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Bible Commentaries

Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges

1 Peter 3



Verse 1

1. ὁμοίως. In accordance with the same principle of submission to God’s ordinances for mankind. The wife, like the slave, was raised to new dignity by the Gospel; and, especially in cases where the husband remained a heathen while the wife had become a Christian, the duty of submission to marital authority needed to be consecrated and ennobled by its recognition as part of God’s will.

In Ephesians 5:22-24 St Paul regards marriage as the earthly picture of the union between Christ and the Church. The husband’s duty therefore is loving self-sacrifice and the wife’s is reverent submission.

St Peter however shows no trace of this among the thoughts which he borrows from Ephesians. In Colossians 3:18 St Paul merely describes the submission of wives to their own husbands as “fitting in the Lord.” In 1 Corinthians 7 he urges a Christian wife not to seek separation from a heathen husband if he is willing to live with her in peace, and one reason for this is that she may be the means of converting her husband.

τοῖς ἰδίοις ἀνδράσιν. The insertion of ἰδίοις here and in Ephesians 5:22 and Titus 2:5 is not an implied warning against unfaithfulness, but states the husband’s claim. “Submit because they are bound to you by special ties.”

Deissmann, Bib. Stud. p. 123, argues that in the LXX. ἴδιος is often used to translate the possessive pronoun (suffix) and sometimes where the Heb. has no possessive at all. So in late Greek and Inscriptions, etc., it is used merely as equivalent to ἑαυτοῦ or ἑαυτῶν, cf. 1 Corinthians 7:2. But J. H. Moulton, Gram. p. 87 ff., thinks that the sense of “own” is retained in many passages in the N.T.

ἀπειθοῦσιν τῷ λόγῳ. The same phrase was used in 1 Peter 2:8, ἀπειθεῖν implies more than mere disbelief (ἀπιστία). It is used in the LXX. to represent Hebrew words meaning to despise or to rebel. So here some husbands are described as deliberately setting themselves against the truth.

κερδηθήσονται. The future indicative is read by the best MSS. instead of the subjunctive in the T.R. There are several instances of a future indicative after ἵνα in the N.T. (see Winer-Moulton Gram. p. 361), sometimes in the same sentence with a subjunctive, e.g. Revelation 22:14. The indicative cannot, however, be pressed as implying a more certain result than the subjunctive.

ἄνευ λόγου. A.V. and R.V. without the word. The absence of the article however denotes some distinction from τῷ λόγῳ in the preceding clause. The meaning is that deeds speak louder than words, and the constant spectacle of the wife’s conduct will be a silent witness to the truth of Christianity, with the power to win over the husband without any spoken testimony or argument. For κερδαίνειν of winning a person, cf. Matthew 18:15 and 1 Corinthians 9:19.

Verses 1-12


1 The same principle of submission to authority as part of God’s will applies also to WIVES (in spite of the fact that in Christ there is neither male nor female). Wives should submit to their husbands; deeds speak louder than words. 2 To be spectators of the effects of the fear of God as seen in the pure lives of their wives may silently win husbands, who are persistently deaf to the spoken message of the Gospel. 3 The wife’s truest adornment should be not outward but within, 4 the inner character of a heart clad in the imperishable ornament of a spirit which is placid in itself and gentle towards others. That is a jewel of great price in God’s estimation.

5 Such was the self-adornment practised by the wives of whom we read in the ancient story of the chosen people. Their hopes were set on God and consequently they submitted to their husbands. 6 Take for example the case of Sarah, whose daughters you Gentile women became when you were admitted to the new “Israel of God.” She obeyed Abraham and called him “Master.” Such wives did good work, and were never scared or “flustered” into deserting the path of duty. 7 This involves a corresponding duty on the part of HUSBANDS. You must appreciate the meaning and dignity of human life and marriage. You share an earthly home with your wives; you also share the same spiritual inheritance, God’s free gift of life in the highest sense of the word. Your wife, like yourself, is “a chosen vessel” of God, but she is cast in a more fragile mould and therefore needs all the gentler handling and the more honour. Any lower, more selfish, more sensual view of marriage will be a hindrance to your prayers.

8 To sum up mutual duties in general. All of you must strive to be of one mind. Feel for one another, love one another as brothers in Christ, be tender-hearted, be humble-minded. 9 Do not requite evil with evil or abuse with abuse. Rather bless your revilers, for the inheritance of blessing is the end and object of your calling as Christians. 10 As the Psalmist says, A man who has made up his mind to love life and see good days must check his tongue from what is evil and his lips from uttering anything deceitful. 11 He must turn aside from evil and do good. He must seek peace and follow it up. 12 So, and so only, can he attain true life, true happiness, for the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous and His ears are open to their prayers, but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil.

1 Peter 3:1-6. The duty of Christian wives

Verse 2

2. ἐποπτεύσαντες, see note on 1 Peter 2:12. The idea of seeing behind the scenes would aptly describe the husband’s opportunities of observing his wife’s character. But it may mean merely looking on at a spectacle.

ἐν φόβῳ might refer to the reverence of the wife for her husband, cf. Ephesians 5:33. More probably however it means the fear of God, as also in 1 Peter 2:18 where slaves are to submit to their masters ἐν παντὶ φόβῳ, cf. 1 Peter 1:17, 1 Peter 3:15; Ephesians 5:21; Colossians 3:22; 2 Corinthians 5:11; 2 Corinthians 7:1.

Verse 3

3. We have a similar description of true and false adornment for women in 1 Timothy 2:9-10.

χρυσία is often used of gold ornaments, 1 Timothy 2:9; Revelation 17:4; Revelation 18:16.

κόσμος is used in the LXX. in the sense of ornament but only here in the N.T.

Verse 4

4. ὁ κρυπτὸς ἄνθρωπος, cf. Romans 7:22 τὸν ἔσω ἄνθρωπον.

ἄνθρωπος does not mean man as opposed to woman but is a neutral term, like homo. Here it means the inner character, cf. τὸν καινὸν ἄνθρωποντὸν παλαιὸν ἄνθρωπον, Ephesians 4:22-24.

ἐν τῷ ἀφθάρτῳ. Probably a neuter adjective used as a substantive = the incorruptible apparel.

ἡσύχιος is used in Isaiah 66:2 of “a contrite spirit.” Here it means tranquil as opposed to restless, fussy, or perturbed. Only in 1 Timothy 2:2, a tranquil (ἤρεμον) and quiet (ᾑσύχιον) life. The substantive ἡσυχία is used of silence in Acts 22:2; 1 Timothy 2:11, and of quietness in 2 Thessalonians 3:12 as opposed to restless excitement.

Bengel distinguishes πραΰς as meaning “qui non turbat,” ἡσύχιος “qui turbas aliorum, superiorum, inferiorum, aequalium fert placide.” Also πραΰς, he says, refers to feelings, ἡσύχιος to words, look, or conduct.

πραΰς = mild, gentle, meek as opposed to self-seeking and aggressive, cf. Matthew 5:5; Matthew 11:29; Matthew 21:5.

πολυτελές. Such an ornament is like a costly jewel in God’s estimation, cf. Mark 14:3; 1 Timothy 2:9. In the LXX. it is used of gold and precious stones.

