- Genesis 3:1
- "Now the serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field . . . "
- Religious bodies (such as United Church of Canada) in an attempt to rationalize the miraculous elements in the Biblical record of Genesis, while retaining the fall of mankind, view the serpent, not as a literal beast of the field, but as part of a myth in which the evil desires within Eve are symbolized.
- If the literalness of Adam and Eve is retained, but a non-literal serpent suggested, the following questions need answering:
- How is Genesis 3:1 to be understood: "Now the serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made?" Are the beasts in this verse also figurative? If the serpent were only a symbol of sinful thinking, why the allusion to "all the beasts of the field?"
- If the serpent is a non-literal element, are the special trees, the disobedient eating, the shameful nakedness, the covering, concealment, subsequent questioning, and expulsion also allegorical?
- If these details are literal (as many religious persons would concede) then why the demand for a non-literal serpent?1 If a talking serpent is too great a tax on one's credulity, what then of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and of the tree of life?
- How can one consistently hold a literal Adam and Eve (as some do) and yet have a figurative environment?2 This leaves the non-literal serpent position with no alternative but to view the whole narrative as a symbolic fall which actually took some other form than described.3
- How is one to understand the curse on the serpent, "Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle . . . " (Gen. 3:14).
- There is a relevant comment by Paul on the serpent in his writing to the Corinthian Ecclesia. He says: "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." (2 Cor. 11:3). The full force of Paul's argument requires a literal serpent in the Garden of Eden.
His argument rests on parallels:
|Serpent lied - (Gen. 3:4)
||False teachers lied - (2 Cor. 11:13)|
|Serpent was subtle - (Gen. 3:1)
||False teachers were beguiling - (2 Cor. 11:3, 13)|
|Eve was seduced - (2 Cor. 11:3)
||Corinthians in danger of being seduced - (2 Cor. 11:3)|
|Eve's fall was disastrous - (1 Tim. 2:14)
||Corinthians in danger of disaster - (2 Cor. 11:3)|
The full force of the parallels requires a literal serpent. If the serpent were merely a symbol of Eve's unworthy thoughts, then Eve (created "very good" Gen. 1:31) was tempted within, yet the Corinthians (fallen descendants of Adam) were tempted from without. What force would there be in Paul's allusion to the serpent?
- If the primary incitement came of the woman's inner fleshly insubordination to divine law, then how could it be said that she was made "very good"? The next logical step required by those who hold a non-literal view of the serpent would be to have God condemning in Christ (the seed of the woman) what He had Himself created - the "nature" which Eve bore. Adam described as "very good" could not say as did Paul "in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing." (Rom. 7:18). Nor could he speak of "the law of sin" which is "in my members". (Rom. 7:23).
- Sometimes stress is placed on Gen. 3:15 where the seed of the serpent, (sin) is symbolically portrayed. It is then reasoned that the preceding verses referring to the serpent must also be symbolic. To suggest this is to miss the point that a symbol must have its basis in prior fact. The symbolic use of the serpent elsewhere in scripture is intelligible because of the literal serpent in the Garden of Eden.
- If this is the basis on which a literal serpent is rejected, the problems become cumulative. How is one to interpret Balaam's ass speaking, "And the LORD opened the mouth of the ass, and she said unto Balaam, What have I done unto thee, that thou hast smitten me these three times?" (Num. 22:28). Peter endorses the account: "the dumb ass speaking with man's voice forbad the madness of the prophet." (2 Peter 2:16). Return
- The geographic location of the garden is carefully specified in Gen. 2:9-14. Return
- It is not possible to maintain this view since the historicity of the fall of man is reaffirmed in the New Testament. (1 Tim. 2:13,14; Rom. 5:12,14). Allusions to the early chapters of Genesis in the New Testament occur in contexts in which the arguments require a belief in the historicity of the narratives. See for example, 1 Cor. 11:7-9 (the prior creation of Adam); Matt. 19:4, 5; Matt. 23:35; Heb. 11:4; 1 John 3:12 (the death of Abel). Return