Augustine’s View of 1 Pet 3:19–20

augustine 1 Pet 3 19 to 20 (2)

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e) 1 Pet 3:19–20: The great theologian Augustine (354–430) proposed another view concerning the identity of the disobedient ones to whom Jesus preached.

He asserted that the Spirit of Christ spoke through Noah during the construction of the ark (Gen 6:9–16).[1]

Augustine sought to avoid Clement’s doctrine of postmortem conversion and utilize 1 Pet 1:10–12.[2]

Nevertheless, he confessed, “The question which you have proposed to me from the epistle of the Apostle Peter is one which…is wont to perplex me most seriously…[3]

He continued:

[Peter] wrote, “The gospel was preached to the dead;” and if by the “dead” we understand persons who have departed from the body, I suppose he must mean those described above as “unbelieving in the days of Noah,” or certainly all those whom Christ found in hell.

What, then, is meant by the words, “That they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit”? For how can they be judged in the flesh, which if they be in hell they no longer have?…

Scripture does not affirm that they were made to live in the flesh, nor can it be believed that the end for which they were loosed from the pains of hell was that they who were delivered from these might resume their flesh in order to suffer punishment…[4]

Augustine contended:

But to the men of Noah’s time the gospel was preached in vain because they believed not when God’s long suffering waited during the many years in which the ark was being built (for the building of the ark was itself in a certain sense a preaching of mercy); even as now men similar to them are unbelieving, who…are shut up in the darkness of ignorance as in a prison, beholding in vain the church which is being built up…while judgment is impending.[5]



Rightly rejecting the dichotomy between body and soul,[6] Augustine taught that the spirits of the dead did not suffer in a literal jail. Instead, people ensnared in sin during the time of Noah lived in a prison of ignorance (Gen 6:1–5).[7]

If Christ spoke through Noah via the Spirit, he did not travel anywhere.[8]



Augustine did not have access to the tradition found in the apocryphal book of 1 Enoch (second century BC–first century AD).[9]

That book disappeared during the second century AD and was rediscovered in the late eighteenth century. The lack of that traditional material impacted his interpretations of these verses.[10]



With his limited knowledge of Greek, Augustine focused upon the theology of this passage rather than good exegesis of the text.[11] Peter never cited Noah as the one through whom Jesus made a proclamation.[12]

Consequently, this concept remains implausible.[13]

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Read 1 Pet 3:19–20. How would you characterize Augustine’s view of this passage? What are the strengths and weaknesses of that argument? List the pros and cons for this view in the Summary of 1 Pet 3:19–20.




Go to The Apostles’ Creed and 1 Pet 3:19–20

[Related posts include Overview of 1 Peter 3:18–22Death in the Flesh but Life in the Spirit (1 Pet 3:18); Interpretive Issues in 1 Pet 3:19–20; Early Church Fathers’ View of 1 Pet 3:19–20; The Apostles’ Creed and 1 Pet 3:19–20; John Calvin’s View of 1 Pet 3:19–20; Ancient Jewish View Applied to 1 Pet 3:19–20; Modern Scholars’ View of 1 Pet 3:19–20; Summary of 1 Pet 3:19–20; Salvation through Water (1 Pet 3:20); An Appeal to God (1 Pet 3:21); and Seated at God’s Right Hand (1 Pet 3:22)]

[Kings as Sons of the Gods (Gen 6:1–2 cont.); Taking Wives for Themselves (Gen 6:1–2 cont.); Nephilim in the Land (Gen 6:4); God Grieves (Gen 6:5–6); Wiping Out Everyone (Gen 6:7); Noah Found Favor (Gen 6:8); Righteous and Blameless (Gen 6:9–10); Violence Filled the Earth (Gen 6:11–12); The End was Near (Gen 6:13); Specifications for an Ark (Gen 6:14–16); Exegesis and Hermeneutics; and Ancient Literature]

[Click here to go to Chapter 8: Safely Through (Gen 8:1–19)]


[1]Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, 184.

[2]Jobes, 1 Peter, 248.

[3]Augustine, “Letter 164,” in The Confessions and Letters of St. Augustine, with a Sketch of His Life and Work (NPNF1–01) (ed. Philip Schaff; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1886), 1:1, 1041,

[4]Augustine, “Letter 164,” in The Confessions and Letters of St. Augustine, with a Sketch of His Life and Work, 4:11, 1048,

[5]Augustine, “Letter 164,” in The Confessions and Letters of St. Augustine, with a Sketch of His Life and Work, 5:16, 1051,

[6] Jobes, 1 Peter, 249.

[7] Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, 185.

[8]Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, 186.

[9] Jobes, 1 Peter, 249.

[10]Jobes, 1 Peter, 247.

[11] Jobes, 1 Peter, 249.

[12]Marshall, 1 Peter, 1 Pet 3:19.

[13]Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, 186.