Genesis 3:1 Was there a Talking Snake in the Garden?
(ver 2.6) This is “Part 1” in a series of advanced Bible lessons on the study of hidden spiritual subjects found in Genesis 3. In this lesson I am going to confront a popular misconception and misunderstanding found in the chapter. Was there a literal talking natural snake in the Garden of Eden? Did a naturally created snake approach, walk up to, or slither up to Adam and Eve and start a conversation with them to deceive them? I’m sure most of you have seen the paintings of the temptation, the naked man and woman holding an apple with the snake creature nearby. We’ve all heard this story taught this way in Sunday School as a child. However, is this what the Bible really says? Must we take every scripture, verse and word literally in the Bible? What if God intended the verse to hide a greater spiritual meaning? If so, then how would we know when to take something inspired by the most intelligent Spirit literally in the Bible and when to view it as only a symbolic reference, a figurative expression or even as a figure of speech? Please don’t misunderstand what I am saying. There are literal statements and stories in the Bible. The Genesis 3:1 account is a very true and real story of what actually happened during the fall of man. We just need to begin to understand what was actually given to us to read.
Too many Christians want to take everything written by God completely and totally as if the Bible was written in a school text book style with every truth obviously presented in a straightforward and plain ordered bullet point or numbered manner. But the problem is that the Bible is not a textbook and it contains many, many hidden mysteries, puzzles and concealed truths that are not self-evident on a surface only reading of the text. You can also find there are truths written on the same subject anywhere in the Bible from front to back, cover to cover, Genesis to Revelation. The Holy Bible is written in a multitude of literary styles by around 40 different men that were given the words by God to write for us to read, study and learn from. God purposely hid many of these truths, not from us, but for us to find (Prov 25:2). So here is the divine challenge, how does God encode secrets for someone to find without using a standard encryption system that makes the text totally useless? The government encrypts information to keep it out of the hands of other enemy governments. Web sites encrypt credit card and customer information to keep it out of the hands of hackers and criminals. What we can learn from this principle is that God obviously had an enemy that was trying to steal information and use it against us. Therefore, I believe based upon scripture that God has encoded within the natural text message a spiritual message within so that He could reveal it by His Spirit in us His people at the appropriate time, which I believe is now. I call this technique, God hiding the truth in plain sight.
THE CREATED SET CALLED BEASTS OF THE FIELD!
So the question remains was there a literal physical talking snake in the garden of Eden? I’ll have to tell you right now that there is absolutely no way based upon rightly understanding scriptures that I have found in the Bible that there was a physical talking snake in the garden. You can clearly see where I stand upon this issue so let’s find out why I am a firm believer in this. Here is what the beginning of Genesis 3:1 says to us, read it very carefully and then I’ll explain it.
Genesis 3:1 Now the serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field that 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?
I am only going to be focusing on the first phrase of the verse in this Bible lesson. But I did give the entire verse to help avoid criticism from those that would like to criticize and find fault. Let’s begin by doing some close analysis of the exact wording or phrasing of this initial statement “Now the serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field that the Lord God had made”. You should be able to understand from reading the entire verse that the primary subject of the verse is a “serpent”. This Hebrew word is H5175 and does mean “a snake” in the literal definition and this is why people begin to believe that God is speaking of a literal talking snake in Genesis 3. This Hebrew word being translated as “serpent” is used 31 times in the Old Testament and is found in 28 verses with 5 references being found within 5 verses of Genesis 3. But let’s change the perspective in order to see the characteristics of this “serpent” being described by God and maybe this new knowledge will begin to change how we think.
Now observe that this “serpent” is stated to be more subtle than “any beast” of the field that the Lord God had created. I want to focus upon the Hebrew word H6175 which is translated as “subtle” in Genesis 3:1. The Hebrew word translated as subtle means “cunning” in an evil, negative or bad manner. The ESV and NASB versions of the Bible translated this word as “crafty”. The CEV Bible translated it as “sneaky”. The Young’s Literal Bible translate it as “subtile”. This Hebrew word is clearly represents an evil connotation being applied to this class of being labeled or named as the “serpent”. Right there that should raise some red flags in our minds to teach us something that is very important. How did God create every beast (living) animal on this planet? Didn’t God create the beast of the field and say that they were all “good” in Genesis 1:25 and “very good” in Genesis 1:31? Good is not evil and very good is definitely not anything that is bad. There were no evil connotations placed upon any of the created beings found in Genesis 1, so that is something brand new for us to consider and learn from. It would contradict with Genesis 1 if this was a created literal snake in the Garden of Eden. I hope and pray that you can see that but we also need to learn what else this verse is saying or should I say is not saying.