Verse 5

5. αἱ ἅγιαι γυναῖκες perhaps = women of the chosen people.

Verse 6

6. κύριον καλοῦσα. The only passage where Sarah is actually described as calling Abraham her “lord” is in Genesis 18:12, but St Peter is referring to her habitual attitude towards Abraham.

ἧς ἐγενήθητε τέκνα. Those who regard the epistle as addressed to Jewish readers explain ἐγενήθητε to mean whose true daughters you proved yourselves; but the words are much more forcible if addressed to Gentiles. Just as St Paul describes the Gentiles as becoming true sons of Abraham by sharing his faith, so St Peter describes Gentile women as having become true daughters of Sarah by their admission into the new covenant people of God, cf. Galatians 3:29; Romans 4:11.

ἀγαθοποιοῦσαι κ.τ.λ. These words are generally connected with ἐγενήθητε if (or so long as) ye do well. But if Gentile women are addressed they did not become daughters of Sarah by doing well.

The R.V. margin refers them to αἱ ἅγιαι γυναῖκες and treats the passage about “Sarah—whose daughters ye became” as a parenthesis. Holy women of old adorned themselves by submitting to their husbands, by well-doing and by tranquillity.

πτόησιν. R.V. text “put in fear by any terror” (objective acc.) but R.V. margin “afraid with” (cognate acc.). The substantive occurs only in Proverbs 3:25 “be not afraid of sudden fear,” but the verb is frequently used in the LXX. of alarm or panic. So it is used in Luke 21:9; Luke 24:37. Here it means not interrupting the quiet discharge of home duties by any excitement or panic.

Verse 7

7. συνοικεῖν here only in N.T. but is frequently used in the LXX. of marital intercourse and doubtless the sexual aspect of marriage is specially included here as in 1 Corinthians 7:3-5; 1 Thessalonians 4:3-4.

κατὰ γνῶσιν, cf. Romans 10:2 and 1 Thessalonians 4:5 where the duty of Christians with regard to gratifying the bodily appetites is contrasted with the conduct of heathen τὰ μὴ εἰδότα τὸν θεὁν. One aspect of this γνῶσις is that “our bodies are the temple of the Holy Ghost.”

σκεύει. In 1 Thessalonians 4:4 Christians are bidden to abstain from fornication and each is to know how κτᾶσθαι τὸ ἑαυτοῦ σκεῦος (lit. acquire his own vessel) in sanctification and honour. In that passage some interpret σκεῦος to mean “body,” that a man ought to get the mastery over his own body, but others refer σκεῦος to the wife as being an instrument for the husband’s use. St Peter however probably regards the wife not as the σκεῦος of her husband but of God, cf. Acts 9:15 σκεῦος ἐκλογῆς; Romans 9:21-23 σκεύη ἐλέους; 2 Corinthians 4:7 ἐν ὀστρακίνοις σκεύεσι.

The comparative ἀσθενεστέρῳ implies that the husband and wife are both σκεύη. ἀσθενὴς is generally used of bodily sickness or infirmity, or of lack of power or robustness. But St Peter does not use the word in any depreciatory sense, cf. 1 Corinthians 12:22. τὰ ἀσθενέστερα μέλη in the body are all important (ἀναγκαῖα).

γυναικείῳ, an adj. “the female.”

ὡς καὶ συνκληρονόμοι. The καὶ emphasizes the fact that husbands share in something far better than the marital intercourse of an earthly home (συνοικοῦντες). Husbands and wives are also co-heirs of an eternal life, cf. Romans 8:17; Ephesians 3:6; Hebrews 11:9.

B some curs. Vulg. Arm. read συνκληρονόμοις = live with your wives remembering that they are also co-heirs with you.

χάριτος ζωῆς. χάρις, ζωή, συνκληρονόμοι all refer to the privileges which St Peter has referred to in Chap. 1, ἀναγεννήσαςεἰς κληρονομίαντῆς εἰς ὑμᾶς χάριτοςτὴν φερομένην ὑμῖν χάριν. The free favour which God bequeaths as their inheritance is life in the highest sense of the word (σωτηρία ψυχῶν).

ἐγκόπτεσθαι (KL etc. ἐκκόπτεσθαι = cut off). ἐγκόπτειν (cf. Acts 24:4; Romans 15:22; Galatians 5:7; 1 Thessalonians 2:18 and subst. 1 Corinthians 9:12) was originally a metaphor from military operations, “to break up a road by destroying bridges, etc.” Originally it governed a dative of the person, e.g. Polyb. xxiv. 1, 12. So here some texts read προσευχαῖς but the acc. is the regular construction in the N.T. For the passive, cf. Romans 15:22. ὑμῶν might refer to the husbands only, that their prayers will be frustrated if any wrongs done to their wives cry out against them (cf. James 5:4). More probably both husbands and wives are included in ὑμῶν.

In 1 Corinthians 7 St Paul says that married persons may abstain from conjugal intercourse for a time by mutual consent that they may give themselves unto prayer. Even the lawful gratification of bodily appetites may tend to deaden spiritual life. But besides this St Peter may mean that failure to recognize their divine co-heirship will hinder husband and wife in the exercise of that united prayer to which our Lord attached special efficacy, Matthew 18:19 (συμφωνήσουσιν = utter a united voice).

Verse 8

8. τὸ δὲ τέλος, finally, an adverbial expression not used elsewhere in the N.T. St Paul generally uses λοιπόν or τὸ λοιπόν = all that remains to be said. The phrase does not imply that St Peter was intending to draw his Epistle to a close, but merely sums up the instructions given above about special social duties, by enumerating various aspects of practical ἀγάπη applicable to all alike (πάντες).

ὁμόφρονες, likeminded, only here in Biblical Greek, but ὁμοθυμαδόν is frequently used in Acts and τὸ αὐτὸ φρονεῖν occurs in Romans 12:16; Romans 15:5; 2 Corinthians 13:11; Philippians 2:2; Philippians 4:2 and τὸ ἓν φρονεῖν in Philippians 2:2.

συμπαθεῖς, compassionate, sympathetic, the adjective here only in N.T., but the verb is used Hebrews 4:15; Hebrews 10:34.

φιλάδελφοι only here in the N.T. but cf. 1 Peter 2:17; Romans 12:10; 1 Thessalonians 4:9; Hebrews 13:1; 1 Peter 1:22; 2 Peter 1:7.

εὔσπλαγχνοι, tender-hearted, only here and Ephesians 4:32.

ταπεινόφρονες, humble-minded (only here in the N.T.), is used in Proverbs 29:23. ταπεινοφροσύνη is used 1 Peter 5:5 also Acts 20:19; Ephesians 4:2; Philippians 2:3; Colossians 3:12.

Verse 9

9. μὴ ἀποδιδόντες κακὸν ἀντὶ κακοῦ. So Romans 12:17 and 1 Thessalonians 5:15. Doubtless St Peter is borrowing from St Paul, but the words may have been a kind of proverb and the converse ἀποδίδωσι κακὰ ἀντὶ ἀγαθῶν occurs in Proverbs 17:13.

λοιδορίανεὐλογοῦντες, cf. 1 Corinthians 4:12 λοιδορούμενοι εὐλογοῦμεν. The words are an unmistakable echo of the Sermon on the Mount “Bless those that curse you” Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:28.

