(Gen. 3:1) Did Adam and Eve really talk to a snake?

CLAIM: Critics argue that aspects of the Genesis account are simply too fanciful to be believed. For instance, this verse about talking snakes is a clear case of mythology.

RESPONSE: The text portrays the Serpent as historical. Just as God “made” the world and humans in the previous chapters, God also “made” the Serpent (Gen. 3:1).

Angels like Satan witnessed the glory of creation (Job 38:4-7), and now, Satan was watching God give dominion of his glorious creation over to these measly human beings (Gen. 1:28)! It must have been too much for him to bear. To deceive the first humans into abandoning God, Satan needed to properly accuse God’s character, rather than making a powerful display of authority. The Bible teaches that Satan is an incredibly beautiful being (2 Cor. 11:14; Ezek. 28:13-17). However, if he had appeared in all of his beauty, this might have scared off the original humans. Instead, Satan chose to possess and speak through a simple animal.

Some conservative scholars believe that this language of “the Serpent” might be symbolic. If Eve had really been talking to a snake, then why didn’t she run away saying, “What on Earth?! You’re a talking animal?!” This might have given her more reason to be alarmed, than persuaded, of Satan’s accusations against God. Kaiser writes, “Thus, the designation ‘the serpent’ is probably a title, not the particular shape he assumed or the instrument he borrowed to manifest himself to the original pair.”[1] He goes on to write that the curse of the Serpent might not be literal either (Gen. 3:14), because God had already created “creeping things” that crawled on their bellies, and he called them “good” (Gen. 1:24-25). Kaiser continues, “The words of the curse on the serpent, therefore, must be figures of speech, vividly picturing those who had been vanquished and who must now lie face down in the dirt while the conquering king literally makes these enemies his footstool.”[2] Similarly, the psalmist states that the “enemies lick the dust” of the King (Ps. 72:9). In this way, while the events of Genesis 3 are historical, it is possible that there is some symbolism in the text that describes these historical events.

On the other hand, since God exists and we live in a theistic universe, there is really no reason to believe that supernatural events like this are impossible. Spiritual beings like Satan could talk through a serpent just as easily as God could talk through a donkey (Num. 22:21-33) or a burning bush (Ex. 3:4) or a human being (1 Pet. 4:11; 2 Cor. 5:20). If the first verse of the Bible is true (“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”), then we are admitting that God (or other supernatural beings) can enter into the universe at any time. Most Christians who are skeptical of the possessed Serpent would have no problem believing in possessed humans; and yet, the Bible teaches that people can be possessed just as easily. The point is this: if we are going to accept the existence of the supernatural, then we should be open to the occurrence of supernatural events like this. This objection really only makes sense for the strict naturalist, who denies all types of supernatural occurrences. But, for the believer, it’s odd to start claiming that some biblical miracles are possible and others are impossible, when we believe in a supernatural God and supernatural beings like Satan or demons.

[1] Kaiser, Walter C. The Messiah in the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Pub., 1995. 38.

[2] Kaiser, Walter C. The Messiah in the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Pub., 1995. 39.