Issue 3

Difficult Scriptures

“For this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.” (1 Peter 4:6)

     Who are these “dead” people and when was the gospel preached to them?  Those who believe in the false doctrine of the “immortal soul” wrongly conclude that dead people go to heaven, hell or purgatory when they die.  They assume, incorrectly, that this verse refers to people having the gospel preached to them after they die.  The Bible reveals that the status of one’s salvation does not change in the grave.

     The Scriptures show that the dead do not hear, see, learn or suffer.  God’s word reveals that those who are dead do not know anything. “The living know that they shall die: but the dead do not know anything.”  (Ecclesiastes 9:5)  The Bible reveals that the dead cannot think, or dream, and that their thoughts perish.  When a man dies: “His breath goes forth, he returns to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish.”  (Psalms 146:4)  All who are physically dead do nothing and hear nothing.  They await their resurrection by God.

     Notice that this difficult verse is written in the past tense.  It does not say that people hear the gospel after they are dead.  King David was inspired to write:  “In death there is no remembrance of thee [God]: in the grave who shall give thee thanks?  (Psalms 6:5)  In today’s English, this difficult verse would read this way:  “For this cause, the good news was proclaimed to the [spiritually] dead.”  But, they were physically alive when they had the gospel preached to them.

     So what is the meaning of this difficult verse?  Paul told the converted Christians at Ephesus: “God has made you [spiritually] alive who were [spiritually] dead in trespasses and sins.”  Peter, speaking of the conversion process, is utilizing the same metaphor in this difficult verse. 

    The Scriptures commonly refer to those people who are unconverted as being [spiritually] dead.  Jesus said, “Let the [spiritually] dead bury their [physical] dead.”  (Luke 9:60)

     Peter had just explained in verse four that people in the world speak evil of Christians, and judge our behavior as “strange and surprising,” because we no longer participate in their worldly ways.  Peter says that they will answer to God who judges the living and the dead. 

     Then Peter concludes with 1 Peter 4:6: “For this cause, those who were [spiritually] dead had the good news preached to them in order that they might be judged, on the one hand according to men in the flesh, so that on the other hand, they might have the opportunity to [spiritually] live according to God in the spirit.  The fact that they are judged according to men in the flesh, shows that they are still physically alive.

     God declares all those who are sinning to be spiritually “dead.”   They are not following God, but the devil.  With God’s calling, we can repent and turn to “life.”  Notice in this parallel verse how the Christians at Ephesus were made spiritually alive,  “You hath he quickened, [made alive] who were dead in trespasses and sins; Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience.”  (Ephesians 2:1-2) 

     Paul had to give instructions to the Church of God brethren at Corinth concerning a man who was sinning [spiritually dead] and would not obey the laws of God.  Since the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23), the man was “dead” as far as his spiritual life was concerned.  Satan had his “hooks” in the man.  While he was sinning, he was no longer welcome to fellowship with the church brethren.  However, if the man would repent and  amend his ways, he could be saved [be spiritually alive] and eligible for the first resurrection at the day of the Lord.  Paul wrote his instructions in this fashion:  “Deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” (1 Corinthians 5:5)