Mormons often refer to 1 Peter 4:6 to support their belief that people can accept Mormonism in the spirit world. The Plan of Salvation pamphlet references it under the second question on p. 21. “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).
The key to understanding this correctly is seeing that Peter didn’t write “is preached” but rather “was preached.” The tenses of verbs are important. Peter writes about something which happened in the past. Nowhere does he say the gospel is, or ever was, being preached to the dead. In essence, Peter says that, in the past, when these people were still alive, the gospel was preached to them.
This is the consistent witness of the Bible. Never does it give any hope that people have another chance. It says the direct opposite. To prove this, many Christians point to Hebrews, “Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).
Mormons often counter by saying this allows for a time lag between death and the judgment in which people can have a chance to repent. Therefore, I have found it more effective to refer to Proverbs 11:7, “When a wicked man dieth, his expectation shall perish: and the hope of unjust men perisheth.”
At death, the hope of wicked and unjust people (which in the Bible includes all unbelievers) dies. The Bible is clear. There are no second changes.
This is very sobering. This generates urgency because no one knows when they or anybody else will die.
When talking with Mormons about 1 Peter 4:6, have the following two goals in mind:
- Neutralize their interpretation by stressing the past tense, “was preached.” It usually will be expecting too much to have them accept your interpretation. Sometimes the best we can do is neutralize their interpretation.
- Use it as a springboard to talk about the urgency of their coming to saving faith ASAP. They naturally will think they already have saving faith. You will need to lovingly warn them about the falseness of their belief.
FYI: Here is an example of their belief that people will be taught in spirit prison. “The spirits in prison are “taught faith in God, repentance from sin, vicarious baptism for the remission of sins, the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands, and all other principles of the gospel that [are] necessary for them to know” (D&C 138:33–34). If they accept the principles of the gospel, repent of their sins, and accept ordinances performed in their behalf in temples, they will be welcomed into paradise.” (True to the Faith, p. 46 – 47)