The Evangelical Universalist Forum

JRP vs. JPH vs. Christian Universalism

Part 8: Disagreements on Matt 16

Moving on to Matt 16:17-19 (the promise that the gates of hades will not stand strong against the Church), JPH acknowledges that two early Christian writers interpreted this and similar verses to mean that hell would be raided and its prisoners evangelized and set free.

(As a reminder, many more than two early writers believed so!–as noted in an earlier Part, this was the majority stock interpretation of Christian authorities for several hundred years, although they differed on the scope of evangelization out of hades and what would happen to anyone left over if there was anyone. They also differed on whether anyone else would go in after Christ raided it. Eastern Orthodox Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyev collects and reports primary source data on this topic in his recent Christ the Conqueror of Hell.)

JPH thinks that since the verb {katischusousin}, “shall be down-stronging” remains (in Jewish Greek) an active verb when paired with the genitive preposition “of her”, which must refer to the ecclesia (i.e. the out-called), then this is not a reference to the church busting (with the keys of the kingdom of heaven) into hades to raid it. “The gates, therefore, would seem to be attacking the church.” (This topic does not seem to be in WIHIGO, by the way.)

Back when I was a non-universalist, I regarded this verse as referring to the gates oppressively keeping the ecclesia in hades, yet I had problems with this theory because the righteous (especially the church) do not always elsewhere seem oppressed by being in hades–and the Christian church in the NT never seem to go to hades at all! At the time I figured that since the “church” included the pre-Christian people in the paradise side of sheol (and/or possibly in soul sleep), then they could still be said to have been oppressed by the gates of hades, since they couldn’t get out.

Anyway, the point is that city or prison gates oppress not only by looming over above the ones trying to get through (whether trying to invade or trying to escape), but defenders of the gates also actively resist breaching!–there are archers and stones and burning oil etc., as might be forgotten in our modern day but which would have been immediately obvious to most hearers or readers up until relatively modern times. (And which could never be forgotten by anyone living in prison as punishment for their deeds.)

The active-ness of the verb in relation to the church, consequently, does not therefore eliminate an interpretation of the church raiding hades through its (no doubt metaphorical) “gate”: the gate-guards would (by the same poetic analogy) be trying to stop the church by counterattacking, and there’s the active verb. Matthew, a Jew writing in Greek, does not have to be making an exception to the rule.

That doesn’t mean I would read out an exclusive meaning of post-mortem salvation here: the principle obviously extends to evangelization in this life, too.

JPH thinks however that the active meaning of the verb requires the gates of hell must be exclusively understood some other way (since an understanding of both-now-and-later would include post-mortem salvation). Does understanding the term “gates of hades” as metonymy for the whole ‘city’ of hades help with that? I don’t see how: I don’t know anyone at any time who ever thought that only the (metaphorical) area near the gate was important to the concept! (City resistance certainly doesn’t start and stop at the gate!) Does the term “gates of hades” being a metaphor for the experience of death help? Hardly, since by the same token we’re talking about resurrection from hades, which no orthodox Christian on any side of the question denies will involve both the good and the evil–but then the special relationship of the church per se to the gates of hades is missing from the interpretation.

Yet from these two interpretations of the poetic figure (that the gates represent the whole city, and that the city represents death), JPH thinks that an interpretation such as he quotes from Hagner is appropriate: “…(T)he church as God’s eschatological community will never die or come to end – this despite the eventual martyrdom of the apostles and even, more immediately, the death of its founder…” But how does this interpretation square with JPH’s own insistence (which I agree is correct) on the gate actively resisting the church? Gates are defensive structures; also, still in NT times to some extent, a place where judges live and hold court (as noted for example in Deut 16:18 and 17:2, cited by JPH. Currently his article features a slight typo referencing 16:16 instead.) To possess the gate of the enemy (as in Gen 22:17 and 24:60, also cited by JPH) is to overcome an active military resistance in order to occupy and rule a city, including as its judge.

But overcoming an active resistance in order to occupy and rule an area, including as its judge, looks an awfully lot like the harrowing of hades which JPH denies is the intention of this verse! The peculiarly passive interpretation he prefers instead (despite having brought up the active verbiage himself) does not seem to do sufficient justice to the strength of the imagery. JPH’s observation that in Matthew’s narrative Jesus begins from this time forth to teach about His own forthcoming death and resurrection (16:21, paralleled in other Synoptic Gospels) is very welcome and to the point: but again the point seems to me stronger than merely that “the church perseveres [JPH’s emphasis] not only, on earth but in the eternal life granted to the believer.” I certainly do not deny that the church perseveres in the eternal life granted to the member of the church (i.e. the believer), but if our Captain of the Resurrection overcomes an active resistance in order to occupy and rule and area, including as its judge–which is what JPH’s own citational references to gates in the OT indicate by poetic analogy–and if that area is hades, then isn’t JPH missing something important from the interpretation here?

(JPH has some more successful criticisms to make against his Mormon opponent in regard to this verse, but not being a Mormon I will pass over those. Although, based on how he goes about his criticisms, now I am curious as to whether JPH regards himself as a Catholic instead of a Protestant, since if Protestants are protesting anything it is that the church did to some significant degree apostatize!–otherwise all trinitarians would be unified in one organizational group. Be that as it may.)

Next up: John 5

Part 9: Disagreements on John 5

Next, JPH argues that John 5:24-29 does not mean that all those in their graves who hear His voice and come out at His call (v.28-29a), some to a resurrection of life and some to a resurrection of judgment (v.29), will have a chance to believe Him in hearing His word and so have eternal life without condemnation passing out of death into life instead (v.24).

JPH thinks that since verses 24 and 25 begin with the Johannine double Amen, and since verse 26 begins with a new train of thought (“For…”), then it is clear that if there is any link of verse 25 to another verse in the passage it cannot be to anything after the word “For”. But this is very strange, since Biblical Greek just like English uses “for” (in a couple of ways but especially by the postpositive {gar} as in this verse) as a conjunction to signal logical connections between ideas.

But of course, if there was a logical connection signified by {gar} there (as is true in the vast if not unanimous majority of times that term is used in the scriptures) then the idea of verse 25 would be explicitly linked to verse 26 and thus (as JPH tacitly allows by attempting such an exclusion) to verse 28 and 29.

Even more strangely, JPH insists that verses 24 and 25 must refer to those who are “only spiritually dead”–as though anyone anywhere (including JPH) denies that the impenitent wicked are still spiritually dead post mortem!

The topical disjunction attempt becomes stranger again when JPH claims that “life” in verses 24 and 26 obviously is meant in an “eternal” sense (which I agree is true) but that this sense is only “figurative” compared to the physical life of the resurrection in later verses. Personally I am glad that I have never once regarded eonian life, which must on any interpretation refer to God’s own life uniquely and directly from God, as being only figurative compared to physical life!–but then JPH by the same token must regard the resurrection into life at verse 29 as being only physical not (merely?) “figuratively” eternal. But then what is a resurrection to judgment for those who have done evil supposed to mean in contrast to those who have been raised to a physical (instead of “figuratively” eternal) life??

These are not arguments I would have ever imagined trying to make to defend against the possibility of post-mortem salvation. But the exegetical case here is even stronger than for merely post-mortem salvation; for just as JPH correctly charges his Mormon opponent for omitting the context of verse 24, I also see from verses 22-23 what the contextual purpose of the Father is, in giving all judgment to the Son: {hina pantes timôsi ton huion kathôs timôsi ton patera} “in order that all may honor the Son, even as they honor the Father” (with the logical clarification that “the one who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father Who sent Him”).

That term for judgment is the same one being repeatedly referenced afterward at least as far as verse 30 (where Jesus does shift over into the topic of witnesses, the point being that by their own standards the Jews–most likely meaning the Jewish leaders–ought to have recognized and trusted in Him).

How would this not explain, and nicely in advance, what the purpose of the judgment ({tên krisin} and cognates) by the Son is for?

verses 24-25: the one who hears the word of the Son and believes in the Father Who sends the Son, already honors the Son and the Father (of course), so has eonian life and passes out of the death {ek tou thanatou} into the life, instead of coming into the judgment (or crisis) by the Son–the goal of judgment being that all may honor the Son and the Father, the result of which would be that those who come to honor the Son and the Father pass out of the death into eonian life. It is in this context that the double-amen occurs, promising that an hour is coming when the dead ones shall hear the voice of the Son, and those who hear shall live.

verses 26-27: Just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He also gives (a more accurate translation than “gave”) to the Son to also have life in Himself, and gives to the Son (as the Son of Man as well as the Son of God per verse 25) authority to do judging–the goal of which was already just recently explained to be that all may honor the Son and the Father and so pass out of the death into eonian life.

verses 28-29: An hour is coming in which all who are in the tombs shall hear His voice, and those who do good shall go out into a resurrection of life, yet those who do the bad( thing)s shall go out into a resurrection of judgment–the goal of the judgment being (as was just previously explained by Jesus) that all may honor the Son and the Father and so pass out of the death into eonian life.

verse 30: As the Son hears, He judges, absolutely not for Himself (with a double-negative emphasis in Greek), because He does not seek His own will but the will of the One Who sends Him. And His judging is fair (or just) {kai hê krisis hê emê dikaia estin}–because the goal of the Son’s judgment, as the Son just recently explained, is that all may honor the Son and the Father and so pass out of the death into eonian life.

Verse 23 not only expressly explains the goal of the Son’s judgment, but provides the context for understanding what the Son means by just or fair judgment–even when that judgment is, understandably, a crisis for the currently impenitent sinner, the one who is still doing the bad things.

These are not small matters. The whole point of the judgment is that all may honor the Father. Why the Son would come to accept some impure or hypocritically false honoring of the Father (or even Himself) is something that, fortunately, I no longer have need to defend (having become a Christian universalist), but even annihilation would involve a failure in the goal of Christ’s just judgment. Indeed by the express terms of Christ’s declarations here, a judgment without the goal that all may honor/value the Father (the Greek term for honoring there routinely carries a positive valuation of the object being honored) would be an unjust judgment!

JPH doesn’t mention any of that, but he does somehow think that because the passage from death to life happens now it does not also happen in the future. Which of course, if accepted as a principle, would mean that none of us living in the future of this scene would have any hope of salvation from sin! That people are also “hearing the voice even [JPH’s emphasis]at the present time” does not mean that that people will not hear the voice in the future. (As JPH himself tacitly acknowledges by including the “even” there: “even now” implies “also at some other time”.)

JPH does fairly acknowledge that the word for the dead in verse 25, {hoi nekroi} the dead ones (plural), “commonly refers to actually dead bodies” and that some commentators argue the term should be thought of as such here, too. JPH also acknowledges that if this is accepted then of course this “would then clearly have to be ‘coming to life’ in the context of being alive in [JPH’s emphasis] the resurrection of final judgment.” But that was the whole point he was trying to argue against by supposing the topically and logically conjunctive “for” did not continue the line of topical thought! JPH is also aware that such a topical link would strongly challenge (even without a topical reference to the goal of the judgment back at verse 23) what the judgment is supposed to involve, and so would strongly challenge his notion of what the finality of it is. Otherwise he wouldn’t have been trying so hard to break the topical connection at verse 26!

If JPH insists, I can acknowledge that these verses do not refer to a pre-judgment visit to a spirit prison–although the greater topic being discussed in these verses (a post-mortem judgment with the goal of universal salvation from sin) certainly does not exclude the concept of the lesser topic of post-mortem-but-pre-judgment salvation.

I can also grant that Daniel 12:1-3 (nor nearby context so far as I can tell) does not explicitly reference post-mortem salvation, although neither does the language strictly exclude it (the term commonly translated “everlasting” there being not only flexible as to duration but also demonstrably capable of being used twice in close context to compare and contrast that which lasts a long time but isn’t really everlasting to that which or Who really is everlasting. Compare with Hab 3:6.) The reference to those “who lead the many to righteousness” would certainly fit any indications elsewhere of post-mortem evangelism, although the phrase (so far as I know) doesn’t necessarily have to involve that. (On the other hand, since “many” nearby at verse 2 is definitely a euphamism for “all”, “many” might mean “all” at verse 3 as well, even though I do not insist that the context necessarily points that direction.)

Next up: Rom 10

Part 10: Disagreements on Romans 10

Moving on to the next scripture: JPH replies to an argument that Romans 10:14-18 refers to total evangelism by Christ, with the “problem” that the passage has to be read in light of Psalm 19:1-3, where it is the heavens and the skies declaring the glory of God all over the world. (This topic doesn’t seem to be in WIHIGO, by the way.)

While I am always for checking NT statements in context of their OT citations and allusions, I don’t see how this helps JPH’s argument against total evangelization by Christ, since St. Paul is very specific that this counts as evangelization by Christ.

Paul is so specific about this that JPH (very weirdly, considering that he himself acknowledges pre-mortem total evangelization by Christ one way or another) has to try suggesting that Paul’s application of the word “gospel” to this doesn’t necessarily refer to “the New Testament message of salvation”. (Of course “gospel” here doesn’t refer to a specific book or books of the Bible, which probably weren’t even written yet at the time of EpistRom’s composition.)

Yet the whole preceding context of Rom 10 is explicitly about the gospel as the message of salvation!–it isn’t (despite JPH’s attempt at suggesting otherwise) about just any kind of random good news! The 14th verse itself at the beginning of his Mormon opponent’s citation is Paul’s expanding rhetorical question (“How then shall they call upon Him in whom they have not believed?”–and how can they believe if they have not heard, etc.?) following his own citation of Joel 2:32 that “Whoever will call upon the name of the Lord (i.e. YHWH) shall be saved.” Which follows directly much discussion from Paul about confessing Jesus as Lord and believing that God raised Him from the dead and how this results in salvation. Verse 9: “you shall be saved” (for confessing and believing). Verse 10: “resulting in salvation” (for confessing and believing). Verse 13: “Whoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Paul begins what we call chapter 10 (v.1) declaring that his heart’s desire and his prayer to God for non-Christian Israel (those stumbling over the stone of offense, i.e. over Christ) is for their salvation. He cites Isaiah 28:16 at verse 11, where the context is explicitly about God punishing the people in Jerusalem who have made a covenant with death and a pact with Sheol so that they shall repent and be saved. (Their covenant with death shall be canceled on God’s authority and their pact with Sheol shall not stand–but it would be better to put their trust in the cornerstone now than to be made ashamed by God when YHWH rises up at Mount Perazim to do His unusual task and His alien work of the decisive destruction of all the Earth.)

The faith that comes from hearing in verse 17 is absolutely saving faith per Paul’s prior discussion of it in immediately preceding and local contexts. This is also, by the way, the context of Paul’s notice (at verses 19-20, with OT quotations) that Israel had been alerted ahead of time that in one way Gentiles who were not even seeking God would be saved before Israel! Chapter 11 continues the theme of Israel’s coming salvation, too: God has not rejected His people, even though they have rejected Him and stumbled over the stumbling stone (which God foreknew would happen). But they have not stumbled so as to fall–may it never be!

Admittedly, Paul’s point here is that Jews (even in the dispersion) have had the same witness from general revelation that everyone else has had, even when they weren’t paying sufficient attention to their specially granted revelations. But the message from which faith comes is heard through the word of Christ, and Paul’s question of whether the Jews have heard the good news of Christ is answered by his reference to general revelation that is available to both Jew and Gentile. It may be strange for Christians to consider this general revelation as being also the saving word of Christ (which of course can be rejected as well as accepted), but it fits Paul’s argument earlier in the chapter that the Word (which he explicitly identifies as Christ, although in the OT scripture he is citing the Law is immediately in view) doesn’t have to be brought down from heaven by anyone or brought up from the swirling depths by anyone (a Jewish euphamism for the prison of rebel spirits!), but that the Word (==Christ, Who is the Word of faith being preached by the apostles) is already near, “in your mouth and in your heart”. For what purpose?–to lead people to confess Jesus is YHWH/Lord and that God has raised Him out from the dead, and so be saved.

I also observe that the rabbis, when regarding Isaiah 52:7, considered the beautiful feet bringing good news, as cited by Paul at 10:15, to be first and foremost the feet of the Messiah! In the OT the feet do belong to someone singular–by context they seem to belong to YHWH Who says “in that day, I am the one Who is speaking, ‘Here I am!’” and Who bares His holy arm to save Jerusalem from their folly of allying with pagan oppressors. Paul renders them the feet of plural persons, no doubt to include evangelists less than Christ in Christ’s purpose of evangelism. But Christ’s purpose and capability of evangelism happens to be primarily in view elsewhere in Romans 10, so it is reasonable to infer that Paul was reminded of the typical rabbinic interpretation of Isaiah 52:7. (The themes of Israel’s salvation from idolatry and from their punishment and oppression as a result of their idolatry, are not exactly foreign to either Paul’s nearby argument nor to the other OT verses he cites nearby, of course.)

