And the light of understanding did break forth... 1 Pet 3:18-4:6
It's funny how a totally confusing passage can become so clear as one thing after another falls into place once you get the key thought.
After seeing this post on Scott's blog it inspired me to go read that portion of 1 Peter.
It's a confusing passage involving Jesus descending into the world of the dead and preaching the gospel to the souls imprisoned since the days of Noah. I've always gone "uh?" when I come to this passage. It just seem so completely random and weird.
However, I've spent a lot of time recently studying Paul's use of the Platonic Spirit/Flesh distinction (I've just realised I haven't blogged on this before - an oversight I will correct soon!), and my mind being tuned accordingly, and seeing the same terminology crop up in this passage, I thought "hold on, is Peter using the same distinction?!?". Yup. He certainly is, no doubt about it. If you know what to look for then it's about as subtle as a flashing neon sign on top of a ton of bricks. So Reuben and I sat down and puzzled out carefully the meanings of these verses.
So what's going on? Well, Christ's not descending to hades and preaching the gospel to those who died in the time of Noah at all. Actually he's teaching sinners how to be godly. Christ came to show us the way to God, and he lived a godly life (vs 18) and taught virtue to the unvirtuous(19). Back in the days of the flood God smited the unvirtuous and saved Noah (20). This is kind of analogous to baptism (since both involve saving and water), which is a declaration of our intentions to live a godly life (21). So put to death your earthly desires (4:1-2). Evildoers are surprised you don't join them in their evil any longer, but that's fine as it's the aim of the gospel is that you do not join them, and they will be judged for their evil. (4-6)
Nothing to do with preaching in the underworld, nor with souls imprisoned since the days of Noah, nor with salvation by baptism. It is in fact all about dying to the "old self" and putting on the "new self" that is Christ-like.