Las Cinco Solas


I am pleased to announce that as of this morning, the Spanish version of the Five Solas book is available for purchase.   Here’s the link for both the English and Spanish versions of the Five Solas book (they are the second and third items on the list):  

“You have succinctly and clearly distilled the essence of the ‘solas.’ May God mightily use your book for His glory. Thank you for the encouragement in the gospel you have brought to me.” – R. C. Sproul

“This is such a crucial topic; and having read many pieces written on the five solas, this one stands out for not only being theologically sound, but also clear and concise. It is written in a way that just about anyone could pick up and understand. I am thankful that God has raised up his servant John Samson for this deeply needed work; a work we ought to get into the hands of as many people as possible.” – John Hendryx,

“Get this book! Then get several more to share with your friends and family. John Samson has the remarkable ability to communicate essential truths with an undeniable passion and faithfulness that is winsome, clear, and devastating to the opposition. The people of God in this generation are in need of these old truths: the same truths that transformed the early church and led our heroes (throughout history) into living lives that changed the world. Go sell 100 of your vapid, modern Evangellyfish books and turn that money into getting this book into the hearts and minds of Christians everywhere.” – Jeff Durbin, Pastor, Apologia Church, Tempe, Arizona

“Recent years have seen a number of key anniversaries connected with events and people who were vital catalysts in the Protestant Reformation. Thankfully this has resulted in a renewed focus on the ‘five solas’–a convenient shorthand list of the Reformers’ key convictions. Throughout church history, wherever these principles have been stressed and adhered to, the church has always flourished. So it is a highly encouraging trend. I’m thankful for this excellent book by John Samson; a cogent, focused, and accessible study of the solas that not only reminds us what these principles mean, but also shows us why they are important–and why they must stand together.” – Phil Johnson, Executive Director, Grace to You

“Some authors make you read three chapters before getting to the first point in their outline. If you wish to understand the foundation of the solas of the Reformation but would like to do so in under an hour, John Samson provides you with the basics right here.” – Dr. James White, Alpha & Omega Ministries, Phoenix, Arizona

“Part celebration and part exposition, Pastor John Samson has provided a brief and readable introduction to the grand framing truths of the Reformation. In this timely little work, Samson particularly emphasizes how the five “Onlies” magnify God’s complete and gracious work of salvation in Jesus Christ — of which we learn in Scripture alone, which we find in Christ alone and enjoy by grace alone, through faith alone, to the glory of God alone! As a bonus, Samson not only concisely shows the radiance of each, but also the interrelationship of the whole. Pastors will find this a very useful introductory work for use in ministry.” – Dan Phillips, Pastor, Copperfield Bible Church, Houston, Texas


Is It A Sin To Miss Church?

Article by Pastor Adriel Sanchez

(original source –

Throughout much of college, I didn’t have a strong tie to the local church. Regrettably, I just didn’t think of being connected to a local body, and attending church on Sundays, was that important for Christians. I thank God for the people he brought into my life who encouraged me in my walk with Christ and helped me to see the importance of gathering together with other sinners around Jesus’ Word. I’ll never forget a conversation I had with a pastor in those days who really helped to shape my thinking.

He was from Chicago and happened to be a huge fan of the Chicago Bears. Growing up in San Diego, I knew what it was like to have a home team that you grew up watching and rooting for. This pastor took me under his wing, and we were having one of our discipleship meetings at a local Starbucks. He said something during our time together that stunned me. “Even if I had tickets to see the Bears in the Superbowl on a Sunday morning, I wouldn’t go…” 

I laughed out loud as if to suggest that he was crazy. “Are you serious?” I replied. He was. At that moment, I thought he was a little extreme. I remember thinking to myself, “What’s the big deal? The Super Bowl is once a year! If they make it, your team probably isn’t going to go again in your lifetime!”

He was being absolutely genuine though. “No,” he said with a slight grin. “What’s more special than being gathered together around God’s throne, with God’s people?” It was hard to argue with him. I just hadn’t met many Christians who actually believed that at the time. My thinking had been: “yeah, the church is important, but the Christian life is really about your relationship with Jesus. You don’t need to be in church to have a healthy relationship with God.” 

Sitting under this pastor had a profound effect on me. It’s the same effect I hope to have on the people I get to minister to. He loved the church, and you could tell. When he talked about missing out on the Bears game to be with God’s people, it was as if it was a no-brainer. He made me feel like I was the crazy one for thinking otherwise. Looking back now, I believe that I was.

Sometime later, I came across another shocking statement from a different pastor. Saint Cyprian of Carthage, a 3rdcentury bishop in the Christian church. He famously said, “outside the church, there is no salvation.” Now, I know what you’re thinking, “There are Christians throughout the world who don’t have access to fellowship, how could anyone make such a claim?” The sentiment of Cyprian is hard to sell today because we’re so used to making a rule out of the exception. Yes, there are extraordinary circumstances that keep the sheep from hearing the voice of the Shepherd on a Sunday morning through a called preacher. But ordinarily speaking, to neglect Christian fellowship and the means of grace through which God grants us communion with himself is a terrible sin. And not only is it itself a sin, but it often leads to more sin. 

Scripture reflects the same high view of corporate worship that these pastors believed in. The author to the Hebrews said, “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” (Heb. 3:12-13) And “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Heb. 10:23-25)

The New Testament sets an example for us. 

For the New Testament believers, weekly Christian fellowship under the apostles’ teaching was a non-negotiable (Ac. 2:42). There were accountability and submission to qualified and ordained elders (1 Tim. 3:1-7; Tit. 1:5-16), both for the sake of the genuine spiritual care of the people of God. To forsake this is to set aside what the apostles themselves delivered to the church as the normal structure God ordained for discipleship. Being connected to a church through membership, under the oversight of elders, is something every Christian should long for; and church on Sunday is integral to our Christian growth.  

I understand as a pastor that there are weeks where we just can’t make it to church. Illness keeps us closed in, or some other unexpected barrier to worship presents itself. But I want to ask you, what to you is more exciting than gathering with God’s people around God’s throne? Have we so lost sight of what is taking place in worship that entertainment has become more captivating? Do we think that somehow we’ve surpassed our predecessors, and no longer need to gather together, and encourage one another? That the deceitfulness of sin is no match for the modern Christian?​

I sometimes feel as though this is the case for many of us. Of course, who would admit it? But the reality is, we often live as though there are many things more important to us than gathering with believers under Jesus’ Word. We’re like the religious leaders who made excuses not to go to the king’s banquet, “I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused… I have bought five yokes of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused…I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.” (Lk. 14:18-20)

The reason that flippantly missing church is so grievous is that the King himself is the one summoning us to the feast. And get this: more than demanding you bring your gifts to him, he’s bringing his gifts to share with you! Those gifts may come to us through humble means: the lips of a stuttering pastor, some bread and wine, etc. but they’re promised to you by God. I think that understanding is what I was missing for several years. It’s easy to have a low view of church attendance when you view the service as revolving around your work instead of God’s. In reality, this is the Divine Service. The King who summons us and washes us. If you’re like me, that’s not something you can afford to skip.