Does this count as post-mortem evangelism though? I wouldn’t argue that this is primarily in view in chapter 10, but the allusion to Christ coming up out of the swirling depths (the Abyss, the prison of rebel spirits) does seem pertinent: no one has to bring Him down from heaven, He does that on His own volition in order to save His enemies from their rebellions. By the same token no one has to bring Him up from the Abyss either, He does that on His own volition, too, and for the same purpose. I would however argue that the eventual thrust of Romans 11 includes post-mortem salvation for Jews and so also by parity for Gentiles: even if they have stumbled over the stumbling stone, they have not stumbled so as to fall. Yet Jews must have died while still stumbling over Christ. (I would also argue that Paul’s OT citations back in Romans 9 point toward post-mortem salvation: God the potter can destroy and remake the pottery while it is still on the wheel, but He can also restore the fired pottery after He breaks it, etc.)

It is extremely strange that JPH can even try to argue instead that “when Paul here speaks of ‘gospel’ he means not the message of Christ per se but the ‘gospel’ of general revelation alluded to in Psalm 19:1-3”. Which Paul explicitly calls “the word of Christ”! JPH thinks that this general revelation was not the message of Christ per se, but only barely cites any contextual reason for thinking otherwise, namely that Paul quotes Isaiah 53:1 “indicating that not all have believed”. But Isaiah was complaining that not all Israel had believed his special revelation to them from God!–and no one anywhere is arguing that it is impossible to refuse (at least temporarily) to accept the good news from general revelation. Paul himself goes on, precisely in his reference to Psalm 19, to indicate that the Jews who were rejecting their specially granted revelation (as in Isaiah 53 along with tons of other places in the prophets) still had general revelation available to everyone that they were also rejecting. “But (verse 18) surely they [who at verse 16 rejected the gospel as exemplified by their rejection of Isaiah] have never heard [the word of Christ from which comes faith, per verse 17], have they? Indeed they have! (Psalm 19)”

So some Jews rejected both special revelation, per Isaiah, and general revelation, of the sort mentioned in Psalm 19. But that only means some Jews are still stumbling; it doesn’t mean they always will. Much less does it mean they are stumbling over something that isn’t the gospel of salvation!

JPH’s whole rationale is otherwise an indisputable argument that the word could be used for any kind of good tidings including secular. But the relevant contextual question is: what is Paul using it for?! The context does not leave much obscure mystery to the answer of that question.

Next up: 2 Corinthians 6

Just a brief reminder that, although this thread is locked in order to keep the Parts together, back at the beginning I created a thread for discussing the Parts of my reply, which can be found here:

Anyone is welcome and invited to talk about this thread there, ask questions, etc.

Part 11: Disagreements on 2 Corinthians 6

(This topic doesn’t appear to be addressed in WIHIGO, by the way.)

As noted earlier, I actually agree with JPH that 2 Cor 6:2 is in itself no evidence for post-mortem salvation: certainly St. Paul’s context of it involves a present warning for his fellow Christians not to receive the grace of God as being worthless (6:1).

What that means is more disputable: the traditional chapter division tends to regard 6:1-2 (including the citation from Isaiah 49:8, and Paul’s application of it to the present day) as being topically connected more with verses 3ff on the witness of a good Christian social life, so the point would be not to receive the grace of God and yet have an empty life.

However, this does not really square with Paul’s citation of Isaiah 49 and its contexts, which are extremely different. But those contexts do square up in interesting ways with Paul’s famous declarations ending out chapter 5; leading to an exegetical argument that chapter 6 really ought to have started with verse 3 “We are giving no cause for offense in anything so that the ministry is discredited” and so on.

Whatever else Isaiah 49 is about, it is not about living a good life as a witness to the nations for their salvation (good advice though that is for evangelism). Nor is it about what JPH thought, a day of salvation when the Lord supported His people in the past (although JPH does recognize that the day is “not merely a single day, for of course God did not help his people for only one day”.) Frankly, I find it hard to believe that he read the chapter even a little when replying to his Mormon opponents here.

Isaiah 49, including verse 8, is totally about God’s promise to support His people in the future, even though they have betrayed Him once again, when He arrives visibly to rescue them from being overrun by pagan armies in the great and terrible Day of the Lord to come.

This is also thematically woven with God speaking to righteous Israel as His servant–often regarded by Jews as referring to the King Messiah to come, and of course applied by us Christians to Jesus Christ as the ultimate Messiah (with the prophet taking turns under inspiration speaking for the Father and the Son), perfectly fulfilling the role of righteous Israel. So when YHWH says at verse 8 “In a favorable time I have answered you, in a day of salvation I have helped you” He is by narrative design speaking to Israel exemplified in the Messiah.

Paul in referring to this verse and insisting that now is the day of salvation and the favorable time, therefore probably refers to the Father having helped and saved the Messiah/Son–that time to come was in the future of Isaiah (when the Servant seemed to have toiled in vain and spent His strength for nothing and vanity) but has now been accomplished in Paul’s recent past. (Although other details of the prophecy certainly have never yet been fulfilled, and remain to be fulfilled in our own future.)

God’s grace (per 2 Cor 6:1) was not in vain after all, despite He Who knew no sin volunteering to be a sin (offering) on our behalf (5:21 immediately prior). What was the goal?–why was the Servant spending out His strength to the final extreme? “So that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” answers Paul (5:21b); and not only us, but in Christ God was reconciling all creation to Himself (5:19) for which reason we are now the ambassadors of God exhorting people and begging them on behalf of Christ “Be reconciled to God!”

Just as God’s grace in saving the Son was not in vain, so the Son’s sacrifice on the cross will not be in vain: the world will be reconciled to God. Similarly the love of Christ compels us who have concluded that One died for all, therefore all died, and He died for all that they who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf. (2 Cor 5:14-15)

Consequently, to preach less than Christ’s goal of reconciling all (Calvinism), or to preach that Christ’s reconciliation of any to God shall be in vain (Arminianism), is to receive the grace of Christ in vain! (And, not incidentally, this routinely gives cause for offense, discrediting our ministry!)

Nor is this topic foreign to Isaiah 49: the purpose of the Servant of God is to bring Jacob (here standing for rebel Israel) back to God so that all Israel may be gathered to Him. (v.5) To which God adds that being His Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel is not enough (which must in context refer to the resurrection of rebel and faithful Jews, thus also to the post-mortem salvation of rebel Jacob!)–God will also make His Servant a light to the nations so that God’s salvation will reach to the ends of the Earth! As the Servant and Holy One, Who was despised and abhorred by the nation of Israel, is rescued by YHWH, so shall Israel Who despised the Holy Servant be rescued; and as rescuing all of Israel is too small a thing to honor and glorify God (verses 3 and 5) so shall “God’s salvation” (the phrase from which Jesus literally derives His name) go out even to the pagan kings and princes who shall come to loyally serve the Servant of Kings (vv.6-7) The Father has given the Son to us explicitly as a covenant of the people, that as the Son was answered and saved (after dying no less!) so shall the land be restored and the desolated areas (desolated by God in punishment for sin) be rebuilt, and those in prison and in darkness shall be called forth to show themselves and come to God from the north and from the west even from as far away as “the land of ‘the thorns’” (i.e. Sinim, which may be a prophetic reference to China which came to be known by a similar term in several languages. But which surely stands in a pun for the furthest destitution imaginable.)

This is all despite the avowed fact (such as at 49:25-26 but in many other places also) that God intends to utterly kill the pagan armies invading and besieging Israel at the time of His visitation and rescue of Israel from them. (This is the part that has certainly not happened yet.) But this is so that (as in v.26) all flesh will know that YHWH is the Savior and Redeemer and the Mighty One of Jacob: with the results that prophetically follow from people coming to know this, namely (as earlier in the prophecy, with strong though poetic indications of resurrection of the evil as well as the good) final loyalty to God and reconciliation between men.

So while I can and do agree that 2 Cor 6:2 of itself is no argument for post-mortem salvation, in connected context with the preceding verses conjoined with the situation being referenced by Paul in Isaiah I would argue (as more than the mere “hypothesis” JPH seems to expect from his Mormon opponents) that Paul is actually admonishing his readers not to be ministers of a lesser reconciliation but to remember the example of Christ and His resurrection as the covenant given by God Whom we can expect to keep His side of the covenant (even if we fail or intentionally fall on our side of it) in bringing about God’s goals for Christ’s sacrifice: the reconciliation of all sinners, living and dead, Jew and Gentile, to God (and in God to each other as well).

Next up: the epic three-subpart set of disagreements on Ephesians 4 begins!

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Part 12: Disagreements on Ephesians 4 (Part 1 of 3!)

Skipping over JPH’s discussion of his Mormon opponent’s attempts at trying to argue that the Father dwells within a third distinct system of paradise (I agree that his opponent has misunderstood the issues involved there, and certainly I base no arguments of my own on such a position), we go to Ephesians 4:8-10, which has indeed often been used in the ancient church (more often than JPH earlier seemed to realize) as an indication of Christ’s harrowing of hell.

I am not interested in disputing about the specifically Mormonistic application of these verses, so I’ll skip over that part of JPH’s comments on them here, too. The salient question is whether this indicates Christ descended into hades to save sinners who weren’t (in some way relevant to Christian universalism) already saved from their sins.

JPH argues that the term “lower” in “lower parts of the earth” is in the comparative tense not the superlative: in English we would say this is the difference between lower and lowest, where lower can-or-does imply a further extent beyond the secondary range (low, lower, lowest). Since (among JPH’s other reasons, to be discussed also below) the comparative and not the superlative is used, and since “the word ‘of’ is not in the original Greek” JPH thinks St. Paul must have been referring only to the Incarnation, with the ascent being the Ascension.

This portion of the discussion is going to take a while, so get ready for multiple parts of Part 12!

First: it’s true that the word “of” doesn’t appear in the Greek, but Greek has no word corresponding to “of” (in this sense) and instead signals that meaning by genitive grammar–and {tês gês} is genitive. “…of the earth” is an entirely standard and uncontentious translation. So this doesn’t read that Christ descended to the “lower earth”, i.e. compared to heaven, but to the “lower parts of” the earth. Which implies a descriptive comparison (if not a contrast) between lower and higher parts of the earth. For which there would be no need, and which wouldn’t make sense, if Paul was only talking about the Incarnation. But it makes good sense if Paul is at least talking about Christ being buried. But then, which captives is Christ leading out from among the dead ones where He was buried?

JPH actually grants that the phrase doesn’t read “the lower parts, the earth” as though it read (in effect) “the lower parts [namely] the earth”–although then his critique that the word “of” is not present loses whatever weight he thought its omission allowed. He accepts that there is a descriptive comparison implied by the genitive case of “of the earth” (although, somewhat consistently, he continues to call the phrase “the earth” as if an “of” did not exist in translation to English there). But he asserts, without clear explanation for why, that “[t]he interpretation requires that the phrase ‘the earth’ be taken as being ‘a genitive of opposition which further defines the preceding noun’”.

JPH thinks that such a “genitive of opposition which further defines the preceding noun” can be found in examples elsewhere in Ephesians, of which he quickly lists six examples; but even if that was true in a way which helped his interpretation here, it would only be stylistic evidence that Paul (or his scribe perhaps, since Ephesians is notorious for being composed in a quite different style from several other Pauline epistles) occasionally had that style in mind when writing the epistle. It wouldn’t be demonstrable evidence that he did so here at 4:9.

But JPH’s quick list of examples leaves unclear that there is even a relevant comparison in style.

For example, he lists Ephesians 2:14 as an example of what he means: the relevant genitive definition of a noun (although JPH doesn’t point explicitly to the phraseology he or rather his source has in mind) would be “the dividing wall of the barrier” {to mesotoichon tou phragmou}. Literally this verse would read that Christ breaks down (‘loosing’ in the sense of disintegrating) the midwall (or central wall) of the barrier between us. In English we would more likely say (as the NASB translates) that Christ broke down the barrier of the central wall between us, referring to the division between Jews and Gentiles, the metaphorical “central wall” functioning as a “barrier”, because we think of a barrier in modern terms more conceptually than actually.

But in the original Greek, Paul would be focusing on the heart of the barrier, the central wall, a particular important part of the barrier. The parallel (if there was a grammatic operation parallel here) would be Paul is focusing on a particular important part of “the earth”, “the lower parts of the earth”.

However, much more importantly, 2:14 doesn’t feature a prepositional phrase followed modified by a genitive phrase. That makes a difference because the debated phrase at 4:9 reads pretty straightforwardly {eis ta katôtera [merê] tês gês} “in(to) the lower-part]s of the earth”, not simply “the lower-part]s of the earth”. If it was the latter, Paul might (but not certainly would) mean “the earth, [of] the lower [parts]”, although that would be an odd way for Paul to talk about earth under heaven (though to be fair Ephesians is stylistically unique in any case!)–but grammatically it’s harder to switch the noun of the genitive phrase with the noun of a full accusative prepositional phrase: “in(to) the earth of the lower parts”. (Nor, notably, does JPH explicitly try to illustrate in detail what this would involve.) It’s true that 2:14 involves an accusative noun switching place (in English meaning) with a genitive noun, but not from within its own prepositional phrase: “the midwall” is simply the object of the verb, not an object of a preposition as at 4:9.

The same is true at 2:15, which reads literally “nullifying the law of the commandments”: it could read instead “nullifying the commandments of the law” (and probably was intended to mean that, where “the Law” means “the Torah”), but {ton nomon} ‘the law’ is simply a direct object to the verb, not the object-noun of a prepositional phrase.

I can’t figure out which genitive JPH (or his source rather) had in mind at 2:20, but I cannot find a translation that would flip any genitive for the dative noun of the only prepositional phrase in that verse (“on the foundation”: no one seems to read “on the apostles and the prophets of the foundation”, much less “on the capstone” or “on the same Jesus Christ of the” whatevers.)

The same is true for 6:14, which reads quite straightforwardly and in an uncontentious translation “then be standing, being girded about the loin of you in truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness”. Is something there supposed to be translated in English instead as “having put on the righteousness of the breastplate” or “about you of the loin”??

6:16 puts the verbs, the direct objects, and the genitive description of one of the direct objects, in very clunky places by English grammatic standards, requiring that the phrases and terms be moved around from their printed order to make sense in English: literally “you-shall-be-able all the darts of the evil-one the ones being-firery [or those having-been-set-on-fire] to-extinguish”, but in English grammar “you shall be able to extinguish all the set-afire darts of the evil one”. But untangling the goofy Greek word order doesn’t require a genitive noun to switch grammatic functions even with a direct object, much less with the object of an accusative or dative preposition.

6:17 again involves untangling weird Greek order in the words and phrases, although not nearly as crazed (by English standards) as in verse 16: literally “and the helmet of the salvation receive, and the sword of the spirit which is a declaration of God”, which doesn’t need much shuffling to fit English grammar construction “and receive the helmet of salvation and [receive] the sword of the spirit which is a declaration of God”. Where does a genitive noun switch places in grammatic function with any noun there in the translation??

Those are JPH’s six examples: and in not even one of them is the situation parallel to his interpretation of 4:9’s grammar. The two closest parallels (which I mentioned first for that purpose), which in English can or would certainly involve an “of-noun” switching grammatic functions with another noun, involve switching places with a standalone direct object to the verb, not with the object of a definite prepositional phrase. The other ostensible parallels only seem to involve, at most, moving genitive noun phrases out of their printed Greek order into a more comprehensible English order–not moving genitive nouns into some other grammatic function (much less switching them with other nouns now imported over into the genitive function in English).

But: even if legitimate parallels could be found in Ephesians for what is needed to make JPH’s grammatic interpretation work (switching a genitive noun with an object of an explicit but different kind of prepositional phrase), that wouldn’t mean this verse features that sort of intended meaning. Various levels of context indicate the genitive noun should (maybe) be switched (in English) with the direct object in two verses; otherwise we would read those verses the way the grammar indicates! The contextual argument would have to be solidly established first here, too.