This is what the Holy Spirit said to me when I studied the verse and it changed my entire perspective dramatically when I saw it and fully understood it. I read this verse and suddenly the still small voice of the Holy Spirit asked me this question, “Did you notice that didn’t say ‘other‘?”. Almost immediately I knew what He was asking me because of divine revelation. When I studied Geometry in High School, I remember a part of the class dealt with the subject of mathematical “sets” and “set theory”. Do you understand what a “set” is? A set is a grouping of related items. Let me give you a more complete definition of a set. A set is “a well defined collection of distinct objects. The objects that make up a set (also known as the elements or members of a set) can be anything: numbers, people, letters of the alphabet, other sets, and so on.” Within mathematical sets you can also have subsets. Then you can have multiple sets with some common or overlapping members that are in more than one set. For example, a set could be Animals, under that set could be a subset of mammals, under that set could be a subset of birds, fish, land animals and on and on. Each set or subset is a grouping of related items. In other words every member of the set has the same characteristics and can be easily identified as belonging to the group. So why did I just spend so much time going through all of that math explanation and set theory overview? Do you see it? Was the primary noun serpent of this sentence a created beast of the field that the Lord God declared a member of the set of created beings of the field defined by God to be very good? I’d like to ask you a question and I want you to consider it with great thought. What would change if God would have added the word “other” to the verse? Read this modified verse with the word other added and observe what changes:
Genesis 3:1 Now the serpent was more subtle than any ‘OTHER’ beast of the field that the Lord God had made.
Now do you see it? What comprises the set “beasts of the field”? What are the members of that set? Beasts of the field would be the superset of all created animals, birds, reptiles, etc. Isn’t a natural and physical snake one of those beasts of the field that the Lord God has made? So what happens when you take out the word “other” like the verse really says. The logical conclusion has to be that the serpent was not a member of that category of the made or created creatures of the field. Let me teach it to you like this, if the adjective “any” is placed before the noun “Beasts” we have to conclude that there are no beasts omitted from this grouping. The Hebrew term (H3605) translated as the English word”Any” is an “all inclusive” statement that omits none of them. The Hebrew word translated as “Any” literally means “All” or “EVERY”. By God NOT putting the word “Other” after the word “any” we know concretely that the referenced “serpent” in the beginning of the statement was not a member of that set of created living creatures. In other words, there was no physical literal created talking snake based just upon the correct reading, understanding and interpretation of this verse. I hope and pray that you understand basic logic and math laws and how they apply to the correct interpretation of the Word of God. God is a highly intelligent being and has designed and implemented the Bible using Laws that we must follow in order to correctly understand what is written.
NATURAL OR SUPERNATURAL TEMPTATION?
So let’s find some other scriptures that help us to confirm what God has just taught you by the omission of the word “other”. Here is one verse that I know most don’t immediately associate with Genesis, but it is related even though you’ve never seen it or applied it to what we have just read in Genesis 3:1.
1 Corinthians 10:13 There hath no temptation overtaken you but such as is common to man:
What is God’s primary subject that is occurring in the beginning of Genesis 3? What is the initial theme of Genesis 3? Some say that Genesis 3 is about the fall of Man, but what happened before that. Before the fall there was a state of everything being created good without sin on the earth. Then Satan appears and does what? Of course we are talking about the “temptation” of Adam and Eve by the serpent or Satan, right? So what did God just teach us about the subject of human “temptation” in 1 Corinthians? This is another law or principle of correct Bible interpretation, the Bible always interprets itself. So you must go and search the Bible for related scriptures that help to explain what is written in the Old Testament.