May God help us recover the joy of Christian worship, gathering together with other sinners eagerly looking to Jesus. When we see it for what it is, I think we’ll join my pastor friend in believing that there’s no more special place to be than gathered around God’s throne, with God’s people.

Truly God, Truly Man

Article by Dr. Nicholas Needham, minister of Inverness Reformed Baptist Church in Inverness, Scotland, and lecturer in church history at Highland Theological College in Dingwall, Scotland. He is author of 2,000 Years of Christ’s Power.

It’s hard enough to pronounce “Chalcedon.” Getting to grips with its theology can be even more daunting. But the effort will be very richly rewarded. For the past 1,500 years, right up to the present day, virtually all orthodox Christian theologians have defined their “orthodoxy” with reference to the Council of Chalcedon. That certainly includes the Reformed tradition. We may not think that the early ecumenical councils were infallible. But we have generally held that they were gloriously right in what they affirmed, and that Christians who take the church and its history seriously must reckon with these great councils as providential landmarks in the unfolding life story of God’s people.

What was Chalcedon all about? Basically it was trying to settle the aftermath of the Arian controversy in the fourth century. Biblical theologians had struggled successfully against Arianism to affirm the deity of Christ. But this led to further controversy. This time, the issue was the relationship between the divine and the human in Christ. Two tendencies quickly became prominent. One was associated with the church in Antioch. It wanted to protect the full reality of Christ’s deity and humanity. To do this, it tended to keep them as far apart as possible. The Antiochenes were afraid that any close blending of the two natures might mix them up. Christ’s human limitations might get applied to His deity — in which case He wasn’t fully God. Or His divine attributes might get applied to His humanity — in which case He wasn’t fully human. This was fine, as far as it went. The trouble was, Antiochenes sometimes separated Christ’s two natures so much, He seemed to end up as two persons: a human son of Mary indwelt by a divine Son of God. The most famous Antiochene thinker who took this line was Nestorius, a preacher who became patriarch (chief bishop) of Constantinople in 428. Nestorius was condemned by the third ecumenical Council of Ephesus in 431 (it also condemned Pelagianism as heresy).

The other tendency was associated with the church of Alexandria. Their main concern was to protect the divine person of the Son as the one single “subject” of the incarnation. In other words, there is in Christ only one “I,” only one personal agent, and this is the second person of the Trinity, God the Son. And again, this was fine as far as it went. The trouble was, Alexandrians sometimes became so zealous for Christ’s divine person, they could lose sight of His humanity. To the extremists of Alexandria, any sort of emphasis on Christ’s human nature seemed to threaten the sovereignty of His single divine person. Would Christ not break apart into two persons — the hated Nestorian heresy — if one insisted too much on the full reality of His manhood?

In the aftermath of Nestorius’ condemnation at Ephesus in 431, the Alexandrians made all the running. Their greatest thinker was Cyril of Alexandria. But when Cyril died in 444, a more extreme figure stepped into his place. This was Eutyches, a leading monk in Constantinople. Eutyches was so violent in his commitment to Christ’s single divine person, he could tolerate no rivalry (as it were) from His humanity. So in an infamous phrase, Eutyches taught that in the incarnation, Christ’s human nature had been swallowed up and lost in His divinity: “like a drop of wine in the sea.” This extreme Alexandrian view triumphed at another ecumenical council in Ephesus in 449. Its victory, however, was due less to theological argument and persuasion, and due more to gangs of unruly Alexandrian monks who terrorized the proceedings, supported by the troops of emperor Theodosius II, who favored Eutyches.

The council was condemned in the western, Latin-speaking half of the Roman Empire. Pope Leo the Great thundered against it as the “Robber Synod” (and the name stuck). After the death of emperor Theodosius, a new emperor, Marcian, called a new council at Chalcedon (in Asia Minor) in 451. This time, Eutyches and the extreme Alexandrians were defeated. The council skillfully wove together all that was good and true in the Antiochene and Alexandrian outlooks, producing a theological masterpiece on the person of Christ:

So, following the holy fathers, we all with one voice teach the confession of one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ: the same perfect in divinity and perfect in humanity, the same truly God and truly man, of a rational soul and a body; of one essence with the Father as regards his divinity, and the same of one essence with us as regards his humanity; like us in all respects except for sin; begotten before the ages from the Father as regards his divinity, and in the last days, for us and for our salvation, the same born of Mary, the virgin God-bearer, as regards his humanity.

He is one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, acknowledged in two natures which undergo no confusion, no change, no division, no separation. At no point was the difference between the natures taken away through the union, but rather the property of both natures is preserved and comes together into a single person and a single subsistent being. He is not parted or divided into two persons, but is one and the same only-begotten Son, God, Word, Lord Jesus Christ, just as the prophets taught from the beginning about Him, and as the Lord Jesus Christ Himself instructed us, and as the creed of the fathers handed it down to us.

Perhaps we can best appreciate what the Council of Chalcedon achieved by asking what the consequences would have been if either Nestorius or Eutyches had won the day. Let’s take Nestorianism first. If the incarnation is really a case of a human son of Mary being indwelt by a divine Son of God, then Christ is no different in principle from any holy human. Every sanctified man is indwelt by the Son. Was Christ merely the highest example of that? If so, no true incarnation has taken place at all. We cannot say “Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God.” We can only say “Jesus of Nazareth had a relationship with the Son of God.” Think of what this does to our doctrine of the atonement. We would have to say we are saved by the sufferings of a merely human Jesus who happened to be indwelt by God (as all holy people are). Would that not inevitably lead to a belief that human suffering — perhaps our own — can atone for our sins? And think of what it would do to our worship. We would not be able to worship Jesus — only the divine Son by whom Jesus was indwelt. That would destroy Christian worship entirely.

But then, think what would have happened if Eutychianism had won out. If Christ’s humanity was lost and swallowed up in His deity “like a drop of wine in the sea,” then once again, no real incarnation has taken place. Rather than God becoming man, we have man being annihilated in God. One can see how this would easily have lent itself to all manner of humanity-denying mysticism. After all, if Christ is our pattern, shouldn’t we too seek for our own humanity to be lost and swallowed up in deity like a drop of wine in the sea?

