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Was the Serpent in the Garden a Real Snake?

Ask Pastor Alex, Episode. 55

This is the Ask Pastor Alex podcast with your host, Pastor Alex. All right, we are back with another episode and another question. And the question for this episode is, was the serpent in the garden a real snake? And I want to dedicate this episode to my Papa Couch. He just recently passed away last week, and even though he was older than me and wiser than me and a much more godly man than I am today, whenever I talked about the Bible, he always listened and he was very interested in what I had to say about the Bible, and I always appreciated that about him. So this episode is dedicated to him. 

But again, the question is, was the serpent in the garden a real snake? And it’s a really good question. And there are basically three main theories about this. The first says that the serpent was Satan who transformed into a snake. Another suggestion, the second one says that it was a real snake that Satan possessed. And so Satan possessed this snake in order to be able to talk to Adam and Eve and tempt them into sin. The third option says that the whole account is allegorical or symbolic rather than literal. And the third option can be dismissed because the Bible makes it very clear that this was a literal event that took place. And even the writing style makes that point as well. It’s written in Hebrew narrative rather than poetry. Also, the entire Bible treats this account as a literal account rather than a figurative or symbolic account. And so I think the third option is easily out of question for our consideration, but that still leaves two other options. And what I appreciate about both these options is that they seek to maintain the fact that Satan was the one responsible for tempting Adam and Eve into sin. 

This is important because the Bible is clear that Satan was the one behind the temptation. I mean, consider Revelation chapter 12 in verse 9. The Bible says, and the great dragon was thrown down, the ancient serpent who was called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world. He was thrown down to earth and his angels were thrown down with him. Also second Corinthians chapter 11 verse three says, but I’m afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will lead you astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. And so Satan is called the serpent and the deceiver. And then Paul explicitly says that the serpent deceived Eve. Therefore we conclude that Satan was the one responsible for the deception in the garden. But that still leads us to ask the important question. Did he transform into a snake or did he possess a snake? And I actually want to propose another option. What if the answer is neither? What if he didn’t transform into a snake or possess a snake? What if he just appeared in his natural form? So what do I mean by this? 

Well, the Bible tells us that Satan was an angel who rebelled against God and led other angels in rebellion against God. And the Bible tells us about all sorts of various kinds of angels, such as angels, cherubim, seraphim, archangels, thrones, dominions, et cetera. There are many different kinds of angels in the Bible. However, most importantly, there is only ever one kind of angel that is ever likened to a dragon or a serpent in the Bible, and that’s the seraphim. We read about the description of the seraphim in Isaiah chapter 6 and verse 2. The Bible says, around him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings. With two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And we know that the seraphim are able to speak, for they call out, Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts. The whole earth is full of his glory. Now here’s what’s interesting about the word seraphim. It’s not a translation. It’s a transliteration. And we’ve talked about the difference between these two on the podcast before, but just in case you don’t remember, a translation is when you express the meaning of a word in one language in a different language. So for instance, the Spanish word hola is translated as hello. That’s what it means, right? But a transliteration is when you use the letters of one language to communicate a word from a different language. So you can think about, for instance, the Hebrew word amen. It is rarely translated. It’s almost always just transliterated, which means our Bible simply says amen, even though it means faithful or true. And so it is with the seraphim. It’s not translated. It’s just written in English so that the English and the Hebrew are the same, meaning we read seraphim. However, when you break down the word in Hebrew, it literally means fire snakes or fiery serpents, which makes sense when you think about the description of the seraphim. 

I mean, just think about the description we read in Isaiah six. They look like fiery snakes. It’s almost like what we imagine dragons to look like. They have a serpentine body with wings and either have a fiery bite or the ability to breathe fire. And we know this because of another passage in which they appear. You remember the story of the fiery serpents in the wilderness? The Israelites were grumbling against God. So in Numbers 21, our English Bible says God sent fiery serpents to bite the Israelites. Now here’s what’s interesting. Every time the word seraphim is used in the Bible, it refers to angels and it’s almost always just written as seraphim. Well in Numbers 21, the word for fiery serpents that’s used there is seraphim. However, for whatever reason, our English Bibles decided to translate that as fiery serpents rather than transliterate it as seraphim. So when we think about this story, we imagine a bunch of snakes slithering around on the ground biting the Israelites with a burning bite, which is terrifying by the way. I’m not discounting that. I would be horrified to be in that situation. But if we take the Bible as it is, then the scene is even more horrifying than that because the Bible is actually saying here that God sent his angels, the seraphim, to inflict pain on the Israelites. So rather than snakes slithering around on the ground biting the Israelites, you have a bunch of dragon-like creatures flying around biting them with a fiery bite. 

So now we get back to Satan. Here’s what we know. The Bible says Satan was an angel. The Bible refers to Satan as a serpent, and the only type of angel likened to a serpent is a seraphim. So my question is, what if Satan is a seraphim? What if he didn’t transform into a snake in the garden or possess a snake, but rather appeared in the garden in his natural form as a seraphim? And when you begin to think about it like that, wouldn’t that make much more sense of the account that we read in the garden? You see, when you think about the garden account, many unbelievers use this story to mock Christians. They point out how ridiculous it is that there’s a talking snake, and so they discount the story entirely. They also make fun of the fact that the serpent’s punishment is to crawl around on his belly, which is what snakes do already. And so they mock us and say, how is this even a punishment for the serpent when this is what he was doing beforehand? But if we examine the account again from the perspective that Satan is a seraphim, I think we can make much more sense of what we’re reading. For instance, the reason that we have a talking serpent is because we know from Isaiah chapter 6 that seraphim can talk. That makes much more sense of a talking serpent in the garden. It’s not that a snake had the ability to talk. It’s that Satan appeared as a seraphim who had the ability to talk. And this makes sense too, because the only other talking animal in the entire Bible is Balaam’s donkey. And that was only on one special occasion, thanks to the intervention of God. 

And also, think about the punishment that God gives the serpent. If you’re just a snake, then the punishment of crawling around on your belly isn’t really much of a punishment at all, is it? However, if you’re a creature of the air, and you are flying around, and you have wings, and you’re soaring the heavens, then let me ask you this question. What’s the worst possible punishment you can endure? If you’re a creature of the air, what is the worst punishment possible? It’s to be brought low, to be forced to the ground, to have your wings clipped. And now maybe you think I’m going too far, or maybe you think that I’m beginning to read things into the Bible that aren’t actually there, but I want you to consider this. Think about another way that the Bible refers to Satan. In Ephesians chapter 2 and verse 2, the Bible literally refers to Satan as the prince of the power of the air. Of the air, folks. We have to make sense of that. Whatever you do with it, you can’t just discount it, you can’t just read over it, you have to actually account for why it refers to him as the prince of the power of the air. So I can’t prove for sure that Satan is a seraphim, and that that’s how he appeared in the garden. However, I do think that it makes the most sense of all the biblical data that we’re given. It explains his form of a serpent, it explains his ability to speak, and it explains the punishment that he receives. So again, you don’t have to agree with me on this, that’s fine, but I do hope that you will at least look into these things more and consider something that you might not have thought about before.

 Maybe there’s more to this story than meets the eye, and maybe the Bible actually gives us other details to take into consideration when we’re reading this story. So was the serpent in the garden a real snake? Yes, it was a real account. This actually did happen, but there are questions about whether or not Satan transformed into a snake, whether he possessed a snake, or what I think might be the most possible explanation is that Satan appeared in his natural form as a seraphim. Thanks for the question. I look forward to answering more in the future.