Updated: Jul 9, 2020
Let's read the passage: "For for this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit." 1 Peter 4:6, KJV
When reading this verse, some people interpret this as if it is saying that the gospel was preached to dead people. Furthermore, this passage is also being used to support the teaching that living people can still pray for the salvation of dead people.
However, we must understand that "to believe" that the gospel was preached to dead people will contradict other passages of the Bible. Ecclesiastes 9:5, 6 says, "For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not anything, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten." "Also their love, and their hatred, and their envy, is now perished; neither have they any more a portion for ever in anything that is done under the sun."
Upon careful examination, we can see the following:
The passage does not say that the gospel was preached to them "while" they are dead. Rather, these people would have heard the gospel while they were still alive so they can be judged "according to men in the flesh."
Several scholars agree that the word "dead" refers to the Gentiles. Here are some translations:
“For this indeed was the effect of the preaching of the Gospel to the dead, (the unconverted Gentiles), that some will be punished as carnal men; but others, (those converted to Christianity), lead a spiritual life unto God.” - Wakefield.
“For this purpose hath the Gospel been preached even to the dead, (i.e. the Gentiles), that although they might be condemned, indeed, by men in the flesh, (their persecutors), yet they might live eternally by God in the Spirit.” - Macknight.
“For this cause was the Gospel preached to them that were dead; that they who live according to men in the flesh, maybe condemned; but that they who live according to God in the Spirit, may live.” - Knatchbull.
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