Genesis 3: Real Snake or Metaphor?

StephenMartyr

Puritan Board Freshman
I got talking to someone pretty deeply about Genesis 3 and if the snake in verse 1 was real or not. In other words, was Eve talking to a snake or to the Devil face to face?

The verse in question is:

Gen 3:1 Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?


The other person thought the snake wasn't "real" but that Eve was talking to the Devil, as per:

Rev 12:9 And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him. (highlight mine)

This is a pretty nickpicky topic I think (is it?). But I'm seeing him again so. I would appreciate your thoughts / convictions about this verse. And if I'm off, I'd be pleased to hear about it.

My Ligonier study Bible gives these verses for verse 1 of chapter 3:


1Ch 21:1 And Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel.

[Rev 12:9 And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.

Rev 20:2 And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years,

Rev 20:10 And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.] (In my Bible here, they put these 3 verses between brackets.]


My thoughts:

Well, I think I have to go by what the words say.

Gen 3:1 Now the serpentH5175 wasH1961 more subtilH6175 than anyH4480 H3605 beastH2416 of the fieldH7704 whichH834 the LORDH3068 GodH430 had made.H6213 And he saidH559 untoH413 the woman,H802 Yea,H637 H3588 hath GodH430 said,H559 Ye shall notH3808 eatH398 of everyH4480 H3605 treeH6086 of the garden?H1588



serpent H5175:

Gen_49:17 Dan shall be a serpentH5175 by the way, an adder in the path, that biteth the horse heels, so that his rider shall fall backward.

Exo_4:3 And he said, Cast it on the ground. And he cast it on the ground, and it became a serpent;H5175 and Moses fled from before it.

Job_26:13 By his spirit he hath garnished the heavens; his hand hath formed the crooked serpent.H5175


So it seems here the word "serpent" can take various forms. Dan isn't literally a serpent but Moses' rod turned into a literal serpent.


beast H2416

Gen_1:21 And God created great whales, and every livingH2416 creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good.

Lev_14:6 As for the livingH2416 bird, he shall take it, and the cedar wood, and the scarlet, and the hyssop, and shall dip them and the livingH2416 bird in the blood of the bird that was killed over the runningH2416 water:

2Ki_14:9 And Jehoash the king of Israel sent to Amaziah king of Judah, saying, The thistle that was in Lebanon sent to the cedar that was in Lebanon, saying, Give thy daughter to my son to wife: and there passed by a wild beastH2416 that was in Lebanon, and trode down the thistle.

2Ki_25:29 And changed his prison garments: and he did eat bread continually before him all the days of his life.H2416


Here both the word "living" and "beast" are found.


I would do the same for the word field but that might be enough. You can do a study yourself.

I'm not pretending to be a Hebrew scholar or even a scholar, but I just feel to go by what the words say.

For my perspective on the verse, there was a real woman named Eve who talked to a real animal, whatever that was. I believe the Devil spoke through the animal and that Eve did not speak with the Devil face to face. My argument for that is that the verse says:

Gen 3:1 Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field...

It does not say 'than any angel of heaven...'

But it says field which means an animal like any other animal.

Someone will rightly come back with, "So are you telling me an animal spoke to Eve?? Animals can't talk!". I get it. But if we do take that verse to mean that Eve spoke to an animal, notice that Eve doesn't seem shocked. She wasn't surprised.

Before the fall, man spoke with God in conversation. I believe Adam and Eve spoke with God and God spoke back like He was there sitting on the grass with them, though unseen. So did the animals talk to?


Francis Schaeffer, in his book, The God Who is There, said:

"When man fell, various divisions took place. The first and basic division is between man who has revolted and God. All other divisions flow from that. We are separated from God by our guilt — true moral guilt. Hence we need to be justified upon the basis of the finished substitutionary work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Yet it is quite plain from the Scriptures and from general observation that the separations did not stop with the separation of man from God. For, secondly, man was separated from himself. This gives rise to the psychological problems of life. Thirdly, man was separated from other men, leading to the sociological problems of life. Fourthly, man was separated from nature." (highlight mine)

I don't know. I think it's interesting. I'm by no means wanting to use this book, nevermind this verse, as a commentary for Genesis 3:1.

