Spiritual Realms (The Abyss)

This entry is part 10 of 20 in the series Spiritual Realms

The Abyss

The Term

“Abyss” is a Greek term occurring nine times in the New Testament.  The NIV derives it as “Abyss” from the Greek abyssos (pronounced “ab’-us-os”) while the KJV uses “bottomless pit” seven times and “the deep” in Luke and Romans.

Abyssos is derived from two Greek terms:

The first syllable, and the first term is Greek a, (pronounced “alpha” [as in “alphabet,” which it is the first letter in the Greek] when spoken alone, or “a” when prefixed to another term) which is a negative addition, when used as a prefix.  Thus, a Greek term with “a” as a prefix would be stating that there was an absence of what follows.

The second term is Greek buthos, which means “depth” and is commonly attributed to the sea, but can also mean anything of great depth.

Thus to put the terms together the meaning is arrived at:  “without depth” or “bottomless” as KJV translates it.

The Texts

Luke 8:30-31 (NIV) 30 Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”
     “Legion,” he replied, because many demons had gone into him. 31 And they begged him repeatedly not to order them to go into the Abyss.

Romans 10:6-7 (NIV) 6 But the righteousness that is by faith says: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ ” (that is, to bring Christ down) 7 “or ‘Who will descend into the deep?’ ” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).

Rev 9:1-2 (NIV) 1 The fifth angel sounded his trumpet, and I saw a star that had fallen from the sky to the earth. The star was given the key to the shaft of the Abyss. 2 When he opened the Abyss, smoke rose from it like the smoke from a gigantic furnace. The sun and sky were darkened by the smoke from the Abyss.

Rev 9:11 (NIV) 11 They had as king over them the angel of the Abyss, whose name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek, Apollyon.

Rev 11:7 (NIV) 7 Now when they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up from the Abyss will attack them, and overpower and kill them.

Rev 17:8 (NIV) 8 The beast, which you saw, once was, now is not, and will come up out of the Abyss and go to his destruction. The inhabitants of the earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the creation of the world will be astonished when they see the beast, because he once was, now is not, and yet will come.

Rev 20:1-3 (NIV) 1 And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. 2 He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. 3 He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended. After that, he must be set free for a short time.

  • The direction is always downward – never upward.
    • Rev 17 says the beast “will come up out of the Abyss.”
    • Rev 11 states the beast ” that comes up from the Abyss.”
    • Rev 9 notes, ” The sun and sky were darkened by the smoke from the Abyss.”  Since smoke rises, one also assumes in this text the abyss to be underground.
  • The Abyss is associated with spiritual beings – not human beings.  (There are two possible exceptions to this rule we will get to momentarily)
    • In Rev 20, Satan is cast there for a thousand years
    • In Rev 17 and 11 the Beast is cast there (one of the possible exceptions)
    • In Luke 8 demons begged Jesus not to send them there
  • The Abyss is associated with evil, not righteousness
    • Luke 8 – demons who were afflicting a man pleaded not to go there
    • In Rev 11 & 17, Antichrist is sent there
    • In Rev 20 Satan is cast into the Abyss
  • The Abyss is a temporary place – not a permanent one.
    • Rev 20 notes that Satan is released from the Abyss after one thousand years
    • Rev 11 and 17 note the Antichrist rising from the Abyss
    • Rev 9 notes the releasing of millions of beings from the Abyss

General Conclusion

The abyss is a temporary holding place for demons who have committed certain acts deemed punishable by God.

NOTE:  Some see the Abyss as another unrighteous compartment within Sheol/Hades, or perhaps a compartment within Abaddon itself.  Biblical inferences which suggest this are:

o   It is in a downward place

o   Smoke rises from it in Rev 9 (Abaddon would contain smoke)

o   In Rev. 9, the “king” of the Abyss was named “Abbadon”

The naming of the king of the Abyss “Abaddon” is likely a good clue that the Abyss is part of, or associated with the location of Abbadon in Hades.

Possible exceptions to “abyss” being used only of demonic beings

In Rev 11 and 17 the Antichrist is noted to be sent to the Abyss upon his death.  He is then later resurrected and comes out of the Abyss.

Many (including the author) understand Antichrist to be a creature of both human and demonic natures, or a half-man and half-angelic unholy creature, being the offspring of Satan himself with a human host in an attempt to counterfeit the incarnation of Christ with his own virgin born son.  While the details of this position go beyond the scope of this study, it demonstrates why Antichrist would be sent to the Abyss: because he is demonic.

Others who do not subscribe to the “son of Satan” position of Antichrist still overwhelmingly adhere to his demonic nature- by some other surely not less strange set of unspecified circumstances.

By most theological positions, Antichrist is demonic in nature, thus is a candidate for the Abyss.

          Romans 10

Romans 10:6-7 (NIV) 6 But the righteousness that is by faith says: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ ” (that is, to bring Christ down) 7 “or ‘Who will descend into the deep?’ ” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).

            A False Notion:

It may appear that Romans 10 is indicating that Christ himself also went to the Abyss upon his crucifixion.  Paul does use the term abyssos, which is translated “the deep” in the NIV to hopefully avoid such misunderstandings.

This position would not take into account I Peter 3 & 4 nor Ephesians 4 which was studied earlier in this work.  These texts depict Christ doing two things that simply cannot be true of the abyss:

He preaches to the spirits there, which I Peter 4 indicates an acceptance of the gospel message from some of the constituents there.  There are none in the Abyss by any other Biblical text whom could receive such preaching.  Thus, I Peter cannot be speaking of the Abyss, but of Hades, as this “prison.”

He also brings “captives in his train” in Ephesians from there.  Since every scriptural text indicates the Abyss as a place for spiritual beings, those captives in this view would be understood to be demonic, which makes no sense theologically.

            The True Position

            In order to understand Romans 10:6-7 one must study harder than a surface scan.

First, it must be noted once again that abyssos is a combination of two words, the second of which is literally “depth” and is frequently used to refer to the sea.  Putting a in front of it makes a “depthless” sea if using that understanding.

Secondly, it must be noted that Paul is quoting an Old Testament text in Romans 10:6-7.  In particular, he quotes Deuteronomy 30:12-13.  The full sentiment of Deut 30:12-13 is shown here:

Deuteronomy 30:11-14 (NIV)
11 Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. 12 It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, “Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” 13 Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, “Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” 14 No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.

Paul’s readers, knowing he is quoting Deuteronomy, would have had no trouble understanding what he meant by abyssos here since what he quotes specifically notes “who will cross the sea.”  Thus, abyssos, in Romans 10 refers to the alternative usage of the term: a bottomless sea.  Clearly Paul is adding the a to byssos to denoted the depth of the sea which he is speaking of.

Paul does note “to bring Christ up from the dead,” here, but his point is the same as that of Deut 30:  the word is near us.  The Old Testament text notes that God’s commands are not “up in Heaven” nor “beyond the sea” that one has to search for it.  Paul is noting in Romans that we who follow the commands of Christ do not have to find Christ in either location, either.

To that end, Romans 10 speaks of something other than the location known as “the Abyss.”  He speaks either of the literal use of abyssos (the depthless) or of the figurative use of “the sea,” using the same compiled word for its secular meaning.


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