ABERDEEN — Genesis 3 — A Bible problem. “Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Wait a minute. I can imagine someone saying, ‘The Bible is full of fables, animals talking! We don’t believe other fables, why believe the Bible?’” This is a good question.
OK, we repeat earlier observations: All accounts of an absolute beginning must describe it in figures drawn from the world as we know it, or else there is no communication whatsoever. One unfamiliar thing described in terms of another unfamiliar thing would be entirely dark to us! So we grant in general that the creation account has figurative expressions.
Does this figurative language include a talking snake? The Bible itself tells us that the invisible Enemy of the human race is called the serpent: “And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world” (Revelation 12:9). If Revelation can give Satan the symbolic name “dragon,” we grant also that Genesis can give Satan the symbolic name “serpent.” In that case, Moses would be saying in Genesis 3 that Satan addressed Eve with his words, and the main point of the story would still hold true.
But a caution: fleeing to the terms “symbolic” to avoid a talking snake may be premature. For the objection that people raise is inaccurate. In fact, the Bible is NOT full of fables about talking animals. There are only two instances in the thousands of years of Bible history that an animal is said to speak. These are in Genesis 3 and Numbers 22. In both instances it is an extraordinary event and the creature is the instrument of a non-human power. Our generation has seen humans teaching great apes to “communicate” and human researchers deciphering the language patterns of dolphins. It is a mighty big head that denies to intelligence far greater than ours — to the Creator God or to the Evil One — abilities similar to those we claim for ourselves. I can teach a great ape to talk, but the Enemy cannot manipulate a creature for his purposes?
Soft-pedaling Genesis as “merely symbolic” runs a great risk. Paul the Apostle warned about being “outwitted by Satan” (II Corinthians 2:11). We must not underestimate the ability or the malice of our Enemy.