Was Satan the Serpent in Eden?

Nowhere does the Old Testament suggest that the serpent in Eden involved Satan or anything other than a serpent. However, some Jewish writings around the time of Jesus suggested it.

Ludela - Eve and the Serpent

The Life of Adam and Eve

In a late Jewish work called The Life of Adam and Eve the devil explains to Adam why he rebelled against God and how in jealousy and spite he engineered Adam’s expulsion from paradise:

And the devil sighed and said, ‘O Adam, all my enmity and envy and sorrow concern you, since because of you I am expelled and deprived of my glory which I had in the heavens in the midst of the angels, and because of you I was cast out onto the earth.

When God blew into you the breath of life and your countenance and likeness were made in the image of God, Michael brought you and made us worship you in the sight of God.

And I answered, ‘I do not worship Adam…I will not worship one inferior and subsequent to me. I am prior to him in creation; before he was made, I was already made. He ought to worship me.’ When they heard this, other angels who were under me refused to worship him.

And the Lord God was angry with me and sent me with my angels out from our glory; and because of you, we were expelled into this world from our dwellings and have been cast onto the earth. And immediately we were made to grieve…And we were pained to see you in such bliss of delights.

So with deceit I assailed your wife and made you to be expelled through her from the joys of your bliss, as I have been expelled from my glory.

From James Charlesworth, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, volume 2, page 262, 1985

Eve’s Story

Later in the book, Eve tells her children the story of the temptation:

The devil spoke to the serpent, saying, ‘Rise and come to me, and I will tell you something to your advantage…why do you eat of the weeds of Adam and not of the fruit of Paradise? Rise and come and let us make him to be cast out of Paradise through his wife, just as we were cast out through him.’

The serpent said to him, ‘I fear lest the Lord be wrathful to me.’ The devil said to him, ‘Do not fear; only become my vessel, and I will speak a word through your mouth by which you will be able to deceive him.’  (Charlesworth, page 277)

Then the devil, through the serpent, entices Eve to eat the fruit. She ‘bent down the branch toward the earth, took of the fruit, and ate.’ (Charlesworth, page 279)

Obviously, The Life of Adam and Eve is not part of the Bible, but it shows what some Jews were thinking and writing in the period before Jesus.

From the Temptation of Eve to the Temptation of Jesus

Books like the The Life of Adam and Eve and the Book of Enoch influenced popular Jewish thought in the time of Jesus and set the backdrop for belief in demons in the New Testament.

We will examine the references to Satan and demons in the New Testament at another time to see what they tell us about the existence of either one, but let me say that Satan and demons are not as easily dismissed in the New Testament as they are in the Old Testament.

One huge issue to consider is the temptation of Jesus in the desert, but, instead of plunging directly into that passage, we will begin with something a bit different. In preparation for discussing the actual passage I will share an original retelling of the temptation story.

You can read part #1 of the story next time.

Articles in this series:

Is the Fall of Satan a Myth?
The Fall of Satan in Isaiah 14
The Fall of Satan in Ezekiel 28
The Fall of Satan in Revelation 12
The Fall of Satan in the Book of Enoch
Satan in the Old Testament
Was Satan the Serpent in Eden?
Was Satan in the Desert with Jesus?
Does Satan Exist?
Do Demons Exist?

Image credit: Ludela – Eve and the Serpent [CC-BY-SA-3.0 Wikimedia Commons]
I invite your comments and observations below.
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25 Responses to Was Satan the Serpent in Eden?

  1. Sabio Lantz says:

    (1) What is the age of those documents? In Wiki’s “Life of Adam and Eve” article it says the extant versions were from 200-400s AD and wide agreement that the originals in the Semetic language were made between 100-200 AD (Charlesworth confirms) — not before Jesus.

    (2) Here is the link to that section in Charlesworth’s book.

    But it should be noted that the translator was M.D. Johnson (1985)

    (3) Here is a 1913 translation by R.H.Charles of the Latin tex (Vita)t. I guess Charlesworth’s is of the Greek text (ApMos) which differ.

