Genesis 3:1

(a) Now the serpent was the most cunning of all the wild animals that the LORD God had made. (b) He said to the woman, "Did God really say, 'You can't eat from any tree in the garden?'"

Revelation 20:2

He seized the dragon, the ancient serpent who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years.

I am in the middle of an argument in a Christian Forum in our mother language. The Christian members say that the serpent in Genesis 3:1 is an animal: snakes which one knows today are the serpent in Genesis 3:1 biological descendants.

I told them that the sentences in Genesis 3:1 is not telling about "science knowledge". In other words, Genesis 3:1(a) is not telling that all wild animals are cunning but snakes are the most cunning. The [he said] in Genesis 3:1(b) is not telling that it's a male snake. So, the serpent in Genesis 3:1 is not an animal which it's biological descendants are the snakes we know today.

Besides, if the snake in Genesis 3:1 is a male animal which it's biological descendants are the snakes we know today, then it may raise a question "What kind of snake? Cobra? Python? Water snake? Rice field snake?"

I conclude, the serpent in Genesis 3:1 is the Satan himself. The word "serpent/snake" was most likely used by the author to represent that Satan is the most cunning being of all other beings as probably in those era people had an evil mythical animal named as "a serpent".

The members say that my conclusion is not Biblical. They insist that the serpent in Genesis 3:1 is an animal which it's biological descendants are the snakes we know today.

When I put the serpent in Revelation 20:2, although we both agree that the author's use of the word "ancient" in "ancient serpent" is referring to an event in Genesis 3:1 — but they are not consistent. They said that the serpent in Revelation 20:2 is not the serpent animal in Genesis 3:1 which its biological descendants are the snakes we know today, but the Satan.

I thought I was alone, but luckily I found in ISV translation from biblehub website it read "The Shining One" instead of "the serpent" in Genesis 3:1.

When I ask back to them on why the ISV translation used "The Shining One", they can not answer. That's why I put the same question here:

Why does the ISV translation use "The Shining One" instead of "the serpent" if the serpent in Genesis 3:1 is a male animal whose biological descendants are the snakes we know today?

  • 1
    There are some other possibilities you might consider, such as that Satan took the form of a snake during that period. This means that the people you were discussing with were correct, but also that you were correct too: the snake was a real animal and the snake was Satan.
    – Birdie
    Dec 30, 2017 at 12:38
  • @Birdie, what you suggest about other possibilities - I also already pose it to them to make that they are correct and I'm correct too :). Yet, they still insist that the Biblical one it is snakes which are the most cunning/clever from any other cunning/clever animals and snakes can speak - that's why Satan "ride" one of this animal (a male one), not Satan took the form of a male snake.
    – karma
    Dec 30, 2017 at 16:36

4 Answers 4


"the serpent ... is the Satan himself"

I think any other view is untenable.

Consider the following Scriptures:

Genesis 3:15 (DRB) [brackets mine]

And the Lord God said to the serpent: Because thou hast done this thing, thou art cursed among all cattle, and the beasts of the earth: upon thy breast shalt thou go, and earth shalt thou eat all the days of thy life. 15 I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: [the same] shall crush thy head, and thou shalt [strike the] heel thereof.

Now in the Old Testament, the 'types' or shadows of the coming fulfillment has the woman crushing the head of the enemy of Israel (because it was through a woman he sought to doom us), typifying Satan, the perennial enemy of mankind. The consistent theme always being the enemy of God's people being attacked with a fatal head injury, by a heroic woman:

Judges 5:24-27

Blessed among women be Jahel the wife of Haber the Cinite, and blessed be she in her tent. 25 He asked her water and she gave him milk, and offered him butter in a dish fit for princes. 26 She put her left hand to the nail, and her right hand to the workman's hammer, and she struck Sisara, seeking in his head a place for the wound, and strongly piercing through his temples. 27 At her feet he fell: he fainted, and he died: he rolled before her feet, and he lay lifeless and wretched.