The fathers at Chalcedon set themselves firmly against both of these unwholesome tendencies. They affirmed that Christ is indeed one single divine person, not some alliance of a divine and a human person, as in Nestorianism. The subject, the “I,” the personal agent whom we meet in Jesus Christ is singular, not plural; this person is “the Only-begotten Son, God, Word, Lord” — the second person of the Godhead. Mary is therefore rightly called the “God-bearer,” a truth passionately rejected by Nestorius. The person whom Mary bore was precisely God the Son! Mary is the mother of God incarnate (although not, of course, the mother of the divine nature). The fathers of Chalcedon equally affirmed that this one person exists in two distinct natures, complete deity and complete humanity, thus rejecting the Eutychian absorption of one into the other. We see in Christ everything that it is to be human, and everything that it is to be divine, at one and the same time, without either being compromised by the other. We could say that in Christ, for the first time and the last, all the fullness of human being, and all the fullness of divine being, have come together and exist together in exactly the same way — as the Son of the Father and the Bearer of the Holy Spirit. Or to put it more simply, Christ is fully and truly man, fully and truly God, at the same time, in a single person.

Veiled in flesh the Godhead see; 
Hail the incarnate deity! 
Pleased as Man with man to appear: 
Jesus, our Emmanuel here.

The fathers of Chalcedon did a fine job. In matters christological, we can perhaps only ever be dwarfs on their giant shoulders. We may be enabled to see even further, if we sit there. But if we climb off, I somehow doubt that we’ll see anything but Nestorian and Eutychian mud.

A man found him there

Article by Chris Gibbs, Pastor of Denver Baptist Church, Denver, NC

(original source:

In Genesis 37 we read about the well-known story of Joseph, who is the 11th son of the old patriarch Jacob, whose father was Isaac, whose father with Abraham. We are told that Joseph is Jacob’s favorite son, which doesn’t sit well with his brothers. In fact, the text says that after Joseph was given a “robe of many colors” that his brothers “hated him and could not bring themselves to speak peaceably to him.” 
Joseph didn’t help improve relations with his brothers by telling them about a couple of dreams he had. The first involved seeing all these sheaves of grain bundled up and laying in a field. Joseph’s sheaf stood up, and his brothers sheaves bowed down before it. His brothers clearly understood the message–Joseph thought that one day he would rule over them.
The second dream didn’t sit any better with them. Joseph told them that he saw the sun, moon and eleven stars bowing down before him. Eleven stars represented his eleven brothers, the ones who already hated him (except for the youngest, Benjamin). This dream even upset dear old dad, who “rebuked him” for elevating himself as someone that even his parents would bow down to. 
If you know the rest of the story, then you know that it was to be true. What Joseph saw in those dreams actually happened. One day Jacob sent Joseph out to visit with his brothers, who had traveled some distance away to pasture the flock and herds. He wanted to know how things were going, so he sent Joseph to get a report and bring it back to him. When Joseph showed up the anger of his brothers showed out and they threw him into a pit. They debated whether or not they should kill him, but eventually decided to sell him into slavery when a caravan of Ishmaelites passed by. Say goodbye, Joseph, to your robe, your dreams, and your spot as dad’s favorite. 
The brothers watched Joseph ride off towards Egypt, then returned home with a mangled robe that they smeared with goat’s blood. Jacob mourned the “death” of his son, thinking a wild animal had torn him to pieces. 
Years later a severe famine would hit the land, and Jacob’s family would find themselves in a dire situation. Word had come that there was grain in Egypt, so off the boys went. You know how the story plays out–Joseph had been favored by God, risen to second in command, and put in place a savings plan that allowed there to be plenty of grain stored up when the famine hit. One day he notices his brothers, hoping to buy grain, and guess what? They eventually bow before Joseph, who in time reveals that he is their brother. Instead of killing them for their betrayal, he forgives them and  says, “What you meant for evil, God meant for good.”
The small band of Israelites are saved from destruction, eventually move to Egypt and grow into a flourishing nation. From there they make it to the Promised Land, which God had promised their father Abraham when He made His covenant with him earlier in Genesis. Fast forward a few thousand years and another covenant promise is kept when Jesus, the “offspring” of Abraham comes on a mission to save sinners from another kind of destruction through His death and resurrection. In Him, Jesus, all the nations would be blessed, just as God had promised. 
It is a familiar story. But there is one event in Genesis 37 that is easy to overlook or quickly read past without thinking much about it. As I re-read this chapter, I sat on these words for a while, pondering them and wondering why they made it into the story. Here they are, from Genesis 37:15-17…

15  A man found him [Joseph] there, wandering in the field, and asked him, “What are you looking for?”
16  “I’m looking for my brothers,” Joseph said. “Can you tell me where they are pasturing the flocks?”
17  “They moved on from here,” the man said, “I heard them say, ‘Let’s go to Dothan.” So Joseph set out after his brothers and found them at Dothan.

