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EDITORS COMMENT: This new series is being offered in memoriam of Dr. Michael Heiser who’s truly groundbreaking research on the Divine Council and Enochian Worldview (based on the book of Enoch and its connection to Hebrew theology before and at the time of Jesus) opened the door for a richer understanding of the Life of Christ than previous generations could have imagined. This series reflects content from the leading-edge books published by Defender Publishing for Dr. Heiser—Reversing Hermon: Enoch, the Watchers, and the Forgotten Mission of Jesus Christ as well as his two volume book set titled, A Companion to the Book of Enoch: A Reader’s Commentary, Volume 1: The Book of the Watchers and Vol II: The Parables of Enoch. PLEASE NOTE: ALL PROFITS FROM THE SALE OF DR. MICHAEL HEISER’S BOOKS FROM SKYWATCHTVSTORE.COM WILL BE  DONATED TO HIS FAMILY DURING THIS SERIES.

Baptism is one of the most familiar practices in the local church. It’s so familiar, in fact, that it’s routine. The early church, however, associated it with the epic struggle between the children of God and the forces of darkness. This is why early baptismal formulas included a renunciation of Satan and his angels.[i] For early believers, baptism was spiritual warfare. The backdrop for this notion is the story of the sin of the Watchers in 1 Enoch. Perhaps that’s the reason baptism isn’t taught with this ancient perspective in mind.

Our discussion begins with 1 Peter 3:14–22, one of the more puzzling passages in the New Testament.

14But even if you might suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not be afraid of their intimidation or be disturbed, 15but set Christ apart as Lord in your hearts, always ready to make a defense to anyone who asks you for an accounting concerning the hope that is in you. 16But do so with courtesy and respect, having a good conscience, so that in the things in which you are slandered, the ones who malign your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame. 17For it is better to suffer for doing good, if God wills it, than for doing evil.

18For Christ also suffered once for sins,

the just for the unjust,

in order that he could bring you to God,

being put to death in the flesh,

but made alive in the spirit,

19in which also he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison,

20who were formerly disobedient, when the patience of God waited in the days of Noah, while an ark was being constructed, in which a few—that is, eight souls—were rescued through water. 21And also, corresponding to this, baptism now saves you, not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, with angels and authorities and powers having been subjected to him.

The overall theme of 1 Peter is that Christians must withstand persecution and persevere in their faith. That much is clear, but almost everything else in the passage has been subjected to heated academic debate.

Understanding this passage depends on comprehending two interrelated trajectories: (1) the notion of spirits being imprisoned, and (2) the literary-theological phenomenon of typology. We’ll consider them in order.

Spirits in Prison, Chained in Gloomy Darkness

Who are “the spirits” that are “in prison”? The context associates them clearly with “the days of Noah,” just before the Flood, but the association isn’t adequate on its own to answer the question. Are these spirits the souls of the people who perished in the Flood? Are they the fallen “sons of God” from Genesis 6:2 (the Watchers) who sinned with human women? Are they the disembodied Watcher spirits of dead Nephilim—demons? Or is the reference to “spirits” point to all of the above?[ii]

There are two important items to note in parsing out the most likely answer: the vocabulary used in 1 Peter 3:19 and the reference to imprisonment of spirits.

The word used in 1 Peter 3:19 typically translated “spirits” is pneuma. It frequently refers to nonhuman spirits, whether angels or evil spirits (Matthew 12:43; Mark 1:23, 26; 3:30; 5:2, 8; 7:25; 9:25a; Luke 8:29; 9:42; 11:24; Hebrews 1:14; 12:9; Revelation 18:2); the immaterial, animating force (or breath) of a human being (Matthew 27:50; Acts 7:59; Hebrews 12:23); and, one occasion in the New Testament, as the disembodied spirit of a human, a ghost (Matthew 14:26; Luke 24:37).[iii] The term, then, can be used of both the human dead (infrequently) and non-human spirits (frequently).

However, one must ask if Peter’s vocabulary for human beings elsewhere can be used of nonhuman spirits. In 1 Peter 3:20, one verse removed, Peter mentions “eight persons (psychē), were brought safely through water.” This different term, psychē, is never used of nonhuman spirits. Rather, it speaks of the animating force of human life, the inner self or inner life of human mind, human desires or emotions, or the departed human spirit/soul.[iv]



What this means is that 1 Peter 3:19–20 uses distinct vocabulary in each respective verse. Had Peter wanted readers to unambiguously conclude that the spirits in prison were human persons just like those of v. 20, it is far more likely that he would have used psychē in verse 19—but he didn’t. Instead we find plural pneuma in verse 19, the term that is most commonly used for non-human spirits.[v]

The vocabulary distinction alone isn’t conclusive. The second item of note must be brought to bear at this point—the reference to the spirits being in “prison” (Greek: phylakē).