In 1 Corinthians God says every time we (humans) are tempted by the enemy (Satan) it is a common human occurrence. The Greek word that was translated as “common to man” is G442 and it means “after the manner of men”. In other words any satanic temptation is one that is a natural temptation, meaning it is NOT a supernatural temptation. Did you realize that according to what God has just written in His word that it is illegal for Satan to tempt you supernaturally? What is a supernatural temptation? That would be any temptation that did not occur naturally by created design or created laws or any temptation of a non-created material substance or nature. Have you ever seen a talking snake? If you can find me one I would love to see it and this would provide the evidence to support a literal talking snake in the garden being the tempter. Seeing talking snakes in the past and today would make this type of temptation a common occurrence for man. However, I’ve been to many zoos and if there were any talking snakes, I didn’t see them. No you see a talking snake would be a supernatural temptation, a non-common human temptation occurrence and that would cause God’s word in 1 Corinthians 10:13 to become a lie. Since God does not lie I have to conclude there was still no literal talking snake in the garden.
We can therefore reason with great confidence that a talking snake being a tempter would be an illegal supernatural act and if Satan can’t tempt you this way, then he can’t tempt Eve that way either. This scripture is an example of a universal truth. In other words this scripture applies across the board to every person in the human race at any given time within human history. There are some scriptures that only apply to the natural nation of Israel; there are some scriptures that only apply to men; there are some that written to only women; there are some that are written only to the church and others that are written to other groups or sets of people. However, there are also those scriptures like this one that will apply to everyone equally. This is a verse that is in the Universal set of Truth. These represent spiritual laws and God enforces these. The Bible says God watches over His words to perform them and this would be an example.
HOW DOES SATAN TEMPT SOMEONE TODAY?
Have you ever been tempted by Satan? Sure you have whether you admit it or not. How did he come to you and try to tempt you? Did Satan have to manifest himself in the body of an animal to tempt you? Of course he didn’t. Satan when he comes he speaks in your mind, by using your thought life to tempt you to do something that you shouldn’t, or to say something you that you shouldn’t, or whatever. If Satan tempted you this way, then he tempted Eve this way also. Do you think we can find any scripture to confirm this? Of course we can if we look:
2 Corinthians 11:3 But I fear, lest by any means as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty , so your minds be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.
It is amazing what the Bible says when you look for it, understand it and apply it to Genesis 3 interpretation correctly. You see this verse is written to the church and it said Eve was deceived by the serpent, because of his trickery. But did you notice how he did it? This temptation occurred in Eve’s mind and it was not carried out by a talking supernatural snake in the garden. How can we further confirm this? Ask yourself was there ever any mention in Genesis 3 of Adam hearing the snakes voice? If you read closely you will observe that God rebukes Adam for hearkening to the voice of his wife and never mentions the voice of the serpent to Adam. Was not Adam standing next to Eve in the garden? If there was a literal talking snake present then there would have been an audible voice for Adam to also hear. I really believe that Bible need to learn to read and see what is there and what is not there and quit adding tot he words to make them say something that they do not say. We have just learned from God’s commentary on the story of Genesis 3 that whatever Satan said to Eve was a thought in her mind and this caused her to be deceived. Satan is still the same subtle deceiver today and he works and operates in the exact same way that he has always worked. He tries to deceive you through the same avenues of your mind. This verse clearly warns the church to watch their thoughts in order to keep Satan from corrupting their minds. That is why we are instructed in the Bible in this way:
2 Corinthians 10:5 Casting down imagination and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.
Apparently our minds are still the battle ground for the attacks of the enemy and we are responsible to police this mental realm and exercise our authority to keep the enemy out of there. Because preachers and teachers believe that Satan had to borrow the body of a physical snake in order to manifest himself in the earth, they think this is the only way he can communicate to you. We have clearly seen that this is not the case using the Bible. Eve was clearly deceived in her mind; you can also be deceived in your mind if you let him operate there. God tells us what to think on in the Bible, perhaps you should go and search for them and learn to keep only those things in your mind.
WHAT WOULD HAPPEN IF SATAN ENTERED AN ANIMAL’S BODY?
I think now would be a good time to introduce you to another set of scriptures that is certainly related to our subject study. If Satan had to borrow the body of a literal physical snake in order to manifest himself to Adam and Eve, what would happen if he actually did this? According to the Bible it is not a positive outcome for the natural snake. You can see in the Gospel where Jesus when He walked the face of the earth and came across a man who was possessed of devils in Matthew 8. The devils started to talk to Jesus and asked Jesus if they could go into the bodies of the herd of swine that were nearby. Jesus said Go! The devils went out of the men and went into the nearby natural animals. Then what happened to the animals?
