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preached to those spirits in prison who did not believe when God once waited and had patience in the times of Noah, &c. This' adds he, 'is certainly a strange idea, and a right down foolish speech! for Peter intimates that an unbelieving world was once destroyed; and, then, that the deceased Christ preached to it, after death, to make it a new and believing world. This is properly the purport of St. Peter's words,- of which I will say nothing decidedly. Still, however,' continues he, by way of excuse for the apostle, there is no doubt that they, whom he calls an unbelieving world, were not the godless mockers and tyrants, who will certainly be damned if they die in their sin ; but the apostle referred to the young children and others whose ignorance hindered their believing. And on this account he mentioned the long-suffering of God in not depriving those persons of his saving word, who did not believe at the time of the Flood, or who could not have believed.' 22 One would suppose it better to adhere to what was a properly the purport of St. Peter's words.” But this, Luther could not do, consistently with his doctrine of damnation. He therefore concludes that the 6 disobedient” were such only as had been excusably disobedient. This opinion, at least in its general form, he retained to the last, as appears from his remarks in 1545, the year before his death; • Here St. Peter says clearly that Christ was not only manifested, after his crucifixion, to the ancient fathers and Patriarchs, but that he also preached to some who did not believe in the time of Noah, and who, because they knew that their sins might be forgiven through the sacrifice of Christ, trusted to the longsuffering of God that he would not rage so dreadfully against the human race.'
Melanchthon agreed with Luther in maintaining the fact of Christ's descent to the souls of the dead. He says, with reference to Peter's words, that " Christ awakened the ancient fathers, and preached to the spirits which were in prision.” But here he purposely leaves the subject, with the advice that we should not push our inquiries too far. The rest of the Lutheran divines, in the age of
22 Luther's Auslegung des ersten Buchs Mosis. Cap. vii. 15-18. This work was begun 1536, and finished 1545.
the Reformation, appear to have held about the same grounds with Melanchthon, and like him, to have accepted the natural meaning of St. Peter's words, so far as respects the fact of Christ's preaching to the souls of the dead. Some of them however, disregarded his cautionary advice, and defined the particulars with much more cir. cumstantiality.
Zwingli appears to have held that it was only the power, or influence, of Christ, and not himself personally, which descended to the souls of the deceased. “When Christ was numbered among the dead, the power of his salvation reached even to those who were under the earth. What the holy Peter says," continues he, “ is, that the gospel was preached to the dead." But with a contradiction of the apostle, such as we have so frequently met with, he adds, that these dead were “ all those under the earth who had, since the creation of the world, believed in the admonitions of God, after the example of Noah, while the godless despised them.” It will be remembered, on the contrary, that St. Peter says they were those who had been “ disobedient” in the days of Noah. : Calvin follows out the idea of Zwingli, but with an effort to avoid the appearance of contradicting the apostle. In his Institutes, he contends that the proper explanation of St. Peter's words is this : the influence, not the person, of Christ visited the spirits of those among the dead who were on the watch, (so he translates the phrase rendered in prison,) that is, who were piously looking forward to him. And these were comforted by the assurance he gave them that the great work was completed ; but to the souls of the reprobate, or “ disobedient,” it was made clearer than ever that they were excluded from his salvation. In a later exposition, which we find in his Commentary, he begins by refuting the two following hypotheses: 1. That it was the soul, or personal spirit, of Christ which descended to the dead; and 2. that it was only the morally dead, to whom the spirit of Christ preached through the apostles. This, he says, is a very absurd way of explaining the text. He thinks it was the spirits of the pious dead, to whom Christ preached ; that instead of “ spirits in prison," we ought to read, " spirits on the watch ; " but that, if we must translate it “ in prison," then
it means that they were constrained, held in bondage as it were, by their vehement desire to behold the work of redemption finished. But here, says he, rises a difficulty: Why does St. Peter mention only the unbelieving or “ disobedient” souls, while speaking of those to whom Christ preached ? The answer is, that the impious dead comprizing nearly all who had lived in the ancient world, and the pious dead being but few comparatively, the apostle mentions the greater part for the whole. In the course of his exposition, he says there is no occasion to refute the “ delirium” of those who think that the souls of unbelievers were released at the advent of Christ; because, there is no deliverence for them after death.23 This dogma of his obliged him to use the violence which we have seen him resort to, in order to turn aside the bearing of the text, after he had accepted its general meaning.
