Tartarus; It’s Origin and Meaning
Last week the subject of Tartarus was brought up in bible class. And as we continue to study the bible, that subject will continue to come up from time to time. And since that’s the case, I believe that we all should know very clearly, what the word “tartarus” means. And so I’ve decided to put together this lesson. And all I ask you to do, is to listen closely, and to accept whatever the bible says, without adding anything to it, and without changing anything.
Now you can take notes if you’d like, or you can print a copy of this lesson, so that you can have all the information right there to study later on, if you wish.
Let me begin by saying that this will be a discussion specifically about the name “Tartarus”, and whether or not the bible authorizes that name, as another name for hell, and whether or not the bible authorizes that name, as the name of a section of Hades. And I will not be addressing the subject of two divisions of Hades.. One section being for the souls of the saved, and another section being for the souls of the unsaved. That’s a completely different subject from what I’m discussing today. Once again, only the name “Tartarus”, and it’s possible application, will be addressed in this discussion. So then let’s begin..
Tartarus is a word which comes from Greek Mythology, and while we know in a general sense, what tartarus represented to the ancient Greeks, it’s meaning has actually varied throughout that period of time. It has “morphed” from representing one thing, to representing different things.
Let me read to you some writings from a book about the gods and goddesses of Greek Mythology.
Tartarus, A Realm of Punishment;
Tartarus was not only a primordial force, (a god) but it was also a place, a deep abyss located far below Hades, where the most wicked were sent after death, to suffer and be tormented, for their crimes. According to Plato, the famous philosopher of ancient Greece, this is where the souls of the dead were judged. The Greek poet Hesiod, said that Tartarus was the third god to come alive at the beginning of time, after Chaos and Gaea. He also stated, speaking about the realm of tartarus, that the distance from Hades to Tartarus, was the same as the distance between the earth and the sky. In Homer’s epic tale called “Iliad”, Zeus, the god of Olympian gods, said the same thing.
(You can see that Greek Mythology had a Hades, and it had a Tartarus, and they were two different places. One was not a part of the other, but rather, they were two separate places)
Aeacus, Minos and Minos-Rhadamanthus were kings who later become judges, who decided which souls went to Hades and which went to Tartarus.
(Again, Hades, and Tartarus, were two different places. Tartarus being far below Hades)
Greek mythology is made up of a series of factual events, (And I’m not sure where any factual events enter the picture) But, the writer says; Greek mythology is made up of a series of factual events,and fictional ideas, that were simply a result of human imagination.
In ancient Greek, the word Tartarus, was used to refer to a primeval deity, who came into existence prior to the Olympian gods. Historically, however, Tartarus is not known or remembered as a god, but as a place. In this concept, Tartarus is an underworld place that is depicted as a pit, where eternal punishment is reserved, for those who went against the wishes of the Olympian gods. This version of Tartarus has changed with time, as some Greek ideologists described it as a form of hell, where people who sinned on earth were punished.
What Tartarus is Not
Now that is basically the gist, of what the “Tartarus” of Greek Mythology was. But now I want to read to you a statement, from a different author, concerning what Tartarus is, and wat it is not, as it relates to the bible. And I believe this to be as accurate a description, as I or anyone else could give, concerning how the word Tartarus relates to the bible. So please listen carefully to what this statement says..
“Tartarus; Although that exact word is NOT used in the scriptures, the idea of Tartarus is suggested in the bible, and this is how the word Tartarus RELATES to the scriptures: Tartarus is a prison-like, abased condition, into which disobedient angels were subjected to. (A prison-like, abased condition) In 2 Peter 2, verse 4, (that’s the one and only verse from the bible, which suggests the idea of Tartarus) So.. In 2 Peter 2, verse 4, the use of the verb tar·ta·roʹsas , which means.. to “cast into Tartarus”, does NOT signify, that “the angels who sinned” were cast into the “Tartarus” of pagan Greek Mythology.
