1 Peter 3:19-21

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Inactive User
I figured I would try this again. Many of you remember my last post that turned into "what city I was from and the different cities in Texas."

It is my hope that we could move beyond the "world" and look at this section of scripture (1 Pet 3:19-21).

As some commented in thier ignorance of written literature, Arminians do not hold to the fact that Jesus appeared before demons in this section--read Wesley (see http://ktstone.com/bible and look on the right side for teacher's terrace. Under this section you will find "Did Jesus go to Hell? Click on that and look at the very bottom on the page--a ref is there in case you think I changed it.

I am not of that group (non-Calvinists) but I point this out because many of us do tend to stand on the shoulders of others and take what they say at face value as the truth, when they have done the same and give it to others and thus the "truth" they believe is really man's trust in another that they trusted. What we need to do is not look at man but what scriptures say, using what great men God has bgiven us as interpreters etc...but not limiting our focus on objective truth from a wonderful God.

Search for yourself as the Bereans. It is you alone that will give account--just as I.

My next post will contain more.

[Edited on 3-10-2004 by ktstone]


Inactive User
Did Jesus Go to Hell? --Consider Calvin 1st
Evaluating 1 Pet 3:18-20 through Calvin:

What would we say?

Questions: PLease answer each and give you scriptural reasons--not opinion.

1. Did Jesus go to hell and declare His victory?
2. Did Jesus embody Noah and preach through him?
3. Was Calvin right? He distiguishes between soul and spirit and and makes his case. What do you think?

You can find many comments at http://www.ktstone.com/bible/teachers-terrace/1pet_ch3_vss18-20.htm under "teachers terrace." Please look there and you will need these pieces to answer unless you have his commentaries on hand. There are many more located there. Please read Calvin only. It will be obvious if you don't in this post. I would like to work through Calvin's comments first and then go to the next commentary. Please only address Calvin's thoughts.

We need a Greek expert, or one that knows more than us laymen....it is my hope that all posts will be deleated (if they have no scripture ref) that do not answer at least one of the questions AND posts will be edited that include MORE than what is at hand so we can study this under a microscope one step at a time. Greek understanding is paramount here--as all the commentaries admit. We need to look carefully and scrutinize everything we say here. I ask that we work through this and discover what many have argued about, come to a conclusion of some sort and end the thread with that in mind.

Of course you will recognize, this is a unique post. It doesn't convey itself to the 'norm' on this forum site. I hope we can work together and discover.

Many of you will learn a great deal about the commentaries and general theology in this thread....no doubt I will. You will also learn of resources on the Iinternet to help you. You will see the value in an opposing side (Arminian vs Other) as well. Let's do it.

As I mentioned, I planned on going through Calvin's interpretation of this section of scripture. What I have decided to do is to post his commentary on this section first.

[Edited on 3-10-2004 by ktstone]


Inactive User
Calvin's Commentary on this section (1 Pet 3:19-21)

Source: http://www.ccel.org/c/calvin/commen.../iv.iv.viii.htm

19. By 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 Romans 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 hat 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 hat 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 fulakh< 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, (Galatians 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.

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. 1

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.


Inactive User
Part 1

It seems obvious that Calvin spent a great deal of time looking and searching for the meaning of this section.

What we have to do is determine

1. The context. When I read this section it seems obvious that sufferring is the main issue. There are those who will suffer for doing right and suffer for doing wrong. Look at this section starting in verse 8. This is obviously the starting point for tis section--each verse before verse 18 points back to a former one using by using "And" "for" "but" "having." The context is critical for rightly interpreting. The subject at hand is suffering.
Verse 18 denmonstrates Christ's suffering for righteousness as an example of verse 17.

2. Timing. Is this section telling us what happened after Jesus was killed--the three days? Is this a flashback to Noah's day?

3. Words and phrases. The significant issue that will make sure we receive the right interpretation will be understanding specific words in this section. Here is a brief list:

VS. 18 "spirit" or "The Spirit"
Does this refer to the human spirit of Christ, the work of the Holy Spirit, God's Spirit? VS 19 "By which" points back to what in verse 18? "Flesh" or "(S)spirit" in vs 18? By "what means did Christ go?"-- Physically, spiritually, both? Words/phrase in this verse to understand are: "spirits" "prison" and the phrase "spirits in prison." Who was in prison? Why? What is the prison (the world, the law, hell)? Who are spirits? Are these live men, angels, deceased men, fallen angels, spiritually dead people?
VS 20 Why is the word "which" used instead of "who"--if these are people? Who was disobedient, when? --live men, angels, deceased men, fallen angels, spiritually dead people?

