Ethelbert W. Bullinger’s study of the word pneumata in 1 Peter 3:19
Bullinger, Word Studies on the Holy Spirit. 1979. Kregel. Pp: 188-193, 213. Grand
Rapids, MI. [Originally published: The Giver and His
Gifts. Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1905.
"By (or in) which [resurrection body] to the-in-prison-pneumata also, he went and made proclamation
(disobedient as they once were
(Gen. 6) when the longsuffering of God was waiting in Noah’s days, while an ark
was preparing, into which [having gone], a few, that is eight souls (i.e., persons) were brought safely
through1 water; which
[water], the antitype [of that], now saves you also,2 [even] baptism: - not the putting away of [the] filth
of [the] flesh (i.e., fleshly
filth)[with water], but [the] answer of
a good conscience toward God, by [the] resurrection of Jesus Christ).
- who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven,
angels, and authorities, and powers having been made subject to Him.”
1. The Greek
here, diasozein, is always used of
bodily saving, in all its eight occurrences: - Matt. 14:36, Luke 7:3, Acts
23:24, 27:43-44, 28:1, 4, and 1 Peter 3:20. It thus differs from the simple sozein, to save, in the next verse.
2. So all the
Critical Greek Texts.
Here the word "spirits”
refers to angels. Man is never called or spoken of as a pneuma. In all these 385 passages not one can be found where man,
in any condition (past, present or future), is called "a spirit”: not one: for
a spirit "hath not flesh and bones.” Angels are so called, but not man. In
resurrection, man will be raised with "a spiritual body” (2 Cor. 5:2)3 like that with which the
Lord Jesus rose (Phil. ).
These angels "once where disobedient;” and this disobedience, here, is set in
contrast with the obedience of those "angels” spoken of in verse 22 as being
"subject” and therefore obedient to Christ.
3. The word oiketerion is used of a spiritual body
only in 2 Cor. 5:2 and Jude 6.
Angels are called in the Old Testament "sons of God.” In
every place where this expression occurs,4
it means angels: i.e.: angelic or spiritual beings. No one can give us
authority to take the words in Gen. 6:1, in a different sense from that which
they have in every other place, in the Old Testament.
4. Gen. 6:2, 4;
Job 1:6, 2:1, 38:7; Ps. 29:1, 89:6; Dan. 3:25 (Hos. 1:10 is a different
The "fall of the angels” is a historical fact: and spoken of
as distinctly, though not described so fully as is "the fall of man.”
In Jude 6 we are told that "they kept not their first
estate, but left5 their
own habitation6.”What this means, or what it
involves, we cannot tell; and no one can tell us. Whatever it was it made their
sin possible; which, otherwise, with our present knowledge, seems to us
6. oiketerion used only here and 2 Cor. 5:2
of a spirit-body.
7. In Luke a pneuma could tear and rend a man.
That it was thus possible for them to sin as recorded in
Gen. 6:1-4 is clearly implied in Jude 7, where their sin is compared to the sin
of "Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them IN LIKE MANNER, giving
themselves over to fornication, and going after strange8 flesh, are set forth as an example suffering the vengeance
of eternal fire.”
Gen. 6:1-4 further describes their sin, and tells us that
their progeny was called nephilim or fallen ones.9 so awful was this progeny, and so monstrous in every
sense of the word, that it doubtless became the basis of the heathen mythology.
That mythology did not have its origin in the imagination of man, but it had
its historical basis in fact; and that fact the Scripture thus explains to us.
So terrible were the results of this fall of the angels,
that no judgment short of the Flood would serve to destroy them.
So universal was it, that only one family was found
untainted. Of Noah, it says, "These are the generations (i.e., the family pedigree) of Noah: Noah was a just man, and
perfect (i.e., without blemish)10
in (or among) his generations”11
(i.e., among his contemporaries),
Gen. 6:9. Hence, all mankind had to be destroyed, except the family of Noah.
10. tamim means without physical defect. It is the word used of sacrifices,
&c., being without blemish.
11. This is a
different word from that rendered "generations” in the former part of the
verse. The former word toledoth: family pedigree. The latter word is dor: contemporaries.
There was another irruption of fallen angels "AFTER THAT.”
This is expressly stated in Gen. 6:4, as being after the Flood. Their progeny was called (nephilim) fallen ones.
See Gen. 6:4. They are so called also in Numbers , where the word is again rendered "giants:” and they
were known as "sons of Anak” (from a prominent Canaanite in Moses’s day, Anak
is spoken of as of the Nephilim).
They were also known as Rephaim,
after another prominent character named Rapha:
hence they were called sons ofRapha, or Rephaim. See Deut. 2:11, 20, which shows they were also known as Emim by the Moabites. Compare Deut.
3:11, 13; Josh. 12:4, 13:12, 15:8, 17:15, 18:16; 1 Ch 20:4, 6, 8.
