Friday, February 15, 2013


What is the serpent in the Garden?

Genesis 3:1 NIV

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

Hebrew idiom in certain cases affirms, or denies, of an entire class, where English idiom affirms, or denies, of an individual of the class; thus in a comparative or hypothetical sentence כל is = any, and with a negative = none.

The serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made

 נָחָשׁ nachash –serpent, snake
עָר֔וּם מִכֹּל֙ חַיַּ֣ת הַשָּׂדֶ֔ה - crafty than all beasts of the field (in English idiom: than any beast of the field)


Here the Serpent is portrayed as a deceptive creature or trickster, who promotes as good what God had forbidden, and shows particular cunning in its deception. (cf. Gen. 3:4–5 and 3:22) The serpent appears in the Garden of Eden who tempts Eve to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and denies that death will be a result.

The Serpent has the ability to speak and to reason: “Now the serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made” (Genesis 3:1). There is no indication in the Book of Genesis that the Serpent was a deity in its own right, although it is one of only two cases of animals that talk in the Pentateuch (Balaam’s donkey being the other).

The Hebrew word nahash is used to identify the creature that appears in Genesis 3, in the Garden of Eden. God placed Adam in the Garden to tend it (Genesis 2:15), but he has warned both Adam and Eve not to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, “or you will die”. (Genesis 3:3, NIV)

The serpent tells Eve that this is untrue, and that if she and the man eat the fruit they will have knowledge and will not die. So Adam and Eve eat the fruit, but the knowledge they gain is loss of childlike innocence, and they are banished from the Garden. The Snake is punished for its role in their fall by being made to crawl on its belly in the dust, from where it continues to bite the heel of man.

Serpent in the Gospels

In the Gospel of Matthew, John the Baptist calls the Pharisees and Sadducees, who were visiting him, a “brood of vipers” (Matthew 3:7). Jesus also uses this imagery, observing: “You serpents, you generation of vipers, how can you escape the damnation of Gehenna?” (Matthew 23:33).

Alternatively, Jesus also presents the snake with a less negative connotation when sending out the Twelve Apostles. Jesus exhorted them, “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16).

In the Gospel of John, Jesus made mention of the Mosaic serpent when He foretold His crucifixion to a Jewish teacher.  Jesus compared the act of raising up the Mosaic serpent on a pole, with the raising up of the Son of Man on a torture device (John 3:14-15

Serpent in Revelation

Serpent (Greek: ὄφις  ophis  “snake”, “serpent”) occurs in the Book of Revelation as the ancient serpent or old serpent used to describe the dragon,  Satan , the Adversary who is the Devil.

Revelation 12:9

The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.

 This serpent is also depicted as a red seven-headed dragon having ten horns, each housed with a diadem. The serpent battles Michael the Archangel in a War in Heaven which results in this devil being cast out to the earth. While on earth, he pursues the Woman of the Apocalypse. Unable to obtain her, he wages war with the rest of her seed (Revelation 12:1-18).  

He who has the key to the abyss and a great chain over his hand, binds the serpent for a thousand years. The serpent is then cast into the abyss and sealed within until he is released (Revelation 20:1-3).

In Christian tradition, the “ancient serpent” is commonly identified with the Genesis’ Serpent and as Satan. This identification redefined the Hebrew Bible’s concept of Satan (“the Adversary”, a member of the Heavenly Court acting on behalf of God to test Job’s faith), so that Satan/Serpent became a part of a Divine plan stretching from Creation to Christ and the Second Coming.

Satan,” according to HARPER’S BIBLE DICTIONARY

In Job 1-2 and Zechariah 3:1-2, Satan is depicted as a member of God’s court whose basic duty it was to “accuse” human beings before God. He is clearly not at this point an enemy of God and the leader of the demonic forces of evil, as he becomes later.

It should be noted that “the serpent” of Genesis 3 is never in the Old Testament identified as Satan.

Satan and his cohorts then came to represent the powers of evil in the universe and were even known in Jesus’ time as the Kingdom of Satan, against which Jesus had come to fight and to establish the Kingdom of God.

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