Paul exhorted the Corinthians “not to go beyond what is written” (1 Cor 4:6). When it comes to some traditional Christian interpretations, however, we have not always followed Paul’s advice. Regarding the idea that the snake who deceived Adam and Eve was actually Satan, we would do well “not to go beyond what is written,” since nowhere does the Bible state that the serpent was Satan.

Genesis 3:1 clarifies that the serpent was an animal among others: “The serpent (nachash; נחשׁ) was craftier than all the other creatures of the field (hayat ha’sadeh; חית השׂדה).” In response to the serpent’s deception, God says, “Cursed are you more than all the livestock (behemah; בהמה) and more than all the creatures of the field (hayat ha’sadeh; חית השׂדה); on your belly you shall go, and dust (afar; עפר) you shall eat” (Gen 3:14). Since this curse functions in relation to the other animals, it is best to read the serpent as a literal snake. Isaiah recalls this curse in an end-time vision, in which the snake is just another animal: “The wolf and the lamb shall graze together; the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and dust (afar; עפר) shall be the serpent’s food” (Isa 65:25). Isaiah did well not to go beyond what was written in Genesis.

Paul corroborates Genesis’ description of the serpent as an animal, telling the Corinthians, “I am afraid that as the serpent (ophis; ὄφις) deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (2 Cor 11:3). Speaking to the church at Rome, Paul states, “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet” (Rom 16:20). While this statement might remind us of God telling the serpent that Eve’s offspring “will bruise your head” (Gen 3:15), Paul’s language does not parallel the Greek version of Genesis 3:15. Paul says that God will “crush” (suntribo; συντρίβω) Satan, but the Septuagint translates the Hebrew “bruise” (shuph; שׁוף) in Gen 3:15 with τηρέω (teréo; “guard”). Rather than drawing on Gen 3:15, Paul recalls the Psalms’ description of God crushing the primordial dragon, Leviathan: “You crushed (suntribo; συντρίβω) the heads of the dragons (drakónton; δρακόντων) on the waters; you shattered the heads of the dragon” (Ps 74[73 LXX]:13-14). The Hebrew terms for “dragon” in these verses are תנינים (tanninim; “sea-monsters”) and “Leviathan” (לויתן), respectively. [See our previous discussion of Satan as Leviathan in Revelation by clicking here].

To be sure, Satan is like the serpent in that, being a “liar” (pseustes; ψεύστης, see Jn 8:44), the devil tries to “tempt” (peiradzo; πειράζω, e.g., Matt 4:1; Mk 1:13; Lk 4:2; 1 Thess 3:5; Rev 2:10) and “lead astray” (planáo; πλανάω, Rev 12:9; 20:10; cf. 2 Cor 11:3). But these terms for Satan are not used of the serpent who “deceives” (apatao; ἀπατάω) in Eden (Gen 3:13 LXX). Based on the biblical evidence alone, to equate the serpent with Satan would be to “go beyond what is written” in Scripture.

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214 COMMENTS

    • There is a link (in blue), which you can click on in the middle of this article, that says: "see our previous discussion of Satan as Leviathan in Revelation." This link will take you to an earlier article that deals with the verses you've listed.

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    • Thank you, this is very interesting but the article leaves us with many questions. Why did the serpent tempt Eve? What was its interest? The fact that it is pushing men to the life of caos and disorder tells us he is not a good animal. Where do his bad intentions come from?

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    • Thank you, this is very interesting but the article leaves us with many questions. Why did the serpent tempt Eve? What was its interest? The fact that it is pushing men to the life of caos and disorder tells us he is not a good animal. Where did his bad intention come from?

