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Jude verse 13 speaks of those who are... "wandering stars for whom blackest darkness has been reserved" (NIV) or "wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever" (KJV).

My interest is in the meaning of “blackest darkness”. Some Bible commentators suggest the meaning of the Greek word “skotos” [Strong’s 4655] is the gloom of punishment and misery, or (in the case of Jude verse 13) moral or spiritual darkness.

I know a question already exists asking for the meaning of "wandering stars" in Jude verse 13, but my interest is actually in the expression "blackest darkness". The expression “blackest darkness” also appears in 2 Peter 2:17 (or “the mist of darkness” in the KJV).

What does “blackest darkness” mean within the context of Jude verse 13?

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  • I cannot say anything about the meaning of Greek words, but a recent documentary about cosmologists finally producing a colour photo of the outline of a black hole at the centre of the M87 galaxy made me think of that verse. It took them 10 years to get 8 telescopes on top of 8 mountains to target the point over 5 nights. The black hole was shown up by light being bent at its event horizon as it either strove to escape the massive gravitational pull or get sucked in, never to escape thereafter. Could there be any darkness blacker than that in a black hole? Yet there is also phenomenal heat and
    – Anne
    Apr 12, 2019 at 16:11
  • light, which makes me wonder if hell could be illustrated by a black hole. Burning heat and light is utterly bound to blackest darkness. Of course, nobody at the time Jude wrote to Christians knew anything about such things! Our modern scientific language could never have been used as those words had not been invented, yet the Greek words chosen are astonishingly fitting, given what we now know. www.gffg.info's link in his answer is most helpful there. It's intriguing and makes for a good question.
    – Anne
    Apr 12, 2019 at 16:15

3 Answers 3

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The Greek Phrase reads: ὁ ζόφος τοῦ σκότους which I would translate as "the gloom of darkness".

The operative word here is ζόφος (zophos) which occurs in Heb 12:18, 2 Peter 2:4, Jude 6, 13; and is always translated as gloom, darkness or similar.

BDAG defines this noun as: "darkness ranging from partial to total state, with suggestion of foreboding, darkness, gloom Heb 12:18"; or, "especially, darkness of the nether region, gloom"

Jude is describing the characteristics of ungodly people in very strong and strident terms. In v13 he prophecies their final fate - the gloom of darkness - the complete opposite of the eternal light surrounding God (1 John 1:5, John 1:4, 8:12, etc). This is a metaphorical way of saying that these people will end up "with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might" (2 Thess 1:9).

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  • Interesting and useful. I note that in 2 Peter 2:17 the KJV translates it as “the mist of darkness”.
    – Lesley
    Apr 13, 2019 at 6:53
  • The link to 2 Thessalonians 1:9 says it all, really.
    – Lesley
    Apr 24, 2019 at 9:00
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Most Christian theologians, if not all, at least on the page linked below, agree that this indicates that there will be but dim light, if any, in the abode of the wicked, the Lake of Fire.

Ellicott points out the wicked will "soon be driven to an eternal distance from the great original of light and happiness, to which they shall never return."

https://biblehub.com/commentaries/jude/1-13.htm

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  • 1
    Welcome to this site and thanks for the link in your answer. It contains a wealth of related information. Obviously, there is far too much to copy into your answer, so I hope others will check the link out and weigh up the various reasons given for various interpretations.
    – Anne
    Apr 12, 2019 at 16:05
  • I liked Gill’s Exposition on the Jewish view of the Egyptian darkness coming from the darkness of hell, the darkness upon the face of the deep at creation, which they interpret as hell.
    – Lesley
    Apr 24, 2019 at 8:59
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The word ζόφος (zophos) is rare. It only appears 4-5 times in the New Testament (twice in 2 Peter, twice in Jude, plus in some manuscripts of Hebrews) and nowhere at all in the Septuagint.

