"By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; 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."— 1 Peter 3:19,20.
Why this passage is ever quoted against the Universalist faith cannot be seen. If Jesus went to hell to preach to the damned who were disobedient in the time of Noah, as many understand the text to teach, it was for the purpose of converting them, and therefore probation extends into the future state of existence. We should be very glad to believe this to be the meaning of the text, but the facts compel a different view. What is the meaning?
The spirits in prison are the minds of men imprisoned in sin. By his spirit Jesus preached and preaches to such.
Dr. Clarke says: "I have before me one of the first, if not the very first edition of the Latin Bible, and in it the verse stands thus: 'By which he came spiritually, and preached to them that were in prison.'"
Wakefield says Christ here makes comparison between the Antediluvians and the Gentiles:
"By which he went and preached to the minds of men in prison, who were disobedient, as those upon whom the long suffering of God waited, as in the days of Noah."
That is, the Gentiles to whom Christ came to preach by his spirit were as disobedient as the Antediluvians. The language has no reference whatever to a future state of being.
There is no objection—based on our views—to the exegesis of the passage that represents Jesus as having gone to Hadees to preach to spirits there yet unredeemed, but the doctrine finds no warrant in this passage.
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