18 ὅτι καὶ Χριστὸς ἅπαξ περὶ ἁμαρτιῶν ἔπαθεν, δίκαιος ὑπὲρ ἀδίκων, ἵνα ὑμᾶς προσαγάγῃ τῷ θεῷ, θανατωθεὶς μὲν σαρκὶ ζῳοποιηθεὶς δὲ πνεύματι· 19 ἐν ᾧ καὶ τοῖς ἐν φυλακῇ πνεύμασιν πορευθεὶς ἐκήρυξεν, 20 ἀπειθήσασίν ποτε ὅτε ἀπεξεδέχετο ἡ τοῦ θεοῦ μακροθυμία ἐν ἡμέραις Νῶε κατασκευαζομένης κιβωτοῦ εἰς ἣν ὀλίγοι, τοῦτʼ ἔστιν ὀκτὼ ψυχαί, διεσώθησαν διʼ ὕδατος. 21 ὃ καὶ ὑμᾶς ἀντίτυπον νῦν σῴζει βάπτισμα, οὐ σαρκὸς ἀπόθεσις ῥύπου ἀλλὰ συνειδήσεως ἀγαθῆς ἐπερώτημα εἰς θεόν, διʼ ἀναστάσεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, 22 ὅς ἐστιν ἐν δεξιᾷ θεοῦ πορευθεὶς εἰς οὐρανὸν ὑποταγέντων αὐτῷ ἀγγέλων καὶ ἐξουσιῶν καὶ δυνάμεων.
v18 περὶ ἁμαρτιῶν ἔπαθεν // many
There are a wide variety of varients. I think it’s more likely that ἀπέθανεν was an alteration of ἔπαθεν, and the ὑπέρ variants are expansions.
v18 ὑμᾶς / ἡμᾶς / omit
The 2nd person is more likely to have been changed to the 1st, than vice versa.
v21 ὅ / ὡς / omit
As Metzger says, though it is difficult to understand, no other reading makes better sense, indeed they are likely attempts to make sense of the text.
Because also Christ suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God, being put to death in the flesh, but being raised in the Spirit; in which also going, he preached to the spirits in prison, those that at a former time disobeyed when the patience of God waitied patiently in the Days of Noah, constucting the ark into which few, i.e. eight souls, were saved through water; which is [this] – now baptism as an antitype saves you also, not the removal of dirt from the body, but the appeal of a good conscience to God, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who is at the right hand of God, having gone into Heaven having subjected angels and authorities and powers to him.
We now come to the most difficult passage in 1 Peter, and one of the conundrums of the New Testament.
It should not be missed that in this third (cf 1:18-21, 2:22-25, as per Goppelt) christological passage, it is introduced by ὅτι, connecting the thought of this as a ground for the ethical instruction in 3:13-17, especially 17.
I think we can largely agree that the idea of Christ’s descent into hell is, for the most part, the failure to understand the Latin addition and expansion of “was buried” in the Apostles’ Creed, and when both phrases were present it became necessary to understand “descended into hell” as meaning something other than “was buried”, so that previous generations misunderstood both their Creed and the Passage.
Jobes highlights four exegetical questions that demand an answer:
1. Where did Christ go?
2. When did he go?
3. To whom did he speak?
4. What did he say?
Verse 18, reading ἔπαθεν rather than ἀπέθανεν (suffered rather than died), makes best sense of the text. There are no uncontested occurrences of ‘died’, and ‘suffered’ with the meaning of ‘died’ makes better sense given Peter’s overall context of dealing with suffering. Therefore I reject Grudem inter aliis who propose reading ‘died’.
The inclusion of the adverb ‘once’ signifies the decisive and final nature of Christ’s suffering (the aorist tense itself should not be construed as signifying the ‘once for all nature’ of the event, this is over-reading tense-aspect). Furthermore that suffering had a redemptive purpose: “to bring you to God”. The pattern of Christ’s suffering is righteous suffering that leads through death to victory. This is the pattern that is laid down for the believer as well, even though the dynamics of that death and victory differ. In Christ’s case, it is the suffering of the righteous one on behalf of the unrighteous. Christ’s death, furthermore, is ‘for sins’, a phrase repeated through the OT Law referring to sacrificial sin offerings. The ‘once’ of Christ’s death is linked to its substitionary and atoning character.
In reading v18 in connection with 2:24 we see that believers in this context are the ‘unrighteous’ for whom Christ suffered, but now live as those who have died to unrighteousness and live for righteousness, so that the pattern of their own suffering is now modelled on the suffering of Christ the Righteous One.
