Thursday, May 30, 2013

D. Edmond Hiebert Explains the "Spirits in Prison" (1 Peter 3:19)

A third view, apparently the oldest, identifies these "spirits in prison" with fallen angels, equated with "the sons of God" in Genesis 6. This view was widely known and generally taken for granted in the apostolic age. It is strongly presented in the Book of Enoch, a composite pre-Christian, Jewish apocryphal writing widely known in the early Christian church., This view fell into disfavor with the fourth-century church.12 This angelic trans-gression was always viewed as having taken place just prior to the Flood. Proponents point to 2 Peter 2:4-5 and Jude 6 as evidence that this view was known and accepted in the early Christian church. They also point out that in the Gospels the word "spirits" frequently refers to supernatural beings (Mark 1:23, 26, 27; 3:11; 5:2, 8; etc.). The only clear instance in the New Testament where "spirits" is used of the surviving part of man after death is in Hebrews 12:23, but this is immediately indicated by the addi-tion "of righteous men made perfect."13 References to "spirits" as supernatural beings, either good or bad, occur in the intertes-tamental literature, for example, Tobit 6:6; 2 Maccabees 3:24; Book of Jubilees 15:31; The Testament of Dan (in The Testa-ments of the Twelve Patriarchs) 1:7; 5:5. This view seems to be supported by the teaching in 2 Peter 2:4 and Jude 6 [14] and is therefore the most probable.

See for the entire exegesis of 1 Peter 3:18-22.


Ivan said...

What is your view of the spirits of the righteous in Hebrews 12:23 highlighted in your quotation? Seems like a possible intermediate state for the deceased.

Edgar Foster said...


I prefer to keep this thread on topic, which is the exegesis of 1 Pet 3:19ff. But I will post somthing I wrote years ago which touches on Heb 12:23 etc:

The only ones truly spoken of as "perfected" in Hebrews are Jesus (Heb. 2:10; 5:9; 7:28) and his "children" (those who are being sanctified). Compare Heb. 2:10-13 with Heb. 10:14. Notice that the sanctifying is evidently ongoing,
but the "perfecting" is accomplished now. This point is forcefully brought out in Heb. 10:14:

"For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified" (RSV).

"for by one offering he has brought those who were to be sanctified into perfect status in perpetuity" (Byington's Bible in Living English).

"With one sacrifice, then, he has made perfect forever those who are purified from sin" (TEV).

As the context and (imperfective) aspect of hAGIAZOMENOUS (present passive middle participle) of 10:14 demonstrate, the sanctifying is continual but the perfecting is completed when one is justified via Christ's blood. My point:
the "spirits" of the righteous ones discussed in Heb. 12:23 does not apply to men and women who have departed, but to living, breathing beings who have
already been perfected and are being sanctified.

This is the same conclusion George Wesley Buchanan reaches in his Anchor Bible Commentary. Commenting upon the lingual unit, KAI KRITHi QEWi PANTWN, Buchanan writes:

"Also present was God [the] Judge of all on the Day of Atonement . . . If the sacrifices were properly performed so that atonement really took place, on the Day of Atonement "[the] spirits of the righteous were "perfected," meaning that all their sins were removed and they were sanctified" (Buchanan 223).

Indeed the macrostructure of Hebrews suggests such an interpretation. In the context of Heb. 9-10, the Day of Atonement is the topic of discourse. In these fateful chapters, the writer both compares and contrasts the ancient Israelite ritual with what Christ accomplished. What the Mosaic
covenant was unable to effect, the new covenant is able to accomplish.
Through the blood of the new covenant, Jesus makes perfect the spirits of those who are being sanctified. He is the antitypical priest who has presided over the greater Day of Atonement. As pointed out by Buchanan, being
"perfected" means that one's sins are "removed," as it were (i.e., one's sins are no longer imputed to one's personal being). One does not have to wait until death to reach this goal (TELOS).

Louw-Nida also helps us to see that "spirits" does not necessarily refer to soem immaterial aspect of humans.