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Judith 13:18-26

And by me his handmaid he hath fulfilled his mercy, which he promised to the house of Israel: and he hath killed the enemy of his people by my hand this night. 19 Then she brought forth the head of Holofernes out of the wallet, and shewed it them, saying: Behold the head of Holofernes the general of the army of the Assyrians, and behold his canopy, wherein he lay in his drunkenness, where the Lord our God slew him by the hand of a woman. 20 But as the same Lord liveth, his angel hath been my keeper both going hence, and abiding there, and returning from thence hither: and the Lord hath not suffered me his handmaid to be defiled, but hath brought me back to you without pollution of sin, rejoicing for his victory, for my escape, and for your deliverance. 21 Give all of you glory to him, because he is good, because his mercy endureth for ever. 22 And they all adored the Lord, and said to her: The Lord hath blessed thee by his power, because by thee he hath brought our enemies to nought. 23 And Ozias the prince of the people of Israel, said to her: Blessed art thou, O daughter, by the Lord the most high God, above all women upon the earth. 24 Blessed be the Lord who made heaven and earth, who hath directed thee to the cutting off the head of the prince of our enemies. 25 Because he hath so magnified thy name this day, that thy praise shall not depart out of the mouth of men who shall be mindful of the power of the Lord for ever, for that thou hast not spared thy life, by reason of the distress and tribulation of thy people, but hast prevented our ruin in the presence of our God. 26 And all the people said: So be it, so be it.

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Judges 9:52-54

And Abimelech coming near the tower, fought stoutly: and approaching to the gate, endeavoured to set fire to it: 53 And behold a certain woman casting a piece of a millstone from above, dashed it against the head of Abimelech, and broke his skull. 54 And he called hastily to his armourbearer, and said to him: Draw thy sword, and kill me: lest it should be said that I was slain by a woman. He did as he was commanded, and slew him.

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We would be mistaken not to see the theme here: woman crushes head of enemy, which brings temporal salvation to God's people.

Go to the New Testament, and of course the prime candidate is the mother the true Seed, Jesus Christ:

Luke 1:26-35, 29-55

26 And in the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God into a city of Galilee, called Nazareth, 27 To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary. 28 And the angel being come in, said unto her: Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. 29 Who having heard, was troubled at his saying, and thought with herself what manner of salutation this should be. 30 And the angel said to her: Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found grace with God. 31 Behold thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and shalt bring forth a son; and thou shalt call his name Jesus. 32 He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the most High; and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of David his father; and he shall reign in the house of Jacob for ever. 33 And of his kingdom there shall be no end. 34 And Mary said to the angel: How shall this be done, because I know not man? 35 And the angel answering, said to her: The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the most High shall overshadow thee. And therefore also the Holy [One to be] born of thee shall be called the Son of God.

39 And Mary rising up in those days, went into the hill country with haste into a city of Juda. 40 And she entered into the house of Zachary, and saluted Elizabeth. 41 And it came to pass, that when Elizabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the infant leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost: 42 And she cried out with a loud voice, and said: Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. 43 And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For behold as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed art thou that hast believed, because those things shall be accomplished that were spoken to thee by the Lord.

46 And Mary said:

My soul doth magnify the Lord. 47 And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. 48 Because he hath regarded the humility of his handmaid; for behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. 49 Because he that is mighty, hath done great things to me; and holy is his name. 50 And his mercy is from generation unto generations, to them that fear him. 51 He hath shewed might in his arm: he hath scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart. 52 He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the humble. 53 He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away. 54 He hath received Israel his servant, being mindful of his mercy: 55 As he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed for ever.

This when we come to the fulfillment of the types or shadows, when through a woman God brings eternal salvation, and defeat of Satan: in the form of a new Adam and a New Eve—a new woman who is markedly not like the Eve of whom she is the replacement, and counterpart in the New Creation.

But in Scripture we also see it made quite explicit in a few places that the decieving serpent was Satan himself:

Wisdom 2:23-24

For God created man incorruptible, and to the image of his own likeness he made him. 24 But by the envy of the devil, death came into the world: 25 And they follow him that are of his side.

Specifically, with regard to Satan being crushed under the feet of the woman and her seed, harkening back to this prophecy:

Romans 16:20

And the God of peace crush Satan under your feet speedily. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

Notice that the Seed (which is simply a Hebraism for "offspring") of the woman is Christ, but also His followers, as seen from the following Scriptures:

Revelation 12:1-17

And a great sign appeared in heaven: A woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars: 2 And being with child, she cried travailing in birth, and was in pain to be delivered. 3 And there was seen another sign in heaven: and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads, and ten horns: and on his head seven diadems: 4 And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and cast them to the earth: and the dragon stood before the woman who was ready to be delivered; that, when she should be delivered, he might devour her son. 5 And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with an iron rod: and her son was taken up to God, and to his throne [the Ascension] . . . that old serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, who seduceth the whole world ... And the dragon was angry against the woman: [cf. Gn 3:15a] and went to make war with the rest of her seed, who keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.

