Monday, January 08, 2007


"For the gospel has for this purpose been preached even to those who are dead, that though they are judged in the flesh as men, they may live in the spirit according to the will of God." - 1 Peter 4:6
What does this verse mean? On the surface, it sounds like the Gospel is preached not only to the living, but also to those who have passed away and are in the grave. Is this accurate or is there another interpretation? I have found that difficult passages are easier to understand if we first decide what it cannot mean. My Catholic friend who occasionally leaves comments offers the following passages as Scriptural evidence that Jesus did preach to the dead in purgatory: Mt. 5:26; 12:32; 1 Cor. 3:12. None of these passages teach what he says they do (see his comments below). This verse is not teaching the doctrine of purgatory. There is no provision by God that we can in any way pay the debt for our sin.

Because our eternal fate is decided once we have physically died, then this passage can't be saying that Jesus Christ or His Messengers preach the Gospel to those who are physically dead and have passad away. The story Jesus told of the rich man and Lazarus shows that there is no second chance once we have passed from this life (Lk 16:19,20). The Hebrew writer said, "And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment" (Heb. 9:27). There is no indication that we have a second chance at salvation when we have ignored the opportunity we had in this life: after death comes the judgment. So what does the passage mean?

First of all, notice that these men were "judged in the flesh". The state in which they were judged is contrasted with the state of being alive in the spirit. These two states parallel what Peter said of Jesus Christ who was "put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit" (1 Peter 3:18). The purpose of Jesus' preaching to these people when He was in the spirit and they were in the flesh (still alive) was to offer them the opportunity to repent and be alive in the spirit.

But what about the passage in 1 Peter 3:19? Doesn't it say that Jesus went and preached the Gospel to the dead now in prison (the "prison" is probaly the same "pits of darkness" waiting place where Peter says disobedient angels await their judgement)?
18 For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; 19 in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, (1 Peter 3:19,20).
There is no question that the verse says that Jesus made proclamation to the spirits who are now in prison. What the verse does not say is that Jesus went to preach the Gospel to them after His physical death on the cross; it just says that from or in that spirit realm, Jesus preached to them. The verse does not say WHEN Jesus preached to them. Peter helps us to understand WHEN Jesus preached to those "who are now in prison."

Notice in the 1 Peter 3:19-21 passages that the anti-deluvian world is in question which tested the patience of God until the flood came: they died in the flood and after this came the judgment. It was during their lifetime that Jesus "made proclamation to those who are now in prison." We learn from 2 Peter 2:5 that Noah was not just a ship-builder, but he was also a preacher of righteousness. It was through Noah, and through the prophets of old, that Jesus proclaimed the Gospel to the dead - when they were alive.

Peter addresses this issue once again showing us through what means and WHEN Jesus preached to those who are now in prison.
10 As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful searches and inquiries, 11 seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow. (1 Peter 1:10,11)
Peter speaks here of the "spirit of Christ" speaking through the Old Testament prophets, in the same way that He spoke through Noah the preacher, telling them of His death, burial and resurrection: the Gospel. So it was through Noah and through the Old Testament prophets that Jesus preached the Gospel "even to the dead." He did this, through His prophets, while they were alive. Now they are dead and are accountable for rejecting the Gospel.

This makes sense and helps us to understand 1 Peter 4:6. Again it says "for this purpose the Gospel has been preached even to those who are dead. . . ." For what purpose? The previous verses 4 and 5 tell that God is going to judge the living and the dead. We learn from these verses that God will be just to punish those who were disobedient and who are now physically dead. God is just and righteous because they cannot say that they did not know and were not given a chance to hear: He gave them a chance. It tells us that though their fate is now sealed, having died and awaiting judgment, they too had the Gospel preached to them. 1 Peter 4:6 is reminding us that God is just and gracious. All men will be held accountable and will be without excuse on the day of judgment.

Your thoughts?


  1. 1 Peter 4:6 is usually thought to be refering to the "Limbo of the Fathers": the righteous who died before Christ opened Heaven via His Resurrection.

    However, it also seems to be a "third state" in addition to Heaven and Damnation. Our Eternal destiny is set when we die as you note. So, it would make not sense to preach to those who's destiny was the "down elevator." They have no hope because they chose this state themselves.

    However, those who's eternal destiny is Heaven but are not yet there because "nothing unclean shall enter Heaven" (Revelation 21) may benefit from the "preaching of the Gospel", i.e. realizing and seeing clearly where they fell short but still assurred the vision of Heaven. It's commonly called "Purgatory."

