Chapter 3
Roy Osborne 2006
Reprinted July 2014


Our purpose in these essays is to develop themes found in the text, which give us practical ways to improve our Christian life. Therefore, we do not attempt to write a commentary on the text. However, there are some places where the ideas presented are so complex that some explanation is called for, and that is the case here in the last verses of chapter three.

In this essay we will address what is admitted by most scholars to be the most difficult passage in the New Testament. I will not go into the various theological positions which have been taken. My method of Biblical interpretation is to view each passage in the light of the entire message of the New Testament, and to explain each passage in such a way that it agrees with every other principle in the entire Book. You may disagree with my conclusions.   That is all right. I give no guarantees, and you do not become my enemy because  you do not see it as I do.

First, let us ascertain what Peter is trying to get across.   What is his main point here?   Verse 18 gives us the answer: “Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God”.   Now, that is the message Peter wants to convey.   Christ died for all of us unrighteous people, so our sins could be forgiven, because God wanted us to come to Him, and our sins prevented it.

The next statement is the problem. Here, Peter says that after His physical death on the cross, Jesus went, in the Spirit, and preached to the spirits in prison, who disobeyed in the days of Noah. The Apostle’s Creed (of about the 7th century) says that Jesus descended into hell. I think that is a grievous error. They reached that conclusion by taking this passage, and one in Acts 2:27, which quotes from David in the Psalms. This quotation was mistranslated in an old version: “…thou wilt not leave my soul in hell”. The word is not “hell” (the place of punishment), but “Hades” (the abode of the dead). David is saying Jesus would not be left in death, which was a prediction of the resurrection. Nothing indicates that Jesus ever visited hell, the place of punishment.

But, setting this aside, let us consider what “going to preach to the spirits in prison” might mean. Very briefly, we are all sinners, including Noah himself.   Except for the shed blood of Jesus, we would all be forever imprisoned by sin. The principle upon which the grace of God, through the blood of Jesus, is accessed by us is faith in God. God never rejects us. The problem is always that we reject Him.

Those who lived before Christ, even those who lived in the days of Noah, were sinners, but those who believed in God and sought Him, having as much faith as they could have in days of ignorance, were not abandoned by God, even though they died in their sins.  God does not require the impossible of anyone!   So, the shed blood of Jesus covered men of faith before the cross, just as it covers men of faith after the cross.   The spirits imprisoned in sin, who were as faithful as they knew how, were preached the gospel of deliverance through the blood of Jesus, which released them from their prison of sin.

The next statement, which says Christian baptism is a type of the flood salvation for Noah and his family, clearly shows that it was not the water that saved Noah, but God’s grace, and his acceptance of God’s will.   Just so, baptism for us does not save us by the water, nor the physical act, but by our acceptance , in faith, of God’s will.   The “answer of a good conscience” (which is the translation of the AV) simply means it is a response of those who want to do what God wants.   When Jesus demanded that John baptize Him, He said it was “to fulfill all righteousness”.   In other words, it was to do what God wanted (for God’s will is all righteousness).

The physical act of baptism saves no one.   It is the response to a “good conscience”, or the response of one who wants to do what is the will of God, that saves.   This is what true faith is: the willingness to let God be the Lord of my life.

The waters of the flood did not save Noah.   His willingness to do the will of God did.   So, baptism does not save me.   My willingness to “fulfill all righteousness”, i.e., to do the will of God, does.   Both for Noah and for me, the bottom line is that the grace of God saves both of us.