WHAT ABOUT THE “TALKING SNAKE” IN GENESIS 3?
by Shawn Brasseaux
Bible critics especially take pleasure in pointing out the so-called “talking snake” account in Genesis chapter 3. They have a good laugh at this alleged “foolishness.” (Of course, as with any prideful people looking to make fun of someone else, they are being foolish but do not have enough sense to realize it!) Friends, as Bible believers, what should we make of this account of the “talking snake?” How should we explain it to those sincere people having difficulty with it? “For what saith the Scriptures?” This will be an in-depth study, but, rest assured, it will be quite rewarding and very enlightening.
Dear friends, we begin by reminding ourselves that a little common sense when using the Bible goes a long way. Like our everyday conversation, the Bible also uses figures of speech. The context usually makes this readily apparent. Someone said, “If the Bible makes sense literally, seek no other sense.” That is wise advice. However, when literal language would be nonsense, we must conclude it is figurative. For example, think about the Lord Jesus being called “the Lamb of God” (John 1:29). What was Jesus? A four-legged mammal that bleated, “Baaaaaaa?” Of course not! What nonsense. He was a flesh-and-blood Man who had the character of a gentle and meek lamb. It was not a literal title. Yet, as dumb as it sounds, “smart, non-superstitious, Bible-rejecting” people get away with such foolishness when trying to “reason through” Genesis chapter 3…. And then, in their idiocy, they mock the Bible for being silly. (How pathetic!)
We turn in our Bibles to Genesis chapter 3 and familiarize ourselves with this “snake:” “ 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?  And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden:  But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.  And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die:  For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.”
“SERPENT”—A LITERAL, COLD-BLOODED REPTILE?
Beloved, when you read of a “serpent” in Genesis chapter 3, do not think of a limbless, slippery, cold-blooded, scaly reptile poking out its forked tongue and conversing with Eve. I know some Bible teachers have taught it was a literal snake, I know images in “Christian” circles and books have depicted a literal snake, but they have only given ammunition to the critics. These all—Bible rejecters and Bible users—have a very poor understanding of what the Bible is actually conveying in Genesis chapter 3. They all—Bible rejecters and Bible users—need to study the Bible before commenting on something they know nothing about. If we insist that the “serpent” here is a literal, slithering reptile, we are forced to conclude some even more outlandish ideas:
- The “serpent,” if a literal cold-blooded reptile, not only talked with Eve but actually deceived her too. Imagine, a snake that would hiss, lie to you, and encourage you to disobey God. Ridiculous!! “And the LORD God said unto the woman, What is this that thou hast done? And the woman said, The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat” (Genesis 3:13). Imagine Eve telling God that an animal had deceived her! Beloved, we need not be so small-minded that we go around saying an animal deceived Eve. No wonder the scoffers chuckle. The animal we call a “snake” never did talk, and the Bible never teaches the animal we call a “snake” actually talked. No animal talked to Eve in the garden. That is nonsense. Fantasy. Rest assured, the Bible is correct in that a “snake” most definitely spoke in Genesis chapter 3, but we need a proper definition of the term “serpent.” The literal definition is out of the question.
- The “serpent” was cursed of God after Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit. Would God actually curse a reptile? Would He wrestle this animal throughout the coming years? Note again Genesis 3:14-15: “ And the LORD God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life:  And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” This is hardly the language of a slithering, cold-blooded snake. God has much better things to do with His time than fight a scaly reptile and its offspring! There is a spiritual battle underlying this passage, friends. There is much more than an animal being spoken of here.
- If the “serpent” of Genesis chapter 3 were a literal reptile, the critic further pokes fun at Scripture by reading verse 14: “And the LORD God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life:” And, the scoffer goes, “Ha, ha, ha! See, the Bible correlates a ‘serpent’ with ‘cattle!’ And we all know serpents are not cattle!”