Mat 8:32 And he said unto them, Go. And when they were come out, they went into the herd of swine: and, behold, the whole herd of swine ran violently down a steep place into the sea, and perished in the waters.
Apparently animals are aware when evil spirits enter into them. Did you see this? The animals were driven mad and committed suicide. After the suicide the evil spirits had no living bodies to possess, so they went about looking for another human to deceive. Did you learn anything from this story? Did you see how it applies to Genesis 3:1? Yes it is confirmed that a spirit being can enter into a body of even a snake but we must conclude from what was just presented that the snake would not have been a willing participant to the possession. God gives us clues like this in the Bible and we are required to put the clues together in order to understand what is being said. What we have learned is that even animals have a sensitivity to spiritual beings. Sometimes I think that animals are more sensitive than many people about pending disasters. Cats and dogs can sense earthquakes before they happen. Animals around the coast line ran to higher ground before the tsunami killed so many people a few years ago. Do not assume or think that any animal will just allow a devil to come into them and use them without them knowing about it. This is just another reason I do not believe there was a physical talking snake in the garden.
IS THE SERPENT LITERAL OR SYMBOLIC?
Now there is a major problem being presented for those who want to take every scripture literally. You see the problem is that the serpent must be a purely symbolic reference for a spiritual being that was not directly named or identified in the book of Genesis at all. You see I have been talking like you already knew that they serpent was Satan throughout this Bible study, but I have offered no Biblical proof to confirm this fact. How do we know that the “serpent” was Satan and not a literal talking created snake? I state the serpent was Satan based upon where else the serpent is mentioned in scriptures. God gives us the definition of the serpent in the last book of the Bible. You do understand that God is the author of the entire Bible, don’t you? You do understand that God can give new information for the same subject found in Genesis wherever He desires to, don’t you? You see God uses a symbolic serpent to describe Satan in several places in the Bible but I will only give you two verses that identifies the serpents real name to us very clearly:
Revelation 12:9 And the great dragon was cast out, the 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 seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years,
We can see from these verses in Revelation the true identity of the symbolic “old serpent” is revealed to us to be Satan, the deceiver. These verses also contain another symbolic reference and calls Satan the “great dragon”. Apparently Satan’s strength and ability has increased substantially as the symbolic dragon at the end to a level greater than he possessed at the beginning as the symbolic serpent. You can clearly see why God selected to use symbolic references in both places of the Bible. By comparing these two symbolic references we can gain additional information about this unseen spiritual enemy named Satan. What I am doing is attempting to teach you that God reveals the true identity of the symbolic “serpent” found in Genesis 3:1. You can see two times in Revelation 12:9 and Revelation 20:2 that the “serpent” is a symbolic reference for the devil called Satan. If the “serpent” is not literal here in these verses there is NO legitimate way for the “serpent” to be literal in Genesis either. So we just learned a valuable lesson, of why we can’t take everything in the Bible literally. We have also learned that we can’t study any book of the Bible independently in a vacuum. We must always use the Bible to interpret the Bible! We must see what God’s says about the subject we are studying in the Old Testament in the other places of the New Testament, because He always provides additional information, explanations and definitions that are critical for us to see in order to correctly understand what was being taught.
I have just given you at least 4 good reasons why the Bible says there was no literal physical talking snake in Genesis 3:1. These are not all of the reasons that I could have presented but there were enough reasons why I can say with great confidence that there was no physical talking snake in the Garden of Eden! I thank you for you time and comments. Be blessed in the Lord and continue in the pursuit of the knowledge of His Word. Until the next lesson please tell your friends about what you have learned from God.
If you would like to continue to read Genesis 3 “Part 2 – Does Eating Fruit Kill You” please click.
Posted on October 26, 2009, in Bible Study, Chapter 3, Genesis and tagged Bible, creation, dragon, Genesis, God, Holy Spirit, man, Mind, Revelation, Satan, serpent, sin, temptation, Truth, understanding. Bookmark the permalink. 22 Comments.