Warren Prestidge – The Spirits in Prison: I Peter 3:18-20

For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit… (RSV).

The first sentence is one of the most succinct statements of core Christian faith in the entire Bible. But what does that last part mean?
Some earlier scholars held that the “spirit” here is Christ’s divine nature, but modern commentators all recognise that this is amounts to reading later theological concerns back into the New Testament.

Many hold that Peter is speaking of the survival, with increased vigour, of Christ’s divine (or divine-human) spirit, after the death of his body. It is argued that “flesh” and “spirit” refer to two separable parts of Christ. However, in Greek the expression “made alive” (zoopoietheis) can apply only to what has been lifeless, dead, and this is particularly obvious here, where there is a direct contrast to being “put to death” (Greek thanatotheis).

Clearly, then, Peter is referring to Christ’s resurrection. In the New Testament, the verb zoopoiein is used routinely in this sense, as a virtual equivalent to egeirein, “to raise up”. As Kelly explains: “Here the contrast…is between Christ’s death and resurrection The verb for ‘make alive’…is virtually synonymous with ‘raise from the dead’…”

Furthermore, “flesh” and “spirit” do not refer here to two parts of Christ or of human nature. “In fact the flesh-spirit distinction which we meet in the NT…is completely OT in inspiration and has nothing to do with the Greek, ultimately Platonic, dichotomy of soul and body…” Nor is it likely that the “spirit” here is the Holy Spirit, although that interpretation would accord with the resurrection (Rom. 8:11).

To continue reading Warren Prestidge’s article, click here.

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