Who Was the Serpent in the Garden of Eden?


According to Genesis 3, God placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden to live and have fellowship with him and each other. But then the serpent appeared in paradise. It targeted the first couple, tempting them to sin, telling them lies, and planting doubts about God in their hearts and minds. This scene leads many readers to wonder about the serpent’s true identity.

The serpent in the Garden of Eden was Satan, also called the devil. It exhibited characteristics that the Bible later identifies with Satan, like deceiving, lying, and encouraging sin and rebellion against God. Though the name “Satan” doesn’t appear in Genesis, it’s synonymous with the serpent in other verses.

Where does the Bible identify the serpent with Satan? What do the Greek and Hebrew words for serpent mean? What do Genesis and Revelation say about the serpent? Keep reading to learn the answers to these questions and others.

serpent Garden of Eden
What is the Greek word for serpent? See below

Where does the Bible identify the serpent with Satan?

The Bible identifies the serpent in the Garden of Eden with Satan in multiple passages. The Apostle Paul wrote one of the most explicit statements about it in 2 Corinthians 11:3, “But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (ESV). Though Paul doesn’t mention the Garden of Eden, that is the location of the serpent’s deception.

The apostle is referring to how the serpent lied to Eve about the instructions God gave Adam (more below). Like the serpent misled Adam and Eve using his cunning and crafty ways (cf. Gen. 3:1), he sought to mislead the Corinthians through false teachers.

2 Corinthians scholar David Garland writes, “As the serpent ensnared Eve with guileful arguments, so his smooth talking rivals have snaked their way into the Corinthians’ affections and captured their minds with a more alluring gospel but a deadly one since it is no gospel… Paul’s reference to the serpent’s deception serves to remind the Corinthians that Satan is the master of disguise.” [1]

What is the Greek word for serpent?

Forms of the Greek word for serpent or snake (ophis) appear 14 times in the New Testament. It occurs seven times in the Gospels (all of which Jesus speaks), twice in Paul’s letters, and five times in Revelation. Approximately half of the time that speakers or writers use ophis in the New Testament are references to Satan.

Greek wordὄφις
Transliterationophis
Pronunciationof’-is
Definitiona snake
Translationa serpent, snake; used Satan
In the GospelsMatt. 7:10; 10:16; 23:33; Luke 10:19; 11:11; John 3:14
In Paul1 Cor. 10:9; 2 Cor. 11:3
In RevelationRev. 9:19; 12:9, 14, 15; 20:2
Satan serpent
Where does Revelation call the serpent Satan? See below

What does Revelation say about the serpent?

Though John refers to the serpent multiple times in Revelation, 12:9 is the key to knowing its true identity. “And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world — he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.” Not only is the serpent called Satan in this verse, but a dragon, the devil, and a deceiver.

DescriptionMeaning
great dragonmagnifies the serpent through the use of apocalyptic imagery
ancient serpentrefers to Satan embodying a snake in the Garden of Eden
devilGreek word meaning slanderer
SatanHebrew word meaning adversary
deceiver of the whole worldrefers to his lying, scheming, and misleading

Genesis scholar Grant Osborne writes that the phrase ancient serpent “clearly identifies the dragon with the ‘serpent’ that deceived Eve and led her to eat the forbidden fruit (Gen. 3:1-15). In [Gen.] 3:1 the serpent was called ‘more crafty than any of the wild animals,’ and that becomes the predominant characteristic of the serpent in the Bible, a cleverness that deceives people.” [2]

Other uses of “serpent” in Revelation

  • Revelation 9:19; the word doesn’t refer to Satan: “For the power of the horses is in their mouths and in their tails, for their tails are like serpents with heads, and by means of them they wound.”
  • Revelation 12:14; the word does refer to Satan: “But the woman was given the two wings of the great eagle so that she might fly from the serpent into the wilderness, to the place where she is to be nourished for a time, and times, and half a time.”
  • Revelation 12:15; the word does refer to Satan: “The serpent poured water like a river out of his mouth after the woman, to sweep her away with a flood.”
  • Revelation: 20:2; the word does refer to Satan, “And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years”
green snake
What did the serpent say to Eve? See below

What did the serpent say to Eve in Genesis?

Genesis 3:1 introduces the serpent as “crafty” (ESV, NIV, NASB), “cunning” (NKJV), or “the shrewdest of all the wild animals” (NLT), depending on the translation. The first time Satan spoke to human beings, he attempted to plant doubt about God’s instructions in Eve’s heart and mind, saying, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?'” (v. 3:1b).

Hebrew wordנָחָשׁ
Transliterationnachash
Pronunciationnaw-khawsh’
Definitiona serpent
Translationserpent, snake
Usageabout 30 times in the OT
Other usesExod. 4:3; Num. 21:9; Pro. 30:19

Eve initially sought to correct the serpent’s malicious question, saying, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die'” (v. 2). Though Eve didn’t have ill-intent, she mischaracterized God’s instructions to Adam.

Genesis scholar Victor Hamilton writes, “She is correct in her rejoinder regarding accessibility to all the trees in the garden. She makes an addition, however, when she specifies the forbidden fruit to be the fruit of the tree in the garden’s middle, and she further confuses the matter by putting words in God’s mouth — you shall nottouch it.” (emphasis Hamilton).

He continues, “She has apparently read to much into the prohibition, for ‘do not eat’ has been extended to mean ‘do not touch.’ These additions may by only innocent embellishments, but they pave the way for a surrejoinder by the serpent.” [3]

The serpent replied to Eve with a lie, “You will not surely die” (v. 4). Persuaded, Eve ate the fruit, and Adam did, too (Gen. 3:6-8). When God held Eve accountable (Gen. 3:9-13), she blamed the serpent. “Then the Lord God said to the woman, ‘What is this that you have done?’ The woman said, ‘The serpent deceived me, and I ate.'”

Then, before God disciplined Adam and Eve, he punished the serpent. “The Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life.” (v. 14)

The next verse describes the serpent’s ultimate fate. God says to Satan, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

Many Christian scholars believe that this battle and its outcome is a prophecy of Jesus Christ, who defeated Satan once and for all through his death and resurrection. Colossians 1:13 reads, “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son” (ESV).

References:
[1] 2 Corinthians by David Garland. NAC. p. 462.
[2] Revelation by Grant Osborne. BECNT. p. 471.
[3] The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17 by Victor hamilton. p. 189.

Daniel Isaiah Joseph

Daniel's seminary degree is in Exegetical Theology. He was a pastor for 10 years. As a professor, he has taught Bible and theology courses at two Christian universities. Please see the About page for details.

Recent Posts

error: This content is copyrighted.