Ethelbert W. Bullinger’s study of the word pneumata in 1 Peter 3:19
(Ethelbert W. 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. London]).
1 Peter "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 through 1 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 expression altogether).
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 impossible.7
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 another Flood.
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 doing.”
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.’