John 19:25-27

Now there stood by the cross of Jesus, his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalen. 26 When Jesus therefore had seen his mother and the disciple standing whom he loved, he saith to his mother: Woman, behold thy son. 27 After that, he saith to the disciple: Behold thy mother. And from that hour, the disciple took her to his own.

I believe given Revelation 12, Wisdom 2, etc. that his followers, that is, Satan's, including "his angels," who rebelled with him and were cast out of heaven are his "seed." Just as the spiritual children of Mary, by way of brotherhood with Christ, (Heb 12:11) are her "seed."

  • 1
    Thank you for your answer, Sola Gratia. Gen 3:15 you posed interested me as the sentence (in logical way of thinking) can lead to a conclusion that before the event in Gen 3, "the serpent" is not human enemy. In other words, (assuming the word "serpent" is Satan himself) then the word "serpent" was used maybe because of that event. Before that event - this being is not called the serpent yet, but (maybe) Cherub ---> this particular Cherub is not enemy of human yet before Gen 3 event.
    – karma
    Dec 30, 2017 at 17:01
  • I'm sorry if I'm out of topic myself, because I can't help but keep continuing my opinion above :). So then, in the beginning of Adam and Eve - God did not put an evil being (an enemy) to live together with Adam and Eve in Eden. But I know, this is too far. LOL.
    – karma
    Dec 30, 2017 at 17:09
  • The serpent was called "serpent" before this, and what you say unfortunately is only speculation. It is an interesting thought, though. I would discount it by saying the serpent, at least for the purposes of the narrative, is counted among the "beasts" (animals). As for the disposition of the serpent beforehand, I don't think using his "cunning" to decieve Adam and Eve the first chance he gets is a good sign for his being innocent up to that point, really. Jan 11, 2018 at 23:12

If you open the Bible Hub page showing the ISV translation of the whole of Chap. 3, you will see a footnote about this word which reads as follows:

3:1 The Heb. word Ha-Nachash means the Shining One; or the Diviner; i.e. one who falsely claims to reveal God’s word; or the Serpent; and so through 3:14; cf. Isa 14:12; Eze 28:13-14

I’m sure the ISV editors are correct in stating that the Hebrew word for snake (or, at least, a word spelled the same way) can also mean diviner. I’m not so sure about shining. Here is the contact page at the ISV website. I suggest you send them your question.

  • You can go a step further and look at the Hebrew interlinear Bible at BibleHub, and look at the possible definitions of the word. The root word of han·nā·ḥāš is nachash, which can mean "to divine, to enchant, to hiss, to diligently observe, to whisper a spell". However, while that is the root word, the word itself is always translated as snake or serpent through-out the Bible. If I were to guess (not an expert by any means), the word for snake is as if we were to say "the hissing animal".
    – Birdie
    Dec 30, 2017 at 12:36
  • Thank you for your suggestion, BartholomewB. But as you and Birdie explained it to me that the serpent in Hebrew language can also mean "to divine, to enchant, to hiss, to diligently observe, to whisper a spell" - then I think that is why ISV used "the Shining One" instead of "the serpent".
    – karma
    Dec 30, 2017 at 16:45

The word in Revelation 20:2 is ὄφις (ophis) and it is, in fact, the same word used in Genesis 3:1 - according to the Greek Septuagint version of the Old Testament, which uses the same word.

Earlier Jewish interpretations did not associate the serpent of Genesis 3:1 with Satan or any other demonic being.1 This was also true of early Christian interpretations, which saw the serpent (snake) as simply a simple creature that was used as a tool as a devil. John Chrysostom (c 349-407) wrote:

Do not regard the present serpent; do not regard how we flee it and feel repulsion towards it. It was not such in the beginning. The serpent was the friend of man and the closest of those who served him ... As a creature who enjoyed great closeness to man, the serpent seemed to the devil to be a convenient tool.2

Similar views are held by by Ephrem the Syrian3 (306-373) and John of Damascus4 (c 675-749).

All of this is consistent with the Hebrew (and Greek) text itself, which clearly states that the serpent was a beast of the field (or wild animal).

This would mean that the old serpent of Revelation 20:2 - which is the Devil - does not refer to the same serpent (snake) of the Garden, but is rather given here as a sort of nickname for Satan.

