Articles Archive -- Topical Index -- Textual Index

by Al Maxey

Issue #744 ------- March 12, 2018
In pride, in reas'ning pride, our error lies;
All quit their sphere, and rush into the skies!
Pride still is aiming at the bless'd abodes,
Men would be Angels, Angels would be Gods.

Alexander Pope [1688-1744]
An Essay on Man

Temporarily Tossed Into Tartarus
An In-Depth Reflective Study of 2 Peter 2:4

The apostle Peter, in his second epistle, provides some fascinating glimpses into the coming "Day of the Lord." It will be a "day" of great joy for those who have sought to live by faith; who evidenced a changed heart and life based upon their best understanding of the Light the Lord had made available to them and the opportunities they had been given to respond. On the other hand, it will be a "day" of terror and termination for those who shunned that Light in their lives, and who chose to live in opposition to it. There will be an ultimate reckoning for all accountable beings, and this includes those created beings beyond our own dimension: i.e., the angelic host. Those angels who chose to align themselves with Satan, and who took part in rebellion against God and His will for them, will be fully and finally dealt with in a most fearful way. To some degree, and in some manner, we who are redeemed will take part in that judgment, a biblical truth I have examined in some depth in Reflections #396 ("We Shall Judge Angels: A Study of 1 Corinthians 6:2-3"). The fate of these lost angelic beings, declared Jesus, will be that "eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels" (Matthew 25:41). It is a fate that will also be shared by those humans who have likewise rejected God's will for their lives, and who chose darkness over Light.

But where are these rebellious angels now? What are their circumstances at present, prior to the coming of that final day of reckoning? Does the Bible provide any insight on their current situation? The apostle Peter also addresses this question in his second epistle, and it is the information he briefly provides that is the focus of this issue of my Reflections. In 2 Peter 2:4 we are told that "God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them into gloomy dungeons to be held for judgment" (NIV). This statement is just one small part of a much longer declaration by the apostle Peter. In fact, "syntactically, verses 4-9 are a single sentence, one of the longest in the NT" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 12, p. 278]. The whole passage is a classic "If ... Then" construction; a series of several conditional sentences. "The protasis (the 'if' part of a conditional sentence) is extended by the use of three examples of divine judgment; the apodosis (the conclusion) is delayed until verse 9. The cumulative examples of the first part of the sentence make the main point (vs. 9) stand out with force and emphasis" [ibid]. One biblical scholar characterized this lengthy passage as "a long protasis of terrible reality" in which "Peter considers three great historical judgments in chronological order" [Dr. R.C.H. Lenski, The Interpretation of the Epistles of St. Peter, p. 308-309]. The three powerful ancient examples are: the rebellious angels, the godless people prior to the flood, and the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Jude, the brother of Jesus, gives a similar list, also with a view to the coming "Day of the Lord," citing both the lost angels and the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, but he leaves out the people who lived prior to the flood, substituting instead those grumbling Jews who had been delivered from their bondage in Egypt, and who died in the wilderness prior to entering the land of promise (Jude 5-7). The purpose of both Peter and Jude is to warn those people of their day (and by extension our time as well) that turning from God is a dangerous course with a deadly consequence. IF God dealt with angels when they sinned, THEN He most assuredly will deal with humans who sin. "The argument being that if God did not spare a higher order of being to man, namely angels, He will surely not spare human beings" [Dr. Kenneth Wuest, Word Studies from the Greek New Testament, vol. 2, p. 49]. Thus, be warned; take heed; alter your course, lest you too suffer the same sentence of death.

But, let's get back to that one statement, in 2 Peter 2:4, dealing with these "fallen angels," for there are some fascinating things to consider in this one brief statement. We are told, for instance, that "God did not spare angels when they sinned." It seems incredible to most of us that angels, these created spirit beings who were dwelling and serving in the very presence of God (somewhere we would love to be), would actually sin against God in some way. "Even angels sinned; so strange and awful is the mystery of evil. We must not be surprised that there are sinful men in the visible Church, sometimes, alas!, in its highest offices, when we read that there was sin in heaven: that angels of God sinned against their King. The power of evil must be very terrible, wide-reaching, and alluring, if it could draw angels from their allegiance to the Creator. What a great need we men have to watch and pray, if even angels fell from the grace of God! Their fall is cited for our warning; if God spared not evil angels, He will not spare evil men" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 22, p. 51].