(Notably, JPH in his article does not ever indicate that “the lower parts” is the object of an explicitly printed prepositional phrase. It’s one thing to ignore that in English the genitive form of “the earth” would be a prepositional phrase “of the earth”, but it’s another to ignore the explicit preposition {eis} of which “the lower parts” is the object. If the prepositions are not reckoned into the translation, it’s naturally much easier to propose that the nouns can be switched around in grammatic position. That the nouns should be switched around, even in that case, is a whole other argument though.)

Granted, a descent in Incarnation “fits with the theme of a descent/ascent or humiliation/exaltation Christology which first describes Jesus coming to earth, then ascending to heaven”, but so does a descent in Incarnation and then suffering in the Passion to the grave–a theme which no Christian of any stripe denies. By the same token, so would descent into spiritual hades (not merely a physical pit/sheol/grave) fit that theme (much moreso to save His own condemned enemies there!), as an ultimate humiliation in which Christ paradoxically exalts. Why we should stop with such a theme only at the Incarnation (and not include at least the Passion and Burial?!), JPH does not explain, on grammatic grounds or otherwise.

If you’re wondering whether I forgot to keep counting after “First”–I didn’t. It just took that long to cover the first part of my reply to JPH on this topic. There are much more problematic disagreements about Eph 4 on the way than this obscure grammatic topic!

In my original version of continuing Parts above, I tried to keep in mind possible revisions JPH has in mind for his agonistic suffering paradigm when discussing problems with his applications of hellshame below, specifically in terms of guesses about how he might synch up his theory better with repeated strong scriptural indications of God’s action in relation to people post-mortem (including in punishment).

Per some private correspondence with him, though, posted by me here in the commentary thread with his permission (with remarks from me afterward in subsequent posts in that thread), JPH will be disassociating God even further from relation to people post-mortem, so also further from any notion of punishment per se.

I don’t know specific details on that yet (as of 9/8/12), so I won’t be able to adjust my Parts above (and below) yet in that regard, but I’ll be removing references to my original guesses as to how he would revise. I’ve added similar updates to my first few Parts above as well.

Part 12: Disagreements on Ephesians 4 (Part 2 of 3!)

It took me a while to cover my first disagreement with JPH on Ephesians 4, but I’ll be able to move along more quickly for a while. (Although not quickly enough to avoid needing a third subpart to Part 12! Just wait until we get to 1 Peter…)

Second, then: while it is true that the adjective there is the comparative version of “low” (with grammatic modifications to make it fit the accusative noun “the parts” for the prepositional phrase “in the parts” {eis ta merê}), the only other time this adjective is used in the NT is at GosMatt’s account of Herod’s slaying of the children two years and lower. Which is obviously an example of the term referring inclusively to all portions below a level: the point to Herod’s slaughter was to pre-emptively kill every boy two years old and under.

Third, there are some early respectable Greek and other language transmissions of the text (including its only known papyrus} which do not include the {merê}, leaving the direct article “the” (in plural and accusative form) to be the object of the preposition “in”; thus “in the [things]”. With the comparative adjective this would be translated “in the lowers” or “in the lower-things”. Or putting the whole phrase set together: “in the lowers / the lower-things of the earth”.

Whether copyists added “parts” to clarify, or omitted it as being redundant to the meaning, is unclear; but either way it distinguishes some “lower” location or extent relative to “the earth” more generally. In fact, using the comparative adjective as a noun in such a way was one way to talk colloquially about hades!–a colloquialism still retained in the Greek speaking Eastern church over the centuries. (Attested for example by Archbishop Alfeyev in his book on the doctrinal history of Christ’s descent, previously mentioned.) At any rate, this uncertainty about whether {merê} was even original to the text is why I switched back and forth in the previous entry between translating it “in the lowers” and “in the lower parts”.

Fourth, the prepositional phase for “the lowers” or “the lower parts” (depending on whether the noun {merê} there was original to the text) is “{eis} the lower [parts]”. {eis} usually means “in” or “into”, or by extrapolation from “into” it could mean “to”. But any translation departing from the basic meaning of “in” ought to be justified by context. JPH hasn’t done this. (In fact he simply ignores that there is a prepositional phrase there at all!) Unless there is a good contextual reason for thinking otherwise, the phrase would indicate a meaning of Christ descending in or into the lower parts of the earth. That sounds like burial at least; and of course that would open up the possibility of applying the phrase as a standard Jewish euphamism for where spirits of those who died (especially rebel spirits) reside. Which also happens to be how the early church routinely read the phrase, even by people who denied post-mortem evangelism for anyone other than righteous OT heroes.

Fifth, JPH cites Ephesians 1:21-2 as a conceptual parallel; but those verses are part of a sentence that (probably) begins back at verse 20, and continues at least as far as verse 23. (I say “probably” because one of the annoying stylistic differences of this epistle compared to any other epistle attributed to St. Paul, is the huge run-on sentences that never seem to end. This makes it difficult for translators and interpreters to figure out where to properly punctuate.) And Christian universalists should be familiar with the contexts there, even if JPH isn’t.

Paul is praying (back in verse 18) that his Christian readers will be enlightened in the eyes of their heart so that they will know what is the hope of God’s calling, the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These things (19b) are in accord with the working of the strength of His might which He brought about in Christ when He (the Father) raised Him from the dead–which would be more accurately translated from Greek “raised out of the dead ones” plural (verse 20)–to be seated in the right-hand of Him among the heavenly ones.

Even if the reference to the dead ones (plural) is discounted as mere style, or only as referring to dead bodies instead of actual dead persons (although then the parallel contrast reference to “heavenly ones” wouldn’t seem to refer to actual persons either!), this is still by any reckoning a reference to Christ descending not merely to Earth in the Incarnation but descending to lower parts of the earth where the dead are. Which fits a translation of Christ descending “in(to) the lowers” or “into the lower parts” “of the earth” in the verse under dispute, 4:9.

Paul goes on to say in verses 1:22-23, that the Father under-sets all {panta hypetaxen} under the feet of Christ and gives Christ to the out-called (probably meaning the church here) as head over all {kephalên huper panta}. Headship always implies (later if not sooner!) a proper coherent relationship to those under the head, and the relationship in this case is not merely to the ecclesia but to {panta}, all. It is as the head of all that Christ, Who (very emphatically) fills complete the completion of the all in all (verse 23), is given to the Church (over which Christ is also head of course) by the Father.

And who is also included under this headship that shall complete the completion of the all in all? Every {archês} and {exousias} and {dunameôs} and {kuriotêtos} (every original leader and authority and power and lordship) and every name that is named not only in this age but in the age to come.

JPH thinks that “*n all likelihood, this [taking of prisoners captive] involves the ‘principalities and powers’ defeated on the cross”, yet that this doesn’t somehow involve a descent into the place where the principalities and powers are currently imprisoned (instead of roaming around freely to cause havoc however they wish). How those rebel principalities and powers, already captured and imprisoned by God before the cross, are brought back captive (in some way they weren’t already captive) by Christ after the cross, is left up to the imagination I guess. But Paul does talk about God triumphing over the powers by the cross, leading them in a victory procession, so that interpretation certainly has some merit.

No doubt since the rebel powers are still rebelling and so are not yet under the headship of Christ in proper subjection to Him, much less completed to the emphatic extent of completion by Christ, such promises would be an example of assurance by prophetic promise: the fulfillment is as certain as if it was already fulfilled. And not incidentally, Paul’s point back at the end of chapter 1 was to reassure Christians and teach them to understand (what they had apparently not understood yet but which would be revealed to them eventually) the total extent of the hope of God’s calling, the total extent of the glory of His inheritance to the saints, and the total extent of the surpassing greatness of His power into us {eis hêmas} the ones who believe in accord with the energy of the might of the strength of Him! Just as the Father had the strength to raise Christ out of the dead ones, so He shall have the strength to do all those other things, too. But those other things explicitly include bringing the rebel powers under the headship of the Son so that God may fully complete them, too.

Of course, JPH only refers to a limited context here–although even verse 1:22 could have provided him some hint of the meaning involved, since it talks about putting those rebel powers (included in all things) under His feet and under His headship, in comparative distinction from their current rebel state. But raiding the Plunder-Possessor to tie him up so that the plunder of the plunder-possessor can be plundered (as Christ wittily puns in Matthew 12, during a scene where the men who should have been His staunchest religious supporters are being rebuked with a warning of the sin against the Holy Spirit for denouncing as a work of Satan the salvation of one whose last state was worse than his first), is not exactly discontinuous with the idea of going to the place where the rebel spirit keeps captives captive and taking him and his captives captive instead, freeing his captives from him.

But that’s a breakout from some kind of spiritual prison!–and if Ephesians 1:21-22 is supposed to be conceptually related to 4:8-10 (which I strongly agree it is), then we are told in more detail what the goal of the campaign was, that it shall certainly be accomplished, and that (not incidentally) the descent of Christ wasn’t merely to the earth but to the grave, even to the place of the dead ones, just as His subsequent ascent was to the place of the heavenly ones.

I could go on to comment with equal topical irony on JPH’s similar appeal to Col 2:15, which is in direct context to verses from Col 1 famously appealed to by Christian universalists as a chief text.

Yet JPH has two more arguments against an interpretation against post-mortem salvation at Ephesians 4:8-10, which I think are worth examining, although that will take one more sub-part.*

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Part 12: Disagreements on Ephesians 4 (Part 3 of 3!)

We’re reaching my final disagreements with JPH over Ephesians 4–unless I happen to think of any others later, I guess! (I did skip over his connection to Colossians 2:15 after all.)

Sixth, JPH writes that “there is a problem in reading the passage as indicating a ‘breakout’ from a Spirit Prison, since the indication both in the Psalms source that forms the background (Psalm 68:18), and in the language [of Ephesians 4:8-10] is that Christ has taken prisoners (JPH’s emphasis) after some sort of campaign, not freed those who once were prisoners.”

But Psalm 68 does very explicitly feature God freeing prisoners in the Day of the Lord to come (which Paul is comparing in principle to the original descent of Christ): the Psalm starts out with hope of the day to come when YHWH shall destroy the wicked and lead out the prisoners into prosperity leaving the rebellious to dwell in a parched land! (verses 1-6) That is exactly the context of verse 18, where God ascends on high leading captive His captives!–which shall result (as verse 18 also says) not only in God receiving gifts among men from those who are His followers at His coming, but even also from the rebellious so that “YaH God” may dwell with them!

It would also be worth observing that in extended context (indicated elsewhere in the OT), those people who are being saved by God from imprisonment by the rebellious were put into that situation by God in the first place as punishment for their own rebellion.

I certainly allow that the specific events in view by David are most likely the institution of the millennial reign before the general resurrection (of which the OT has a lot to talk about), and so the rebels who repent (despite being left in the parched places deprived of their prisoners) could be survivors of God’s militant wrath against them (with Egypt sending envoys, although other prophecies indicate she will hold out a while due to faith in her river against punitive drought for continuing to rebel, and with Ethiopia–pagan at the time of the Psalm’s composition of course–quickly stretching out her hands to God, 68:31).

Even so, “God is to us a God of deliverances, and to YH God belong escapes for death” (verse 20, difficult to interpret or even to translate). And while God shall bring back someone from Bashan (historically a land not only of super-pagans and enemies of Israel but also ruled by Og last of the Rephaim, one of the descendents of the Nephilim, at the time of its conquest and total slaughter by the armies of Israel) and from the depths of the sea–the latter of which is certainly one of the poetic ways of describing places where rebel spirits are imprisoned, and given the ancient context of Bashan in connection with rebel spirits slain and imprisoned by God, namely the Nephilim, so would “Bashan” in this case–in order to shatter them in blood and feed them to dogs (which must refer to a continuation of their punishment)…

…nevertheless, there are indications even in Psalm 68 (vv.15-16) that the mountain of Basham shall become the dwelling place of God, despite Basham being also the mountain of many peaks which is envious of the mountain of God.

(The physical territory of Bashan is somewhere in what became Gilead and eventually Samaria; which matches with Ezekiel’s prophecy that in the coming millennial reign of YHWH on earth a new city and sanctuary complex will be built, along with the restoration of Jerusalem, 30 miles north of Jerusalem for YHWH to reside and for many of the sacrifices to be reinstated. In any case, even though the territory of Bashan shall be desolated by God’s wrath, especially in the Day of the Lord to come, it shall eventually be made fruitful again by God, as its name itself implies.)

And if the rulers of Bashan/the depths of the sea are the same rebels who were imprisoning the people God rescues from imprisonment–where God Himself had sent them as punishment for their own sins–then even Psalm 68 indicates that those rebels shall give gifts to God eventually in order for Him to live with them. Which may be why Psalm 68, after mentioning God bringing them back from the depths of the sea to harshly punish further, states that “they”, same pronoun referent, have seen the procession of God into the sanctuary: which is at least related to (if not exactly the same as) the temple at Jerusalem for which kings will bring gifts to God (v.29).

Seventh, and finally: JPH argues that there is a strong parallel between Ephesians 4:8-10 and an Aramaic Targum commentary (probably contemporary with and even prior to the epistle’s composition) on Psalm 18. The Aramaic commentator interprets the Psalm as applying to Moses the prophet (instead of to the Messiah, much less to YHWH) suggesting that the Psalm describes when Moses ascended into the skies at Sinai to learn the words of the Torah and give it as gifts to men, “tak[ing] captivity captive” while doing so. (This phrase and ascending to heaven do not appear in Psalm 18, but there are other things in it which could amount to those concepts, and other parallels to Eph 4:8-10 as well as to the end of Eph 1 for that matter are not lacking.)

JPH doesn’t accept that the Psalm applies to Moses, of course, but he still appeals to the wording of the Targum on the Psalm to argue that “[o]bviously there is nothing here to suggest that Moses went to Hades and freed a load of prisoners”, therefore “Paul now takes over this language to express Christ’s own fulfillment of Psalm 18, and there is no parallel idea of a descent into Hades for him to draw from. His readers would never have understood such a thing from this passage.”

That, I answer, might depend on whether any of his readers ever heard Paul teach that the righteousness out from faith regards Deuteronomy 30:12-14 as referring, not to Moses bringing the Torah from Sinai (much less bringing the Torah from across the sea), but to Christ descending from heaven and coming up out of the swirling depths (i.e. the Abyss) from among the dead! (Rom 10:6-8) But admittedly, even if they had heard Paul teach that before, they might not recall it, and so might not connect Paul’s teaching on this to Christ’s descent in the lowers of the earth here in this epistle.

In conclusion, regarding Ephesians 4:8-10: there is rather more to be said in favor of why the early Church often interpreted those verses to refer to Christ’s descent into hades to defeat Satan in what he regards as his most secure fortress, and even to raiding hades to bring out penitent prisoners (with some conceptual variations for what that should mean), than JPH has recognized.

However, despite my counter-criticism above, I am actually willing to grant that a raid into hades was not what Paul was primarily focusing on here, but rather was trying to talk about the propriety of gifts to be used by Christians for the work of service to the building up of the body of Christ; so that, holding to or walking in or speaking the truth in love, we may grow up into Him Who is the head (namely Christ) from Whom the whole body, being fitted and held together through every supplying joint, according to the working-measure of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.

But if (as I think) Paul was alluding (though not directly referring here) to the salvation of sinners by Christ from even hades at 4:8-10, then while I would have to agree this wasn’t what he was mainly talking about, I would also think it still makes a strong topical contribution to what the building up of the body in love involves: total scope and persistence in saving sinners from sin; the gift of hope even for those in hades; the promise and assurance that Christ shall save sinners, wherever they are, as surely as He Himself rose from the grave out of the ones who are dead.

This ought to have been an important part of what we were proclaiming and heralding all along, some as apostles, some as prophets, some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints of the work of service to the building up of the body of Christ–until we shall be attaining “the all”, in the unity of the faith and of a mature man’s true knowledge {epignôseôs} of the Son of God, in measure of the importance (or stature or primacy) of Christ’s complete fulfillment!

Anything less than such a total victory, can only be a lesser hope, a lesser assurance, a lesser proclamation: a lesser gift from God.

Next up: Disagreements on Philippians 2

Part 13: Disagreements on Philippians 2

Next, JPH considers Philippians 2:10-11, where St. Paul (quoting from Isaiah, with Jesus in the place of YHWH as trinitarian apologists are well aware) declares that “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth” (the utter scope of this phrase being Paul’s clarifying addition to his OT reference) “and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

JPH allows that an interpretation of total scope is “probably right”–which seems a peculiarly cautious qualification, considering that Paul goes explicitly goes beyond even Isaiah in emphasizing the scope. But he continues, “**ut that means nothing in terms of whether they hear that name and the result is love…or fear!” (JPH’s ellipse.)