His associate and successor at Geneva, Theodore Beza, was only second to him in authority and influence among the Reformed Churches of Switzerland, England, and the Netherlands. About the time of Calvin's death, (1564,) Beza published, at Geneva, his Greek Testament, with a new Translation, and with Notes. The passage in Peter is rendered thus : “ being put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; by which also he went and preached to the spirits which are in prison, which were formerly disobedient, when once the long-suffering of God waited in the days of Noah," &c.--that is, they are now " spirits,” and “are in prison” now, but were not, at the time of the preaching; and the spirit by which ” Christ preached to them was not his soul, but his divine nature. Beza begins his Note by confessing, what none of the primitive Christians were aware of, that the passage is very dark : “ As there is not a text in the New Testament more obscure than this, I shall do my best to illustrate it." Accordingly, he clears the ground by setting aside 1. a Catholic exposition, that the soul of Christ went to the Limbus Patrum, to deliver the souls of the ancient saints; 2. the allegorical hypothesis, ihat it was the spirit of Christ which preached, through the apostles, to living sinners, of their day, who were in the prison” of sin ; 3. the opinion of " certain fanatics," that it was to the souls of unbelievers, who died before Christ, that the gospel was preached, to give them a chance of salvation. The first exposition, he contends, could not be true, since nothing is here said of the soul of Christ, and since it was not to saints, but to the " disobedient," that the preaching was addressed ; the second was not only unfounded, but at variance also with the specifications of the text; of the third he says, “ this delirium needs no refutation." Together with these three, he rejects a fourth exposition, which, it is said, Luther had somewhere broached : that the spirits to whom Christ preached, after death, were indeed disobedient in the days of Noah, but, having repented when they saw the Flood begin, they died in a state of faith and obedience, and were therefore proper subjects of salvation. “At length,” says Beza, “I will give my own view; but in such a way as not to bring a prejudice on the opinions of learned interpreters, nor to preclude myself from adopting a different exposition, should a better be offered.” He then submits the interpretation, commonly received at present by our Orthodox churches, and argues it in a very long note. The substance of it is, that the Word, or the divine nature, of Christ, preached in the time of Noah to the disobedient and unbelieving; but, as they refused to hear, they were destroyed by the deluge, and their 66 spirits" confined " in the prison" of hell, where they still remain. They were “spirits in prison,” when St. Peter wrote; but living men when the preaching was addressed to them. “So the dead” (iv. 6,) to whom " the gospel was preached," were indeed “ dead,” when St. Peter wrote, but living when the gospel was announced to them in the days of Noah. He resorts to the quibble that they cannot have been dead at the time of the preaching, for only bodies die; and was the gospel preached to putrefied carcases? The phrase, “ that they might be judged according to men in the flesh," he wrenches after the following manner: to be condemned (judged) in the flesh, is to have sin condemned and abolished in one's flesh; and when it is said, “ according to men," it means that sin has its fountain in human nåture. The gospel was preached to the living Antediluvians, (who are now dead, that they might abolish in themselves that sin which springs from their nature, and that they might live according to God in spirit.24 Why did Beza commit so bungling a piece of violence on this clause ? Because the clause distinguishes between the persons referred to and “men in the flesh;" and it was therefore requisite for his purpose to force a foreign meaning upon the language. Absurd as his treatment is, who has ever done better, in a similar exigency? We observe, in passing, that he may have borrowed his interpretation from the 6 Genevan Bible," published by his intimate friends, the English exiles in his city, two years before his own work appeared. But it is not improbable, on the contrary, that they translated and explained the passage by the light they had received from his instructions.
23 Calvini Instit. lib. ii. cap. 16. 8 9. Comment. in 1 Pet. iii. 19, 20, iv. 6. In this latter text, (iv. 6, “ the dead,” to whom “the gospel was preached,” were the pious dead, says Calvin; and the expression, " that they might be judged according to men in the flesh,” &c., means that, although they were condemned by the judgement of men, they would live with God in their spirit. The reason why he must have them to be the pious dead, is, that it was the gospel which was preached to them; and it would not do to say that this was preached to the disobedient, after death. Nor would it do to say that the gospel was preached to the pious, after death, with any reference to their being judged as in the case of men in the flesh. Hence the necessity of wresting this clause to some other meaning.
Reformed Churches. Whether Beza's interpretation was original with himself, or borrowed, we shall find that circumstances conspired to give it a decisive influence on the course of subsequent commentators, especially in England. Nevertheless, it does not appear to have been commonly adopted, for some time, by the divines of the Reformed Churches in Switzerland, - that of Geneva excepted. Bullinger, the theological Professor at Zurich, (1539,) follows the natural sense of St. Peter's words so far as the fact goes that Christ preached, after his death, to the departed souls; but the object, he concludes, was, to comfort the pious dead, and to confirm the “disobedient” in the certainty of their damnation.25 If we mistake not, Wolfgang Musculus the theologian at Bern, (1555,) and Oecolampadius at Basil, (1530,) explained the passage in nearly the same way. Castalio, Greek
24 Bezæ Nov. Test. in 1 Pet. iii. 19, 20; iv. 6. Ed. 1589. 25 Bullingeri Comment. in 1 Pet. iii. 19, 20.