Right in the middle of the story an unnamed man shows up and points Joseph in the right direction. Apparently he had been around his brothers earlier, close enough to hear them discuss their travel plans. 
Why is this little, seemingly insignificant event a part of this story? Who is this nameless man? What is the point? Those were the questions I rolled over in my mind as I read this chapter. I think I found the answer by asking some other questions: what if Joseph gives up looking for his brothers and goes back home? What if he is never sold into slavery and never winds up in Egypt? What if his family perishes during the future famine? What if the young band of Israelites is destroyed?
See, that little random, nameless man matters. He reminds us that the God we worship is a God who keeps His promises and accomplishes His plans. He had made a covenant with Abraham and He intended to keep it. There is young Joseph, wandering around in some field. Then suddenly this man shows up and points him in the right direction. It is possible that Joseph may have been sitting in the bottom of that pit, which his brothers overhead eating their lunch and plotting his demise, thinking, “I wish I had never met that man in the field.”
That encounter in that field wasn’t some random, lucky meeting. It was a weapon of war. Ever since Genesis 3:15, when God promised the serpent that he would be crushed by the seed of the woman, who is Jesus, that serpent had been trying to derail the redemptive plan of God, to wipe out God’s people so that the One promised never arrives. This happens over and over again in the Old Testament. Pharaoh orders all the Israelite baby boys thrown into the Nile. Goliath, dressed in armor that looks like snake scales, threatens to rip apart young David, from whom the true King would come. Haman tricks the king into passing a law that all the Jews should die, which sprung Queen Esther into action for “such a time as this.”
You really can summarize the redemptive story of the Bible with three phrases: Satan rages, God laughs, and Jesus wins. 
Satan doesn’t want God to keep His covenant promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob because he knows that means his ultimate defeat. He wants God’s promises to fail, so he rages against God’s people and wars against them. So, see Joseph scratching his head in that field as a pivotal moment in this spiritual war. “Go home Joseph,” the snake may have whispered. 
But God laughs. “He who sits in the heavens laughs…” (Psalm 2:4). He laughs in the face of anyone who thinks that they can diminish His glory or thwart His plans. Everything is under God’s control, including every little detail in the universe. Satan can rage and plot all he wants to against Jesus. He can stir up kings and generals to plot against those who follow Jesus. He can convene councils, lead rebellions, even possess people and lead them to act against the glory of God. He who sits in the heavens laughs. Why? Because nothing can stop Him from fulfilling His plan to rescue sinners, to defeat the devil, to exalt His Son Jesus Christ in all the earth. Nothing and no one can derail the sovereign plan of our all-powerful, all glorious, all gracious, holy, righteous, just, magnificent God!
In the end, Jesus wins. Like Joseph, Jesus was uniquely loved by His Father. He was also hated by His brothers, who rejected the idea that He would rule over them. Like Joseph, Jesus was also sent to His brothers by His Father, and those brothers conspired against Him, falsely accused Him, and handed Him over to Gentiles. Like Joseph, Jesus is sold for the price of a slave. He, too, is stripped of His garments and condemned to die. Like Joseph, Jesus is numbered with transgressors even though He was faithful amid temptation and was innocent. And also like Joseph, Jesus is exalted through humiliation, forgives those who betrayed Him and uses His power to save them.
But Jesus is unlike Joseph in one important way–his brothers only threatened to kill him but instead sent him away. Jesus’ brothers made good on their threats and actually put Him to death. Joseph can only offer grain to hungry people, that they may go and make bread; but Jesus is the bread come down from heaven. His body, represented at His table by bread, was broken for us. The blood of a goat is sprinkled on Joseph’s garment and presented to his father, which was a cover-up for their sin; but Jesus, the Lamb of God, presented His own blood to the Father as an offering for our sin. 
Just as people bowed before Joseph, the Bible says that one day “every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord.” Joseph’s brothers found favor with Pharaoh because of their relationship to Joseph; today we find favor with God because of our relationship to Jesus. Joseph was called a “savior” in his day for saving his people from physical death; but Jesus has done something greater–He has delivered us from spiritual death in His cross and resurrection and has been given a name is the exalted above all names. Jesus wins.
Be encouraged that if God has gone to great lengths to keep His promises to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph, He will keep His promises to you. Nothing can stop His plans from coming to pass. He is orchestrating every event of this universe to accomplish His desires–whether it is sending a nameless man to a field to direct Joseph, or some other event of history. 
So, fill your heart with hope today! Rest in His promises to you! Rejoice in the victory of Jesus! Be faithful to Him and His mission until He comes for you. Endure suffering, knowing that a day of deliverance has been promised for you. Stay the course, knowing that one day you shall see Him. Though Satan may rage, Jesus will not fail.

Sam Waldron Series: Parity in the Eldership and the Need for Balance

Original source:

Part 1:

We distribute a book as a Seminary that I helped to write and edit many years ago.  It is entitled, In Defense of Parity. In that short volume, I with a few other men defend the notion (which many of us hold as Reformed Baptists) that there is no official distinction to be made between the different elders of the church.  In other words, such a view of parity says that biblically all elders are pastors and all pastors are elders.  This view is based on what seems to me to be an indisputable exegetical reality.  That reality is that in the Bible the three words presbuterosepiskoposand poimein refer to the same office in the church.  This is a little confusing because each of these three Greek words has both an older and a newer.  Presbuteros is translated presbyter in older English and elder in newer English.  Episkopos is translated in older English as bishop and as overseer in newer English.  Poimeinis translated pastor in older English but shepherd in newer English.  Parity simply asserts that all these words refer to the identical office in the church.

But to repeat myself, I am not going to spend a lot of time defending that conclusion or implication of the parity of the eldership and the equivalence of the terms shepherd, elder, and overseer with regard to referencing the same office in the church. The reason is that this conclusion is the assumption or presupposition of these blog posts rather than their thrust or focus.  Here I want to speak of my growing conviction over the years that the parity of the eldership needs to be balanced by the biblical teaching regarding the diversity of the eldership.

Part 2:

A few years ago a friend of mine mistakenly affirmed that I believed in the absolute parity of the eldership.  I informed him, and let me now inform all of my readers, that I emphatically do not believe in such a view of parity.  I believe, in fact, in three different kinds of diversity within the elders of the church.  I will argue that there is diversity of spiritual gift, financial support, and actual influence.  I believe that these three areas of diversity are much more than theoretical in their significance.  They have important practical applications with regard to how the eldership and the church does its holy business.

The diversity of elders is clearly taught in the Scriptures.  It is not, as we have seen, a diversity with regard to office, authority, or title.  But in what, then, does this diversity in the eldership consist? It consists, as I said, in a diversity of spiritual gift, financial support, and actual influence.

Consider, first, the diversity of spiritual gift.

Both the Bible and experience show that elders may have greatly varying gifts.  To think through this matter systematically, let me ask you to consider several things. First, the New Testament emphasizes the sovereignty of God in imparting those gifts.  1 Corinthians 12:11 affirms: “But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.”

Second, the New Testament also emphasizes (and in the same passage) the variety of spiritual gifts which the Spirit in His sovereignty imparts, and the variation given to different members of the body of Christ.  1 Corinthians 12:4-7 says: “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons.  But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”  This same emphasis is found in Romans 12:3-7 and 1 Pet. 4:10-11.  What is true of the gifts of the Spirit to the church in general is, of course, true for the elders of the church as well.  Here too there is variety of gift according to the sovereignty of the Spirit.

Third, there are several different gifts that are important specifically for the eldership.  Romans 12:7-8 names the gifts of teaching, exhorting, and leading.  1 Corinthians 12:28 mentions the gifts of teaching and administration.  1 Peter 4:11 mentions the gift of speaking.  But once more we must remember that God gives these spiritual gifts in varying degrees.  The parable of Jesus emphasizes this in Matthew 25:14-15.  The varying degrees of gift given to Christians and especially to ministers is also taught in Ephesians 4:7-11.  What these passages clearly teach, church history and our own experience confirm. Great diversity exists in the mix and measure of spiritual gifts given to pastor-teachers.

Now this reality has very important practical implications.  For one thing, this means that the qualifications for the eldership should not be measured in terms of the gifts of the outstanding preacher-pastor that we admire so much.  There may be lesser degrees of gift which still qualify a man for the eldership.  Similarly, we must also not limit the exercise of the highly gifted pastor by insisting on an artificial equality in the public ministry of the Word in the church.  Equality of office does not mean equality in opportunities for public ministry in the church.  This should make us accept men of more slender gifts as true elders, but also makes us feel that no artificial equality needs to be implemented in the public ministry of the church.