εἰς τοῦτοἵνα. εἰς τοῦτο regularly points forward to the ἵνα which follows it and not backwards to the words which precede it, see John 18:37; Acts 9:21; Acts 26:16 (infinitive instead of ἵνα); Romans 9:17 (εἰς αὐτὸ τοῦτο ὅπως), Romans 14:9; 2 Corinthians 2:9; Ephesians 6:22; Colossians 4:8; 1 Timothy 4:10 (ὅτι); 1 Peter 4:6, and the same is true of διὰ τοῦτο followed by ἵνα or ὅπως. So here St Peter does not mean that Christians were called to be cursed nor to meet cursing with blessing, though both would be true. The object, he says, for which you were called is to inherit blessing, therefore it is your duty to bless others, cf. Matthew 6:15.

The inheritance of blessing is only partially ours in this life, cf. Matthew 25:34 “Come ye blessed of my Father inherit (κληρονομήσατε) the kingdom.”

Verse 10

10. ὁ θέλων ζωὴν ἀγαπᾷν καὶ ἰδεῖν ἡμέρας ἀγαθάς. In the LXX. the words are ὁ θέλων ζωήν, ἀγαπῶν ἡμέρας ἰδεῖν ἀγαθάς. St Peter’s phrase must mean “He who is determined to love life,” i.e. to set his affections on spiritual life. In another sense our Lord has said “He that loveth (φιλῶν) his life (ψυχήν) loseth it” John 12:25.

Verses 10-12

10–12. From Psalms 34; (12–16) quoted in 1 Peter 2:3 “Taste and see that the Lord is gracious.” It is a Psalm of confident trust in God’s protection of the righteous in spite of their constant afflictions. It would therefore be specially appropriate to the times of threatened persecution in which St Peter was writing.

Verse 11

11. ἐκκλινάτω. The word is used in a bad sense, “turning aside,” “gone out of the way,” in Romans 3:12 quoting from Psalms 14:3 and so often in the LXX., but in Romans 16:17 it is used of “keeping out of the way of” and so also in Proverbs.

διωξάτω. It may need prolonged effort to overtake peace.

Verse 12

12. ἐπὶ δικαίουςἐπὶ ποιοῦντας κακά. The preposition (ἐπί) is the same in both cases, but in one case God’s eyes look down in love and in the other in wrath, cf. Exodus 14:24.

Verse 13

13. καὶ τίς ὁ κακώσων ὑμᾶς. The verb κακοῦν is used of the Egyptians ill-treating the Hebrews Acts 7:6, cf. Acts 7:19; Acts 12:1; Acts 18:10. But in Acts 14:2 it is used of the Jews making the Gentiles ill-affected towards the Christians.

Here it might mean [1] Who can do you any real harm? cf. the Litany “being hurt by no persecutions,” or more probably [2] Who is likely to ill-treat you? In several passages St Peter seems to regard suffering for Christ’s sake as no more than a possibility for some at least of his readers, cf. 1 Peter 1:6 εἱ δέον, 1 Peter 3:14 εἰ καὶ πάσχοιτε, 1 Peter 3:17 εἰ θέλοι τὸ θέλημα τοῦ θεοῦ. He still regards magistrates as being for the praise of those who do well 1 Peter 2:14, and he speaks hopefully of influencing opponents by good works, silencing the ignorance of senseless men by well-doing and making them ashamed 1 Peter 3:16.

ἐὰν τοῦ ἀγαθοῦ ζηλωταὶ γένησθε. If ye prove yourselves enthusiasts for what is good. ζηλωταί is the reading of the best texts for μιμηταὶ imitators T.R. The word is used in 1 Corinthians 14:12 ζηλωταὶ πνευμάτων, Titus 2:14 καλῶν ἔργων, Acts 21:20 νόμου, Galatians 1:14 τῶν πατρικῶν παραδόσεων. In Luke 6:15, Acts 1:13, it is used of Simon the Zealot or Canaanite.

Verses 13-16

13–16. Such is God’s prescribed method for those who desire to see good days. 13 If only you zealously devote yourselves to what is good my injunction not to requite evil with evil will be almost unnecessary, for who is likely to do evil to you in that case?

14 But even supposing that such an optimistic view is falsified and you do have to suffer, not merely in spite of doing right but because of it, you should count such an experience a happy thing.

Only do not fear what your enemies try to make you fear, do not let yourselves be troubled. 15 Rather fear with reverence the indwelling presence of Christ as Lord and Master in your hearts to be set apart as a sanctuary which nothing must profane. Be ready always boldly to confess Him if any one calls upon you to give an account of your position and hope as Christians, not in any arrogant or self-confident spirit but with meekness and fear, 16 taking care to maintain your conscience in all innocence, so that in the matter which provokes so much obloquy, I mean the name of Christian, those who revile your good manner of life as professed members of Christ may be shamed into silence.

Verses 13-22


Verse 14

14. εἰ καὶ πάσχοιτε. The καὶ throws the emphasis upon the words which follow, e.g. 1 Corinthians 7:21 εἰ καὶ δύνασαι ἐλεύθερος γενέσθαι means “if you do have the chance of obtaining your freedom.” So here the meaning is “If after all you should be called upon to suffer” in spite of what I have said as to its improbability.

εἰ with an optative expresses a contingency which is regarded as being quite uncertain. It is very rare in the N.T. (see J. H. Moulton Gram. p. 196), and, except in passages which are virtually oratio obliqua (Acts 20:16; Acts 27:39; Acts 24:19, etc.), it occurs only here and in 1 Peter 3:17, and 1 Corinthians 14:10; 1 Corinthians 15:37, εἰ τύχοι = perhaps. This passage is evidently based upon our Lord’s words Matthew 5:10 “Blessed are they that are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.”

τὸν δὲ φόβον αὐτῶν κ.τ.λ.Fear not their fear neither be troubled, but sanctify in your hearts Christ as Lord.” The quotation is taken from Isaiah 8:12-13 where the prophet is instructed by God not to share in the general panic caused by the invasion of Judah by Israel and Syria in the reign of Ahaz. The presence of the Lord of Hosts is the one true object of reverence and of fear, of reverence because. He is a sanctuary or place of asylum to those who trust Him, of fear because He is a stone of stumbling to the disobedient (cf. 1 Peter 2:8). So St Peter bids his readers not to admit thoughts of terror with which their persecutors try to inspire them, but to set up Christ as the one object of reverent fear, the Lord and Master in their hearts.

In the LXX. τὸν φόβον αὐτῶν probably means the fear which others feel, i.e. the general panic, though some would explain it to mean “that which they worship” i.e. heathen Gods. This would give a possible meaning in 1 Pet. if the passage refers to attempts to induce Christians to revert to heathenism. But more probably it means—their threats, the fear which they try to inspire in you.

Verse 15

15. ἁγιάσατε. The verb is occasionally applied to God in the LXX. e.g. of Moses and Aaron failing to sanctify Him in the eyes of the people. (Deuteronomy 32:51.) In Isaiah it was perhaps selected because Jehovah is described as the sanctuary “or place of asylum to be consecrated as an object of fear.” So here Christians are to treat the indwelling presence of Christ, as Lord and Master in their hearts, as a kind of sacred shrine which must never be surrendered or profaned by cowardly fears or inconsistent conduct.

