Tartarus; It’s Origin and Meaning
Last week the subject of Tartarus was brought up in a bible class which I was conducting. 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. All I ask of you as you read this lesson, is to pay close attention to what is said, and to accept whatever the bible says, without adding anything to it, and without changing anything, no matter what you have been previously taught. After all, our one true teacher is God and His inspired word. With that in mind, let’s begin our study, ready to receive God’s word into our hearts and minds.
(Please feel free to 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 for a section of Hades, or as a name for anything else for that matter. And let me say right here at the onset, that I will NOT be addressing the subject of two “divisions” or “section” of Hades.. One section being for the souls of the saved, and another section being for the souls of the unsaved. That very well may be the case, but 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 prayerfully begin our study..
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 and changed, even throughout that period of time. It has “morphed” from representing one thing, to representing multiple 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. (we can already see two different meanings for the word “tartarus”, ie.. a god, and a place) 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 name of 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 from this excerpt, 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. That is a clear fact within Greek mythology, confirmed by the original Greek poets and philosophers themselves)
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”, as the mythology says)
Greek mythology is made up of a series of factual events, (although I’ve never heard any factual events associated with Greek Mythology) 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 is. But now I want to read to you a statement, from a different author, concerning what tartarus is, and what it is not, specifically 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 (the following explanation) is how the idea of Tartarus, relates to the scriptures: Tartarus is a prison-like, abased condition, into which disobedient angels were subjected to. Now, please listen to that description once again.. “A prison-like, abased condition”. And again, those are not my words, but I do believe they perfectly describe the meaning of the idea of tartarus, as it relates to new testament scripture. That it is “a prison-like, abased condition”
When trying to understand spiritual things as described in the scriptures, I believe it’s much easier to think in terms of spiritual “conditions” rather than “places”. In the case of these disobedient angels, think of their fate, as being in a certain “condition”, rather than being in a certain “place”. We all have the tendency of thinking in physical terms instead of spiritual terms. And consequently when we think of a “place”, we liken it to a physical place with definite physical boundaries and locations. However, in the spiritual realm, there is nothing physical. Listen to these words from 2 Corinthians 4, verse 18; ” As we look not to the things that are seen, (the physical; Physical are easily “seen”) but to the things that are unseen. (the spiritual; Spiritual things are “unseen”) For the things that are seen are temporal, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”
What the Bible says about Tartarus
As has already been said, the word “tartarus” is not found in the bible. And in all of scripture, 2 Peter 2, verse 4, is the one and only verse, which suggests the IDEA of Tartarus. So then looking to 2 Peter 2, verse 4, we see the verb “tar·ta·roʹsas” is used. The verb “tartro’sas” is obviously another word associated with Greek mythology, because the meaning is.. “to cast into tartarus”. Now, since that is the only time that word is used in scripture, there has obviously been no attempt by God to suggest to us that the idea of “tartarus” would refer to any thing other, than that mythological place. And that being the case, it should go without saying that the suggestion of the idea of “tartarus” must be symbolic of something.
When considering all these facts, it should become clear to us, that the use of the word Tartaro’sas in 2 Peter, verse 4, does not signify, that “the angels who sinned” who are spoken of in that verse, were literally, cast into the mythological place, called “tartarus”.
Obviously God cannot literally, cast anyone into a mythological place. He can only cast them into a real place, which actually exists, or subject them to a real “condition”. And keep in mind that we’re not referring to any physical place or condition, but rather, to a “spiritual place” or a “spiritual condition”. And I believe that the bible actually bears out the fact, that spiritual “places” are in fact spiritual “conditions”. But that’s another lesson all in itself. Yet the fact remains, Greek Mythology is simply “mythology”. That’s all it is, and obviously, none of the people or places or “gods” of Greek Mythology, actually exist.
Further Description of Tartarus
Here’s a quote from the book that I referred to earlier, about Greek mythology, and how the word “tartarus”, relates to the bible.. “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.” I believe that statement sums up perfectly, the use of the word “tartaro’sas” in the scripture.
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 it is used symbolically, and that tartarus is not a bible authorized name, for either hell nor hades.
And to prove that point, I’m going take you through the two verses of scripture that speak of angels who sinned. These two verses will show, that the angels who sinned, were not literally cast into hell, nor were they literally cast into hades. Therefore the only conclusion which will remain for us, is the one which 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.”
The two verses that we’ll examine are 2 Peter 2, verse 4, (as we’ve already considered) and Jude verse 6. Here’s what Jude verse 6 says; ” And the angels who did not stay within their own domain but abandoned their proper dwelling.. (in other words, they sinned) “..these He has kept in eternal chains, under darkness, bound for judgment on that great day.” Notice, that God did not say that these angels were in hell, nor did He say they were in hades. But rather, God says that He is keeping them “..in eternal chains, under darkness, bound for judgment on that great day.”