Part 3:

In our last post we looked at the reality that there is a diversity of spiritual gifts in true elders.  I commented that this has important practical implications for the church and its elders.  But there is also diversity in other respects, specifically there is diversity of financial support.

The New Testament teaches that there is diversity in the matter of financial support.  Some elders may be fully supported by the church.  Other elders may work at another vocation to support themselves.  Let it be emphasized that this diversity is not the product of human sinfulness.  It is ecclesiastically lawful for it to be so.  The key text here is, of course, 1 Timothy 5:17-18.

The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching. 18 For the Scripture says, “YOU SHALL NOT MUZZLE THE OX WHILE HE IS THRESHING,” and “The laborer is worthy of his wages.”

Two questions must be answered with regard to this passage.  First, what is double honor? Second, to whom is such double honor to be given?

(1)       What is double honor?

Double honor in 1 Timothy 5:17 means generous financial support.  How do we know this?  Double honor in the context of 1 Timothy 5:17 is contrasted with the honor to be given to widows.  Without any doubt this honor for widows consists in financial support (1 Tim. 5:3, 4, 8, 16).  Widows are, then, to be honored, while well-ruling elders are to be given double honor—the generous financial support necessary to comfortably support a man in a leadership position who may also have a wife and children.

The financial character of this honor is confirmed by verse 18.  Here Paul cites the same Old Testament text that he used in 1 Corinthians 9:9 to teach that ministers of the gospel should live of the gospel or be generously, financially supported.  He also cites a saying of the Lord that in both Matt. 10:10 and Luke 10:7 had to do with the financial support of those who preach the gospel.

The term, double, used here is not intended literally.  It is used figuratively in the New Testament to refer to a large or generous portion of something (Matthew 23:15; Rev. 18:6).  Matthew 23:15 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.”Revelation 18:6 “Pay her back even as she has paid, and give back to her double according to her deeds; in the cup which she has mixed, mix twice as much for her.”

In accord with its usage in the New Testament, then, double here simply means or denotes that this financial support is to be ample or generous.  The generosity with which elders should be financially supported is confirmed by the parallel passages (Galatians 6:6; 1 Corinthians 9:14).

(2)       To whom is such double honor to be given?

This financial support of the elders—according to the Apostle Paul—is not to be indiscriminately divided among or necessarily given to all elders.  Notice how the passage speaks of this matter.  Timothy and the church at Ephesus under his leadership are to focus that financial support on the elders who rule well. Among those who rule well financial support is especially to be given to those who work hard at preaching and teaching.

I think of this passage as viewing the eldership in terms of three concentric circles.  Financial support is focused on the innermost circle, may extend to the next circle outward, but does not extend to all elders in general.

The measure of a man’s spiritual gifts in ruling and especially teaching and preaching (as well as his experience, maturity, diligence, and godliness) is related to the matter of financial support.  Of course, the church’s ability may in some cases prevent the church from doing all it should do with regard to the financial support of elders.  In such cases the priorities set by 1 Timothy 5:17 should govern the distribution of financial support to elders.

We may draw from all this a clear conclusion.  The Scriptures could not be more clear that there is diversity with regard to the financial support of elders.

Let me state plainly that voting a man in as a pastor or elder does not mean that the church has any necessary commitment to support that man financially.  Nor does it mean that they are committed to financially supporting that man at the level that they may be supporting pastors already.  Practically, all this means that a separate act of the church from the election of a pastor may be appropriate or even necessary to grant a pastor financial support.  1 Timothy 5:17 makes very clear that some elders or pastors may not be financially supported at all.  This is, then, a different issue than recognizing that a man is a qualified elder.

Part 4:

We have looked at the reality that there is diversity of spiritual giftedness in true elders and that there is also diversity of financial support.  In this post a third area of diversity among the elders will be our focus.  With regard to biblical eldership, there is also the diversity of actual influence.

It is also clear that there may be great diversity in a man’s actual influence as a Christian minister.  This was certainly true even of the highest office in Christ’s church—the office of Apostle.  Paul labored more than all the Apostles.  He had, thus, a proportionately greater influence (1 Cor. 15:10).  It also seems clear that Peter exercised a greater influence than many of the other Apostles (Matt. 16:18; Acts 1:15; 2:14, 38; 3:1).

What is true of the extraordinary office of Apostle certainly must be true of the ordinary office of the pastor or elder.  The sovereignty of God in the work of salvation and the differing gifts the Spirit gives lead to differing degrees of influence for good in Christ’s church.  Of course, once more church history and Christian experience demonstrate that this is true.

The New Testament, then, teaches the plurality, the parity, and the diversity of elders in the eldership of the local church.  It is in light of these three principles that the eldership of every local church ought to be organized.  The distribution of responsibilities and ministries must be guided by each of these three principles.  The diversity of gift, influence and support must not disguise the parity of official authority belonging to each elder.  The parity and plurality of the elders should not suppress the implications of the diversity of elders in the distribution of the responsibilities and ministries in the church.  Parity of office does not require an artificial equality in the distribution of ministry or financial support.  Rather, the sovereignty of Christ in giving a diversity of gifts should be acknowledged in such matters.

One great implication of the diversity of the eldership as we have seen it in this blog series is that part of the calling of a pastor is giving the man who is to be called a clear job description.  This is especially true where the man is not to be the first or sole supported pastor of a church.  Of course, the Bible provides every elder such a job description in its explanation of the duties of the office.  These duties, however, will vary in their proportion and their weight depending on his particular gifts and specific responsibilities.  His ability to fulfill such duties will also be dependent on the time he can devote to such responsibilities.  In turn this will be dependent on whether and to what extent he is financially supported.

To re-emphasize my main point:  all of this requires that the elder-to-be must be provided a clear idea or specific, job description of the particular duties he is called to fulfill as an elder.  This is necessary in order to help a conscientious man make a responsible decision to accept the position being offered to him.  This is also necessary in order to assure that hopes are not raised by the call to the eldership which are false or unrealistic.

Part 5:

In this last post I want simply to collect a number of practical thoughts which flow out of a biblical view of the plurality, parity, and diversity of the eldership.

1.) See in the diversity, parity, and plurality of the eldership the glory of the one, supreme, and almighty Shepherd of the church!  I argue here in the same way that the Epistle to the Hebrews argues.  Cf. Hebrews 7:19-28.  Just as the limited duration and plurality of levitical priests pointed forward to the one, everlasting priest after the order of Melchizedek, so also the plurality of human pastors, the parity of human elders, and the diversity of human elders points up to the glory of the Chief Shepherd of the church.  He alone can make us perfect in every good work to do His will working in us that which is well-pleasing in God’s sight.