τὸν Χριστὸν. The T.R., with KLP etc., reads Κύριον τὸν Θεόν which would mean “God as Lord” Κύριον being the predicate, not as A.V. “the Lord God.” In Isaiah the words are merely “Sanctify Jehovah.” The constant transference to Christ of language referring to Jehovah in the O.T. is one indication of the full Divinity ascribed to Christ by N.T. writers.

ἕτοιμοι ἀεὶ πρὸς ἀπολογίαν. The question whether this implies formal trial and organized persecution, as Ramsay suggests, is fully discussed Intr. p. xlii. The addition of ἀεὶ and παντὶ make it more probable that St Peter means that Christians are always to be prepared to shew their colours and give a reason for their hope whenever any one challenges them, cf. Colossians 4:6.

μετὰ πραΰτητος καὶ φόβου. Meekness not arrogance or self-assertion must be their attitude towards these questioners. φόβου might mean respect and deference towards those in authority, but more probably it means fear of God as in 1 Peter 1:17, 1 Peter 2:18. To deliver God’s message and champion God’s cause is a grave responsibility which should make them ask “who is sufficient for these things?”

Verse 16

16. συνείδησιν ἀγαθήν, cf. 1 Peter 3:21. A good conscience, mens conscia recti, is essential if the defence offered by Christians is to convince their opponents. To this St Paul laid claim in making his defence, Acts 23:1; Acts 24:16, cf. also 1 Timothy 1:5; 1 Timothy 1:19.

ἐν ᾧ, in the matter in which, cf. 1 Peter 2:12 with which the T.R. assimilates this verse, reading καταλαλοῦσιν ὑμῶν ὡς κακοποιῶν instead of merely καταλαλεῖσθε.

καταισχυνθῶσιν, may be shamed into silence. Cf. Luke 13:17.

ἐπηρεάζοντες, the word means spiteful abuse in Aristotle but is used of false accusations in other classical writers, and this meaning would be appropriate here, but in Luke 6:28 it is translated “despitefully use.”

ἀγαθὴν ἀναστροφήν. Cf. note on καλὴν ἀναστροφήν, 1 Peter 2:12.

ἐν Χριστῷ, in Christ, of whom you claim to be members.

Verse 17

17. ἀγαθοποιοῦντας, cf. 1 Peter 2:15; 1 Peter 2:20.

εἰ θέλοι. The optative is read by the best MSS. instead of the indicative and denotes a possible but uncertain contingency, cf. 1 Peter 3:14.

Verses 17-22

1 Peter 3:17 to 1 Peter 4:6. The blessedness of suffering in the flesh

The interpretation suggested for this confessedly difficult passage may be best explained by a paraphrase of the whole section with illustrations from other parts of the N.T. Other interpretations of it will be discussed in an additional note (p. 87).

17 Paraphrase. To suffer for well-doing, if the will of God should so will, is better than to suffer for evil-doing, because to suffer innocently is what Christ also did, thereby (as explained above 1 Peter 2:21) leaving us an example, and to imitate Him must in any case be good. But the value of suffering is enormously enhanced when we consider the purpose and effects of Christ’s sufferings.

Verse 18

18. ὅτι καὶ Χριστός. The καί suggests that Christians are only called upon to do what Christ also did, namely, to suffer innocently. But St Peter at once expands the idea by shewing the blessed results of Christ’s sufferings.

ἅπαξ means “once for all” not “once upon a time” which would require ποτέ. Cf. Romans 6:10, “the death that He died He died unto sin once (ἐφάπαξ).” Again in Hebrews 9:26 Christ’s sacrifice for the doing away of sin once offered (ἅπαξ) is contrasted with the oft-repeated sacrifices of Judaism.

There are numerous coincidences of thought between this section of St Peter and Romans 6, and the idea here seems to be that Christ’s death was the termination of the regime of sin, cf. 1 Peter 2:24, 1 Peter 4:1.

Christ’s death was “suffering for evil-doing” because it did pay the inevitable penalty of sin, not His own but that of others. Your sins, says St Peter, were included in Christ’s death and it was intended to set you free from sin. Therefore “suffering for evil-doing” is no longer a necessary penalty for you if you are in Christ, but at the same time suffering for well-doing may help to make your freedom from sin more real.

ἀπέθανεν is read by א AC and all the VSS. and is adopted by W.H. and R.V. marg. instead of ἔπαθε, which is read by BKLP, A.V. and R.V. The MSS. evidence is fairly evenly divided. If ἀπέθανε was the original reading it might be altered to ἔπαθε to match the preceding πάσχειν, cf. also 1 Peter 2:21, 1 Peter 4:1. On the other hand ἔπαθε might be changed into ἀπέθανε to match θανατωθείς which follows. Either reading would give a good meaning but ἅπαξ suits ἀπέθανε best.

περὶ ἁμαρτιῶν. Cf. Galatians 1:4; 1 John 2:2; 1 John 4:10. Elsewhere ὑπὲρ ἁμαρτιῶν is used. περὶ ἁμαρτίας is used in the LXX. for “the sin-offering,” cf. Hebrews 10:6; Hebrews 10:8; Romans 8:3.

δίκαιος is used as a special epithet of Christ in one of St Peter’s speeches, Acts 3:14, cf. 1 John 2:1, “Jesus Christ the righteous,” and James 5:6, ἐφονεύσατε τὸν δίκαιον may possibly refer to Christ.

προσαγάγῃ probably means present, give access to the presence of God, cf. προσαγωγή, Romans 5:2; Ephesians 2:18; Ephesians 3:12. In the LXX. προσάγειν is frequently used of presenting victims as an offering to God. So here Christ in offering Himself as our sin-offering might be regarded as offering us to God. Again in the LXX. it is used of presenting Aaron and his sons for the priesthood, and this idea would also suit St Peter’s conception of Christians as “a royal priesthood” 1 Peter 2:5; 1 Peter 2:9. But in all these O.T. passages the primary idea of the verb is “to bring near,” and in this verse the context is not sufficiently explicit to shew that the word is used in a sacrificial or priestly sense.

ὑμᾶς is read by B. 31. Syr. Arm. and W.H. and probably means “you Gentiles,” cf. Ephesians 2:13.

The T.R. and both A.V. and R.V. read ἡμᾶς which would include all Christians.

θανατωθείς. The verb is used of the Jews condemning our Lord to death, Matthew 26:59; Matthew 27:3; Mark 14:55.

ζωοποιηθεὶς is contrasted with θανατοῦν in 2 Kings 5:7, “Am I God to kill and to make alive?” In the N.T. it is used in John 5:21 of God and the Son raising and quickening the dead, cf. Romans 4:17; Romans 8:11; 1 Corinthians 15:22; Galatians 3:21. In 1 Timothy 6:13, T.R. it is used of God quickening all things. In John 6:53 the spirit is described as “quickening” in contrast with the flesh, and in 2 Corinthians 3:6 the spirit giveth life as contrasted with the old law of “the letter.”

In this verse the T.R. reads τῷ πνεύματι evidently meaning “the Holy Spirit,” so A.V. “quickened by the Spirit.” For this rendering we might compare Romans 8:11.

