Satan in Lukan Narrative and Theology: Human Agency in the Conflict between the Authority of Satan and the Power of God

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Although Satan has a prominence in Luke greater than any other canonical gospel, his role has been largely unappreciated and neglected by scholars. Understanding the character of Satan is key to grasping Luke’s narrative and theology, and provides a window into understanding Luke’s apocalypticism and conception of human agency. This dissertation explores Satan’s role in the Gospel of Luke and Acts of the Apostles using redaction and narrative criticism and situating Luke in the context of Second Temple apocalypticism and its developing conception of Satan. In constructing his narrative, Luke gives prominence to Satan as Jesus’s primary antagonist and the source of the plot’s conflict. At the start of Luke’s Gospel, Satan holds authority in the world, afflicting humans with bondage, which Jesus destroys and displaces with the kingdom of God. After Jesus’s initial confrontation with Satan in the temptation narrative, which Luke constructs as the first event of Jesus’s adult life, he engages an offensive against Satan through exorcisms and healings. Jesus enlists his followers in the conflict with Satan by bestowing his power upon them, and ties the preaching of the gospel to the arrival of the kingdom of God, which entails the displacement of satanic authority. Luke’s most distinctive contribution is to introduce Satan into the passion narrative. Satan enters into Judas to initiate the passion, and Judas’s destruction by a gruesome death indicates the power of God triumphing over him as Satan’s agent. Luke depicts Peter’s denials as a sifting by Satan, from which he returns through the prayer of Jesus to strengthen the church in Acts. Luke shows Paul as the enemy of God persecuting the church, converted by God’s power to exercise power over the devil in his ministry. In a statement that is programmatic not only for Paul but for the whole church and indeed Luke’s entire narrative, Paul says that he was given the mission by Jesus to turn people “from darkness to light, from the authority of Satan to God” (Acts 28:18).

Understanding Luke’s use of Satan reveals that he is a thoroughly apocalyptic writer, though not writing in the form and language of a literary apocalypse, containing both cosmological and forensic forms of apocalyptic eschatology. As seen in the story of Judas, Luke views humans as moral agents responsible for turning either to God or Satan in the apocalyptic conflict underlying his narrative, while at the same time subject to both divine and satanic influence. To describe Luke’s view of moral agency, one taxonomy would characterize it as “externally impaired, but the impairment can be overcome.” However, Kathryn Tanner’s critique of modern forms of theological discourse that place divine and human agency in a competitive relationship exposes an intrinsic difficulty in such a taxonomy. Luke does not see human agency or responsibility decreasing because of divine or satanic influence, and in fact human agency is increased as divine power increases. Humans bear responsibility for aligning with Satan’s power, but since Satan is a creature, his agency is in competition with human agency, and collusion with him leads to personal destruction. The influence of Satan does not mitigate human responsibility for aligning with him, but compounds it.






Monnig, Matthew S (2019). Satan in Lukan Narrative and Theology: Human Agency in the Conflict between the Authority of Satan and the Power of God. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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