      + More answers (1)
    • Leviathan is a sea-monster that embodies the primordial chaos, which God subdues at the creation of the world -- and will subdue again at the end of days (cf. Job 41:1; Ps 74:14; Isa 27:1). God assigns Leviathan to dwell in the sea: "Here is the sea, great and wide, which teems with innumerable creatures, living creatures both great and small... and Leviathan who you formed to play in it" (Ps 104:24). In contrast, the serpent is a "creature of the field," not of the sea, and it is cursed to go around on the ground eating the dust of the earth (Gen 3:1, 14). Since the geographical dwellings of Leviathan and the serpent are direct opposites (sea and land), we have no reason to equate the two entities.

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  1. It is fascinating to consider the serpent being an animal. I stray from my “circle” often and have been accused by some of “accepting another Jesus” (this makes 2 Cor 11:3 very interesting). Why would the Corinthian’s thoughts be deceived by singleness (sincere and pure devotion)? Is the problem Paul is addressing have to do with leadership (whose voice)?
  2. "Since the geographical dwellings of Leviathan and the serpent are direct opposites (sea and land), we have no reason to equate the two entities."

    I'm not sure the 'land vs. sea' argument proves that they cannot be the same. I don't see why the dragon, the serpent and Leviathan can't be the same antagonist described in different ways (using figurative language that suited the individual writers' understanding at the time). The passages in Revelation seem to reveal that it is the same devil behind all of the world's plight.
  3. Dr,Its like listening to you.We get a tune.But never know the true story.Although i THINK you know the true story.But refuse to teach it.Then again.Maybe you do not know.
  4. I would have to disagree with you on this you see if we just go by translation that would be true but there are many Christian commentaries on this that were under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and it's Christian churches always thought that Satan entered this creature
    • Only one book was inspired by the Ruach HaKodesh and that was the written word from Genesis toRevelations. Commentaries are just that inspired by man..
  5. A literal interpretation of Genesis 3 (which I believe to be correct) would allow for a literal snake to be used by satan to tempt Eve.
    The snake was not satan but used by satan as his medium to speak to Eve.

    Because the serpent was the 1st medium used to tempt mankind it has been used as a symbol for satan (Rev 12:9) or sin (Jn 3:14; 2Co 5:21).

    The same scenario played out when Jesus referred to Peter as satan (Mt 16:23). Peter was not satan. Peter was simply echoing the sentiments of satan by trying to stop Jesus from fulfilling His mission to safe mankind through the cross. And in that sense and at that point in time Peter was speaking for the devil.
    • Ok, that's a different interpretation then. You are free to believe that the devil was pulling the strings, but in order to get there, we must import an idea that is not germane to the actual biblical text. That is, the Bible never asserts that Satan was behind the events in Genesis 3. The article only comments on the data we have (or, in this case, don't have) in the text.
  6. Here it comes. Slowly but surely the acceptance of that old liar. Read Revelation 20:2 He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years.
    Enough said.
    • Thanks, Barbara. But not quite enough has been said with regard to your reading of Revelation. There is a link (in blue), which you can click on in the middle of this article, that says: “see our previous discussion of Satan as Leviathan in Revelation.” This link will take you to an earlier article that deals with the verse you've provided, and shows that the "serpent" of Revelation recalls Leviathan in Isaiah, rather than the snake in Genesis.
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  7. Sorry, I don't really understand this interpretation? Are you saying that the serpent, and other animals in the garden, were capable of logical thought (i.e., deception) and possibly free will? And, therefore, that all the animals in the garden, like the humans, could sin against God? But, God made man in His image, not the animals. Another interpretation could be that the serpent was possessed by evil and that the animals themselves were not capable of this without a spiritual influence. Maybe I have not read your entire interpretation correctly?
    • Thanks for your questions, Amy. The article argues that the snake in Eden was just as snake, not Satan. The text doesn't tell us whether the other animals in the Garden could function in the same way that the snake did, though when God allows animals to talk elsewhere in the Bible, they can talk (see Num 22:22-35). On a non-biblical note, animals are capable of logical thought (there is much logic to the things animals do) and free will (a dog can freely choose to disobey). On humans being made in God's image, see this previous post: https://weekly.israelbiblecenter.com/whats-so-wrong-with-making-images-of-god/

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