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Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology


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In our English Bibles, the Greek word abyssos [ Isaiah 44:27 ), MeshuLam (Job 41:22 ), and Racha ( Job 36:16 ).

In the Old Testament abyssos [ Psalm 77:16 ; 78:15 ; 106:9 ; Isaiah 51:10 ; Amos 7:4 ), although in Psalm 71:20 , "the depths of the earth" are spoken of in a manner almost signifying death (however, it probably means no more than the depths of one's troubles on earth). Abyssos [ ἄβυσσος ] never translates Sheol , so in the Old Testament it never carries the idea of the realm of the dead or the afterlife. In Genesis 1:2 the total inchoate earth is called "the deep, " over which the Spirit of God hovered.

During the intertestamental period the situation began to change and the meaning of abyssos [ ἄβυσσος ] broadened to include the idea of death as well as the realm of demonic spirits (e.g., Jub 5:6; 1Enoch 10:4,11).

In the New Testament the changeover is complete. Abyssos [ Revelation 9:1-2 ; 11:7 ; 17:8 ; 20:1,3 ) describe the abyss specifically as the dwelling place of demons and the beast and as a place of confinement unto judgment that is under God's control. In Luke 8:31 the demons beg Jesus not to send them into the abyss, knowing that they will no longer be free to wreak havoc on the earth. Here, abyssos [ Revelation 9:1-11 ), the shaft leading to the abyss is opened, releasing the demonic hoard of locusts. Their ruler is "the angel of the abyss, " whose name is Destruction (Heb. Abaddon; Gk. Appolyon). The beast who ascends from the abyss (Revelation 11:7 ; 17:8 ) presents a complex picture. Combined, it represents the antichrist, demonic power, Rome (i.e., political power as supportive of the harlot), and ultimate evil. This beast is to be thrown alive into the "fiery lake of burning sulphur" (Revelation 19:20 ). Satan is chained in the abyss for a thousand years (Revelation 20:1,3 ), until he, too, is thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:10 ).

Walter A. Elwell

See also Abaddon ; Revelation, Theology of

Copyright Statement
Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Edited by Walter A. Elwell
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of Baker Book House Company, PO Box 6287, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49516-6287.
All rights reserved. Used by permission.
For usage information, please read the Baker Book House Copyright Statement.

Bibliography Information
Elwell, Walter A. Entry for 'Abyss'. Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. 1996.

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