Reading a rather interesting article in Christianity Today recently (well, today, in fact – but I hated to juxtapose “today” with itself in that way) I ran across this:
He was almost correct. The Christian story arguably claims that fear is the second oldest emotion. Love is the first emotion, the love of a newly conscious mankind, freshly stamped in the image of God, living, really living, in balance and the "very good" order of our beginning.
“A monster, you'll remember, breaks that order. A speaking serpent, twined around the forbidden tree hisses its venom into the ears of Eve and Adam, prompting selfishness, guilt, blame, bloodshed, and of course, fear. Fear of God, fear of death, fear of the thousand gradients of pain, of loss, of being preyed upon.”
The article is one of those seasonal things, this one about monsters, as you can see. But that is not my main point. I want to discuss Genesis chapter three.
There, you recall, is where something tempts Eve. The usual idea is that this is a snake of some sort that Satan entered into to speak to Eve. Long ago, in a seminar on Genesis taught by Dr. Jim Smith of what was then Florida Christian College, I was introduced to the suggestion that in Genesis three “serpent” is a proper name – thus “Serpent” as we style proper names in English.
His suggestion, which is also made in his Old Testament commentaries, is quite compelling, once you are able to get past the “what everybody always says” mindset. “Serpent” is a name used for Satan elsewhere in the Bible. Satan is, of course, much more clever that “the beasts of the field” and the text does not necessarily imply he is one of them. His eventual punishment of “crawling and eating dirt” (my words) is a figure of speech used elsewhere in the Old Testament of those who are “put in their place.” So it is something along the lines of our still-used “eat dirt, scumbag” of some such. (You will need to consult his works to learn more about this. This one in particular.)
One thing is clear: Dr. Smith’s suggestion is in many ways a very simple explanation, much simpler than the complexities that arise from usual “possessed reptile” explanation. And when it comes to the logic of explanations, simpler is better.