1 Peter


3. Encouraging suffering churches, 3:18-5:11

ii] Suffering unjustly for Christ


To encourage his readers who are presently experiencing suffering, Peter reminds them of Christ in his suffering, along with the suffering of the saints long ago - Noah and his family. Yet, identification with their suffering is not Peter's focus, rather it is on their vindication. Christ has risen from the dead, ascended on high, and is exalted at God's right hand. "His ultimate exaltation and glorification at God's right hand is the surety of their vindication as well", Elliott.


i] Context: See 3:13-17.


ii] Background: See 1:1-2.


iii] Structure: On the subject of suffering unjustly for Christ:


the righteous suffering of Christ leads to a victorious life, v18.


the vindication of Noah, v19-20.


as Noah was saved, so Peter's readers will be saved, v21-22.


iv] Interpretation:

This passage presents us with a set of what are apostolic creedal statements: We are told that Christ died for our sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring us to God, that he, having been put to death, was made alive again through his resurrection, and that he has ascended into heaven and now sits at the right hand of God. Within these credal statements, there is one particular statement which is open to some debate, namely, the idea that Christ, "alive in the spirit", descended into the nether world and preached to those trapped there. This doctrine is known as the descensus Christi ad inferos, "Christ's descent into hell."

Numerous scenarios are proposed for the interpretation of v19-21, but Peter is probably only making the point that the gospel was preached to Noah's generation, a people entrapped in sin ("spirits in prison"), and some (Noah and his family) were saved through their appeal to God. Peter's readers were similarly entrapped in sin, and now, having been set free, are experiencing the same baptism of suffering (immersion in suffering) that Noah and his family experienced. Like Noah, they will come through these difficult times ("rescued through water") and this because their vindication is secure in the vindication of Christ. So, "if suffering should be God's will", let it be for doing good rather than for doing evil, v17.

For a detailed comment on the doctrine of Christ's descent into hell, see Elliott, 706-710. Elliott also covers the numerous interpretations of v18-22 in some detail.


Source criticism: Some commentators argue that this passage is drawn from a Christian hymn. Bultman's reconstruction is regarded as one of the better ones, but in the end, is less than convincing. Although somewhat hymn-like, the passage more likely resembles a creed, or at least, a set of creedal statements.


v] Exposition: A simple exposition of the passage can be found in the pew-level sermon notes Glory through suffering.


Victory over suffering , v18-22: i] Proposition: the righteous suffering of Christ leads to victory and life in the Spirit, v18. Peter describes Jesus acting rightly, suffering for it, yet victorious in his resurrection. The NIV says that Jesus was made alive by the action of the Holy Spirit rather than "quickened in the Spirit." "Quickened in" implies that Jesus was alive in some spiritual state while he lay in the tomb. Some have wrongly suggested that in this state he visited a notorious group trapped in the underworld, and preached the gospel to them.

oJti "for" - because. Here introducing a causal clause explaining why it is better to suffer for doing good than for evil, v17. Peter supplies the reason that Christ gave us an example to follow, of suffering for good, and this in his dying for the unrighteous.

kai "-" - and. Adjunctive, "Christ also, or emphatic, "indeed". Peter is making a new point concerning Jesus.

peri + gen. "for" - with reference to [sins]. Reference / respect; "with respect to sins."

apax adv. "once for all" - [christ] once, once for all [suffered]. Temporal adverb, fronted for emphasis. The suffering of believers is reduced in its intensity by the knowledge that Christ's suffering is complete / finished and carries with it life for all those who believe.

uJper + gen. "[the righteous] for [the unrighteous]" - [a righteous man] for [unrighteous men]. Probably here with the sense of benefaction, "for the sake of", but possibly substitution (peri) "instead of." The anarthrous "righteous" stands in apposition to "Christ", probably with the sense "a righteous person", Wallace, who stands in for "sinners".

iJna + subj. "to" - that [he might bring, lead, provide access for]. Introducing a final clause expressing purpose, "in order to bring." The verb prosagw is sometimes used technically of a priest bringing a sacrifice to God, but here obviously of Christ's sacrifice providing access to God. "That he might bring us to God."

tw/ qew/ (oV) "to God" - [you] to god. Dative of indirect object.

men .... de "..... but ...." - on the one hand ........., but on the other. Forming an adversative comparative construction.

qanatwqeiV (qanatow) pres. pas. part. "he was put to death" - having been put to death. As with the participle zwopoihqeiV, "having been made alive", this participle is adverbial, instrumental, expressing means, "by means of"; Christ's death and resurrection was the means by which his sacrifice for sins was made effective in bringing us to God. Most translations treat both participles as independent, so for example Cassirer, who actually uses them to form the first sentence of a new paragraph; "In his mortal nature he was put to death, but in respect of his spirit, he had new life given to him."

