Read 1 Peter 3:13-20. How did Christ preach “to the spirits in prison … in the days of Noah”? (See also Genesis 4:10.)
Commentators who believe in the natural immortality of the soul usually point out that Christ preached “to the spirits in prison” (1 Peter 3:19, NKJV) while He was still resting in the tomb. For them, His disincarnated spirit went into hell and preached to the disembodied spirits of the antediluvians.
Yet, this fanciful notion is biblically unacceptable because there is no second opportunity of salvation for the dead (Hebrews 9:27-28). So, why would Jesus preach to those who had no more chance of salvation?
Meanwhile, and most importantly, this theory contradicts the biblical teaching that the dead remain unconscious in the grave until the final resurrection (Job 14:10-12; Psalm 146:4; Eccles. 9:5, Eccles. 9:10; 1 Corinthians 15:16-18; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-15).
Also, if this verse were really saying that Jesus, while bodily in the tomb, went down to hell and preached to the wicked antediluvians, why did only they hear His message? Were no other lost people burning in hell with them? Why did only the antediluvians hear Him preach?
It is also senseless to suggest that Christ preached to the fallen angels who had been disobedient in Noah’s day. While the “spirits in prison” are described as having been disobedient “formerly” (1 Peter 3:19-20, , NKJV), the Bible speaks of the evil angels as still disobedient today (Ephesians 6:12, 1 Peter 5:8). Furthermore, the fallen angels are “kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day” (Jude 6, NIV), without any opportunity of salvation.
We should notice that in 1 Peter 3:1-22 the “spirits in prison” of verse 19 are identified in verse 20 as the “disobedient” antediluvians in the “days of Noah.” The term spirit (Greek pneuma) is used in this text, and elsewhere in the New Testament (1 Corinthians 16:18, Galatians 6:18), in reference to living people who can hear and accept the invitation of salvation. The expression “in prison” obviously refers not to a literal prison, but to the prison of sin in which the unregenerate human nature is found (Romans 6:1-23, Romans 7:7-25).
Christ’s preaching to the impenitent antediluvians was accomplished through Noah who was divinely instructed by God (Hebrews 11:7) and became a “preacher of righteousness” to his contemporaries (2 Peter 2:5). Peter’s verses were written in the context of what it means to be faithful; they are not a commentary on the state of the dead.