1 Peter 4:6—Is the Gospel preached to people after they die?
Problem: Peter says that “the Gospel was preached also to those who are dead.” This appears to claim that people have a chance to be saved after they die. But this runs into conflict with Hebrews 9:27, which insists that “it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment.”
Solution: In response it should be noted, first, that there is no hope held out anywhere in Scripture for salvation after death. Death is final, and there are only two destinies—heaven and hell, between which there is a great gulf that no one can pass over (see comments on 1 Peter 3:19). So, whatever preaching to the “dead” may mean, it does not imply that one can be saved after he dies.
Second, this is an unclear passage, subject to many interpretations, and no doctrine should be based on an ambiguous passage like this. The difficult texts should be interpreted in the light of the clear ones and not the reverse.
Third, there are other possible interpretations of this passage that do not conflict with the teaching of the rest of Scripture. (1) For example, it is possible that it refers to those who are now dead who heard the Gospel while they were alive. In favor of this is cited the fact that the Gospel “was preached” (in the past) to those who “are dead” (now, in the present). (2) Or, some believe this might not be a reference to human beings, but to the “spirits in prison” (angels) of 1 Peter 3:19 (cf. 2 Peter 2:4 and Gen. 6:2). (3) Still others claim that, although the dead suffer the destruction of their flesh (1 Peter 4:6), yet they still live with God by virtue of what Christ did through the Gospel (namely, His death and resurrection). This victorious message was announced by Christ Himself to the spirit world after His resurrection (cf. 1 Peter 3:18).
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This excerpt is from When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992). © 2014 Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Click here to purchase this book.