(Again, these three points demonstrate a literal definition would be nonsense. We can avoid these far-fetched ideas altogether by properly defining “serpent.” And, one more thing, it was not a literal reptile that was possessed, and through it, evil was wrought in Eden. Not at all. Rest assured, friends, there is an answer that will make sense. Please wait as we further develop our discussion. Be patient—the answer will come and you will rejoice.)
A “SERPENT,” YES, BUT IN WHAT SENSE?
Beloved, the word “serpent” does not describe a physical appearance in Genesis chapter 3. Rather, it is descriptive of the character of an individual. (Remember our opening comments about “the Lamb of God?”) When the Pharisees and Sadducees—religious leaders of Israel—approached John the Baptist, he said, “O generation of vipers…” (Matthew 3:7). Now, think, my dear friends, because you are going to have to use some higher-order thinking skills! Were the Pharisees and Sadducees slithering along to the banks of the Jordan River, spitting venom, exhibiting fangs, and hissing so loudly that John noticed them and chided them for their raucous? Of course not! What foolishness indeed.
Rather, John knew that these religious leaders were slick, sly, cunning. Their nature was being scrutinized—not their physical features. They had put on such a good show. They had been such “innocent-looking people.” Israel thought they had been “men of God” (see Matthew chapter 23). John exposed them to be the satanically-inspired men they were. They were the very reason why false religion had so deceived the nation Israel. Jesus rightly called them “children of the devil” (John 8:44). This is not literal, but spiritual and invisible. Their nature was as Satan’s willful, defiant, sinful, anti-God, selfish nature.
We English-speaking people refer to a dishonest individual as a “snake in the grass.” In fact, any English dictionary will define “snake” as (figuratively) “a deceitful or treacherous person.” Why do people not laugh and make fun of the dictionary? Do these linguists and lexicographers not know humans and snakes are two different types of creatures?! See, Bible critics do not have a problem with the Bible’s terminology and accounts. They have a problem with the Bible, period. They will use any and every excuse—no matter how ridiculous—to discredit it and free themselves from its authority (to not avail, unfortunately for them). They will never castigate the dictionary (man’s words), they will never critique their common speech (man’s words), but they will pick apart the Scriptures (God’s words). This is why is it is important to think about what we say about the Bible before we talk about the Bible! We need to make sure we have a better understanding of the Bible than lost people so we can tell them.
A few side-notes, if you do not mind. Jesus Christ is called “the Lamb of God” because He is a meek and humble Person. Like a sheep that does not put up a fight, but rather submits to the will of its master, the Lord Jesus willingly obeyed Father God in accomplishing His will. Similarly, “sheep” is used in the Bible when applying to people. Bible critics, particularly lost people, use the expression “to separate the sheep from the goats” (not realizing it was taken from Matthew chapter 25). No one in a secular context is ever mocked for saying “separating sheep from goats” when actually referring to anything but literal sheep and literal goats. Even the Bible critic does not complain about Matthew 25:31-46, knowing full well (heard in everyday language) that “sheep” and “goats” are figures of speech to describe two classes of people. “To separate the sheep from the goats” means “to distinguish good or competent members of a group from the bad or incompetent.” It does not mean one is separating literal farm animals. See, like it was said earlier, a little common sense, friends—just a little!—goes a long way in the Bible!
Now, this may be extremely difficult for some to comprehend, but we are not saying that a deceitful person is a “snake” because he or she slithers on his or her belly, has scales, sticks out a forked tongue, hisses, and rattles his or her tail. Rather, “snake” is used to describe their dishonest character. Like we said, the Bible is simple to understand if we just use common sense. We are saying that that person is a “snake” in that he or she is sneaky, sly, not to be trusted, even if he or she pretends to be a friend (“blends in with the grass”). With this said, let us return to Genesis chapter 3 and look at it in this light. Friends, prepare for amazing clarity!
