5-13a A Woman Bound by Satan 

Luke 13:11-17  And a woman was there who had had a disabling spirit for eighteen years; she was bent over and could in no way straighten herself. And when Jesus saw her, he called her and said to her: Woman, you are free from your infirmity. And he laid his hands upon her, and immediately she was made straight, and she glorified God. And the ruler of the synagogue, being moved with indignation because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, answered and said to the crowd: There are six days in which men ought to work. In them therefore come and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day. But the Lord answered them and said: You hypocrites! Does not each one of you on the Sabbath release his ox or his ass from the stall and lead him away for watering? And ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham whom Satan had bound for eighteen years, to have been freed from this bond on the Sabbath day? And as he said these things, all his adversaries were put to shame, and all the crowd rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by him.

Popular Interpretation

This passage is understood to mean that Satan uses "spirits" to bind people with illness.


1 The woman "had" a spirit which was associated with her being bent over (Lk. 13:11). She was not attacked by a "spirit" from outside of her, but she "had" this spirit within her. "Spirit" is commonly to be understood in Biblical usage as an attitude of mind. She had an attitude of mind which disabled her. And this spirit came from an adversary, a satan. And that adversary is explained in the context- the "adversaries" were the Jewish system who had so crippled the woman (Lk. 13:17).

2 There is no explicit statement that "Satan", the adversary, controlled the "spirit". That has to be assumed by those who wish to see that idea, but the text itself doesn't support it.

3 Jesus is not recorded as doing spiritual battle with Satan or any evil spirit; He simply said "Woman, you are free from your infirmity". He dealt directly with the issue of her illness. And it was "your infirmity", just as the woman "had" a disabling spirit. The source of her illness was within her, internal to her rather than having been imposed by some external, cosmic entity.

Suggested Explanations

1 I have elsewhere outlined the connection between "Satan" and the Jewish opposition to Jesus [see The Jewish Satan] for they were the main adversary / satan to His work and that of the early church. The connection is made explicit in this passage- the Jews are called Christ's "adversaries" (Lk. 13:17), as if explaining who the 'satan' was who had 'bound' the woman. The woman's binding by Satan is connected with the fact she was "a daughter of Abraham", a Jewess. Why make this otherwise throwaway comment, that she was a Jewess? For we are led by the context to assume that obviously she was Jewish. The point surely is that the Jewish system had 'bound' this woman. I suggested in section 4-8: ‘Casting out demons’: A Curing of Psychosomatic Illness? that many of the diseases Jesus cured had a psychological basis to them; His healing of minds was reflected in the healing of bodies from conditions which had been brought about psychologically. Just as He "loosed" the woman from her illness, so He "loosed" sinners from the burden of their sin [the same word is used in Mt. 18:27 in this connection, and is twice translated "to forgiven" in Lk. 6:37]. It may've been that it was her sense of unforgiven sin which was the actual psychosomatic cause of her strange physical condition. The woman's physical condition- being chronically bowed down- may well have been her body reflecting how her mind felt, bowed down by the heavy burdens the Jewish leaders placed upon her. And of course Jesus uses that very figure in describing the weight placed upon Jewish people by the teachers of Judaism (Mt. 23:4- "They bind heavy burdens and lay them on men's shoulders; but they will not move them with their finger"). The context of the miracle is that the Jews loosed their tied up animals on the Sabbath, and Jesus reasoned that He likewise could loose His sheep who had been bound or tied up by Satan. But who tied up the animals whom the Jewish leadership loosed? They themselves bound / tied them and loosed them. Jesus says that He looses / unties those whom Satan has tied up. He thus draws a parallel between the Jewish leadership and Satan, the adversary to His work. The unloosing was performed on the Sabbath- the very day whose Mosaic regulations the Jews had abused to burden people. Significantly, Jn. 5:18 uses the same word translated "loose" to describe how Jesus was accused of 'breaking' or 'unloosing' the Sabbath. He did not come to destroy the Law of Moses itself during His lifetime, but to teach Israel that the Jewish additional laws were to be unloosed. The same Greek word is used in other contexts of how Jesus through His death unloosed ['took down'] the wall of partition which excluded Gentiles (Eph. 2:10).

2 Without doubt there is a word play going on in Lk. 13:16: "And ought [dei - must] not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham whom Satan had bound [deo - a form of dei, literally, 'must-ed'] for eighteen years, to have been freed from this bond [deis-mon, another form of dei, this 'must-ing'] on the Sabbath day?". Who was it who had taught the woman 'You must this, that and the other; you must not this or that'? Was it Satan in the sense of a personal, cosmic being? Was it surely not the Jewish system who were 'must-ing' people? They, therefore, were the adversary in this context.