Put simply, there is no instance in either the New Testament or 1 Enoch where disobedient human souls are said to be in an otherworldly prison. As Dalton notes:

Nowhere in biblical literature is the world of the dead, as such, called phylakē. It is true that in the Syriac Peshitta version of 1 Pet[er] 3:19, ev phylakē is rendered by “in sheol.” This is an interpretation rather than a strict translation, which derives from the later church tradition, found in Syriac writings, of Christ’s “harrowing of hell.” In this tradition, sheol is regarded as a prison in the keeping of Satan, from which Christ at his descent to sheol, liberated all the souls of the dead. This later, non-biblical tradition cannot be used to interpret the text of 1 Pet[er] 3:19.

On the other hand, phylakē is used in the New Testament for the prison in which Satan is chained: “And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be loosed from his prison.” This usage is quite normal….

It is important to note that, in both [1 Enoch and 2 Enoch], the fallen angels are described expressly, as being “in prison,” or in equivalent terms. In 1 Enoch, they are condemned by God to prison as they await their final judgment (1 Enoch, 14:5; cf. 18:14).[vi]

The reference to the spirits being imprisoned is decisive. Any literate Second Temple period Jewish reader of 1 Peter 3:19 would have understood that Peter was referring to fallen nonhuman spirits, the Watchers who sinned before the Flood (Genesis 6:2).

Michaels concurs with this assessment:

There is agreement on virtually all sides that Jewish traditions about Enoch (occasioned by Gen[esis] 5:24), especially 1 Enoch, have influenced Peter’s thought (and possibly his language) at this point. “Spirits” is used in 1 Enoch for the souls of the dead, but always either with qualifying genitives, as in Heb[rews] 12:23 (e.g., 1 Enoch 22.3, 9, 12, 13; also 9.3, 10 in the Greek text of Syncellus), or in close dependence on preceding phrases that are so qualified (e.g., 22.6, 13). The “sons of God” who corrupted the human race (Gen[esis] 6:1–4) are customarily designated either as “angels” (e.g., 1 Enoch 6.2; cf. Jude 6; 2 Pet[er] 2:4) or as “watchers” (e.g., 1 Enoch 12.2, 4), not as “spirits,” although Enoch reminds them that before they defiled themselves they had been “spiritual [Greek: spirits], living the eternal life” in heaven (15.4, 6, 7). The closest parallel in 1 Enoch to the “spirits” in 1 Peter is probably to be found in 15.8–10: “But now the giants who are born from (the union of) spirits and the flesh shall be called evil spirits upon the earth, because their dwelling shall be upon the earth and inside the earth. Evil spirits have come out of their bodies….” Although neither the original text nor the meaning of the passage is entirely clear, its apparent aim is to identify certain known demonic powers (or “evil spirits”) as the indirect offspring of the ancient illicit union between originally holy and “spiritual” angels, and women of the generation before the flood. That union produced “giants” (cf. Gen[esis] 6:4 LXX) and from these giants came the “evil spirits” or demons, that continue to harass humankind…. If the authors of 1 Enoch saw the “evil spirits” of their day as offspring of the angelic “watchers,” there is no reason why Peter may not have viewed the “unclean spirits” of his own Christian tradition in a similar light.[vii]

Now that we’ve concluded that the “spirits in prison” of 1 Peter 3:19 are the imprisoned Watchers/sons of God of Genesis 6:1–4 infamy, we can proceed to the second trajectory for understanding just what 1 Peter 3:14–22 is talking about—and how all of this relates to baptism.

Enoch, Adam, Jesus, and Typology

To understand what 1 Peter 3:14–22 is communicating, we have to understand a concept that scholars have called typology. Typology is a kind of prophecy. Readers will of course be familiar with predictive verbal prophecy—when a prophet announces that something is going to come to pass in the future. The point is that predictive prophecy of the more familiar kind is uttered. Typology works differently.

Typology concerns literary types, a term that comes from the New Testament (Greek: typos). For example, in Romans 5:14 Paul tells us that Adam was a typos of Christ. This Greek word means “kind” or “mark”—something that marks or points to something else. Paul was saying that, in some way, Adam pointed to Jesus—that is, he foreshadowed or echoed something about Jesus.