The following have been offered for reasons why the Hebrew word in the Genesis text - נחש (nhs) - could be translated as the shining one:

  • When vowelized נָחָשׁ (as it is in the Masoretic Text) - nā·ḥāš - the word also refers to a serpent-shaped constellation (Serpens) visible in the northern sky:

Job 26:12

By his spirit he hath garnished the heavens; His hand hath formed the crooked serpent.

  • Vowelizing the word as נְחָשׁ (neḥāš) results in an Aramaic word for bronze or copper - a shiny material.

  • The word simply means serpent, but the translators are reading a metaphorical meaning into the word corresponding to Lucifer, as in:

Isaiah 14:12

How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations!

  • As another answer stated, the ISV translators depart from the Masoretic Text in Genesis 3:1 and opt to vowelize נחש as נָחַשׁ (nā·ḥǎš) instead of נָחָשׁ ( nā·ḥāš), imputing a meaning of sorcery or divination to the text. But the connection between "shining" and divination and sorcery seems rather weak.

Perhaps there is some grounding in one of the above, but none of these interpretations seems to accord with those given by either Jewish interpreters or Church Fathers.

1. Oxford Jewish Study Bible (2nd ed.)
2. On the Creation of the World VI.2
3. Commentary on Genesis II.XV.1
4. Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith II.10

  • I'm having a lot of trouble finding the cited source for Chrysostom (haven't attempted to look up the others). Who is the publisher? Publication Date? ISBN? Translator? Have a link to the book? Thanks!
    – cmcculloh
    Nov 19, 2018 at 21:17
  • @cmcculloh - It is in Genesis, Creation and Early Man, by Seraphim Rose, an Orthodox monk.
    – user33515
    Nov 20, 2018 at 11:11
  • “Earlier Jewish interpretations did not associate the serpent of Genesis 3:1 with Satan or any other demonic being.” — There’s a Jewish tradition, per Yalkut Chadash, Folio 66, Section 81: “Samaʾel, Satan, and the serpent are the same.” screenshot How far that tradition goes back is another question Jan 27, 2019 at 19:51

In this Bible passage we have to distinguish two semantic level of understanding.

Moses, in his inspired words, played with the double meaning linked with some Hebrew terms (I suppose God himself ‘delivered’ Moses this peculiar poetic structure to insert in this Bible place).

For sake of space and to focus ourselves on the question made by Karma, we may say that the term נחשׁ means - to a physical-material level – a snake (a generic term). On the basis of the popular iconography linked with the figure of Satan we may suppose that the specific kind of snake - Genesis 3 speaks of – was a kind of horned vipers (as the Cerastes cerastes). The spiritual creatures that we call Satan used this physical medium between him and Eve, like an expert ventriloquist does.

Then, the God’s conviction (Gen 3:14, 15) to the ‘snake’ were not addressed to the unaware physical animal Satan used (like the B.C. comics’ female character, that was always ready to drub the poor on-duty snake with a club), but to Satan himself.

We have speak above about the playing with the double meaning of נחשׁ, in this passage. To understand why this may happen we have to remember (like I often do in this site) that, apart a few of word classes, the vast majority of the Hebrew terms (verbal forms, nouns, prepositions, and so on) are all connected through a basic concept, expressed by conceptual roots. Now, what is the basic meaning of the root נחשׁ? Hold on, guys: “to practice divination”. So, נחשׁ can indicate a ‘snake’, but also a ‘divinator’, or, broadly speaking, a ‘sorcerer’ (it’s interesting also to note how the snake has been used throughout the millennia like an object of incantation from spell-binding ones part; see please Qoe 10:11; Jer 8:17).

Karma did edge closer to the full understanding when he/she said: “I conclude, the serpent in Genesis 3:1 is the Satan himself. The word ‘serpent/snake’ was most likely used by the author to represent that Satan is the most cunning being of all other beings as probably in those era people had an evil mythical animal named as ‘a serpent".

However, the full comprehension of this passage includes this semantic ‘oscillation’ between the two under-meanings (or, ‘derivate meanings’) of נחשׁ, we’ve illustrated above.

As regards the claimed link between נחשׁ and the sense of ‘to shine’ (according ISV translation), I see no justification to translate נחשׁ, as ‘The Shining One’, because there isn’t any connection between these two elements, since the MT conceptual roots used with the sense of ‘to shine’ are different from נחשׁ. For some examples, we may found the concept of ‘to shine’ (or, derivate term) in שׁלג (as in Exo 4:6), or in שׂמח (as in Exo 4:14), like also in עשׁת (as in Jer 5:28).

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