SPECIAL TOPIC: THE SERPENT (GENESIS 3)

A. The term "serpent" is nachash (BDB 638, KB 690 I).  It has several possible etymologies.

1. Kal Stem – "to hiss" (cf. Jer. 46:22)

2. Piel Stem – "to whisper" as in sorcery or divination (cf. Lev. 19:26; Deut. 18:10; 2 Kgs. 21:6)

3. From 4:22 – "to shine" possibly related to the term "bronze" (BDB 638, KB 690 II)

4. From Arabic root – "to creep" (BDB 267, KB 267 I, cf. Deut. 32:24)

B. The definite article is present in Gen. 3:1, which shows one particular snake or personified entity.

C. The literalness of the serpent is bolstered by the following:

1. It is listed as just one of the beasts of the field that God had created, Gen. 3:1. 

2. Its punishment is as a literal animal.

3. It is alluded to specifically in the NT, 2 Cor. 11:3 and 1 Tim. 2:13-14. 

D. The serpent was specifically identified with Satan (see Special Topic: Satan) in

1. The inter-testamental book of "Wisdom," 2:23-24.  "For God created man to be immortal; . . . nevertheless, through envy of the Devil came death into the world."

2. Irenaeus (about a.d. 130-202)

3. Revelation 12:9; 20:2

4. This identification is absent from the OT itself because it does not draw the implications of Genesis 3 as Paul does.  It is not even mentioned or interpreted in any other OT book.

E. Why is Satan not specifically named? The emphasis of Genesis 3 is on mankind's responsibility, not on supernatural temptation.  In Romans 1-3 where mankind's sinfulness is presented, and chapters 4-8, where its effects are noted, Satan is also never mentioned.

F. There is a real possibility that the snake of Genesis 3 represents the chaos monster of Sumerian, Babylonian myth (see Special Topic: Leviathan).  This imagery is used in the Bible (cf. Job 26:13; 41:1-34; Ps. 74:14; Isa. 27:1; Amos 9:3), but without the reality of its pagan mythology (see G. B.Caird, The Language and Imagery of the Bible, chapter 13, "The Language of Myth," pp. 219-242).

 

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