A false deception that has developed through the centuries, especially among false Pagan Sun god worshipping Christians, is the belief that the Messiah, after His crucifixion and prior to His resurrection, went to some burning “hell” where there were some “spirits in prison”.
The creedal statements of historic Pagan Christianity are largely responsible for generating this belief. One misleading creed responsible for this deceptive doctrine is is also known as Pseudo-Athanasian Creed or Quicunque Vult (also Quicumque Vult), which is a Pagan Christian statement of belief focused on Trinitarian doctrine and Christology. It states: “He suffered death for our salvation. He descended into hell and rose again from the dead”.
Then people like John Calvin, in his voluminous Institutes of the Christian Religion, spoke about the subject at length (1599, II.16.8-12). Calvin cited earlier theologians who agreed with him, including Hilary in his On the Trinity (IV.xlii; III.xv). The renowned medieval Catholic theologian, Thomas Aquinas, held a similar view (Summa Theol. III. 52. 5). The apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus, which dates from the fifth century A.D., claims that the Messiah descended into hell and retrieved all the Old Testament saints, including Adam, David, Habakkuk, and Isayah (see James, 1924, pp. 125ff.)
Further adding to the deceptive confusion was generated by the English translations of the 16th and 17th centuries, due to translator confusion regarding the technical distinctions that exist between the pertinent Greek terms. Specifically, the Greek term Hades generally was equated with Gehenna. Hades refers to the intermediate state of the dead, (the grave) who are asleep in death awaiting the Judgment. Gehenna, on the other hand, refers to the location of the final state of the wicked after the Judgment. Gehenna was a literal rubbish dump where it was kept alight burning the dead people and dead animals.
This confusion continued and culminated in the King James Version’s rendering of hades as “hell” in all ten of its occurrences in the New Testament (Matthew 11:23; 16:18; Luke 10:15; 16:23; Acts 2:27,31; Revelation 1:18; 6:8; 20:13,14). Rendering hades as “hell” in Acts 2:27,31 leaves the reader misled and with the false impression that when Yahshua exited His physical body on the cross, He went to “hell”. The first English translation to rightly maintain the distinction between Hades and Gehenna was the English Revised Version and its subsequent American counterpart, the American Standard Version of 1901.
In 1 Peter 3:18-20, it appears on the surface that Yahshua descended into the spirit realm and preached to deceased people. However, a close consideration of the grammar and context will clarify the passage. First, the preaching referred to was not done by Yahshua in His own person. The text says Yahshua did the preaching through the Ruach ha-Kodesh (Holy Spirit): “…the Spirit, by whom…” (v. 18-19). [“My Spirit” (Genesis 6:3) = the Spirit of Yahweh = the Spirit of Yahshua (Romans 8:9; Ephesians 2:17).] Other passages confirm that Yahshua was said to do things that He actually did through the instrumentality of others (John 4:1-2; Ephesians 2:17). Nathan charged King David: “You have killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword” (2 Samuel 12:9), when, in fact, David had ordered it done by another. Eliyah accused Ahab of killing Naboth, using the words, “Have you murdered and also taken possession?” (1 Kings 21:19), even though his wife, Jezebel, arranged for two other men to accomplish the evil action. Paul said Yahshua preached peace to the Gentiles (Ephesians 2:17), when, in fact, Yahshua did so through others, since He, Himself, already had returned to heaven when the first Gentiles heard the Gospel (Acts 15:7). So the Scripture frequently refers to someone doing something that he, in fact, did through the agency of another person.
In fact, within the book of 1 Peter itself, Peter already had made reference to the fact that the Ruach ha-Kodesh “testified beforehand the sufferings of Yahshua and the glories that would follow” (1 Peter 1:11). But it was the prophets who did the actual speaking (vs. 10). Then, again in chapter 4, Peter stated that “the gospel was preached also to those who are dead” (1 Peter 4:6). Here were individuals who had the Gospel preached to them while they were alive (“in the flesh”), and who responded favorably by becoming followers of Yahshua. But then they were “judged according to men in the flesh,” i.e., they were treated harshly and condemned to martyrdom by their contemporaries. At the time Peter was writing, they were “dead,” i.e., deceased and sleeping in their graves awaiting the resurrection. But Peter said they “live according to Yahweh in the spirit,” i.e., Ecc 12:7 teaches that the Ruach ha-Kodesh returns to Yahweh after death.