I think you get the point. This section is loaded with information that is not repeated elsewhere--one of the difficulties of interpreting it.

If you read Calvin and his thoughts does he remain consistent? Does he say that man is a soul and keep to that? Does he say that man is a spirit and keep to that? How does he distinguish? What do you think about what Calvin wrote? Did he backup his thoughts from scripture? Why or why not?

I went to bible.gospelcom.net and looked up each one of these words listed above. I had included the references in this post but had issues. If you look carefully at the usage of each one of these words (prison, spirit, etc...) above you will see that Calvin stepped outside of the typical usage of "prison." He also stated that the soul=body but scripture uses "spirit" and "soul" to seemingly convey the same thing. Whatever we do, we should always let scripture interpret scripture. Calvin didn't do that very well and as a consequence, in this section, he looses points to support his thinking.


Inactive User
Part 2

Here is the first section where Calvin starts his thinking and attempts to prove that Christ did not go to hell to preach.

CALVIN: Common has been the opinion hat 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:CALVIN

Calvin states that the primamry reason that he does not belive that Christ went physically to preach in hell. He states that the "Soul" of Christ is distiguished from the spirit. At this point many would not disagree. In essence, he is stating that Christ did not "go physically" in any such case as mentioned in 1 Pet 3:19-21. Can we say for certain that he was right? We must look at what "soul" and "spirit" mean in the bible. Certainly God would be consistent and we should see that demonstrated. Does soul=physical and spirit=non-physical? This is Calvin's main argument for stating that these two (soul and spirit) are very different and by his sbstantialtion of reason that Jesus did not go physically to preach at the spirits in prison.

First, I went to http://bible.gospelcom.net and searched for "soul." What I found was that the "soul" can be interpreted as:

1. Of the living, a living person has: Gen 27:4, Gen 34:8
2. Separate from the physical body--not physical, part that goes beyond earthly life: Gen 35:18
3. Emotion, mind and ability are involved: Genesis 34:8; 42:21; Lev 26:15
4. Physical: Gen 49:6, **Lev 16:29,31
5. Spoken as God's soul that would not reject: Lev 26:11, 30 (God is Spirit (Jn 4:24)--this does not refer to to the physical in any way when spoken of God.

There are many interpretations of "soul." It can mean the emotions, physical, non-physical and it depends upon the context and knowledge of the object at hand AND what that object is doing. When it speaks of God, no doubt it has nothing to do with God. If it has to do with Jesus this could be very different because HE is both fully man and fully God and we run into possibly needing to fully understanding the incarnation to figure out what Peter is saying in these verses (1 Pet 3:19-21).

If follows then that Peter could have any one of these interpretations in mind when he penned "spirit" and directly contrasted by not using the word "soul."

In any case, Calvin says that "soul" represents the "physical presence." It is very obvious, if this is indeed what he meant that he is completely wrong. Is this the proper interpretation of Calvin? This is what he said...or seems to say.

Let us look at "spirit" and see what scripture has to say:

God is not physical: Jn 4:24
Speaks of life Gen 7:22
Speaks of reason Gen 41:8
Speaks of emotion Gen 45:27, Num 5:14
Speaks of physical and mental ability Ex 28:3
Divine alibilty: Num 11:14
Jesus said that a "spirit" has not flesh and bones AS you see I have
Flesh is separated from the physical Rom 8:5, 6
Can have negative impact in this life: 2 Corinthians 7:1
"walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out [Rom 13:14; Eph 2:3] the desire of the flesh.

So what is the "spirit?" It is separate from what can be seen--no doubt. It CAN be manifested in the world but cannot be seen directly.

Calvin says that the "spirit" cannot be physical. In many cases in the Bible, he is right to a degree. What we see is the "result" of the "spirit." Emotions, bent toward God or not, emotion, reason....the spirit of anything seems to embody reason, emotion, driven by the will.

Calvin's theology surrounding this verse doesn't "seem" to fit scripture very well. He says the soul is physical and we have seen that the bible says it is that, BUT more. As a matter of fact, in our limited look it seems that the soul and spirit may or may NOT be equal depending upon the context and who is involved.

In this case, 1 Pet 3:19ff, Christ is involved and so the incarnation of Christ cannot be put aside. He has fully 2 natures--one of God and the other as man. Which is Peter refering? He gives us no clear means of detecting it seems.