A type is therefore an unspoken prophecy. It is an event, person, or institution that foreshadows something that will come, but that isn’t revealed until after the fact. In Adam’s case, that something was how his act (sin) had an effect on all humanity. Like Adam, Jesus did something that would have an impact on all humanity—His death and resurrection. Another example would be Passover, since it prefigured the crucifixion of Jesus, who was called “the lamb of God.” The point is that there was some analogous connection between the type (Adam) and its echo (Jesus), called the antitype or “type fulfillment” by scholars.

Peter uses typology in 1 Peter 3:14–22. Specifically, he assumes that the great Flood in Genesis 6–8, especially the sons of God event in Genesis 6:1–4, typified or foreshadowed the gospel and the resurrection. For Peter, these events were commemorated during baptism. That needs some unpacking, since the points of correlation aren’t apparent, at least to most modern readers.

In an earlier chapter, we saw the tight connections between Genesis 6:1–4 and the epistles of 2 Peter and Jude. We discovered that 2 Peter and Jude communicated something about the Flood and the sons of God that wasn’t found in Genesis, but which came from the Second Temple book of 1 Enoch. Specifically, 1 Enoch 6–15 describes how the sons of God (called “Watchers” in that ancient book) who committed the offense of Genesis 6:1–4 were imprisoned under the earth for what they had done. The offending Watchers are the “spirits in prison” in 1 Peter 3:19.

Recall that the prison to which the fallen sons of God were sent was referred to as Tartarus in 2 Peter 2:4–5. The imprisonment explicitly described here doesn’t come from Genesis 6:1–4, but from 1 Enoch. It is clear evidence that Peter’s description was influenced by the Enochian story of the transgression of the Watchers.

Recognizing this influence is important for 1 Peter 3. In the 1 Enoch story, the Watchers appealed their sentence and asked Enoch, the biblical prophet who never died (Genesis 5:21–24), to intercede with God for them (1 Enoch 6:4). God rejected their petition and Enoch had to return to the imprisoned Watchers and give them the bad news (1 Enoch 13:1–3; 14:4–5). The point to catch is that Enoch visits the spiritual world in the “bad section of town” where the offending Watchers are being held.

Now think about these parallels and the concept of typology—foreshadowing. Peter saw a theological analogy between the events of Genesis 6 and the gospel and resurrection. He considered the events of Genesis 6 to be types or precursors to New Testament events and ideas. Just as Jesus was the second Adam for Paul, Jesus is the second Enoch for Peter. Enoch descended to the imprisoned fallen angels to announce their doom. First Peter 3:14–22 has Jesus descending to these same “spirits in prison” to tell them they are still defeated, despite His crucifixion. God’s plan of salvation and kingdom rule had not been derailed—in fact, it was right on schedule. The crucifixion actually meant victory over every demonic force opposed to God. This victory declaration is why 1 Peter 3:14–22 ends with Jesus risen from the dead and seated at the right hand of God—above all angels, authorities, and powers. The messaging is very deliberate, and has a supernatural view of Genesis 6:1–4 at its core. The Watchers aren’t being offered salvation. They learned that their sentence is still intact and that their progeny, the Watcher spirits or demons, had not defeated the plan of God to inaugurate His rule on earth through His redeemed children.

So how does this relate to baptism? Our focus for answering that question is two terms in verse 21, that baptism is “an appeal to God for a good conscience through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”

The two boldfaced words need reconsideration in light of this Enochian backdrop. The word most often translated “appeal” (eperōtēma) in verse 21 is best understood as “pledge” here, a meaning that it has elsewhere.[viii] Likewise, the word “conscience” (suneidēsis) does not refer to the inner voice of right and wrong in this text. Rather, the word refers to the disposition of one’s loyalties, a usage that is also found in other contexts and Greek literature.[ix]

Let’s take this back to verses 19–21:

19[Jesus] went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, 20who were formerly disobedient, when the patience of God waited in the days of Noah, while an ark was being constructed, in which a few—that is, eight souls—were rescued through water. 21And also, corresponding to this, baptism now saves you, not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.



Baptism does not produce salvation in this text. Rather, it corresponds to something that does—the death of Jesus (v. 19) and the resurrection (v. 21). Baptism “saves” if one makes a decision: a pledge of loyalty to the risen Savior. In effect, baptism in New Testament theology is a loyalty oath, a public avowal of who is on the Lord’s side in the cosmic war between good and evil. But in addition to that, it is also a visceral reminder to the defeated fallen sons of God, Enoch’s Watchers.

Every baptism is therefore a reiteration of the past and future doom of the Watchers in the wake of the gospel and the kingdom of God. Early Christians understood the typology of this passage and its link back to 1 Enoch and Genesis 6:1–4. This is why early baptismal formulas included a renunciation of Satan and his angels. Baptism was anything but routine. It was a symbol of spiritual warfare.