2.) Look not to any human pastor for everything you need.  Do not limit yourself to one pastor’s gifts or teaching.  Do not virtually say I am of Apollos! or I am of Peter! or I am of Paul!  Such a posture is both limiting to your growth and potentially divisive.  Do not look finally to any limited, human pastor, but to the unlimited Christ and His unlimited grace.

3.) Observe the constant need for humility and the perpetual danger of pride in connection with the vocation to which pastors are called.  Thankfully, I have not spent a lot of time in the typical pastors’ fraternals, but I have heard enough about such fraternals to know that they are often characterized by boasting and one-up-manship on the part of those named as Christ’s under-shepherds.  I will also confess to you that I often feel the green monster of envy rising in my own heart and need to thrust the sword of the Spirit through that monster. But equally debilitating to the minister is another monster.  The twin of the green monster of envy is the black monster of discouragement about my lack of usefulness which rises in my heart.  That monster sucks the zeal and desire to labor earnestly for Christ out of my soul.  It says to the pastors’ soul, “It will not do any good to preach.  They will not listen.  You will do no good.  You have never done any good.”  I think this black monster is also born of pride like the green monster.  What will slay both these monsters is deep humility before Christ, the seeking of grace from Christ, and the determination to simply do what Christ has called us to do to the best of our ability.

4.) Be careful not to impose on the eldership your limited, human ideas and structures.  The study of the church and the various views of the eldership that have developed in it is cluttered with views of the eldership which are simply too limiting.  What views am I talking about?  There is the notion that you can have only one pastor in a church.  There is the notion that you can have only one bishop in a church.  There is the notion that you must have a senior pastor who hires and fires the other so-called pastors.  There is the notion that you can have only one supported pastor.  There is the notion that you can impose on the eldership the cookie-cutter view which says that there are only two kinds of elders:  teaching elders and ruling elders. There are other sorts of defective views as well.  Some who get a hold of the biblical vision for the parity and equality of elders go to extremes as well.  Since all elders are equal, then all must have equal profile in the church.  They must all preach or teach or lead equally.  They must be supported equally.  Others who hold the parity of the eldership actually conclude that no elders at all should be financially supported.  Perhaps this was the extreme which Paul was combatting in 1 Timothy 5:17. Others conclude that only missionaries or traveling evangelists should be supported, but not ordinary elders.  All of these views are based on a one-sided and imbalanced view of the eldership which takes one part of the biblical teaching to an extreme and ends up denying other aspects of the biblical teaching.  We must hold together the plurality, the parity, and the diversity of the eldership!

5.) Make sure your church is a good steward of the gifts of its elders. One of the saddest things about the limiting views which I just listed in the previous observation is that often it means that some elders’ gifts are not fully utilized in the church.  Or it means that some men who should be elders are not even recognized by the church.  Or it means that to exercise their God-given gifts men are forced to leave their church to find a place of ministry.  If only there had been in the church a biblical vision for the eldership, if only there had not been the humanly limited views of the eldership that prevail in so many places, the church might have been blessed and God’s kingdom advanced.  But no!  The limited views of the eldership dictated by human wisdom had to be honored; and God’s blessing on the church through gifted men was lost.

Baptism – Does It Save?

by Sam Storms (original source here)

1 Peter 3: 18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, 19 in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, 20 because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. 21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.

Jesus’s Sacrifice

1 Peter 3:18–22 is not merely the most difficult passage in 1 Peter; it is one of the more challenging texts in the entire NT.1 Our approach to it thus calls for both careful analysis and hermeneutical humility.2

That Jesus died “once for all” (hapax) puts his sacrifice in contrast with the OT sacrifices, which had to be repeated daily. That he died “the righteous for the unrighteous” (cf. Isa. 53:11) points us to the requirement that an atoning sacrifice be unblemished and spotless and also highlights the unmistakable substitutionary nature of Christ’s death. The aim of Christ was to overcome the alienation brought about by our sin and to bring us to God, a theme found yet again in Romans 5:2 and Ephesians 2:18.

We must not overlook the seemingly unimportant “also” (kai ), which indicates that Peter is here providing the rationale for verses 13–17. In other words, we should readily embrace undeserved suffering because “Christ also” suffered in this way. Needless to say, we do not suffer in the precise way he did, as a substitutionary sacrifice to propitiate the wrath of God, but we should still find in Christ’s atonement an incentive to bear up under the oppressive persecution of the non-Christian world.

The last clause of verse 18 provides an apt transition to a focus on Christ’s triumphant defeat of all enemies, as seen in his resurrection, ascension, and exaltation to the right hand of God. His “being” put to death and made alive suggests either a causal relationship, in the sense that he brought us to God because he died and was raised, or an instrumental emphasis: it was by means of his death and resurrection that we are brought near to God. The difference between these two options is minimal. There may even be a concessive force to the first participle: “Although he was put to death in the flesh, he was also made alive in the spirit.”

Six experienced Bible teachers walk through some of the richest but more challenging books of the New Testament, helping Bible readers understand what they say about Christians’ hope for the future.

The terms “flesh” and “spirit” do not refer to the two elements of which we are composed—the material (body) and the immaterial (soul or spirit)—as if to suggest that the former dies but the latter survives. Such Greek categories of thought are foreign to the NT. Neither do these terms refer to the two natures of Christ, human and divine. Rather they refer to two modes or spheres of existence. As R. T. France has noted, “sarx [flesh] in the New Testament denotes the natural human sphere of existence, and pneuma [spirit] in contrast with it denotes the supernatural sphere.”3 Again France explains:

Here the contrast is between Christ’s death in the natural sphere, and his risen life in the eternal, spiritual sphere. His earthly life ended, but that was succeeded by his heavenly life. Thus the second phrase [“made alive in the spirit”] does not refer to Christ disembodied, but to Christ risen to life on a new plane.4

In other words, “made alive in the spirit” does not refer to an experience of Christ prior to the resurrection, as if after he died he entered into an intermediate, disembodied state.5 Simply put, the final clause of verse 18 is directly descriptive of the death and resurrection of Christ (cf. 1Tim. 3:16). He died in the earthly, temporal realm, a realm characterized by flesh, and he was made alive or raised to the heavenly, eternal realm, a realm characterized by spirit.6

The opening relative clause in verse 19, “in which,” clearly has as its antecedent the word pneumati (“spirit”) from verse 18. Since the latter has in view the resurrection of Christ, what follows in verse 19 must be an experience subsequent to his resurrection, not prior to it.7Whereas some argue that the clause “in which” has no antecedent and should simply be translated “when,” each case they cite in 1 Peter as purportedly similar fails to convince insofar as not one of them has a masculine or neuter noun in the preceding clause that might be taken as an antecedent (cf. 1:6; 2:12; 3:16; 4:4).