JPH is replying to his Mormon opponent here, who is talking about servants of God assigned to preach the gospel in the spirit world, proclaiming then name of Jesus to them. But Paul isn’t talking about the name of Jesus merely being proclaimed to all those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, but about all those in heaven and on earth and under the earth bowing their knee and confessing with their tongue that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Is God supposed to accept a false bowing of the knee?!–a worship in less than love and truth?! But to clarify what he is talking about, the apostle translates the Hebrew verb {shâba}–the primitive root for completion (from which the Hebrew word for seven is also derived), and which implies at least nominal allegiance and intended honesty (by metaphor it came to mean ‘to swear an oath’, as in swearing seven times, or swearing with an intention to complete, or swearing in emphatic honesty)–as {exomologeô}, out-like-lay(say).

This is not, in Biblical Greek, a term of ambiguity–no more than {shâba} is Hebrew! This is a term to describe strongly positive agreement and alliance with whoever the confession is made to. Confession can have a wrong object, of course: the term is used to describe the strength of Judas’ agreement (and probably an oath of promised fulfillment) with the Sanhedrin to deliver Jesus to them (Luke 22:6). But God Most High (including as Christ) is never the wrong object for confession and alliance! The same term is used to describe Christ’s allegience to the Father at Matt 11:25 (paralleled at Luke 10:21); it is used to describe confession of sin to God (and to each other) in true repentance at Matt 3:6 (paralleled Mark 1:5), Acts 19:18, and James 5:16. It is the term used by Christ when He says that He will confess the name of those who overcome their sin before His Father in heaven. Paul uses the term at Rom 14:11 (referencing the same verse from Isaiah as here) to warn Christians that we should not judge our brother or hold our brother in contempt, for we all shall stand and give an account of ourselves to God. (Relatedly, verse 9, “For to this end Christ died and lives, that He might be Lord both of dead-ones ({nekrôn}, plural) and of living-ones”.) And one chapter later he uses the term again (quoting from Psalm 18:49) in the context of Gentiles coming to praise the Lord and rejoice with His people when God arises to rule over the Gentiles, as a consequence of which the Gentiles shall hope in Him.

The whole context of the term, everywhere else in the NT, involves glorifying God for His mercies, praising God loyally, repenting of sin, allying one’s self with God (or with the Sanhedrin by contrast in the case of Judas’ betrayal), giving thanks to God or in other ways acting in honorable cooperation with God in an honest and trustworthy oath.

So why is it that here, at Phil 2, when the total scope includes all those on earth and even under the earth, suddenly the term can now include grudging hypocritical unloving submission to mere power?! (Compare to Phil 3:21 afterward, where the exertion of Christ’s power enables Him to conform all things to His glory in submission. The glory of Christ’s submission does not involve His hypocritical grudging unloving submission to the mere power of the Father!–but He shall conform all things to His glory.)

JPH appeals to the context of Isaiah 45 to show that “[t]here is not much room for a chance to hear the gospel in this passage”: “Moreover, note that Phil 2:10-11 is a partial quote of a longer passage in Is 45:23, which also says [vv.24-25], ‘They will say of me, “In the LORD alone are righteousness and strength.” All who have raged against him will come to him and be put to shame. But in the LORD all the descendents of Israel will be found righteous and will exult.’”

What JPH doesn’t mention is that those who say this of YHWH include those who used to rage against Him but don’t anymore, now being ashamed of having done so after coming to Him. That includes formerly rebel Israel, who will not be found to have been righteous–they certainly weren’t, and were punished to the death by God for their injustice and treachery and idolatries–but who shall be made righteous by God. All the descendents of Israel, means all the descendents, those who were good and those who were bad. (There is no contrasting “but” in the Hebrew at verse 25: it goes straight from stating that all those who raged at Him–which must include rebel Israel first and foremost–shall be put to shame, to affirming that all the offspring of Israel will be justified and will glory in the Lord. The “but” is an interpretative addition by the NIV translators whom JPH is apparently quoting, because the translators decided that the two statements ought to contrast one another.)

This is not a mere hopeful guess on my part. It is the context of the prophecy, the very context that JPH appealed to. The first part of the prophecy involves rebel Israel being saved by God, repenting of their sins, and being restored by God; the second part of the prophecy involves God offering the same salvation to the pagans, calling them to gather and reason among themselves as to whether there is another God other than He, a righteous God and a Savior. “Turn to Me and be saved, all the ends of the earth; for I am God and there is no other!” That is the preceding context for God’s oath, using the same term for ‘swear’ that is used shortly afterward to describe every tongue swearing allegiance to Him, that every knee will bow to Him, ever tongue swear to Him, and those who do (which is all persons inclusively) shall say of God ‘Only in YHWH are righteousness and strength’. Which is why those who used to rage against Him shall be ashamed for having done so.

Nor does the shaming of someone by God indicate necessary hopelessness: JPH himself, as noted far earlier, actually acknowledges that the whole purpose of God shaming anyone is for them to repent of their sins and be reconciled to God!

(Incidentally, an earlier part of this same prophecy promises that Cyrus the pagan tyrant shall come to know God although he has not known God. Cyrus died still a pagan. Less incidentally, this same prophecy includes one of the places where God pronounces woe on those who question God’s competency or purposes in fashioning His children as a potter creates pottery from clay. The surrounding context indicates on one hand astonishment that God is calling the pagan Cyrus as one of His messiahs to help save Israel, and on the other hand that God has not abandoned His sinning children but shall reconcile the pagans with the Jews and shall bring all people to loyally worship Him–even the ones who used to rage against Him! Be that as it may.)

It is true that this prophecy in Isaiah as it stands (strong hints about Cyrus aside) might only refer to those who survive the coming of YHWH, not to those who died in the process. But then Paul expands and clarifies the principle to include even those persons currently “under the earth”, which by Jewish poetic typology can only refer to those who have died.

Next up: Hebrews 9**

Part 14: Disagreements about Hebrews 9

JPH’s Mormon opponent attempts to read Hebrews 9:27 (“Just as man is appointed (literally “laid up”) to die once, and after that, judgment”) as “not implying immediacy, for Man’s ultimate judgment does not come right after death.” I agree however with JPH that the {krisis} (which is where we get the English word “crisis” from) of judgment starts at death, even though there’s an ultimate judgment later. His Mormon opponent is apparently not a universalist, and so regards judgment as being hopelessly final; consequently it’s important for the Mormon that the judgment not start at death for anyone. The verse itself does not indicate that the “crisis” is hopeless, though: that is something JPH (and his Mormon opponent) are reading into the verse, be they right or wrong to do so.

JPH says that an extra chance after death “must be speculated to be something extraneous to this verse”, but so is hopelessness of the judgment. One way or the other there are more details in which light the verse should be understood, including elsewhere in EpistHebrews.

The local preceding context itself is about how previous high priests, even if they kept off judgment for the people by sacrificing something other than themselves, still were mortal and died. By contrast, Christ sacrifices Himself to put the covenant of salvation in effect, since a covenant is never in force while the one who made it lives but is valid only when the one who makes it dies (9:16-17)–which is why those who could not live after dying sacrificed other lives belonging to them in representation of themselves. And yet Christ lives eternally to put that covenant of salvation in effect: a covenant God makes with Israel, which Israel is supposed to keep, but which the Son (acting as the perfect Israel, the perfect prince of God) perfectly keeps and puts into effect.

Thus the contrast by comparison: just as it is appointed for men to die once and after this a crisis (for those men, since they cannot come back to life under their own power), so Christ (verse 28) also having been offered once to bear the sins of many (which in other contexts means “the sins of all”, as any Arminian would agree) shall be seen a second time, apart from sin, by the ones awaiting Him into salvation.

Consequently, the judgment or crisis mentioned by the Hebraist at verse 9:27 is contrasted explicitly to the superior salvation from sin that Christ promises by His covenant, sealed by His dying and rising again: men die once and then are in crisis–a judgment from God (including as the Son) due to our sin–but Christ (the Judge Himself) dies once and lives again to save sinners from our sins! Which is exactly why Christians should eagerly await His second coming when He shall be seen by everyone!–even though that will also result in crisis-judgment for many people.

And what is the covenant that Christ puts into effect by dying and yet living? The Hebraist talks about it at 10:16, quoting Jer 31:33, “This is the covenant that I will make with them, after those days, says YHWH” (referring to the days of Israel’s punishment for her sins and the coming Day of the Lord). “I will put My laws upon their heart, and upon their mind I will write them. And their sins and their rebellions I will remember no more.” “Now where there is forgiveness of these things,” comments the Hebraist, “there is no longer an offering for sin.”

If the Father and the Son do not keep acting in solidarity with that covenant They have made with each other, as a promissory to the covenant YHWH will eventually make with penitent Israel after their days of punishment, then They are breaking covenant with each other, which would put Them on par with sinners who break their covenants with God. A mere static establishment isn’t enough, just like a promise to keep the covenant isn’t enough for a human: They have to perform, and to keep performing. And the Hebraist emphasizes that this covenant which will be made by God with penitent and previously punished Israel in the Day of the Lord to come, was first put into true and perfect effect as a covenant between Son and Father with the death of Christ (the Son being faithful unto death for the Father, and the Father being faithful beyond death for the Son).

To cease seeking, or never to seek, to bring about salvation of sinners from sin, would be for the Persons of God to break covenant with each other on that topic, too.

I certainly do not, by this interpretation, deny the crisis (including in its meaning as judgment), nor do I deny that the judgment starts at death (where applicable, since those whom Christ judges to have followed Him truly are exempt from that judgment, as Paul often notes in his epistles.) But where sin exceeds and leads to judgment, Christ (the judge Himself) hyper-exceeds in His salvation!–for not as the sin is Christ’s grace.

(Or else those verses from Romans should have been written the other way around–as non-universalists inadvertently tend to imply–to read that as the grace of God exceeds, sin hyper-exceeds, for not as the grace is the sin.)

Next up: the grand finale on 1 Peter begins

Well, Part 15 was delayed due to ‘work’ work issues and server issues (and some extensive discussion elsewhere on the forum with someone else holding positions related to JP Holding’s); and it doesn’t help that I haven’t actually written Part 15 yet. :laughing:

But fortunately there are some preliminary issues to address and establish before getting into the meat of JPH’s 1 Peter discussion, so I have a few days of leeway remaining. :wink:

Part 15: Disagreements on 1 Peter 3 (Part 1 of x)

And so at last we come to the Big Gun, the discussion on 1 Peter 3:18-20 (plus related contexts from chapter 4 afterward). {insert the Peter Gunn theme here} :sunglasses:

(Once Part 15 is completed, I’ll go back and replace the variable ‘x’ above.)

JPH happens to be wrong that “all [the Church Fathers] seem to indicate that it is only certain OT saints that were released from bondage”. On the contrary, there was a wide divergence of belief on the topic. Moreover, even Augustine believed in the descent of Christ into hades, although he didn’t think 1 Peter referred to it: precisely because he also acknowledged that the passage was clearly about evangelizing rebels, and Augustine didn’t believe rebels were evangelized in hades. Therefore Augustine figured it must have been referring to a pre-Incarnate Christ descending to evangelize rebels before the Flood sent them to the swirling depths of the abyss/hades.

The best source I currently know of for primary source data on the historical post-canonical interpretations of the descent into hades, is Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyev’s Christ The Conqueror Of Hell: the Descent into Hades from an Orthodox Perspective. Regardless of which side anyone thinks is theologically true (or at least more correct than others) on the topic, the tally of weight is rather different than JPH thinks. In this part, therefore, I will quote from the Bishop’s epilogue for sake of historical post-canonical context (trivial or secondary though we Protestants may regard that as being), and start the actual exegetical and theological dueling in the next Part.

My own comments and explanatory additions will be occasionally included as [brackets] in the citation.

the OT righteous came out of hades. On the other hand, no writer, so far as I recall from the Archbishop’s sources, believed Satan or other rebel angels followed Christ as a result of the descent, even when those writers believed the rebel angels, up to and including Satan, would eventually repent and follow Christ later.]

The first interpretation [all souls in total were saved out of hades] is most widely reflected in the liturgical texts of the [Eastern] Orthodox Church: that Christ “emptied” hell and “not a single mortal” remained [quoting terms from those texts]. The first and second opinions were endowed with equal authority in the Eastern Christian patristic tradition, but with the passing of the centuries the first gradually gave way to the second. In the Western tradition after Augustine, the second and fourth views were given preference. [The third view, that the only unbelievers Christ came for were those who were already relatively righteous and pious, as well as for OT ‘saints’, never gained authoritative prominence.]

Christ’s preaching in hell, mentioned [disputably] in 1 Peter 3:18-21, has also been interpreted in different ways. Some writers allowed the possibility that those who did not believe in Christ during their lifetimes could come to believe in him after their death. Others, mainly Western theologians, rejected this possibility. Some insisted on a literal interpretation: that Christ preached only to the unrepentant sinners from Noah’s time [not to unrepentant sinners after Noah]. Others interpreted it in a wider sense: that Christ’s preaching in hell reached all who were held there. Augustine and later Western writers did not consider the Petrine text to refer to the descent into Hades and did not, therefore, believe it should be understood [except in?] an allegorical sense. This view does not correspond to any early or Eastern Christian understandings of the passage.

What is universally endorsed is the teaching that Christ mortified death and destroyed hell. This is, however, understood in different ways. The Eastern liturgical texts and many of the fathers speak of a total destruction of death and hell. Others are more specific, saying that death and hell continue to exist but only inasmuch as people’s evil wills encourage its existence. In the Western tradition the view that Christ’s death harmed hell but did not mortify it came into dominance.

The soteriological significance of the descent into Hades has been evaluated in a variety of ways. In the West, some maintained that the descent into Hades was a “one-time” event that had significance only for those who were in hell when it happened. Certain Western writers even considered that the “memory” of Christ’s descent into Hades was not retained there. This is a perception that is entirely foreign to the Eastern tradition, in which the descent is seen as an event of universal significance. A great number of Eastern authors perceived Christ’s descent into Hades as an event of universal significance, and some extended its saving action not only to past generations but also to all those who followed. The idea that all the dead received the opportunity to be saved is quite widespread among Eastern Christian writers, and it was only in the West where some authors labeled it heretical.

The rest of the Archbishop’s Epilogue involves his theological opinion as to which of these is and is not theological opinion and dogmatic Orthodox doctrine (JPH may insert irony here as appropriate), so would be outside the scope of our dispute since, although we are trinitarian Christians, neither JPH nor I am in the Eastern Orthodox communion.

As I noted previously, this may only be trivial to our dispute, but I did want to give a clearer picture of the historical post-canonical situation before moving on.

Next, I’ll introduce the relevant texts from 1 Peter.

As it happens, JPH’s new eBook The Atonement Contextualized was released a week or so ago. I have no idea what’s in it yet (having just checked in at Tekton and learned of its release today); but I’ve been planning to return to that topic since he first told me a revision was on the way. Meanwhile, for anyone who is interested, there’s the Amazon link above. :slight_smile:

I’m still working on finishing up the comments from JPH and myself on 1 Peter (i.e Part 15), before I move along to the new Atonement book, by the way. I was hoping to have one of my sources back before I started this sub-part, but alas, not for another day or so. If it suggests something more accurate, I’ll revise in the next few days.

Part 15 (part 2 of x): The Relevant Texts of 1 Peter On The Topic

Before I start getting technically picky, I should note that if 1 Peter wasn’t really written by the apostle (as even a number of conservative theologians allow is possible or even certain), but was written very late in the 1st century, this might significantly undermine the authoritative importance of the text as revealed testimony for Christians. I incline to the side of Petrine authorship (probably through a scribe, possibly Jude the brother of Jesus); but my Christian faith wouldn’t be undermined in the slightest if the text was a forgery or a less/un-authoritative pseudonymous text, even though I’d have to drop it (of course) as being primary exegetical evidence for several doctrines (trinitarian as well as soteriological). I am aware of some of the problems in accepting it as authentic, and I don’t begrudge people if they prefer to disregard it: I don’t actually need it for anything (including post-mortem salvation testimony), and even if I did need it I’d rather work from shared agreements with opponents where possible.