Strangely, we are not informed by Peter as to when, where, and in what manner these particular angels sinned. He simply states that they did. Thus, we know that angels, like men, can sin; they are not immune from godless attitudes and actions. We also know that when such sin occurs, God deals with it: at times severely. Since Peter chose not to specify the nature of this sin, there has arisen quite a bit of speculation over the centuries. Some find a hint as to their sin in the statement (referred to above) by Jude. If Jude is speaking of the same angels, then he provides us with a bit more information. "And the angels who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode, He has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day" (Jude 6, NASB). Most scholars feel Jude and Peter are talking about the very same group of angels. Peter merely states they "sinned," whereas Jude states they were not satisfied with their place or position, and thus left their domain for a different one. The majority of scholars feel this is very likely a reference to the account in Genesis 6:1-4. This speaks of "the sons of God" finding attractive "the daughters of men," so they went to them and had children by them, resulting in what are known as the Nephilim. I dealt with this in Reflections #439 ("There were Giants on the Earth: Who were the Nephilim of Genesis 6:4?"). If this is the sin of these angels, then it certainly fits with the language of Jude, for these angels left their own abode/domain, and they intimately interacted, in an inappropriate manner, with human women. Another popular theory, though not as widely embraced, is that their sin was a rebellion against God, the result of which was the casting out of Satan and a host of angels who followed him in that rebellion (Revelation 12:7-9). John tells us the result of that rebellion: Satan "was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him" (vs. 9). This seems to be a different fate than that described by Peter, or even by Jude.

"What the nature of their sin was, and when they sinned, and the number of those sinning, is not stated. Thus, much speculation has been indulged in regarding the matter" [Guy N. Woods, A Commentary on the NT Epistles of Peter, p. 165]. Some even believe this sin predated mankind, taking place prior to the temptation of Adam and Eve. There are many theories, but all we can say with any real certainty is that their sin, whatever it may have been, caused them to be cast from God's presence, bound in some mysterious location, awaiting their destruction on the "Day of the Lord." Peter identifies this place of binding as "Tartarus." This has left a good many biblical scholars scratching their heads. What exactly is this place? Where is it? Are only fallen angels there, or does God cast some humans there as well? To address the last question first, I do not believe the Scriptures teach that Tartarus is for humans. Hades/Sheol is the "holding place" for humans when they die, and this is simply the grave; humans return to the dust of the ground from which they were drawn, and they sleep in the dust of the ground until the resurrection to life eternal (at which point this mortal will put on immortality). There is no intermediate state for immortal souls. I have dealt extensively with this over the years, and that information is readily available on my web site for those interested in pursuing this line of enquiry (it is also the focus of my fourth book "From Ruin To Resurrection"). On that great and final "day," the wicked will be raised from the dust of the ground (Hades/Sheol), those angels bound in Tartarus will be released, and they will all be consumed in a fiery judgment from God. Tartarus, therefore, is not for men, but for angels, just as the grave (the hadean realm) is for humans not angels. Although these are separate "holding" places, the fearful reality is: "Whether rebellious angels or disobedient humans, they are all waiting for the Judge to arrive and pronounce sentence on them. Until that Day, punishment for the wicked is held in quiet abeyance, as is also the eternal reward of the righteous" [Dr. F. LaGard Smith, After Life: A Glimpse of Eternity Beyond Death's Door, p. 100].

Neither the grave (for humans) nor Tartarus (for angels) is designed to be permanent. Indeed, we are told that both death and Hades are to be cast into the fire (i.e.: to be destroyed). Peter makes it clear in his statement that Tartarus will hold these disobedient angels until that great day of their judgment and destruction. The Greek scholar, Dr. Kenneth Wuest, points out that when Peter uses the term "Tartarus," "he is speaking of fallen angels and not of men" [Wuest's Word Studies from the Greek NT, vol. 2, p. 50]. In Vine's Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, we are told that "Tartarus is neither Sheol nor Hades nor Hell, but the place where those angels whose special sin is referred to in that passage are confined" to await judgment [vol. 2, p. 213]. "Tartarus, then, is primarily a place of detention - not of torment - for the temporary confinement of evil angels, who are reserved unto judgment and ultimate destruction. It has naught to do with men" [Dr. Leroy Edwin Froom, The Conditionalist Faith of Our Fathers: The Conflict of the Ages Over the Nature and Destiny of Man, vol. 1, p. 385]. Peter "is speaking of fallen angels and not of men" [Dr. W. Robertson Nicoll, The Expositor's Greek Testament, vol. 5, p. 135].