The verb translated “went” in verse 19a is crucial for the proper interpretation of this passage. There is nothing in the verb suggesting the idea of a “descent” into hell: it is the standard Greek verb meaning “to go” ( poreuomai ). Its significance is seen in its usage in verse 22, where it describes the ascension of the risen Christ: he “has gone” (or “went”) into heaven, where he is seated at God’s right hand. As we will see below, the verb here describes the same event: the ascension and exaltation of the risen Savior. In other words, far from describing a “descent,” it actually describes an “ascent.”8

Three Views

Who or what are the “spirits in prison” to whom Christ made proclamation? There are three primary competing views. One is that they are the “spirits” of human beings who have died physically. But, as France points out, in none of the purported parallel texts supporting such a view “is pneuma used absolutely; it is always qualified by ‘of the dead’, ‘of the righteous’ [Heb. 12:23], etc. If ta pneumata here meant ‘people who have died’, it would be a unique absolute use in this sense. This does not exclude the possibility entirely, but it casts strong doubt on it.”9

On the other hand, the noun pneuma is frequently used in the NT for angelic beings.10One must also take into account the statement in verse 20 that these “spirits” in prison “did not obey.” If the “spirits” in question were living human beings when this rebellion occurred, we would expect Peter to refer to the “spirits of those who disobeyed.”

Those who insist on taking “spirits” as a reference to human beings identify them as those men and women who rebelled in the days of Noah, perhaps especially those who mocked him for building an ark. Thus it was the preincarnate second person of the Trinity, before he became human flesh in the person of Jesus, who through or in or by means of the Holy Spirit preached to disobedient people living in the days of Noah just before the flood. Christ was not personally present at that time but by means of the Spirit spoke to them through Noah.11

A variation on the notion that “spirits” here refers to human beings argues that it was during the three days between his death and his resurrection that Christ descended into hell and preached to those who were disobedient during the days preceding the flood of Noah. From this some have concluded that he was giving them a second chance to be saved after their deaths.12

The most likely view is that Peter has in mind those rebellious angels (demons) who sought unnatural and immoral unions with female humans. This is the incident recorded in Genesis 6:1–5 (cf. the parallel references in 2 Pet. 2:4 and Jude 6).13 As punishment for their grievous sin, God consigned them to “prison” to await their final punishment in the lake of fire. It was to these demonic spirits that Christ proclaimed his victory and their judgment, after his resurrection and likely at the time of his ascension.14

Where or of what nature this “prison” might be is not stated by Peter. The likelihood is that the term is used figuratively to make the point that these demonic spirits are in some sense confined or restrained by God until the time of final judgment. “The main point to be established is that there is no mention of going down, or of Sheol or Hades (which is never called phylakē [prison] in biblical literature). Christ went to the prison of the fallen angels, not to the abode of the dead, and the two are never equated.”15

But when and in what way did these “spirits” or “demons” disobey, and why was it important for Jesus to proclaim his victory over them? Two other texts likely refer to this same event (cf. 2 Pet. 2:4–5 and Jude 6–7). Each is probably referring to what we read in Genesis 6:1–5, where “the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive” and “took” them “as their wives.” This was the “sin” (or disobedience; 1 Pet. 3:20a) of those demons referred to, for which they are now confined in prison. This sin was not the original demonic rebellion, for why, then, would only some be confined and not all? It cannot be that only the more wicked were permanently confined, for Satan, the most wicked of all, is still free. The context in 1 Peter 3 and 2 Peter 2 (cf. Jude 6) links this “sin” with the flood of Noah, and it is likely that all three passages are referring to the event in Genesis 6.16

The time of this proclamation is clearly indicated in the relative clause with which verse 19 opens: “in which.” Although not overtly temporal in force, its antecedent in verse 18b (“made alive in the spirit”) points to a time subsequent to the resurrection of Christ. What is important to remember is that nothing in this passage suggests that the time of this proclamation was between Christ’s death and resurrection.

Did Christ “preach” the gospel or “proclaim” judgment to the spirits in prison? In favor of the former is the normal use of “herald” (kēryssō) in the NT (but cf. Luke 12:3Rom. 2:21Rev. 5:2for exceptions; possibly also Luke 4:19 and 8:39). Elsewhere in 1 Peter the gospel is made known with the verb euangelizō (1:12, 25; 4:6), while kēryssō appears only this one time in the letter. In support of kēryssō denoting a proclamation of judgment is the use of “herald” in the LXX, where the verb often describes the bringing of bad news as well as good. It is also likely that what Christ “proclaimed” was his definitive triumph over and subjugation of “[fallen] angels, authorities, and powers” (v. 22). All were “subjected to him” by virtue of his death, resurrection, ascension, and exaltation (cf. Eph. 1:20–22Col. 2:15Heb. 2:14).

One must also ask what relevance there would be for his readers in the first century in a proclamation of the “gospel” to humans living in the time of Noah. On the other hand, as France has noted, the triumphant declaration to the evil demonic spirits was of immediate practical help to those who were suffering persecution:

They might be called to endure the worst that anti-Christian prejudice could inflict. But even then they could be assured that their pagan opponents, and, more important, the spiritual powers of evil that stood behind them and directed them, were not outside Christ’s control: they were already defeated, awaiting final punishment. Christ had openly triumphed over them. Here is real comfort and strength for a persecuted church which took very seriously the reality and power of spiritual forces.17

The Foreshadow of Christ

Peter’s reference to the “spirits” or demons who disobeyed just before the great flood, as described in Genesis 6, provides the link to his mention of Noah and the building of the ark. Peter sees in Noah’s experience and that of the other seven people with him a pattern or type or prefiguring or foreshadowing of the experience of Christians in his day (and today as well):

  • The fewness of the people saved in the ark/the minority to whom Peter is writing
  • Noah and his family persecuted and slandered/Peter’s audience persecuted and slandered
  • God setting apart Noah and his family in the ark/God setting apart the Christians of the first century and today through baptism

The fallen angels were (and are) in prison “because they formerly did not obey,” that is to say, “when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah.” The period during which God waited patiently falls between the rebellion of the “sons of God” (fallen angels) as described in Genesis 6:1–4 and the flood of Noah (Gen. 7:11), which most believe (based on Gen. 6:3) to have been 120 years, the time during which Noah was building the ark.

Peter’s first-century readers were undoubtedly aware of their small numbers and could easily have been overwhelmed as they compared themselves with the pagan majority around them. Thus they are here reminded that only a “few” (eight persons) were preserved from the judgment of the flood. The ESV translates the preposition dia (followed by the genitive “water”) as local, hence “through water.” This is certainly possible, while others argue for an instrumental sense of dia, “by means of water.” France is probably correct in pointing out that “the instrumental sense is much easier when one considers the typological application: the Christian is more easily viewed as saved ‘by means of’ the water of baptism than by passing through it, though the latter is also possible. Probably Peter is deliberately exploiting the ambiguity of the word dia to assist his passage from the Old Testament story to its typological application.”18

In good faith or conscience we appeal to God for vindication, that we might be considered part of his victory won by Christ in the resurrection.

