According to the letters of 2 Peter and Jude, angels sinned in heaven and wound up in chains (cf. 2 Pet 2:4; Jude 1:6). Some read these verses as recollections of Satan’s supposed rebellion and fall, but this understanding is unsound. First, as we have already seen, Israel’s Scriptures do not mention the devil’s primordial descent; Isaiah and Ezekiel refer to egotistical earthly kings, rather than Satan. Second, the New Testament language does not align with the traditional tale of the devil being cast down to hell. Third, the contexts of 2 Peter and Jude refer to the divine beings in Genesis 6, not to a single angel who became “Satan.” While these passages are not etiologies about the Evil One, they do recall divine mastery over spiritual rebels, and underscore God’s continued sovereignty in both heaven and earth.
Second Peter 2:4 states, “God did not spare the angels when they sinned, but cast them to Tartarus (ταρταρώσας; tartarósas) and confined them to chains of gloom (ζόφως; zóphos) to be kept until the judgment.” This verse differs from the traditional Satan story in several ways. First, Peter does not mention the “devil” or “Satan”; instead, the text describes multiple angels who sinned, rather than one archangel named Lucifer. Second, God does not put these angels in “hell” (γέεννα; gehenna), but into Tartarus—the place where, according to ancient Greek theology, Zeus imprisoned the primordial Titans. The Greek poet Hesiod states, “It is just as far [from heaven to earth as it is] from the earth to murky Tartarus (τάρταρον; tártaron)…. That is where the Titan gods are hidden in gloom (ζόφω; zópho)” (Theogony 721-29). 2 Peter echoes Hesiod’s description of gloomy Tartarus, not as a hellish place where Satan reigns, but as a kind of otherworldly cave for imprisoned divinities.
Indeed, the biblical insistence that these rebellious angels are imprisoned—confined in “chains” (σειραῖς; seirais)—shows that 2 Peter cannot be speaking of Satan. In First Peter, readers are told, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil walks around (περιπατέω; peripatéo) like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour” (5:8). This description of an itinerant adversary echoes Satan’s words in Job. When God asks Satan where he’s been, he says, “Going to and fro on the earth… walking around (התהלך; hithalekh) on it” (Job 1:7; cf. 2:2). If, as both Job and Peter note, Satan spends his time walking around on the earth, then the devil is not chained up in Tartarus (or in hell, for that matter). Thus, 2 Peter 2:4 does not refer to Satan’s fall from heaven and subsequent imprisonment; while certain angels are bound in chains, Satan is not.
The contexts of the New Testament’s “angels” recall the episode just before the flood, as well as the subsequent narratives of Genesis. The start of Genesis 6 says that the heavenly “sons of God (בני האלהים; benei ha’elohim) saw the daughters of humanity… and took as their wives any they chose” (6:2). Following this divine-human encounter, Noah enters the narrative (6:8). After the flood, the next act of major divine destruction is at Sodom and Gomorrah (19:23-29). 2 Peter refers to this precise sequence of events, referring to the divine “sons of God” in Genesis 6 as “angels”: “God did not spare the angels when they sinned, but cast them to Tartarus… he did not spare the ancient world [in the flood], but preserved Noah… [and God] turned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes” (2 Pet 2:4-6). Jude 1:6-7 mentions the gloomy consequences of the angelic sin in the same terms as 2 Peter, and also places the story alongside a reference to Sodom: “The angels who… left their proper dwelling, [God] has kept in eternal chains under gloom until the judgment of the great day—just as Sodom and Gomorrah… underwent a punishment of eternal fire.” The New Testament does not retell a primordial fall of Satan from heaven; instead, both 2 Peter and Jude recall the events of Genesis, and remind readers of God’s ongoing ability to subdue rebellious divine forces.