(Obviously God cannot literally cast anyone into a Mythological place, He can only cast them into a real place which actually exists. Greek Mythology is simply that, it’s “Mythology”. And obviously, none of the people or places in Greek Mythology actually exist)
In pagan Mythology, Tartarus is an underground prison, and place of darkness, for the lesser gods. And so in the scriptures, the use of the word “tartaro’sas”, is a way of illustrating, that these disobedient angels, were abased by God, from their heavenly position and privileges, and were delivered over to a condition, of deepest mental and spiritual darkness, with respect to God’s bright purposes. Darkness also marks their own eventuality, which the Scriptures show is everlasting destruction, along with their ruler, Satan the Devil. Therefore, Tartarus denotes the lowest condition of abasement, for those rebellious angels.”
Biblical Proof of that Statement
Now that really sums up the whole thing. But we need biblical evidence, to prove that what was just said is true; Namely, that the word tartaro’sas, is simply used as an illustration, and that tartarus isn’t a bible authorized name for either Hell or Hades.
And to prove that point, I’m going to go through some scripture verses which will show, that the angels who sinned, were not literally cast into hell, and they were not literally cast into hades. Therefore the only conclusion which will remain for us, is the one that I just read to you, that “the use of the word “tartaro’sas” is a way of illustrating, that these disobedient angels, were abased by God, from their heavenly position and privileges, and were delivered over to a condition, of deepest mental and spiritual darkness, with respect to God’s bright purposes.”
As far as the question of exactly where these disobedient angels are right now, the bible does not give us that information. As you’ll see from two the verses of scripture that we’ll look at shortly, the bible only tells us that those angels have been cast into “pits of darkness” and are in “chains of darkness”, awaiting the judgment. But nothing is said about where these so called “pits of darkness” are.
The bible does mention “pits” in other places, and it does mention an “abyss” in other places, but it doesn’t tell us whether or not these angels are in those same pits, or in that same abyss, that is mentioned elsewhere. It could be the same pit or abyss, we simply don’t know for sure, because we’re not told by God.
Now, once again, the word tartaro’sas, and the idea of Tartarus, is only used one time, and in one verse of scripture, and that verse is 2 Peter 2, verse 4, and here’s what it says; “For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but tartaro’sas, (and the common translation there is “but cast them down to hell”) and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment..”
Once again; “For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment..” Now, it doesn’t say that God cast them down to Hades, but it says that God cast them down to Hell. But did God really, and literally, cast those angels down to Hell. Is Hell the place where those angels are being “reserved unto judgment..”, as that verse says?
Well that doesn’t make sense does it? We know from the bible, that the devil will be cast into Hell. Revelation 20, verse 10 says; “And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.”
And verse 14 says; “And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.”
And verse 15 says; “And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.”
The word “whosoever” in the KJ, actually means.. “anyone, or any thing!” And when will all this occur? it will occur at the judgment, will it not? Verse 12 says; “And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.”
Now that is clearly a depiction of the judgment. And so according to the bible, everyone, and everything, that will be cast into Hell, will be cast into Hell at the judgement. Wouldn’t that also include the angels who sinned? Out of all creation, are they the one and only exception to that law of God? I would think not.
Therefore, it is only common sense, that those angels were not cast into Hell, previously. Therefore, the translation of 2 Peter 2, verse 4, which says.. “For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell..” is not an accurate translation. It simply is not. Those angels were not cast into Hell, at that point in time, but rather, they are somewhere, in “pits of darkness, (in chains of darkness) awaiting judgment”. That is the truth of the matter.
So then, if “cast them down to Hell”, is not an accurate translation, what is the correct translation?
And that verse doesn’t say that “Tartarus” is the name given to the place of darkness, where those angels are being kept. Therefore, to hold the belief that God has given the name “tartarus” to refer to either Hell, or to a section of hades, is pure human imagination, and therefore it becomes our own “mythology”, and nothing more. Because the bible simply does not say that.
I know that we have all been taught in the past, that “Tartarus” is a section of hades, where the spirits of evil and disobedient persons have gone, as they await the judgment. But once again, the bible simply does not say that.
Now please don’t read into this, something that I’m not saying. I am not at all discussing whether or not there are two different “sections” of hades. That is a completely different subject. As I said to begin with, I am only discussing the name, “Tartarus”, and the fact that the bible never says that “Tartarus” is the name of the place where those disobedient angels are being kept, and it never says that “Tartarus” is another name for Hell, and it never says that “Tartarus” is another name for any part of Hades.