  2. Dear Pazdziernik,
    Glad to hear from you, but I suspect we are not going to agree on this point.
    Could you lay out some Scripture passages here which teach this "purgatory" doctrine?

  3. Pazdziernik,
    You will have to agree that Peter's epistle describes how Jesus preached the Gospel to those people while they lived. To restate, Jesus preached to them through Noah and the other prophets. So the idea that they have a right to hear the Gospel again after death is unfounded and unrighteous.

  4. Scriptural proof of purgatory, a "temporary cleansing" from sin, is easy to offer. I offer them without additional commentary:

    2 Maccabees 12: 42-46
    Matthew 5:25-26
    Matthew 12:32
    1 Corinthians 3:12

  5. Dear Sir,
    Thanks for the comments, but the passages you give do not come close to supporting such a doctrine. You began your comments by saying that it is not for those who have lived unrighteously and whose destiny is hell. Instead, you say, that it is for the righteous who died before Christ opened heaven.

    You offered . . .

    Mat 12:32 "Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come.

    . . . but I find no purgatory there. How is this depicting the destination of the "righteous" Fathers? It's not. In fact, Jesus says that the person will not be forgiven, not even in the age to come. So there is no indication that the sin will be purged after death.

    You offered . . .

    Mat 5:25 "Make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way, so that your opponent may not hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. 26 "Truly I say to you, you will not come out of there until you have paid up the last cent.

    . . . and I see no evidence for the purgatory you speak of. How is this speaking at all to the righteous who died before Jesus opened heaven?

    And you offered . . .

    1Co 3:12 Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw,
    1Co 3:13 each man's work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man's work.

    . . . but the very idea that this is to be interpreted, or any of the passages you put forward, as evidence that we can pay for our sin is so anti-christian that is shocks me. Not before the grave or after the grave, can we pay for the debt of our sin. The most we can do it turn to God now, place our faith in Him, and allow His blood to wash away all sins. If anyone leaves this earth without having done that, there is no chance. Purgatory is a fiction.

    And you put this forward without examing the Scripture I put forward. Peter explains very nicely how Jesus preached to the dead who are now in prison. Do you really believe that Jesus went down there to the netherworld and preached to them, the "righteous" as you suggest, and then left them in the prisons? Hardly.

    Noah and the prophets were the instruments through which Jesus preached to those souls. And when they were praached to, they were still very much alive. It is becauese they rejected the preaching of Noah and because God's patience with them ran out, that they are now in prison. According to Peter, they are in prison which is similar to the "pits of darkness" where disobedient angels are being held for judgment.

    Come on, let go of Limbo and Purgatory and start focusing on preparing the living for the judgment. Because this is the only chance we will have.

    Thanks again.

  6. "Limbo of the Fathers" (1 Peter 4:6) and "purgatory" are two seperate ideas. (Although they are similar in that the soul's Eternal destiny is Heaven.) Perhaps, I did not make this clear enough because "preaching to the dead" applies to both categories of souls. It is this "preaching to the dead" that is the topic of your post.

    1 Peter 4:6 is the idea of "Limbo of the Fathers" alone. The passages I cited for "Purgatory" do not apply to the "Limbo of the Fathers." I "brought in" Purgatory on my initial posting to counter the idea that Heaven and Hell, while being "final destinations", may NOT involve "pit stops" or "waiting periods" after a soul dies.

    (In the afterlife the concepts of time and space are different. So by "pit stop" or "waiting period", I am simply using an analogy here.)

    The righteous before Christ could not enjoy heaven because the Resurrection had not yet been completed. (Elijah is an example of an exception, it seems.) Christ "preaching to the dead" during their "waiting period" gave then hope in accord with the will of God.

    Likewise, those who need a "cleansing fire" before attaining Heaven, may find comfort in the "preaching of the Gospel" to them after natural death as well.

  7. Hi Paz,
    1 Peter 4:6 doesn't say anything about a Limbo. And remember, the Catholic church dropped the teaching on Limbo, or did they only drop the teaching that children are in Limbo?

    And since the "fathers", like Abraham? Moses? and David? were righteous having lived by faith, they were in heaven/paradise -- not Limbo or purgatory.

    But if you will look up those verses which I reference from Peter, they very well establish how Jesus preached to those who are now dead: he preached to them through Noah and the prophets while they still lived. The hope was that they might repent and be made alive in the spirit once they died in the flesh.