What was life like before the fall?

If Eve really did talk with the Devil face to face and the "serpent" word was just a "picture" or "metaphor", what do the words "beast" and "field" surrounding it mean?

Thoughts?
 

Jack K

Puritan Board Professor
There should be no question that it was Satan, based not just on Revelation 12 and 20 but also on Romans 16:20. The question, then, is whether it was Satan speaking through an ordinary snake or Satan appearing in some other form—possibly that of a higher reptilian creature, or maybe just being called a snake because he is snake-like.

I lean toward Satan speaking through an ordinary snake due to the first half of the curse on the serpent in Genesis 3:14 sounding like it is more than just a metaphorical subjugation but an actual description of what life is like for actual snakes. The plainest meaning of the text should be where we start. Plus, the Bible gives us ample evidence that demonic beings can sometimes speak through other creatures found here on earth, but it does not give us such clear evidence that Satan has the power to appear in other forms or as a being we are unfamiliar with.

But the entire curse is metaphorical enough that v. 14 might be metaphorical too, and not pronounced against actual snakes, just cleverly reminiscent of them. So I'm open to that interpretation too.

When I teach Genesis 3 to kids, I tell the story just the way the Bible does. But after introducing the serpent, I add the comment, "Really, it's the devil." That's all I say about it. I leave it unclear whether it's really the devil appearing in the form of a snake or really the devil appearing/speaking some other way.
 
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BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Serpentine being. It can be a substantival adjective. Closer to fallen angel (though, technically, Satan isn't that). The ancient world wasn't stupid. They knew that snakes didn't talk, nor did they think that snakes really ate dust (the latter in Hebrew corresponds with the Ezek/Isaiah passage about ben-Shachar's exile to the underworld).
 

Von

Puritan Board Sophomore
I think the snake had legs, due to some cool medieval paintings... (personal opinion)

Now someone might say: But where is that in the text?
I would respond (shocked and slightly hurt): So you don't think the snake had legs?
Someone: No, because the text doesn't say so.
Me (upset): So what does the text say?
Someone: It says it was a snake. Full stop.

End of argument.
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Amanuensis
I think the snake had legs, due to some cool medieval paintings... (personal opinion)

Now someone might say: But where is that in the text?
I would respond (shocked and slightly hurt): So you don't think the snake had legs?
Someone: No, because the text doesn't say so.
Me (upset): So what does the text say?
Someone: It says it was a snake. Full stop.

End of argument.
Do snakes eat dirt? Did a snake tempt Eve or did Satan? It's a bit more complex than saying "it's what the text says."
 

Timmay

Puritan Board Freshman
I also find it interesting there is no mention that Eve was surprised to hear a snake talking (if it was an actual bodily snake).

So what if animals could talk before the fall? I doubt it but fascinating to think of.


Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
 

Edward

Puritanboard Commissioner
through an ordinary snake
Depends on what you mean by 'ordinary snake'.

"On your belly you shall go,
And you shall eat dust
All the days of your life. "

suggests that perhaps the serpent had another form of locomotion before the fall.
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Or we could explore the range of lexical meanings of Nachash and note that it can also be translated as a serpentine being. Also connect nachash with seraph and shachar as it is used in other passages dealing with a fall of a exalted being.

If it was just some random snake, then why did Satan get punished? This logically means that serpents were part of the angelic class. Was it all serpents or just one? Which species? This is why thinking it is just a reptile collapses on even surface level examination.
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
Depends on what you mean by 'ordinary snake'.

"On your belly you shall go,
And you shall eat dust
All the days of your life. "

suggests that perhaps the serpent had another form of locomotion before the fall.
You could say the text is suggestive of another form of locomotion--as an inference, drawn from the idea: that in order for the words of command to reflect a punishment (curse), they ought to imply actual debasement. Thus, the hearer wonders, "Was this serpent, or all serpents, not a slitherer prior to this moment?"

But the proposal that they were not slitherers raises some other serious questions. The inferences and supposed implications don't stop with one step. For example, if the serpent was not a slitherer prior to the curse, what happens to the language of v1, "Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made."