Even in Greek Mythology, Tartarus was not a section of hades. It was a completely different place from hades. It was a place of punishment, far below hades. Tartarus of Greek Mythology, is much more similar to the Hell of the bible, than it is to the Hades of the bible. And so to take a firm stance and claim that Tartarus IS the name of either Hell or Hades, is clearly going beyond what the bible says, and we know what the bible says about going beyond the teaching of the bible. When we add to the words of the bible, we are obviously simply speculating, and we’re using our imaginations to fill in the void of what God has not revealed to us.
And these are not simply my opinions that I’m giving here, but what I’m saying is all right there in the bible. If anyone would like to show me the verse or verses in the bible that authorize the name Tartarus, for either Hell or Hades, I’d be more than happy to look at those verses. But without any bible support, those claims are simply man’s imagination.
Cast Down Imaginations
The bible tells us do away with imaginations, and speculations; God says, in 2 Corinthians 10, verse 5; “Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.” And so if the bible doesn’t confirm that something is factual, we shouldn’t make that claim either.
Let me explain how that verse applies specifically to what I’m talking about here..
When we hold a belief, (in this case, it’s the belief that tartarus is a name for a part of hades) that is not substantiated, anywhere in the bible, then that belief is by necessity, a belief that is based on human speculation and imagination. And when that belief contradicts the bible, but we hold on to it anyway, instead of simply accepting what the bible says about the subject, then that imagination, has become, a “high thing”, which puts itself “above”, the knowledge, of what God has actually said.
The phrase, “high thing”, simply means.. “a tall barrier”. That’s all it means. Believing something different from what the bible says, acts as a barrier for us, it prevents us from accepting the truth, and the facts, as God has spoken them.
You might say that this is basically a lesson about how to study the bible, and how to arrive at an understanding of the truth. The only way to arrive at an understanding of the truth, is to adhere precisely to what the bible says, and to not add even one little thing to it. When we start adding to the word, we twist the meaning of scripture, and we end up believing, what’s false.
Light and Darkness
Let me show you how this idea of tartarus contradicts the bible. Two verses in the bible, talk about the angels who have sinned. One of them is 2 Peter 2, verse 4, and the other is Jude verse 6. And in both verses, the scripture says that these angels are being kept, and reserved, in darkness, unto the day of judgment. One verse calls it “chains of darkness”, (some versions say “pits of darkness”) and the other verse calls it “bonds under darkness”. But it doesn’t matter which you call it.. pits, chains, or bonds, the point is, they’re being kept in darkness. And darkness, means.. separation from God, who is the light!
Now, in neither of these two verses, nor in any other verse in the scriptures, does the bible say or suggest, that those angels are being kept in hades. To say they are in hades, is to contradict what the bible says, because as we’re going to see in a minute here, hades is not darkness.
The bible says those angels are being kept in darkness. Not in hell, not in hades, simply in darkness. And there’s no reason that anyone should have any problem with that. That’s what God has told us about those angels, and that should be sufficient; We shouldn’t feel like we have the need to try to assign the name “Tartarus” to a section of hades, when the bible doesn’t do that.
Concerning hades, the scriptures tell us, that the souls of human beings, who have departed from their physical bodies, are in hades. And specifically, the bible says that the soul of Jesus, went to hades. Now I guarantee you that Jesus wasn’t in darkness. Acts 2, verse 27, is a quote from an old testament scripture, namely Psalm 16, verse 10, and it says; “Because Thou will not leave My soul in hades, neither will Thou allow Thy Holy One to see corruption.”
And speaking of this quotation, Acts 2, verse 31 says; “..this was spoken of the resurrection of the Christ, that neither was He (His spirit) left in hades, nor did His flesh see corruption.”
The soul of Jesus, in other words, the spirit of Jesus, went to hades when it left His earthly body. “Hades” means.. “unseen”. It’s the “unseen realm” of departed spirits. The souls of all who are separated from their physical bodies, are “kept” in the unseen condition, of hades.
