The Agora
Bible Articles and Lessons: E

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Enoch and the spirits in prison


With the benefit of hindsight, from having studied the more detailed argument in 2Pe, 1Pe 3:19 obviously links, in some way as yet to be defined, Christ and the Shemjaza and the 200 fallen angels of Enoch [these characters are found in Apocryphal literature, but not in the Bible, of course!].

This approach, with the linking of the events of Enoch and Christ, is somewhat different than the conditional argument of 2Pe 2:4: "For IF God spared not the angels that sinned... THEN..."


Firstly, this is not Peter's last word on the subject; it is only the first sign of a problem that later caused a second letter to be written. It cannot be read in any way that would contradict the 2nd letter.

Secondly, we do not know why Peter's comments are so oblique in 1Pe as compared with 2Pe. Nor the time lapse between the two. Nor when Jude wrote his letter. Perhaps the "fiery trial which is to try you" was a more pressing concern.

Thirdly, the verse is often misread to read "Christ went and preached unto the spirits in prison". Christ did not go. 1Pe 3:18 refers to "the SPIRIT by which also [he] went and preached unto the spirits in prison". The word "he" is not in the text, as it is not required by Greek grammar, but probably refers to Christ rather than to God.

Fourthly, alongside the Enoch reference there is a clear OT reference here to the Messianic prophecy in Isa 42:5-7: "to bring the bound and them that sit in darkness out of bonds and the prison house".

Fifthly, Peter was probably also thinking of Isa 61:1: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me he has sent me to preach glad tidings to the poor, to heal the broken in heart, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those that are bound."

So why should Christ be preaching, by the Spirit, to spirits in prison, which were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah?

The answer to that question lies in a detailed comparison of 1Pe, 2Pe, Enoch, and Isaiah, but observe in the Greek text that there is no particle between "preached" and "disbelieved/disobeyed". This would indicate a sequential relationship -- that the Spirit by which Christ "preached" was "disbelieved" in the days of Noah. It then becomes necessary to look for the Spirit of Christ c 400 BC.

Now, according to the Enoch legend, this is perfectly possible as Shemjaza and the other angels were bound in chains for 70 generations starting from an unspecified point prior to the flood, allowing Noah and his great grandfather Enoch (who interestingly was "at the ends of the earth" and not in heaven)         to discuss them prior to the flood. Enoch 10 describes the proclamation judgement on another angel-gone-bad, Azazel, and the earth.

The alternative belief that Christ went, while in the grave or after his resurrection, to preach to these angels is not supported by the grammar. Peter is describing a past event.

Peter explains himself what he means by "disbelieve/disobey" in 1Pe 2:7,8; 3:1; 4:17.

It is suggested that Peter's reference to "spirits in prison" and "the days of Noah" here is consistent with his reference in 2Pe 2:5: "And spared not the old world, but saved Noah the eighth person, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood upon the world of the ungodly."

Note that our key words from Isa 42 and Isa 61 have just reappeared -- coincidence?

If the Gospel was preached to Abraham (which we accept), then why is it not possible that Noah preached by the "quickening spirit" of Christ during his day? "The figure like whereunto baptism does now save us" (1Pe 3:21).

If that is what Peter is saying, then the way he concludes his brief reference in 1Pe 3:19 to the thorny subject of the Book of Enoch leaves no doubt whatsoever about his beliefs concerning angels: "By the resurrection of Jesus Christ; who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God: angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him".


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