Was the Serpent in the Garden the Devil or one of His Representatives?
By rev. D. Earl Cripe
Was the serpent the devil himself? Was he a representative of the devil, or was he just a created, intelligent being that the devil was able to work through? And if he was a creature that the devil was working and speaking through, was this voluntary or involuntary? Did the serpent have a choice? Or was he just the hapless victim of the devil? If the serpent was not the devil but a willing confederate, why did he choose to do this? What motivated him? And what was in it for him or perhaps we should say, what did he think was in it for him?
There are Biblical passages that bear on this subject and we want to look at some of them now. St. Paul, speaking of this very time and situation in the Garden of Eden, said to the Church in II Corinthians 11:3, “But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtlety, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.” But is this Biblical proof that the serpent was the devil, or does it only indicate that he was being used by the devil?
Looking further we find, Revelation 12:9 and 20:2 that the serpent is called “the devil and Satan.” But is Revelation not a book of symbols? It this not only a characterization of Satan as a serpent without actually and literally saying that he is a serpent or was the serpent in the Garden?
In John 8:44, Jesus told the false religionists, “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.” The beginning of which Jesus is speaking cannot refer to the beginning of God Who had no beginning, and does not refer to the beginning of Satan since Ezekiel 28:15 says of Satan, “Thou wast perfect in thy ways from the day that thou wast created, till iniquity was found in thee” (thus indicating that Satan was not a sinner from the very beginning of his having been created). Jesus can only be referring to the same beginning of which Genesis speaks. It is the beginning of this universe; the beginning of the heavens and the earth and the human race. Satan was a liar from that beginning.
In I John 3:8, the Apostle adds to this when he writes, “for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.” Here the Bible puts this beginning in the era of man and this creation for it is here that the Son of God was manifested.
And then, Ezekiel 28:13 says of Satan, “Thou hast been in Eden the Garden of God,” although this may be referring to a happier time with Satan before his fall, somewhere else in a blissful place with God before the creations of the heavens and the earth. What does Historic Christian Orthodoxy make of these Scriptures?
The devil, who had fallen before the Genesis creation, was in the Garden of Eden. The serpent was not actually the devil, but the devil was not only working through him—he had assumed his personality. This was done with the cooperation and consent of the serpent who, for some reason which is not identified, had decided to rebel against the Creator and wished to see mankind brought down.
Religious thinkers have speculated about the motives of the serpent. Some have said that his wisdom and beauty caused him to become vain and lust for power in the intellectual realms by competing with God philosophically about the truth. Others have thought that he was envious and competitive with man and wanted to replace him as the ruler of the Garden. Still others have thought that the serpent lusted sensually after Eve and wanted to involve her in the forbidden and thus to separate her from Adam. These may be interesting ideas but they can mean no more than that because the Bible does not speak definitively or even clearly about it.
That Satan is able to assume the personality of others and speak through them and as them is common in the Bible. This is often done on the pages of Scripture, not only by imps and demons, but by Satan himself. In Mark 5:15-16, we read of a man that Jesus went to see who was possessed of the devil. In this account the devil spoke out from within this man, assuming his voice and personality. In Matthew 16:21 through 23, we read of a time when Satan assumed the voice and personality of St. Peter, Jesus' own disciple. Jesus turned around and looked at Peter but rebuked Satan who was speaking through him. It may well be that this was not a case of possession—in fact it likely was not. But Jesus makes it unarguably clear that Satan was using Peter to promote his ideas. In deed, there are great theological similarities in these two events. There, Satan used a beautiful and wise creature to bring the race down. Here, he uses the gregarious, spontaneous, likable Peter to try to prevent Christ from going to the Cross to redeem fallen man. Satan was able to do a similar, even more severe thing with another of Jesus' disciples Judas Iscariot. John 13:2 says that Satan put it in the heart of Judas Iscariot to betray Jesus, but Luke 22:3 says that Satan entered into Judas. After the Resurrection and Pentecost these possessions and mind-manipulations continued to take place. In Acts, 5: 3, St. Peter asked the false man Ananias, “Why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost?” indicating that Satan was behind this and was the instigator, but that it could not have been done without Ananias’ consent. In Acts Chapter 19: 13-16, a more sensational account is given. In this case, false apostles undertook to cast demons out of possessed people. The devils, speaking through these people, defied and chided them by saying, “We know Jesus and we know the apostle Paul, but we don't know you.” Then in a singular event in Scripture they compelled and empowered these possessed people to jump on the false apostles and do them serious physical harm.