But in Ancient Greek literature, Hesiod's Theogony (8th c. BCE) - describes Zophos as the offspring of Nyktos (Night) and Erebos (Darkness), along with Nēssos (Doom) and the Fates and Furies:

Νυκτὸς δ' Ἔρεβός τε μέγας θυγατέρες τε καὶ υἱοί,
Νῆσσος τε Κῆρες τε καὶ Ἔρινυες ἠδὲ Ζόφος
καὶ Στύξ Ὀρκοτόμος, ἐπιείκελοι ἀθανάτοισι.

And of Nyktos and great Erebos daughters and sons,
Nēssos and the Fates and the Furies and also Gloom [Ζόφος],
And Styx, the Oath-breaker, resembling the immortals.

The word also appears in the Illiad, where it is often simply translated as "darkness" in English.1


Hence ὁ ζόφος τοῦ σκότους (Lit. the gloom of the darkness) is almost redundant. The Greek phrase used by Peter in his second Epistle is, in fact, identical - ὁ ζόφος τοῦ σκότους - but, as you note, the KJV chooses to use mist of darkness instead of gloom of darkness here.

These are wells without water, clouds that are carried with a tempest; to whom the mist of darkness [ὁ ζόφος τοῦ σκότους] is reserved for ever (2 Peter 2:17).

Both may also have recalled something from the Book of Wisdom:

For the whole world shined with clear light, and none were hindered in their labour: Over them only was spread an heavy night, an image of that darkness [τὸ εἴδωλον τοῦ σκότους] which should afterward receive them: but yet were they unto themselves more grievous than the darkness (Wisdom 17:20-21).

The phrase is also similar to ἡ σκοτία ἡ ἐξωτέρα (Lit. the darkness, the outer one) that appears in Jesus' discussion with the centurion:

And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven. But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 8:11-12).


According to John Chrysostom, ὁ ζόφος τοῦ σκότους in Jude refers to the "darkness of Hell":

For if those who worship the creation instead of the Creator are condemned, what will be the punishment of those who are impious toward the Creator himself? They are wandering stars, for they have no settled course, no abiding place, no fixed point. They have chosen to become wandering stars, and so they are punished by being cast into the darkness of the abyss, the darkness of the demons, the darkness of hell, where they will be tormented forever without end (Homily VII on Jude)

Origen2 and Bede3 held similar interpretations. Others thought that the darkness referred more to the darkness of ignorance, such as that brought on by the false teachers who Jude says have crept in unawares (v.4). Theophylact wrote that4

[ὁ ζόφος τοῦ σκότους] is a phrase which does not merely denote darkness, but rather the darkness of ignorance and sin. For just as there are various degrees of light, so also are there various degrees of darkness. The darkness of the body is not the same as the darkness of the soul, and the latter has many degrees, some darker than others. Therefore, [ὁ ζόφος τοῦ σκότους] signifies the most profound and impenetrable darkness, that is, the darkness of eternal punishment in the age to come.

Most modern commentaries echo one or more Patristic interpretations.


1. e.g. ἔνθα κεν οἱ ζόφος ἐπὶ οὔατα πέσσεν ὀλέθρου Πανδαρεΐδαο, εἰ μὴ Ἀπόλλων αὐτὸς ἀντίος ἦλθε; "There had darkness fallen upon the eyes of Pandarus, the darkness of death, had not Apollo himself stood before him." - Book V, Line 532 (A.T. Murray translation)
2. Commentary on the Epistle of Jude, Ch.XIII (PG 14:861)
3. Commentary on the Seven Catholic Epistles
4. Explanation of the Epistle of St. Jude

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  • "The Book of Wisdom, or the Wisdom of Solomon, is a Jewish work written in Greek and most likely composed in Alexandria, Egypt. Generally dated to the mid-first century BCE, the central theme of the work is "wisdom" itself..." Wikipedia. Is this correct?
    – Lesley
    Apr 23, 2023 at 7:17
  • Yes, it is part of the Deuterocanon, first called "Apocrypha" by Jerome and also still called that by many others. Was considered part of the Bible by the end of the first millennium. Started to disappear from some Bibles in the 19th century. You can find it in the original King James, as well as Orthodox and Catholic Bibles today. This is a history of the formation of the canon I gave on Christianity SE.
    – user33515
    Apr 23, 2023 at 11:56

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