What does the gospel being preached to the dead mean in 1 Peter?

I have a strange story to share which is the reason for my question. I recently heard a testimony from a pentecostal pastor in India who shared that he has preached the gospel to the dead just like Jesus. He shared that a man in his church was possessed by the spirit of his unbelieving deceased mother. As the pastor prayed for deliverance of the man, he said that he felt prompted to share the gospel with the spirit possessing the man as the spirit identified itself as the man’s mother, sharing accurate details about the man from his church. When the spirit possessing the man received Jesus as Lord during the deliverance prayer, the man was set free from possession.

I am very skeptical of this experience as demons can pose as anything. I am afraid the pastor is engaging in unbiblical practice and not interpreting the bible correctly. He based his decision to preach to the spirit possessing the man on 1 Peter 3:18-20 and 1 Peter 4:6. How do we reconcile these verses with Hebrews 9:27 ?


Perhaps this will help you it made perfect sense to me after stepping away from what I was taught in SS.
The key for these verses is the 2nd temple belief that those “who were formerly disobedient, where the fallen angels. Here is an excerpt from the note of a course that I took giving by Heiser:

In the Second Temple period (that is, the intertestamental period), when Jewish writers there were talking about disobedient spirits, they don’t use that phrase of the people who died. They use it of the disobedient angels, the disobedient sons of God of Gen 6:1–4….In the Second Temple period, those were the disobedient spirits, or the disobedient angels. This is the way to go, because 2 Peter, the second epistle that bears Peter’s name, actually talks about this same episode, connected with the flood that we’re looking at in 1 Pet 3, and it refers to the angels that sinned. Even more specifically than that, the idea that these angels that sinned (or these “disobedient spirits,” to quote 1 Pet 3) are imprisoned nails down what Peter is thinking about, because in all of the Second Temple Jewish traditions, the angels that sinned, the disobedient spirits (referring back to the sons of God who sinned in Gen 6:1–4)—in all the traditions, they are put in prison, in an abyss; they are locked away, so to speak.

Heiser, M. S. (2016). BI161 Problems in Bible Interpretation: Difficult Passages I. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.


Hi @jimmy ,

Thanks for that quick reply. I have greatly appreciated the insights Heiser has about “sons of god”. I have read some of his book ‘Unseen Realm’ and I find his interpretations helpful in understanding the overall story of the Bible - of God selecting Israel and setting it apart as holy and through Israel proclaiming His message of redemption to the gentiles of other nations who were still under the power of the ‘sons of God’. I found Heiser’s commentary on Deut 32:8 enlightening. Interpreting the spirits in prison as disobedient angels of Genesis 6:1-4 seems possible even with 1 Peter 3:18-20. It’s probably conveying the same meaning as Ephesians 3:9-10. Proclaiming to spirits in prison in 1 Peter 3 seems similar to the concept of the wisdom of God being made known to principalities and powers in Ephesians 3.

But I am still not sure how to explain the bolded letters below in 1 Peter 4:6. Perhaps 1 Peter 3:18-20 and 1 Peter 4:6 are not referring to the same beings as the pastor interpreted.

1 Peter 4:6 ESV
For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does.

The gospel was preached to the dead so that their spirits may live. In 1 Peter 4:6, the dead here could be referring to the gentiles and not disobedient spirits. An explanation I have seen for 1 Peter 4:6 is that gospel was preached to gentiles who were once living but are now dead.

So 1 Peter 3:18-20 could be referring to disobedient angels and 1 Peter 4:6 seems to refer to the disobedient gentiles.

I hope I am processing correctly. Please let me know where I could be off. Thank you.

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This was certainly my initial thoughts when reading that specific passage.

Jesus was put to death “but made alive in the spiritual realm” and “In that state He also went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison”.

I find it odd that this pastor is using this to justify his own practices because what Jesus did here was very specific to his own fulfilment of death and resurrection. Even if we struggle to understand exactly what it means that he preached to the spiritual realm, I’d say this passage is not prescriptive for Christians to follow because it seems to be a very unique action that Christ fulfilled in that moment, as he proclaimed to all heaven and earth that death has no power over him.