Anyway, I treat it as Petrine and authoritative, and JPH does, too. I just wanted to qualify that I wouldn’t be upset by people ditching the relevant testimony on grounds of the text being inauthentic teaching, and so skipping over the grand finale here: JPH devotes around 1/3 of his rebuttal to post-mortem evangelism arguments, to a discussion of this text, which is reasonable considering its historical importance to the topic–and considering its avowed difficulties in translation and interpretation (also reflected in historical church usage)!

It doesn’t help that there’s a messy textual transmission puzzle at 3:18. Did Christ suffer concerning sins, or did Christ die away concerning sins? The two words in Greek sound similar, once the proper grammatic forms are factored in: {epathen} {apethanen}, and either one would work contextually, although Peter (or his scribe/translator, or whoever the author is) has been using “suffer” several times just immediately prior, and is in the process of arguing that we ought to follow Christ’s example. Also, {apethanen} isn’t a term used anywhere else in the epistle. But on the other hand, that might be a strong reason for a scribe, thinking a previous copyist had misheard the Greek term, to fix {apethanen} to {epathen}!–and {apethanen} is found on the only papyrus copy of 1 Peter. But then each term occurs in numerous respectable early surviving copies. Which is all entirely aside from the fact that each verb has four to six fairly well-attested variations of other words included in the sentence along with them! Add a couple of grammatic form variations and…

…and fortunately, none of this is of any concern for our dispute at all, since whether Christ “suffered” or “died away” concerning/about our sins, the basic concept is the same. I mention it, not because JPH does (he doesn’t), but just to head off potential questions about the stability of the text transmission. (For what it’s worth, a majority of the UBS/Nestle editors went in favor of “suffered” with no extra terms added.)

Similarly (and to mention the other transmission puzzle in verse 18), it does not matter in the least whether Christ did this in order to lead “you-plural”, or to lead “us”, to God. (The two terms are very evenly matched in copies, and each would sound similar to the ear during transcription; but each retains the sense of the passage.) There are no further significant text critical issues in the passages we’ll be looking at.

So we come to the text. Peter has been encouraging his Christian readers to live righteously even if they suffer for it including the famous verse about being always ready to give a defense {apologian} to every one requesting from us an account about the hope in us with meekness and fear. The meekness and fear apparently apply to our attitude in defending the account of our hope, and is by context intended to imply good behavior on our part such that those who talk as though we are evildoers will be ashamed of having done so. For it is better (3:17), if God so wills it, for us to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.

Thus the context leads into verse 18 where Christ is presented as the example we should follow, Who also suffered for doing good rather than for doing evil:

{hoti} == that (in the sense of “seeing that” or “considering that” or a logical “since”)

{kai} == usually a connective conjunction, somewhat stronger than {de}, but may mean “also” which by context is intended here

{xristos} == Christ

{hapax} == once, or one time

{peri hamartiôn} == about/concerning sins

{epathen} == suffered in an active way (grammatically connected to “Christ”)

{dikaios} == a/the fair-one

{huper adikôn} == over of unfair-one, i.e. the Just One not only belongs to the unjust somehow but is also over them, so “authoritatively for the sake of” unfair-ones

{hina} == so that

{humas [hêmas] prosagagê t(i)ô the(i)ô} == he may be toward-leading you-plural [or “us” depending on which is original] to the God (by suffering authoritatively for the sake of unfair-ones, as Peter is asking Christians to suffer in regard to the unfair-ones in their lives)

{thanatôtheis} == he being caused to die

{men sarki} == indeed to flesh

{z(i)ôopoiêtheis de pneumati} == yet/but/and he-being-caused-to-live to-the-spirit

Verse 19:

{en h(i)ô kai} == in which also (or, “and in which” or some other conjunction for “and”)

{tois en phulak(i)ê pneumasin} == to the-ones in a/the guardplace spirits, or “to the spirits in jail”

{poreutheis} == he being-gone

{ekêruxen} == he proclaims, or he heralds/announces

Verse 20:

{apeithêsasin} == to ones-being-stubborn (the verb is dative and a preposition is implied although not spelled out so it might mean other things)

{pote} == once-when, a non-interrogative use of “when”, i.e. at some time in the past, “once upon a time”

{hote} == when (a different term for when thus signaling application to a different topic occurring or behaving at the same time as the previous reference)

{apexedecheto} == a conflation of two words {hapax exedecheto}, which also appear that way in some manuscripts, literally “once he out-received” or “once he patiently waited” or “once he awaited”

{hê tou theou makrothumia} == the far-feeling (or long-suffering) of the God (with “of the God” embedded for special emphasis between “the longsuffering”)

(Note: it is ambiguous whether “he patiently waited” refers back to Christ, masculine, or to “the longsuffering (of God)” which would be feminine, or to “God” by extractive implication since “the longsuffering” wouldn’t really be what was patiently waiting anyway. My sources oddly don’t indicate the gender of the verb there.)

{en hêmerais nôe kataskeuazomenês kibôtou} == in days Noah being-constructed ark

{eis hên} == in which (referring grammatically to the ark)

{oligoi} == few

{tout’ estin oktô phuchai} == this is/means eight souls/lives

{diesôthêsan di’ hudatos} == they were saved-through through water

The next few verses (transitioning into a new chapter as traditionally chapter/versed) talk about how the water of the Flood (not the ark, grammatically speaking–the grammatic form definitely connects to the water, not to the ark) represents baptism that is now saving us, not of flesh putting off of filth, but a good inquiry of conscience into God, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, Who is in God’s right hand, having been gone into heaven, and messengers and authorities and powers being subjected to Him.

Christ, then, having suffered for us in the flesh this way for our sake, we should arm ourselves (metaphorically taking up weapons in preparation) with the same mind or attitude, that the one suffering in flesh has ceased from sin; the point being that we should live the rest of our lives no longer in the lusts of men but in the will of God, our previous lives having been sufficient to have wrought the “will of the Gentiles” when we walked in all kinds of fleshly sins–which (“will of the Gentiles” by grammatic connection) is why the Gentiles think it strange that we don’t run with them to the same puddle of excess (as the Greek colorfully puts it!), and so speak evil of us, who shall be giving up account to the One Who is readily having to judge living ones and dead ones {nekrous}. (The plural “who shall be giving up account” could refer grammatically to Christians or the ones who speak evil against us; but obviously both shall be giving up an account.)

This brings us to 4:6.

{eis touto gar kai} == for in this also (the “for” is the post-positive {gar}, and the {kai} definitely means “also” this time due to its position and because the {gar} is holding the position of prime conjunction; “this” is singular neuter)

{nekroia} == to dead ones

{euêggelisthê}} == is evangelized (divine passive form, singular)

{hina} == so that

{krithôsi} == they may be being judged (divine passive plural)

{men} == certainly or indeed (the affirmation behind the declaration “amen”)

{kata anthrôpous sarki} == according to (or down from, or down by) humans in-flesh (or as to flesh)

{zôsin de} == yet may be living (the “yet” is a quick conjunction {de} put in post-positive position behind the emphasis of the verb)

{kata theon pneumati} == according to (or down from, or down by) God in-spirit (or as to spirit)

Verse 4:7a

{pantôn de} == yet/now of-all-things (plural all, put before the quick conjunction for emphasis)

{to telos} == the completion

{êggikan} == has neared (literally has handied)

Not long afterward, as a topically related context, Peter reminds his readers (4:17-18) that it is the season of the One ({tou}, the genitive singular direct article, but with no matching genitive noun so “of that one” or something similar is implied) to begin the judgment from the house of God. “And if foremost (chiefly emphatically first) from us, what (is) the completion of the ones being stubborn as to the good news of God? Yet/and/but if the just one hardly is being saved (literally ‘is being saved toil-ly’), where shall the irreverent one and sinner be appearing?”

With this obscure allusion from somewhere that Peter had remembered (apparently not from Proverbs 11:31 or Luke 23:31, as the NASB editors think, although it matches very closely to something famous said by Peter elsewhere!), the immediate and local context is concluded.

Discussion of it will begin next.

Part 15 (subpart 3 of x): JRP’s Analysis of the Relevant Petrine Texts

Before we get to JPH’s analysis and rebuttals against his Mormon opponent’s appeal to 1 Peter, I think it would be best for me to establish my interpretation of the texts so we’ll have a basis for comparison later.

Repeating the opening context so readers won’t have to scan back up several pages for it:

Peter has been encouraging his Christian readers to live righteously even if they suffer for it, including the famous verse about being always ready to give a defense {apologian} to every one requesting from us an account about the hope in us with meekness and fear. The meekness and fear apparently apply to our attitude in defending the account of our hope, and is by context intended to imply good behavior on our part such that those who talk as though we are evildoers will be ashamed of having done so. For it is better (3:17), if God so wills it, for us to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.

Thus the context leads into verse 18 where Christ is presented as the example we should follow, Who also suffered for doing good rather than for doing evil:

Verse 18a: “Since [logically] Christ also previously actively suffered concerning sins…”

Christ also suffered thanks to sinners despite being innocent, although He didn’t just accidentally or inadvertently suffer against His will: He intentionally accepted the suffering. This is a bit of a paradox, since suffering necessarily involves reacting to something stimulating the reaction. But Christ knew it was going to happen, and acted in cooperation with what happened in various ways. Why?

Verse 18b: “…the Fair One [or the Just One] authoritatively for the sake of unfair ones [or unjust ones]…”

Christ cooperated with the suffering inflicted upon Him by unjust people, not only “over” them (in authoritative supremacy), but for their sake. By commending Christ to us as our example for patiently suffering unfair treatment from sinners, we’re logically expected to do so with the same intention in mind as Christ: for the sake of the unjust ones.

But there is to be no mere us-the-righteous vs. them-the-sinners! For we ourselves were also sinners (as Peter certainly affirms in context, including later in related statements) for whom Christ died authoritatively and intentionally. So Peter continues,

Verse 18c: “[Christ authoritatively died for the sake of unjust ones]… so that He (Christ) may be leading you/us (emphatically) to the God…”

We ought to be actively cooperating with unfair suffering for the same reason, so that those who unfairly cause us to suffer will be led to God, just as we were. We aren’t cooperating with Christ if we divorce such suffering (even though it is unfairly inflicted) from that intention and goal. This fits very well with the contexts preceding verse 18, too.

Verse 18d: “…He (Christ) being certainly caused to die in flesh (or to the flesh), yet being caused to live in spirit (or to the spirit)…”

A typical death and resurrection motif/statement, but as verse 19 will indicate being “caused to live in spirit” this time means something more like “yet was still alive in spirit”.

Verse 19 (which continues the previous sentence from verse 18): “…in which, being gone, He (Christ) also proclaims (or heralds or announces to the spirits in jail…”

“In which” connects directly by grammar to “spirit”, so in spirit not in flesh Christ is making a proclamation or an announcement of something to someone. And the proclamation or herald is made in parallel with some other proclamation by Christ (He “also” proclaims). And this proclamation occurs subsequent or consequent to Christ being gone from somewhere.

So Peter isn’t referring to something the pre-incarnate Christ did in the past, but to something Christ did after leaving somewhere relative to Peter: “being gone” implies being gone from ‘here’. And it’s something Christ did while alive in the spirit but not alive in the flesh. So it’s something Christ did after death but before the resurrection (which Peter affirms elsewhere).

To whom? To spirits in {phulak(i)ê}, in jail or in a place watched by guards.

This term is only used two ways anywhere else in the NT, where although relatively uncommon it appears a dozen times or so. It either means a time of night during which a guard stands watch, or it means a place of imprisonment or captivity guarded by someone technically hostile or in power over the one being restrained. (It refers to a birdcage once in Rev 18:2, but even then the imagery is applied as analogy for rebel or evil or despised things: “[Babylon the great, now fallen, has become] the dwelling place of demons and jail of every unclean spirit and cage of every unclean and hateful bird!”)

Any time the term doesn’t mean a watch of the night (or shepherds maintaining a protective guard over sheep at night in the Nativity), it always without fail means punitive imprisonment everywhere else in the NT, whether the imprisonment is regarded as fair or unfair.

So unless context here in 1 Peter indicates otherwise (which it does not), then the term should be interpreted similarly here: Jesus has gone in spirit to a jail of spirits to make a proclamation for some reason.

The next question would be what kind of spirits? Are they spirits which were unfairly imprisoned (perhaps like Christians or like Christ?–the term in the NT often refers to Christians, Christ or John the Baptist.) Or spirits which were justly imprisoned?

Verse 20a: “[Christ proclaims or announces something to spirits in jail]… to ones being stubborn once upon a time, a time when He (God or Christ, or both if Christ is God of course) patiently waited, the longsuffering of God…”

So the spirits in jail were ones that had been stubborn to God’s long-suffering at some time in the past. “Longsuffering” is a term in both the NT and the OT which always(?!) everywhere else refers to God’s intention to save sinners from sin and His unwillingness to punish them if possible. (A Calvinist might disagree with that term usage, but an Arminian would not; and even Calvs in my acquaintance realize the term almost always with perhaps only a couple of exceptions refers positively to God’s intention to save sinners! Indeed last year I had one Calvinist apologist admit the term was used everywhere else except the portion under debate–not 1 Peter–to reflect God’s intention and attitude for salvation! And he was wary as a result about having to claim it meant nothing to do with salvation where we were discussing!)

At this point it really doesn’t matter in principle how long ago that was; what matters is what Christ’s intention was to proclaim whatever He did. Which hasn’t been directly mentioned yet, although Peter has tacitly expressed it by context earlier (more on that soon). But Peter goes on to explain who these spirits were:

Verse 20b: “[the time when the spirits were stubborn and God was longsuffering patiently with them]… in Noah-days, (while) the ark being constructed…”

The grammar is a bit glitchy here by English (and maybe Greek) standards, but Peter means the spirits were being stubborn back in the days of Noah while the ark was being built.

So we’re talking narratively about the first rebel humans, or about incarnated rebel spirits, or both. Jewish typology generally regards the Flood (and so any scary large body of water) as being the prison of rebel demons, and Peter elsewhere certainly holds to the concept of human sinners being put in the prison of rebel angels. These could be presented as an example of how far Jesus goes to proclaim something to rebel spirits in jail: not just recent ones, but as far back as human history goes. And maybe including rebel angels.

Verse 20c: “…in which (ark) few – this is eight souls – were rescued-through, through water…”

At the time the ark saved only eight persons–and they were hardly sinless! Noah’s family were, by the double way of indicating “through”, catapulted to safety through the violent water that killed the other people (humans and incarnated rebel angels alike).

Note that it doesn’t matter overmuch how historical any of that was; the principle is what counts, and Peter is about to use it as a typological illustration anyway. But it’s a very unexpected typological illustration: Peter starts talking about how the water, not the ark but the water that killed the impenitent sinners, represents the same baptism by which we are saved into Christ!

And it’s definitely the water: the “to which” Peter says baptism is an “antitype” is a singular neuter direct article, so it ought to be referring back to another neuter singular noun or pronoun (or to another neuter singular direct article standing as a pronoun the way this one does. In Greek “the” often means “this” or “that” or “that which” or “the one” or “those” depending on its grammatic form.) The immediately preceding noun, “water”, is a singular neuter (even though it’s in genitive instead of dative form, but that makes no difference here as the reason for referring to it changes correspondingly). But “ark” (along with its connected verb, not incidentally) is singular female, not singular neuter! Nor is there another singular neutral topic nearby, before or afterward, to which “to which” could refer.

It’s possible that this is a grammatic error on Peter’s part; but even if “the ark” was being referred to, it could only stand for an object (a burial tomb?) being baptized by water. The water is still the baptizing subject, and the water is also the means by which (in the story) God kills the rebel humans and angels–to at least one set of whom Christ is now proclaiming something to them in their jail.

But proclaiming what?

Peter doesn’t specifically outright say, which has led to understandable confusion and differences of interpretation. But the local contexts before and after this verse all talk about one thing: salvation of sinners by God. That’s how Peter got into this statement in the first place, encouraging Christians to be kind and unresentful to pagans unjustly making Christians suffer despite being innocent of crimes, so that they can be led to God the way Christ led us to God suffering for us when we were unjust. The comparison is a “greater includes the lesser” type: if Christ voluntarily and even authoritatively suffers to death on a cross to save those unjustly condemning Him, among whom we must include ourselves, we ought to be willing to put up with any amount of social injustice against us, too, for the sake of the people who currently are what we used to be. In fact we can use what happens to us unjustly as an opportunity to give an answer in good conscience for the reason of our hope to those who are currently unjust so that they may be ashamed they have accused us of being doers of evil.