As noted earlier, “snake” in the English language can describe someone who is untrustworthy, someone who schemes and scams, all the while appearing innocent and friendly. Genesis chapter 3, verse 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?” Now look at verses 3 and 4: “ And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die:  For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.”
Do you see how that “serpent” pretended to be Eve’s friend? The serpent was “subtil,” cunning and crafty: he gently convinced Eve that he was seeking her best interest, claiming he wanted her to gain knowledge that she did not have. In actuality, the “serpent” was causing Eve to view God as “mean” or “unfair” because God had not given her some ability. Note the schemes and scams of this serpent! That sneaky being caused Eve to ignore the fact that she and Adam were “created in God’s image” (Genesis 1:26-28). The serpent conned Eve out of her God-given knowledge, offering her a position to “be as gods, knowing good and evil.” Paul commented in 2 Corinthians 11:3: “But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.”
That “serpent” is still trying to trick us and draw us away from our identity in Christ. That serpent is attempting to cause us to ignore Christ’s ministry to us through the Apostle Paul. That serpent is trying to make us go back into “time past” and make God do things He is not doing today. We had better be aware of this, friends, and not be swept away in spiritual error as Eve was all those years ago! Now we see why the Bible says, “the great dragon… that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world” (Revelation 12:9). Those titles are mentioned again in chapter 20, verse 2, “the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan….” Satan is a “serpent” in character, a very deceitful creature indeed.
“CURSED ABOVE ALL CATTLE, AND ABOVE EVERY BEAST OF THE FIELD”
This description provides the identity of the “serpent” of Genesis chapter 3. Again, Genesis 3:14-15: “ And the LORD God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life:  And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.”
According to Ezekiel 1:10, Ezekiel 10:14, and Revelation 4:7, cherubim have four faces. In Ezekiel 1:10 and Revelation 4:7, we see these faces resemble that of a man’s face, a lion’s face, an ox/calf’s face, and an eagle’s face. Ezekiel 10:14 lists those faces as a man, a lion, a cherub, and an eagle. “Cherub” and “ox/calf” are used interchangeably, which means a cherub’s face is that of an ox or a calf. And, remember, Satan is called “the anointed cherub that covereth” (Ezekiel 28:14,16). According to these verses, Satan’s face resembles an ox’s face (with horns). And, what exactly is an “ox?” Is it not a “beast of the field?” Are not oxen “cattle?” Friends, see, let us say it again. A little common sense goes a long, long way in Bible study!
“UPON THY BELLY SHALT THOU GO”
And again, Genesis 3:14-15: “ And the LORD God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life:” This phrase “upon thy belly shalt thou go” is one reason why people resort to a literal reptile. Nevertheless, this would only butt heads against what we already know about the passage. Some will even go so far as to say that the reptile snake once walked upright as a man, and that God cursed the snake so that it now slithers on its belly! This is utterly silly, and another reason why people laugh at Christians and the Bible.
If we use the context, especially verse 15, we understand that to “be on one’s belly” is a defenseless position. Standing would be advantageous in a battle, but being on your stomach (face down) is not how you want your body oriented! While Satan has a very fervent spirit to fight against God, Satan really is fighting a useless battle, just as one can goes on his or her belly defenseless. What God is telling Satan is that there is no way that he can win. You can go read the Bible book of the Revelation, and see Jesus Christ completely and totally defeat Satan. Satan loses. It is already settled in God’s mind before it has even happened!
“DUST SHALT THOU EAT ALL THE DAYS OF THY LIFE”
This is another reason why people think of a literal reptile. However, in English, the phrase “eat someone’s dust” is an informal way of saying “to fall far behind someone in a competitive situation.” What God was saying to Satan was simple—“Satan, no matter how fiercely you contend with Me, you will never win. I will bruise your head. That deadly blow awaits you!” See again verse 15: “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” Satan would (and did) cause Jesus Christ pain and suffering at Calvary, but Jesus Christ would (and did) destroy Satan’s policy of evil at Calvary!