The word Hades, is used ten times in the new testament, but not once, is hades ever referred to as “darkness”. Never, is even a portion of hades referred to as darkness. The angels are kept in darkness, but human souls, are kept in hades. Just like the soul of Jesus, which was kept there, for the three days that His body was in the tomb.
Let me bring up a point concerning light and darkness. 1 John 1:5 says; “..God is light, in Him is no darkness at all.” The angels who sinned, are kept in darkness, and so obviously, they are kept SEPARATED from God!
Now I’m going to read an old testament passage, but before I do, I want to remind you that “hades” in the new testament, is called “sheol” in the old testament. The word “sheol” is also used to refer to the grave, and also to hell, but in these verses, sheol is the old testament equivalent, of “hades” in the new testament.
And so let me read these two verses. Psalm 139, verses 7 & 8; “Whither shall I go from Thy Spirit? Or whither shall I flee from Thy presence? If I ascend up to heaven, Thou art there; If I make my bed in sheol, behold, Thou art there!” In this verse, sheol means exactly the same thing as hades, even though the KJV wrongly translates it as “hell”. God is not there in hell. This verse is speaking of hades.. “If I make my bed in sheol (or hades), behold Thou art there!”
And here’s an important truth to understand and accept; The phrase “If I make my bed” is specifically referring to laying down, for rest and for sleep. The word literally means.. “to lay, or to spread out a surface”. Spirits in hades, are not up and doing things, they are laying down, as if they have gone to bed. Thus the translation.. “If I make my BED in sheol.. Behold Thou art there!” God’s Spirit is there, even as our spirits sleep, after our bodies have died. That’s an important biblical fact, that we all need to understand and accept, because it is key, to properly understanding other bible passages as well.
God’s Spirit is in Hades, Hades is Not Darkness
God’s Spirit is in sheol, therefore, God’s Spirit is in hades. But God’s Spirit is not in “the darkness” of the angels who sinned. And so there’s only one conclusion.. The angels who sinned, are not in hades. They simply are not. And any other view, is contrary to the bible. Therefore, the word “tartaro’sas, from 2 Peter 2, verse 4, is NOT telling us, that the angels who sinned, were cast down to hades. We need to adhere, to exactly what the bible tells us, because it’s God who is telling us these things!
Figuratively speaking, those angels were “cast down to tartarus”; But they’re not in hell, because they are being kept, UNTO the day of judgment; That’s when they’ll be cast into hell. But for now, they are awaiting the judgment. And they’re not in hades, because God’s Spirit is in hades, along with the spirits of every human being who has ever lived and died. That’s why the apostle Paul could say, in Philippians 1:23; “..I long to depart and be with Christ, which is much better.” Even in hades, your soul is with Christ. It’s not in darkness, it’s with Christ!
Once again.. Since those angels are not in hell, and since they are not in hades, the only other conclusion that remains, is the fact that “the use of the word “tartaro’sas” is simply a way of illustrating, that these disobedient angels, were abased by God, from their heavenly position and privileges, and were delivered over to a condition, of deepest mental and spiritual darkness.”
And so we all need to move past, what I would call.. the “tartarus myth”, because that myth, in fact does contradict what the bible says. We need to “Cast down imaginations.. which are “.. against the knowledge of God..” and rely totally, on what the bible actually says.
The bible urges us to learn to be content. The apostle Paul said, in Philippians 4, verse 11; “Not that I speak in regard to being in want, or being in need; For I have learned, in whatever condition I am, to be content.”
That doesn’t only apply to being in want, physically. It equally applies to being “in want” of anything, including being “in want”, of more revelation from God. We need to learn to be content, with that which God has chosen to reveal to us, and not let our imaginations take off, where God’s revelations stop. And we can’t allow imaginations to dictate our faith, because if we do, then those imaginations have become, one of those “high things, that exalts itself against the knowledge of God.”
So in conclusion, we need to put away the notion, that the Mythological word “tartarus” has anything to do with any true bible teaching. We need to simply accept the words of the bible, as they are. So, this has been a very simple lesson, which really shouldn’t be in the least bit controversial. I hope that it’s been informative, but not controversial. Just bible facts, for us to learn and accept.