The Preaching To The Spirits In Prison -- By: S. C. Bartlett

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 040:158 (Apr 1883)
Article: The Preaching To The Spirits In Prison
Author: S. C. Bartlett


The Preaching To The Spirits In Prison

Rev. S. C. Bartlett

In an article written for the New Englander some years ago (Oct. 1872) the present writer discussed the meaning of 1 Pet. 3:19-20, on strictly grammatical (as well as exegetical) principles. A recent writer in the same periodical (Rev. W. W. Patton, D.D., Sept. 1882) has endeavored to invalidate those conclusions. As further examination has only confirmed the present writer’s convictions, it is proposed still further to vindicate the position then taken, replying, so far as may be indispensable, to the criticisms and counter arguments as, perhaps, the most practical mode of meeting objections. The present discussion, being prepared for the Bibliotheca Sacra at the request of the editor, labors under some disadvantages in appearing in a different periodical, and thereby disconnected from the former presentation and the rejoinder. A very brief recapitulation, with the aid of notes and references, may in part overcome the difficulty.

The first and main position taken was (and is) this: the common translation of the phrase ἀπειθήσασί by the rendering which were some time disobedient, can be shown to be not in accordance with established Greek usage — this translation itself being equivalent to a wrong interpretation.

The second position maintained was (and is) that the proper grammatical and natural translation of this clause (together with the preceding words) is, “he went and preached to the spirits in prison on their being once upon a time disobedient.” (T. S. Green, Gram. New. Test. p. 55; Prof. J. H. Thayer, Smith’s Diet, of the Bible, 4:p. 2786); or, “when once they disobeyed,” (E. S. Green, Handbook New. Test. Gram. p. 215); or “when formerly they showed

themselves unbelieving” (Schweizer). “On their once having been disobedient,” is perhaps still more nearly exact.1

I spoke “with more caution” of the first proposition “in view of the difficulty of proving a universal negative,” while claiming that “a clear instance” to the contrary would be “a singularly rare exception.” With a very slight addition to the form of the grammatical propositions then laid down, I shall venture to question still more positively whether even exceptional instances can be found in careful Greek writers.

The chief grammatical points specially taken and sustained by authorities, and by examples, were,

1. That an anarthrous participle placed after a noun which has the article (as in the ...

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