Who Is the Serpent of Genesis 3?
By Patrick Heron
One of the stories from the book of Genesis which causes secular people to believe that the whole Bible is a mere fairy tale and a fiction, is the record in Genesis 3 regarding Adam and Eve and their encounter with the serpent. It is commonly thought that there was a snake and an apple involved and that the snake spoke to Eve tempting her to eat the apple thus causing the downfall of man. What a joke. Who could believe such a tall story?
Of course this whole mess is as a result from some taking figurative language and making it literal or taking literal language and making it figurative. Figures of speech are used in the Bible to draw attention to, to emphasize or to intensify the reality of the literal truth which is being related. For even figures of speech and parables have a literal meaning attaching to them. Thus we must dig for the meaning of the word “serpent” to help elucidate the truth of what is being conveyed in Genesis 3.
The Hebrew word for “serpent” is nachash , which means, to hiss, mutter, enchant, to charm, to divine. It also has the connotation of to be bright or fiery serpent (see Bullinger’s Companion Bible app. 19). So to assume that we are speaking of a literal snake here is to miss the mark. To illustrate this we call to remembrance the statement of John the Baptist when he saw the Spirit descending on the Messiah for the first time.
He said, “Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Now John was not looking at a little woolly animal with four legs when he uttered these immortal words. “Lamb of God” is a figure of speech referring to Jesus. In another passage, Jesus is called “the lion of the tribe of Judah.” Now we know that Jesus is neither a lion nor a lamb. “Lion” and “lamb” are figures but they also emphasize attributes of his personality in that Jesus is as meek as a lamb but can be as bold and strong as a lion when the need arises.
The same figure pertains to the “serpent” of Genesis 3. We quote Revelation 12:9 here which tells us exactly who the serpent is:
“And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil and Satan, which deceived the whole world: he was cast out into the world, and his angels were cast out with him.”
Just in case we are in any doubt as to who the serpent is, this truth is related again in 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.”
So the words “serpent” and “dragon” are again, figures of speech referring to the person of Satan who is the devil. It was he who engaged Adam and Eve in conversation that fateful day and who eventually deceived them into the sin which resulted in what is now called, the fall of man. This truth is evidenced by Paul in 2 Corinthians 11:2 which helps us define with more accuracy exactly who the serpent is:
“But I fear, lest by any means as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtlety, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.”
The word “beguiled” can be translated “deceived” or “seduced.” This verse does not cast any more light on who the serpent is, but further down the chapter (verses 13 and 14), we are provided with the clue. Speaking about false religious leaders it states:
“For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel, for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light.”
We now understand that, just as “lamb” and “lion” are figures pertaining to Jesus, so “dragon” and “serpent” are figures referring to Satan. These figures also emphasize some of the traits of Satan. He is as cold as a snake and as devastating as a dragon. And, just as Jesus is a man, so too, Satan is an “angel of light.”
Now, angels are also men, but of a spirit nature. Many times is Scripture when angels appear, they are called “men.” In the book of Daniel, for instance, Daniel speaks of “the man Gabriel” who appeared to him. Mary, Elizabeth and her husband all spoke of angels and men appearing to them to announce the birth of Jesus and his cousin, John. When the ladies went to the tomb to attend to the body of the Messiah, they reported that two men spoke to them and asked them, “Why seek ye the living among the dead?” As the apostles watched Jesus ascend on a cloud into heaven “two men in white apparel” stood by them and informed them that the Lord would return in the same manner that He went.
Everywhere these messengers (angels) appear, they look like men. Back in Genesis 18, the Lord and two angels ate a hearty meal of veal, butter and milk by the tent of Abraham and Sarah. And in the next chapter these same two angels had their feet washed by Lot and then sat down to another meal in his house. So apparently not only do angels look like ordinary men, but they have good appetites also!
If we accept the simplicity of the Word as Paul encourages us to do, then we should not be surprised that these angelic beings resemble men. For we are told several times in the opening chapters of Genesis, “Let us make man in our image, in the image of God made he man.” This truth is repeated for us several times in the New Testament also, lest we be in any doubt. I will give one such example:
“For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God” (1 Cor. 11:7),
We are made in the image of God. And angels, which are created spirit beings, are also in our image. That is why in the epistle to the Hebrews we are encouraged to entertain strangers, for “some have entertained angels thereby.” I have no doubt that some of you reading this have had encounters with people and have wondered afterward if these were angels. I have met and read of many Christians who have had such meetings and all relate that these people looked like regular men. Except that their nature is spirit while ours is flesh and blood.
We have had our idea of angels muddied and confused by the images of artists down through the centuries. Thus perhaps we imagine angels are little naked cherubim with bows and arrows and no genitalia. Or perhaps men with long blond hair and huge wings surrounded by bright lights! But this is not the picture painted by scripture. It depicts angels as men and refers to them as such. Therefore, when it speaks of Satan as being an angel of light, we must conclude that Eve was not deceived by a mere snake, but by a glorious spirit being of superior aspect, full of beauty and fascination with the ability to enchant and charm. It was to this bright, shining, supernatural being that Eve paid such great deference. Not to a slimy reptile.
Isaiah chapter 14 provides us with some detailed information regarding Satan, whom it calls Lucifer. In verses 15 and 16 it also prophesies of his future demise and downfall, saying:
“Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit. They that see thee shall narrowly look upon thee, and consider thee saying; ‘Is this the man who made the earth to tremble, that did shake kingdoms...”
Lucifer is here described as a “man.” For he looks like a man as do Gabriel and Michael and, one presumes that all the other created “sons of God.” And I would wager that Satan is a very attractive looking man. For he was once the most exalted celestial being with great responsibility; “Thou are the anointed cherub that covereth...thou wast perfect in thy ways from the day that thou wast created, till iniquity was found in thee.”
But because of his wisdom and beauty, he became corrupt: “Thine heart was lifted up because of thy beauty; thou hast corrupted thy wisdom by reason of thy brightness.”
Pride comes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.
Satan is very happy that the story of the fall of Man should be reduced to a fable which includes an apple and a snake and a naked Adam and Eve. For this enables the unbeliever to ridicule the Bible and helps perpetuate the lie while at the same time hides the truth of the deception of Adam and Eve by the devil who is the serpent.
Speaking of this, EW Bullinger notes, “It only goes to show the power of tradition, which has, from the infancy of each of us, put before our eyes and written on our minds the picture of a “snake” and an “apple”: the former based on wrong interpretation, and the latter being a pure invention about which there is not one word written in Holy Scripture.”