1 Peter 3:18-20: Because even Messiah once suffered for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to Elohim, having been put to death indeed in flesh but made alive in the Spirit, 19 in which also He went and proclaimed unto the spirits in prison, 20 who were disobedient at one time when the patience of Elohim waited in the days of Noaḥ, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight beings, were saved through water,

This seems to disprove consciousness ceases at death.

  • christianity.stackexchange.com/q/61520/23657 Related
    – Kris
    Apr 6, 2019 at 12:35
  • 1
    Could you explain why you think this scripture disproves consciousness at death? Are you referring to how Jesus was "made alive in the Spirit"? Or are you referring to how he "proclaimed unto the spirits in prison"?
    – user32540
    Apr 6, 2019 at 12:42
  • In that case, you address this to JW's as other "soul sleep" adherents have quite different explanations
    – user43409
    Apr 6, 2019 at 22:31
  • If the "spirits in prison" refers to demons, fallen angels, then they have nothing to do with human spirits, and this question becomes meaningless. Mar 9, 2021 at 3:57

2 Answers 2


Most likely the reason this question is not getting much traction is because no one who believes in the unconscious state of the dead prior to Jesus' second coming actually use the term "soul sleep". We believe the spirit returns to God upon death (Ecclesiastes 12:7), and the person is only figuratively sleeping in the grave without consciousness. Moving on...

Often this passage gets quoted to prove that souls are conscious after death, however this interpretation is a contradiction of another popular parable often quoted for the same purpose, the Rich man and Lazarus. If the common interpretation that Jesus went and preached to the antediluvian souls in hell after death is true, then the whole point of the parable of the Rich man and Lazarus becomes mute.

"If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead." Luke 16:31

Therefore, obviously this cannot be the interpretation. Did they not have Noah preaching to them for who knows how many years? Was not even the Garden of Eden still on earth back then as a testimony against them?

Rather this verse has a spiritual meaning in reference to spirits in prisons. Consider what Jesus states here:

"The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound;" (Isaiah 61:1)

Now to quote some preachers. Uriah Smith, a founding father of the Seventh Day Adventist church has an article on this very verse, writes "The whole idea is forced, unnatural, and absurd. The preaching that was given to them was through Noah, who, by the power of the Holy Ghost (1 Peter 1:12), delivered to them the message of warning. And on the meaning of spirits in prison, "But in what sense were they in prison? - In the same sense in which persons in error and darkness are said to be in prison. Isaiah 42:7: “To open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison-house.”"

Doug Bachelor, a popular Adventist preacher today, addresses it in a video here.

Finally, consider the straight forward reading of 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 and 1 Corinthians 15:51-52. It is simple, and makes no conflated points of conscious souls descending from heaven to retrieve their physical bodies.

"For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord."(1 These 4:16-17)

"Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed." (1 Cor 15:51-52)


To be clear, I do believe in what you call "Soul Sleep", I just wouldn't call it that. The term "soul sleep" is a misnomer because the soul does not sleep. It dies. (this will make more sense when I explain what a "soul" is, a little further down)

In order to answer this question I must first make you understand the meanings of "spirit" and "death". They are in fact polar opposites of each other.

Let's start with the word "spirit". It is a translation of the Greek word pneuma which literally means breath, and when that breath comes from God it is literally the breath of life because God is life. There's a Hebrew word with the exact same meaning used in Genesis 2:7 and it is neshamah.

This is important because it is the distinction between what most people think of when they hear the word "spirit" (a whispy ghostly conscious entity) vs what it actually is, and that is life. And remember that life only comes from God. There is no other source.

If you look up all the places where those words are used (and look up also the word ruach) you'll find that God literally is "the spirit of life" and when he breathed his breath into Adam, his "spirit" entered Adam and he became a living creature (a soul).

Genesis 2:7 And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.

Notice, that man was not given a soul, but he became a soul. Notice also that every living creature on earth is a soul. King Solomon even said that when we die we have no advantage over the beasts for all go to the same place.

Ecclesiastes 3:19-20 For what happens to the children of man and what happens to the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts, for all is vanity. All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return.

God literally is life and that's why it says when we die, the spirit (the life) returns to God who gave it. (He gave it to us in Genesis 2:7)

Ecclesiastes 12:7 the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit (breath of life) returns to God who gave it.

Now that covers the "spirit" of Christ and what happened to it when he died. And make no mistake, he really died. He did not go down into the depths to talk to spirits of the departed as the verse you cite is so often understood. If that were true, then he would not have really died. He would merely have temporarily left his body. That's not death. That's a holiday. Let's be honest. If "death" was simply leaving your body, then that would not be death at all, nor would there be any point in the resurrection, but Christ really did die. His life left him and returned to God who gave it. And if his life returned to God, how could he possibly go talk to sinners? (remember, dead men tell no tales)

So how do I explain the passage of 1 Peter 2:18-20?

Jesus was put to death, but made alive by the Spirit. The NIV says he was made alive in the spirit but I believe a more accurate translation (as in the KJV) is by the spirit.

The reason I believe that is because of what I explained above. This spirit is the breath of God, which made him alive again. The spirit (breath) of God resurrected Jesus. So it was by the life of God that he was made alive. As I said, there is no other source for life.

And by this resurrection he “went and preached unto the spirits in prison”.

The spirits in prison were lives that could not be resurrected to life because they died before Jesus, but by His resurrection now these other lives which had been lost before Him are able to partake in the resurrection to life.

These were not entities in a literal prison. The prison was that from which Jesus has set us all free. The prison of sin. So it is “by the spirit” (ie. by his resurrection - resurrection and spirit literally are the same thing because they both mean life) that the lives which were lost to sin previously, are now able to be freed.

In other words, Peter was merely reassuring believers that even those who had died before Christ have salvation by his resurrection, just like the rest of us. We've all been freed from the same prison.

  • "First of all, the term "soul sleep" is a misnomer because the soul does not sleep. It dies. (this will make more sense when I explain what a "soul" is, a little further down)" When you start by saying this, you're really showing that you're not providing a valid answer to the question. It's okay to disagree with others' doctrines, but answers have to actually match what is asked about.
    – curiousdannii
    Apr 8, 2019 at 4:35
  • This does not answer the question that was asked from the perspective asked about.
    – Caleb
    Apr 8, 2019 at 6:53
  • This question asks for the views of those who believe in the concept of "soul sleep." But it's not obvious that your answer comes from that perspective. If this answer reflects how a Seventh Day Adventist or other adherent of "soul sleep" would argue, please make that clear in your answer (preferably by citing sources), in which case this post could be undeleted. Thanks! Apr 8, 2019 at 19:43
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    Can you add quotes or references showing that other soul sleep adherents agree with your thinking?
    – curiousdannii
    Apr 10, 2019 at 5:53

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