But here, as in 1 Peter 4:6, σάρξ and πνεῦμα are contrasted and the meaning is that by the death of His human flesh the human spirit of Jesus was, as it were, born into a new spiritual existence. It was alive all through His earthly life but was limited by the restrictions of the flesh until it was set free by death, cf. Luke 12:50, “I have a baptism to be baptized with and how am I straitened till it be accomplished.” Even the body of the Risen Lord was a spiritual (πνευματικόν) body, as our resurrection bodies will be, cf. 1 Corinthians 15:44, but St Peter seems to regard Christ’s new spiritual activity as beginning immediately after death and even before His resurrection.

Verse 19

19. ἐν ᾧ most naturally means, in that human spirit thus quickened by death and not the divine Spirit of Christ in which He had all along been working in the world, cf. 1 Peter 1:11.

πνεύμασι is used of the dead in Hebrews 12:23, “the spirits of just men made perfect” and this interpretation is here confirmed by νεκροῖς in 1 Peter 4:6. It naturally seems to mean that those who heard Christ’s message were in a disembodied state, as He himself also was.

φυλακῇ sometimes means sentry-watch but far more commonly prison and is almost certainly so used here.

πορευθεὶς naturally suggests a change of sphere and is frequently used of the Ascension, as in 1 Peter 3:22. So here it seems to refer to the descent into Hell, and we thus have a natural chronological sequence θανατωθεὶςζωοποιηθεὶςπορευθεὶς—(διʼ ἀναστάσεως) πορευθεὶς εἰς οὐρανόν.

ἐκήρυξεν is constantly used of preaching the Gospel but never of proclaiming bad tidings. So here it probably means good tidings, cf. εὐηγγελίσθη νεκροῖς, 1 Peter 4:6.


ON 1 Peter 3:19

Other interpretations of this confessedly difficult passage are

A. That it does refer to the descent into Hell, but [1] the “preaching” was a proclamation of condemnation and not an offer of pardon. The objections to this view are that in 1 Peter 4:6 (which most probably refers to the same “preaching”) good tidings (εὐαγγελίσθη) is stated to have been preached to the dead. Also κηρύσσειν is the word used in the Gospels of “proclaiming the Gospel of the kingdom” Matthew 4:23, “preaching repentance” Matthew 4:17, “preaching deliverance to the captives … and proclaiming the acceptable year of the Lord” Luke 4:18-19. In the Acts and Epistles it is constantly used of preaching the Gospel or preaching Christ, but there is no instance of its use for proclaiming condemnation, and it would be hardly intelligible in that sense here without some words to explain it.

Or [2] that the good news was only preached in Hades to the spirits of the righteous, such as Abel, Abraham and other O.T. saints. This was a favourite idea in early writers (e.g. the Gospel of Nicodemus, Irenaeus, Hippolytus, Tertullian). But the context expressly defines the spirits to be “those who were disobedient in the days of Noah.” There is no hint whatever that O.T. saints in general are intended, and ἐν φυλακῇ could hardly mean in God’s safe keeping (cf. “The souls of the righteous are in the hands of God”) nor, as Calvin suggested, the watch tower from which the souls of the righteous in Hades were eagerly looking for the advent of their deliverer.

Or [3] that the passage does refer to those who perished in the Flood, but only to those who turned to God in their dying agony. But St Peter makes no allusion whatever to their repentance, but only to their disobedience.

Or [4] a more tenable interpretation would be to explain “the spirits in prison” as meaning evil angels whose influence was paramount in the world in the days of Noah, cf. Genesis 6:2, “The sons of God saw that the daughters of men were fair,” etc. This seems to have been generally understood of immoral intercourse between angels and women, which caused the destruction of the world by the Flood. In the Book of Henoch there are constant references to this sin of the angels, and in Chapter lxvii. “the angels who have shewn injustice and who led astray are shewn to Noah inclosed in a flaming valley, but the waters of judgment are a healing of the angels and a death to their bodies.” St Peter seems to shew traces of the Book of Henoch in other passages and there is some slight similarity between this description in Henoch and St Peter’s words, 1 Peter 4:6 “judged in the flesh after the pattern of men but living in the spirit after the pattern of God.” St Jude, who quotes the Book of Henoch by name, says, 1 Peter 3:6, “Angels which left their proper habitation, he hath kept in everlasting bonds under darkness unto the judgment of the great day.” But this would give no support to the view that the spirit of Christ preached to them during His descent into Hell.

B. Another interpretation, supported in one passage by Augustine and also by Aquinas and Bishop Pearson, is that the passage does not refer to the descent into Hell at all, but to the preaching of the Spirit of Christ in the world in the preaching of Noah. In 1 Peter 1:11 the Spirit of Christ is described as working in the prophets of the O.T., and it is true that it was by the indwelling Spirit of Christ that Noah was a preacher (κήρυξ) of righteousness.

But the objections to this view are:

[1] That it destroys the natural sequence of thought in the passage, in which θανατωθείς, ζωοποιηθείς, πορευθείς, ἐκήρυξε seem most naturally to describe successive stages in the work of Christ, whereas this view would refer the “preaching” to the distant past.

[2] πορευθείς like πορευθεὶς εἰς οὐρανὸν in 22 suggests the idea of a “journey” or change of sphere such as the descent into Hades rather than the omnipresent work of Christ in the world before the Incarnation. At the same time we must not introduce too materialistic ideas of space in dealing with the unseen world either of Hades or of Heaven.

[3] The recipients of the proclamation are described as πνεύμασιν ἐν φυλακῇ and this can hardly mean “those who were living men at the time when they received the message but are now spirits in the prison-house of Hades.” Nor is it likely that the contemporaries of Noah in their lifetime would be described as “spirits confined in the prison-house of sin and unbelief or in the prison-house of the body.”

[4] The spirit in which Christ preached is identified with that in which He was quickened by the death of His flesh, and thus most naturally means His human spirit—whereas His work in the world in the days of Noah could only be that of His divine Spirit.

Verse 20

20. ποτε. The days of their disobedience are described as being long past at the time when the tidings was preached to them.

ἀπεξεδέχετο is read by nearly all Greek MSS. The reading of the T.R. ἅπαξ ἐξεδέχετο seems to have been a conjectural reading of Erasmus—but ἅπαξ ἐδέχετο is read by some cursives; ἅπαξ would imply that the time of Noah was the only occasion when God exercised such patience.

ἀπεκδέχεσθαι is used several times by St Paul of Christians waiting for the return of Christ etc. but except in this verse the object or person waited for is always expressed.

εἰς ἣν is probably a “pregnant construction” = by entering into which ark, cf. Mark 13:16; Acts 7:4; 1 Peter 5:12 etc. It is not probably governed by διεσώθησαν (as Dr Bigg suggests who contrasts it with εἰς θεόν which he connects with σώζει).

ψυχαί is used of living persons in Genesis 46:22 and Acts 2:41; Acts 7:14; Acts 27:37; Romans 13:1.

διασώζειν is used of making a person perfectly whole, Matthew 14:36; Luke 7:3, of St Paul being brought safely through to Felix, Acts 23:24, and of escaping safe to land, Acts 27:44; Acts 28:1; Acts 28:4.

