Q&A: Who is Serpent?

Who is Serpent?

Question

Who is the serpent in Genesis 3? The devil? The first mention of the word "Satan" isn't until 1 Chronicles 20:1; and the "devil" is first mentioned in 2 Chronicles 11:15.

Answer

According to John, the "devil," "Satan," and the "serpent of old" all refer to the same entity (Rev. 12:9; 20:2). Most commentators (myself included) see "serpent of old" in these contexts as a reference to the serpent in Genesis 3. The fact that the serpent and its descendants are cursed as a result of the episode in Genesis 3 also indicates that an actual serpent was involved. Thus, it is probably best to see the situation as one in which Satan possessed the serpent (a typical interpretation; cf. Luke 22:3).

As far as biblical references to "Satan" and the "devil" go, "Satan" actually shows up quite early in history, being found throughout Job 1-2. Scholars generally date Job anywhere between the 14th and 8th centuries B.C.. Chronicles was written sometime between the 6th and 4th centuries B.C. The "devil" appears pretty much wherever "Satan" appears. This is because "Satan" is Hebrew, and "devil" is a common Greek translation of "Satan." Thus, wherever the Hebrew texts read "Satan," the old Greek translations of the Hebrew texts (e.g. the Septuagint) tend to read "devil." (Incidentally, the reference to "devil" in 2 Chr. 11:15 is not a reference to "the devil").

While it's true that neither "Satan" nor "devil" appear in Genesis 3, and that Moses did not speak of "Satan" anywhere else in the Pentateuch, this does not indicate that he and his audience had no concept of Satan. Rather, Moses spoke of other "gods" rather than of "demons," "Satan" or "the devil." He knew these concepts, but referred to them by different words. In any event, the story of the Fall was probably a traditional one which his audience already knew, and the traditional interpretation that the serpent was possessed by an evil angel, or a false god, or even by "Satan" may well have already been known to Moses and his audience. The fact that Moses did not mention this aspect of the story may simply indicate that he was not interested in this detail rather than that he was unaware of it or would have disagreed with John's interpretation.


Answer by Ra McLaughlin

Ra McLaughlin is Vice President of Finance and Administration at Third Millennium Ministries.