Paradise Lost | Study Guide

John Milton

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Book 3

Kristen Over, Associate Professor at Northeastern Illinois University, provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Book 3 of John Milton's book Paradise Lost.

Paradise Lost | Book 3 | Summary



Milton again invokes his heavenly muse at the beginning of Book 3. He asks for her guidance in helping him to describe God and Heaven and compares himself to the blind Greek epic poet Homer and the blind prophets Phineas and Tiresias. Book 3 shifts from the newly erected Pandemonium in Hell to God's court in Heaven. God watches as Satan approaches Earth and calls together his heavenly council. God is all-seeing and all-knowing, so he knows that man will ultimately be corrupted by Satan. However, since God imbued man with the free will required to resist Satan's temptation, man's downfall will be his own fault. Though God already knows the past, present, and future outcome of all things, he says that nothing is predestined; knowing what happens does not mean that he controls it. God decides that he will ultimately offer man the chance for redemption but that somebody will have to die in his place for the sins he commits. The Son offers himself as a sacrifice for man's sins in order to balance the scales of divine justice. God is pleased to hear this and says that even though humanity will suffer because of man's choices, humans will also be redeemed through the Son's act of sacrifice.

Satan arrives at the borders of Earth and encounters a staircase to Heaven. There he encounters the angel Uriel and quickly disguises himself as an angel. He tells Uriel that he has come down from Heaven to see the new world God has created. Uriel gives the disguised Satan directions to enter Paradise, where man resides.


Milton's religious beliefs led him to reject the Christian belief of predestination: the notion that God had already predestined all of man's actions. Milton believed that even though God could see the past, present, and future, he endowed humans with the free will to make their own choices inside of that foreknowledge. Milton's God argues that if he did not endow humankind with free will, then they would be unable to choose to be obedient to him and therefore would not truly love or worship him of their own free will. Essentially, God says that knowing what man will do does not mean that he is the cause of man's actions. For readers of Paradise Lost, these distinctions seem tricky and even contradictory, since it is difficult to conceptualize that God knows the future, including his own actions, and yet is not responsible for future events.

Although God has not preordained the fall of man, he still knows that it will happen, and so he can plan to create good out of Satan's evil plans. Even though we see God and Satan in the same section here, the contrast of the passiveness of God and the determination of Satan continues to pit Satan as the unlikely protagonist of the story.

Conceptualizing the unique characters of God and the Son is difficult. It might be easier to imagine God as pure spirit and the Son as a more material form who can carry out God's plans. To complicate things further, the Son is also considered to be Jesus, who is a separate figure from God. Milton treats God and the Son as separate characters, rather than as the same entity.

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