The complementary participial phrases, “being put to death in the flesh, but being made alive in the Spirit” also needs careful attention. It is very wont to be misread along English language lines as a physical death but a ‘disincarnate’ resurrection. Rather, “in the Spirit” should be understood as something more like “in the realm of the Spirit’s activity”. However, the meaning of the second of these phrases must be further considered in relation to the opening of verse 19, ἐν ᾧ - in which.
If one adopts the sense that Christ preached through Noah to Noah’s generation, then the phrase must be understood to refer to the pre-incarnate Christ. This is difficult, and the best argument for it is Grudem’s. It is difficult, I would say, since it means taking ἐν ᾧ as meaning “in [the realm of] the Spirit” but divorcing that meaning from the immediate contrast between death and resurrection and temporally translocating it to mean that Christ, in the Spirit, preached (at a prior time).
Grudem lists 5 views:
1. When Noah was building the ark, Christ in the Spirit preached through Noah to unbelievers then on earth, who are now spirits in prison (Grudem’s view)
2. Christ, post-death, preached a second chance of repentance and salvation to people in hell.
3. Christ, post-death, proclaimed his victory and triumph to people in hell.
4. Christ, post-death, proclaimed salvation for “people who had repented just before they died in the flood”, and led them from Purgatory to Heaven. (A Catholic position traceable back to Robert Bellarmine in 1586)
5. Christ, post-death, proclaimed triumph over fallen angels who had sinned in marrying human women before the flood. (Dalton, Selwyn). [This view depends upon both a reading of Genesis 6, and a knowledge of Jewish traditions by Peter and his readers, specifically 1 Enoch].
The key syntactical question between v18-19 is how to construe the datives. Are they (i) locatives, (ii) datives of respect/reference, (iii) instrumental, or (iv) simple conjunction? Or in fact are they not matched, and so able to be read differently. As I said above, Grudem reads them in a locative sense.
The view that Christ did descend into hell and proclaim the gospel, the kind of view of Clement and Origen, does not originally draw upon 1 Peter for its exegetical basis, and runs into problems of language. σάρξ for Peter rarely means “physical body”, just as πνεῦμα tends not to mean “disembodied soul”. If that was his meaning, we would rather expect the pairing of σῶμα and ψυχή here.
For these kinds of reasons, and with the majority of recent commentators, I am happy to understand the two phrases as referring “either to two spheres of Christ’s existence… or to two modes of his personal existence.” Though, we should not, this does not yet solve our dilemma! However it does lead into our understanding of “in which” + participle that commences v19. If it picks up the meaning of the final phrase of v18, and does not involve temporal dislocation as Grudem suggests, then the context is at or immediately after the resurrection.
Jobes notes several reasons why v19 should not follow the traditional Western reading, including the absence of ‘descent’ language, the absence of traditional titles for the place of the dead (Hades, Tartarus, Sheol), and the use of the word φυλακῇ, not otherwise used in the NT for the place of the dead.
For Jobes, the necessary background is Jewish tradition as founding 1 Enoch. Especially 1 Enoch 12 and the story of the Watchers, which embellishes and elaborates on Genesis 6:1-4; this is view 5 per Grudem above. In brief, the Watchers are fallen angels, who had sex with human women, whose offspring were giants, from whom evil spirits came, who corrupt people and the earth; the Watchers appeal to Enoch to intercede with God, God’s response is to imprison the Watchers, and would watch the destruction of their children, those evil spirits.
Jobes notes that Peter’s readers do not require an explicit knowledge of 1 Enoch, all that is required is a general knowledge of a reasonably widespread Jewish tradition. That still leaves open whether such a general knowledge existed, and whether there was enough of a tradition of connecting evil spirits with the Noah account to make this passage meaningful and apparent without further elaboration. Jobes goes on to delineate “four extant accounts of a great flood that were indigenous to Asia Minor.”
If we weigh Grudem’s and Jobes’ arguments, key questions remain on both sides. With regard to Grudem, his attempt to dislocate the temporality of the preaching event, to those now in prison but the preaching occurring pre-incarnation, is difficult in and of itself to square with the syntax of v18-19. However Jobes’ account runs into problems with its heavy reliance on the Enoch tradition, which we may question both in terms of its utility in explaining the context, as well as theologically in terms of how Genesis 6 ought to be understood.