Antitype of Noah

The grammar in the opening of verse 21 is difficult. To simplify, we should probably understand it in this way: “which (water) now also saves you, (who) are the antitype (of Noah and his family)—(that is) baptism.” In other words, the experience of Noah and his family in the flood is the type of which Peter’s audience and their baptism is the antitype (antitypon). France is especially helpful here:

The essential principle of New Testament typology is that God works according to a regular pattern, so that what he has done in the past, as recorded in the Old Testament, can be expected to find its counterpart in his work in the decisive period of the New Testament. Thus persons, events and institutions of the Old Testament, which in themselves need have no forward reference, are cited as ‘types’, models of corresponding persons, events and institutions in the life of Christ and the Christian church. On this principle, then, . . . Peter takes the salvation of Noah in the flood as a model of the Christian’s salvation through baptism.19

Peter immediately qualifies the sense in which baptism saves us: it is not by the physical action itself, in which dirt is removed from the body. In other words, the physical action of baptism has no intrinsic saving power. There is no mechanical relationship between being immersed in water and being forgiven. The only sense in which baptism saves, says Peter, is insofar as it provides the occasion for an “appeal to God for a good conscience.”

“Appeal” (ESV) is the translation of eperōtēma, which others render as “pledge.” If the former is accurate, the one being baptized “appeals” to God, on the basis of the death and resurrection of Christ (or more literally, “through” or “by means of,” if dia is instrumental; cf. 1:3), to cleanse one’s conscience and forgive one’s sins.58 In good faith or conscience we appeal to God for vindication, that we might be considered part of his victory won by Christ in the resurrection (3:21b). It is only in this light that God uses the water of baptism to save us—as it links us to Christ and his victory and promises.

The focus of verse 22 (based on the language of Ps. 110:1; cf. Acts 2:33; 5:31Rom. 8:34Col. 3:1Heb. 1:3, 13; 10:12; 12:2) is the exaltation and ascension of the risen Savior, which signifies his complete subjugation of all fallen and rebellious demonic powers. “Angels, authorities, and powers” is standard NT language for the fallen demonic hosts (Rom. 8:38–39; 1 Cor. 15:24–27Eph. 1:21; 3:10; 6:12Col. 1:16; 2:10, 15). Their subjection to Christ is undoubtedly the content of his proclamation (1 Pet. 3:19).


  1. Martin Luther’s conclusion is shared by many: “[Verses 18–19] is as strange a text and as dark a saying as any in the New Testament, so that I am not yet sure what St. Peter intended” (cited by Achtemeier, 1 Peter, 252).
  2. For additional insights on this passage, see Daniel R. Hyde, In Defense of the Descent: A Response to Contemporary Critics (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage, 2010).
  3. R. T. France, “Exegesis in Practice: Two Examples,” in New Testament Interpretation: Essays on Principles and Methods, ed. I. Howard Marshall (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1977), 267. Paul speaks similarly, although with slightly different terms ( psychikos and pneumatikos), in 1 Corinthians 15:42ff., where his focus is on two different types of bodies adapted or suitable to two different modes of existence.
  4. Ibid., 267. Likewise, Jobes, 1 Peter, 239
  5. For an extended defense of the notion that Christ “descended” into Hades after his death but before his resurrection, see the work by Justin W. Bass, The Battle for the Keys: Revelation 1:18 and Christ’s Descent into the Underworld (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2014).
  6. The datives of “flesh” and “spirit” are datives of either sphere or reference/respect. Again, the distinction is minimal.
  7. In the words of Peter H. Davids, “It was, then, in his post-resurrection state that Christ went somewhere and preached something to certain spirits in some prison. All these terms call for an explanation” (The First Epistle of Peter [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1990], 138).
  8. Had Peter wanted us to think of a “descent” he likely would have used the verb katabainō (“to go down, descend”). Achtemeier rightly concludes that “there is no necessity, therefore, to understand the verb poreutheis to mean ‘descend’; it refers to a journey, no more. On the other hand, the verb poreuomai is the verb used in the NT to describe Christ’s ascension” (1 Peter, 257). On this view, then, “the three elements of the redemptive event are in view in 3:18–19: the crucifixion, the resurrection, and the ascension” (Jobes, 1 Peter, 242). 47 France, “Exegesis in Practice,” 269
  9. France, “Exegesis in Practice,” 269.
  10. Aside from Hebrews 12:23, the plural of pneuma is used never of humans but only of spirit beings (whether good angels, as in Heb. 1:14; or evil angels, as in Matt. 8:16), and this more than thirty times in the NT. Grudem cites Matthew 27:50 and John 19:30 as instances where pneuma is used absolutely of the human spirit, but in both texts pneuma is singular, not plural.
  11. The best defense of this view can be found in Grudem, “Appendix: Christ Preaching through Noah: 1 Peter 3:19–20 in the Light of Dominant Themes in Jewish Literature,” in First Epistle of Peter, 203–239, and in John Feinberg, “1 Peter 3:18–20: Ancient Mythology and the Intermediate State,” WTJ 48 (October 1986): 303–336
  12. On this, see my comments below on 1 Peter 4:1–6. One must also ask, if a second chance for salvation was being offered, why extend it only to this select group of the physically dead and not to all who died prior to the coming of Christ?
  13. Although only of secondary relevance, it is interesting to observe that this is the view taken by the author of 1 Enoch 6:1–16:4; 18:12–19:2; 21:1–10; 54:3–6; 64:1–69:29.
  14. The clearest and most succinct defense of this view is found in Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, 184–190
  15. France, “Exegesis in Practice,” 271. As noted, “prison” ( phylakē) is never used of the abode of humans who have died, but is used of the location of Satan and demons (Rev. 18:2 [3x; each of which is translated “haunt” in the ESV]; 20:7).
  16. For a more thorough explanation of Genesis 6 and its relevance for 1 Peter 3, see Michael S. Heiser, The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible (Bellingham, WA: Lexham, 2015), 101–109, 185–191; as well as my chapter, “Did Jesus Descend into Hell?” in Tough Topics 2: Biblical Answers to 25 Challenging Questions (Ross-shire, UK: Christian Focus Publications, 2015), 63–76.
  17. France, “Exegesis in Practice,” 272.
  18. Ibid., 273.
  19. Ibid., 273–274

This article is adapted from ESV Expository Commentary: Hebrews–Revelation (Volume 12)edited by Iain M. Duguid, James M. Hamilton Jr., and Jay Sklar.