In our English Bibles, the Greek word abyssos [a [busso"] is transliterated as "abyss" (RSV "bottomless pit") in every instance except Romans 10:7, where it is translated "the deep." In the Septuagint abyssos [a [busso"] translates Tehom almost exclusively, but in rare instances ShuLam ( Isa 44:27 ), MeshuLam ( Job 41:22 ), and Racha ( Job 36:16 ).

In the Old Testament abyssos [a [busso"] is invariably descriptive of the watery depths of the earth, whether oceans or springs, in contradistinction to the land (e.g., Psalm 77:16 ; 78:15 ; 106:9 ; Isa 51:10 ; Amos 7:4 ), although in Psalm 71:20, "the depths of the earth" are spoken of in a manner almost signifying death (however, it probably means no more than the depths of one's troubles on earth). Abyssos [a [busso"] never translates Sheol, so in the Old Testament it never carries the idea of the realm of the dead or the afterlife. In Genesis 1:2 the total inchoate earth is called "the deep, " over which the Spirit of God hovered.

During the intertestamental period the situation began to change and the meaning of abyssos [a [busso"] broadened to include the idea of death as well as the realm of demonic spirits (e.g., Jub 5:6; 1 Enoch 10:4, 11).

In the New Testament the changeover is complete. Abyssos [a [busso"] is never used to refer to the waters of the earth. Here it is used in two ways. First, in Romans 10:7 Paul uses it specifically to mean "the realm of the dead, " drawing from Deuteronomy 30:12-14, but not quoting exactly. He contrasts "ascent into heaven" with "descent into the abyss, " but because Christ was there, the abyss should not be conceived as an evil or demonic realm. Second, Luke (8:31) and John ( Rev 9:1-2 ; 11:7 ; 17:8 ; Revelation 20:1 Revelation 20:3 ) describe the abyss specifically as the dwelling place of demons and the beast and as a place of confinement unto judgment that is under God's control. In lu 8:31 the demons beg Jesus not to send them into the abyss, knowing that they will no longer be free to wreak havoc on the earth. Here, abyssos [a [busso"] is similar to tartarus [tartarovw] in 2pe 2:4, where the angels that sinned are confined until the judgment. In John's vision of the fifth trumpet ( Rev 9:1-11 ), the shaft leading to the abyss is opened, releasing the demonic hoard of locusts. Their ruler is "the angel of the abyss, " whose name is Destruction (Heb. Abaddon; Gk. Appolyon). The beast who ascends from the abyss ( Rev 11:7 ; 17:8 ) presents a complex picture. Combined, it represents the antichrist, demonic power, Rome (i.e., political power as supportive of the harlot), and ultimate evil. This beast is to be thrown alive into the "fiery lake of burning sulphur" ( Rev 19:20 ). Satan is chained in the abyss for a thousand years ( Revelation 20:1 Revelation 20:3 ), until he, too, is thrown into the lake of fire ( Rev 20:10 ).

Walter A. Elwell

See also Abaddon; Revelation, Theology of

Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Edited by Walter A. Elwell
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
Baker Book House Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan USA.
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[J] indicates this entry was also found in Jack Van Impe's Prophecy Dictionary

Bibliography Information

Elwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Abyss'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology". . 1997.


a-bis', (he abussos):

In classical Greek the word is always an adjective, and is used

  1. literally, "very deep," "bottomless";

  2. figuratively, "unfathomable," "boundless." "Abyss" does not occur in the King James Version but the Revised Version (British and American) so transliterates abussos in each case. The the King James Version renders the Greek by "the deep" in two passages (Luke 8:31; Romans 10:7). In Revelation the King James Version renders by "the bottomless pit" (Revelation 9:1,2,11; 11:7; 17:8; 20:1,3). In the Septuagint abussos is the rendering of the Hebrew word tehom. According to primitive Semitic cosmogony the earth was supposed to rest on a vast body of water which was the source of all springs of water and rivers (Genesis 1:2; Deuteronomy 8:7; Psalms 24:2; 136:6). This subterranean ocean is sometimes described as "the water under the earth" (Exodus 20:4; Deuteronomy 5:8). According to Job 41:32 tehom is the home of the leviathan in which he plows his hoary path of foam. The Septuagint never uses abussos as a rendering of sheol (= Sheol = Hades) and probably tehom never meant the "abode of the dead" which was the ordinary meaning of Sheol. In Psalms 71:20 tehom is used figuratively, and denotes "many and sore troubles" through which the psalmist has passed (compare Jonah 2:5). But in the New Testament the word abussos means the "abode of demons." In Luke 8:31 the King James Version renders "into the deep" (Weymouth and The Twentieth Century New Testament = "into the bottomless pit"). The demons do not wish to be sent to their place of punishment before their destined time. Mark simply says "out of the country" (Luke 5:10). In Romans 10:7 the word is equivalent to Hades, the abode of the dead. In Revelation (where the King James Version renders invariably "the bottomless pit") abussos denotes the abode of evil spirits, but not the place of final punishment; it is therefore to be distinguished from the "lake of fire and brimstone" where the beast and the false prophet are, and into which the Devil is to be finally cast (Revelation 19:20; 20:10).

    See also ASTRONOMY, sec. III, 7.

    Thomas Lewis

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    Bibliography Information
    Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. "Entry for 'ABYSS'". "International Standard Bible Encyclopedia". 1915.  

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