That was how Peter got into discussing Christ going in spirit after being put unjustly to death in the flesh, to spirits in jail who were justly slain and put there by God for being unjust but whom God patiently wanted to save from their sins.

And now, having talked about that, Peter says in 3:21 that the water that killed those sinners is a figure for the water that baptizes us and saves us. The most important way to think of that water, whether the water of the Flood or of our baptism, is not to focus primarily on the putting away of the filth of the flesh (although in somewhat related ways the water did that to the ancient human and angelic rebels just as it does for us), but rather we should present that water–the water of the Flood being a type of the water of our baptism–as somehow being part of “the answer of a good conscience toward God”. This phrase echoes what Peter said back in verses 15 and 16: how we answer those who unjustly accuse us of evil, in explaining the reason of the hope in us, involves us having humility and fear and a good conscience. But this answer of a good conscience must have something to do with connecting the water that slew and imprisoned justly punished rebel humans and angels, to the water that saves us in baptism. It also has to be connected to our salvation being accomplished through the resurrection of Jesus Christ (verse 21), which is itself connected (by application of a typical reference) to Jesus dying in the flesh yet being alive in the spirit.

In all this surrounding context, the only concept that makes thematic and narrative sense would be for Jesus to be preaching the gospel to the dead ones as spirits in jail, with an intention that even though they were slain justly in the flesh they may live to God eventually in the spirit: basically so that sooner or later they will be resurrected with Christ into the “eonian life” that Christ always had and which He shares with those who loyally follow Him.

This would of course require that any rebel angels and authorities and powers who aren’t yet loyal to Him shall be someday made subject to Him–including the ones who had incarnated themselves in human prehistory and were slain by God as rebels along with ancient human rebels. But then Peter appends the brief hymn-kerygma about Christ the resurrected One “Who is in the right-hand of the God, being gone into heaven, of Whom angels and authorities and powers are being subjected to Him!” (verse 3:22)

If Christ suffers over us in the flesh for the sake of our salvation, we should take up arms in the same mind and with the same intention as Christ toward the unjust. (4:1a) Peter goes on to talk about how we in Christ already suffer and have suffered in the flesh to cease from sin, putting away our former pagan misbehaviors that we previously indulged in. But Peter was also just recently talking about another group of unjust people who have suffered in the flesh for their unjust behaviors and attitudes. The same goal, from God’s perspective, must apply. Does that mean impenitence will be passed by? No, it wasn’t passed by for those dead ones, and won’t be passed by for currently impenitent people still alive in the flesh; and Christ is entirely ready to judge both the living ones and the dead oens! And so we come to 4:6:

Verse 4:6: “For into this, also for dead ones, a gospel is brought…”

“The dead ones” is in dative form, so it probably means “regarding dead ones” or “for dead ones” not “to dead ones” in a vector action sense. But {eis touto} is an accusative “in” so it does mean “into this” in a vector action sense. (The initial “for” in English is a post-positive {gar}, the placement of which settles some other grammatic issues here, but we’ll get to that in a minute.)

But there are some much stranger grammatic issues. Why is “evangelized” a singular third-person verb? Like “he is” or “she is” or “it is” evangelized? Grammatically it couldn’t refer to “the dead ones”: they’re plural. Yet it’s also obvious that the evangel applies to “the dead ones” somehow (“that they may be being etc.”, which we’ll get to soon). So what is being evangelized?!

The root word for this term involves a gospel (a good message) being announced to someone. So the singular form of the verb is commonly regarded as applying to the gospel itself, not to whoever is being evangelized. However, there are examples such as Matt 11:5 which show that the term shifts into the plural when plural objects (“poor-ones” in this example) are the receivers of the gospel. (When the verb is in a middle voice the tense matches who is bringing the gospel.)

So since this verb is in passive singular, who or what is having the gospel brought to it/him/her? (The third person singular of this verb can work with any gender or neuter.)

“This” from “into this” is the nearest single noun or pronoun; but then that raises a new puzzle: what is “this” referring to? It’s a singular neutral pronoun; but there aren’t any single neutral nouns or pronouns nearby!

For this reason, translators have tended to supply a reasonable guess as to what “for in(to) this” means: “for this reason”! That does make contextual sense: since everyone shall give an account to Christ who is ready to judge the living and the dead, for this reason the gospel is announced or preached to the dead ones. But this interpretation runs into the grammatic problem that the verb ought to be plural if “the dead ones” are the object of the gospel.

And yet, the gospel is being brought for the salvation of the dead ones:

4:6b: “…so that they may be being judged, certainly according to (or down from) persons in flesh, yet may be living according to (or down from) God in spirit.”

“They” can only mean “the dead ones” here. And the gospel is being brought to something so that these dead ones may not only be judged in their flesh as a result of something men have done, but also so that the dead ones may be living in spirit as a result of something God has done.

And these dead ones are to be contrasted somehow with “living” ones" whom Christ is also ready to judge. Yet they are also to be contrasted somehow in the sense that the gospel is brought also to these dead ones not only to the living ones. We can be 100% sure the general conjunction {kai} not only means “also” here but that the also applies to “the dead ones” not to “In this”: because the {gar}, which in grammatic logic starts the whole clause (as our English “For” starts the clause), but which always runs after the initial word or phrase of the sentence or clause, comes after {eis touto}, but not after {kai}. If the {kai} was meant to apply grammatically to {eis touto} (as some translations put it “For this reason also” or “Also for this reason”), it would be included in that phrase somewhere, at the beginning or the end (so as not to split the prepositional phrase {eis touto}). In other words, the opening phrase would have read {kai eis touto gar} or {eis touto kai gar}, not what it does read {eis touto gar kai}.

If “living ones” from verse 5 means people already “living according to God in spirit”, then the gospel has already been brought to them and they have accepted it (even if Christ is still judging them according to their deeds). So the gospel is brought even to those dead ones whose judgment shall certainly come or has come in the flesh, not for any hopeless purpose but so the dead ones may also be living.

Yet while a reference to judging the living and the dead may involve God (and/or Christ, or God as Christ) judging the deeds of the saved and the unsaved, typically the phrase refers to the judgment of those who are living on earth at the coming of YHWH and also those who have died and so are resurrected to judgment: OT and NT prophetic reports of this coming judgment indicate that those being alive at the time of judgment are not all in God’s good favor but may well be judged and punished as rebels!

Peter’s phraseology is very similar to that of Paul’s in 1 Cor 5:3-5, where Paul judges the Stepmom-Sleeping Guy (as I like to call him) to whole-ruination of the flesh, handing him over to Satan thereby, so that the SSG’s spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus to come.

When this is combined with an argument from back in 1 Peter 3, on its own exegetical merits, that Christ went in spirit to the jail of spirits rightly slain in flesh and imprisoned for their rebellions, to proclaim something to them with a bearing on their salvation, the probability rises exponentially to a virtual certainty that Peter is talking about the gospel being preached to dead ones in spirit jail here, too. A conclusion strengthened by Peter immediately going on to declare:

4:7a, “Now the completion of all-things has come near.”

The spirits who are still rebelling are not completed yet; they are not yet truly submitted to the Son and in the Son to the Father. But Peter, as quote above 3:22, definitely expects this to happen by the power and authority of Christ.

(Notably, the term for “draw near”, literally “is at hand” (or more literally in choking or grasping range!), is one of the base-roots for eu-angelion! It is also the word often applied to “the kingdom of God” (or in GosMatt to “the kingdom of the heavens” where he is using an Aramaic euphamism for God).)

But none of this solves the riddle yet of what (singularly) is being evangelized in verse 4:6!–nor why it would be put as though the gospel is being proclaimed in or into whatever-this-is.

Looking back through the preceding context, the first singular neuter noun or pronoun is {h(i)ô} back at the beginning of verse 4:4. In one way that doesn’t help much, because that’s simply part of another introductory prepositional phrase, {en h(i)ô} “in which”! But that does suggest a connecting chain of ideas. If we can figure out what “in which” applies to, that would be strong evidence of the same thing also applying to “in(to) this” in verse 6.

4:4 has sometimes been translated “Because of this” or “for this reason” or “this is why”. That translation works well enough: it would refer back to the fact that Peter’s audience (whether Jew or Gentile) used to go do the wanton things the other Gentiles do, thus the pagans now think it strange that the Christians don’t run with them into the same puddles of excess anymore. But such a translation wouldn’t help solve the mystery.

Another older way of translating the term has been something like “wherein” (as the KJV puts it). That’s a little more literal, and so a little more particular, but generally the interpretation of the translation (so to speak) amounts to the same thing as before.

But for testing what the pronoun there (or a direct article “the” being used as a pronoun rather) might be specifically referring to, we may look back farther again. It doesn’t refer to any or all of that colorful list of lusty sins immediately prior, because none of those terms are neuter singular, and the list is itself never described by a term. Unless that term would be “the will of the nations” perhaps, but that seems more of a general thing that leads to such a list as a result.

Yet behold!–“the will” {to thelêma} happens to be singular neuter! And in fact, the only other singular neuter noun preceding this nearby refers to “the will of the God”!

Now, the will of the God hardly needs evangelization. But the will of the nations sure does!

It also fits the intermediate reference to a singular neuter something, too: it is because of the corrupted will of the pagans/nations/Gentiles that such people not only think it strange that Christians (and righteous Jews, one may suppose) don’t run into the same puddles as before, but that such people would also come up with slanders to explain such new behavior rather than being impressed by it!

So just as it is because of the corrupted will of fallen mankind that some such people will insist on inventing infamous falsehoods about those who are seeking to willingly cooperate with the will of God, the corrupted will is what is being evangelized so that even dead people who are certainly to be judged in the flesh (thanks in significant part to results of evil deeds passed down by other persons) may also come to live in the spirit despite having been already judged.

As I had previously argued, if 4:6 is properly translated “for this reason”, this would be no evidence against 4:6 referring to dead people (even those slain in judgment for their crimes) as well as living people being evangelized with serious hope of their salvation. But even if 4:6 is properly interpreted to refer instead to the corrupted will being evangelized, this does not weigh against post-mortem evangelization either. If anything it might weigh at least a little more strongly in favor of it, since when the singular corrupted will (“the will of the nations”) is evangelized for the salvation of plural persons (“also regarding the dead ones”), this would imply total evangelization of all people, those who are alive and those already dead and (in regard to the flesh) already judged–even if, logically and properly, there is more judgment for them on the way so long as they continue in impenitence.

Next up: a local context against this analysis?

**Part 15 (subpart 4 of x): JRP’s Analysis of 1 Peter 4:17-18 **

An argument against my analysis of the relevant 1 Peter texts commonly appealed to from chapters 3 and 4, could be attempted from more extended contexts of 1 Peter (maybe including 2 Peter and/or Jude), or even from more extended contexts in the NT or even the OT; but there would have to be a principle argument provided to explain why one set of testimony should be interpreted in light of the apparently contrasting set instead of vice versa! Although in my experience I have found that several such portions, on their own merits without reference to these verses, do not testify to hopeless punishment (or any inadvertently hopeless fate either).

But since not long afterward Peter reminds his readers (4:17-18) that it is the season of the One (i.e. God) to begin the judgment from the house of God, with indications that have been interpreted as hopeless for some people, I will append this sub-part as a consideration of them.

“And if foremost (chiefly emphatically first) from us, what (is) the completion of the ones being stubborn as to the good news of God? Yet/and/but if the just one hardly is being saved (literally ‘is being saved toil-ly’), where shall the irreverent one and sinner be appearing?”

Obviously these statements are a how-much-more comparison of some kind. Just as obviously, the comparison is one of difficulty and even more difficulty. And just as obviously, the comparison is that even just or fair ones in the house of God are being saved with difficulty (which the adverb {molia} has to mean), so the unjust and ungodly are going to have an even more difficult time!

So it isn’t unreasonable to interpret these verses, in themselves and on the face of it, as indicating that the end-result of at least some people will be hopeless punishment–and even, due to the stress about the difficulty of saving even the few fair people, that a large majority will be too difficult for God to save from their sins (or perhaps that God won’t even try, although not necessarily because it’s too difficult).

A closer consideration however reveals peculiarities.

First, the gist of Peter’s statement indicates that even those people who are already morally good are saved with difficulty. The rhetorical point of including them for comparing those who are morally bad would be lost otherwise. But Peter doesn’t think that God only saves good people. In fact, in other undisputed contexts of the Petrine epistles (including undisputed portions of the disputed verses previously discussed), Peter emphatically affirms that God goes out of His way to save people who are not yet good!

Second, the “just one” is paralleled with “us” who are of “the house of God”. If by “us” Peter means people who are already Christians in the house of God, that would mean God has a hard time saving even Christians He has already saved. A hardshell Arminian might agree with that, the idea being that even a saved Christian may lose salvation from sin to any degree (and be permanently lost); but the logic here would amount to this: that God has a hard time saving even Christians He has already saved, much moreso saving people He has not already saved! It must at least not be impossible despite the harder hardship for God to save those whom He has not already saved, or no one would ever be saved at all!

On the other hand, a Calvinist could interpret “us” and “the just one” as referring to people whom God has originally committed Himself to saving. But then the logic of the passage is broken again: aside from Calvs generally insisting that it is easy for God’s omnipotent sovereignty to save whomever He intends to save (the point of tension being a question of when He does so and the extension of the process which He decides upon for His own sovereign purposes), Peter is talking about judgment beginning with and from the house of God. But in Calv soteriology no one begins in the house of God, nor begins by obeying the Gospel–or they wouldn’t need saving in the first palce! And the elect are not themselves inherently righteous originally; in fact, Calvinists tend to regard any apparent righteousness before being saved as only a Satanic counterfeit.

This leads to the third point, which is that the logic suggests that by “us” and “the house of God” and “the just one”, Peter is talking about religiously Temple-observant Jews who are not yet loyal to Jesus.

This would fit well with a number of other observations (as we’ll soon see); the main problem (as the fourth point) is that it would be an unexpected topical jump! The preceding and subsequent contexts for a long way in either direction are about Christians (“us” and “you”) being exhorted to keep on being righteous even in the various difficulties imposed by suffering. Why would Peter be jumping now to talking about how judgment is starting with Temple Jews and going on to irreverent pagans? Nor can Peter be simply holding such Jews up (whom he would have to be including himself and his readers among as “us”) as an example, contrasted to his audience, of coming hopeless condemnation from God (if these will be hopelessly condemned how much moreso those others): Peter talks about this group being saved (even if that’s difficult), and about this group contrasting with those who do not obey the gospel of God.

Still, the fifth point would be that interpreting “the just one” and “us” who are in “the house of God” as Temple-observant Jews does fit the previous context of talking about evil behavior as applying primarily or at least emblematically to “the nations”. Peter isn’t talking to his congregation about rebel Jews being emblematic of unjust ones; yet that happens, too, many places in the NT and also in the OT for that matter! There is even a famous incident in which Peter was directly involved where a clearly just and fair man, a Jew specifically of the house of God, had trouble entering the kingdom of God.

And this brings us to the seventh and perhaps most important point. I find it interesting that the New American Standard Version translators treat Peter as quoting a scripture from somewhere else, not merely alluding to one–the text of 4:18 is printed in all caps except for the introductory conjunction {kai}. But the two verses they suggest, Proverbs 11:31 and Luke 23:31, clearly aren’t the source of the quotation at all!

There is however an anecdote in the Synoptic Gospels, in material traditionally understood to derive from agreed apostolic preaching (triple Synoptic sourcing, reflecting material the apostles agreed on as being how they would bring the gospel to the world), in which the apostles (probably including Peter but he was at least present to see their amazement) were stunned that a rich young synagogue chief was having difficulty, despite his clear actions indicating he was a fair man who truly cared about justice, entering the kingdom of God. (Mark 10:17-31; Matt 19:16-30; Luke 18:18-30)

When this man, whom Jesus was fond of (Mark 10:21) went away grieving, for he was one with much property and could not bring himself to sell it and give it to the poor (although this may be misinterpreting afterward by the disciples, since the synagogue chief would have likely been troubled even more by Jesus effectively putting loyalty to Himself as keeping the first table of the commandments to love God alone and no one else!), Jesus looked around to them:

If it is hard for even those with all the advantages (whether wealthy, healthy synagogue chiefs or Jewish Christians) to enter into the kingdom of God–and Jesus even warned Peter and the other apostles, not long prior to this incident, that they themselves would not by any means be entering into the kingdom unless they changed their prideful attitudes!–the natural reply is that it must be even harder for those who do not have such advantages.