διʼ ὕδατος might mean merely, were brought safely through the water. But more probably it means were saved by means of water. The same water which drowned the guilty bore in safety the inmates of the ark. This makes the analogy with the water of Baptism more forcible. So in the first prayer in our Baptismal Office, “Almighty and everlasting God, who of thy great mercy didst save Noah and his family from perishing by water,” the words “by water” should probably be connected with “save” and not with “perishing.” The prayer specifies three instances in which God has employed “water” mystically (a) the Flood, (b) the Red Sea, (c) the Baptism of Jesus.

NOTE. For similar instances where the meaning of σώζεσθαι διά has been disputed, cf. 1 Corinthians 3:15 σωθήσεται οὕτω δὲ ὡς διὰ πυρός—where the sense is probably not saved as it mere by means of fire but escape as it were through the fire like a man whose house is burned over his head; 1 Timothy 2:15 σωθήσεται διὰ τῆς τεκνογονίας, which might mean that woman shall be brought safely through the pain and peril of childbearing—but more probably = saved by means of the childbearing, which was part of the penalty of woman’s sin (Genesis 3:16), but by which she has attained her truest dignity, especially when it culminated in the childbearing by woman of the Incarnate Son of God.

Verse 21

21. is omitted by א * 73 aeth. but is read by all the best authorities. The T.R. reads which is found in several cursives, and Hort regards as a primitive error for on the ground that it is impossible to take ἀντίτυπον as an epithet agreeing with βάπτισμα and scarcely less difficult to take it with as the R.V. which (water) after a true likeness (or antitypically). But ἀντίτυπον may be taken as a neuter substantive and not as an adjective, which antitype namely Baptism. In this case Baptism would not be the ἀντίτυπον of which the Flood was the τύπος, but both the Flood and Baptism are regarded as the ἀντίτυπον or earthly copy of the same spiritual reality, namely death unto sin as the prelude to new birth unto righteousness.

ἀντίτυπον. Cf. Hebrews 9:24 where the copies of the things in the heavens ὑποδείγματα τῶν ἐν τοῖς οὐράνοις, i.e. the earthly tabernacle and its accessories, are described as ἀντίτυπα τῶν ἀληθινῶν because they corresponded to “the pattern (τύπος) in the mount” which was shewn to Moses.

In 2 Clement 14 the visible Church in its external bodily form (σάρξ) is the earthly copy (τὸ ἀντίτυπον) of the spiritual Church (τὸ αὐθεντικόν), and Lightfoot, p. 247, explains that τὸ αὐθεντικὸν means the autograph letter, the original document in God’s own handwriting, as it were, of which the ἀντίτυπον is the blurred transcript. So in Irenaeus i. 5, 6 the Church is described by the Valentinians as ἀντίτυπον τῆς ἄνω ἐκκλησίας. Again, in the Apostolic Constitutions 1 Peter 3:14, vi. 30, vii. 25, and other Fathers, the Bread and Wine in the Eucharist are described as ἀντίτυπα of the Body and Blood of Christ. Cyril of Jerusalem speaks of Baptism as the ἀντίτυπον of Christ’s sufferings, while Caesarius describes Baptism as the ἀντίτυπον of Circumcision. Other writers speak of the brazen serpent as the ἀντίτυπον of Christ.

In all these passages therefore (except Caesarius) the ἀντίτυπον is the copy as opposed to the reality, and naturally inferior to it. In this passage, however, we can hardly imagine that St Peter regards the Flood as the pattern (τύπος), of which Baptism is merely the copy, ἀντίτυπον. Therefore, as suggested above, it seems better to take ἀντίτυπον as a substantive. The same earthly copy, namely, saving by means of water, which was presented in the Flood, is again presented in Baptism. Now, as then, it represents the same heavenly original, life issuing out of death. This rendering enables us to retain the usual meaning of ἀντίτυπον. Lightfoot (Clement ii. 247) however regards ἀντίτυπον here as the finished work of which the Flood was only the rough model, τύπος. In support of this view it may be argued that τύπος does sometimes mean the copy and not the pattern, e.g. Acts 7:43, the images (τύποι) of your gods; 1 Corinthians 10:6; 1 Corinthians 10:11, the experiences of Israel in the wilderness happened, τυπικῶς, i.e. as earthly copies of spiritual originals. Romans 5:14, Adam is the τύπος of Christ. So here, it is said, the Flood, in which by the selfsame water the guilty world was destroyed while the inmates of the ark were borne in safety by it, was an earthly picture (τύπος) of death unto sin and new birth unto righteousness, of which Baptism is the true expression, ἀντίτυπον. The objections to this view, however, are (a) that it is contrary to the general use of ἀντίτυπον; (b) that Baptism is not in itself “the original,” but only “the outward and visible sign,” and the “means whereby we receive” the inward and spiritual grace of death unto sin and new birth unto righteousness.

σαρκὸς ἀπόθεσις ῥύπου. σαρκός might be governed by ῥύπου, putting away of the filth of the flesh, as A.V. and R.V., or it might be putting away of filth on the part of the flesh (subjective genitive).

ἀπόθεσις, the substantive occurs again only in 2 Peter 1:14, of “putting off the tabernacle of the body,” i.e. death. So here it might be equivalent to θανατωθεὶς σαρκί, the death of the old self in Baptism as contrasted with the new birth, διʼ ἀναστάσεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ. But the addition of ῥύπου makes this improbable; of. James 1:21. The meaning probably is that the saving efficacy of Baptism cannot be obtained by the mere cleansing of the body (such as was effected by Jewish ceremonial washings and circumcision), but a right attitude of the conscience toward God is demanded. If any contrast between Baptism and Circumcision is suggested here, as in Colossians 2:11, we may compare St Peter’s speech at the Apostolic Conference, Acts 15:9, where, in arguing against the necessity of imposing circumcision upon Gentile converts, he reminds his hearers of the case of Cornelius, where “God made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith” (though their bodies were still unclean from the Jewish point of view).

συνειδήσεως ἀγαθῆς. Cf. 1 Peter 3:16; Acts 23:1; 1 Timothy 1:5; 1 Timothy 1:19. In Hebrews 9:14 the cleansing of the conscience from dead works by the blood of Christ is contrasted with the cleansing of the flesh by Jewish ordinances.

ἐπερώτημα εἰς θεόν. εἰς θεόν must almost certainly be taken either with ἐπερώτημα or with συνειδήσεως ἀγαθῆς and not with σώζει (as Bigg in antithesis to διεσώθησαν εἰς τὴν κιβωτόν).

The following renderings have been suggested:

(a) Prayer to God proceeding from a good conscience.

(b) Prayer to God for a good conscience.

(c) The inquiry (or appeal) of a good conscience toward God, R.V. margin.

(d) The answer of a good conscience toward God, A.V.

(e) The interrogation of a good conscience toward God, R.V.

The substantive ἐπερώτημα occurs nowhere else in the N.T. and only once in Theodotion’s version of Daniel 6:17. The demand (or matter), viz. the judgment upon Nebuchadnezzar, is by the word of the holy ones, i.e. the angels.

