This is the RV rendering of the word ἄβυσσος which occurs in Lk 8:31, Ro 10:7, Rev 9:1, 2, 11; 11:7; 17:8; 20:1, 3. In Lk. and Rom. AV translates ‘deep’; in Rev., ‘bottomless pit’—no distinction, however, being made between τὸ φρέαρ τῆς ἀβύσσου in 9:1, 2 (RV ‘the pit of the abyss’) and ἡ ἄβυσσος simply in the remaining passages (RV ‘the abyss’). ἄβυσσος (from α intens. and βυσσός, Ion. βυθός, ‘the depth’) occurs in classical Greek as an adj. moaning ‘bottomless,’ but in biblical and ecclesiastical Greek almost invariably as a substantive denoting ‘the bottomless place,’ ‘the abyss.’ The word is found frequently in the LXX, usually as a rendering of the Heb. tehôm, and primarily denotes the water-deeps which at first covered the earth (Gn 1:2, Ps 103 (104):6) and were conceived of as shut up afterwards in subterranean storehouses (32 (33):7).
In Job 38:16f. the abyss in the sense of the depths of the sea is used as a parallel to Hades; and in 41:23 (LXX) the sea-monster regards the Tartarus of the abyss as his captive. In Ps 70 (71):20 ‘the abyss’ is applied to the depths of the earth, and is here evidently a figurative equivalent for Sheol, though it is nowhere used in the LXX to render the Heb, word. In the later Jewish eschatology, where Sheol has passed from its OT meaning of a shadowy under world in which there are no recognized distinctions between the good and the bad, the wicked and the weary (cf. Job 3:17, Ec 9:5), and has become a sphere of definite moral retribution, the conception of the abyss has also undergone a moral transformation.
The Ethiopian Book of Enoch is especially suggestive for the development of the eschatological conceptions that appear in pre-Christian Judaism; und in the earliest part of that book the fallen angels and demons are represented as cast after the final judgment into a gulf (χάος) of fire (10:13, 14), while in 21:7 the chasm (διακοπή) filled with fire (cf. τὸ φρέαρ in Rev 9:1, 2) is described as bordered by the abyss. Apparently the abyss was conceived of as the proper home of the devil and his angels, in the centre of which was a lake of fire reserved as the place of their final punishment.
The previous history of the word explains its use in the NT. In Ro 10:7, where he is referring to Dt 30:13, St. Paul uses it simply as the abode of the dead, Sheol or Hades—a sense equivalent to that of Ps 70 (71):20. In Lk 8:31 the penal aspect of the abyss comes clearly into view: it is a place of confinement for demons. In Rev. we are in the midst of the visions and images of apocalyptic eschatology. In 9:1, 2 ‘the pit of the abyss’ sends forth a smoke like the smoke of a great furnace. The abyss has an angel of its own whose name is Abaddon (q.v.) or Apollyon (v. 11). From it ‘the beast’ issues (11:7; 17:8), and into it ‘the old serpent which is the Devil and Satan’ is cast for a thousand years (20:1–3).
RV Revised Version.
AV Authorized Version.
q.v. quod vide, which see.
ERE Encyclopædia of Religion and Ethics.