And again, notice how the imagery chosen by Jesus, being nauseous from too much food, fits ironically with Peter’s list of sins from “the will of the pagans” back a few verses earlier in chapter 4!

Readers checking the Gospel references for context may also notice that each Synoptic account features Peter specifically answering Jesus in prideful misunderstanding, that they the apostles have (unlike that rich chief) left everything to follow Jesus. But Jesus answers (Mark 10:30) that while those who do so shall receive back a hundred times now (and eonian life in the age to come), they shall also receive persecutions. Which has been a main theme of Peter’s epistle since back in chapter 3!

Many years later while writing this epistle, Peter (who certainly failed much harder than this, before and afterward!) has enough sense to identify himself and his congregation, “us”, as being among those who can be saved only with difficulty; but if he is only being humble about that in the epistle, why bring up the comparison with pagan behavior?

I suggest that the comparison with pagan behavior makes the most sense in the extended context of Peter’s history (per the Synoptic Gospel accounts), and per the preceding local context of 1 Peter (argued extensively for above, on its own merits), if it is a rabbinic form of allusion to the incident with the rich young synagogue ruler: Peter expects his audience to know the answer to the implied question of “if it is so difficult for people with all the advantages, then how could those other people ever be saved?” to be Christ’s “With mankind it is impossible, but with God all things are possible!”

(Whereas, by contrast, Christianity has traditionally answered the question instead with, “With God it is also impossible!” or else “It is impossible for mankind because God Himself never intended to do so in the first place!”)

And so at last ends my interpretation of immediate and local contexts of 1 Peter 3:19.

Next up: a report and consideration of JPH’s interpretations

Well, I’ve been busy with other projects on site for a while, but I was able to take some time this morning to catch up through the end of JP Holding’s article vs. Post-Mortem Salvation. Readers are encouraged to follow along in a parallel window or tab, via the link reminder in this paragraph: search his text for 1 Peter 3:18 and your browser should take you right to it–or start at the bottom and scroll up about 1/3 of the way. (His preceding discussion is against a Mormon usage of Hebrews 11:39-40, to help reference.)

Note: JPH has no reference to 1 Peter 3 or 4 at all in WIHIGO, my counteranalysis only has to focus on his article linked above.

Part 15 (subpart 5 of 5): JPH’s Analysis of 1 Peter 3-4, and JRP’s rebuttal

I have already responded (back in subpart 1) to JPH’s claim that all Church Fathers only indicate certain OT saints are released from hades by the descent–on the contrary, this super-exclusionary view was a weak minority, although it is true that all Fathers (who wrote about the topic at all) naturally regarded the OT righteous (however far that group extended) to be those released from hades. But as I allowed, that may be neither here nor there.

JPH’s first argument (aside from the possibly trivial but certainly incorrect historical aside) is that the phrase “was made alive in the spirit” indicates the preaching or proclamation must have happened after Christ’s resurrection, not before it. This would make no difference to post-mortem evangelization in principle if true; indeed if anything it would indicate a wider scope for the evangelization as it wouldn’t be limited to merely the day or so when Christ’s body was dead! And personally I can see the force of the rhetorical distinction between being put to death in the flesh and being made alive in the spirit, both of which are actions done to Christ.

However, since the Son is given life in the spirit continually by the Father in any case, whether Incarnate or not, I am obliged by theological coherency to note that the phrasesology doesn’t necessarily point to a raised body; and I am even obliged to note that a raised body isn’t mentioned at all in this phrase!

JPH thinks that comparisons with other scriptures will indicate that this phraseology “clearly” refers to the resurrection. His first comparison, though, from Romans 1:3-4, doesn’t include the phraseology, although it does explicitly mention the resurrection out from the dead ones. Romans 8:11 explicitly talks about bodies being made alive through the Spirit living in us, whereas verse 10 immediately preceding explicitly contrasts people’s spirits still being alive while their bodies are dead! (Admittedly that may mean bodies having death in them while naturally alive, but still the contrast is striking.) 1 Cor 15:45 is written explicitly in a surrounding context regarding a spiritual body and still does not include the same phrasesology. 1 Tim 3:16 speaks of Christ being revealed in the flesh and vindicated by (or in) the Spirit, but doesn’t even clearly refer to the bodily resurrection (since being revealed in the flesh might be a reference to Incarnation), much less use the phraseology in question here at 1 Peter 3.

I’m actually sorry JPH couldn’t come up with a better argument from phraseology usage (or from immediate and/or local context, but he doesn’t even try that) for the phrase to mean bodily resurrection, because I’d actually prefer that–even though that still wouldn’t preclude Christ from preaching to spirits in prison during the interrment. (When Christ says in GosLuke that the crucified rebel will be with Him that day in paradise, the reference culturally must be to the ‘heaven’ side of hades, and the same Gospel reports Jesus indicating that at least communication can be made between the side of hades.) The reference to 2 Kings 5:7 as parallel phraseology via Michaels is helpful and appreciated–although the choice of scripture there is curious as the “making alive” in context only has to do with curing leprosy or could be regarded as bringing life originally. It isn’t about “making alive in the spirit”. (It does however remind me of other scriptures where God talks about how He wounds and heals, kills and brings to life–usually in context of punishing rebels until they repent of their sins after which He will restore them!)

Certainly I agree that the grammar (as I myself argued) indicates that the preaching to the spirits was a direct outcome of Jesus being made alive in spirit, but JPH and/or Michaels is at least mistaken (and maybe begging the question) that the grammar in itself indicates the preaching was “a direct outcome of [Christ’s] resurrection from the dead” per se.

Despite actually wanting the reference to be to Christ having been resurrected from the dead, I can’t in good faith argue (yet) that the phrase clearly means this; and since some opponents of PME (much moreso universalism) appeal to this preaching as only happening during Christ’s interrment, I conservatively allow that the phrasing may only be specifically referring to that.

Which doesn’t mean that Christ was and is logically impotent to continue to do so afterward or even before, nor that Christ must therefore choose not to do so afterward. As I argued from an extensive examination of the preceding context (and the reader will quickly discover I argue far more specifically from surrounding contexts than JPH does), Peter’s point is a reverse how-much-moreso comparison of example: if Christ goes this far for the sake of even these sinners, we ought to be willing to do what little we ourselves can do when being unjustly maligned for the same sake of sinners. The spirits in prison from Noah’s day are brought up as an example of this principle application, so the reference doesn’t have to be merely to them or exclusive of any sinners in hades before or after. (The reader may recall I argue on the grammar that the water of the flood is paralleled typologically to the baptism which saves us spiritually, but you won’t find JPH talking about that. Nor, by the way, does he try to apply his result, that this happened after the resurrection, against post-mortem evantgelization. So he may only regard it as a trivial matter in passing, one way or the other.)

I do at least strongly agree that other references in the scriptures to Jesus being resurrected (including bodily resurrection) tend to indicate this happens by or in the spirit or Spirit, so to the same extent I can strongly sympathize with the suggestiveness of that parallel.

For JPH’s second main argument, he tries to make hay out of the timing of the spirits’ imprisonment. Why exactly the thief on the cross should be brought in as a contrast I don’t know, since Jesus explicitly promises he’ll be with Jesus in paradise, therefore wouldn’t be a stubborn spirit being preached to in any case!

JPH thinks that simply specifying that these are an indicative sample would be begging the question; and admittedly that would be true unless there was an argument built to the effect that Peter was looking for an illustration to a point he was making and so would not need more than an especially interesting sample. Which of course is part of my own analysis for the verses. (JPH mentions no preceding context for the verses in question.)

But it is also quite literally begging the question to ask “Did Christ not also preach to those who lived between Noah and his own time that had died? If so, why does the verse not say so? Why are those of Noah’s time specifically mentioned if this was a message to all who had died prior to Christ?”

JPH will try to anchor this begging of the question from silence by seguing into his third main argument, that the spirits are only the rebel angels who incarnated before the flood, and not also human spirits. This seems to run against JPH’s own expectations that rebel angels are surely permadamned, since Peter talks about how God (even apparently as Christ!) was longsuffering toward them in those days, using a term that (as I noted) is practically everywhere else associated with God’s salvific patience toward someone! (This detail isn’t mentioned by JPH.) Also, the phrase “the spirits who disobeyed” doesn’t logically exclude the inclusion of human sinners: after all, they are now (only) spirits, too.

This is all leading up (somewhat weakly) to a far more interesting and notable argument, namely that Peter had the descent of Enoch from the apocryphal pre-Christian Jewish text 1 Enoch in mind, and was speaking of what Christ factually did using forms of imagery borrowed from 1 Enoch.

This seems to me quite likely, too, especially since Jude in his epistle (which is basically a shorter version of 1 Peter, for whatever reason) directly references an apocryphal Enoch text! (Jude 1:14ff) Strangely, JPH himself doesn’t mention this, but I’m willing to volunteer it to help his case. He also, even more strangely, doesn’t quote 1 Enoch on verses where the rebel angels and their hybrid descendents are told by Enoch that their punishment is hopeless–even though JPH’s express purpose in citing those two verses was to illustrate Enoch telling them “they’re out of luck”, as JPH puts it.

Almost as strangely, JPH argues against Grudem (who recognizes like Augustine that some kind of evangelization is being referred to, and so who also like Augustine figures this therefore cannot refer to a descent into hades but rather to evangelizing only humans before the Flood) that while 1 Enoch refers to human sinners, they aren’t specially connected to the days of Noah but are slated for (JPH’s emphasis) final judgment. How exactly this is supposed to contrast with the rebel spirits JPH has in view is unclear, since elsewhere the Petrine and Jude epistles speak of them and human sinners together awaiting judgment in the Day of YHWH to come. (Not called “final” judgment, by the way.)

It doesn’t seem to occur to JPH that Peter may be speaking of what Christ does factually correctly what Enoch does fictitiously and incorrectly! (Notably Jude doesn’t mention Christ’s descent into hades, and Peter doesn’t specifically cite Enoch as a true prophet.) Granted, once a connection to the apocryphal text is established as plausible (and I acknowledge this), the reasonable first guess would be that Peter means to say the same thing as his text in mind. But if the context of Peter indicates otherwise, and I have argued extensively that it does, then the reasonable first guess ought to be modified to fit the data.

Part of that data, which JPH does not address, involves Christ as/and God being longsuffering over the spirits in view. That’s an important salvific term! Then there’s also the comparison (in Greek) of the water of the Flood to baptism of sinners; and the rhetorical connection of this whole reference in the first place to Peter’s exhortation (which also continues in chapter 4 after this portion) to bear up under unfair persecution as part of an evangelical witness for the sake of those who are doing the persecuting!

JPH mentions none of these; but he does address a further contextual problem with his theory: the fact that the term {ke_russo_} is used to describe what Christ does toward these spirits.

JPH (and his source, Michaels) admits that the term is “often” used in the NT to refer to “either Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom of God or his disciples’ proclamation of the good news of his death and resurrection.” That’s putting it a little over-mildly, though. At no time in reference to Christ (whether by Christ or by apostles about Christ) is the term used (elsewhere) in the New Testament for anything other than salvific preaching!–often involving direct reference to the Greek word for “gospel”. The reader may satisfy yourself on this point by referring to a concordance; here for convenience is a search report on the term (set to New American Standard but many other translations are available) from the Blue Letter Bible site. Contexts of the verses mentioned should be checked, of course.

Now, admittedly a Calvinist might want to quibble about that, since they would expect the preaching of the gospel generally to sometimes be heard by people whom God never had any intention to even try to save and so who were (and are) never empowered by God to even possibly accept the gospel. But an Arminian like JPH would logically regard any offer of repentance and salvation to be genuinely intended for acceptance; and even on a Calvinistic soteriological interpretation, at no time is the term used in reference to preaching by-or-about Christ specifically to people for whom God has no intention to lead to repentance and salvation–unless this is the sole exception.

Such a sole exception is technically possible, of course, but the argument for it would have to be very strong; and I would say the contextual argument (otherwise unaddressed by JPH) for salvific intention being in view is very strong here instead.

JPH tries to get around this problem by observing that Peter never uses the term himself when referring to preaching of the gospel, preferring instead to use the verbal term “evangelizing” (in English it would read rather strangely, “evangelizing the evangel”, which is why we don’t usually translate it that way). But that would hardly be evidence, unless the argument was also that Peter never “preached” and never expected others to “preach” the gospel!–completely aside from any argument for contextual connections between 1 Peter 3 and 4, where the term “gospel” is certainly used about “dead ones”. (Which JPH will address soon.)

JPH refers to Michaels linking this proclamation to the request of the unclean spirits of Mark 5 for a haven (Mark 5:10, 12) and their inquiry as to whether Jesus had come to torment them “before the time” (Matt. 8:29). But the term “proclamation” was not used by Jesus to them about the hopelessness of their state, here or in any other Gospel scene, and Michaels is left with a mere speculation (although JPH calls it a conclusion) that the proclamation of 1 Peter 3 "“may simply have been that their ‘prison’ or ‘refuge’ was no longer inviolate. They too, like all other powers in the universe, must now submit to his sovereignty (cf. v. 22, ‘angels and authorities and powers being made subject to him’).”

Of course, if they are still rebels then they haven’t really at heart submitted to His sovereignty, which God elsewhere derides as hypocrisy and does not accept as true submission. JPH (and Michaels) would leave them in that state, thus falsifying in spirit what Peter prophecies shall eventually come to pass. More importantly, JPH’s notion of agonistic suffering has nothing even slightly to do with rebel angels even hypocritically and falsely submitting to God, but rather divorces God from having anything to do with rebel souls at all! (Or at least after judgment; but truly submitting to God at judgment would involve repenting of sin, so no true submission has been accomplished there on JPH’s theory, much less afterward.)

My final criticism for this part of his interpretation is that it simply breaks the thematic flow of the preceding context. If JPH is correct, Peter wrote something like this:

Peter has been encouraging his Christian readers to live righteously even if they suffer for it, including the famous verse about being always ready to give a defense {apologian} to every one requesting from us an account about the hope in us with meekness and fear. The meekness and fear apparently apply to our attitude in defending the account of our hope, and is by context intended to imply good behavior on our part such that those who talk as though we are evildoers will be ashamed of having done so. For it is better (3:17), if God so wills it, for us to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. Christ is presented as the example we should follow, Who also suffered, even voluntarily so, for doing good rather than for doing evil, and did so for the sake of the evil ones! By commending Christ to us as our example for patiently suffering unfair treatment from sinners, we’re logically expected to do so with the same intention in mind as Christ: for the sake of the unjust ones, that in being ashamed about their mistreatment and misunderstanding of us they may be led to repent and return to loyalty to God, just as we ourselves did. In fact, Christ our leader and example and Savior, went so far in this that, being caused to die in flesh yet being caused to live in spirit, being gone in spirit He even…

…proclaims to the spirits in jail that they have no haven to hide in anymore, and that they will have to submit to His authority but not really (because that would involve real repentance and restoration by God)?!?

Not even counting other contextual evidence that this was an evangelical mission, JPH’s theory would be presenting Christ as an example for us to follow totally at odds with the evangelical thrust Peter was talking about up to that point.

JPH then moves on to 1 Peter 4:6 and its contexts, sort of.

JPH relies on a translation from the New International Version which, as he admits, includes a word not there in the text, “now”, which makes it seem as though the text is talking about people recently deceased. He’s well aware the word isn’t there in the text, and doesn’t try to argue that it’s implied by the grammar (possibly because he knows that it isn’t); thus the only justification for reading this word and its implications into the text would be if the rest of the text was clearly talking about the gospel being preached to recently departed people and specifically to recently departed Christians–since what JPH is attempting is to interpret the passage so that in effect it reads, “For this reason the gospel has been preached to recently departed Christians * so that they may be judged according to men in regard to the body but live according to God in regard to the spirit.” The idea being that the gospel was preached to recently departed Christians so that they could be killed by sinners and live to God.

The first big problem with this theory is that it requires at least as much “reading in” of the ideology being aimed at as what JPH wants to complain about: so much so that a qualifying term is invented out of nowhere to strengthen the interpretation!