Reversing Hermon in the Book of Revelation

To this point in our study, we’ve seen that writers of the New Testament Gospels, the apostle Paul, and the apostle Peter all had 1 Enoch’s story of divine transgression in mind when writing parts of their inspired content. It is no surprise that the apostle John, writing the last major portion of the New Testament, the book of Revelation, did as well.

We’ve in fact already seen this from John and Revelation in our discussion of the birth of Jesus in chapter 4. In this last section of our study, we return to John’s thinking to discern how the transgression of the Watchers is an interpretive factor in New Testament eschatology (end-times theology). We’ll be taking a look at several issues in our final two chapters.

First, what might be called “Antichrist theology” has several touchpoints with events of Genesis 6:1–4 and its story of the sin of the divine sons of God and their progeny, the Nephilim. We’ll see that Second Temple Jewish expectations about the great eschatological enemy were formed in part on the basis of certain biblical passages that overlap with the content of Genesis 6:1–4.

Second, several passages in the book of Revelation are illumined by a Second Temple Enochian worldview. Specifically, the remnant of 144,000, the Abyss of Revelation 9, and the matter of Gog and Magog are informed by material in Enoch’s recounting of the Watchers’ transgression.

Finally, the concept of the lake of fire (Revelation 19–20), prepared for “the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41) has an Enochian backdrop well known to scholars, but almost totally unknown to lay Bible students.

Exploring these issues will reveal interpretive surprises. However, it is important to note that, like the preceding chapters, our emphasis here is on textual data, not speculation. Our goal will be to see how the New Testament writers were influenced by, and repurposed, not only Old Testament material, but content from 1 Enoch in their own inspired works.

UP NEXT: The Sin of the Watchers, the Nephilim, and the Antichrist

[i] For example, see Tertullian: On the Crown 3: “When we are going to enter the water, but a little before, in the presence of the congregation and under the hand of the president, we solemnly profess that we disown the devil, and his pomp, and his angels. Hereupon we are thrice immersed, making a somewhat ampler pledge than the Lord has appointed in the Gospel. Then when we are taken up “as new-born children” (Source: Tertullian, “The Chaplet, or De Corona,” in Latin Christianity: Its Founder, Tertullian [ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe; vol. 3; The Ante-Nicene Fathers; Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885] 394. See also, Tertullian, On the Shows 4; On the Soul 35.3. For a discussion of this practice, see Ansgar Kelly, The Devil at Baptism: Ritual, Theology, and Drama (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1985) 94–105.

[ii] The most recent exhaustive study of 1 Peter 3:14–22 and all debates, data, and associated passages concerning the matter of the imprisoned spirits is William Joseph Dalton, Christ’s Proclamation to the Spirits: A Study of 1 Peter 3:18–4:6 (vol. 23; Analecta Biblica; Roma: Editrice Pontificio Istituto Biblico, 1989). I am in agreement with Dalton that the imprisoned spirits are not the people who died in the Flood, and that 1 Peter is following the story of the sin of the Watchers from 1 Enoch. Dalton notes (pp. 19, 21) that his understanding is not isolated. Well known and respected commentators before him rejected the human identification for the imprisoned spirits: “The great commentary of Selwyn seemed to move a long way towards a solution. He took in the wider context of Jewish tradition, particularly the First Book of Enoch, and saw in the ‘spirits’ to whom Christ made proclamation the wicked angels associated in this tradition with the flood and presented as the real instigators of human sin. I personally discovered that this understanding of the text, which at first sight appears forced, was well supported by further study of First Enoch and other related texts. In Selwyn’s explanation Christ’s proclamation was an announcement of his victory over his angelic adversaries. The whole presentation, despite its problems, had the advantage of understanding 1 Pet. 3:19 and its context as part of Christian tradition, typical of the whole approach of 1 Peter. The victory of Christ over the superhuman powers of evil is, in fact, a basic element in early Christian tradition…. J. N. D. Kelly published his commentary in 1969. It is difficult for me to assess this work with impartiality, since in all points of importance it agrees with my own views on 1 Pet. 3:19 and 4:6. I found it particularly gratifying that Kelly had come independently to such conclusions. This commentary has particular value, not only because of the exegetical wisdom of the author, but because of his acknowledged mastery of early Christian history.”…. In 1971 E. Best published his commentary on 1 Peter. In this he accepted the view that the ‘spirits’ in 3:19 are fallen angels. Their ‘prison’ should be set in the underworld, since, according to Best, there is no evidence in the relevant literature for such a prison in the heavens (despite 2 Enoch 7:1, where the fallen angels in the second heaven are described as “prisoners under guard”).” Best, however, also believed that Christ offered salvation to the fallen angels (1 Pet. 3:19). I don’t follow this thinking since it would be an inconsistency in the Enochian typology followed in 1 Peter 3. See the second part of the present chapter.

