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6For this is the reason the gospel was proclaimed even to the dead, so that, though they had been judged in the flesh as everyone is judged, they might live in the spirit as God does.
6 For this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, or, He has been evangelized to the dead. We see in what sense he takes the former passage in the third chapter, even that death does not hinder Christ from being always our defender. It is then a remarkable consolation to the godly, that death itself brings no loss to their salvation. Though Christ, then, may not appear a deliverer in this life, yet his redemption is not void, or without effect; for his power extends to the dead. But as the Greek word is doubtful, it may be rendered in the masculine, or in the neuter gender; but the meaning is almost the same, that is, that Christ had been made known as a redeemer to the dead, or that salvation had been made known to them by the gospel. But if the grace of Christ once penetrated to the dead, there is no doubt but that we shall partake of it when dead. We then set for it limits much too narrow, if we confine it to the present life.
That they might be judged I omit the explanations of others, for they seem to me to be very remote from the Apostle’s meaning. This has been said, as I think, by way of anticipation, for it might have been objected, that the gospel is of no benefit to the dead, as it does not restore them to life. Peter concedes a part of this objection, and yet in such a way, that they are not deprived of the salvation obtained by Christ. Therefore, in the first clause, when he says, “that they might be judged in the flesh, according to men,” it is a concession; and “judged” means here, as often elsewhere, condemned; and flesh is the outward man. So that the meaning is, that though according to the estimation of the world the dead suffer destruction in their flesh, and are deemed condemned as to the outward man, yet they cease not to live with God, and that in their spirit, because Christ quickens them by his Spirit.
But we ought to add what Paul teaches us in Romans 8:10, that the Spirit is life; and hence it will be, that he will at length absorb the relics of death which still cleave to us. The sum of what he says is, that though the condition of the dead in the flesh is worse, according to man, yet it is enough that the Spirit of Christ revives them, and will
eventually lead them to the perfection of life.
Whitby, Doddridge, and Mackight, regard the dead here as the dead in sins, according to Ephesians 2:1. The first thus paraphrases what follows, “That they might condemn their former life, and live a better;” the second, “That they might be brought to such a state of life as their carnal neighbors will look upon it as a kind of
condemnation and death;” and the third, “That although they might be condemned, indeed, by men in the flesh, yet they might live eternally by God in the Spirit.”
Beza, Hammond, and Scott, consider that the dead were those already dead, that is, when the Apostle wrote, and even before the coming of Christ, taking the dead in the same sense as in the former verse: but they differ as to the clause which follows. The two first interpret it as signifying the same as dying to sin and living to God, a meaning which the former part of the clause can hardly bear: but the view of Scott is, that the gospel had been preached to those at that time dead, that they might be condemned by carnal men, or in the flesh, as evildoers, but live to God through the Holy Spirit. The only fault, perhaps, with this rendering is as to the word flesh, which seems to mean here the same as flesh in 1 Peter 3:18, that is, the body; and the word spirit is also in the same form, for Griesbach in that verse regards the article τῷ as spurious. Then the rendering would be, “That they might be condemned in the flesh by men, but live as to God through the Spirit.” There are two previous instances of the word spirit, when denoting the Holy Spirit, being without the article, that is, in 1 Peter 1:2 and 22
It seems an objection, that the gospel had been preached to them for this end, that they might be condemned to die by wicked men; but this had been expressly stated before, in 1 Peter 2:21: “For even hereunto, (that is, suffering, mentioned in the former verse) were ye called;” or, “For to this end ye have been called.” Then Christ in his suffering is mentioned as one whom they ought to follow.
There is no other view so consistent with the whole tenor of the Apostle’s argument. — Ed.