And that term has to be read in explicitly or tacitly, because otherwise the verse would be saying that the gospel was preached (admittedly using the verbal form of “gospel” there, not the usual word for “preaching” or “proclamation” as back in chapter 3) even to the dead ones. This is a fairly proper translation of a phraseology actually in the texts, {eis touto gar kai nekroi euêggelisthê}: “For in this also to dead ones is evangelized”. Something is also evangelized even to dead ones. As I argued from a very close reading of prior contexts, what is evangelized in these dead ones is what was evangelized to every sinner, the will of the Gentiles, in which Peter’s audience also used to walk. But the rhetorical construction of the grammar of the sentence stresses how far this evangelization of the will of the Gentiles goes: even to dead ones.

This is so obviously there in the text that even the NIV still retains the grammar of it in their own interpretative translation; but then it becomes just as obvious that Peter must be talking about an extent of evangelization being appealed to for some purpose: an extent that cannot simply be to recently departed Christians (since of all people those would be most obviously evangelized thus useless for some kind of example of an extent), or even to people currently dead in their sins (so to speak) while alive on this earth (because that’s simply everyone alive until they become a Christian, out of whom Peter’s audience was saved–the group out of which one is saved can hardly be a surprising or rhetorically impressive extent of evangelization!)

There is only one group that contextually fits: sinners, like those slain in the Flood, who are really dead, and whom men (in contrast to God) typically tend to regard as having been judged to ultimate death.

Also worth noting: at no time in his interpetation does JPH even acknowledge the rhetorical appeal evident in “even to those who are dead”, much less account for that in his interpretation.

JPH (and his sources) rightly complain about any PME interpretation here that simply ignores preceding context–which my intepretation certainly does not–but JPH falls into a circular argument: a PME interpretation of 1 Peter 4 is weakened without context from 1 Peter 3 which he things he has now “severed”; but practically all his severing attempt was based on claiming there was no context for 1 Peter 3 to have involved a preaching of the gospel (including supplying an extra-canonical referential context without such a preaching). As I argued there is actually plenty of context for interpreting 1 Peter 3 as involving gospel preaching even without reference to 1 Peter 4; and 1 Peter 4, as I have shown, can stand fairly well by itself as a reference to post-mortem preaching to the dead for salvation. So if they reinforce one another for a PME interpretation it isn’t in a circular fashion, but based on their own independent strengths.

JPH also thinks that the “clause of purpose” at 1 Peter 4:6 somehow “doesn’t fare well with a PME interpretation”, so that PME has to be read into the verse over against literary and social context; but he doesn’t mention any details about this social context, and at least a PME interpretation doesn’t rely on tacitly or explicitly inventing a term to offset a meaning that would be otherwise fairly apparent.

One of JPH’s commentary sources, I. Howard Marshall (for whom I have much respect by the way), thinks the context of 4:5 provides an “insuperable obstacle” because “the point of verse 5 is that persecutors will be condemned at the judgment. A statement that the dead will hear the gospel and live follows on most illogically from this.” But it only follows illogically if condemnation at the judgment is hopeless rather than itself being an opportunity for repentance. Nor is being currently slated for judgment an inherently hopeless state, even if the judgment itself is hopeless–otherwise no one would ever be saved from our sins! For we all stand under judgment until we heed the gospel call and repent.

In other words, even supposing the judgment to come is itself hopeless, all the more reason for the gospel to be preached even to those who are dead, so that even if they have been judged in the body according to men they may still live in the spirit according to God! This is in fact the same rationale for JPH’s own hope that all people are given sufficient opportunity to be saved at the point of death if not before (and not after); the only difference is that Peter would be testifying that the offer is made even to dead persons, too.

Admittedly, the reference to the righteous who seemed to die in the sight of the unwise in The Wisdom of Solomon chapter 3 makes a fine conceptual parallel to JPH’s interpetation attempt. But in the canonical OT it isn’t only the righteous whom God refines like gold in His coming judgment, unto salvation (Mal 3).

JPH has (at the time he wrote this article) heard only one objection to his interpretation, namely that calling Christians “dead ones” (distinct from sinners or from dead people generally, Christian and unchristian alike) would be very peculiar. JPH tries to get around that by appeal for an author to choose his own terminology–which is reasonable so far as it goes, but doesn’t go far against a strong contextual argument that Peter meant what the term usually means: dead sinners or dead people generally! Admittedly, only Paul (and Jesus in GosJohn although JPH has forgotten this) use the term “fallen asleep” to talk about the righteous dead in the NT; I seem to recall that non-Christian Jews used the term that way, too, in contemporary times, but I admit that this doesn’t mean Peter would have to use something softer than the blunt “dead ones” to talk about dead Christians. The rhetorical contrast “also/even to the dead ones” is much more important.

Having said that, it’s still a fact that this term is never used in the NT to refer to dead Christians per se. It’s used to refer to dead people indisriminately, or to sinners (whether literally or figuratively dead), or at least to people who in some way need help because they are dead. At most it is used of Lazarus who is among the dead-ones in hades, although on the paradise side of it with Abraham. It would be very strange (although admittedly not impossible) for Peter himself to refer to Christians who, of all people–even apparently on JPH’s interpretation–ought to be living according to God in the spirit, as “dead ones”, over against all NT testimony of the term’s usage! It’s a lot easier to interpret Peter to mean “even dead sinners” have had the gospel preached to them so that, even though judged in the body according to men, they may be living in the spirit according to God.

JPH concludes his article with the statement, “it is clear that the theories of divine perseverance and PME remain in the realm of speculation for the Christian and anyone else who depends upon the Bible for support.” I hope I have demonstrated from extensive exegetical analysis that those who depend on the Bible for support have at least as strong a reason for their hope in both post-mortem evangelism and in divine perseverance toward salvation for sinners from sin after death, as those who deny the hope of salvation from sin for some people–and even that our apologetics for the hope of our faith (in that other famous phrase from 1 Peter, closely connected in context to the preaching of Christ to spirits in prison) should have this doctrine in view: even the worst sinners can be, have been, and will be evangelized until they truly submit to God in Christ and God is all in all!*

As previously noted, JPH has released his updated version of agonistic theory of eternal conscious suffering post-mortem (“agonistic” being an old term for honor/shame relationships, not referring to “agony” of course), as part of his e-book on Atonement theory, and I’ll be getting to that eventually, too. :slight_smile: But I needed to finish up here first.

Part 15: Analysis of 1 Peter 3-4, postscript addendum

Yesterday, after finishing my critique of JPH’s analysis of 1 Peter 3-4, I unexpectedly ran across another suggestive bit of grammatic evidence, which while I don’t regard it as an absolute lock in favor of post-mortem evangelism there, does lean in the direction not only of PME but successful PME!

Readers may recall back several entries ago when I was discussing the Greek terms of the relevant portions of 1 Peter 3, that I talked about how strange it was for Peter to include two related terms for “when” or “once”, {hote} and {pote}, while referring to the spirits who had once been disobedient. Specifically, the term {hote} was used in talking about how God had once been longsuffering over them, and {pote} was used in talking about how they had once been disobedient.

At the time I simply interpreted that as meaning Peter had to talk about two different topics–the disobedience of the spirits and the longsuffering of God over their disobedience–and chose two different non-interrogative terms for “when” for variety’s sake.

That could still be true, but I learned yesterday while studying something else, that the term {pote} almost always refers to a state of affairs that the speaker either recognizes as being altered or wishes to alter in the future (or expects to have altered in the future).

A concordance search turned up a lot of support for that interpretation–interested readers may look for themselves here at the Blue Letter Bible site, but since {pote} despite being a fairly simply word is relatively rare in the NT I’ll mention the examples here. (Note: this follows UBS/Nestle text based occurences; Textus Receptus based translations, such as the classic King James/Authorized version, may include one more instance of the term.)

In order of their occurrence in the NT:

Luke 22:32 – Jesus looks forward to a time when Peter has not only become disloyal (denying Jesus to save himself) but has afterward become loyal again: “and you, when {pote} you have turned again, strengthen your brothers”.

John 9:13 – after the man born blind has been healed he is called “the man who was {pote} blind”.

Rom 1:10 – Paul has been praying that, by the will of God, he may now {pote} succeed in coming to the Roman congregation. He wants the current state of affairs, where he hasn’t been able to come, to change.

Rom 7:9 – Paul was once alive apart from the Law, but {pote} the commandment came, sin became alive and he died.

Rom 11:30 – For just as Paul’s audience {pote} were disobedient to God but now have been shown mercy and as a result are now obediently loyal to God, so Paul also expects non-Christian Jews currently stumbling over Christ to become obedient someday thanks to the obedience of formerly disobedient persons.

1 Cor 9:7 – Paul rhetorically asks, “who {pote} serves as a soldier at his own expense?” This may seem like an exception to the series of grammatic observations, but the usage of {pote} there is kind of weird anyway: why would Paul be referring to a particular time in this rhetorical question? The New American Standard makes a reasonable guess that Paul means “who at any time serves etc.” But being a wargamer who knows some ancient history, I happen to know that once upon a time Roman soldiers (or officers anyway) did serve at their own expense!–but after the highly important Marian reforms, Rome’s military instituted professional standards and became an officially permanent standing army, upkept by the government! This happened before Paul’s day, and historically it was and remained a huge factor in Imperial life, generally regarded as a major improvement for the safety of the Empire overall and as a major improvement for the lives of soldiers particularly. Contextually this fits very well with Paul’s apologetic appeal about his motives to his critics (probably including his foe the Stepmom-Sleeping Guy) in the Corinthian church: he has a perfect right to financial support from Christian churches, which he illustrates by secular and sacred examples, but he has never required that the Corinthians support him, nor is he writing this in order to ask them to start. A reference to the changes of the Marian reforms in Imperial history, when officers and their troops started being upkept by the government (instead of the officers having to finance both themselves and their troops) makes total sense in that context.

Gal 1:13 – Paul expects the Galatians to have heard about his {pote} manner of life in Judaism, how he used to persecute the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it. Obviously he doesn’t do that anymore.

Gal 1:23 – The people in Jerusalem kept hearing about how Paul who {pote} persecuted them is now preaching the faith which he {pote} tried to destroy.

Eph 2:2-3 – Paul’s Christian audience {pote} walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, etc, and among those people Paul (or the epistle’s author–this is one of the evidences that Paul himself may not have written it) also {pote} lived in the lusts of their flesh, indulging in the desires of their minds and flesh, and were by nature children of wrath and sons of disobedience. But not anymore. (Note: Paul regarded himself as zealous for the Law as a Pharisee of Pharisees, so it would be strange for him to describe himself as formerly being this way.)

Eph 2:11-13 – Paul’s readers in Ephesus should recall that {pote} they were separate from Christ back at that time, and excluded from the commonwealth of Israel etc., but now in Christ Jesus they who {pote} were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

Eph 5:8 – Paul’s audience was {pote} darkness, but now they are Light in the Lord, so they should walk as children of Light.

Eph 5:29 – No one {pote} hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church. This seems like an exception to the general usage, but Paul could be speaking about an ironic contrast, especially in relation to previous things he’s said in this epistle: his audience definitely didn’t hate their own flesh but used to indulge their flesh into sin! That’s changed now: they (ideally) don’t do that anymore; instead they should love their flesh in a different way, husbands loving their wives (even with erotic imagery) just as Christ also loves the Church. It would have been better for them to have hated their flesh than to have indulged it in sexual sin; but it’s better still for husbands and wives to love each other, including caring for each other’s bodies in conjugal affection.

Philippians 4:10 – Paul rejoices in the Lord greatly that this congregation has {pote} revived their concern for Paul, although Paul clarifies that he realizes the Philippians were concerned before but lacked opportunity. That has changed: now they have opportunity to express their concern.

Col 1:12 – the Colossians were {pote} alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, but now they have been reconciled by Christ.

Col 3:7 – Paul says the Colossian Christians {pote} walked in and were living in greed, passion, evil desires, and other things which amounted to idolatry; but now (v.8) they have put all those things aside.

1 Thess 2:5 – Paul and his companions never {pote} came to them with flattering speeches nor with a pretext for greed, as the Thessalonians should know. This is an exception which fits the rule: Paul explicitly uses a negative form of the term, {oute pote} (with a post-postive {gar} in between), to emphasize that the situation hasn’t changed. Paul’s continued emphasis, however, including calling God to witness in this same verse, indicates some kind of problem he is trying to address. 2 Thessalonians ends with Paul going out of his way to sign the greeting with his own hand, asking his readers to notice how he writes, which has been reasonably taken as evidence he is trying to combat forgery; so his emphases here in 1 Thess 2 may have the same goal in view.

Titus 3:3 – Paul talks about how he and other Christians were {pote} foolish themselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts, etc. Then they became Christians.

Philemon 1:11 – Onisephorus was {pote} useless to Philemon, but now he is useful both to Phil and to Paul.

Heb 1:5, 13 – To which of the angels did God {pote] say this or that thing? This could be regarded as an exception, since the point is that God did and does say these things to the Son instead of to angels–in that sense the situation hasn’t changed. However, something has changed between the time these were given prophetically and the time of the Hebraist writing: the Incarnation and Ascension of the Son, after which the Father can say even more pertinently, “You are My Son, today I have begotten You”, and again “I will be a Father to Him and He shall be a Son to Me”, and “Sit at My right hand until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet”. The Hebraist is first concerned in chapter 1 with establishing the unique divinity of the Son as YHWH; in chapter 2 he’ll start emphasizing the incarnation of the Son as a human man.

So far we can see that with some possible exceptions, the term usually refers very clearly to a situation that has changed or is expected or hoped to change; and even the few exceptions have plausible explanations for why they aren’t or may not be exceptions.

The reader may now notice that most of these come from Paul, and that the most likely set of usages which don’t fit the pattern come from somone, the Herbaist, who may not be Paul; so may reply that perhaps this is only a way Paul (or his various scribes translating in to Greek) likes to write. Maybe other authors, like Peter and/or his scribe (Jude?), would use the term differently.

As it happens, the last times the term occurs in the typical order of the canonical NT, are in the Petrine epistles, of which there are several examples. What then do we find?

1 Pet 2:10 – Peter’s audience {pote} were not a people and had not received mercy, but now they are the people of God and have received mercy.

1 Pet 3:5 – the holy women who hoped in God {pote} used to adorn themselves this way, being submissive to their own husbands. This looks like an exception, until one realizes Peter is talking about women who don’t do that anymore because they died back in OT times! (In fact, they may have even been unclothed for burial, or at least that would be the contemporary expectation of Peter’s Jewish audience.)

2 Pet 1:10 – As long as Peter’s audiences does these things they will never {pote} stumble in the future. The situation won’t change, or hopefully won’t, but Peter uses the negative modifier {oute} with {pote}.

2 Pet 1:21 – for prophecy was not {pote} made by an act of human will. That hasn’t changed, but Peter is using the negative modifier {oute} with {pote} again.

In light of all this we may now consider whether Peter, using {pote} in regard to ancient sinners, who {pote} were disobedient in the days of Noah, means that this situation hasn’t changed now, or that it has now changed, and if so in what way.

Peter doesn’t use the {oute} negative modifier used by other authors, and himself, to indicate the situation has not or will not sometime have changed. It is no longer the days of Noah, but mere passage of time is not what has changed in the other examples. The sinners no longer walk the earth in bodies, but that wasn’t a topic Peter was talking about–which has led to some interpretative confusion about whether he means ancient human sinners, ancient rebel angels, or both or neither!

On the other hand, whenever an author, demonstrably including Peter, uses {pote} in regard to sinners, in every other New Testament occurrence of the term (in that situation) the author is contrasting the way sinners used to behave before they repented and became loyal followers of God.

If Peter is not using {pote} in such a way this time, to talk about the former situation of sinners who have since been led to no longer be sinners, he would be doing so against strongly established usage elsewhere, including in his own texts. Admittedly, the context in those other cases (inlcuding 1 Peter 2:10) makes it very clear the authors are talking about this; the difference would be that Peter isn’t as entirely clear here at 3:20.

But when combined with a strong contextual and grammatic argument from other evidences, I think this observation of very typical (and in one way even otherwise entirely uniform) grammatic usage of the term {pote}, lends its own independent strength to an interpretation, not only of post-mortem evangelism, but even some extent of success achieved already!

(I say “some” because authors, including Peter, also clearly expect at least some human and angelic rebels to still be rebelling up until the judgment of the Day of YHWH to come. But Peter, in these same verses, also clearly expects even rebel angels to submit to God in Christ eventually. This is disputed by no interpreter anywhere; what it means for them to eventually submit is what is disputed.)