...Then it would be easy to understand how an "adversary" of God could find his way in the garden of God and also how a Serpent could speak. See "v2k".

closed as off-topic by Dick Harfield, collen ndhlovu, Abu Munir Ibn Ibrahim, Bʀɪᴀɴ, Frank Luke Mar 3 '17 at 14:23

This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason:

  • "Questions including a biblical text but that are not seeking an answer about ① the history of that biblical text itself or ② the meaning of that biblical text either in context or through a process of arriving at a particular interpretation of it are off-topic." – Abu Munir Ibn Ibrahim, Bʀɪᴀɴ, Frank Luke
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.


Short answer: No.

I personally have serious reservations about that type of reading of a text. What we are essentially saying is that the serpent as a character in Genesis 3 (written some thousands of years ago) is best understood by applying to it information that was only discovered in the 20th century. But the correct approach is to interpret elements of a text in a way that is most consistent with the text itself and with the surrounding culture. Or to put it another way, we should imagine ourselves as observers of a conversation between the author and his first audience, discussing the text, its themes and plot and structure. Surely no one really believes that microwaves would have been part of such a discussion.

However I sympathise with the question, because it illustrates a common underlying problem, namely the challenge of reading correctly an unfamiliar text. If it is in French and I don't know French, that creates an extra barrier to my reading of the text. If it's a poetic text and I'm not used to reading poetry, again the difficulties are increased. And in this case, the problem seems to be with the idea of a serpent that speaks, or a serpent who is evil but can be in God's garden.

So let me suggest an alternative reading of the narrative. I don't consider this to be the only reading, but I hope that it will illustrate a better approach to to the methodology involved.

Here are the opening verses of Genesis 3 (v1-5, 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’?”

The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”

“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

So what information does the text reveal about the serpent? Here are some ideas:

  1. It is a creature, a wild animal, a part of God's creation (v1).
  2. It is crafty (v1). This suggests intelligence but also implies a negative moral judgment of the serpent
  3. It is the most crafty creature in God's creation. So both intelligence and moral doubt are magnified.
  4. It can speak (v2).
  5. The essential content of its speech is to question God's command. "Did God really say…?"

Other elements to take into account are God's judgment of the serpent (2.14-15) and the larger story that begins in chapter 2 (remember that key elements of the story, such as the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, are present in both chapters).

Putting these details together, this is what I think the story is saying. God has created a good world, and the climax of that creation is a man and a woman, made in God's very image, made for a special relationship with God. And the nature of that relationship is expressed by God's instructions in 2.16-17, This is a picture of freedom within limits:

“You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”

This then is the primary theme moving into Genesis 3. The serpent presents another side to the relationship by suggesting that the man and woman need not obey God. Despite God's command they can eat from the forbidden tree and it will benefit them. So now they have to make a choice. God's word, or the serpent's? The story thus describes the freedom that the man and woman have to obey or disobey God's word. Ultimately they disobey, and the consequences follow.

If this is the case, then the precise nature of the serpent is irrelevant. Maybe a real snake spoke in some kind of miraculous fashion, or maybe the snake is simple metaphor (for the Devil? for evil in general?). Either way, we should think of its role in the story as one of Devil's advocate. The serpent is the character that the story requires in order to fairly reflect both sides of the issue. This is why the serpentine characteristics are important. For instance the snake needs to be described as intelligent; he represents the alternative to God, and there must be a real freedom of choice.

My personal view is that the serpent is entirely metaphorical, because that's the way the story of Genesis 2-3 at large reads. That's not to say that it is untrue; I consider this whole story to be profoundly true. But it's a truth that goes beyond questions about whether the snake really spoke or not. If I'm right, we might also ask why the snake was chosen as a metaphor for evil. Perhaps it's because of the images it conjures up in our mind: slithery, dark places, venomous. (This is the same kind of question as asking why CS Lewis chose Aslan the Lion as a metaphor for Jesus. Perhaps for its association with strength and kingship.)

But in the end, all of this is secondary to the fact that with a bit of imagination and common sense we can put together a coherent reading of the story on its own terms. We don't need 20th century scientific discoveries.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.