Was the snake in the garden of Eden Satan, who took the form of a snake? Or, was the snake just used by Satan? If there wasn’t any sin, how was the snake able to deceive/twist the truth? (Gen. 3:1 & Rev. 20:2)
There are basically two questions here. The first question was asked in two parts and deals with how Satan appeared when he tempted Adam and Eve. The second question has to do with the origin and nature of sin. To me, the first question involves a puzzle that I am not sure I can answer. Nevertheless, I will try. However, the second question seems to me to be much easier and consequently, I am going to answer it first.
Romans 5:12 says, “sin came into the world through one man.” However, that is not the origin of sin. The first question is what is the world? Is there more to the creation of God than the “world?” First Timothy 1:15 says, “Christ came into the world to save sinners.” So, the “world” in question is the habitation of mankind. The creation of Genesis 1:1 is the material creation that was prepared to be the physical habitation of mankind. Angels belong to another sphere.
Many Bible scholars believe that Isaiah 14:12–17 and Ezekiel 28:11–19 are metaphorical depictions of the fall of Satan. There is nothing in Scripture (that I have found) to indicate when this occurred. It obviously occurred before the temptation of Adam and Eve in the garden. It needs to be noticed that it is a mistake to assume that “Eden” referred to by Ezekial is necessarily the garden of Adam and Eve. The word “Eden” simply means pleasant or delight and so could refer to the original dwelling or sphere of the angels. Jude tells us of angels who “left their proper dwelling” (Jude 6). Lucifer, now called Satan, would be the most prominent of these.
So, the originating event for the entrance of sin would have to be Satan’s fall. First John 3:4b says, “sin is lawlessness.” So, sin is not to be confused with transgression (Rom. 5:14). Sin had its origin in the Fall of Satan through his lawless act of rebellion.
However, Satan was created by God. Would not that make God the ultimate source of sin? This is the conundrum that skeptics like to propose. Any complete answer to this is beyond the scope of this post. We must simply assume here that created spiritual beings have a measure of “free will” that enables them to act independently of God’s will if they choose to.1
The more difficult question involves the nature of the Serpent. Was there really a talking serpent in the garden or is the statement “the serpent … said to the woman” (Gen. 3:1) metaphorical?
We have another similar situation with Balaam’s talking donkey (Num. 22:28). It is certainly not a hard thing for God to cause an otherwise “dumb” animal to speak. What is strange, even unbelievable, is the lack of astonishment and outright terror that would normally accompany such an event. If one of our cats started to talk to me I would immediately assume someone had slipped me a hallucinogen. I certainly would not pay any attention to what they said. I do not think Balaam or Adam and Eve were so primitive and naive that they believed that animals generally could talk.
Nevertheless, I do want to make one point emphatically. Scripture, however perplexing, is God’s inspired Word and as such is written exactly and specifically to instruct us (2 Tim. 3:16–17). So, whatever we may think of the mechanism described in these situations the message is exceedingly important. And, perhaps the remarkable (even unbelievable) methods of communication are exactly designed to grab our attention and fix the lessons on our minds.
In the case of Adam and Eve there are more lessons than I can deal with in this post. But here, very prominently, is the warning regarding deception and the consequences of not trusting the goodness of God. Consequently, as specifically stated here of the serpent being “crafty” so we find throughout scripture the warning associated with the deceptive nature of Satan as pictured as a serpent (2 Cor. 11:3). The natural habitat and skill of the serpent in nature is an apt picture of one who at the same time is a roaring lion (1 Pet. 5:8) and the “angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14). Sadly, we are too often ignorant of his wiles (contrast 2 Cor. 2:11).
1. The most complete treatment of this argument from a philosophical point of view is given by the Christian analytical philosopher Alvin Plantinga (Notre Dame). He has developed what is called the “Free-will Defense.” See Alvin Plantinga, God, Freedom, and Evil (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Edrdman’s Publishing Co., 1974). This might be interesting for those who can handle formal philosophical arguments, but for the rest of us I hope what I have said here will be sufficient.