sarki (x koV) dat. "in the body" - in the flesh. The dative expresses space, metaphorical. It is likely "body" is not intended, but rather "fleshly existence", ie., Christ died while in a fleshly state ("human nature in its weakness", Dubis), and rose while in a pneumati, spiritual state.

pneumati (a, atoV) "by the Spirit" - [but/and having been made alive] in the spirit. The dative is local, expressing sphere, here the sphere of Jesus' existence, "in a spiritual state", as opposed to the physical state he possessed while on earth. Possibly an instrumental dative with the Holy Spirit acting as the agent, so NIV, in which case "in flesh" may mean "[having been put to death] by evil humans." Possibly a dative of reference; "with reference / respect to the body / the spirit." It is highly unlikely that Peter understands "in spirit" as some trans-spiritual state between Christ's death and resurrection, during which he preached to the spirits in the underworld. Jesus confronts Noah's generation, these spirits in prison, in Noah's preaching of the Word, rather than in person.


ii] Peter's proposition in v18 is now illustrated, v19-20. Christ's proclamation, through Noah, to Noah's pre-flood generation, brought suffering to Noah, but none-the-less, he and his family were saved / brought safely through the raging flood.

As already noted, these verses introduce the idea of Jesus preaching to the "spirits in prison." They are described as a disobedient group who lived during the time of Noah. Some commentators have suggested that they are the spirits of the dead bound in hell; Others, that they are the people who lived before the flood, or even all those who have never heard the Good News.

Although these ideas are popular, they are probably a long way from the truth. It is more likely that Peter is using an illustration of suffering for righteousness sake. Noah was someone who was faithful to his calling. He spoke the word of God to his generation, but no one listened to his words. He suffered humiliation and even more, he suffered the violence of the surging flood. Yet, in the power of God, he came through it all with his family.

The preaching of Jesus, referred to here, is best understood as the divine word preached by Noah to his own generation. That generation was "the spirits in prison." Noah was the agent of Jesus' words in that he preached the way of salvation. His generation failed to listen to the gospel and thus perished in the surging flood.

en wJ/ "through whom / after being made alive" - in which sphere, state, process or circumstance / in the course of which. The NIV reads the antecedent of this relative pronoun as "the [Holy] Spirit" and takes the preposition en as instrumental. Yet, it seems more likely that the preposition expresses space / sphere and the antecedent of the relative pronoun is the dying and rising of Christ, v18b, particularly the close referent, the participial phrase "having been made alive in the spirit", even temporal as TNIV. So, the sense is "in which state also (ie. the spiritual state within which the divine operates) he (Jesus) went and proclaimed ....." The saving power of Noah's preaching, which Word actualised Christ to that generation, rested on Christ's righteous act on behalf of the unrighteous. This eternal Word confronted "the spirits in prison", ie. Noah's generation, of which some were saved. Other antecedents have been suggested, eg. Enoch, Noah and the "Holy Spirit", if "spirit" is taken to mean the third person of the trinity.

kai "also" - and. Here adjunctive, "also", as NIV.

poreuqeiV (poreuomai) aor. pas. part. "he went" - having gone. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "preached", so NIV, Moffatt, etc.

ekhruxen (khrussw) aor. "preached" - he made proclamation, proclaimed, preached. The gospel of God's grace is what was proclaimed in that a way of salvation was announced for Noah's generation. It was proclaimed by Christ, the Word, through Noah. It is not possible to separate Christ from his Word.

toiV .... pneumasin (a atoV) dat. "to the spirits" - to the spirits. Dative of indirect object / destination. Suggestions range from human, demonic or angelic beings. It is best to view the "spirits" as the people Noah's generation.

en "in" - in [prison]. Local, expressing space. The "prison" is most often aligned with Sheol (variant en tw/ a{a/dh/, "in Hades"), although it is more likely to be the enslavement to sin and death of Noah's generation.


apeiqhsasin (apeiqew) dat. aor. part. "to those who were disobedient" - to the disobeying ones. The participle is probably adjectival, attributive, limiting "the spirits in prison", "who had disobeyed", Moffatt, or dative standing in apposition to "the imprisoned spirits", "those who had refused obedience", NEB, as NIV11. The participle may, of course, be adverbial, given that it is anarthrous (without an article), eg., "because they formerly did not obey", ESV. Referring to Noah's sinful generation, rather than some special group, eg. the angelic "sons of god" who came to the earth and bred with humans, etc....