This second irruption was evidently not so extensive as the
first; though they were numerous enough to populate the land of Canaan, but
could be dealt with and destroyed with the Sword, and did not necessitate
It was the special mission of Israel to destroy this corrupt race
of Canaanitish nations. This extermination was imperative, as was the judgment
of the Flood. And yet there are those so-called "philanthropists” who can speak
of the "cruelty” of God in using Israel to destroy these nations.
Infidels never tire of charging God with cruelty; not knowing the awful
ancestry, or the nature and character, of this corrupt race. The judgment
executed by Israel
was mercy (Ps. 136:20) to the whole human race.
It was the sight of these horrible creatures that so
frightened the twelve spies (Num. -33).
And it was the first great victory over them that makes the destruction of "Og,
King of Bashan,” so celebrated in Israel’s history. (Num 21; Read
Josh. 12, 13, 15:8, 17:15, 18:16, Ps. 136:20.) David completed the work of
destruction. (1 Chron. 20:4, 6, 8. Compare 2 Sam. 21:16, 18, 20, 22).
As to the angels themselves, as they were spirit-beings they
could not be thus destroyed, like their monstrous progeny; but they were put
"in prison” (1 Pet. )
and are "kept in chains,” and "in darkness, reserved unto judgment (to come).”
See 2 Pet. 2:4; where they are mentioned in connection with Noah (v. 5) as they are also in 1 Pet. 3:20.
The context of 1 Pet. 3:18-22 shows that the passage is the
continuation of what precedes, as it commences with the word "For.”
The scope of the passage shows that those to whom Peter was
inspired to write, were suffering great and heavy trials,12 and needed encouragement to enable them to endure
their suffering for well-doing. Verse 17 (of ch. 3) tells them that "it is
better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well doing than for evil
12. See 1 Pet.
1:7, -23, -17, -19.
Then the argument goes on:
FOR Christ also suffered. He was even put to death as to His
flesh; and that was for well doing, indeed.
But he was raised again from the dead: and thus had a
glorious triumph. And His triumph was so great that He went and proclaimed13 His victory, so that it
reached even to the imprisoned spirits.14
Then, ye may well suffer; for ye suffer for "well doing,” and ye shall have a
like glorious triumph. Ye may "suffer” now; but "the glory” will surely follow,
in your case, (ch. )
as it did in His.
13. The word is
not euangelizo: to preach the Gospel; but it is kerusso:
to make proclamation as a herald
(from kerux: a herald). It does not mean to
preach in any sense of the word, but to
herald that which is determined or defined by the context.
14. In 2 Pet. 2:4
this prison is Tartaros not Hades, or Gekenna. Not "hell” as in A.V. and R.V. The noun tartaros does not occur at all in the
New Testament; and the verb tartaroo
only here: and should be rendered: "but having cast them to the deepest abyss,
delivered them to pits of darkness to be reserved for judgment.”
This is the scope of the passage – and no other explanation
of the "in-prison-spirits” will satisfy the whole context, of which this verse
is only a part; being introduced by the word "for,” which connects it
indissolubly with what precedes.
ANGELS OR SPIRIT-BEINGS (Heb. 1:7, 14, Acts , Rev. 1:4, &c.) As to 1 Pet. 3:19,
the following should be noted: -
Pneumata: spirits, when standing alone (without any qualifying words, as it
does here), is never used of men in any form, state or condition. These are
spiritual beings. He "maketh His angels spirits” (Heb. 1:7, 14, Ps. 104:4). The
angels who sinned in Gen. 6:2, 4, see 2 Pet. 2:4-9 and Jude 6, 7. The term
"sons of God” (Gen. 6:2, 4) is always used of angels (see Job 2:1, 38:7; Ps.
29:1, 89:6; Dan.
(Codex A of the LXX in Gen. 6:2 reads "angeloi
tou Teou: angels of God”). They
left their own "habitation” (oiketerion,
occurs only here and 2 Cor. 5:2, where it is used of a spiritual body !). For their sin they were "cast down to Tartarus,”
delivered unto "chains of darkness”; in other words, put "in prison” and
reserved unto the judgment of the great day. Christ’s triumph was so complete that
the proclamation of it reached even to Tartarus. In the structure of the
passage, verse 20 corresponds to verse -22: in verse 20 we have the disobedience of these spirits, while in
verse -22 we have their subjection.
See page 188-193 above, also a pamphlet by the same author and publisher, on the Spirits in Prison, wherein this
Scripture is expounded in the light of the Epistle as a whole. The passage is
introduced for the purpose of proving that "it is better, if the will of God be
so, that ye suffer for well doing than for evil doing, FOR Christ also once
suffered, &c.” The argument and scope being: ‘He had a glorious triumph
(Eph. 4:8, Col
, 1 Pet. ); so will you in like manner.
Even when angels were put in prison, men (Noah and Lot)
were delivered. You will likewise be delivered from your tribulation.’