Answer by John Mackay and Diane Eager.
These questions arose from a longer criticism of the events described in Genesis 3, especially the verbal temptation of Eve and God’s judgment on the serpent. The main issues raised were:
The serpent is described as a wild animal, and according to today’s scientific classification system it was a reptile. How could a snake speak and understand moral responsibility?
Some people claim the serpent was being used by Satan to speak to Eve. If so, why did God speak to the serpent and punish it, and not Satan? Surely this means God ascribed responsibility to the serpent?
Why do people claim the serpent in Eden was different when there is no evidence today’s snakes have changed?
We need to look at the whole of Scripture to understand the role of both the serpent and Satan, and how God dealt with both of them.
Could Satan Speak Through the Serpent?
The serpent of Genesis 3 is described as an animal, (“beast of the field” in some translations, “wild animal” in others) and is a created being. Animals do not speak because they don’t have the brain areas for speech that are found in people. However, we also know from the Bible that there are other created beings who can speak – angels and demons, who are intelligent and powerful spirit beings. Several conversations between God and Satan, the chief of demons, are described in the first two chapters of the book of Job. Satan also spoke directly to Jesus during His earthly life, most notably when He was fasting the wilderness after his baptism, and Satan tried to induce Jesus to obey him, rather than His Heavenly Father. (Matthew 4:1-11, Luke 4:1-13)
Angels, spirit beings who serve God, can also speak to people. For example, when Peter was in prison, God sent an angel to free him, speak to him and guide him out the prison. (Acts 12:6-11)
Spirit beings can temporarily inhabit and speak through animals, and even humans, in some circumstances. The most famous example of a spirit being speaking through an animal is Balaam’s donkey. Whilst on his way to prophesy on behalf of the enemies of Israel, God intervened by sending the Angel of the Lord to stand in the way of Balaam’s donkey. The donkey stopped and Balaam beat it. Balaam heard a rebuke apparently coming from the donkey, but then God enabled him to see the Angel, who repeated the rebuke and gave Balaam instructions. The donkey would have been braying, but the angel was in control of the sound, and used it to communicate with Balaam.
During his earthly life Jesus had several encounters with evil spirits who had invaded human beings and spoke. It seems evil spirits like to inhabit earthly, physical bodies and speak if they get the opportunity. When Jesus commanded the evil spirits to leave the man of the Gerasenes, they asked to go into a herd of pigs. (Matthew 8:32, Luke 8:26-33) Note, they could not do this without Jesus’ permission, so don’t be afraid of being taken unawares by an evil spirit.
On this basis we know it is possible to for a spirit being to inhabit an animal, given the opportunity, and it is therefore possible for Satan, an extremely powerful spirit, to inhabit any serpent. The link between Satan and the serpent is most clearly made in Revelation, where Satan is described as “the dragon” and that “ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world”. (Revelation 20:2)
To use the serpent to speak to Eve is entirely consistent with Satan’s character, as he is the “father of lies”. Satan, the deceiver of the whole world, would not be very deceptive if he presented himself to Eve as himself, but manipulating an animal to ask a skilful innuendo based question would be an effective means of deception.
Why did God speak to the serpent?
The fact that God spoke to the serpent does not mean it was morally responsible for what was said, or even understood, any more than Balaam’s donkey did. Speaking is the way God creates, and manipulates the creation. He speaks and it happens, even to inanimate objects, which have no understanding or moral responsibility. Jesus, who is the Creator, spoke to the wind and waves on the Sea of Galilee, and they obeyed Him. Therefore, God can speak to an animal, and pronounce that it will be changed, and what He says will happen. But why would God do this to an animal? What would that achieve?
Now to the tough call – what rights does the Creator have over His creation?
God had every right to punish the serpent – it was His creation. However, the serpent had been used for an evil purpose.
There were two human witnesses to what had been achieved through the serpent.
God was definitely out to teach them the consequences of sin and His absolute authority over His creation to judge, and choose the type of judgement, and leave them all with a ‘marker’ in His creation to show what mankind had done. That’s the bit we really don’t like to admit.
The serpent would be changed, and in its diminished state it, and its descendants who would become the snakes we know now, would be a perpetual sign of God’s judgement.
However, punishing the serpent wasn’t God losing his temper and lashing out, in the same way as we may kick some nearby object when we are annoyed by something that has displeased us. So, don’t make God in your own Image!
How Did God Change the Serpent?
God cursed the serpent and pronounced that it would then crawl on its belly. (Genesis 3:14) This curse meant that the serpent’s ability to move changed, and the change was a physical and visible one; i.e. walk to crawl is the usual way this has been read, and we have no conflict with that, for unless the serpent had a different way of getting around before, God’s curse would have been a meaningless statement.
Snakes that inhabit the earth now do not have legs, but there are fossil snakes with small degenerate legs. One such fossil is named Najash rionegrina. The scientists who gave it this name stated it was named after the serpent in Genesis 3 – “from the Hebrew ‘Najash’ for the legged biblical snake”. (Nature, vol. 440, p1037) Changing a four-legged reptile to a legless reptile is not a superstitious belief. Atheist evolutionists now believe this is how snakes came into being – they just believe it happened by itself over millions of years of mutations. Modern day studies of genetics and embryonic development have revealed how the change can happen, so it is no problem for God, who designed the genes and the process of embryonic development, to change these according to His will. For more information go to the Creation Research Fact File and look up “snake legs”)
Further evidence that the serpent once had legs is seen in the Revelation passage quoted above, where the serpent is identified as “the dragon”. A dragon is an animal always described or pictured with legs. Sir Richard Owen, who coined the term “dinosaur” as a scientific classification term in English, definitely called them dragons before and long after he invented the scientific name for them. Dinosaurs are still called dragons by the Chinese.
Did God Punish Satan?
Yes, God did pronounce judgement on Satan, the spirit being behind the deception of Eve, at the same time as He pronounced judgement on the serpent, the physical means of the deception. God promised that a descendant of the woman would defeat Satan, and that has happened in the death of Christ for human sin. (Genesis 3:15)
Satan wanted to destroy the human race (and still does). He knew that God had decreed the punishment for rebelling against God was death, and indeed that penalty was imposed on the human race. However, Eve’s descendent, Jesus Christ, who was fully God and fully human, took the punishment that was pronounced on the human race. This means Satan’s plan has been foiled, because all those who confess their sin and put their faith in Jesus receive forgiveness of sin and eternal life in the new heavens and earth.
More than this, Satan will have no place in the new heavens and earth. He will be cast out from God’s presence forever, into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:10) This final punishment has not been carried out yet, but the Creator God has spoken and it will happen.
Satan is a defeated enemy on a one-way path to Hell, because Jesus Christ has defeated Satan and opened a one-way path that leads to eternal life for people. We urge you to follow Jesus as your Saviour and Lord.
TALKING ANIMALS? How could donkeys or snakes speak to people, as the Bible records? Answer here.
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