He went and preached unto the spirits in prison.--There are two main ways of interpreting this mysterious passage. (1) The spirits are understood as being now in prison, in consequence of having rejected His preaching to them while they were still on earth. According to this interpretation--which has the support of such names as Pearson, Hammond, Barrow, and Leighton (though he afterwards modified his opinion). among ourselves, besides divers great theologians of other countries, including St. Thomas Aquinas on the one hand and Beza on the other--it was "in spirit," i.e., mystically speaking, our Lord Himself who, in and through the person of Noah, preached repentance to the old world. Thus the passage is altogether dissociated from the doctrine of the descent into hell; and the sense (though not the Greek) would be better expressed by writing, He had gone and preached unto the spirits (now) in prison. In this case, however, it is difficult to see the purpose of the digression, or what could have brought the subject into St. Peter's mind. (2) The second interpretation--which is that of (practically) all the Fathers, and of Calvin, Luther (finally), Bellarmine, Bengel, and of most modern scholars--refers the passage to what our Lord did while His body was dead. This is the most natural construction to put upon the words "in which also" (i.e., in spirit). It thus gives point to the saying that He was "quickened in spirit," which would otherwise be left very meaningless. The "spirits" here will thus correspond with "in spirit" there. It is the only way to assign any intelligible meaning to the words "He went and" to suppose that He "went" straight from His quickening in spirit--i.e., from His death. It is far the most natural thing to suppose that the spirits were in prison at the time when Christ went and preached to them. We take it, then, to mean that, directly Christ's human spirit was disengaged from the body, He gave proof of the new powers of purely spiritual action thus acquired by going off to the place, or state, in which other disembodied spirits were (who would have been incapable of receiving direct impressions from Him had He not Himself been in the purely spiritual condition), and conveyed to them certain tidings: He "preached" unto them. What was the substance of this preaching we are not here told, the word itself (which is not the same as, e.g., in 1 Peter 1:25) only means to publish or proclaim like a crier or herald; and as the spirits are said to have been disobedient and in prison, some have thought that Christ went to proclaim to them the certainty of their damnation! The notion has but to be mentioned to be rejected with horror; but it may be pointed out also that in 1 Peter 4:6, which refers back to this passage, it is distinctly called a "gospel;" and it would be too grim to call that a gospel which (in Calvin's words) "made it more clear and patent to them that they were shut out from all salvation!" He brought good tidings, therefore, of some kind to the "prison" and the spirits in it. And this "prison" must not be understood (with Bp. Browne, Articles, p. 95) as merely "a place of safe keeping," where good spirits might be as well as bad, though etymologically this is imaginable. The word occurs thirty-eight times in the New Testament in the undoubted sense of a "prison," and not once in that of a place of protection, though twice (Revelation 18:2) it is used in the derived sense of "a cage."