Modern Scholars’ View of 1 Pet 3:19–20

modern view 1 Pet 3 19 to 20 (3)

i) 1 Pet 3:19–20: We can best untangle the conundrum of these verses by recognizing that satanic perversion infused ancient human kingship.[1] In this interpretation, fallen angels controlled the men of Gen 6:1–4.[2]

Most modern scholars assert that Jesus proclaimed his victory over those spirits, most likely after his resurrection.[3] In fact, the ascension itself pronounced their defeat (Col 2:13–15; Eph 1:18–23).[4]

Jewish scholars believed that various levels of heaven exist. Indeed, the Apostle Paul once discussed his trip to the third heaven (2 Cor 12:2–4).[5]

A vision credited to Enoch in the late first century AD says:

And the men took me and brought me to the second heaven, and showed me the darkness, and there I saw the prisoners suspended, reserved for (and) awaiting the eternal judgment. And these angels were gloomy in appearance, more than the darkness of the earth.

And they unceasingly wept every hour, and I said to the men who were with me, “Why are these men continually tortured?”

And the men answered me, “These are they who apostatized from the Lord, who obeyed not the commandments of God, and took counsel of their own will and transgressed together with their prince and have already been confined to the second heaven.”[6]

Similarly, the second century BC Testament of Levi reports:

Hear, therefore, regarding the heavens which have been shown to thee. The lowest is for this cause gloomy unto thee, in that it beholds all the unrighteous deeds of men…

And in the second are the hosts of the armies which are ordained for the day of judgement, to work vengeance on the spirits of deceit and of Beliar (Satan).

And above them are the holy ones. And in the highest of all dwelleth the Great Glory, far above all holiness. In [the heaven next to] it are the archangels, who minister and make propitiation to the Lord for all the sins of ignorance of the righteous; offering to the Lord a sweet-smelling savor, a reasonable and a bloodless offering.

And [in the heaven below this] are the angels who bear answers to the angels of the presence of the Lord. And in the heaven next to this are thrones and dominions, in which always they offer praise to God. When, therefore, the Lord looketh upon us, all of us are shaken; yea, the heavens, and the earth, and the abysses are shaken at the presence of his majesty.[7]

In the current scholarly interpretation of 1 Pet 3:19–20, Jesus journeyed to that division of heaven in which God imprisoned evil angels.[8]

Significantly, none of the names for the place of the dead, such as Sheol, Hades, or Tartarus, occur in this verse. In addition, the New Testament (NT) never employs the term “prison” (phylakē) to refer to the place where the dead reside.[9]

On the other hand, a parallel passage says, “God did not spare angels who sinned, but in fetters of gloom cast them into Tartarus” (2 Pet 2:4). Ancient Greeks viewed Tartarus as a place farther underground than Hades where evildoers received divine punishment.[10]

Homer (ca. 750 BC) wrote:

Zeus that hurleth the thunderbolt made a gathering of the gods upon the topmost peak of many-ridged Olympus, and himself addressed their gathering; and all the gods gave ear, “Hearken unto me, all ye gods and goddesses…Let not any goddess nor yet any god…thwart my word…

Whomsoever I shall mark minded apart from the gods to go and bear aid either to Trojans or Danaans…I shall take and hurl him into murky Tartarus, far, far away, where is the deepest gulf beneath the earth, the gates whereof are of iron and the threshold of bronze, as far beneath Hades as heaven is above earth: then shall ye know how far the mightiest am I of all gods.[11]

According to 1 Enoch, (2nd century BC–first century AD), the same archangel who warned Noah of the coming flood was “Uriel…who is over the world and over Tartarus.”[12]

These Jewish authors employed a traditional Greco-Roman term (Tartaros) associated with the binding of the Titans found in Greek mythology.[13]

Another point favoring this interpretation involves the verb “preached” (kērussō). In the NT, it often describes proclaiming the gospel, although it can mean simply “exhorted” or “announced” (Rom 2:21; Gal 5:11; Rev 5:2).[14]

In 1 Peter, the apostle consistently used a different word (euangelizō) to depict preaching the gospel (1 Pet 1:12, 25; 1 Pet 4:6). The only place in this epistle where kērussō appears is here in v. 19.[15]

While the NT never mentions evangelizing spirits, it does say that Christ triumphed over them (Col 2:13–15; Eph 6:10–17).[16] Jesus announced his great victory over demonic powers.[17]

That Christ was made alive and went and preached to the spirits, points to a post-resurrection announcement of vindication. In 1 Pet 3:22, the apostle expanded this theme to include their subjection to him.[18]

Jesus has visited the habitations of demonic forces and proclaimed their subservience to him.[19]

Image via Wikimedia Commons


Read 1 Pet 3:19–20. Who controlled the rulers mentioned during Noah’s era? How did Jewish authors view heaven? Where was Tartarus? How do we know that Jesus did not evangelize evil spirits? What did he do instead? List the pros and cons for this view in the Summary of 1 Pet 3:19–20.






Go to Summary of 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; Augustine’s 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; 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)]

[Sons of God or Sons of the Gods? (Gen 6:1–2); Descendants of Seth as the Sons of God (Gen 6:1–2 cont.); Fallen Angels as the Sons of God (Gen 6:1–2 cont.); Kings as Sons of the Gods (Gen 6:1–2 cont.); Taking Wives for Themselves (Gen 6:1–2 cont.); Limiting Human Life Spans (Gen 6:3); Nephilim in the Land (Gen 6:4); Our Certificate of Debt (Col 2:13–14); Rebellious Angels (Jude 6–7); and Ancient Literature]

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


[1]Kline, Kingdom Prologue: Genesis Foundations for a Covenantal Worldview, 187.

[2]Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 117.

[3]Keener, IVPBBCNT, 1 Pet 3:18–9.

[4]Andrew J. Bandstra, “‘Making Proclamation to the Spirits in Prison’: Another Look at 1 Peter 3:19,” CTJ 38, no. 2 (1 April 2003): 120–4, 124.

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

[6]Morfill, The Book of the Secrets of Enoch (2 Enoch), 7:1–3, 5–6,

[7]R. H. Charles, trans., “The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs,” in APOT, Vol. 2 (Oxford: Clarendon, 1913), 3:1–9, 30–6,

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

[9]Jobes, 1 Peter, 243.

[10]Arndt, Danker, and Bauer, “ταρταροω” (tartaroō), BDAG, 991.

[11]Homer, The Iliad, 8.1–16,

[12]Charles, “Book of Enoch,” in APOT, 10.1–3, 20:2, 22, 43,,

[13]Bauckham, 2 Peter, Jude, 249.

[14]Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, 189.

[15]Michaels,1 Peter, 209.

[16]Davids, The First Epistle of Peter, 140–1.

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

[18]Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, 189.

[19]Michaels, 1 Peter, 211.