The Historic Orthodox Christian position is that the situation in the Garden where Satan assumed the voice and personality of the serpent may be the first such event (at least it is the first recorded) but this phenomenon is not unusual or unique by Biblical norms. One of the high cards that the devil has played through the ages is to make his own reality seem ludicrous to gullible and fallen man. Man thinks he is too sophisticated and intellectual to believe in the devil that has goaded him into atheism, lawlessness, blindness, and unbelief. That suits the devil just fine but it does not suit Historic Orthodox Christianity at all. We believe that man should be aware of the realities and activities of the enemy of the soul. In I Peter 5:8, the Apostles says that Satan is prowling around like a roaring lion (or in other words a stalking or a ravening lion) seeking whom he may devour. We are exhorted be sober and watchful.
Certainly there have been foolish and incredible things done and said by religious men that have played into the hands of the devil and have added to the idea that Satan is a myth. The charade that goes with this subject in Charismatic Humanism today—the tacky, impertinent, arrogant, and disrespectful way in which this whole subject of the existence and the works of the devil is treated—does not project spiritual maturity or power. It is an ego-centered, sensual, heady, emotionally unstable thing that discredits its practitioners and gives fuel to the fires of the enemy. Such people would do well to take a lesson from the Bible itself and from the holy angels. In the letter of St. Jude to the Church (he being Thadeous or Judas, one of the original Twelve) the Apostle is warning against lawless independence and disrespect for authority; even those in non-Christian society. St. Jude says that these false religionists think they have a right from God to speak against authorities. “Yet Michael the archangel, when contending with the devil he disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, The Lord rebuke thee.”
In Deuteronomy 34:5-7, Moses had died. This story is unique for several reasons. First of all, there was nothing physically wrong with Moses. Verse 7 says his eye was not dim nor his natural force abated. In other words his eyesight was sharp and he was in fine health. Moses died voluntarily so that the children of Israel could go into the Promised Land which they could not do as long as he was alive. The reason for that is another subject which we cannot go into now. This was not a case of suicide. Moses was 120 years old and his life and work had come to an end. He went up into Mount Pisgah with the Lord where he was allowed to look over and see the Promised Land. Then he lay down and died. Another unique aspect to this situation is that the Lord Himself buried Moses and no man knew where his grave was. This was an expression of honor for Moses.
The devil did know where the body of Moses was buried and he tried to steal it. God apparently knew that the devil would do this, for He sent Michael the archangel to guard the grave against robbery, presumably until the body had decayed. What Satan wanted with the body of Moses is not clear. Perhaps he wanted to display it to the enemies of Israel that tried to humiliate and demoralize God's people. This was often done in those days when a great king, leader, or warrior had died. Or maybe he wanted to show it to his imps in the underworld so he could claim that he had killed Moses and defeated God. For whatever the reason, he wanted it and Michael would not let him have it. In the process of contending with this powerful, once honorable, and mighty being, Michael would not insult, chide, or condemn. He refused to get into a name calling argument. He said in effect, “Satan, I am only doing my job. God will have to be the one to rebuke you.”
The ego-centered, theatrical, disrespectful and bizarre way that this subject has been and is being treated in many instances is not good, and undermines Biblical credibility on this subject. Yet in spite of the fact that in some quarters of Christianity this subject is handled poorly, we must not throw the baby out with the bath water. We are commanded to resist the devil and the Bible does give us much information about his activities. A few will serve to dramatize Satan's reality and the kinds of things he is up to for the benefit of the misinformed and/or the uninformed.