pote "long ago" - then, once upon a time, long ago. Temporal particle; "back then ...".

oJte "when" - when. Introducing a temporal clause.

tou qeou (oV) gen. "God" - [the long-suffering] of god. The genitive may be classified as subjective, or adjectival, possessive.

apexedeceto (apekdecomai) imperf. "waited" - was waiting eagerly, patiently. As a patient / long-suffering God, He stays his hand of judgment, does not act impulsively; "when in the time of Noah God in his patience withheld his hand, while the ark was being built", Barclay.

en + dat. "in" - in [the days of noah]. Temporal use of the preposition.

kataskeuazomenhV (kataskeuazw) gen. pres. pas. part. "while [the ark] was being built" - [the ark] being built, constructed, made ready. The genitive absolute participle is temporal, as NIV. In first Enoch, angels built the Ark, but elsewhere it is Noah.

eiV "in [it]" - into [which]. "Into", giving the sense here of arrival at, "inside of which."

oligoi adj. "only a few people" - a few people. The adjective serves as a substantive, as NIV. Peter is emphasising the insignificant number saved in Noah's day to parallel the small and persecuted band of his readers.

tout estin "-" - that is. Introducing a "parenthetical explanation", Dubis. "In which a few, in fact eight souls, were brought safely through the water", Berkeley.

yucai (h) "-" - [eight] souls, living beings. Predicate nominative. "In which only a small number of persons", Cassirer.

dieswqhsan (diaswzw) aor. pas. "saved" - were saved. "Were brought safely through."

di + gen. "through" - through (of time or place) / by means of [water]. The NIV opts for a spacial sense. Noah and his family were brought through the raging waters to the safety of dry land. Some argue it is instrumental; saved "by means of water." Those who want to link this image with water baptism favour an instrumental sense, ie. the water was the means of their salvation. It is very unlikely that Peter has in mind water baptism.


iii] Peter now applies the illustration, v21-22. Noah's salvation through suffering, his journey through the raging sea to dry land, well illustrates the present state of Peter's readers, who, like Noah, are immersed (baptised) in suffering and who, like Noah, are / will be saved. For Peter's readers, their salvation is in mind, and this through the power of the risen Christ.

Here again we face an extremely difficult verse which seems to imply that baptism saves us. The verse is often used by those who believe in baptismal regeneration. It is also used to support other teachings on water baptism. Yet, it is likely that the text is not referring to water baptism at all, but rather the baptism of fire - of suffering, cf., Mk.10:38-40. Noah's trial, through surging water, symbolises the trials believers go through in their journey to eternity. Such suffering doesn't actually save us, but we will inevitably be saved, and this through the death, resurrection, ascension and heavenly rule of Christ. Our struggle reflects his, as it does for all who went before, eg., Noah. Suffering is a "pledge of a good conscience", an outward expression of our standing with Christ which involves both living the gospel and proclaiming the gospel.

To make sure we understand what type of dunking Peter is talking about, he states clearly that he is not talking about being immersed in water - bathing. Rather, he is speaking about another kind of "baptism", an immersion in persecution, of being submerged in suffering and trouble. This kind of "baptism" demonstrates a right relationship with God through Christ. Our willingness to serve Christ in difficult times is an expression of his renewing work within and thus, our right standing in the sight of God.

o} pro. "this water" - which. Nominative subject of the verb "to save." The NIV has assumed that the antecedent of this pronoun is "water", but it could be "baptism"; "which baptism." A variant dative (of reference/respect) exists, w|/, "to this"; "corresponding to this", Elliott. In this case the antecedent would be the situation faced by Noah and his family, a situation where, due to their faith, they were immersed in suffering, but were brought through it safely ("rescued").

antitupon (oV) "symbolises" - type, echoing, copy, figure... The point is that Noah's situation is the same as the readers and as such serves as a Biblical type for their situation. As Noah suffered and was "saved", so Peter's readers suffer and are / will be "saved". Peter's use of a Biblical type to draw out God's word for his readers rests on the Biblical theology of the kingdom of God. As the kingdom was realised in the life of God's people way back then, so it is realised in his people today.

baptisma (a atoV) "baptism" - even immersion. Nominative standing in apposition to "which type". It must not be assumed that this word always means dipping in water. It often has a figurative meaning, eg., immersed in the Spirit, immersed in suffering, immersed in teaching.... In this passage, it obviously means immersed in suffering. Noah and his family suffered, but were saved; Peter's readers are now suffering, and like Noah, they will be saved.

