I also received the following communication:
“The Men’s Society of Holland, MI, in their study of the second epistle of Peter have had some difficulty in coming to a clear explanation of, especially when Peter speaks of the angels being ‘cast down into hell.’
“Trusting that you will favor us with an explanation in The Standard Bearer, we remain,
Your brethren in Christ, Protestant Ref. Men’s Society of Holland, MI.
Henry Windemulder, Secretary.”
The text reads as follows:
“For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment.”
The Revised Version is somewhat different:
“For if God spared not the angels when they sinned, but cast them down to hell, and committed them to pits of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment.”
The difference in readings is not at all essential. The Authorized Version has: “and delivered them into chains of darkness.” The difference is due to two slightly different readings in the original manuscripts; it is the difference between the two Greek words: seirais and seirois. The former means chains, or with chains, or unto chains; the latter may be a form of sirois, meaning pits, or it may denote the same things as seirais, meaning chains. For this reason we regard the reading of the Authorized Version as the more correct and reliable one, although whatever reading you choose, the meaning remains essentially the same.
The text, as we will not fail to notice, forms no complete sentence. It is a condition without a conclusion, a protasis without an apodosis. The apostle is writing about the judgment of the false prophets “whose judgments now for long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not.” And of the certainty of this judgment of God upon the wicked, he furnishes us with three examples: that of the fallen angels, that of the first world that perished in the flood, and that of Sodom and Gomorrha. All three are in the form of an uncompleted conditional sentence. But the conclusion, at least as to the meaning, is to be found in verse 9: “The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished.”
As to the text itself, we may literally translate it as follows: “For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but casting them down into Tartarus delivered them up unto chains of darkness to be reserved unto judgment.” Some prefer to translate: cast them down into hell or Tartarus with chains of darkness. But this translation is undoubtedly wrong. The chains of darkness I understand as chains that consist of darkness, i.e. of misery and wrath and corruption and death. The fallen angels, therefore, that are cast down into Tartarus, are fettered in misery and death and suffering. From these they can nevermore escape.
But why does the apostle here use the word tartaroasas, casting into Tartarus? The expression does not occur elsewhere in the whole Bible, either in the New Testament or in the Septuagint. Hence, we can make no comparative study of the word. Nor does the pagan meaning of the word help us here. Tartarus was regarded by the ancient Greeks as the miserable, dark, and doleful dwelling place of the wicked after this life. And although the word as it is used here is undoubtedly related to its usage among the ancient Greeks, its meaning is not the same, for the apostle is not speaking of the abode of the wicked dead, but of the present abode of the fallen angels. It is not the same as Hades, a word that is also translated hell, in Scripture, but usually, though not always, refers in general to the state of the dead before the resurrection. Nor is it equivalent to the word Gehenna, which always denotes the place of final and everlasting punishment. It is, most probably, exactly because the apostle does not mean to refer to Hades, which is the state of dead men, nor to Gehenna, as the place of final punishment, but to the present, and temporary state and condition of the fallen angels that he chooses the word tartaroosas casting down into Tartarus. This is also in harmony with the entire context. For the apostle is not speaking of the final punishment of the false prophets and of the fallen angels as already present, but as something certainly impending in the future. And also of these fallen angels in Tartarus, kept in chains of darkness, i.e. in a most miserable state, he writes that they are reserved unto judgment.
In conclusion, then, I would answer Holland’s question as follows. That the angels are cast into Tartarus does not mean that they are already in hell as their final place of punishment. Unto that final judgment they are still reserved. But it does mean that they have been cast from their high estate of glory in heaven into a most miserable state of darkness from which they can never escape. In that state they may still do their evil work In the world, and even take possession of men’s souls, as was so abundantly the case during Jesus’ sojourn on earth, and thus they may fill their measure of iniquity. But in the day of judgment they shall receive their final and public sentence, and be cast into Gehenna together with all the wicked.