The verb ἐπερωτᾷν is frequently used in the N.T., but always in the sense of asking a question except in Matthew 16:1, of demanding a sign. In the LXX. ἐπερωτᾷν is used in Psalms 137:3 of demanding a song, but as addressed to God it means to “enquire of” or “consult.” So in Isaiah 65:1, quoted in Romans 10:20, ἐμφανὴς ἐγενόμην τοῖς ἐμὲ μὴ ἐπερωτῶσιν. This is the only passage in the N.T. where the verb is used with reference to God.

The only passage in the LXX. where ἐπερωτᾷν εἰς is used is in 2 Samuel 11:7 of David enquiring after the welfare (εἰς εἰρήνην) of Joab and the army.

There is therefore not much support for the rendering, inquiry, appeal, or prayer of a good conscience addressed to God, and none apparently for the A.V. rendering “answer,” taking ἐπερώτημα as the thing asked for, i.e. the answer. In late Byzantine writers on law ἐπερώτημα is used for a “stipulation” or “agreement,” and this would give a good sense here, but there is no evidence for this use of the word at the time when this Epistle must have been written. Very possibly it refers to the questions and answers in Baptism—the “interrogation” whether the candidates have repentance and faith, which virtually constitute “a good conscience toward God.” Robinson (Ephesians 5:26) suggests that ἐν ῥήματι in that passage refers to some form of Baptismal confession.

The confession of faith demanded from the eunuch, Acts 8:37, although only a Western insertion, is at least early evidence that such interrogations were usual, and the original use of creeds was as a Baptismal profession. The usual formula was ἀποτάσσῃ τῷ Σατανᾷ; Dost thou renounce Satan? to which the answer was ἀποτάσσομαι. συντάσσῃ τῷ Χριστῷ; Dost thou join the ranks of Christ? to which the answer was συντάσσομαι, and then a creed was recited in answer to an enquiry as to the candidate’s faith. Some such interrogation or examination to test whether the conscience was in right relationship toward God (ἀγαθῆς συνειδήσεως εἰς θεόν) St Peter regards as the necessary condition to obtain “saving” grace in Baptism, as contrasted with a mere ceremonial cleansing of the body such as was practised by both Jews and heathen. Compare St Peter’s words to Simon Magus just after he had received the outward rite of Baptism, “thy heart is not right before God.” So now, even in Infant Baptism, the sponsors, as representing the child, are required publicly to acknowledge that repentance, faith and obedience are the necessary conditions for continuing in the state of salvation to which we are admitted by Baptism.

διʼ ἀναστάσεως. The “new birth unto righteousness” involved in this right relationship to God is only ours in virtue of Christ’s resurrection, and this is symbolized in Baptism. When the person baptized sinks under the water the death and burial of his old self is represented. When he emerges from the water he is regarded as rising to a new life. This idea is expanded in detail by St Paul in Romans 6:3 ff. Cf. also Colossians 2:12. Possibly the same idea may be intended in the difficult words, “What shall they do that are baptized for the dead?” 1 Corinthians 15:29, which some critics interpret to mean that in Baptism men act on behalf of their own dead selves; they represent their death and resurrection, and this becomes an acted farce if any resurrection of the dead is an impossibility.

St Peter shews so many apparent traces of the Epistle to the Romans that St Paul’s language in Romans 6 almost certainly influenced him in this section. But we have no right to assume that this idea of Baptism, as representing death and resurrection with Christ, was originated by St Paul. He appeals to it as a thought which must surely be familiar (ἢ ἀγνοεῖτε ὅτι, Romans 6:3) to his readers in Rome, although he had never yet preached there himself. Therefore it may have been a favourite theme of other Christian teachers, although the elaboration of it was probably due to St Paul.

Verse 22

22. ὅς ἐστιν ἐν δεξιᾷ θεοῦ. Some MSS. of the Vulgate and the Latin writers, Augustine, Fulgentius, Cassiodorus and Bede, add the words “having swallowed up death that we might be made heirs of eternal life,” but there is no Greek authority for this addition. The first part of it may be derived from Isaiah 25:8, quoted by St Paul, 1 Corinthians 15:54, κατεπόθη ὁ θάνατος εἰς νῖκος. The second clause may be based upon 1 Peter 1:3, ὁ ἀναγεννήσας ἡμᾶςδιʼ ἀναστάσεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ ἐκ νεκρῶν εἰς κληρονομίαν …, and the phrase κληρονομεῖν ζωὴν αἰώνιον occurs in Matthew 19:29; Mark 10:17; Luke 10:25; Luke 18:18; cf. Titus 3:7.

Possibly there may be a double purpose in this reference to the Session of Christ at God’s right hand:

(a) That as it was to present us to God that Christ died, therefore the Christian who claims in Baptism to share Christ’s resurrection must set his affections on things above, where Christ sitteth at the right hand of God, cf. Colossians 3:1.

(b) That suffering and death culminated in glory in Christ’s case, and the same will be true for His followers.

The doctrine of Christ’s Session at the right hand of God is based upon our Lord’s application to Himself of Psalms 110:1, “Sit thou on my right hand,” etc. It is stated in Mark 16:19, in St Peter’s speeches in Acts 2:33-34; Acts 5:31, by St Paul in Romans 8:34, Colossians 3:1, and Ephesians 1:20, where there is a similar mention of the subordination of angelic powers. Cf. also Hebrews 1:3-13; Hebrews 8:1; Hebrews 10:12; Hebrews 12:2.

ὑποταγέντως αὐτῷ ἀγγέλων καὶ ἐξουσιῶν καὶ δυνάμεων. R.V. angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him. Possibly, however, ἀγγέλων may govern the two substantives which follow, as in the Book of Henoch lxi. 10, a book of which St Peter seems to shew other traces, “angels of power and angels of principalities” are mentioned among the various grades of angels.

For ὑποταγέντων cf. 1 Corinthians 15:27; Ephesians 1:22; Hebrews 2:8, all of which passages are based upon Psalms 8:7, which originally described the sovereignty of man.

For the exaltation of Christ above all grades of angels, cf. Ephesians 1:21; Romans 8:38; Colossians 2:10, and in Colossians 1:16 various grades of angels are described as having been created by, in and for Christ.


The Descent into Hell

In the Gospels the only passage which bears upon the subject is the promise to the penitent thief, “To-day shalt thou be with me in Paradise,” Luke 23:43.

In St Paul we have three possible allusions to the subject:

Romans 10:7, “Say not … who shall descend into the abyss, that is to bring Christ up from the dead?”

Romans 14:9, “For to this end Christ died and lived again that He might be Lord of both the dead and the living.”

Ephesians 4:9, “Now this, He ascended, what is it but that He also descended into the lower parts of the earth?” This verse might, however, merely mean that Christ came down from heaven to the lower sphere of this earth, and so refer to the Incarnation (but see Robinson, ad loc.).

In St Peter,

Acts 2:27; Acts 2:31, In his speech on the day of Pentecost St Peter quotes Psalms 16:8-11, “Thou wilt not leave my soul in Hades,” and shews that it was true of Christ.

In this Epistle,

1 Peter 3:19 states that Christ, being put to death in the flesh but quickened in spirit, went in that spirit and preached to the spirits in prison who were disobedient in the days of Noah.

1 Peter 4:6 states that good tidings was preached to the dead in order that, despite their judgment in the flesh, they may live according to God in the spirit.