There is a scene in the book of Daniel which reveals some startling and intriguing things about the devil, his reality, and activities. In this story, Daniel who is in captivity in Babylon, has been having prophetic visions. One of them was so troubling and mysterious that it made Daniel sick. In Chapter 10, Daniel has been praying earnestly for the meaning to a vision and also for the deliverance of his people, apparently without success, but he perseveres. At last, in verse 10, a great angel, not Michael and probably Gabriel, appears. He tells Daniel that he had been dispatched to bring Daniel the answer three weeks earlier, but he was delayed. A mighty evil angel (some believe the devil himself, others think it was one of his chief lieutenants identified here as the Prince of Persia) seized Gabriel and would not let him go. So intense was this struggle that it lasted for 21 days. Finally, Gabriel had to call for Michael to help him. He was so exhausted when the struggle was over he had to stay where he was for some time in order to regain his strength. To put this matter in perspective would take a study in itself, but the point here is to show how intimately and powerfully Satan and his hosts are at work in this world and its affairs.
Many people are familiar with the story in the book of Job where Satan got in line with God's servants and came up before God. God asked Satan what he had been doing and he replied that he had been walking up and down in the earth and looking around. God said asked Satan if he had taken notice of the righteous and faithful man Job. This may reveal a behind-the-scenes drama where Satan had been arguing that the Fall which he had engineered in the Garden was working and that God's whole creation was turning against Him and to Satan. In any event, God brings the example of Job to Satan's attention. This angered Satan and he accused God of partiality toward Job in order to buy his loyalty. Then God allows a situation to develop that shows that Job loves and worships and serves God because God is God; and Job, the man of faith, believes in God.
Historic Orthodox Christianity does not believe that Satan is still able to come up before God in His throne, but that he lost this power and privilege at the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. This is taught, we believe in Luke 10:18, Hebrews 2:14, 15 and Revelation 12: 9. These passages reveal that Satan fell from heaven, indeed he was cast out and he was cast down to the earth. This is his only sphere of influence now. The power of death that he had before, in whatever it consisted, was destroyed by the Cross.
One of the most remarkable stories about Satan and his activities is found in several of the gospels concerning the wilderness temptations of Christ. In these accounts Satan is arguing with Jesus; he is quoting the Bible to Him; he is trying to trick Him by misrepresenting what faith is; he is trying to tempt Him on the basis of His physical and material needs; and he is even able to take physical hold upon Jesus and move Him through the air from the wilderness to the pinnacle of the temple in Jerusalem. Jesus' defense and example is worthy of note. He would not argue, scoff, insult, or threaten. He simply said, “It is written.”
St. Paul makes it clear that the Christian struggle is not against the mythologists, the philosophers, the evolutionists, or the false religionists directly. The conflict is with the evil hand that is manipulating behind the scenes. It is Satan, working through these things by assuming their form and voice, who is the real enemy. “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood,” he said in Ephesians 6:12, “But against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”
The Serpent Was Not the Devil
The serpent was not the devil, but he was in league with the devil for his own reasons. The devil had assumed his personality and voice. God acknowledged that union and closeness when he addressed the devil through the serpent and said to Satan while speaking to the serpent, “I will put enmity between thee and the woman and between your seed and her seed. It shall bruise thy head and thou shalt bruise his heel.”
Two facts are evidenced by the final result of the serpent's participation. First, the serpent received his own judgment, condemnation, and sentence showing that he was a distinct personality and creature from the devil. And then, the serpent himself was tricked by the devil, used by him, destroyed by that unholy alliance, and cast aside when he was no longer needed or useful. It was going to be all so nice, so grand, and so wonderful, but it did not work out in the end. He never got what he was promised. He did not get the control of the Garden; he did not get the praise and admiration of the creatures of the Garden; and he did not get the girl. What he got instead was a demotion to the lowest, most humiliating and most despised station in life. He got the hatred of humanity, and a heel on the head from the Seed of the Woman, the woman whom he compromised.
And so it has ever been with cheaters, thieves, rebels, fools, liars, suckers, and unbelievers who go that same garish way, following the spangled path they think is leading to a pot of gold; but which is actually the reflection of the setting sun upon the slimy trail left by the slithering serpent that leads downward to the pit.