Gen 3:15 (snakes)

John Ronning ronning at
Tue Nov 30 13:07:33 EST 1999

(I'm responding to both George and Peter here for
> >(JR)
> > Peter, do "ordinary" snakes speak and have knowledge of
> > divine and human matters?
> (GA)
> That's probably why the snake was "more cunning" than all the other animals (Gen 3:1). It
> wasn't your ordinary, garden variety snake (excuse the pun).

Interesting that you added the word "other" to Gen 3:1.  

There is indeed a message in the word "cunning" (`FRW.M),
since it plays on the word "naked" (`A:RUWMMIYM) in the
previous verse, where it is spelled super-plene (waw to
indicate short u), as if to make it look like `arum in 3:1.
("naked" in chapter 3 is spelled differently, less like
"cunning" in 3:1).  The nakedness of Adam and Eve is an
indication of their child-like simplicity - in contrast to
the crafty snake who was thereby able to deceive them and
lead them into sin.

What's wrong with this picture?  All the animals created by
God were part of his good creation, with Adam and Eve set
over them; to see an evil animal with knowledge of spirtual
matters that Adam and Eve did not have should give one
pause, should it not?

Peter wrote,

> Let's say that I was deliberately over-reacting to Michael's excesses.
> Yes, the snake (like Balaam's donkey) does show some unusual
> capabilities, in its speech and its craftiness (3:1). I'm not sure
> about knowledge of divine and human matters beyond words which it
> could have overheard (2:16-17 referred to in 3:1) and a theology of
> its own devising (3:4-5). 

Isn't it also unusual for snakes (or any animal for that
matter) to "overhear" words and devise malevolent
theologies?  If the Lord "opened the mouth" of Balaam's
donkey so that it spoke, who opened the serpent's mouth?

> But in my opinion any such identification as
> Cain as the seed of the snake goes beyond the plain meaning of the
> text into theological speculation 

That conclusion seems to presuppose a couple of things: (1)
that the "plain meaning" must be the intended and actual
meaning; (2) that figurative meanings cannot be deduced with
any degree of certainty (yet we all use figurative language
and we expect to be understood, and about 25% of the time in
the OT "snake" words are used figuratively to apply to
humans or demonic beings). To me it seems axiomatic that the
fulfillment of a prediction can be used to aid in the
interpretation of the prediction.  So one must ask, is it
just coincidence (1) that you have a prediction of enmity in
Gen 3:15, and an occasion of enmity in the next chapter
(look up "enmity" ['eybah] in the concordance - its four
uses outside Genesis 3 are all associated with bloodshed);
(2) that Cain is morally like the serpent in at least three
ways (liar, murderer, cursed), and morally unlike his
biological parents (he never confessed to his sin but only
complained); (3) that Genesis 4 provides us with an
explanation for how the serpent can be considered Cain's
father (two unusual uses of "father" in vv. 20, 21).

> or at least typology (which does not
> mean that I reject it). After all, in the text Cain is the biological
> descendant not of the snake but of the woman and her husband (4:1).
Which simply means that the serpent is not Cain's father in
any biological sense. Like 3:1, 4:1 has a mixed message.
Compare the notice of Cain's birth with other birth notices
in Genesis where the naming of a child at birth is described
(they're quite stereotypical).  Based on the stereotype, it
"should" read, "she gave birth to a son, and she called his
name Cain, saying, etc."  In fact, Nachmanides said that's
how we should read it.  But that's not what it says; i.e. it
avoids calling Cain "son" - not because he is not her son in
the biological sense, but (in my opinion) because he is not
among those indicated in the expression "seed of the woman"
in Gen 3:15 (those promised victory over the serpent; those
morally like the woman, who confessed her sin and received
mercy).  Eve herself seems to have learned this lesson at
the end of the chapter "God has given me another seed in
place of Abel" (not Cain).

If you find these data insufficient, there are plenty of
other OT passages outside Genesis 3 and 4 which presume a
non-literal interpretation of Gen 3:15.



More information about the b-hebrew mailing list