Was the talking serpent in the garden real?


Are there such things as talking snakes? Adam and Eve may have encountered one, or was this just imaginary in their minds? Who is Satan? Does he have other names?


Talking Animals

Yes, Adam and Eve definitely encountered a talking serpent in the garden. There are all kinds of talking animals in Scripture. We observe a talking donkey (Num. 22:28) and today we still have talking birds (African Greys, Amazon Parrots, Budgerigars, Cockatoos, Elcectus, Indian Ringneck Parakeets, Macaws, Quaker Parrots). In Genesis 3:1-6 we observe a talking snake. Scriptural historical tells us:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?" And the woman said to the serpent, "We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’" But the serpent said to the woman, "You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.

A Snake with a Vocal Cord

Scripture doesn’t tell us what kind of snake appears in Genesis 3. But it could have been a non-poisonous bullsnake (all snakes at that point in history were non-poisonous). Bullsnakes look a lot like rattlesnakes. They are yellow, brown, white, and black, and posture themselves like rattlesnakes do before they strike. While a bullsnake has no rattlers, they do have a single vocal cord (humans have two) across its larynx which allows them to hiss. So, at least one snake has the ability even today to more or less speak using vocal cords.

A Possessed Snake

However, more than likely, Satan could have possessed any snake in the garden. By this time in redemptive history, Satan had already fallen (Rev 12:3-4; Isa. 14:3-21; Ezek. 28:12-19) and in Genesis 3 we begin to see what his true colors are — he is a deceiver.

Like the possessed demoniac in Mark 5, the snake could have "cried out" and spoken to Adam and Eve (Mark 5:5). Jesus properly accused the Pharisees of being of their father the devil and literally speaking for Satan (John 8:44; cf. 1 Tim. 4:1-3). In Cyprus, Paul confronted a sorcerer named Elymas calling him a "child of the devil" and "enemy of all righteousness" (Acts 13:8-11). In Philippi, Paul cast a demon out of a woman who "brought her masters much gain by soothsaying" (Acts 16:16-18). Demons were often seen inhabiting bodies and speaking through them (Matt.12:43-44). Once the demon left a person, like the demoniac above, they would be in their "right mind" (Mark 5:15) and no longer be Satan’s spokesperson.

So it's safe to say it wouldn't have been a problem for Satan to possess a mere reptile. In the book of Revelation two of the unholy anti-trinity figures are symbolized dragon and beast, and even frogs (Rev. 16:13; cf. Rev 12:2, 3, 4, 7, 9, 13, 16, 17, etc.). And in Revelation 20:2 John writes, "He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years." Thus, it is likely Satan possessed some sort of snake. This said, remember that Satan is really a fallen angel and not a literal serpent, dragon, etc.

Lucifer = Satan

Along with the entire universe, God created angels (Psa. 104:4; Acts 17:24). According to Job 38:7 the angels (morning stars and the sons of God) sang and shouted for joy at the creation of the world. Angels have two jobs: (1) to worship God and (2) to minister to God’s chosen people.

The title "Lucifer" is seen in the KJV in Isaiah 14:12. Most translations, however, translate it as "day-star" (ASV), "morning star" (NIV), and "Day Star, son of Dawn" (ESV). Why the differences? Lucifer is the Hebrew word "helel" and more than likely means "to shine" thus giving us the idea of "day-star." Helel is also the proper name for the king of Babylon, meaning "day star" or "bright one." In Latin, helel is translated as "lucifero," meaning "to shine." The translators of the KJV were very familiar with Latin, so any of the above translations are correct.

Of course, Jesus is the "bright morning star" (Rev. 22:16) thus showing that Lucifer is an imitator of light (2 Cor. 11:14).

The prophet Ezekiel described Lucifer as "signet of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty" … "every precious stone was [his] covering" … an anointed guardian cherub" … "blameless in [his] ways from the day [he was] created, till unrighteousness was found in [him]" (Ezek. 28:12-15). He was fully arrayed by the Creator to reflect the majesty of the Almighty!

However, Lucifer’s majestic splendor was the cause of his downfall. He had so many gifts, but he abused them and turned them into his own eternal guillotine. Lucifer became "filled with violence" and "sinned" because he was "proud of [his] beauty; [he] corrupted [his] wisdom for the sake of [his] splendor" and was cast from the holy mountain of God (Ezek. 28:16-17).

Lucifer sought to be equal with God and desired the glory due to God alone from his peers. When he fell his name changed to Satan, meaning "adversary," and he was ultimately sentenced to an eternal hell. Satan is also called Beelzebub (2 Kings 1:2, meaning "lord of the flies"), "Belial" (2 Cor. 6:15, meaning "worthless"), "devil" (1 John 3:8), "dragon" (Rev. 12:4), "evil one"(1 John 5:19), "father of lies" (John 8:44), "prince of the power of the air" (Eph. 2:2), "roaring lion" (1 Pet. 5:8), and "ruler of this world" (John 14:30), etc.

Of greater concern than the possibility of talking snakes is the reality of evil deception that comes in many forms.

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).