[iii] The term can also refer to one’s inner being, way of thinking, rationality, etc. See Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), vol. 2, p. 200, for semantic options.

[iv] Ibid., vol. 2, p. 266. See also Liddell, Henry George, Robert Scott, Henry Stuart Jones, and Roderick McKenzie, A Greek-English Lexicon (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996) 2026.

[v] Note that in 1 Peter 4:6, the gospel was preached to “the dead” (Greek: nekrois), a term defined in the same verse as “people” (anthropous). This vocabulary makes sense in 1 Peter 4:6, but not in 1 Peter 3:19. As noted in our discussion, the vocabulary differentiation is the basic reason why it makes little sense to see 1 Peter 4:6 and 1 Peter 3:19 as referring to the same event and objects. It should be added that seeing disembodied human spirits in 1 Pet. 4:6 does not require endorsing the idea that the disembodied dead get another chance at faith in Christ. 1 Pet. 4:6 says: “For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does.” It is nothing more than an assumption that this preaching was post-mortem—an assumption largely deriving from a second assumption that 1 Peter 3:19 is another reference to this preaching. The preaching could refer to proclamation that preceded death. For example, one could say of a deceased relative whom one presumes did not embrace the gospel, “I gave Grandma the gospel” after Grandma died to refer to the fact that she had heard the gospel. There is no necessary reason the language has to refer to contacting Grandma in the afterlife to give her the gospel. The “judgment in the flesh the way people are” could simply refer to the fact that people die. Applying this to 1 Pet. 4:6, we have: “I gave Grandma the gospel because she was going to die like all people do, so that she might live in the spirit [read: have eternal life] the way God does.” In other words, the gospel is preached to mortals so that they, like God, can escape the finality of death and have everlasting life with the Lord. There is nothing in 1 Pet. 4:6 that requires a post-mortem reading.

[vi] Dalton, Christ’s Proclamation to the Spirits, 160–161.

[vii] J. Ramsey Michaels, 1 Peter (vol. 49; Word Biblical Commentary; Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1998) 207–208. Michaels unfortunately gets tripped up in his analysis on one point. In the second ellipsis of the above selection he also wrote: “If this passage is brought to bear on 1 Peter, then the ‘spirits in refuge’ are neither the souls of those who died in the flood nor precisely the angels whose sin brought the flood on the earth, but rather the ‘evil spirits’ who came from the angels—probably identified in Peter’s mind with the ‘evil’ or ‘unclean’ spirits of the Gospel tradition.” This is demonstrably incorrect from the Enochian material. The “spirits in prison” of 1 Peter 3:19 are not the Watcher-spirits of the dead Nephilim for the simple reason that those spirits are not the ones the Enochian material has imprisoned. As we saw in an earlier chapter, Enoch’s Watcher story has only the original offending Watchers (“sons of God”) bound and imprisoned. The spirits of their offspring, the giants, while also being called Watchers, are never described as being imprisoned until the time of the end. Rather—in concert with the New Testament Gospels—these Watcher spirits are allowed to roam the earth and harass humanity. They are clearly not bound. Michaels has unfortunately conflated the two.

[viii] William F. Arndt, F. W. Gingrich, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (=BDAG; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000) 285.

[ix] Ibid., 967–968. BDAG glosses the lemma this way: “attentiveness to obligation, conscientiousness” (p. 968). The entry and the secondary scholarship it cites for this meaning point to 1 Tim. 1:5; 1 Cor. 10:25, 27–29; Heb. 9:9, 14 as New Testament examples. In these instances, it may be helpful to think of “conscience” as one’s predilection or inner disposition in some behavioral direction (as opposed to a “moral gyroscope” that parses good and evil). Contemporary texts such as 1 Clement 2:4; 34:7 illustrate the former usage and meaning. See H. Osborne, “Συνείδησις,” Journal of Theological Studies 32 (1931): 167–178; B. Reicke, The Disobedient Spirits and Christian Baptism, 174–182 (more external examples); Margaret E. Thrall, “The Pauline Use of Συνείδησις,” New Testament Studies 14.1 (1967): 118–125; Paul W. Gooch, “ ‘Conscience’ in 1 Corinthians 8 and 10,” New Testament Studies 33.2 (1987): 244–254.

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