We see here in 2 Peter 2:4 reference to what in most English translations is "hell", but in the Greek is "Tartarus" (as usually noted in the footnotes):

For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them into gloomy dungeons to be held for judgment...

Εἰ γὰρ ὁ θεὸς ἀγγέλων ἁμαρτησάντων οὐκ ἐφείσατο ἀλλὰ σειραῖς ζόφου ταρταρώσας παρέδωκεν εἰς κρίσιν τηρουμένους...

Tartarus, I understand, is part of the Greek mythological cosmology where souls are tormented in a dark pit or abyss far below even Hades.

Is the use of the term here by Peter indicative of an adoption/acceptance of Hellenistic ideas of the underworld? (I.e. did Peter follow somewhat a Greek conception of the afterlife?) Or is it merely an appropriation of Hellenistic language to make a point to a particular audience?

1 Answer 1


ταρταρώσας is defined as:

ταρταρόω (Τάρταρος ‘the Netherworld’) 1 aor. ἐταρτάρωσα (Acusilaus Hist. [V B.C.]: 2 Fgm. 8 Jac. I p. 50; Lydus, Men. 4, 158 p. 174, 26 W.; cp. Sext. Emp., Pyrrh. Hypot. 3, 24, 210 ὁ Ζεὺς τὸν Κρόνον κατεταρτάρωσεν [this compound several times in Ps.—Apollod.: 1, 1, 4; 1, 2, 1, 2; 1, 2, 3]. Tartarus, thought of by the Greeks as a subterranean place lower than Hades where divine punishment was meted out, and so regarded in Israelite apocalyptic as well: Job 41:24; En 20:2; Philo, Exs. 152; Jos., C. Ap. 2, 240; SibOr 2, 302; 4, 186) hold captive in Tartarus 2 Pt 2:4.—DELG s.v. Τάρταρος. M-M.1

It is used in Hesiod’s Theogony as the prison of the ancient Greek deities (the Titans); this is a classical Greek story with conceptual parallels to Gen 6:1–4. Tartarus is thus a place of extreme torment, in contrast to Elysium, the place of the blessed.2 In 2 Peter the name is used of the infernal region to which the rebellious angels were consigned, and hence here signifies a place of punishment of the wicked.3 According to another commentary,

One of the most prominent themes of ancient Jewish tradition, though usually suppressed by the later rabbis, was the idea that the “sons of God” in Genesis 6:1–3 were angels who lusted after women and so fell. The term for “cast into hell” here is from the Greek name Tartarus, a place not only of holding for the wicked dead (and especially the Titans, the pre-Olympian supernatural beings), but of the severest conceivable tortures; it occurs elsewhere in Jewish literature as the place where the fallen angels were imprisoned. Jewish writers also generally affirmed a current hell as a holding place for the wicked until the final judgment.4

Peter may have intentionally wrote in such a way as to allude both to pagan mythology as well as the biblical narrative.

2 Peter is a piece of apology and polemic, responding to a crisis in the church over God’s theodicy and the eschatological doctrine of the Parousia as the end of the world and its judgment. First, 2 Peter claims that heretics are already in the church: ‘false prophets’ who speak peace when doom is coming (2:1-3) and ‘scoffers’ who mock ‘the promise of his coming’ (3:3-4). They argue from the delay of the day of judgment that God will not judge; from the eternity of the world they argue against its predicted end.

Second, in response to this heresy, 2 Peter defends God’s coming judgment, appealing to images intelligible to pagans and Christians alike. The author affirms that ‘God did not spare’ the evil angels (2:4), Noah’s world (2:5), or Sodom and Gomorrah (2:6-8). As God once destroyed the world by water, so he can end it by fire (3:5-7). The biblical allusions are clear, but these examples could also be understood by pagans as references to their traditional myths of the Titans cast into Tartarus, the flood of Deucalion and Phyrra, and the fiery destruction of Phaethon. From these examples, 2 Peter concludes with the principle that God both rewards and punishes: ‘God knows how to rescue the godly…and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment’ (2:9-10). Third, he defends God’s alleged ‘slowness’ in judging. God’s time is mysterious, as the psalmist noted (3:8). God’s ‘slowness’ is really God’s long-suffering, giving sinners time to repent (3:9). Even Paul, notoriously difficult to understand, agrees with 2 Peter on God’s slowness to judge as God’s gift of long-suffering (3:15-16; see Rom. 2:4-6).5

Based not only on the use here of ταρταρόω6, but also on the near universal acceptance of New Testament writers of using ᾅδης (Hades) as a translation for שְׁאוֹל (Sheol, although ᾅδης is not used by Peter), it seems very plausible that the early Christians used Hellenistic terms and concepts concerning the after-life but assigned to them slightly altered meanings from Jewish thought.

1 William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 991.

2 John D. Barry, Michael R. Grigoni, Michael S. Heiser et al., Faithlife Study Bible (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2012), 2 Pe 2:4.

3 Allen C. Myers, The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987), 479.

4 Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 2 Pe 2:4.

5 Paul J. Achtemeier, Harper & Row and Society of Biblical Literature, Harper’s Bible Dictionary, 1st ed. (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1985), 780.

6 It should also be noted that Jude alludes to this as well (the books are very similar and one likely had the other as its source).

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