    This is a solid interpretation and requires no addition of an intermediate state of the dead and requires that no second chance be given to people. Purgatory is a place of purging and the "righteous fathers" didn't need purging.

    Have a great day.

  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

  9. Discipler,

    Well, now we got 3 categories on this thread of “preaching to the dead”:
    1. Limbo of the Fathers
    2. Purgatory
    3. Limbo (of unbaptized infants who died)

    Let me take a quick stab at each:

    1. Limbo of the Fathers
    I already indicated that 1 Peter 4:6 is a scriptural basis for the idea of “Limbo of the Fathers.” Destined for Heaven, I have never read of anything that any of these righteous before Christ may have had to endure a “purgatory” or “cleansing.” I suppose this is an open question. They died in righteousness but were not in Heaven because —from the perspective of time— Heaven was not yet opened.

    2. Purgatory
    The “cleansing fire” (purgatorium from which we get “purgatory”) is found in 1 Corinthians 3:12. The idea of purgatory is not that we pay for our sins (Christ paid the price) but rather, God’s justice demands a cleansing. His mercy gives us one. “He himself shall be saved,” yet “he shall suffer loss, as by fire”. The image is not one “paying” anything. An outside agent (“as by fire”) cleans the impurities. “Fire” can mean “God’s love” or the “Holy Spirit” it does not necessarily mean pain or literal fire.

    The other scriptural verses I cited present Christ parables on the same idea. For example, Matthew 12:32 “…it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world nor in the world to come” leaves open the possibility that sins can be forgiven in the world to come.

    This is where the idea of “preaching to the dead” also comes in: the “Good News” of forgiveness of sins!

    3. Limbo
    This is a theological construct that has undergone theological development. It was never a dogma. Nowadays, the Church emphasizes God’s mercy and justice in regard to infants who die before baptism. We have already covered this in another thread.

  10. Greetings Paz,
    For the sake of unity, since these three intermediate states you mention are not found in the Bible, then let's agree there is a heaven and hell and when we need to die, we are destined for one or the other. If we die without confessing and obeying Christ, then we are eternally lost.

  11. Anonymous12:05 PM

    As a believer, I have my own questions concerning condemnation for those who have never heard the Gospel preached. I mean you go to say that Peter is illustrating God's justice by showing that the Gospel was somehow preached to those who died before Christ came in the flesh. Are you also saying that it would illustrate and injustice in God if He hadn't done this thing? The reason I ask is because during my attempts to witness to people, namely intellectual types I am faced with addressing the question of what happens to those who are never afforded the opportunity of hearing the Gospel. Like in this day and age, for example little children and people of distant tribes who it hasn't yet been preached to. I can understand the feeling that it would somehow indicate an injustice if those people were never afforded the same opportunity as everyone else. I always thought the Scriptures addressed this in John 5:24-30. My understanding of those verses would indicate that if you aren't given a chance on earth, then you will be given a chance from the grave. Could someone please explain? And also tell me what my response to people should be when they tell me it's unfair that only some should have the opportunity to hear the Gospel and not others? Thanks. -Brian

  12. Anonymous9:28 AM

    Discipler, I never knew you needed to obey Christ in order to be saved. I mean Romans 10:9 says that you simply need to confess Him as your Lord and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead. It would sound like having to obey Him would imply a salvation by works. Please tell me if I'm wrong. Thanks. -Brian

  13. Hi Brian,
    I think it is unjust if someone is condemned to hell if they had no option presented to them. God is just. Peter writes that God is patient, "not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance" (2 Pt 3:9ff). This patience of God is not something new. He has always been patient. With Paul, God demonstrated His perfect patience "as an example for those who believe" (1 Tim. 1:16). And God was patient with the people He destroyed in the flood. Peter writes "who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark,..." (1 Pt. 3:20). What was God waiting for? Was He not waiting for them to repent and wouldn't it be illogical for God to be waiting if the people did not know the truth and have the option? Seems to be the case that the people were held accountable for their sin when the flood came. The people did not repent when Noah, "the preacher of righteousness" (2 Pt 2:5) preached to them. Jesus preached to them "in the spirit" through His preacher Noah. Remember that Christ is eternal, existing prior to His earthly ministry, being active even in the creation, and He was active in bringing the Gospel to people through His prophets. Pay close attention to what Peter says here: "10 As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful searches and inquiries, 11 seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow" (1 Pt. 1:10,11). "This salvation" which the prophets spoke of, the "Spirit of Christ within them was indicating"! Wow. God is just. As I said in my Blog lesson on Jesus preaching to the dead, Jesus preached to them while they were alive through His representatives. He did not go to them in the grave to give them another chance to repent. "It is appointed first for man to die, then comes the judgment." The people who did not repent in Noah's day were judged unrighteous. They had the option to repent during their lifetime and they chose not to.