    The Latin and the Greek are apparently coming from a nonextant Hebrew but all their changes in the story were made AFTER Jesus’ time, I am guessing.

    Not that it is important — but it seems clear that Enoch and this book were considered “Scripture” by the writers of the NT and now not considered orthodox. Funny that!

    So, Tim, when you conclude:

    Satan and demons are not as easily dismissed in the New Testament as they are in the Old Testament.

    I am not clear on the methodology for “dismissal” or even what “dismissal” would mean. Let’s say that even Jesus (or the writers who made Jesus say what he did) believed in demons and Satan – should we really care? If so, why? We should be able to “dismiss” them too because of their culturally blind utterances, shouldn’t we?

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    • Hi Sabio,

      Charlesworth (1985) indicates a date of 100 B.C.-200 A.D. but your point is valid so I have edited the time reference. The online translations are considerably earlier than those in Charlesworth, of course, and presumably in public domain. I took Satan’s story from the translation of the Latin and Eve’s story from the Greek.

      What I mean by dismissal is that even if we (or the readers) understand the Bible to be inspired or inerrant, the Old Testament text still does not support belief in Satan unless one adds meaning to the text that is not already there.

      When I write about the Satan in the New Testament, the references will not be AS EASILY dismissed. However, you are correct that even if the New Testament writers understood Satan or demons to be real, we still have the task of determining whether those understandings are tenable and, if not, providing a reasonable response to them.

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  2. michaeleeast says:

    It is very interesting to trace the origins of some of the mythology surrounding Satan.
    The non-Biblical texts have certainly had a strong influence.
    I have encountered them here for the first time.
    Can you help me find the passage in which Michael complains
    that Satan is telling tales on his brothers and moving God’s (right) hand against them?
    I read this somewhere but have never been able to find it again.
    I thought you might know it.

    Like

  3. Marc says:

    Tim, I would like to know if you are closet atheist. If so, I will not waste my time on your blog. You have allowed atheists to troll your blog so I am concerned. Please advise.

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  4. Hi Marc, there is no need to worry. I AM NOT a closet atheist. I believe in Jesus and in God his Father. In fact he is the foundation of my life and I would die for him. I believe in the resurrection of Jesus and in our coming resurrection. I believe we will have eternal life after we die–because of Jesus.

    The only person I know of who seems to be atheist and comments on my blogs is Sabio. Even though he seems to have a bit of an attitude, I would not call him a troll. I haven’t figured him out yet, but he seems to test me and others (I encounter him on other blogs as well); he seems to test people for authenticity and to see whether they can defend their statements.

    I followed your discussion with him on Satan in the Old Testament, and I thought you responded to him quite well. I didn’t want to interrupt your discussion, but I would have if I thought it was needed.

    You are one of my early readers, Marc, and your comments have always been very valuable. I am sure Sabio knows that, if he is an atheist, my views are closer to yours than his on that point. I try to hear a variety of views on my blog, and a person like Sabio helps keep us sharp by challenging us without being nasty about it. I don’t think he is a troll even though his tone is sometimes a bit edgy.

    I am happy to talk with you further about your concerns. My email is jesuswithoutbaggage@chastaincentral.com if you wish to use it.

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    • Marc says:

      Hi Tim. Thanks for addressing my concerns. Please forgive me if I over reacted.

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      • Marc, I don’t think you over reacted. If it suddenly occurred to you that I might be an atheist, I can imagine the distress that would cause. I am just glad you asked me straight out instead of making an assumption and leaving the blog. That would be a great loss.

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  5. Pingback: Satan in the Old Testament | Jesus Without Baggage

  6. amelia says:

    Tim – Was Jesus divine or merely a good HUMAN man? Important question and just asking

    Like

  7. Good question Amelia!

    I believe Jesus was human but he was not JUST human. He had a unique relationship to the Father, and I think he existed before he became human. But I don’t claim to know what his relationship with the Father was and how it worked.

    Among the strong evidences of Jesus’ uniqueness, in my opinion, is his resurrection. That makes me sit up and pay attention to what he says about himself, the Father, and our relationship to other people.