Consequently, we cannot rule out that Christ went either by spirit, by soul, or physically to the location mentioned by Peter if we look at what Calvin offers. In essence, Calvin offers opinion only by not supporting his statements biblically. I fully believe that he does so because of the variances sited above, for example. He thinks he has the right idea but scripture is very vague regarding the exact definition of exactly what IS "soul' and "spirit." It is a wonder that he made such statements knowing this...and I believe he did, as he states that this section is difficult to interpret in his opening paragraphs.

The last thing I would offer is this, after looking through the concordance at bible.gospelcom.net I agree with Calvin: no physical man was EVER spoken of by using "spirit" to adress him. If this be so, Jesus did not adress "physical" men. AND, if this be so, then Christ DID NOT address anyone through NOAH--as it were by preaching to men during NOAH's day.


Inactive User
Part 3

Calvin Para 1-3 on 1 Pet 1:3:19-21


As you can see above, and if not you can see from the above link to Calvin's commentary on this piece, there are 12 paragraphs devoted to it. I will address each paragraph numerically.

VS. 19. As any good commentary would do, Calvin states right off what he believes regarding this passage and then defends it and then attempts to cast down other interpretations. In the first paragraph here, specifically, Calvin seems to state that the power and effectiveness of the Spirit infuses the believer--the once 'dead' to live a godly life, to live in us while on earth. He appeals to Romans 5:5 for a parallel, "God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us." (NIV).

With that aside, I will ask you to consider if he is right about this verse. First, before I do this, I want you to know that there are very few men these days who have made such an impact on the Christian. Calvin stood toe to toe with the world and during the reformation gave great guiding influence that continues today. Many will remember "Calvin's Institutes." They shaped and provided many jewels to theologians during the reformation and the Puritan era which followed up to today. I have NO candle to burn next to Calvin, but I believe he would appreciate our study and cheer us on to dig deeper into the scriptures.

As I mentioned above, Calvin gives us his interpretation of this section (1 Pet 3:19-21) in a nutshell in his 1st paragraph. He does not defend it here but attempts to prove what is right and what has been wrong and comes to this conclusion, so stated in para 1.


Calvin sets out to tell us that this passage has interpretative difficulties. It is hard to interpret, no doubt because it is so very vague and no other scriptures seem to directly coorelate. Next, he states that he will attempt to disprove some interpretations and secondly 'seek' its true meaning.


He states right off that Christ did not go to hell and preach to demons. He makes this statement because of the words used in this section.

Calvin states that the "soul" is representative of a /physical presence/ and Christ went by the "Spirit." So Calvin is firm in what he believes is the "Spirit" and it is different than the "soul" ("physical presence"). It is interesting to note that he does not support his interpretation with scripture at this point.

We must turn to our bibles and we need to look at a "literal translations" of the Bible (NAS, NASB, KJV, ESV are considered as such) to determine 'if' he has scriptural support (soul=physical and spirit=non-physical), which I use generally.

(The following are from the KJV)

First we consider "soul": If Calvin is correct, every reference used in the bible of "soul" will be physical. If we can or do show a that "soul" means more or less than what is a "physical presence" then Calvin's thinking cannot stand. What do we see?


Gen 2:7 And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. In this passage we see that man had a physical body but lacked a soul. Thus, 'life' IS equated to the soul of man and not his physical body. In other words, the soul is separate from a physical presence. Remember, Calvin says that the "soul" represents a physical presence. we can easily agree
that a dead body has no soul, it is gone once dead physically.

Gen 27:4: "make me savoury meat, such as I love, and bring it to me, that I may eat; that my soul may bless thee before I die. Here we see that the "soul" cannot bless if the body is dead and thus man has a living soul to bless with. Thus, man, while alive posesses a soul as we saw in Gen 2:7 and once a man is dead physically, the body has no "soul" to bless with and, thus, the 'soul' is seprate from the the body upon physical death.

Matt 10:28: "Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.


Gen 12:13: "Say, I pray thee, thou art my sister: that it may be well with me for thy sake; and my soul shall live because of thee." Abraham says that his physical life is considered "soul."

Gen 17:14: "And the uncircumcised man child whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken my covenant."

Gen 19:20: "Behold now, this city is near to flee unto, and it is a little one: Oh, let me escape thither, (is it not a little one?) and my soul shall live."