As far as the question of exactly where these disobedient angels are right now, the bible does not give us that information. And as you see from these two verses of scripture, the bible only tells us (and I’ll use the bible’s own words) 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” might be.
The bible does mention “pits” in other verses, and it does mention an “abyss” in another verse, 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 God has not told us.
Now, once again, let’s go back to 2 Peter 2, verse 4; The word tartaro’sas, and the idea of Tartarus, is only found 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! (some common translations say.. “but cast them down to hell”, but that is an inaccurate translation, it is simply not correct. It is impossible for that to be correct, because those angels are not in hell, and never were in hell.
We know that those angels are not literally in hell yet, because according to this very verse, they are still being “reserved for judgment”. AFTER the judgment is when they will be committed to hell, but not before! Let’s start the verse again.. “For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but tartaro’sas! And delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment..”
Here’s how that verse would be worded, if we replace the word “tartao’sas”, with the meaning of that word.. “For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast then down to tartarus! And delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment..” Now, that verse clearly does not say that God cast them down to hades, and it does not say that He cast them down to hell. What God DOES clearly say, is that those angels are “reserved unto judgment” ? Are they “reserved unto judgment” in hell? No, because hell comes AFTER the judgment. The scriptures are abundantly clear on that fact.
The phrase, “cast them down to tartarus” is obviously a symbolic phrase, because “tartarus” is not a real place! It is a mythical place! As I’ve said already, it is impossible for God to cast angels into a mythical place. He can cast them down to a “spiritual place”, or to a “spiritual condition”, but not a mythical place. “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.”
The bible says that these angels are in “pits of darkness” and in “chains of darkness”. “Pits” and “chains” obviously represent the same thing. And what they represent is “confinement”. And that “confinement” is called “darkness” which is somewhere “AWAY” from the light of God. (Please be reminded of 1 John 1, verse 5.. “..God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” )
Here are some verses to confirm that “hell” comes after the judgment..
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 hades 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 anything!” 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, and biblical fact, 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, or in some “condition”, likened to “pits of darkness”, and “chains of darkness” awaiting judgment. (reserved for judgment) That my friends, is the scriptural truth of the matter.
So then, if “cast them down to hell”, is not an accurate translation, what is the correct translation? The one and only accurate translation is what the scriptures actually say; And that is.. “For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but tartaro’sas!” And what exactly does that mean? Well, as we’ve already seen, from the writings about Greek Mythology, “tartaro’sas” means.. “to be cast into tartarus”. And once again.. What is tartarus? Well, once again, here is the answer.. In pagan Mythology, Tartarus is an underground prison, and place of darkness. And.. 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. Is it a real place? No, it is not. Is it Greek mythology!
Another point to remember..
Here’s one more point to remember; That verse does not say, that “tartarus” is the name given by God, for the place of darkness, where angels who sinned 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, nor does it even suggest that idea.
I know that many of us have been taught in the past, that “tartarus” is the name of 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. You can look high and low, but the bible does not say such a thing.
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” so to speak, of hades. There well may be. However, 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.
Do you remember these words from the Greek mythology article that I was quoting from? In the words of the Greek poet Hesiod; “..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.”
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 as I have clearly shown. If anyone would like to show me the verse or verses in the bible that I’m not aware of, which 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. Once again, the two verses in the bible which speak about 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. Not in “darkness” away from God, but simply in the “unseen” spiritual realm, the very same realm where Jesus went for three days before His resurrection. Does anyone really want to argue that hades is likened to “darkness”?
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.” Darkness.. Separation from God!
And so we all need to move past, what I would call.. the “tartarus myth”, because that myth, absolutely 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 actually, this has been a very simple lesson, even though it has been fairly detailed. But it really shouldn’t be in the least bit controversial. I have simply revealed bible facts, just as our God has presented them to us through His word. I sincerely hope that this study has been informative, but not controversial. Just bible facts, for us to learn and accept.
“Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)
May God bless you in the study of His word. Amen.
This article has 2 Comments
Thanks for sharing this lesson….. I’ve always been a little confused about this.
William E. Parks
Creighton Ridge Church of Christ
Thanks so much for visiting our website and for reading and of course for commenting. Tartaurus is indeed a very misunderstood subject. But a always, if we simply stick with what the scriptures reveal to us, we will have a much greater understanding of this and all other subjects as well. May God bless you in your studies and in your life. Is there any way in which I may be of assistance to you? If so, just let me know. Thanks again.