and the church today. 

The last phrase of the verse: διεσώθησαν δι’ ὕδατος (“di-es-oh-thei-sav  dee  hoo-da-tos” = bring safely through, aid in escape through the water) explains the historical event of the flood, and how Noah and his family escaped the judgment.  The ark of salvation so to speak was their salvation.  By faith Noah and his family entered into that ark, which represented God’s salvation. The historical reference to the waters of the flood serve to show what Noah and his family went through and experienced, the event of their salvation. Passages such as Isaiah 54:7 describe these waters as “the waters of Noah” – i.e the waters of judgment.  In that ark which Noah built, he and his family were saved from the wrath of God. 

21ὃ καὶ ὑμᾶς ἀντίτυπον νῦν σῴζει βάπτισμα, οὐ σαρκὸς ἀπόθεσις ῥύπου ἀλλὰ συνειδήσεως ἀγαθῆς ἐπερώτημα εἰς θεόν, δι’ ἀναστάσεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ

“which even for you is a pictorial sign of immersing that now saves you – not referring to the removal of uncleanness from the flesh, but rather the requesting unto God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”

Comment: This verse is often evoked for supporting such doctrines as baptismal regeneration.  But can such a view stand-up in comparison to a careful study of the text? This blogger would say no.  First the phrase ὃ καὶ ὑμᾶς ἀντίτυπον (“ho kai hu-mas anti-too-pon” = which even for you is a pictorial sign, figure, picture, symbol) is referring back to the historical flood of Noah as being the event which illustrates the baptism to which Peter speaks.

The term ἀντίτυπον is found only one other place – Hebrews 9:24, and is used to compare the pattern of the Old Testament tabernacle as being a set of pictorial signs, figures of the true one in heaven.  Hence baptism functions not as a sacrament (i.e a conveyor of saving grace), but rather as a symbol of such.  God saved Noah through something – the flood, which is pictured by Baptism.  That same baptism pictures an even far greater reality, namely the believer’s salvation won by Jesus Christ on their behalf. 

To reinforce the point that baptism is a picture or sign of the reality of saving faith in Jesus Christ, Peter switches to stating what baptism is not, and then contrasts with what it is.  First what baptism is not – notice the phrase – οὐ σαρκὸς ἀπόθεσις ῥύπου (“oo sar-kos  apo-the-sis ro-poo”=not the getting rid of filth from the flesh). The waters of Baptism cannot cleanse away the defilements associated with the sinful nature of fallen man, but rather pictures, depicts that cleansing that can only be done by the blood of Christ that is applied at grace through faith in Christ’s accomplished work.  The baptism does nothing, rather it pictures something that has occurred in the life of that recipient.  

By noting what baptism is not, now Peter is going to contrast with what baptism actually is in the following phrase:  συνειδήσεως ἀγαθῆς ἐπερώτημα εἰς θεόν (“soon-ei-day-se-ohs  a-ga-theis ep-e-row-tay-ma eis the-ov” = the earnest request to God from a good conscience).  The latter phrase can just as easily be translated “the earnest request to God for a good conscience”.  Either rendering describes the activities of a true believer in Jesus Christ, already regenerated, converted unto faith and repentance, approaching the waters of baptism.  What for? Obedience to the Master and setting the tone of their Christian walk to doing what the Master says.  Undoubtedly the Spirit heightens that Christian’s understanding of who they are and Whose they are, being that a willing believer going into the baptism comes out an obedient one.  

Baptism thus pictures what Christ has accomplished. Only a true Christian would want a good conscience before God and only a true Christian can talk plainly to their father as the result of a clean conscience already cleansed by the blood of Jesus. (compare Hebrews 9:14) The Christian can only do this as a result of having experienced the resurrection power of Jesus Christ through Spirit wrought saving faith at conversion, prior to baptism, which is the whole point of the last phrase of 1 Peter 3:21 δι’ ἀναστάσεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ (“dee ana-sta-se-ohs yay-soo Chri-stoo = through the resurrection of Jesus Christ).

22ὅς ἐστιν ἐν δεξιᾷ τοῦ θεοῦ πορευθεὶς εἰς οὐρανὸν ὑποταγέντων αὐτῷ ἀγγέλων καὶ ἐξουσιῶν καὶ δυνάμεων.