What we have here regarding the 'soul' is a wonderful commentary. Man possesses a soul if God gives him one, first. Second, the living have a soul and the dead do not retain it. It is obviously separate of the physical realm, is not destroyed by death and man posseses a soul only while living as Exodus 31:14 easily demonstrates, "Ye shall keep the sabbath therefore; for it is holy unto you: every one that defileth it shall surely be put to
death: for whosoever doeth any work therein, that soul shall be cut off from among his people..."

At this point it seems that Calvin has missed the mark. As a matter of fact, Calvin sees the 'soul' as 'always' associated with the living--physical on this earth. In this sense he is obviously correct, and no doubt, this is the way he interpreted 1 Pet 3:19-21. However, the 'soul' is NOT the same as a "physical presence" and consequently he is ultimately wrong, in this sense, as the above verses demonstrate when dealing with strictly man and his
soul operates here on earth. The question then becomes does a "soul" ever operate on earth separate from a body?

Now that we know that concerning man alone, is Peter speaking of a man in this section alone? Yes. Why? The context proves the point, Peter is speaking about man for Chirst (both man and God) as God cannot "suffer" as the context in 1 Pet 3:8ff and 4:1ff affirm--Chirst suffered physically. We are indeed talking about "man," as living on earth. But we are talking about God incarnate aren't we? as Peter uses as an example of suffereing
according to the will of God for doing good. This may throw a huge curve-ball into our human interpretative glove taken at face value, but should it?

Why would Peter give us something tha twe could not understand? Why would God write this to us if we could not apply it? In other words, no doubt, Peter nor anyone can fully comprehend Jesus as both man and God. Peter must be talking about what we could understand (1 Cor. 2:14).

I must address this thought to sum up this seciton before we leave it. It is absolutely imperative that we undestand that there are two beings that have a beginning but do not have an end, in other words, they are eternal once alive--angels and humans. You may study this on your own, but I will give you a few verses to start you on your way:


Matt 10:28: "Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. This is a continuous destruction when God comes, "In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power" (2 Thes 1:8,9).

Angels (demons)

Matt 25:41: "Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into /everlasting fire/, prepared for the devil and his angels."

Rom 8:38: "For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor /angels/, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."


Inactive User
Part 4--Summing up Calvin

Summing up Calvin on 1 Pet 3:19-21

Calvin ultimately believed that Christ went by his Spirit to the godly kept in a watchtower (a term he equates with "prison"). He gives his proof by the ark that carried those who heard and believed and were saved from God's judgment.

Well, Calvin may believe this but does scripture support him? Does he use scripture to defend his position? No. He doesn't.

We must consider that even a blind-folded man can toss a dart into a bullseye, and thus Calvin may be right and hit the mark. Then again, Calvin may be wrong.

There is one absolute in all of this. Christ went by His Spirit to other spirits. Those spirits are either in hell or heaven and thus are either angels or men in those locations.

Calvin doesn't really support his ideas on the subject through scripture refs so I will give you with this:

In Acts 7 Stephen prayed that the Lord would receive his "spirit." This obviously shows that man, when he dies leaves his spirit to go either to hell or heaven. Stephen of course went to heaven.

So, where did Jesus Go--to angels/men in hell or to angels/men in heaven?

Many believe that Jesus wnt to hell to in these verses to declare His victory over sin and death--J. MacArthur and many more.

many believe that Jesus spoke by preaching through Noah--Piper.

Some say that either one of these belong to certain theologicla camps, one says it belongs to the Arminians.

So, many like to pigeon-hole interpretations based upon a history of theological disparity and make thier stand one way or the other. The bottom line is that instead of stating that this section is extremely difficult to interpret and saying that they "think" this or that (as Calvin did) they will jump and say x interp belongs to the Arminians. How ludicrous! (Wesley, a known Arminian does not hold to Christ speaking to demons). A great way to side-step the issue isn't it? Just lable and stereotype it and ignore it.

True theologians, that seek the truth are objective about it regardless of who says or believes it--truth is truth.


Puritan Board Freshman
So what exactly is your point ? ? ?

Whether Calvin is right or wrong, the triune God is in a sense in hades now, and will always be in hell, actively punishing the wicked.

So I really do not understand what the real issue is you are trying to refute.


Vanilla Westminsterian
Staff member
I would concur with Mark's question. Rather than taking this "suspenseful" approach you should post your point, and then rather use links to your site where all this material is. The board does not need to have it reposted at such length, and to be honest, the formatting is easier to read on your webpage.

Thank you.


Inactive User
I was hoping to walk through the commentaries mentioned in the above post. Calvin, then next. This is what I came up with so far.

Is anyone interested?
Not open for further replies.