The only N.T. writer therefore who says anything about the object of our Lord’s descent into Hades or of His work there is St Peter. We have, however, no evidence as to the source from which he derived his teaching. According to early Jewish conceptions there were social and national distinctions in Sheol, and in the second century B.C. moral and ethical distinctions between the righteous and the wicked among the dead were introduced, but there was no idea of any moral improvement or possibility of change in the condition of the dead. Unless, therefore, we are prepared to treat St Peter’s words merely as a pious conjecture, we must believe either that he learned these mysterious facts from the mouth of the Risen Lord Himself, or that it was specially revealed to him “not by flesh and blood but by the Father in heaven.”

In the Early Fathers the descent of Christ to Hades is constantly referred to.

In the Apocryphal Gospel of Peter three men are seen coming forth from the tomb, two of them supporting the other, and a cross following them; and the head of the two reached to heaven, but that of Him who was led by them overpassed the heavens. And they heard a voice from the heavens saying, “Thou didst preach (ἐκήρυξας) to them that sleep,” and a response was heard from the Cross, “Yea.”

Ignatius (ad Magn. IX.) says, “Even the prophets, being His disciples, were expecting Him as their teacher through the Spirit. And for this cause He whom they rightly awaited when He came raised them from the dead” (cf. ad Philad. IX.).

Justin Martyr (Dial. 72) quotes a passage from Jeremiah, “The Lord God remembered His dead people of Israel, who lay in the graves and descended to preach to them His own salvation.” This passage he accuses the Jews of having cut out from their copies of the Scriptures. It does not, however, occur in any extant MSS. of the LXX., but Irenaeus quotes it several times (once as from Isaiah, once as from Jeremiah, and in other passages anonymously (see iii. 20, iv. 22, 33, v. 31), in the last of which he definitely connects the preaching with the three days between the Crucifixion and the Resurrection). Irenaeus says nothing, however, about the Jews having cut out the words, and, from the fact that he assigns them to two different prophets, it would seem that the words were not contained in the current text of the LXX. If we could assume that this passage was known to St Peter, he might be referring to it, but there is no sufficient evidence for this, and St Peter’s reference to those who were disobedient in the days of Noah would not be explained by this passage.

Irenaeus also (iv. 27) relates a discourse which he heard from “an elder” (i.e. a Christian of the generation before his own) who had heard it from personal companions of the apostles and their disciples, “that the Lord descended to the parts beneath the earth preaching His Advent there also and declaring remission of sins as available for those who believe in Him; but those have believed in Him whose hopes were set on Him, that is, those who foretold His Advent, just men and prophets and patriarchs.”

Hermas (Sim. IX.) describes the apostles and first teachers of the Gospel as preaching to those who had previously fallen asleep, of whom he mentions the prophets and the ministers of God as well as the first two generations of mankind which preceded them.

Clement of Alexandria (Strom. II. 9), quoting the above passage of Hermas, extends the preaching to pious heathen as well as Jews, and in Strom. vi. 6 he says that the Apostles followed the example of our Lord by preaching in Hades, but, while Jesus preached there only to the Jews, they addressed themselves to the righteous heathen.

In the Apocryphal Preaching of Thaddeus to Abgarus King of Edessa, quoted in Eusebius H. E. I. 13, Christ is stated to have descended into Hades and burst the bars which from eternity had not been broken, and raised the dead, for He descended alone, but rose with many, and thus ascended to His Father.

Tertullian, de Anima 55, speaking of the days between the death and resurrection of Christ, says “He descended to the lower parts of the earth that there he might make patriarchs and prophets partakers of Himself.”

Hippolytus, de Antichristo 45, represents John the Baptist after his death as preaching in Hades that the Saviour will come there also to deliver the souls of the saints.

Origen (contra Celsum II. 43) says, “With His soul stripped of His body Christ associated with souls stripped of their bodies, converting to Himself those even of them who were willing or those who for reasons which He Himself knew were more fitted for it.”

In the Apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus, the date of which is uncertain, but which may be based upon a second century work, the two sons of the aged Symeon are described as having been raised from the dead, and giving an account of Christ’s work in Hades, that 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.

Marcion accepted the descent of Christ into Hades, but, according to his opponents, regarding the Demiurge, the God of the O.T., as a different God from the God of the N.T., he maintained that the righteous men and prophets under the old dispensation, as being subjects of the Demiurge, refused to listen to Christ’s preaching, and only Cain and the other wicked characters of the O.T. listened and were saved.

Athanasius (de Incarnatione), arguing against the Apollinarians, who denied that Christ had any human spirit (πνεῦμα), says that the Lord appeared in Hades in an incorporeal state to shew the souls there present the presence of His own soul as having received the bonds of death, so that He might burst the bonds of the souls which were held fast in Hades.

Gregory Nazianzen inquires whether we are to suppose that Christ, appearing in Hades, did save all without exception, or did save there, as He does here, only such as believed.

Cyril of Alexandria, in commenting on John 16:16, says, “After three days He came to life again, having preached also to the spirits in prison. For thus there was the fullest manifestation of His love to men, I mean, in the fact that He not only saved those who were still alive upon the earth, but also to those who had already departed and were seated in darkness in the recesses of the abyss He preached deliverance as it is written.”

Also de Incarnatione he says that the soul of Christ went to Hades and appeared also to the spirits there.

Jerome, commenting on Ephesians, says that our Lord and Saviour descended into Hell that He might lead with Him in triumph to heaven the souls of the saints that were shut up in prison.

Augustine, in his letter to Euodius 164, argues that the prophets and patriarchs were already in happiness and enjoyed the presence of God, and therefore needed no translation by the descent of Christ to Hades. Others who were in the pains of hell were released, but it would be very rash to suppose that Christ released all whom He found there. But Augustine confesses himself to be very doubtful whether 1 Peter 3:19 can be satisfactorily explained as referring to the descent into Hell, and he suggests the possibility of its referring to the Spirit of Christ preaching to the world in the days of Noah.

In Creeds the clause “He descended into Hell” is not contained in the Nicene Creed. It occurs first in the creed drawn up by the Homoeans at Sirmium to be presented to the Western Council at Ariminum 359, “He descended into Hell (εἰς τὰ καταχθόνια) and disposed matters there; at the sight of whom the door-keepers of Hades trembled.”

In Western Creeds the clause first occurs in the Creed of Aquileia, as given by Rufinus about 400 A.D. He states that it was not contained in the Creed of Rome nor in the Eastern Creeds, but argues that it was meant to be included in the statement that Christ was buried. He quotes this passage of St Peter in support of it.

In the Articles of 1553 the English copy runs as follows, “As Christ died and was buried for us, so also it is to be believed that He went down to Hell. For the body lay in the sepulchre until the resurrection, but His ghost departing from Him was with the ghosts that were in prison or in hell, and did preach to the same, as the place of St Peter doth testify.” In the Latin form of the article there had been an additional clause that “by His descent the Lord did not deliver any from prison or from torment.” In our present 3rd article only the first sentence of the above article is retained, but this passage of St Peter is still appointed as the Epistle for Easter Eve, implying that it is to be interpreted of the work of Christ between His death and resurrection.


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Bibliography Information
"Commentary on 1 Peter 3:4". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". 1896.

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