Tartarus also has absolutely nothing to do with Hell, Hades, or Sheol. Sadly, however, many translations of the Bible regularly translate the words Hades, Sheol, Gehenna, and Tartarus with the word "Hell." This has created tremendous confusion, for each of these words has a distinct meaning. To lump them all together under the word "Hell" is a huge error. "Had it not been that 'tartaroo' unfortunately has been rendered by the translators, 'cast down to hell,' there would be no occasion to allude to this text as having any bearing upon the doom of wicked men" [Dr. Froom, vol. 1, p. 383]. The word "Tartarus" comes from the Greek noun "Tartaros," although Peter uses a very rare verb form (a participle, actually) of this word: "Tartaroo." This verbal form appears only this one time in the entire Bible (although the noun appears three times in the Septuagint version of the OT - twice in Job, once in Proverbs). When this noun is given a verbal expression, it suggests a "casting into" this place known as Tartarus. In other words, there is an action involved. "'Tartarussed' would be a good English translation of this verb" [Dr. Froom, ibid]. The word itself is of pagan origin, and the fact that Peter uses it is the cause of some concern among biblical scholars. "This use of a word belonging to heathen mythology is very remarkable, and without parallel in the New Testament" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 22, p. 44]. By using this term, Peter "carries us out of the association of Hebrew thought, and into the realm of Greek thought" [Dr. James Hastings, Dictionary of the Apostolic Church, vol. 1, p. 544]. In fact, this word, in its extra-biblical usage, was "almost always used with reference to the early Greek theogonic myths, in which the ancient giants, the Cyclopes and Titans, were imprisoned in Tartarus, the lowest part of the underworld" [Dr. Richard J. Bauckham, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 50: Jude & 2 Peter, p. 249]. "The use of the word by Peter is remarkable, as it implies an atmosphere of Greek thought in the circle in which he moved, and for which he wrote" [Dr. W. Robertson Nicoll, The Expositor's Greek Testament, vol. 5, p. 135]. This was a line of thought that "developed in Israel only during the Hellenistic period. ... It first appears in Enoch" [The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, vol. 1, p. 788]. So again, "It is strange to find Peter using this Pagan term" [Dr. Marvin Vincent, Vincent's Word Studies in the NT, vol. 1, p. 691].

This "Greek word then passed into Hebrew literature" [Dr. Hastings, vol. 1, p. 545] during what is known as the "Intertestamental Period," for "these fallen angels held special fascination for certain apocalyptic writers between the Testaments" [Edward Fudge, The Fire That Consumes, 3rd edition, p. 226]. Its first appearance was in the Book of Enoch (aka: 1st Enoch). In the first section of this apocryphal work we find the story of the fall of the Watchers, the angels who are said to have fathered the Nephilim. In chapter 20 we find the names and functions of the seven Archangels. In verses 2-3 we are told that Uriel "is over the world and over Tartarus," while Raphael "is over the spirits of men." Most scholars believe this strongly suggests in the minds (and in the legends) of these early writers that Tartarus was not associated with "the spirits of men." This, then, would fit with it being a place exclusively for fallen angels, as the Greek mythology goes on to clearly state. Not only does Peter make use of this apocryphal work, we also find Jude making use of it, which brings us back to the concern of some that these two devoted disciples would consult and quote from such a work as the Book of Enoch, which hardly anyone takes to be inspired of God. I have dealt at length with this question in Reflections #575 ("Quoting Non-Canonical Texts: Is it a Sin to use Extra-Biblical Texts in our Preaching and Teaching?").

Frankly, these ancient myths were familiar to the people of that time (and this includes many of the Jews). This doesn't mean they believed them to be real, however. "The story of the fall of the Watchers was well-known in contemporary Judaism: Hellenistic as well as Palestinian" [Dr. Richard J. Bauckham, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 50: Jude & 2 Peter, p. 248]. In these ancient pagan myths, the god Tartarus was the third of the "primordial deities." In other words, he predated the gods of Mt. Olympus fame. Over time, the various gods fought one another, with the victors banishing the conquered deities to places of imprisonment and discomfort. The worst of these locations came to be known as "Tartarus," which Homer, in the Iliad, has the god Zeus asserting "is as far beneath Hades as heaven is above earth." It was a place deep within the earth; a place of dark, damp, gloomy caves. This fits with the view presented by both Peter and Jude (who undoubtedly had these myths in mind as they penned their epistles): Jude said these angels were "kept in darkness," and Peter writes they were "put into gloomy dungeons." Once placed there, there was no way out (at least not under one's own power). One could only be released if the god who placed him/her there chose to do so. During the Hellenistic period, the Jews began to be influenced to some degree by this pagan thinking, and it impacted their eschatology. Philo, for example, taught that not only angels, but certain "wicked Jews will indeed be condemned to Tartarus, and that their punishment will be eternal" [The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, vol. 2, p. 362]. This is where we begin to see humans being moved into these deep dungeons, although no such teaching is ever found in Scripture. What we simply find here in the writings of both Peter and Jude with respect to these sinful angels is that God will deal with them, and if God deals with angels when they sin, He will most certainly deal with men who do so! To illustrate that point, they make use of myths and writings with which their readers would have been very familiar. We should be careful of making anything more of such illustrations. These are not depictions of reality, they are merely familiar stories that reinforce a greater spiritual truth: God has dealt with those angels who rebelled against Him; He has incarcerated them until the Judgment, and they aren't going anywhere; and if He dealt with angels in such a manner, we had better take warning: He will deal with sinful, rebellious men similarly!