    About the little children you speak of. They have no sin. "Sin" is not something you are born with. "Sin" is not committed by those who do not know their left hand from their right hand. "Sin" is the volitional choice of a person who is old enough to be held accountable. Once a person is accountable -- in the eyes of God -- then it is sin in the eyes of God. "The kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." It is us grownups who need to become as children. About the others you speak of, from distant tribes, are they distant from God? Can God hear if they cry out for truth? I think so. God is powerful to bring the message to those who are seeking. I am not worried about that. Why else has God commanded that Christians take the Gospel to the whole world? If God was going to save them who did not hear the Gospel, why bother them? Wouldn't they be judged and sent to hell if we interrupted their ignorance and burdened them with the choice to accept or reject the Gospel? The truth is that people are lost without Jesus. If sinners are not believe in Jesus and obey the Gospel, no matter how distant they are from us, they will be eternally lost. No exceptions.

    You asked about the text in John 5. Verse 25 says,
    "24Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life. 25Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.

    Verse 25 speaks of the dead hearing and living. It is a conditional statement. Verse 24 shows that he is jumping from the occasion of raising the physically dead to illustrate the new life of being a Christian. Those who hear Jesus' words and believe in Him is no longer dead in sin, but HAS eternal life and does not come into judgment. The implication by Jesus is that those who do not hear and believe are still dead in their trespasses and DO come into judgment. It's a shame to know that people are actually calculating that they will be less committed to Christ now because they think they will be given another chance to repent after they die. I think the devil is behind this. Jesus is speaking to us who are far away and to those who were near (Ephesians 2:17 "AND HE CAME AND PREACHED PEACE TO YOU WHO WERE FAR AWAY, AND PEACE TO THOSE WHO WERE NEAR;") through His representatives in every age. When did Jesus preach to the Ephesians? When Paul preached to them. When did Jesus preach to the people in Noah's day? When Noah preached to them (2 Pt. 2:5). They upshot is that when they die and stand before Him in the judgment, they will be without excuse. Do not be comforted to think that people in a distant land are safe. They are sinners too and they need to hear the Gospel. If they are seeking Him, God will use us and others to get them Gospel to them.

    Because people are not given another chance to hear the Gospel after they die, we have a great responsibility laid on us in the great commission to preach the Gospel to all creation. Only those who believe and are baptized will be saved (Mt. 28:18-20; Mk 16:15,16). Paul wrote, "Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.' (Acts 22:16)

  14. Dear Paz,
    You are still on the "limbo" thing? I suggest to you that there is no theological grounds to suggest that neither infants or fathers know of such a think.

    And you write: "The idea of purgatory is not that we pay for our sins (Christ paid the price) but rather, God’s justice demands a cleansing." No, this is not correct. God requires that we be cleansed by the blood of Christ. The "fire" of 1 Corinthians 3 is the judgment on your works. The flames are not a punishment. They are like the fire that determine the quality of a material. Some of our works do not endure to eternal life and some of them do. And be honest. It is not only in this ficticious "purgatory" that Catholics believe in paying for one's own sins. The doctrine of "penance" has a long time been objected to for deemphasizing the work of Christ. I fully understand the importance of repenting/change, but that does not pay a penny of one's debt. Christ's blood does all of that. And to suggest otherwise is to contradict the Gospel.

    And the inference you draw from Matthew 12:32 that blasphemy against Christ might be forgiven in the next life (i.e. after physical death) is invalid. A person can only repent in this life. Otherwise, there is no urgency to repent before you die. Repentance is not just words. God also requires that a person be baptized into the name of the father, son, and holy Spirit and live a changed life. Do you think God is also baptizing "for the remission of sins" in that netherworld? Blasphemy of Christ must be repented of in this life or else there is no forgiveness in the next life. Jesus said, "Repent or you shall likewise perish." Would you undo His words with a false hope that one can repent after the grave? There was no such hope for the rich man who lived in luxury while Lazarus suffered. If you believe otherwise, what's the point of preaching the Gospel now if Jesus will just do it later? None.



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