What are the new inferences forced upon the hearer when he revisits this verse? Because if the knowledge "gained" the first time through the passage is that the serpent's locomotion and possible appearance has changed from what it IS in v1, he cannot assume that the slithery, quasi-invisible character of the serpent he's (up till now) been accustomed to (long after the events described) fits the description of v1. He's left with a mere statement of fact that hangs unsupported without any real comparison.

There is another, profitable way of reading the curse. Namely, that it is a sign, similar to the case of the rainbow not many chapters later. Seeing a serpent henceforth slithering along is meant to put us in mind of this seminal moment, and of the curse --a portion of which has struck creation; but even more, is bound to climax in the destruction of THIS serpent, it's head crushed at the end of its life.

The creature itself is just a piece of God's good creation; the use made of him by the Tempter doesn't make the beast guilty, let alone all such of his genera. This makes the proposal that the curse assigns a fresh meaning to what we see in that portion of creation fit to the circumstance. Much like the rainbow (and I know, there are people who think there weren't rainbows before the flood by similar inferences),which was made a sign of something previously unthought, by the will of God something that did not mean X at one point, afterward means X.
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Do snakes eat dirt? There is a way to read the text literally with nachash understood as a being from another realm who is serpentine in appearance. If it is about the snake, then the snake a) eats dirt today (which is obviously false, but if we say that phrase is an idiom then we are now reading the text poetically) and b) a good creature is directly responsible for Satan's actions.
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Also do a word study on the flying fire snakes in the desert with Moses and the seraphim in Isaiah 6, and noting Helel ben Shachar of Isaiah 14.
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
Putting aside the old earth/young earth debate for a moment, and the true age of fossils,


@Contra_Mundum
@BayouHuguenot
Curious article. I read it, and... there's still no legged snake on hand (but maybe when they dig a little deeper?). As far back as the hard evidence goes, they still only have legless serpents.

The purported discovery in the article is of a fossilized snake skull. Seem like it's relatively similar to skulls of current snakes. Given its age (according to the evolutionary assignment) they've decided that--since they act on the presuppositional hypothesis that before the legless snakes we know about, their ancestors once had them--they've had to push the legged variety even further back along the epochal timescale (by additional millions of years) than they previously thought.

So, according to one set of evolutionary theorists, snakes surely had legs... but now concluded much, much further back in the misty past than they thought before they found this crusty old slithery snake fossil.

I think the mention of the Genesis reference is just an effort to make their archaeology story a little livelier. For what it's worth, contra evolutionists of the kind mentioned in the article, and some creationists, I still don't think snakes ever had legs.
 

Nate

Puritan Board Junior
This is a bit off-topic, but I can't resist.

From a biologist's perspective, limbs in snakes have always been an interesting topic. Some types of snakes (like pythons) have 'vestigial' legs. Whether or not you accept the concept of vestigial organs, the fact is that some snakes have bones covered by muscle and skin that in many ways match leg bones in limbed animals.

Additionally, over the past few years, more and more animal genomes have been sequenced and are available for comparison to other animals. Several groups of snake genomes are now complete and interesting studies related to 'snake legs' have been performed. By simply comparing snake genomes to the genomes of limbed animals, it is evident that snakes possess the genetic sequences to produce limbs, but the genetic sequences don't seem to get activated.

One group of scientists looked into this by experimenting on mice. They began swapping out these normal genetic sequences in mice and replaced them with the 'related' genetic sequences from other animals like horses, platypus, chickens, lizards, fish, and several types of snakes. The mice were able to undergo normal limb development with all of the 'replacement' genetic sequences except for the replacement sequences from snakes. By then looking more closely at these genetic sequences, they realized that the snake genetic sequences all had the same very minor change compared to the other animals (only 17 DNA nucleotides deleted). So, they put these missing 17 nucleotides back into the snake genetic sequence and put the snake genetic sequence with the added 17 nucleotides back into mice, and the mice underwent normal limb development. Pretty cool stuff if you're interested in genetics and developmental biology.
 
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