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Readers' Reflections

From a Reader in Texas:

Al, I discovered your Reflections years ago through a preacher who knew I would be interested in your occasional studies of "Hymnists & Hymns" (Topical Index). How thrilled I was to learn that such a biblical scholar as yourself thought a lot like this weird old lady!! One of the highlights of my life was the feeling of freedom I felt when I finally decided it was not my job to decide who would go to heaven or hell. Not inviting my friends to hear Church of Christ preaching, because it might do more damage than good, may have been one of my first clues that there was something seriously amiss with this group. Now, I seldom miss a day of trying to catch up on all your Reflections articles. I know that the many ministries that you try to balance (preacher, elder, author, counselor, etc.) can be a heavy load, but don't forget your wife: for being a preacher's wife may be the toughest job of all. I admire you and Shelly for this long and briar-strewn road you have chosen to travel. May God bless you and keep you for many years to come!

From a Reader in Oklahoma:

It seems like I have been "wrapped around the axle" so much lately that I find I have less time to spend at life since retiring a few years ago! Before I forget, "Happy Birthday, Al." Some day you'll get OLD like the rest of us!! Since moving from the beautiful Pacific NW to the flat, dry windblown central Oklahoma plains, our life has not slowed down. This is supposed to be the "buckle of the Bible belt," but we've found that the only two things more prevalent than church buildings are Dollar Stores and Liquor Stores. A lot of work to do here! We have found a family of believers here who seem to love Jesus just as much as we do. Their motto being: "Love God, Love people, and push back darkness." My main reason for writing today is, in part, your mention of the passing of Edward Fudge, and also that our nation has lost another great teacher of Jesus: Billy Graham. I had a dream the other night of these two men meeting together and comparing notes. Some day, when the end comes for us, and we sing that old hymn: "When we all see Jesus, what a day of rejoicing that will be," there won't be any denominations around (not even "ours"), just those who believe!! Love ya, brother!

From a Reader in Pennsylvania:

Thank you, thank you, my friend!! I just read Reflections #743 ("Introducing an Intelligent Believer: Sergius Paulus: Rome's Proconsul of Cyprus"), and I really needed to hear this message of grace which was so beautifully written from the John Dewey quote all the way through to the end. Tonight I have an important meeting with some brethren experiencing some difficulties in their congregation, and I will be taking a copy of your article with me tonight, hoping that your words will help bring repentance and healing. Our Lord said, " their fruit you shall know them," and the "fruit" of legalism is NOT the fruit of the Spirit. The fruit of legalism is the "scorched earth remains" of what was once a congregation of believers in Jesus.

From a Reader in Florida:

I just read "Introducing an Intelligent Believer," and want to thank you, Al, for your commitment to detail in presenting accurate insights that brings history to life and makes it real for your readers. Your meticulous research does not spare me from study on my own, however; rather, it motivates me to love to learn even more. Blessings!!

From a Reader in Canada:

Al, "Introducing an Intelligent Believer" is a fantastic article! I just had to write and tell you. I love and admire you, my brother! Such a gift as you and your understandings is rare. I am thankful to God that you came during my own lifetime!!

From a Minister in New Zealand:

Al, I trust you had a pleasant 69th birthday. I will be 70 in May. Where have the years gone?! Brother, I have been contemplating Acts 20:21 regarding faith and repentance as the two essentials of one's salvation. I look upon them like two gloves, where wearing one looks odd without wearing the other. One usually repents when one believes, and one who really believes wants to repent. The unfortunate emphasis of some on baptism in water has long been a distraction from what is really important. Baptism, at most, is only a symbol, yet numerous people over the years have been baptized and rebaptized just "to be sure," but where is their surety?

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