Abyss (῎Αβυσσος). The Greek word means literally "without bottom," but actually deep, profound. It is used in the Sept. for the Heb. tehom' (תּהוֹם), which we find applied either to the ocean (Ge 1:2; Ge 7:11) or to the under world (Ps 71:21; Ps 107:26). In the New Testament it is used as a noun to describe Hades, or the place of the dead generally (Ro 10:7); but more especially Tartarus, or that part of Hades in which the souls of the wicked were supposed to be confined (Lu 8:31; Re 9:1-2,11; Re 20:1,3; comp. 2Pe 2:4). In the Revelation the authorized version invariably renders it "bottomless pit;" elsewhere "deep." SEE PIT.
Most of these uses of the word are explained by reference to some of the cosmological notions which the Hebrews entertained in common with other Eastern nations. It was believed that the abyss, or sea of fathomless waters, encompassed the whole earth. The earth floated on the abyss, of which it covered only a small part. According to the same notion, the earth was founded upon the waters, or, at least, had its foundations in the abyss beneath (Ps 24:2; Ps 136:6). Under these waters, and at the bottom of the abyss, the wicked were represented as groaning and undergoing the punishment of their sins. There were confined the Rephaim — those old giants who, while living, caused surrounding nations to tremble (Pr 9:18; Pr 29:16). In those dark regions the sovereigns of Tyre, Babylon, and Egypt are described by the prophets as undergoing the punishment of their cruelty and pride (Jer 26:14; Eze 28:10, etc.). This was "the deep" into which the evil spirits, in Lu 8:31, besought that they might not be cast, and which was evidently dreaded by them. SEE CREATION; SEE HADES. The notion of such an abyss was by no means confined to the East. It was equally entertained by the Celtic Druids, who held that Annwn (the deep, the low part), the abyss from which the earth arose, was the abode of the evil principle (Gwarthawn), and the place of departed spirits, comprehending both the Elysium and the Tartarus of antiquity. With them also wandering spirits were called Plant annwn, "the children of the deep" (Davis's Celtic Researches, p. 175; Myth. and Rites of the B. Druids, p. 49). SEE DEEP.
We notice a few special applications of the word "deep," or abyss, in the Scriptures (see Wemyss, Symb. Dict. s.v.). Isaiah (44:27) refers to the method by which Cyrus took Babylon, viz., by laying the bed of the Euphrates dry, as mentioned by Xenophon and others. The same event is noticed in similar terms in Jer 1:19; Jer 2:36. A parallel passage in relation to Egypt occurs in Isa 19:5, where the exhaustion of the country and its resources by foreign conquerors seems to be pointed out. Ro 10:7: "Who shall descend into the abyss [De 30:13, "beyond the sea"] to bring up Christ again from the dead?" i.e. faith does not require, for our satisfaction, things impracticable, either to scale the heavens or to explore the profound recesses of the earth and sea. The abyss sometimes signifies metaphorically grievous afflictions or calamities, in which, as in a sea, men seem ready to be overwhelmed (Ps 42:7; Ps 71:20).