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  8. scraffiti says:

    Hi Tim, We understand that the uniqueness of Jesus is central to the gospel message. I was always taught that Adam, who was created by God, therefore had God’s DNA so to speak. We are therefore to assume that Adam was perfect. We understand that the curse was brought about as a result of Adam’s sin. Only a perfect sacrifice would do to atone mankind’s fallen condition and therefore Jesus was born of the virgin Mary conceived by God himself making Jesus the perfect blood sacrifice since he would also have had God’s DNA. The DNA bit isn’t important to my question but simply illustrates the blood line that I similarly have with my father. Jesus was therefore the perfect link back to Adam in order to sacrifice himself for mankind on the cross. If we are assuming that Adam wasn’t real and neither was the virgin birth, how do we explain the uniqueness of Jesus?

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  9. Thanks Scraffiti. I believe Jesus was unique in that he had a connection with the Father like no one else. I think he was likely pre-existent. However, the thing that I find most convincing is the resurrection. I know others in history were claimed to have been resurrected, but I think the description of Jesus’ resurrection is of a different sort.

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  10. Jack says:

    Hi Tim
    I enjoy your commentaries on satan very much and find your insights enlightening.

    I myself am a Christian, former fundamentalist, in the process of completely freeing myself from the chains of eternal torment, satan, demons, fallen angels and the rest of the Jewish mythology.

    I recognize the gospel of Mark as probably the only “real” gospel as the other three I feel were too heavily influenced by zeal to get Christian converts rather than telling Jesus’ story, eg. we see Jesus gradually being Deified as we progress from Mark to John. I completely discard the Old Testament and most of the writings of Paul as well as the minor epistles and Revelation.

    I have never had any contact, influence, association, manifestation etc from anything resembling a demon or satan nor do I know of anyone who has, outside of individuals like Mary K Baxter and Bill Weiss who I believe are crazy…..like a fox i.e. they have found a way to kill two birds: win converts to Christ through terrorizing them AND make a pile of $$$$’s in the process. Not bad….! As such, satan and demons for me are non sequiturs and have no place in my Christian walk.

    I consider myself a Spiritualist/Christian in that I believe that fundamentalists use the Old Testament law about mysticism as a boogieman to scare people away from contact with spirits of the deceased by claiming they are actually demons. As I don’t believe in demons I believe the spirits contacted who tell of the afterlife and how beautiful it is are testimonies of real departed spirits; albeit it is still a dangerous practice because there are malevolent spirits out there as well as good one, but no demonology is involved.

    Please keep up the good work trying to drag Christian out of the Stone Age with regard to these primitive beliefs in demons and other mythologies.

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  11. Hi Jack, welcome to Jesus without Baggage! I am glad you enjoyed the series on Satan. You also mentioned eternal torment, so you might like the series against hell as well; it begins with https://jesuswithoutbaggage.wordpress.com/2013/03/11/what-about-hell/.

    It is interesting that you are a spiritualist as well as a Christian. Do you participate in séances? How else is your spiritualism expressed?

    I hope you continue to visit the blog and contribute to the comments if you wish. We are definitely engaged in tying to help believers who are discarding old, misguided doctrines of fundamentalism.

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    • Jack says:

      Hi again, Tim. I might have described myself a little inaccurately. I don’t participate in seances. I believe there is good reason for anyone to stay away from them, not just Christians, as it’s too easy for the spirit of an evil earthbound person to participate in them and try to gain control of a person’s mind. Instead, I have been doing much reading from the early spiritualist movement circa 1910-1920 eg. On The Edge of the Etheric by J Arthur Findlay and find dozens of diverse authors describing the Afterlife much in the same way the Grandfather of the Spiritualist Movement, Emmanuel Swedenborg, described it in his “Heaven and Hell”. Most if it also lines up with what the millions of people who have had NDE’s describe so I believe there is a lot of truth behind what they have to say.

      I am heading over to your series on eternal torment right now. I find your more liberal views of Christianity to be a breath of fresh air, in contrast to the stupefying dogmas of fundamentalism. Thanks much for your hard work and dedication to bringing truth into the light.

      Like

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