swzei (swzw) pres. " saves" - [now] saves, rescues [you]. As Noah and his family suffered at the hands of evil men and the raging sea, and yet reached the safety of dry land, so believers today, who similarly suffer, will inevitably be at peace in the presence of the Lord. Baptism, or as it means here, immersed in suffering, does not save, it is not an instrument of saving. A spacial sense, rather than the instrumental, carries over from v20. "Corresponding to which (the situation faced by Noah and his family), your baptism (= your through-water experience, ie., the suffering experienced by Peter's readers) now saves you (in the sense that suffering under God which is accepted faithfully ultimately finds vindication)." Peter moves quickly to clarify how it is they are rescued through their suffering.

ou ... apoqesiV (iV ewV) "not the removal" - not a putting away, removal [of dirt]. Here Peter makes sure that the reader understands that the "baptism" he is speaking of is figurative, it is not a water baptism for the "removal" of filth from the body, not a washing. It is the view of most commentators, that the washing which Peter says he is not speaking of, is the Christian rite of water baptism - the sign of repentance imaging the washing away of sin. Yet, it seems unlikely that Peter is referring to Christian baptism.

sarkoV (x koV) gen. "from the body" - of the body. The genitive is ablative, expressing separation, "from the body", as NIV, although Dubis suggests it is adjectival attributive, "not the removal of bodily dirt."

alla "but" - Strong adversative standing in a counterpoint construction; "not ....., but .....".

eperwthma (a atoV) "the pledge" - a promise, answer, pledge. A clause in a contract containing a question and consent. So it is a pledge, consent, commitment, answer.... Possibly "judgment", "decision", Greeven. Even "enquiry" has been suggested. Here most likely of an assent to a situation of suffering that requires a good conscience before God. As with Noah, innocent suffering is the lot of a believer. "Even baptism / immersion ..... not ........, but a baptism which amounts to a pledge of a good conscience."

suneidhsewV (iV ewV) gen. "of a [good] conscience" - of a [good] conscience. the innate power to discern what is good. The genitive is probably adjectival, attributive, limiting "pledge", a good conscience type of pledge, although usually treated as an objective genitive; "the earnest seeking of (for, toward) a conscience that is clear in God's presence", Berkeley. Most commentators argue that Peter has dismissed the outward sign of baptism, namely water, to focus on its inward reality, namely the pledge of a good conscience. Yet, the text doesn't say this. Peter want's to make sure that his readers know he is not speaking about bathing in water. The good conscience toward God concerns the right response toward a baptism of suffering, not water baptism. The "good conscience" is well illustrated in the life of Noah. He accepted God's word, proclaimed it to his neighbours, lived it out by building the ark and stood firm in the face of opposition.

eiV "toward" - into [god]. Reference / respect; "with respect to God."

di (dia) + gen. "by [the resurrection]" - through / by means of [resurrection of jesus christ]. Possibly again spacial rather than instrumental, expressing means. Most translations link this phrase with "saves" at the beginning of the verse, which seems the best way to handle it. The Ark saved Noah and his family in the midst of their baptism of suffering, and Christ's (death,) resurrection (ascension and heavenly rule) will save us in the midst of our tribulations. Christ is our vindicated Lord, and in his vindication our vindication lies - we just have to stay the course! "Through the resurrection of Jesus Christ", NEB.


Peter concludes by proclaiming the victory of Christ over his suffering, a victory which is ours through our identification with him.

o{V pro. "who" - who. Nominative subject of the verb to-be.

poreuqeiV (poreuomai) aor. pas. part. "has gone" - having gone. The participle if adverbial, possibly causal, "for he went to heaven", Moffatt, or temporal, "who, when he went to heaven."

eiV + acc. "into" - to, into [heaven]. Spacial, expressing movement toward and arrival at.

en + dat. "at" - [is] in = at. Local; expressing space, as NIV.

dexia/ dat. adj. "[God's] right hand" - right [of god]. The adjective serves as a substantive, so "right hand" - a position of authority and power. The genitive qeou, "of God", is adjectival, possessive.

aggelwn kai exousiwn kia dunamewn gen. "with angels, authorities and powers" - angels and authorities and powers. Subject of, and in agreement with, the genitive participle uJpatagentwn. A description of heavenly authorities. It is possible that Peter is referring to the submission of all powers to Christ, powers good and evil, powers with agents on earth, as in heaven.

uJpotagentwn (uJpotassw) gen. aor. pas. part. "in submission" - having been subjected. The genitive absolute participle with its genitive subjects "angels, authorities and powers", serves to form a temporal clause; Jesus "went to heaven after angels and authorities and powers celestial had been made subject to him", Moffatt. Christ's eternal reign gives perspective to our daily troubles.

autw/ dat. pro. "to him" - Dative of direct object.


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