In Jobes’ version, the proclamation is of the risen Christ to evil spirits/fallen angels, the content is confirmatory and vindicatory declaration of his triumph and God’s judgment, and the effect is to provide encouragement to believers of the certainty of Christ’s victory over evil in the face of present suffering. The reference then to Noah, and the salvation through water of the few, parallels the socio-historical setting of Asia Minor believers, who are also small in number, in a time of God’s patience with unbelievers’ sin, but who will assuredly be both delivered and vindicated.
I have not finished with this matter, but it’s worth quoting Grudem’s conclusion, since although he has a radically different theological understanding of the passage, his understanding of the passage’s rhetorical effect is almost identical:
In its context, this passage thus functions (1) to encourage the readers to bear witness boldly in the midst of hostile unbelievers, just as Noah did; (2) to assure them that though they are few, God will surely save them; (3) to remind them of the certainty of final judgment and Christ’s ultimate triumph over all the forces of evil which oppose them.
We still have to deal with verses 20-22, which moves the discussion to Noah and salvation ‘through water’ as an antitype of baptism. Verse 20 refers to the salvation of Noah and his family “through water”, which is meant in an instrumental sense. Just as the flood was the sudden and dramatic judgment of God, it represented the means by which God saved them. The parallel δία phrase is not baptism, but ἀναστάσεως, resurrection, which immediately dislocates attempts to read the passage as an endorsement of sacramental baptism for salvation.
What is the antecedent of ὅ? Is it ‘water’ (so Achtemeier, France, Michaels), or ‘antitype’ (Elliot), or all of 3:20b (Beare, Cook, Goppelt), or even ὑμᾶς (so Selwyn)? The latter is particularly unlikely on grammatical grounds alone. The most immediate antecedent would be water, unless we take it conceptually; I think the best solution is to translate as I have done, “which is [this] – now baptism as an antitype saves you also”. However we take it, the parallels of the typology must be noted, especially as to see how Peter avoids maximalism. As per Elliot:
a few you
were saved baptism now saves
through water through the resurrection of Jesus
The statement that baptism saves is qualified in two ways that significantly count against the sacramentalist view. Firstly, the two δία phrases correspond so that however we understand baptism, we understand its salvific element to be instrumentally realised through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. One could flip Peter’s statement and read “you are saved by Jesus’ resurrection through baptism”. One is the ground and transforming power of salvation, the other the means by which that ground and power is applied.
Secondly, Peter elaborates on what baptism is in a contrastive phrase, “not the removal of dirt from the body, but the appeal of a good conscience to God”. The first part, in combining the language of ἀπόθεσις with the strong word for moral filth, ῥύπος, seems to point far less to external washing, and rather to the utter removal of moral filth from Christians. Peter’s point is that baptism does not effect this as a once for all event. Rather, in contrast, it is “a pledge of good conscience unto God”. What kind of pledge and what kind of conscience? Under the evidence of 2nd century lexical data, Jobes follows the suggestion that it is indeed a pledge, rather than as request for a good conscience, so that in baptism believers are committing themselves to a disposition of faithfulness towards God. In baptism, believers pledge themselves “to live in relationship with God, which would result in a good conscience before him.”
How does this fit the rhetorical import of the passage? We must remember that Peter’s whole aim from 18-22 is to support the notion of v17, that it is better to suffer righteously than unrighteously. In the face of suffering, Peter builds upon both the example and the efficacy of Christ’s own righteous death, before drawing a typological link to Noah’s situation, comparable in some ways to his addressees’, and connecting this to baptism, whose salvific efficacy is grounded in Christ’s resurrection, but whose hortatory power derives from the pledge that believers have made to continue in fidelity to the Lord to whom they have pledged.
The final verse of this section, v22, completes the redemptive and Christological frame of the passage, complementing “Christ died” in v18 and πορευθείς in v19 (a resurrection reference in light of v18), with a second πορευθείς referring to his ascension and resuming the sequence of participles. Christ’s ascension is a presentation of his final and complete victory over angels and powers and authorities. If Christ has conquered the primordial forces of evil in the world, through his death and resurrection, “who is there to harm you if you are zealous for the good?”
However we read it, it is noteworthy that both main interpretations that I have offered here give a rhetorical impact that is quite similar. Grudem highlights that the passage aims at three functions, “(1) to encourage the readers to bear witness boldly in the midst of hostile unbelievers, just as Noah did; (2) to assure them that though they are few, God will surely save them; (3) to remind them of the certainty of final judgment and Christ’s ultimate triumph over all the forces of evil which oppose them”. This, in my view, is the force of the passage on either reading.
 Jobes, p242.
 Wayne A. Grudem, 1 Peter: An Introduction and Commentary, p248.
 Jobes, p255-6.
 Grudem, ibid.