Second, when did Yahshua do this preaching through the Ruach ha-Kodesh? Notice in verse 20, the words “formerly” (NKJV) and “when”—“when once the longsuffering of Yahweh waited in the days of Noah.” So the preaching was done in the days of Noah by Yahshua through the Ruach ha-Kodesh, who, in turn, inspired Noah’s preaching (2 Peter 2:5).
Third, why are these people to whom Noah preached said to be “spirits in prison”? Because at the time Peter was writing the words, that is where those people were situated. Those who were drowned in the Flood of Noah’s day descended into the hadean realm, where they continued to reside in Peter’s day. This realm is the same location where the rich man was placed (Luke 16:23), as were the sinning angels (“Tartarus”—2 Peter 2:4). However, Yahshua did not go to “prison” or “Tartarus.” He said He went to “Paradise” (Luke 23:43).
Fourth, why would Yahshua go to hades and preach only to Noah’s contemporaries? Why would He exclude those who died prior to the Flood? What about those who have died since? Since Yahweh is no “respecter of persons” (Acts 10:34; Romans 2:11), Yahshua would not have singled out Noah’s generation to be the recipients of preaching in the spirit realm.
Fifth, what would have been the content of such preaching? Yahshua could not have preached the whole Gospel in its entirety. That Gospel includes the resurrection of Yahshua (Romans 4:25; 1 Corinthians 15:4). However, at the time the alleged preaching was supposed to have occurred, Yahshua had not yet been raised!
The notion of people being given a second opportunity to hear the Gospel in the afterlife is an extremely dangerous doctrine that is counterproductive to the cause of Yahshua. Why? It potentially could make people think they can postpone their repentance and obedience to the Gospel in this life. Yet the Bible consistently teaches that no one will be permitted a second chance. This earthly life has been provided by Yahweh for all human beings to determine where they wish to spend eternity. That decision is made by each individual based upon personal conduct. Once a person dies, his eternal destiny has been cinched. He is “reserved for judgment” (2 Peter 2:4; cf. vss. 9,17). His condition will not and cannot be altered—even by Yahweh Himself (Luke 16:25-26; Hebrews 9:27).
Now think about it, the deceptive teachers will admit the Messiah died, yet then they preach the same lie that came from Satan, “but you will surely not die”, Genesis 3:4, because they deceptively claim that even though Yahshua was “dead”, they then contradict themselves and say, “Even though He was dead, He was alive in “hell” preacing to the dead Saints, who were also dead, but alive”.
Can you see the confused doctrine here? It is deceptive and misleading!
Doesn’t the Bible say the Messiah went and preached to lost souls in “hell” between His crucifixion and resurrection?
Answer: NO! The Bible passage in question is 1 Peter 3:18-20. The preaching was done “by the Spirit” (verse 18) in Noah’s day to people who were then living (verses 19, 20). The “spirits in prison” refers to people whose lives were in bondage to Satan. (See Psalm 142:7; Isaiah 42:6, 7; 61:1; and Luke 4:18.)
“All that are in the graves shall hear His voice, and shall come forth.” John 5:28, 29. “David . . . is both dead and buried, and his sepulcher is with us unto this day.” “For David is not ascended into the heavens.” Acts 2:29, 34. “If I wait, the grave is mine house.” Job 17:13.
People do not go either to heaven or “hell” at death. They go to their graves to await the resurrection day.
NOTE: For more information about the deceptive word “hell” and why it is never taught in the original language of Scripture, read this article.
Calvin, John (1599), Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Henry Beveridge (London: Arnold Hatfield).
James, M.R., trans. (1924), The Apocryphal New Testament (Oxford: Clarendon Press).
Lewis, Jack (1981), The English Bible From KJV to NIV (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).
Credits to Dave Miller, Ph.D. for the original article. (Edited with correct Names.)