“who is at the right hand of God, having proceeded into heaven while having subjected to him angels, authorities and power.”                                                                                                     Comment: As Peter closes out this chapter, he finishes his final remarks on what is pictured in terms of Christ’s accomplishment: the deliverance from sin and the defeat of cosmic evil forces.  1 Peter 3:22 demonstrates the validity of the interpretation of 1 Peter 3:18-19 as having to do with Christ’s proclamation of His victorious work to the forces of darkness. 

Part #2: Outline of 1 Peter 3:18-22

Jesus Christ’s Accomplished Work

1.  Purpose of Christ’s Accomplished Work – Reconciliation 3:18                                                               a. What did He do? He died                                                                                                                 b. Whom did He die for? The unjust                                                                                                 c. Why did he die? To bring us to God (reconciliation)                                                                   d. How did He do it? Death and resurrection

2. Proclamation of Christ’s Accomplished Work – Victory 3:19-20                                                           a. What did he do between His death & resurrection? Proclaimed victory 3:19                         b. Whom did he proclaim His victory? The demons reserved for judgment. 3:19-20               c. Why did he proclaim His victory? To guarantee Christian victory 3:19-20                           d. What was His victory? Sin (1 Pet 3:18), hell 1 Pet 3:19-20; Col 2:11-12)                                                                            grave (3:18,21b)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       3. Picturing Christ’s Accomplished Work in Baptism 3:21-22                                                                   a. What baptism is: Picture of Christ’s accomplishment and our reception of that                         accomplishment by grace through faith.  3:21                                                                             b. What baptism does not do: provide salvation  3:21                                                                   c. What baptism does do: Increase our awareness of who we are and whose                                 we are as we follow our Lord in Christian obedience. We express an urgency                           to live for our Lord from (or with) a clean conscience  3:21                                                       d. Whom baptism pictures: Jesus Christ’s complete victory 3:22

About pastormahlon

By the grace of God I was converted to saving faith in Jesus Christ at the age of 10 and called into the Gospel ministry by age 17. Through the Lord's grace I completed a Bachelors in Bible at Lancaster Bible College in 1996 and have been married to my beautiful wife since that same year. We have been blessed with four children, ranging from 7-18 years of age. In 2002 the Lord enabled me to complete a Master of Arts in Christian Thought at Biblical Theological Seminary, Hatfield PA. For nearly 25 years I have been preaching and teaching God's Word and have been studying the original languages since 1994. In 2016 God called my family and me to move to begin a pastorate at a wonderful Southern Baptist Congregation here in Northern New York.
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9 Responses to A study of 1 Peter 3:18-22

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    • pastormahlon says:

      The conscience is the soul’s God-designed function of knowing right from wrong and is the area of the soul where convictions derive. I call it the “dashboard” of the soul.

      The conscience works in conjunction with the mind (the soul’s thinker) and emotions (the soul’s feeler). All of these aspects of the human soul in their combined functions is what we can Biblical define as the human heart.

      As the Holy Spirit works in the person’s human spirit to prevail upon the heart, faith is brought forth as a result of the implanted seed of God’s word given in the Gospel. (James; 1 Peter 1:23)

      Once the person is converted to Christ, the Spirit immediately does His sanctifying work with the now cooperating saint of God.

      As the Holy Spirit works forth from the human spirit the pleasing will of God (Philippians 2:13; 1 Corinthians 2:10-13), the Christian at the same time desires in their soul’s will, mind and emotions to work out their salvation with fear and trembling. (Philippians 2:12)

      The conscience takes what the new believer has been taking into their mind, emotions and will and yields to the Spirit working in the human spirit to heed Jesus Christ in Christian obedience.

      Being that the conscience is cleansed by Christ’s blood at salvation (Hebrews 9:14), the believer can now hear God and wants to obey their Master. (John 14:21)

      In baptism the Christian is following through in their first major step of Christian obedience, desiring a continuing clean conscience and clinging ever tighter to the Lord who saved them.

  5. Pingback: Day 356: 1 Peter 1-5; Courage in the Midst of Suffering | Overisel Reformed Church

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