Preaching the gospel to spirits of those who are deceased calls into question the whole idea of whether we have eternal opportunity to accept the gospel once we have died, and therefore is the gospel really needed if spirits can choose heaven in the afterlife?


This is a good way of addressing the issue to the pastor. Thank you.

That was exactly my concern. The story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31 also supports the idea that there is no more opportunity after death. There seems to be a chasm between Hades and Abraham’s side which cant be crossed in the afterlife.

What I have seen in many circles that claim to receive supernatural biblical insights is that they are actually veering away from doctrine that comes through plain reading of scripture. It is challenging to confront these errors because of the large influence they have.


I am not finding a consensus on1 Peter 4:6 in the commentaries that I have but this snippet is helpful in understanding the context:

Since the time of the ancient church, the enigmatic thought of preaching to the dead in 4:6 has prompted two general interpretations. Those who support a postmortem opportunity for conversion take 4:6 as a broader instance of Christ preaching to the spirits in 3:19. Others take it to refer to those who are spiritually dead even though physically alive. In the immediate context, Peter’s point is that death does not exempt a person from God’s coming judgment. Accountability after death was not widely taught in the pagan world. With such an assumption, a pagan critic could reasonably question what good the gospel is, since it seems so restrictive of behavior in this life, and then the believer dies like everyone else. Peter, however, teaches that because people will be judged even after physical death, contra pagan expectation, the gospel message of forgiveness and judgment that has been preached to those who are now dead—whether they became believers or not—is still efficacious. Death does not invalidate either the promises or the warnings of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Peter’s claim not only would warn the unbeliever but would also encourage Christians concerning believers who may have passed on. Peter reassures his readers that the efficacy of the gospel continues after physical death to be the basis for God’s judgment, and therefore a decision to live for Christ in this life is truly the right decision, even despite appearances to the contrary as judged by the world’s reasoning. As Calvin (1963: 302) eloquently puts it in his commentary on this verse,

We see … that death does not hinder Christ from being always our defender. It is a remarkable consolation to the godly that death itself brings no loss to their salvation. Even if Christ does not appear as Deliverer in this life, yet His redemption is not void, or without effect, for His power extends even to the dead.

Jobes, K. H. (2005). 1 Peter (pp. 270–271). Baker Academic.

Two things stick out in this excerpt;

  1. Is there a possibility of postmortem salvation? I think not.
  2. Is God the God of the living and the dead. I think so. Rom 14:9

Thanks Jimmy for looking into this for me. The statement below summed it up well for me.

1 Peter is surely a book of promises of hope for the suffering Christian. Here’s how I understand it. I think Peter is saying that those who suffer on earth now for Christ have the promises of reward in heaven as Christ is risen above all authority. Even though those who go after their natural passions seem not to be suffering and are merry now, we need not envy them and we must be open to suffering because death is coming for the unrighteous at judgement, unless saved by the gospel.

As I look at the context of suffering in the chapters, I am more and more convinced that these verses have nothing to do with post-mortem evangelism. They are more of an exhortation to be open to suffering for Christ’s sake knowing the hope that is to come. I feel more confident that 1 Peter 4:6 must be about real people who once lived and 1 Peter 3:18-20 is about Christ’s authority over other spirits.



Today I came across an article by JI Packer, “Did Christ descend into hell?” with a comment on 2 Peter 2:4-5 that matched the explanation you provided in ythe quote above. I also noticed through bible cross references that Jude 6-7 also describes the same event. On comparing the context of 1 Peter 3:18-20 with these two verses, I think we can say with confidence that the ‘spirits in prison’ are fallen angels indeed.

Thanks so much for helping me understand this tricky verse.


Glad you found the post helpful. In my studies, I have found it helpful to remember that the great story in Gen 1-11 is in part about the “cosmic” rebellion that is going on in heaven on earth and is finished in Rev 12-19 ish. I also feel that Gen 1-11 begs the question, where is our rescue (salvation?) We know that Messiah is the one that rescues Yahweh’s creation (our salvation), the one that the whole of “scripture” (Tanakh) looks for, the promise fulfilled by Jesus Messiah. The victory is celebrated in Rev 20-22.

My thoughts.